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What would you save?

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What would you save?

Postby Qimmik » Sun Aug 31, 2014 2:33 pm

It's 2099 and a new Dark Age is descending on the entire world. The barbarians are at the gate, and you are just about to evacuate your amply-stocked library of classical texts. You have an opportunity to take with you one Greek text and one Latin text to save for posterity--if there is a posterity. (Or just a Greek text or a Latin text, if you prefer.) What do you grab on your way out the door?

You are absolutely certain that someone else has saved all Scripture, so you don't have to worry about, e.g., the Greek New Testament. (To take what for many would be the obvious and unavoidable choice off the table.) You think it's likely that someone has saved the Iliad and the Odyssey, so you can either take one of those just to make sure, or take something else. If you want Plato, you can take two tetralogies bound into a single volume or just one if it includes the Republic (you need to state which dialogues are included in your choice). The works of Vergil are a single volume. You get both volumes of Aristophanes and Herodotus, and three or four plays of Euripides.

But you will have to answer for your choices before a Preservation Board set up among the Last Remnants of Civilization. The penalty for an unjustifiable or at least an unjustified choice is death. (The Last Remnants aren't much better than the barbarians.) So you have to justify or explain your choices with a few sentences.

Assume that grammars and dictionaries will be available to allow future scholars to read and understand your choices.

I'm going to announce my Latin choice right now, and defer my Greek choice to give John W. a chance to announce his (which would be mine, as well, but I will choose something else.) It's Ovid's Metamorphoses. The reason I chose this text, and especially over the works of Vergil, is that Ovid preserves a very broad and diverse swathe of Greek mythology--and this is a function he has served more or less since the end of antiquity. He's a master story-teller, and he tells the stories with wit and a large dose of irony and laugh-out-loud humor. When he writes about the gods (he's obviously not a believer), he endows them with all too human characteristics--and he's a keen observer of human behavior. He can also be poignant and profoundly moving (Ceyx and Alcyone)--even in bizarre circumstances (Myrrha). He's more sympathetic to women than many other Roman authors (Vergil is somewhat misogynistic). Add to that his facility with Latin verse--he thought and probably spoke and even dreamed in hexameters and elegiac couplets. I think the Metamorphoses would appeal to a wider segment of humanity than Vergil, who is more of an esthete, and a full appreciation of the Aeneid requires a detailed understanding of Roman history as well as the whole of ancient literature, Greek and Roman, that preceded Vergil. Ovid, I think, stands on his own better than Vergil, though for Ovid it would help to have an appreciation of Homer, Vergil and everyone else, too.
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Re: What would you save?

Postby Scribo » Sun Aug 31, 2014 2:45 pm

I, uh, err.... en aporiai te amhxaninhi me tithhs lwl...

First off, I'm going to trust in my classical education to put me in the position as a pretty good rhetor as far as these things go so I'm reasonably competent that I'd be able to defend my choices. Secondly, I have a good memory for texts (although I'm still angry I couldn't perfectly reconstruct the "new" Sappho here when it was taken offline) so I can maybe write some out at a later date. Is that allowed? Am I allowed to write *about* texts at a later date too? Providing I can steal/acquire some paper and ink.

Hm. This is tricky. See, without a much larger corpus there is no real reason to save things for academic purposes since the context will be unequivocally lost. Suddenly it's down to personal choice and feeling and I've never felt too comfortable there. My opinions are silly, that said...

Latin: Ovid's Fasti. I came late to this text, that was a crime. This is one of the most interesting things I've ever read. The Latin is fantastic, the narrative strategy is immensely complex and the content...oh the content itself is sooo interesting. It was a close one between this as Juvenal whom I also adore. But I can perform most of Juvenal from memory so that is ok I guess. In such a wasteland we'd need a few laughs...

Greek: This is worse. See, I know what I like but I'd feel very guilty taking something as fragmentary as Simonides or Stesichorus. It's a toss up between Bacchylides and Hesiod. Probably the latter.
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Re: What would you save?

Postby cb » Sun Aug 31, 2014 3:41 pm

hi, i wouldn't take the risk of losing the iliad and would take that. if the preservation board didn't know the reasons for keeping this book, which influenced so much in the ancient western civilizations and is masterfully written and goes back so far in time, you could clock them on the head with the joshua barnes version, which is the one i would take. this is still my favorite book in any language.

for latin, even though cicero is infuriating at times, i would grab an opera omnia, you just get so much in there, a style and a knowledge of the times - through the speeches, through the philosophical texts, through the letters. if you had him, you could get a pretty wide window into at least one small part of that civilization. then you could go and walk around pompeii, herculaneum, ostia, the antiquities sections in museums, etc and fill in some further details (i didn't see any rules against that above :) )
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Re: What would you save?

Postby John W. » Sun Aug 31, 2014 5:27 pm

Bill - another great thread.

As you've correctly implied, my Greek choice would have to be Thucydides, of whom Hajo Holborn said: 'his History constitutes one of the most significant landmarks in the rise of Western civilization'. Thucydides was the first writer we know of to think in a sustained critical and rational way about history; his work is a standing antidote to shoddy thinking. His analysis of human behaviour, especially in extreme situations, is still invaluable to students of political theory, international relations, or human nature in general. He is, moreover, a writer of immense power - no one who has read them could ever forget passages such as the funeral oration, the plague of Athens, the Mytilenian debate, and the defeat and destruction of the Athenian expedition. His sheer intellectual power, and the intensity of his highly demanding prose, draw one into engagement with him as few other authors succeed in doing.

I'll post separately re my Latin choice!

Best,

John
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Re: What would you save?

Postby John W. » Mon Sep 01, 2014 8:56 am

My Latin choice would be Lucretius' De Rerum Natura. The poem contains many fine and striking passages, from the opening invocation of Venus onwards. It also impresses by the evident earnestness of the author's commitment to setting forth a rationalistic interpretation of the world, free from needless superstition and terror of the gods, for the benefit of humanity as a whole, and by his sheer ambitiousness in choosing to expound this in the medium of epic verse. From my perspective an added interest is the concluding description of the plague of Athens, obviously owing much to (but not simply slavishly following) Thucydides' own account.

Best wishes,

John
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Re: What would you save?

Postby daivid » Mon Sep 01, 2014 3:50 pm

Xenophon's Hellenica. I didn't expect to give that answer because I don't like his pro Spartan pro oligarchy perspective. However, Xenophon writes as an older and wiser pro Spartan pro oligarch and even though I don't believe he ever abandoned the politics of his youth there is subtext of "Lets face it friends - we screwed up didn't we." Xenophon isn't neutral but he is honest and that is worth more than fake objectivity.

When I talk of fake objectivity I have in mind Polybius first of all. Thucydides is also IMO not as objective as he tries to make out and I am supicious of someone who seems too sure that his perspective is correct.

I am probably not qualified to take a Latin text but to take nothing would surely deserve death. Hence I would take as many plays by Plautus as I'm allowed as it would give some insight into Greek new comedy.
And if that is not good enough for the last remnants I would emphasize that they illustrate the influence of Greece on Rome.
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Re: What would you save?

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Sep 01, 2014 8:26 pm

Without blinking an eye, I would save the Batrachomyomachy. That's the culminating point of the whole Greek civilisation. And if were allowed to, I would also save Aristophanes' Frogs, or at least my favourite line. Brekekekex koax koax!

Joking aside, I'm glad 2099 is still far away, because at present I feel totally underqualified. Homer would be the obvious choice, but I fear the Preservation Board will not be lenient if I save something someone else will have already saved. For the rest of Greek literature, I really have not read enough to make an informed decision... An obvious choice would be Plato, but frankly I don't understand Plato well enough to explain my choice to the Board. "Someone said that that Plato is, err, like, the foundation of the Western Civilization" – that doesn't sound very convincing. I'll be only in my 119th year then, and that's much too young to die. Aeschylus? Sophocles? Same thing. How would I justify choosing, say, Agamemnon? I mean, I've read it, but what was it about? The Board is going to ask me that, and I will not know the answer. Euripides? They'll ask me why the hell I saved Euripides and not Aeschylus or Sophocles – come to think about it, probably Scribo will be a member of the Board, and he'll be very, very pissed off at me for choosing Euripides!

No, if I want to save my dear life, it has to be something funny. Everybody has a sense of humour, or everybody at least pretends to. I will win over the Preservation Board by choosing something funny. The obvious choice is Aristophanes. How many plays was I allowed to take? Frogs is my favourite (but I haven't read all Aristophanes), but pointless without Euripides or Aeschylus. Ekklesiazousai is probably a good choice, it's very funny, it's has some information on the Athenian democratic system, it presents a mock-Utopia that goes awry (but alas, we won't have Plato to compare) and of course, it's about the relationship between men and women – and that's universal.
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Re: What would you save?

Postby Markos » Wed Sep 03, 2014 7:39 pm

Qimmik wrote:...a new Dark Age is descending...What do you grab on your way out the door?

I grab the Apology. Socrates οἶδε μὴ εἰδέναι. That revelation destroys dogma without which you cannot have a Dark Age.
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Re: What would you save?

Postby Qimmik » Sun Sep 07, 2014 2:24 pm

On the Greek side, I'm assuming Homer is safe, and I'm still wavering between Hesiod and Pindar.

Hesiod was a foundational text for the Greeks, almost as much as the Homeric poems, and his pithy, sinewy hexameters have a punchy character that's utterly different from the Homeric poems. The Theogony is useful as a background to Greek mythology. He also provides some wise and timeless advice for men (at least) in all ages ("Don't urinate standing facing the sun; do it after sunset or before sunrise" and other instructions about bodily functions).

Pindar is dazzling.
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Re: What would you save?

Postby mwh » Mon Sep 08, 2014 11:58 pm

Well if nobody’s rescuing Vergil I guess I’ll have to. I don’t think I’d have much difficulty defending him to the Board against the frivolous Metamorphoses or the clunky and philosophically heavy Lucretius. Certainly not if they’ll have let Dante through. That saves me from having to choose Horace, whom I honestly don’t much like and would have a hard time arguing for.

I’m hoping against hope that Qimmik plumps for Pindar (imagine saving what we have of Bacchylides and not Pindar!), and puts up a solider reason than “dazzling” (though that he most certainly is), leaving me free to save some Plato, since Chad unaccountably didn’t. (I don’t count the Apology.) Two tetralogies, hmm: one would have to be the 2nd (Parm, Philebus, Symp and Phdr), and the other the 8th (Clitopho Rep. Tim. Critias); but could I swap Philebus for Gorgias, and Clit.+Crit. for Protagoras? Hopefully there’ll be some thinkers on the Board who like a good argument, or even a bad one.

I would choose Euripides, but we’re restricted to “three or four” plays. No fair! Surely we should at least be allowed seven. Indeed, if Chad can get all of Cicero (!), why not the whole of so-far-surviving Greek tragedy, with comedy thrown in for good measure? But if I can get seven of Euripides, they’d be Bac Hipp Med, obviously, plus Helen, Trojan Women and Ion; I’d have to think about the remaining one, perhaps IA despite everything. The versatile and provocative Euripides had far greater appeal throughout the subsequent centuries than the somber Sophocles or the impossible Aeschylus, understandably, and was capable of as much power and of as much pathos as either of them (not for nothing did Aristotle grudgingly grant that he was τραγικώτατος) and of so many things that neither of them were, so I wouldn’t anticipate having too much trouble persuading the Board, unless indeed Scribo was on it.

So I’ll defer choosing between Plato and Euripides pending clarification of the conditions from the game-meister.
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Re: What would you save?

Postby Qimmik » Tue Sep 09, 2014 12:19 pm

mwh: you can rescue as much Plato and Euripides as you want, as long as (1) you tell us which ones and why--not even a complete sentence, just a few words or even just one word for each will do--and (2) you don't dismiss the Metamorphoses as frivolous. (I too was disappointed when cb didn't rescue Plato, especially since I deliberately constructed the scenario to allow him save some Plato and let someone else rescue Homer.)

If I really had to choose, I would probably choose Vergil myself for my own personal use--I don't see how I could live without Vergil. But I do think that the Metamorphoses would have broader appeal to a post-apocalyptic posterity that doesn't know much about Roman history and that doesn't have some of the Greek and Latin texts that Vergil channels. And I think that while some of Ovid's other works are frivolous--and the exile poems are truly depressing--the Metamorphoses rises to a loftier level. I want to explain that at greater length when I have the time.

I'm inclined to agree with you about Horace: I feel I've never been able to really connect with him, especially the tendentious political stuff, the smug and sententious endorsement of unexamined commonplace values, and the fulsome fawning on the great and powerful. (Even Vergil does this, of course, but tastefully; much of the Met., in my reading, is a veiled but sustained attack on authority, particularly on you know who, which makes the exile poems, especially ex Ponto, all the more pathetic; but I hope to post on that later.) I do think that solely from the point of view of verbal artistry Horace can often be astonishing--and all the more so in meters with shorter lines that require extreme compression without giving the scope and range of the hexameter. And there are a few poems--short ones generally and famous ones, too--that I think are perfect: for example, Persicos odi.

Give me some time--I'm still working on Pindar.
Last edited by Qimmik on Tue Sep 09, 2014 10:09 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: What would you save?

Postby cb » Tue Sep 09, 2014 1:02 pm

oh, i see i have some charges to answer. why not plato? 3 reasons:

i personally couldn't understand plato if i didn't have aristotle (especially the categories and the topics). for me, philosophy is like any other field of study - you need to learn the tools, the vocab, etc before you can get any proficiency in it, to go through an apprenticeship, and aristotle gives that at least for ancient philosophy... plato rescued without aristotle, or some other explanation, would have been like a stonehenge, a grave filled with inexplicable riches from some unknown civilisation, like if someone in the future found a chess board and all the pieces, but the rules were lost.

second, if i was going to rescue one philosopher, since this is my main interest, i guess i would want to think about choosing one that could lead to a renaissance of philosophy, ie in tools for thinking rather than in the philosophy itself. aristotle is as good a choice as any, sextus empiricus would rank up there.

third, i was only able to take a part of plato according to the original rules, but all of the iliad. plato's dialogues for me need to be read and understood together, and so taking along a part would be like rescuing a single statue of aphrodite with the limbs and head missing.

cheers, chad
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Re: What would you save?

Postby daivid » Tue Sep 09, 2014 3:25 pm

Qimmik wrote:mwh: you can rescue as much Plato and Euripides as you want, as long as (1) you tell us which ones and why--not even a complete sentence, just a few words or even just one word for each will do--and (2) you don't dismiss the Metamorphoses as frivolous. (I too was disappointed when cb didn't rescue Plato, especially since I deliberately constructed the scenario to allow him save some Plato and let someone else rescue Homer.).


Why is he allowed to rescue all of Euripides? Not Fair :x !!
If you're going to bend the rules for him I'll grab Oeconomicus for a bit of social history that is about life as it was actually lived and Xenophon's On Horsemanship - the arrival of the barbarians at the gate is no doubt produced by some CO2 induced climatic tailspin so it is likely that horses will have gone extinct so the future will need to know a bit about these strange creatures and how they were used in the Greek world.
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Re: What would you save?

Postby Qimmik » Tue Sep 09, 2014 5:30 pm

daivid: If you're going to save these works, you need to explain why. Remember, the Committee is very strict about these things.
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Re: What would you save?

Postby daivid » Tue Sep 09, 2014 9:54 pm

Qimmik wrote:daivid: If you're going to save these works, you need to explain why. Remember, the Committee is very strict about these things.

But I did. Oeconomicus gives an insight into everyday life not to mention the status of women in Ancient Greece which, as well as having value in itself, we need to understand plays like those of Aristophanes.
Xenophon's on Hosemanship focuses on one aspect of every day life (albeit for the very rich) but it is also important background for understanding the role of cavalry that would be needed for the future generations who would never have seen a horse.
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Re: What would you save?

Postby MiguelM » Thu Sep 11, 2014 9:36 am

I can't believe someone's leaving Sophocles to those oh-so-useful hairy smelly things. I would take the little one-volume with all of his plays, bonus points if someone bothers to publish that alongside the fragments (come on people, still a while to go until 2099). I would take him because, after perhaps Homer (and here I'm betting on someone having already made sure the Odyssey's in, since cb already saved the Iliad), he is quite simply the best playwright of Greco-roman antiquity: the challengers are towering but ultimately end up having to justify their own worth in Sophocles' own terms, and that's a categorical victory if there ever was one (and this is something the Greeks themselves realized). His surviving plays as well as his fragments are a testimony of humanity's place in the world, neither certain nor absurd, neither heroic nor base; his characters proclaim their certainty with that sort of strong vigour which testifies rather their own doubt and ours better than perhaps anyone ever did in the future. If Humanity really was collapsing I can think of no other writer who would be more helpful than him to world starting wholy again. (Especially since Vergil's already been saved, but even it being so, and loving him as I do, I think we would try to use the opportunity of catastrophe to begin things in a different manner).
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