25 APRIL 1992, Page 36

Good-bye to all this

Hugh Trevor-Roper

GREEK IN A COLD CLIMATE by Hugh Lloyd-Jones Duckworth, f29.95, pp. 248 The study of Latin and Greek has long been part — indeed an essential part — of `humanist' education in Britain. Great resources have been invested in it, and other studies (as some scientists complain) have sometimes been sacrificed to it. It has been justified on various grounds. Original- ly it was seen as the means to recover not only ancient science but also antique `virtue', — the Machiavellian virtu. This argument was occasionally carried rather far. Cyril Jackson, a famous Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, who did much to re- introduce education into that college in the 18th century, recommended Homer's heroes (`those frightful men', as Sir Isaiah Berlin calls them) as the model for an English gentleman on all occasions. His successor, Dr Gaisford, a much more learned scholar, varied the argument. He declared that the study of Greek had social and economic advantages: it not only elevated a man `above the vulgar herd', but `not infrequently led to positions of consid- erable emolument'. These arguments have less power today. To teach `virtue' is, alas, no longer fashionable, and a knowledge of Greek does not lead to a bishopric; and any way, is not all the literature now avail- able in translation?

Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones deals with these arguments in the last essay in this volume, which gives it its title and was his valedicto- ry lecture as Regius Professor of Greek in Oxford. But he also deals with much more. There are 31 essays in the book, some of them quite short — obituary essays on recent scholars, short reviews of books but all of them, short or long, are learned, thoughtful and lively; they are also elegant- ly and pungently expressed; and they range far beyond the normal limits of a classical philologist. Directly or indirectly, they illus- trate the history and function of classical studies: their influence on more general European culture from the Renaissance through Goethe and Humboldt to Arnold, Pater and Nietzsche; the application to them of the modern sciences of psychology and anthropology; the origin and signifi- cance of Greek myths. There are essays on ancient Greek religion, which he approves, and on modern translations of Homer, which, in general, he does not, and a compact but lucid history of the famous Alexandrian Library. There are also a few essays on Roman subjects, all from imperi- al times: on the emperors Caligula and Claudius; on the `baroque' poet Lucan who strained so hard to be different from Virgil and who, being Spanish, invites comparison (but what other classicist would make the comparison?) with G6ngora, Goya and Bunuel; on the scholarly mandarin of the Antonine age, Aulus Gellius; on those pornographic, not to say ithyphallic, poems known as the Priapea, so savoured by the humanists of the Renaissance (and even of the Reformation); and on that great doctor of the Church, St Jerome, whose 'tone in polemic has reminded some of Housman' and whose

success in persuading wealthy ladies to devote large sums to good causes of his own choosing may recall Dr Frank Buchman.

One of the longest essays is a British Academy Lecture on that difficult but mag- nificent poet Pindar: so stylised and yet so forceful and direct.

Like Milton, Pindar combines `gigantic loftiness' of language with powerful con- centration of thought and seems enclosed in an archaic context, remote from our world as the great Attic tragedians do not. Horace thought him a spontaneous genius, uncontrolled by rules of art, and for centuries this was the standard view: to Ben Jonson, Cowley, Dryden or Gray a `Pindarick ode' meant an irregular effusion of torrential, magniloquence. Of course we know better now, and Lloyd-Jones shows the strict conventions and the intellectual You look like a million roubles.' context within which he turned the celebra- tion of athletic victories, through the medi- um of myth, into a timeless philosophy.

An essential part of this context was reli- gion. The Greek religion, as. Lloyd-Jones says of Pindar, 'pervades his poetry'. But not only Pindar's poetry: Homer's poems too, and the `Histories' of Herodotus, which are not 'naive' or frivolous but coherent and sophisticated within their metaphysical frame. Lloyd-Jones writes excellently on Greek religion, which is a recurring theme in these essays, persuasive- ly and sympathetically set out. The Greek gods, he explains, do not violate Nature through miracles: they work through natural forces, often in competition with each other. They rule the universe in their own interest, `with little regard for that of men', whose passions, however, they may use to achieve their ends and whose crimes they will punish in their own good time, perhaps in a later generation. Such a theology disposes very conveniently of the problem of evil, which worries Christians; it may even help to explain `the Greek miracle', the origin of critical nationalism in human thought; and it can inspire great tragic literature. In all these respects it is superior to the Christianity which replaced it and which only achieved comparable results when it returned to those Greek sources.

Lloyd-Jones is a provocative and imaginative writer; his style is urbane but at times agreeably sardonic: other scholars will savour the nicely chosen adjectives with which he appears to praise some of his predecessors (and colleagues). But essentially he is a professional, a rigorous scholar of Altertumswissenschaft, impatient of those dilettanti who, having acquired the languages, are content to play with them or to read Thucydides `with their feet on the mantelpiece'. To him the ancient world must be studied in its own context before it can be used as a means of more general explanation of comparison; perhaps even of enjoyment. That requires an exact discipline as well as industry and imagination. Hence his respect for the great German scholars of the 19th century, men like Wolf, Boeckh and Lachmann, the heirs of Scaliger, Casaubon and Bentley, who sought to emancipate antiquity from the humanist tradition and re-create it in

its own right, and whose last epigoni, flee- ing from the Nazi terror, carried their

labours, and their message, to England, to give a new impulse, and new content, to a languishing inheritance. For it has to be admitted that, with us, the tradition, had, by then, run rather thin and could not be reinvigorated from native sources: least of all by the narrow textualism and brutal methods of Housman, whose example has been so damaging in Cambridge.

That gap is now closed. This book of Scripta minora, so modest in form, so wide- ranging in scope, so profound in substance, illustrates its closure.