Thursday, July 19, 2007

Heath contra Feeney

One of the things I look forward to most in the BMCR are the responses. There have been some famous fights in the past, one of my favorites centering around M.L. West and the Parry-Lord thesis. This one is not as sexy, but worthy of note.

Casper C. de Jonge of Leiden, reviewing Oxford Readings in Ancient Literary Criticism (ed. Andrew Laird) said the following about one contribution:

The usefulness of ancient criticism for modern research is in fact the subject of the final contribution in the volume, Denis Feeney's polemical essay "Criticism Ancient and Modern". The author disagrees with Malcolm Heath, who has famously claimed that ancient literary criticism is the only tool that a modern scholar is allowed to use.5 Feeney argues that, although ancient critics can be useful guides, they will never be our only "interpretative key" (p. 442).
The footnote there (5) broadly cites two works by Heath, The Poetics of Greek Tragedy (1987), and Unity in Greek Poetics (1989), which in itself proves no direct familiarity with the text. Not having access these works (which, incidentally, did not fare well under review by Stephen Halliwell elsewhere), I can not support either Feeney or Heath. But Heath has words of his own:
Since I have no wish to bask in unearned fame, I must point out that I have never made the mind-bogglingly stupid claim which de Jonge (following Feeney) attributes to me. I have claimed, subject to various qualifications, that ancient literary criticism is an indispensable tool.

A concise explanation of my thoughts on this issue (including a response to Feeney's critique) can be found in chapter 4 of my Interpreting Classical Texts (London: Duckworth, 2002).
If history is any indication we'll hear more in the weeks to come.

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