Desideratum–Ebooks of Oxford Classical Texts, Borrowable from the Library

I just popped out to the library to borrow a copy of Mynor’s text of Catullus. The point is, I shouldn’t have to.

I have been reading Catullus. If (like me) you are not a Catullus specialist, there are moments you wonder, is it my Latin not being good enough to be clear about what this means, or is the text faulty?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have little space. I do own classics books but they are in storage. I rely on electronic resources, mainly. So for Catullus we have Perseus, which is wonderful to have, but the text is unidentified, and there are no apparatus. The PHI Latin disk has Goold’s text. I remember George Goold and his wife Philippa well. When he visited the UK he was a dinner guest once. Maybe some reminiscences another time. Anyway, the electronic version lacks appparatus.

On the whole publishers of classical texts have been slow to wake up to electronic publishing. Walter de Gruyter do publish ebooks. The Teubner Catullus is available as an ebook It is not cheap (US%56 to be precise). Can I borrow it from UCL library or the Joint Library in London? No (to be fair I have not asked: maybe I should!).

I look forward to Oxford University Press providing OCTs as ebooks, and at an affordable price. I can see the difficulty for publishers: piracy is so easy. As I understand the academic side of OUP’s operation is not expected to be profitable, although the press as whole is. No doubt the income from academic books is important to them, though. Be that as it may, ebooks of classical texts would be most welcome. As would be the facility to borrow them! For the peripatetic digital classicist, who travels (in my case) often only with the luggage he can carry in his pocket, travelling with a library of hard copies is not practical.

I wonder whether OUP have plans for this? And what plans libraries have for stocking ebooks? For now I have to lug around OCT in paper copy. The transmission of Catullus’s text has the virtue of brevity, so it is not too onerous. Unlike the Blackwell A Companion to Catullus (ed. M. B. Skinner). Catullus’s companion is altogether more weighty.

The Scholar’s Gaze: A Prefatory Scratch at Classical Scholarship


You start by going to university to read Classics. At some point you become a ‘scholar,’ engaged in what I can best describe with the German word Altertumswisseschaft. Instead of enjoying and learning from the Classics as companions and teachers, you study the Classical world as a collection of interrelated objects. These exercises are not the same thing, any more than experiencing a dream, and analysing it are the same. The analytical and objectifying gaze allows you mentally to possess any material you turn it on. The ‘Wissenschaftler’ might turn his attention on anything which can enhance our understanding of the ancient world, from a papyrus of Sappho, for example, to a papyrus containing a wet nurse contract in Greek.

So what is the purpose of Classical Scholarship?

Is anything lost in terms of direct experience by pursuing this scientific project? I think it is. Being a scholar does not prevent one reading Homer, as Pope did in An Essay on Criticism:

Be Homer’s Works your Study, and Delight,
Read them by Day, and meditate by Night,
Thence form your Judgment, thence your Maxims bring,
And trace the Muses upward to their Spring;
Still with It self compar’d, his Text peruse;
And let your Comment be the Mantuan Muse.

Pope is the critical student, both experiencing the text, and seeking to understand why the text works as great literature, rather than dissecting it as another piece of evidence for antiquity. The analytical scholar, however, betrays his sense of loss, as well as gain, when, after a laborious reconstruction of some nugatory fragment, he adds, more or, sometimes, less apologetically, ‘it is not, after all, too bad as literature.’ He might remember his enthusiasm for Homer, or Catullus, as a green Classics student, and think quietly (to use the language of contract law), non haec in foedera veni. It would be easy to point to examples. This ‘it actually has some literary merit‘ attitude was everywhere in a subject I took an interest in, the Greek novel. As the popularity of the field increased, and thus the confidence of its practitioners, the apologetic tendency in the positive evaluations weakened.

A comparable point is made with respect to English scholarship by the bookseller friend whom I described in my last post as having retired from his London shop to a leafy suburb:

Re: Starnbergersee

Dear John,

I will soon be writing those letters that English people who live in the county used to write, detailing how they purchased an ell of muslin for there wife s dress, and three ha pence worth of nails, and which OUP reprinted a Century later, to the universal applause of the critics. We should find someone who lives on a Council estate on benefits, with a pleasing style of writing and publish their emails, with scholarly annotation;- time passes so much more quickly now, even the world of our childhood would have a charming remoteness, imagine a world without mobile phones or computers, where children were beaten when they misbehaved and central heating was regarded as unusual.

The sun rising over the Austrian mouse farm, strikes me as not really poetical…

What would a scholar do with that fragment of an email? And why?

The history of scholarship has not really been written. I have read Pfeiffer, but he does not get to the post-enlightenment developments which made scholarship what it is today. I see there is a new edition of Sandys, and the original edition is downloadable. I am sure I looked there for the explanation of why scholars do what they do, and failed to find it. Perhaps I should revisit Sandys. For now, I admit this post makes a hopelessly inadequate scratch on a subject which troubled me. If anyone can illuminate for me what may be a stupid question, please do so.

Web tech note–Why and how I downgraded from Varnish 3 to 2


Sometimes it seems to make sense to get the latest version of software you are using, especially if the upgrade is free! In the case of Varnish caching reverse proxy, it is not a good idea, unless you are running a complex installtion which requires the newer version’s features. This site is being served but not cached by Varnish. However, several Drupal sites on the same server are being cached by Varnish. For Varnish 2 there are ready-made configuration files (in Varnish’s native VCL configuration language) such as that from Pressflow. For Varnish 3 you are on your own.

The VCL syntax changed a bit from Varnish 2.0 to 2.1 but getting the config file working is not too hard. Getting Varnish 3 working with Drupal is a royal pain, and you are pretty much going to have take responsibility for writing your own VCL file. Once it is working, for a simple installation, it is if anything less efficient than Varnish 2. This is all discussed on the Drupal forum. With most of these config files, even when you get them to work so that caching (albeit some say caching less well than Varnish 2), logging in to your Drupal (or WordPress) site can break.

Upgrading is easy. Install the rpm and hit yum update varnish or yum install varnish. Yum might even find it without installing the rpm. Downgrading is more tricky.

First I did a yum remove varnish. However, once version 3 is on your server, yum install varnish will reinstall it. On a Centos server I had to go to /etc/yum-repos.d and delete the Varnish repository. Then reinstall the earlier versions of the varnish libraries. The single noarch bundle (find packages here) did not work for me on my 64 bit Centos el5 server.

If you are doing a fresh install, note that installation is tricker on 64 bit OS because it is all too easy to get the wrong versions of the various libraries required by Varnish. Be careful about to get the correct ones.

Then I had to install the old rpms:
rpm –nosignature -i
rpm –nosignature -i
rpm –nosignature -i
(Go to the same URL for the relevant debug and docs libraries.)

Now yum install varnish. Find varnishd (for me in /usr/sbin) and do varnishd -V to check you have version 2, not version 3! The config file (for me at /etc/sysconfig) is overwritten by every upgrade or downgrade, so you need to edit it for the location of your VCL file, and to put Varnish on port 80. Should be good to go!

If you have not used Varnish before, once you have proved it will start from command line, of course you are likely to need a VCL file to configure it to work well with your installatio. Probably you need something other than the default.vcl supplied. But that is another article. If you are on Varnish 2 you should have no problem in finding something on the net. For Drupal, Pressflow’s example is a good starting point.

On this site, I did not succeed in getting anonymous comments working on cached pages with Varnish. Caching just the front page is of course possible (though you have to strip cookies under vcl_fetch, otherwise you get a ‘hitpass’ from the cache, rather than an hit). But, with the site behind Cloudflare, I found a cached front page was loading slower than an uncached page. If anyone can explain that, please let me konw!

BTW if you are installing for the first time on cPanel, check out UNIXy. I have not used them but it looks good. There are some additional complications with installing on cPanel, but they are not great. Still, given the time it takes to get the hang of the new software, the price of the cPanel plugin is probably worth it.

Web tech note–Adding third nameserver with Cloudflare


When you use Cloudflare you must use their nameservers. They provide two. If their nameservers are down your website goes down. Therefore it is tempting to add a third and fourth nameserver. However, if you add other nameservesr (perhaps your original ones) as third and fourth nameservers at you registrar, these will be used some of the time, since they are picked randomly. Therefore some clients will be sent to your server directly. My solution is to add a third nameserver but not a foruth, creating some redundancy, and accepting that a third of the traffic will not go via Cloudflare.

Book Market Vibes Prove Ancient Greek is ‘IN’

Emphasising the chance to study ancient Greek language is one of the best ways universities can attract students.

Ancient Greek is not only in, it is showing early signs of a renaissance which universities could capitalize on in various ways. A key piece of evidence comes from the burgeoning demand and prices for antiquarian books in the field.

A quick digression to explain how I know this. The close friend with whom I have had the longest continuous contact is the bookseller P J Hilton. Recently his central London shop ceased to be viable, but he is still a bookseller, adjusting to bookselling on online. Bookshops have been hit hard by the Internet, and will be hit again by the growth of electronic readers. In good times and bad, I was often in Paul’s shop several times in a month or even a week, and observed the stock turnover, the behaviour of customers, and heard Paul’s wisdom on the trade. The growth in demand for Greek has been striking.

When Paul was first in the trade, old Latin books and old Greek books would sit on the shelves gathering dust. These subjects were obsolete. Of course there was always a market for really rare, old and beautiful books in any language. By ‘old’ I mean anyone’s idea of collectable: the older the better, and a collector’s preferred century depends largely on his budget. ‘His’? Book collecting is also far less an exclusively male pastime that it was twenty or thirty or years ago, by the by. In past decades, books in English were for decades much preferred, even among collectable books which are unlikely to be read.

But now! Beautiful old Greek books sell fast. Burgeoning demand means burgeoning prices. A few people would always come in to the shop asking for ‘Greek and Latin Classics,’ and that did not change. Latin books are not less popular than they were, but they have not experienced the same market growth. Not yet.

Any analysis of the reasons for this massive demand for books in ancient Greek would be interesting, and inconclusive. Conclusively, it is clear that the fascination and resonance which these books exert are drawing attention and money, and not only from customers with origins or connections in modern Greece. The antiquarian book market might seem as far from the world of fashion as you can get, but it is not. The very rare and early will always be valuable. Beyond that, collecting is driven by fashion, and tells you as much or more about cultural trends at work in society as the catwalk. If people will devote money to collecting books in ancient Greek, some of those people will want to devote money and time to learning the language. Make no mistake, ancient Greek (which was fuddy-duddy’ when I started to learn it) is ‘in.’ Latin, on the basis of book market trends, is not.

Universities should respond to this semi-hidden groundswell of demand. How? Among other things, by emphasizing the offer of ancient Greek language teaching as the selling-point most likely to attract students onto a Classics course. I made this point with reference to both Latin and Greek in an earlier blog post, Yay! It’s Greek Prose Composition Month!, where I discussed the widespread interesting in learning Classical languages among amateur students.

This is not to suggest that professional academics are unaware of what is going on. But when you are engaged with the field every day, the new cultural shoots, the germination and blossoming of a new trend, may be harder to spot in its early stages. After years of visiting Paul’s shop, I was impressed by the way, gradually, Greek books started to fly off the shelves ever faster, and not only gorgeous examples of Venetian printing. Almost anything. Classicists and Classics Departments need no longer be on the back foot: once we convince the world that Latin should be as fashionable as Greek has become, our subject will be in ever greater demand.