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November 15, 2005

Literature and Literacy in Ancient Greece II: Caging the Muses

Davison, J.A. “Literature and Literacy in Ancient Greece II: Caging the Muses.” Phoenix 16.4 (Winter 1962). 219-233.

In this subsequent essay, Davison traces the rise of bookselling and collecting. He finds the earliest reference to a bookselling quarter in Aristophanes’ Birds from 414, and notes that bookselling became an export industry by the end of that century (219). Of course, private book collectors also began to develop their personal libraries around this time, and the libraries of Euripedes, Euthydemus, and Eucleides were apparently notable. A predictable second-hand book trade also existed, as did dealers in rare books (221).

In the fourth century, books became more commonplace, and so did the literary critic. Multiple editions of works abounded, produced with the cooperations of rhapsodes. Discrepancies were rife between the editions (most notably those of Homer), and it wasn't until much later that the critics managed to wrangle them into something approaching a definitive edition. By the middle of the second century BC, Greeks had begun to develop a true literary culture, one sufficient to be passed on to the Romans.

Most importantly for my larger project, Davison briefly examines the implications that the rise of the book had for intellectual property and publication. While our ideas of “publication” don’t map onto the sort of publication that was possible then, we do begin to see page layout begin to be considered, as well as basic usability. Authors were still not conscious of the need to create works of standard length, but the physical producers of work were beginning to standardize their trade (232). The author says “there is no suggestion that I can find of any idea that an author might have had any property in his writings or of anything like a law of copyright,“ and he doubts that they would have accepted money for their works either, given Plato’s admonitions against accepting money for teaching (232).

Posted by at 5:52 PM | Articles | Greek | Literacy | Publishing

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November 14, 2005

Literature and Literacy in Ancient Greece

Davison, J.A. “Literature and Literacy in Ancient Greece.” Phoenix 16.3 (Autumn 1962). 141-156.

Davison begins this two-part essay by clarifying his interests: “‘What makes authors tick?’ and ‘How do authors eat?’“ For these frank, simple questions, and for his conversational style, I’ve developed a special affection for his work.

His discussion of the importance of oral memory is much the same as Havelock’s much later work, although Havelock cites him only once in passing in The Muse Learns to Write. He discusses the use of storage language (without using precisely that term) as a ritualized, narrative practice, most often in the form of song (145) and in competitions (153). A fair amount of space is devoted to the fourth canon, particularly as a support for improvisation. Interestingly, he notes that the Muses often appear as “the guardians of factual tradition, the divine record office as it were to which the poet can appeal for information on matters outside his own knowledge” (145). The Muses are not always to depended on, though: “not all the Muses are as honest as she who visited Demodocus; Hesiod’s Muses put the telling of lies like to truth first among the things which they know, and only tell true tales when they feel like it” (146). Thus, Muses are not a reliable substitute for memory.

He also makes the point that writing a book or copying another’s work was not equivalent with preparing it for publication in the 8th century BC (149). Writing technologies were expensive (a papyrus cost 2 drachmas in the 5th century BC) and mass reproduction was nearly impossible. Copies were necessarily limited: the author himself, and his representatives might have copies. The fact that copies were offered as dowry points to a sense of absolute ownership in copies, if not in the content (151). “Such stories suggest that the author was confident that there was no other copy of the poem in existence, and that the exclusive right of recitation thus conferred might prove ... valuable” (151).

Unlike Havelock, he supposes that the transition from oral to literate culture took place in the course of a generation. In the process of tracing the rise of the alphabet and literacy in attic Greece, Davison makes an interesting observation: just because people are fully literate does not necessarily mean they spend much time reading, or that it is a preferred means of transmitting information or entertainment. He claims that most Athenians were not ‘great readers’s, preferring to get their content aurally much current audiences prefer radio or podcasts. While the alphabet was demonstrably in use by the end of the eighth century BC, reading as pasttime does not appear until the last quarter of the fifth century (143). He sees the first record of reading for leisure and respite in Euripides’ Erechtheus, which tells of a soldier coming home from war and sitting down to read a book. When such men are many, publication and the bookselling trade can begin to flourish.

Posted by at 1:48 PM | Articles | Greek | Literacy | Publishing

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November 11, 2005

Did Demosthenes Publish His Deliberative Speeches?

Trevett, Jeremy. “Did Demosthenes Publish His Deliberative Speeches?” Hermes 124 (1996): 425-441.

Trevett refutes previous scholarship on the matter, building a point-by-point case that Demosthenes’ deliberative speeches were never published by Demosthenes during the era they were performed. He notes that the only direct evidence that they were circulated comes from Plutarch’s report of a statement made by Hermippos, who said that Aision had said that they were circulated. (426). Since this is no more than hearsay, it does not constitute proof. Trevett follows this opening salvo with the following points:

Of course, we can never really know how much revision took place or what the actual, live content of a speech was. In spite of these limitations, Trevett makes some interesting points about the distinct publishing practices concerning different speech genres (forensic and epideictic: yes. deliberative: no). This gives us a slightly different look into the scriptural economy of the time. Further, it suggests that a proprietary construction of authorship might have existed since there was a market for something like a pamphlet entitled On The False Embassy by Aeschines.

Posted by at 6:57 PM | Articles | Plagiarism | Publishing

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November 10, 2005

What Is An Author?

Foucault, Michel. “What Is An Author?” The Foucault Reader. ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. 101-120.

In this brief, canonical essay, Foucault suggests that the Author exists not as a person or “real writer” (112) but rather as a discursive function, “a certain . . . principle in which . . . one limits, excludes, and chooses and impedes the free circulation of fiction” (Horrocks 99). This essay situates the author relative to the text, beginning with the assumption that “the text points to this ‘figure’ [the Author] that, at least in appearance, is outside it and antecedes it” (Foucault 101). In other words, the concept of authorship is a fiction that has been constructed by society and yet remains separate from the text itself. This “immanent rule” of Author and text as intertwined has become so accepted that society no longer views it as a fiction but as an irrefutable fact.
Foucault lists four traits of the Author function (113) :


  1. The Author function is linked to the juridical and institutional system that encompasses, determines, and articulates the universe of discourses.
    One might link this to the hegemonic notion of the autonomous, ingenious Author as a recent invention -- very much a result of the Statute of Anne (juridical discourse) as well as a shift in religious views on the source of knowledge (institutional system). Foucault suggests that changes within these hegemonic power structures drove changes within societal conceptualizations of authorship.

  2. It does not affect all discourses in the same way at all times and in all types of civilization. One example of this is the American view of copying as a moral failure contrasted with the Chinese view of copying as a tribute paid by the student to the master.

  3. It is not defined by the spontaneous attribution of a discourse to its producer, but rather by a series of specific and complex operations.
    This also has implications for authorship in blogging. While the central blog may be written by (an) identifiable individual(s), other authors contribute to the text through trackbacks, links, and comments. Thus, it is impossible to attribute blog discourse to its producer — its operations are too complex to do so. Wikis present an even more dynamic environment, where it is virtually impossible to trace individual authorship at all.

  4. It does not refer purely and simply to a real individual, since it can give rise simultaneously to several selves, to several subjects — positions that can be occupied by different classes of individuals.
    This last factor is perhaps the best known, as it removes individuality from the Author, a point Foucault had briefly stated earlier in the essay: “Using all the contrivances that he sets up between himself and what he writes, the writing subject cancels out the signs of his particular individuality” (102).

Foucault’s notions concerning societal constructios of authorship provide a larger framework that suggests that an Author — or a peculularly Greek construction of one — could well have existed in antiquity. It might not look exactly like our construction, since each construct is unique to the time and place of its development, but it would have been just as valid as our contemporary ideas.

Posted by at 10:41 AM | Articles | Constructs | PoMo/PostStructuralist

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November 7, 2005

Isocrates on the Ethics of Authorship

Behme, Tim. “Isocrates on the Ethics of Authorship.” Rhetoric Review 23.3 (2004): 197-215.

Behme identifies a number of ethical positions on originality and plagiarism in Isocrates’ works. He notes that Isocrates was obsessed with originality and conceived of it as a competitive enterprise, going so far as to say that the ideal speaker “knows how to treat the old subjects as no one else could.” One doesn’t want to be the first to comment on a new subject, but rather to be the last, definitive, wholly original word on a topic (200).

Isoscrates’ ethics are full of contradictions: He vociferously condemned unoriginality, but rarely cited others in his work in spite of admitting that he did repeat their words (205). He also heaped scorn on plagiarism, but often auto-plagiarised his own old statements, explaining that if others used his words, he should be entitled to do the same (204).

The author argues that Isocrates was motivated by the competitive desire for fame, fortune, and immortality (205). He was particularly concerned with the state of his reputation, which fed the reputation of his school and therefore affected his income. His frequent accusations of unoriginality can therefore be read as an attempt to preserve his own reputation while denegrating his competitors (206). Still, his highest concern was his immortal reputation, which he fully intended to extend beyond his death. He believed that his high standards for originality would help him to achieve this ultimate goal (208).

Unlike Logie, Behme seems to take for granted that Isocrates would indeed be considered an Author in the proprietary, solitary, and originary senses of the term. He does not position this claim against contemporary authorship scholarship, which generally holds that the Author did not emerge as a social construct until the 18th century. However, he is careful to point out that we should be sensitive to the vocabulary of particular periods, and so perhaps he would also argue that we should be sensitive to the constructs of those periods, which may not match our own. Still, I would prefer that his claim be better situated. Regardless of this quibble, the article nicely extends the current scholarship on original authorship in antiquity.

Posted by at 11:00 AM | Articles | Constructs | Ethics | Greek

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November 6, 2005

“I Have No Predecessor to Guide My Steps”: Quintilian and The Roman Construction of Authorship

Logie, John. “‘I Have No Predecessor to Guide My Steps’: Quintilian and the Roman Construction of Authorship.” Rhetoric Review 22.4 (2003): 353-73.

Logie undertakes an analysis of Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria in order to examine the extent to which Quintilian should be considered to fulfill the modern criteria of authorship. Quintilian’s program of education is heavily based on memorization and imitation, and prominent critics (Kennedy, Butler, Barilli, Bizzell, and Herzberg) suggest that he was little more than a compiler and a Ciceronian. To suggest that we should even consider him a capital-a Author flies in the face of historical circumstance: Roman culture held that inspiration originated from the Muses or from the Gods, not from within an author or creator. Additionally, as Ong would suggest, Rome was a largely oral society which would not have yet recognized proprietary interest in written works. Logie’s position also refutes Woodmansee’s predominant theory, which holds that the modern construction of the author did not emerge until the 18th century.

In her seminal essay “The Genius and the Copyright: Economic and Legal Conditions of the Emergence of the Author,” Woodmansee identifies three elements of this construct: solitary, originary, and proprietary. Logie applies her framework to the Institutio, concluding that Quintilian does fulfill all of these criteria, most particularly in Book XII. He argues that Quintilian’s arrangement of information follows his program, “progressing from relatively passive consumption of exemplary texts, to competent imitation, building finally to the creation of original compositions” (359). Quintilian makes claims for the novelty of his project, saying that he will not tread in other’s tracks. While acknowledging that some never move beyond imitatio, he makes it clear that he demands more from himself and his students. He also maintains that he has moved beyond Cicero: “I have no predecessor to guide my steps and must press far, far on, as my theme may demand” (369).

Additionally, Logie points out that Quintilian makes a number of proprietary claims throughout the work. In the opening chapters, he notes that pirated editions of his work are on the market. He asserts his right to determine whether or not his work should be published and which editions should remain in circulation.

The article presents a compelling case for a Roman conception/construction of Authorship in the solitary, proprietary, and originary senses of the term. Most importantly for my project, it provides a useful indication that authorship constructs did in fact exist in antiquity, and that further study on the topic is merited.

Posted by at 1:09 PM | Articles | Constructs | Roman