Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Epic. Homer, "Odyssey"

Lecture from 25 of October, Thursday

I. The Theme of "Odyssey" ("What about" is the Poem). What Part of the Myth uses Homer

1. Moments of the myth (or legend) of the Trojan war
2. The theme of "Odyssey"

II. Plot and Composition of "Odyssey"

1. "Iliad"'s plot
2. "Odyssey"'s plot
3. Composition of the poem

III. Odysseus' Adventures

IV. The Heroes from Troja Return Home. The Common Plot of "Iliad" and "Odyssey"

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Epic. Homer, "Iliad"

Lecture from 18 of October, Thursday

I. Homer and the events of the Trojan war

1. Sources and data concerning the author of "Iliad" and "Odyssey"
2. Sources and date for the war the Trojan legend tells us about
a. Time of the Trojan war
b. Possible reasons for the war. Its range
c. Who were the Trojans

II. Epic Poetry

1. Formal characteristics of epic
2. Typical content of an epic poem
3. Trojan cycle

III. "Iliad"

1. Summary of the poem
2. Ways of retardation
3. Poetical language

Literature in English (available in the web):
Trojan War
Trojan War (with illustrations)
The Rise of the Greek Epic. by Gilbert Murray. Oxford, 1907

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Introduction to the Study of Ancient Greek Literature

I. About the work during the semester

II. List of the Lectures

A. Poetry
1. Homer. "Iliad"
2. Homer. "Odyssey"
3. Hesiod. "Theogony". "Works and Days"
4. Classical Lyric. Pindar
5. Hellenistic Lyric. The Poetry of Hellenism.
6. Tragedy
7. Comedy
8. New Comedy

B. Prose
9. History. Herodotus and Thycidides
10. Rhetoric. Demosthenes
11. The Philosophical Dialogue. Plato
12. The Novel

III. Reading List (in translation)

IV. The Ancient Greek Literature - a Survey

Literature in English (available in the web):
Classical and Hellenistic Greece
A History of Ancient Greek Literature. by Gilbert Murray.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Building a Masters Programme: Difficulties and Challenges

(continues from October, 28)

A year later the Department of Classics considered the creation of another Master’s – in Byzantine studies. At first glance it seemed, that the designers have drawn the moral from the experience of the specialty so far. Firstly, the project has been initiated by professors in two specialties – classical and modern Greek philology (the second was created in the beginning of the 90-ies, and is administratively ruled by the Department of Classics). Moreover, the programme had to be run with the cooperation of the Theological Faculty, which had restored its status of a faculty in the University in the beginning of the 90-ies. Previously it had been separated as an independent HEI, called “Spiritual academy” (sic!). Besides, since the very beginning the designers of the programme had invited for elaboration of the conception colleagues from a third faculty – the Philosophical one. Some authoritative retired professors-historians had agreed to participate as well.
The programme was supposed to include in comparatively equal proportions philological, linguistic, historical, theological, philosophical and practical linguistic disciplines. Thus the problem with the enrollment of the master-students seemed to be solved, because for the programme could opt bachelors in theology, classical and modern Greek philology, as well as historians and philosophers. In fact there were no limitations. The candidate could be a humanitarian or other and (s)he was expected merely to possess a diploma for a completed higher education. It was presumed that the number of the optional classes will exceed the number of the obligatory disciplines, and that the professors will be invited from the University and from other places as well. All that encouraged the designers of the programme (I was among them) to believe in the future of the project.
This programme not only didn’t start, but even did not reach a discussion at the Faculty council; what means that the team didn’t manage to formulate a proposal. The initiators of the programme from our Department could not reach an agreement with the partners of the Theological faculty on two kinds of questions.
1. Who will take the administrative and the financial responsibility for the project? Who is going to administer the students and to do the administrative services, connected with their enrollments, fees, exams, marks of the exams etc?
2. How to be solved the problem with the academic persons, who teach similar material (authors, themes)? No one was prepared for that, because there was no concurrence and competition in the previous system, as has been already mentioned. Every professor had his/her secured field in the frames of one’s community, and the different communities (separated even administratively) did not communicate at all. And not only that. The people in them did not know each other personally and often have not heard their names.

Maybe this system for research and education could reach perfection, if only it were possible in one whole state to exist one and only one specialist in each scholar, scientific or educational topic. A “specialist” means a person, who is authorized by the government to speak and write on this topic. I mention “by the government” on purpose. The truth is that till the present day the certificate for the doctoral, the associate professor’s and the professor’s title, is issued by a special institution, entirely independent from the universities, but dependent from the prime minister (because he appoints its president). The ideal situation - every one to know one’s own and no one to know the other’s - had not been achieved during the XX century not because of lack of political will. Simply there is not terrestrial force and reason, which could define and limit once and forever the topics for a scholar enquiry and for a discussion whatsoever. An ancient philosopher would say, that this is due to the eternal and insurmountable chaos in the sublunary part of the universe; or to the inseparability of the primordial ideas themselves. These facts are mentioned by Plato and Aristotle; but even earlier other Greek thinkers had pointed them out and were sorry about them.

3. The curriculum of the Master’s programme Ancient culture and literature

The next year, simultaneously with the of the reform of the curricula, which had to be fit to the European credit transfer system, the collegium of the classicists decided to propose to the faculty a new master’s programme, entitled “Ancient culture and literature”. This is precisely the programme, whose development I have decided to sketch for you today. In the beginning the conception was based on the following conclusions, derived on the already acquired experience.

(to be continued)

(the restaurant "By the Witches" - Shipka str., five minutes on foot from the University)

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Palace of the Knights of Rhodes

The paper* proposes to the readers some impressions from the architecture of the medieval Palace of the Knights of St. John, called also “Palace of the Grand Master”. The text is divided into four chapters, entitled:
1. About the Architecture
2. 2. The Palace of Rhodes
3. 3. The Second Message.
4. 4. The Restorers.
The initial suggestion of the paper is: the architecture of the medieval fortification buildings, together with its practical purposes, evokes some feelings (or emotional dispositions). It is supposed that these feelings could be contradictory.
On the one hand, the dweller or the newcomer (nowadays the visitor) could be struck by the unusual highness and thickness of the walls, the narrowness of the passages and the windows, the lack of some elementary (from the modern point of view) safety and comfort measures; therefore he/she could be pushed to negative sentiments like fear, anxiety, feeling of dependence or helplessness.
On the other hand these severe conditions could evoke in the dweller (here we are thinking firstly about the medieval knights as Christian soldiers) other dispositions – bravery, military discipline, readiness for self-sacrifice or even for martyrdom.
At the last chapter some speculations are proposed about the way this ambiguity of feelings in front of a architectural work could be put in the context of the fascist world-view (the Palace was thoroughly restored by the Italian government of the island at the beginning of the Second World War) and therefore how a modern ideology could use the characteristics of a traditional art for its own purposes.

*the paper is published in:
Mediaevalia Christiana, 1: Power - Image - Imagining. 2005, Iztok-Zapad Publishing House

(Thomas Cole, The Architect's Dream. 1840. Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio)
From Web Gallery of Art - http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/c/cole/architec.html

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Herodotus and the Parts of the World

II. Egypt*

The paper deals with Herodotus' description of Egypt in the second book of the “History”. The Greek view of the Egypt’s civilization, and, more specifically, how the Greeks were impressed by Egypt and how they conceived the Egyptian impact to their own civilization is the main topic discussed. Next, suggestions are made Egypt as a productive object of western cultural imagination and as a symbol of the eastern civilization model with its positive and negative aspects.

The paper is divided into the following chapters:

1. The Description of Egypt and the Meaning of the Word “History”
2. Egypt and the Greeks
3. Plato and Egypt

*the paper is published in:
ORIENTALIA. A Journal for the East. 2005, 2. New Bulgarian University

(Charles Gleyre, Egyptian Temple, 1840. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, English - "Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre")

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Building a Masters Programme: Difficulties and Challenges

(continues from June, 11)

1. Prevented all the optional disciplines. The student hasn’t to opt for anything because this could lead him/her only to mistakes, and could also create the feeling that the collegium is not certain what precisely is to be studied by someone, in order to acquire learning in the given field.
2. Special priority received the practical work with the language. In this work the superiority of the professor is out of doubt, because no one, who has studied a language for 2-4 years could compare with somebody, who had taught it for 10-30 years, especially if the language is a dead one. (That’s why the first methodological crisis in the specialty classical philology broke in the year, when the first graduates of the gymnasium were enrolled in the specialty; some of them dealt with the languages quite decently, and the professors so far had experience only with beginners).
3. The non-linguistic disciplines, such as history of literature, had to be presented in very general courses, in order to create the feeling for entirety and thoroughness (it must be so, when an authority is teaching), and the successful passing of the exam had to make him/her sure in the knowledge of “these things”.
4. The syllabuses and the curriculum in general were meant to remain untouched. Besides the evident convenience for the teaching person, this created the impression that there isn’t anything else to be fancied in the given field.
5. Not to encourage elder students – say, no older than 30 years. (For the regular doctoral study, the so-called aspirantura, it was explicitly legislatively forbidden students older than 30 years to be given scholarships). Students, who have studied something different earlier or studied something else at the moment, were not to be encouraged. The real reason was that the greater life experience could create questions, which might burden the professor. The mere opportunity to compare the specialties and the professors was already something undesirable. This embarrassment caused by the older students and the students with different background was explained in the following manner: we don’t need such people, because they do not have the chance to become good specialists, since they haven’t started on time. They have wasted their time or they are wasting their time now.
6. Not to invite professors from other specialties. That is intrinsically connected with the lack of optional classes and is engendered by the principle of the authority; the authority does not tolerate either addition or comparison. No need to mention about foreign lecturers. In short, the contacts between the separated specialties and the universities, even within Bulgaria, had to be kept to a minimum. However, if some professor went for a while in a foreign university, it didn’t damage his/her authority, because usually no one was informed what (s)he has done there.
I am convinced, that these claims of mine would be confirmed by almost 100% of the students, who have studied classical philology in the past 20 years, and maybe by the older ones. At the same time many of them would say that the education they have received is not bad. And this is really so. Because, besides the fact that the mere object of the classical education is the common cultural heritage of the West (and thence of the world), the concrete teaching in the SU possessed its own character and style, due to its decades-long tradition. However, it was evident that the interest towards it is vanishing, and it was not only the collegium’s fault, but it is also a consequence of the greater change, which affected all the assets of our live – in Bulgaria and in the rest of the East European countries.
The task of the people, who had to design the future master’s programmes, was to change the mere character of the academic work. Let’s see what they have undertaken.

2. Two unsuccessful attempts

A. The Master’s programme in Classical languages

Prior to the discussion of the programme, which is the topic of this presentation, I am going to narrate (in brief) about two attempts, which preceded its creation. That will help me to draw your attention to some difficulties, which are accompanying the fulfillment of such an educational project. If not surmounted on time, most certainly they lead to its failure.
As I have mentioned above, one of the first reformative initiatives of the specialty was the elaboration of the Master’s programme, called Classical languages. The contents of this programme corresponded well to the name. It included three semesters of practical work on Greek and Latin. There were additional disciplines as epigraphic, paleography, historical grammar, morphology and syntax of each of them, comparative linguistics of the roman languages and some more specialized courses. The ratio between the obligatory and the optional courses was 50:50. The reasons for all that are still evident. The specialty had at its disposal the necessary teaching staff, in order to secure the launching of the programme and of each discipline. There wasn’t any need of change in the way of working. The programme was meant to offer to the students the study of texts, not read during the bachelor’s (that’s easy because the classical literature is quantitatively inexhaustible) and new contents of the theoretic courses. This certainly meant that the professors would be given the opportunity to make presentations of parts of their writings (which will be a prove that thus the education really turns out to be “for more advanced”.)
The idea for such a project was grounded on the already mentioned prejudice that the higher education exists in order to produce specialists. A specialist is the one, who knows something exhaustively: say, the one, who knows the names of all authors, who have written on a certain topic and is familiar with all their publications. At the same time he has to master perfectly some skill (for example, to be able to read without difficulty and dictionary ancient texts from all genres, because (s)he has read already everything and knows all Greek and Latin words). In short, the notion of a specialist in these academic spheres coincided with the notion of an authority.
No candidates appeared for this programme either in the first, or in the following years. It is not difficult to explain this lack of interest: in order to participate, they should have become bachelors in the same faculty (because there is no other place in Bulgaria, where such an education is offered). But these students were reluctant to study classical philology any more. Moreover, there were between 1 and 4 students who graduated from the department yearly (exactly as nowadays). At the same time only Master’s programmes, which have enrolled at least six candidates (exceptionally five) were permitted to start.

B. The Master’s programme in Byzantine studies

(Sofia University central building. North entrance to the courtyard)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Demosthenes and the Unity of the Greeks II

Philip II

(continues from Friday, April 27)

III. The failure of Athens

Demosthenes himself seems to hold the opinion that Athens is already decaying as political and military force and therefore doesn't possess good potential for struggle against Macedonia. Besides, the mood in the different speeches is different: prior to the entrance of Philip in Phocis and even before the capture of Olynthus, Philip seems threatening, but still fightable. But after his march to the south of Thermopylae it becomes clear, that the capacities of Athenians to confront him are suspicious, and, what is worse, that the peace seems hardly negotiable.
It already clear that Philip doesn't want a lasting peace with anybody, whereas the Greek states, including the Athenians, have deluded themselves that he is offering them peace. That’s why the mood from the First Philippics onwards becomes more pessimistic, although Demosthenes keeps on speaking about the necessity of resistance and points to the proper measures to be undertaken. However, his attention splits: on the one side he speaks about the coordinate actions between the cities and the organization of the resistance, but on the other he is more frequently ruminating on the topic: “Why this happened?”
A step aside. Today Europe is not threatened either by an over-ambitious conqueror as Philip, or even by the Islamist terrorism, but rather by the fear, that “the things are not going as earlier”. Indeed, it is slightly believable that peoples will become richer and richer, and this will go on endlessly. Always comes a moment, when their wealth and even their culture begin to raise the interest of the neighbors. Then comes the time to act. And Europe really acts through its present day leaders, but some of the effects lead to undesirable changes (people do not merely get richer; sometimes other things happen) and the discontent appears. It is this discontent, caused by the fear, that is the real enemy of Europe today. And due to the fact that today it seems quite strong, the politicians and the troubled citizens, just like Demosthenes, ask themselves both the questions: not only “What is to be done?” but also “Why it happened like that?” And if the asking of the latter question becomes more and more frequent, this will be a sign that the situation worsens.
Demosthenes sees the following causes for the weakness of Athens. First of all, paradoxically, the democracy with its procedures impedes the necessary reaction of the state in critical circumstances. Unlike the Athenian politicians, Philip of Macedon takes all the decisions by himself: he commands the army, he presides the negotiations (if not he in person, the messengers lead them instead of him; these people would never dare to work in favour of another Macedonian, opponent to Philip); he allocates the money and is unaccountable to anyone. No one can sue against him; no one can interrupt him after speaking for a certain time at the assembly; his proposals are not subjected to a vote, because he is not making proposals, he just commands. All this still does not mean that Demosthenes is complaining of the democracy. But he says, that there are moments, when the city should behave as one, and not only the city, but also all Greeks. If this does not happen, the democracy the independence itself, which cause such delays in the communal decision-making, will be destroyed.
The second problem is the corruption. There are Athenian politicians, Demosthenes says, who are simply working for Philip; the are paid, or at least something is promised to them, or they are just hoping to gain power over the city, after the loss of its independence. However, no one can prove their guiltiness indisputably and condemn them. And the people do not worry about their deeds, because they, unlike Demosthenes, assure the citizens, that everything is in order, that the city is powerful enough, and Philip is harmless; or even that he is already an ally.
And finally, the mere laziness of the Athenians is a problem and it is caused by the irresponsible redistribution of the money of the state. The Athenians are accustomed to many feasts, and moreover they are visited by many foreigners. The mere presence of the Athenian people as audience at these feasts is paid by the state treasury and no one can offer these money to be spent on something else – for example on shipbuilding. Shortly, the Athenians are convinced that they live better than the rest of the Greeks and they are reluctant to be deprived from this social acquisition. That’s why they think the situation is not that serious, as described by Demosthenes. Such a city seems sentenced to loose its political significance and precisely this had happened. In the centuries that followed the polises had made several attempts to gain independence – either from Macedonia, or from Rome – but Athens didn’t take part in these developments, and the center of resistance had moved to the south - to Corinth and the Peloponnesian cities.

IV. The unity of the Greeks


(Philip II of Macedon: victory medal (niketerion) struck in Tarsus, c. 2nd BCE. Cabinet des Médailles, Paris. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, English - "Demosthenes")

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Historical Novel III

Apollonius Rhodius in Modern Literature: the Interpretation of Robert Graves

1. The unsuccessful First Version

In the postscript to his novel “The Golden Fleece” Graves tells us the following:

“When he recited the poem or a part of it in the Muses` Hall, he was met with a storm of hissing, caterwauling and a storm of plates for writing. He went away relatively safe and sound, but was afraid of a public persecution, because his rival, the court poet Callimachus declared him a “abominable ibis”; and he decided to leave Alexandria for a time. After several years he returned and recited publicly the revised version which got ovations even from his former enemies; so that after the position of a curator of the Library was vacated, king Ptolemy naturally appointed him as the next curator (1).
The original version is not preserved, but its defect hardly was a lack of sonority and fascination. More probably, relying on the support of the Alexandrian women, Apollonius revealed in his epic too honestly the humiliations of Zeus by the Moon Goddess: what provoked the anger of their husbands.”

And a little after:

“The mysteries that were added to the ordinary Greek rites from the classical epoch, were nothing other than revelation of ancient religious secrets to people, who weren’t expected to divulge them in order to cause a public scandal; and in these mysteries the object of worship was the Goddess Mother… I believe, that the chief error of Apollonius was that he recited in a public hall a version of the Golden Fleece’s tale, based upon ancient sources; and that this version sounded to the initiated as a desecration of their most deeply cherished religious beliefs”(2).

2. The version of Graves

The novel of Graves, although captivating and written with a good sense of humour, contains at some places his view on the “real history” of the Greek Gods, expressed in a simple, straightforward and rather too prosaic way. These passages do not look like parts of a book of fiction. In them he declares, that the old, non-Achaean (and moreover non-Indo-European) population of Thessaly, and even of all Greece, named “pelasgoi” worshiped one supreme female deity – the “Triple Goddess” (or the “White Goddess”) – in different persons and named her with different names. The first (and the more peaceful) Greeks, coming from North – the Ionians and the Aeolians (called Minyans as well) – joined this matriarchal cult.
But the Achaeans, who invaded the peninsula several centuries later, imposed by force the cult to the God - Father and Warrior. They reformed (in a council at Olympia, convoked especially for this purpose) the local religion, created the classic pantheon with six gods and six goddesses, proclaimed the Goddess sister and obedient wife of Zeus and began to pursue the people who persisted in their adherence to the old religion.

Otherwise the novel gives us a detailed account of the expedition, where virtually all sources for the Argonauts have been taken into consideration. Graves mentions them in the postscript. Except Apollonius, we have the versions of Pindar, Apollodorus, Diodorus of Sicily and Valerius Flaccus - all of whom, although in different style and length, present the full story. Some separate episodes are poetically adapted by Euripides in the famous tragedy; there are Theocritus and Ovid too; lastly, the scarce (but important, regarding its early age) information, given by Herodotus. Of course, there are a number of sources of minor importance.
There is a passage in the postscript, concerning the temporal standpoint of the teller, on which I would like to draw your attention. On the p. 511 Graves says:

“I render the story of Argonauts in the form of a historical tale; and every author of history must clearly express his point of view in the time. In this case it would be inappropriate to tell it in the style of the XIII cent. B.C – this would mean to write using poetic pictograms. It would be equally inadequate to write it from a present day position, because then I would have been compelled to render the dialogues in an unsuitably contemporary style; besides, that would have hindered me to believe sincerely the story.
The only plausible decision was to depict the events from the viewpoint of an epoch, when the faith in the legend was still alive, but preserving the necessary critical objectivity; and with a clear, but, on the same time, serious literary expression. This is the reason for using in some places phrases like “till the present day”, and ”today”. The last page will suggest to the historians, that “today” means “no later than 146 B.C.”, when Lucius Mummius sacks Corinthos. This is the year, when Argo, put in the temple of Poseidon, disappears for ever – maybe reduced to a heap of splinters by the drunken Roman soldiers.”

What the Graves’ reader could add, is that the story seems to be told by somebody, who knows who are the “real” ones among the Greek Gods, although prefers to represent priests, clairvoyants and believing-in-gods heroes rather than the gods themselves. And their “real” relations are the ones Graves sees as a historian of mythology, a poet and perhaps a psychologist. The main point is the superiority of the female Goddess, whose power over the mankind is usurped by her rebellious son; but usurped not without her condescending consent.

3. “The White Goddess” as aesthetic and history-of-culture manifesto

The information I got about Graves when working on this paper, made me suppose that the “The White Goddess” is his most popular non-poetic and non-fictional text.
I’ll say several words about this book not only because the theory, presented in it, practically coincides with the views of the teller in the “Golden Fleece”, but also because - as Graves himself tells us - the very idea of this long essay was born in the process of the work on the novel. This explains why the two books appear in a relatively short time: the first edition of the “Fleece” is in 1944, and this of the “Goddess” – in1948. In a concluding note, written for the edition from 1960 he tells the following:

“I am often asked how I took to write the "White Goddess". The history is as follows.
In 1944 in a village in Devonshire, when I fled from the present day by working on a historical novel of the Argonauts, my work suddenly was interrupted. An obsessing idea forced me to get involved in the study of a subject I still didn’t know and didn’t understand. I stopped to trace on the vast military map of the Black Sea (and with the help of mythographs) the course of the Argonauts ship, who sailed from the Bosporus to Baku and back. Instead, I was thinking about the mysterious Battle of the Trees, which occurred in ancient Britain, and all night I couldn’t find peace; and the next day too, so that my pen barely followed my thoughts. For three weeks I wrote a book in 70 thousand words...
I’m not a mystic and I always avoided involvement in witchcraft, spiritualistic séances and yoga exercises; I never listened to predictions, didn’t believe in automatic writing and so on. I live a simple peasant kind of life in the circle of my family and of a large number of mentally healthy and intelligent friends. I do not belong to any religious cult or secret society or philosophical sect, and I also don’t trust my historic intuition, if it couldn’t be verified by the facts.
But working on the book on the Argonauts, I discovered that the White Goddess of mount Pelion becomes more and more important for my narrative... I, who suddenly fell under the power of the European White Goddess, wrote about her totems in the context of the Argonauts’ story and plunged in the ancient secrets of her cult Wales, Ireland and all over the world.
When, immediately after the war, I returned to Majorca, I started working again on the book which I already called "The White Goddess ", and wrote in more details about the Holy King as a divine victim of the Moon Goddess, keeping in mind that every poet, who honours his Muse, should somehow die for his Goddess whom he worships - just like the King died...” (3)

4. Graves and the new Western spirituality

These facts I drew your attention on, give us reason to admit, that the story of the Golden Fleece whose largest version we owe to Apollonius, influenced the views of R. Graves as a poet and as a historian, and at the same time was artistically worked out by him on the ground of these same views. It seems, that the Graves’ “Fleece” is expected to be read as the “real story” of the Argonauts, told from the viewpoint of an enlightened but at the same time initiated Greek author from the last centuries B.C.
Besides, “The Golden Fleece” is produced according to a conception for the ancient mythology and the western religion, which, as Graves suggests, is founded largely on the mythological researches of J.G. Frazer. They both belong to a tradition in the European humanities, whose representatives do not regard themselves as Christians, reject the Eurocentrism and work for the cultural emancipation of the East and in general of the non-Western world from the European (or Euro-American) domination. Lastly, they are people who oppose the spirit of the classical European academism and try to reconsider the role of the university in the Western societies and its claim to dominate the education and even the spiritual life of the West.
This tradition include and is supported by many influential non-academic intellectuals, among whom I would prefer to mention the English and American followers of Mme H. Blavatsky; a little earlier, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in Germany; and from the XVIII century – Voltaire.

The new that Graves is offering us, is that he writes a lot of poetry and thinks about himself mainly as a poet; that, secondly, in difference to Blavatsky, he doesn’t pretend for possessing any exceptional spiritual abilities; and thirdly, what seems to me very important, he lived two terrible wars. Maybe exactly this experience gave him strong reason to doubt the alleged superiority of Western civilization and the truth of its main religion. But nevertheless he expresses a kind of religious hope. At the end of his conclusion to the “White Goddess” from 1960 he writes:

“The idea of a Creating Goddess was rejected by the Christian theologians almost two thousand years ago, and by the Jewish theologians even earlier. Most scientists, caring for their social comfort, worship God; but nevertheless I do not understand why a belief in the creation of the universe by a God-Father seems to them more scientific than the belief in the creation of this artificial system by a Goddess-Mother...
Since the source of creative power in poetry is not the scientific education, but the inspiration (no matter what the scientists would say), then why not name as its source the Lunar Muse, since in Europe this is the oldest and most common term defining the source of inspiration? According to the ancient tradition, the White Goddess appears through human beings – that could be a priestess, a prophetess, a queen mother. No poet, dedicated to the Muse, thinks about the Muse herself, but always thinks about the woman, in whom the Goddess at least partially is incarnated; just like an Apollonian poet is unable to perform properly his function, if he doesn’t live under the power of a monarchy or quasi-monarchy. But the poet, who really worships the Muse, is capable to distinguish between the Goddess as the supreme incarnation of power, glory, wisdom and female love from one hand, and the ordinary woman, whom the Goddess makes Her representative for a month, a year, seven years or perhaps more – from another hand. The Goddess is eternal, and perhaps he will know Her again through another woman.
Prophets like Moses, John the Baptist or Mohammed, speaking in the name of the male deity, say: "So said God!" I am not a prophet of the White Goddess and I’ll never venture to utter: "So said Goddess!" But since poetry came to the world, the poets, who worship the Muse, usually speak with love: "In all the universe there is nobody above the Triple Goddess!"”

5. A reader’s impression

At a certain place Graves says, that a poet might be evaluated as such, taking into consideration the degree in which he is familiar with the Goddess and is able to depict “Her and Her island”. And adds: “Shakespeare had known her and had been afraid of her”. As a reader of Graves I would dare to share, that even before the acquaintance with this book, I already was convinced that he is obsessed by a painful fear of the presence of a kind of woman. She is a woman, longing for power, who establishes a relationship with an influential man, dominates him and weaves intrigues against everybody else, hoping to rule through him. She does not love him, but uses him and is always ready to sacrifice him and to look for another, who would fit for the same purpose. Livia in “I, Claudius” is like that, Theodora and Antonina in “Count Velisarius” are like that, Ino, in the very beginning of the “Fleece” is like that. They are images of a woman, who exerts over the man the power, given to her from the Goddess and thus revenges for the subjugation, imposed on her by force and counter-naturally in the epoch of the old Achaeans. She is not a personification of the Muse, but of Hecate. Graves was afraid of this woman.

(1) Graves freely retells the two short Vitae Apollonii, published in the edition of the Scholia (C. Wendel, Berlin, 1935). There we find no mention about hissing, caterwauling or plate throwing, but the rest is exact – the anonymous authors indeed say, that the Apollonius work at first was met negatively, but the second version was applauded. (Zlatnoto runo. Pohodat na argonavtite, p. 504-505. See note 2)

(2) During the work on this paper I was using the Bulgarian translation of the “Fleece” – Robert Greivs. Zlatnoto runo. Pohodat na argonavtite. Translation Irina Vaseva. Fakel, 1993. The reverse translation to English is mine, N.G.

(3) This text, together with the full Russian translation of the “White Goddess” is available at http://www.druids.celtica.ru/page.php?pagename=greivs. Russian translation by L. Volodarskaja. The reverse English translation is mine.

*this paper was read at the International Conference "The Argonautica and World Culture" - Tbilisi, Georgia, 1-5 October 2007). I would like to express my gratitude to professor Irine Darchia from the Institute of Classical, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at the the Tbilisi State University, for inviting me to this conference.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Historical Novel II

Feuchtwanger`s “The Jewish War”

I. Josephus Flavius and the Jewish War


He was born Joseph ben Mattathias in Jerusalem in 37 CE, a few years after the time of Jesus, during the time of the Roman occupation of the Jewish homeland. In his early twenties he was sent to Rome to negotiate the release of several priests held hostage by Emperor Nero. When he returned home after completing his mission he found the nation beginning a revolution against the Romans.
Despite his foreboding that the cause was hopeless, he was drafted into becoming commander of the revolutionary forces in Galilee, where he spent more time controlling internal factions than fighting the Roman army. When the city of Jotapata he was defending fell to the Roman general Vespasian, Joseph and his supporters hid in a cave and entered into a suicide pact, which Joseph oddly survived.
Taken prisoner by Vespasian, Joseph presented himself as a prophet. Noting that the war had been propelled by an ancient oracle that foretold a world ruler would arise from Judaea, Joseph asserted that this referred to Vespasian, who was destined to become Emperor of Rome. Intrigued, Vespasian spared his life. When this prophecy came true, and Vespasian became Emperor, he rewarded Joseph handsomely, freeing him from his chains and eventually adopting him into his family, the Flavians. Joseph thus became Flavius Joseph.
During the remainder of the war, Joseph assisted the Roman commander Titus, Vespasian's son, with understanding the Jewish nation and in negotiating with the revolutionaries. Called a traitor, he was unable to persuade the defenders of Jerusalem to surrender to the Roman siege, and instead became a witness to the destruction of the city and the Holy Temple.
Living at the Flavian court in Rome, Josephus undertook to write a history of the war he had witnessed. He first wrote in his native language of Aramaic, then with assistance translated it into Greek (the most-used language of the Empire). It was published a few years after the end of the war, in about 78 CE.


6 CE Archalaeus, Ethnarch of Judea, is deposed. Judea ceases to be governed by Jews and becomes a Roman province under Procurator Coponius. Census and taxes imposed.
41 Caligula assassinated. Claudius becomes emperor with the aid of Agrippa, grandson of Herod. Claudius bestows kingship of Judea and other lands on Agrippa.
44 Agrippa I dies. Judea again comes under the rule of a Roman procurator (Fadus).
50 Some Jewish lands assigned to kingship of Agrippa II.
54 and after. Jewish revolutionary activity heats up. "Sicarii" terrorists kill High Priest Jonathan. Felix uses force and executions to suppress revolt. Would-be prophets stir up the people; the "Egyptian," a Messianic figure, gains followers, many of whom are killed by Felix's army.
59 Festus becomes Procurator. Paul presents his case to Festus and Agrippa II, then is sent to Rome to appeal to the Emperor.
59-62 Festus continues to battle Sicarii. Clashes between Jews and Greeks in Caesarea.
65 Florus becomes Procurator. HIs abuses of power cause the sedition to gain followers. Violence breaks out in Caesarea and spreads to Jerusalem.
66, Summer. Jewish War begins. Sacrifices for the Emperor are halted in the Temple. Masada is seized by the Zealots. The Roman garrison at the Antonia Fortress is captured. The High Priest is slain by the rebels.
July 67 Jotapata falls after a six-week siege. Joseph captured. Claims that the Messianic prophecies that began the war actually applied to Vespasian, who therefore was destined to become Emperor. Vespasian, charmed, retains Joseph as hostage and interpreter.
July 69 Vespasian's legions proclaim him Emperor. Joseph`s prophecy having come true, he is freed. He takes Vespasian's family name of Flavius and marries a captive.
70, May 1. Titus encamps outside Jerusalem, beginning the siege. Joseph attempts to persuade the leaders of the revolt to surrender, but fails.
70, Tenth of Av (August 30). The Temple of Jerusalem is destroyed. Jerusalem is taken by Titus. The War effectively ends.

(Josephus Flavius Home Page)

II. Feuchtwanger, his Literary Work and his Views on the Historical Novel


Lion Feuchtwanger (pseudonym: J.L. Wetcheek) (7 July 1884 - 21 December 1958) was a German-Jewish novelist who was imprisoned in a French internment camp in Les Milles and later escaped to Los Angeles with the help of his wife, Marta.
Feuchtwanger was born in Munich in 1884, and raised in a Jewish household. He studied literature and philosophy in the universities in Munich and Berlin.
Early career and persecution
Lion served in the Germany Army during World War I. He soon became a figure in the literary world and was already well-known in 1925 when his first popular novel, Jud Süß, appeared. He also published Erfolg (m. "Success"), which was a thinly veiled criticism at the Nazi Party and Hitler. While he was on a speaking tour of America, in Washington, D.C., he was a guest of honor at a dinner hosted by then German ambassador Friedrich Wilhelm von Prittwitz und Gaffron. That same day (January 30, 1933) Hitler was appointed Chancellor, and the next day, Prittwitz resigned from the diplomatic corps and called Feuchtwanger and recommended not to return home.
Feuchtwanger and his wife did not return to Germany, moving instead to Southern France, settling in Sanary sur Mer. His works were included among those burned during the May 10, 1933 book burnings held across Germany.
In 1936, still in Sanary, he wrote The Pretender (Der falsche Nero), in which he compared the Roman upstart Terentius Maximus, who had claimed to be Nero, with Hitler.
Imprisonment and escape
When the Germans invaded France in 1940, Feuchtwanger was captured and imprisoned in an internment camp, Les Milles (Camp des Milles). He escaped Les Milles with the help of his wife Marta,Varian Fry, an American journalist who helped refugees escape from occupied France, and Hiram (Harry) Bingham IV, US Vice Consul in Marseilles. Feuchtwanger eventually received asylum in the United States, settled in Pacific Palisades, California in 1941, and continued to write there until his death in 1958.

· The Josephus Trilogy -- about Flavius Josephus beginning in the year 60 in Rome
o Der jüdische Krieg (Josephus), 1932
o Die Söhne (The Jews of Rome), 1935
o Der Tag wird kommen (Das gelobte Land, The day will come, Josephus and the Emperor), 1942

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

In Germany, paperback editions of Feuchtwanger's novels have sold close to a million copies from the late seventies to the present day. His Frankfurt publisher asserts that "In my thirty years of experience as an editor, I have never seen a renaissance comparable to that of Feuchtwanger."
No such popularity has attended Feuchtwanger in the United States, where he remains largely unknown, except among cognoscenti of modern German literature. This reader unfamiliarity most likely stems from the fact that Feuchtwanger was anathema to American Cold Warriors of the late 1940s and the 1950s. In 1937, in the midst of the vicious "show trials" of falsely accused army officers, Feuchtwanger had made a visit to Moscow, in which he was granted an interview with Stalin, based upon Feuchtwanger’s already apparent sympathy with socialism. His report on the experience warmly praised Stalin and his program. He never formally recanted that naïve attitude... Feuchtwanger believed in egalitarianism, and hated the fascism that had done so much evil to him and his people. But he was hardly a cheerleader of the Communist cause.
(from Jim Bloom`s “Lion Feuchtwanger and his Josephus Trilogy”)


One topic that has deeply moved me as long as I can remember is the conflict between nationalism and internationalism in the heart of a single individual. If I were to tackle this theme in the form of a contemporary novel, I fear my presentation might be overshadowed and contaminated by personal grudges and resentment. I chose therefore to transplant this conflict into the soul of a man, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who, it appeared to me, had experienced it in the same way as so many do today, with the difference that he did so 1860 years ago.
I hope I have retained the peace of mind to judge things fairly; still I believe I can do a convincing job of depicting the persons who - 1870 years ago - put the torch to various central buildings in Nero's Rome, poor, foolish implements of the feudalists and militarists of their day that they were, and indeed do a more convincing job of it than I could of describing the people who two years ago set fire to the Reichstag in Berlin - poor, foolish tools that they were of the feudalists and militarists of our own era.
I have written both contemporary novels and historical ones. After closely examining my conscience, I venture to state that in my historical novels I intended the content to be just as modern and up-to-date as in the contemporary ones. It never occurred to me to write about history for its own sake... Other writers may place their conceptions at a greater spatial distance, perhaps in some exotic locale, in order to set them off with greater clarity; I for the same purpose have removed mine to a certain distance in time: that is the only difference.
I have always made an effort to render every detail of my reality with the greatest accuracy; but I have never paid attention to whether my presentation of historical facts was an exact one. Indeed, I have often altered evidence which I knew to be documented if it appeared to interfere with my intended effect. Contrary to the scientist, the author of historical novels has the right to choose a lie that enhances illusion over a reality that distracts from it.
I cannot imagine that a serious novelist, when working with historical subject matter, could ever regard historical facts as anything other than a means of achieving distance, as a metaphor, in order to render his own feelings, his own era, his own philosophy, and himself as accurately as possible.
(L. Feuchtwanger, "Vom Sinn des historischen Romans," 1935, Das Neue Tage-Buch.
Translated by John Ahouse)

III. The Feuchtwanger `s “Jewish War”, the Jews and the “Who-is-a-Human-Being” Question

1. Vespasian and Johanan ben Zakkai. Do the non-Jews possess a soul?

Marshall came very close to the tiny theologian, touched his shoulder and asked :
- But this does not contradict the fact that you do not feel us to be true people?
Iohanan still not opening his eyes, argued quietly, as if from afar :
- On the Feast of the Tabernacles, we do sacrificed 70 bulls for non-Jews.

- What are the seven precepts? – asked the Roman.
Yohanan raised his eyebrows, his blue eyes clear and very young, and looked directly into the grey eyes of Vespasian.
- One is positive and six are negative - he said. - Individuals must do justice, not deny God, not worship idols, not kill, not steal, not betray his husband/wife and not abuse animals.
Vespasian thought a little and said with regret :
- Well, then I have little chance to receive the holy spirit

2. The Actor Demetrius and his people

- Oh, my very good Jews - he [Demetrius] continued. - They shout against me where they can. In the synagogue they are cursing me just for the fact that I do not disregard a gift given me by God, and scare their children with me. But when they have some problem, then they come to me and they fill my ears with their requests. Then Demetrius Libanius is good enough.
- Lord, - said the young Antony Marull – yes, the Jews always complain, as everyone knows.
- I ask! - suddenly stood up and screamed the actor. - I ask you not to offend the Jews in my house! I am a Jew.

3. Joseph – experienced but impure
I am priest from the first sequence - said Joseph.
- Damn these Jewish people, they are too pretentious, appealed to Caenis Vespasian. - Some of us may be touched her, this doesn`t mean that she is losing her taste. And yet, Emperor Nero and I myself, we married divorced women, isn`t so, Caenis?
- I come from rabbis - said Joseph very slowly. - My family goes back to King David ..

When Joseph Ben Mattathias, according to the will of Berenike, went to her, she made a defending gesture of the hand and exclaimed :
- Do not come closer! Stand there! Between you and me there must be seven steps.
Joseph became pale when she stepped back as if he was leprous.

(Translation Google)

* this is a handout for a lecture, held at the Third Contact Session (August 2007) of the three-year "Contextualizing Classics" project of the Sofia University and the HESP Regional Seminar for Excellence in Teaching (Open Society Institute, Budapest).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Historical Novel I

Gustave Flaubert's 'The Temptation of St. Anthony'

I. St. Anthony and the Vita Antonii by St. Athanasius of Alexandria

1. The “Life of Anthony”

The chief source of information on St. Anthony is a Greek Life attributed to St. Athanasius, to be found in any edition of his works… here it will suffice to say that now it is received with practical unanimity by scholars as a substantially historical record, and as a probably authentic work of St. Athanasius.

(Catholic Encyclopedia - http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01553d.htm)

Introduction to “Vita S. Antoni”

(Written between 356 and 362)
The Life of St. Antony is included in the present collection partly on account of the important influence it has exercised upon the development of the ascetic life in the Church, partly and more especially on the ground of its strong claim to rank as a work of Athanasius… As it is, the question being still in dispute, although the balance of qualified opinion is on the side of the Athanasian authorship, it is well that the reader should have the work before him and judge for himself... Monasticism, with all its good and evil, is a great outgrowth of human life and instinct, a great fact in the history of the Christian religion…

(Philip Schaff,
New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892

2. Contents of the “Life”

§§5, 6. Early conflicts with the devil. §7. Details of his life at this time (271–285?)
§§8–10. His life in the tombs, and combats with demons there. §11. He goes to the desert and overcomes temptations on the way.
§46. How he sought martyrdom at Alexandria during the Persecution (311).
§§70, 71. How he visited Alexandria, and healed and converted many, and how Athanasius escorted him from the city.
§§72–79. How he reasoned with divers Greeks and philosophers at the ‘outer’ mountain.
§80. How he confuted the philosophers by healing certain vexed with demons. §81. How the Emperors wrote to Antony, and of his answer.
§§89, 90. How, when now 105 years old, he counselled the monks, and gave advice concerning burial.
(by Ph. Shaff, ibidem)

II. Flaubert and his 'Temptation of St Anthony'

1. About Flaubert
The disease of Flaubert
In Egypt
(Gustave Flaubert: Plan of the Site - http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://perso.wanadoo.fr/jb.guinot/pages/A7401.html)

2. “The Temptation”- general information
The Temptation of Saint Anthony (French La Tentation de Saint Antoine) is a book which Gustave Flaubert spent practically his whole life fitfully working on, in three versions he completed in 1849, 1856 (extracts published at the same time) and 1872 before publishing the final version in 1874. It is written in the form of a play script. It details one night in the life of Anthony the Great where Anthony is faced with great temptations, and it was inspired by the painting, which he saw at the Balbi Palace in Genoa.

The following is a list of major characters and does not include characters such as the gods or the prophets. A complete list of characters can be found in the glossary of the Random House edition (Olds, 195-233).
· Saint Anthony: The protagonist. He is tempted by many characters and objects to stray from his belief that isolation is the truest form of worship.
· Ammonaria: One of his sister's friends, Anthony is drawn into a battle between his desire for her and his desire to remain holy before God in his isolation. He is distraught that he cannot control his body.
· King Nebuchadnezzar
· The Queen of Sheba: Tempts Anthony with riches, trying to evoke lust.
· Hilarion: Also known as Lucifer. Once Anthony's student, now he tries to tempt him away from his chosen lifestyle by creating doubt and eventually morphs into Science.
· Lust and Death: Lust appears as a young woman; Death, an old woman. They try to convince Anthony to give in to his desires and commit suicide.
· Flaubert, Gustave, and Michael Foucault (introduction), Lafcadio Hearn (tr), and Marshall Olds (glossary). The Temptation of Saint Anthony. New York: Random House, 1992.
Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Temptation_of_Saint_Anthony

2. Contents of the play
Contents II
8. A Holy Saint
9. The Temptation of Love and Power
10. The Disciple Hilarion
11. The Fiery Trial
12. All Gods, All Religions
13. The Mystery of Space
14. The Himera and the Sphynx
(Simon P. Magee publ., Chicago, Ill. Copyright 1904 by M. Walter Dunn

III. Flaubert`s interpretation of some places from the “Life”

1. The devil
But the devil, who hates and envies what is good, could not endure to see such a resolution in a youth, but endeavoured to carry out against him what he had been wont to effect against others. First of all he tried to lead him away from the discipline, whispering to him the remembrance of his wealth, care for his sister, claims of kindred, love of money, love of glory, the various pleasures of the table and the other relaxations of life, and at last the difficulty of virtue and the labour of it; he suggested also the infirmity of the body and the length of the time. In a word he raised in his mind a great dust of debate, wishing to debar him from his settled purpose.
(Vita, 5 - English translation by Ph. Shaff, ibidem )

2. The chief temptations

A. Diversity of the world. Curiosity

And the devil, unhappy wight, one night even took upon him the shape of a woman and imitated all her acts simply to beguile Antony.

(Vita, 5)

- travels (monologue)
And this turning back is nought else but to feel regret, and to be once more worldly-minded. But fear not to hear of virtue, nor be astonished at the name. For it is not far from us, nor is it without ourselves, but it is within us, and is easy if only we are willing. That they may get knowledge, the Greeks live abroad and cross the sea, but we have no need to depart from home for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for the sake of virtue. For the Lord aforetime hath said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”
(Vita, 20)

- reasoning (vision, dialogue)
In a word he (the devil) raised in his mind a great dust of debate, wishing to debar him from his settled purpose.

(Vita, 5)

…But see! you still do not believe and are seeking for arguments. We however make our proof “not in the persuasive words of Greek wisdom as our teacher has it, but we persuade by the faith which manifestly precedes argumentative proof…

(Vita, 80)

B. Vanity (vision, description of Anthony`s meeting with the Emperor)

And the fame of Antony came even unto kings. For Constantine Augustus, and his sons Constantius and Constans the Augusti wrote letters to him… And so he was unwilling to receive the letters, saying that he did not know how to write an answer to such things. But being urged by the monks because the emperors were Christians, and lest they should take offence on the ground that they had been spurned, he consented that they should be read, and wrote an answer approving them because they worshipped Christ…

(Vita, 81)

3. The face of devil (description of the devil, dialogue in vision)
Once some one knocked at the door of my cell, and going forth I saw one who seemed of great size and tall. Then when I enquired, “Who art thou?” he said, “I am Satan.” Then when I said, “Why art thou here?”…
But he having heard the Saviour’s name, and not being able to bear the burning from it, vanished.’

(Vita, 41)

Alors une grande ombre, plus subtile qu'une ombre naturelle, et que d'autres ombres festonnent le long de ses bords, se marque sur la terre.
C'est le Diable, accoudé contre le toit de la cabane et portant sous ses deux ailes, comme une chauve-souris gigantesque qui allaiterait ses petits, - les sept Péchés capitaux, dont les têtes grimaçantes se laissent entrevoir confusément.
Antoine, les yeux toujours fermés, jouit de son inaction ; et il étale ses membres sur la natte.

“The Temptation”, ch. II

(Historical annotations to Flaubert's 'Temptation of St Anthony')
c360: Athanasius writes Life of Antony
335: Athanasius banished ; 332: Athanasius charged with murdering Arsenius ; 326: Athanasius elected bishop
c312-356: Anthony lives in cave on Al-Qalzam/Kolzim/Colzim mountain ;
c310-c395: Didymus
c307: inspired by Anthony, Hilarion retreats to Gaza for 50 years ;
c295-373: Athanasius of Alexandria ; c291-c371: Hilarion
285-337: Constantine
c285-c305: Anthony lives alone on Mount Pispir ; c270: Anthony gives away wealth, lives in tomb for 15 years
c234-347? Paul the Hermit
(Jorn Barger August 2002)

* this is a handout for a lecture, held at the Third Contact Session (August 2007) of the three-year "Contextualizing Classics" project of the Sofia University and the HESP Regional Seminar for Excellence in Teaching (Open Society Institute, Budapest).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Building a Masters Programme: Difficulties and Challenges

(continues from May, 21)

The department could include a new member in the staff once in three years at the maximum (and it is the same at the moment). Then, what were meant to do for example the 15 students, who have meanwhile graduated? The number of the enrolled students fluctuated between 30 and 50. In short, could anyone see much sense in the study of classical philology, provided that the education, offered in it, is essentially addressed to one student out of 40?
These problems looked precisely like that in the year, when the first project for a master’s programme was elaborated. It was called “Classical languages”. Obviously, the intention was to continue the perfection of the young people, who have started to learn these languages 9 years ago. Let’s say that meanwhile they haven’t noticed any significant change neither in the methods, nor in the proposed material. They knew, that in the master’s programme they are going to meet the same professors, whom they have already met in the bachelor’s. Then why continue this activity for three more semesters? It is pointless to mention the professional and the financial difficulties, which would inevitably impede even the one out of the forty, who finally might become a member of the regular teaching academics.
It’s no wonder, that during the 90-ies the students were reluctant to enter even in the bachelor’s; and if by chance they entered it, subsequently they were not very eager to remain. Thus the specialty survived several years of crisis, and in order to find at least some students, additional exams have been provided for the candidates, who have failed on the regular exam. As if they have become more suitable within the week between the regular and additional exam! Of course, the crisis was explained predominantly with the societal transition in general: the time will pass and, let’s hope, the things will be settled, and then we are going to have students again.
At the same time in the specialty a new understanding began to shape out. This was a new vision of the classical and humanitarian education in general. Although on the cost of the insufficient familiarity with the interpretations, it should be propagated for a majority of learners, instead of the previous limitation to the minority of specialists. Here it should be pointed out, that since lot’s of time the University and the Department were unable to provide for the academic staff the access to these interpretations: it was considered that it is their own business how to find it – comparable to, say, whence they should buy a washing machine.
The classical philologists should seek candidates for the master’s and even for the bachelor’s in other places, and not only in the specialty or in the Gymnasium for ancient languages and cultures. This opinion led to a result in 2000, when, for the first time since 1982, students were enrolled in the Department, who had passed exams in languages different from Greek and Latin. Surprisingly for the colleagues, some of the beginners quickly left behind the rest of the students, who had whole 5 years of study in the classical Gymnasium. It turned out, that the desire to be well educated could lead to greater achievements, than simply the passive presence at school and in the university, regardless of their duration. This could serve as an argument for the fulfillment of another idea for the master’s studies.

C. Some words about the humanitarian education in Bulgaria

It is worth seeing how it happens so, that a small quantity of inexplicit, but firm convictions may shape an educational programme, including its details. Here are two such convictions, which had great force for the period I’m talking about.
1. The professor is an unquestionable authority, because (s)he knows thoroughly all the things that the student is supposed to know.
2. In order to be well educated the student has to reproduce simply what the professor had said and to acquire his/her level of technical skills (if the character of the specialty presupposes them). In order to achieve these aims what matters is not the interest in the studied matter, but rather the discipline.

These explain why the curricula (I have in mind here mainly the philological ones, but what I am going to say pertains to a great degree to others, as well) were composed in a way, that:

(to be continued)

Monday, June 4, 2007


Classical and contemporary attempts at
the theory of ancient Greek literature

Vol. І.
Aristotle and Hegel

Preface .......................7
Preface to volume І............8

Aristotle’s literary theory...15

І. Aristotle’s idea of literature
1. The question of terms
2. Distinctions between literature and other activities
3. The aim of the literary work

ІІ. The tasks of literary theory
1. The idea of literary science
2. The structure of Aristotle’s “Poetics"
3. The tasks of the literary theory

ІІІ. Classification of literary types
1. Means of imitation
2. Quality of the imitated
3. Way of imitation

ІV. Aesthetic categories
1. The tragic and its discrimination from other aesthetic categories
2. The comic and the ugly
3. The beautiful

V. Rules for composing a literary work
1. Plot
2. Characters
3. Thought and speech
4. Musical and visible part
5. Drawing up the rules for composing a tragedy out of its definition

VІ. Aristotle’s view of the history of literature
1. Literature and human nature
2. The history of literature as a process of distinguishing between types
3. The documented history of literature: the role of poetic talent
4. The aim of the history of literature

VІІ. “Poetics” and the principles of Aristotle’s philosophy
1. The question of definition
2. The literary work as an outcome of the four causae
3. Literature as an instrument of cognition
4. Literature and the development of virtues

The view of literature in Hegel’s “Aesthetics”... 63

І. The structure of “Aesthetics”
1. Artistically beautiful or the ideal
2. Specific forms of the artistically beautiful
A. Symbolic artistic form
B. Classical artistic form
C. Romantic artistic form
3. The arts
A. Architecture
B. Sculpture
C. Romantic arts

ІІ. Greek art and the concept of the classical
1. Greek art and the classic ideal
A. Correspondence between content and form
B. Self-contained form and repose
C. Degree of individualization
2. The classical temple
3. Sculpture
A. Sculpture between architecture and romantic arts
B. Universality and individuality in sculpture
4. The classic in Greek poetry
A. Epic narrative
B. Lyric poetry
C. Drama

ІІІ. Hegel’s understanding of literature
1. The meaning of the term “poetry”
A. Poetry and the other arts
B. Devices in poetry
2. Poetry and prose
A. Poetic and prosaic world view
B. Poetry and the prosaic types
3. Concept, notion, literary work
A. Concept
B. Notion
C. Literary work
4. The poet’s involvement
A. Imagination, objectiveness, originality
B. The classical artist
C. The poet in lyric poetry

ІV. Literary types
1. Epic narrative
A. Epic types and the genuine epopee
B. Characteristics of the genuine epopee
C. The Greek epic narrative juxtaposed with that of other nationalities
2. Lyric poetry
A. Lyric content and form
B. Degree of spiritual development presupposing the development of lyric poetry
C. Types of lyric poetry
D. Historical development of poetry
3. Drama
A. The principle of dramatic poetry
B. The principle of tragedy and comedy
C. The relation of a dramatic work to its audience
D. Ancient and modern dramatic poetry

V. Literature in the history of the spirit
1. Hegel’s philosophy of history
A. The principle of development
B. The geographical factor
C. Subdivision of world history. The East and Europe
2. Literature and history
A. Art in the history of the spirit
B. Literature in the history of art
3. The history of literature
A. Epic narrative
B. Lyric poetry
C. Drama

VІ. Hegel’s contribution to Aristotle’s literary theory
1. The idea of history
A. Terminology
B. Literature and other activities
C. Aim in the literary work
2. Tasks of literary theory
A. The idea of literary science
B. The structure of the literary treatise
C. Tasks of literary theory
3. Classification of literary types
A. Hegel’s criterion for identifying the basic types
B. Classification of subtypes
4. Aesthetic categories
A. The beautiful
B. Specific forms of the beautiful
C. The tragic and the comic
5. Rules for composing a literary work
A. Foundations of a work of art
B. Action
C. Characters
D. Linguistic expression
E. Staging
6. The question of the history of literature
A. Literature and human nature
B. Discriminating the types and the aim of literature
C. Poetic gift

After Hegel. The potential of Marxist cultural studies. A. F. Lossev...219

І. From the history of the concept of culture
1. The necessity for clarifying the concept of culture
A. The point of view of the present research
B. The concept of culture
2. A few words on the ancient and Christian counterparts of the contemporary view of culture
A. “The contemporary view”
B. Antiquity
C. Culture from the Christian point of view
3. Culture as a stage of man’s perfection
A. Attempts at overcoming the dualism between the “spiritual” and the “secular” concept of man
B. The progressist and the essentialist view of culture in Hegel
4. Culture as a specific feature of human existence
A. The anthropological view of culture
B. Hegel and the anthropological view
5. Culture and literature
A. Literature as a product, sign or element of culture
B. Literature – an exponent of Weltanschauung and a performer of functions

ІІ. “The History of Ancient Aesthetics” as Marxist research……236
1. A. F. Lossev and the Marxist philosophy of history
A. A. F. Lossev’s influence in Bulgaria
B. Lossev as a Marxist
2. Culture from the point of view of the general principles of Marxism
A. The Marxist principle
B. The Marxist view of culture
3. Primitive and slave-owning formations. The question of ancient slavery
A. Primitive formation
B. Slave-owning formation
4. Lossev’s theses on ancient culture
A. Lossev’s understanding of “culture”
B. Antiquity as cosmologism
C. Antiquity as fatalism
5. Literature within the framework of ancient culture
A. Ancient literature as an outcome of the meeting of tribal heritage and the slave-owning principle
B. Ancient literature and Lossev’s “Theses”
C. Homer’s theses
6. Lossev and Hegel
A. The historical concept and the idea of culture
B. Culture as Weltsanschauung
C. Culture and literature


How to polemize with the classics. “The open society” of Karl Popper...263

I.Criticism of Platonism
1. Historicism and the fight against change. Plato’s predecessors
2. Socratism and Platonism
3. Thucydides` typology

II. Aristotle as Hegel’s predecessor
1. Anti-equalitarianism and racialism
2. The mean as an “extreme in virtue”
3. Essentialism

II. Criticism of Hegelianism
1. The biological metaphor and the philosophy of identity
2. The nationalistic ideology and the principle of leadership
3. The historical factor in the formation of culture

III. Criticism of Marxism
1. Hegel’s heredity
2. Economic determinism
3. “The better, the worse”, or on the activities of the Communist party
4. The advantages of democratic interventionism
5. Marxism and culture

IV. The open society as a project for social activity
1. The idea of an open society
2. The fight against the open society
3. Rationalism as a moral choice

Al. Nichev on Aristotle’s literary theory...317

І. The mystery of the tragic catharsis
1. Plato and Aristotle
2. The burden of compassion

ІІ. The classical philologist as a literary scholar
1. The function of literature
2. Interpreting the ancient literary text
3. Interpreting the ancient philosophical text

ІІІ. “The mystery” as a moral allegory and an esoteric treatise
1. The problem of religion
2. Science and esoterics

What is ancient Greek literature..........339

І. The idea of literature
1. On definition
2. Criteria for distinguishing between the types of literature
3. Theoretical literature
4. “Historical” literature
5. Rhetorical literature
6. Fiction…

ІІ. Ancient Greek literature
1. The language
2. The culture
3. Two views on ancient Greek literature

Bibliography and abbreviations............357

Monday, May 28, 2007

Herodotus and the Parts of the World

I. The Reign of Darius*

The paper focuses on the supposed cultural differences between the Greeks and the barbarians (represented mostly by the Persian empire), as seen by Herodotus. The observations are limited on the material of books III-VI, where the reader is told about the unsuccessful Ionian revolt and the first Persian war against the European Greeks, which had ended with the battle at Marathon. The main point of the essay is the specific Greek way of political expansion, and its possible parallels with the contemporary European model.
The paper is divided into the following chapters.
1. Persia and the Greeks. The clash.
2. The Parts of the World.
3. The Unity of the Greeks. The Greeks as a Maritime People. The Role of the Oracle at Delphi.
4. The Greek Fear in front of Persia.
5. Monarchy and Democracy. The Greek Understanding of the Freedom.

*the paper is published in:
ORIENTALIA. A Journal for the East. 2005, 1. New Bulgarian University

Monday, May 21, 2007

Building a Masters Programme: Difficulties and Challenges

1. The prerequisites *

A. Changes in the legislature

The academic system, which educates the students in three degrees – bachelor’s, master’s and doctor’s – is relatively new in Bulgaria. Until the change of the political system in 1989, and even several years after that, the students (I have in mind the students from the humanitarian specialties) underwent an incessant five-years-long education and graduated with a diploma for completed higher education and with the allowance to work as teachers (or exercise other profession). Receiving the diploma they acquired a professional qualification – say, philologist (or historian, or lawyer and so on). After that the diploma-bearer-specialist could apply in a competition for a governmental scholarship, then called aspirantska, and to become an aspirant, which means doctoral student. Several years later, if (s)he has managed to write and defend the Doctoral thesis, (s)he received a degree, called “candidate of science”. Later this degree was equalized to the present day “doctor”. Subsequently (s)he could write a second dissertation, this time without supervision and to acquire a higher scientific degree, called “doctor of sciences”, which was a necessary but not sufficient condition for becoming a “professor”. So, the then system had three degrees as well, but the difference was that the researcher needed much more years for work and had to pass two difficult procedures, in order to be named “doctor”.
This system, which was the result of the harmonization of the Bulgarian educational legislature with the Soviet one, is almost untouched today. In 1999 the changes in the Higher education act introduced the degrees bachelor and master, which haven’t existed before; the degree “candidate” has been converted into doctoral one, and “doctor of sciences” still exists today. Probably this degree will survive another 10 or 15 years – until the colleagues, who had troubled themselves with this procedure, remain influential in the academic, and in the political spheres as well. However, now it seems like a mechanical repetition of the first doctoral degree, it does not change the salary considerably, and it will be evaded more and more by the candidates for this title, because the changes in the Act allow them to become professors without it. Eventually it might disappear.
So, in 1999 the initially monolith five-years-long education has been divided into two degrees (bachelor’s and master’s) with special amendments in the Act. These engendered the requirement the specialties to provide new curricula, and they did so. Thus, the specialty classical philology, in which we are interested in, began to offer masters’ programmes, addressed mainly to students enrolled in the University after 1996. The programmes became accessible in 1999, which means one year before the graduation of these students. But in this year the programmes did not start, because there weren’t candidates. This was not strange, because at this time all the graduates in Bulgaria hold a degree, equal to the master’s. This was the more important reason for the lack of candidates; but it seems to me, that other reasons were there as well. I am going to discuss them further.

B. The situation in the specialty Classical philology

Actually, the shift from the one-degree to the two-degrees-system of the graduate education was not so sharp, as I have sketched it so far. Since this change was anticipated even in the beginning of the 90-ties, at least some of the universities reacted earlier, and some specialties, among which our specialty as well, started offering a basic division of the education in the beginning of the five-years period. So, the students studied three years according to the former curriculum and after that they entered a two-years specialization, chosen in conformity with their interest. In Classical philology the specializations were three: Greek studies (Grecistika), Latin studies (Latinistika) and History and Archeology, for which most probably some of the departments in the faculty of history has contributed. It was assumed, that every student has greater interest for one of the two antiquities – the Greek and the Latin, including their medieval corollaries. At the other hand, some of them are maybe exhausted by the preoccupation with language and literature, and are eager to learn more about the political history and the material culture. Hence, let’s give them an opportunity to specialize within the five-years course itself.
The educational conviction, founding this strategy was the following. The university is a place for the pursuit of elitist knowledge and for the creation of elitist professional scholars. “Elitist”, however means “highly specialized”, which in the realm of the ancient researches means: handling perfectly the classical languages (or better, language), but reading much more interpretations and commentaries, than original ancient sources, because a specialist is a person, who is familiar with everything, written by his/her colleagues all over the world on a certain topic. Consequently, the students, graduating from a secondary school, in which they have already followed five-years systematic learning of Greek and Latin, but in which they have studied other matters as well, were meant to undergo a basic three-years long university course in classical philology, and then to begin their specialization. The best were expected to continue as doctoral students, and some of them could hope to become regular academic staff in the specialty. There was an opportunity for them to find jobs as teachers in the classical lyceum, from which they have graduated, but it was not esteemed as so good, for the same reason. Because a teacher in a gymnasium is preoccupied with teaching and moreover (s)he has to stick to the manuals, in which the content of his discipline is treated in a general and simplified manner. That’s why (s)he could hardly become an elitist scholar.
All this strategy, however, had little to do with the reality, at least in Bulgaria, because it could not answer to the frequently posed question: what happens with the majority of the students, who graduate the specialty?

(follows in Monday, June 11)

* this is the full version of a lecture, held at the First Contact Session of the three-year "Contextualizing Classics" project of the Sofia University and the HESP Regional Seminar for Excellence in Teaching (Open Society Institute, Budapest).
For further information see: http://www.proclassics.org/

Monday, May 14, 2007

Writing and Erudition in XXI century

1. From the history of the written word

The culture to which we belong shows a considerable interest in the preservation of the memories of the past. This interest had been stated directly for the first time by Herodotus. It should be noted that his “History” is the most voluminous unified text, created by the Greeks in the classical epoch. The beginning of it says explicitly:

“These are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which he publishes, in the hope of thereby preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done, and of preventing the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the Barbarians from losing their due meed of glory; and withal to put on record what were their grounds of feuds.” (Herodotus, I, 1. Translated by G. Rawlinson)

Since then the Greeks and the inheritors of their culture had made considerable efforts in order to continue the deed of Herodotus. It could be said, that they had developed a whole technology of the reminiscence. In the beginning they had written down what had happened, but also what might happen, creating thus the forms of the word, which we nowadays call history and literature.

“It is, moreover, evident from what has been said, that it is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened, but what may happen - what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity. The poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. The work of Herodotus might be put into verse, and it would still be a species of history, with meter no less than without it. The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen. Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular. By the universal I mean how a person of a certain type on occasion speak or act, according to the law of probability or necessity; and it is this universality at which poetry aims in the names she attaches to the personages. The particular is - for example - what Alcibiades did or suffered” (Aristotle, Poetics, 9. Translated by S.H. Butcher).

They had added to that the records of the circumstances and the conditions in which things could happen and even of “what are” these things, which had created the scientific and the philosophical genres of the word.
Later on simultaneously with the production of new and new records antiquity had guided its concerns to the preservation of the available texts (and thus appeared the libraries and the philology) and – what is even more respectable – antiquity had guided its cares to make the access to them easier. Thanks to that, in the first centuries CE the traditional scroll had been replaced by the codex, because the codex had a very important advantage – it had been most suitable to unfold. In the Middle Ages the large square letters /majusculus/ by and by had been replaced by the small rounded letters /minusculus/; so the lines in each page could be much more in number and the writing down – much faster. In the Renaissance the paper became thinner and the separate volumes gathered much more text. The publishing of books became mundane; the market dealing with books and the total prints had increased. However, all that had been no more than an approach to the ancient way of propagation of the written word. The main problem, connected with the prolonged handwork on each separate copy of the book remained unsolved. It is evident, that the discovery of the print press led really to a great change: suddenly it had appeared, that the books could be many in number and cheap. Nobody had to copy with months one and the same book; nobody had to dictate to copyists, but the books could be propagated in a few hours in an unseen total print. In the next 500 years nothing considerable had happened again: the development relied – as before – on a paper of greater quality and on smaller letters.
The invention of Gutenberg has led to an unknown and incredible by that time propagation of the documents of the past. The memories of the deeds and the thoughts of the ancestors begot much more and much richer libraries. In the private houses appeared special places for the books: that was something, which had been of a great rarity in the times before. The need of the inconvenient and expensive travelling of the individual to the educational center had vanished: not only because the centers increased in number, but also because man already had enough means for his association to the word inheritance. Then appeared another problem that had been familiar to the antiquity, but that became serious only in the 15-th century, when the book wealth suddenly increased. At once appeared enormous quantities of new texts of a very low value. These were books of less importance: books-ephemera, deprived of the spring of their own culture; books-weeds, that had grown up thanks to the deed of Gutenberg, but they had strived to replace the old valuable texts, because of which the printing press itself had been invented. Their existence became a hindrance to the good education, and it did not disappear. On the contrary, by and by it became much more difficult to overcome it. How to help the one, who wishes to get really acquainted with one’s own culture – that means, to be “reminded” of what is essential of it – and that’s why he relies on the accessibility of the written word, but precisely because of this accessibility he gets quite another thing? The market and the libraries had been full of very quickly made similarities of literature; of very superficial retellings and compilations of the good historical texts (very often these were retellings of other retellings and compilations); also, very prolonged references of strictly made but aimless collections of facts; also, writings, containing senseless statements and untested or simply fancied evidences; and at last, clumsy, short-witted or incomprehensible sequences of words which claimed to be philosophy. The memory of what really had happened never reached these people, lost in the book jungle: instead of that their brains had been overloaded by words without clear content, and from them remained only several phrases, used with an ease. The education got by these texts resembled to the furniture of a house, the owners of which can afford themselves only cheap furniture from the common shops. When these houses are new, they suppress with the lack of taste of their keepers and with their overburdeness; but the bad furniture is very soon worn out and a feeling of blunt, negligence and poverty appears at once.
Let see what happened after that. Now, 500 years after Gutenberg we possess another device of preservation of the word – it is the computer record. The first and the most obvious result of that is the sharp increase of the volume of the information which is in the physical space around us. The whole ancient Greek literature from Homer to Proclus could be gathered in one CD – this object with its package is smaller, compared with the smallest edition of Herodotus, that could be produced with the means of the traditional editing. Thanks to the CD records all of the well-known literary monuments, belonging to all earth civilizations, could be placed in a modest library shelf. But there is something more. The virtual library of Internet gives freedom to the reader and deprives him from the duty even to bye books, recorded on CD. Today everyone could read Herodotus in the original language, in which he had written or translations of it on the screen of one’s personal computer without possessing no record whatsoever of the text. All the reader needs is an Internet connection that could be acquired by everyone. The free access to the whole word inheritance of the world is already secured.

2. The problem of the erudition

All this happened very quickly and as if astonishing easily – from the point of view of the one who remembers how many efforts and means it has taken to get one or another book. It seems, that everyone, who today wishes to use the written monuments of the past is no longer in isolation. One even does not need the knowledge of different languages, which has been inevitable until late and took a lot of time, because today almost all important texts are translated into English. That’s the way in which the modern man is released from the fragmentary and ideological selection of the texts, forced by the milieu where one got one’s education before. At the same time, the problem of every free and mundane society, where the monopoly on the creation of the word does not exist, remains the same. Who will explain what is useful to be read or whether it is useful to read anything at all? Does it make no difference in what way exactly the people in the XXI century will get their education?
From the point of view of the philologist (I use this word in the broadest sense; something like “specialist in word education’) the advantage of the present-day situation is in the fact, that it secures good conditions for a conscious choice.


Monday, May 7, 2007

The Ancient Hermetism

1. Intentions of the research

This study has several concerns.
First, it gives a detailed description of the texts of the ancient hermetism (chapter I).
Secondly, it tries to comment on the testimonies, given by the ancient authors about the legend of Hermes Trismegistus and about the literature, ascribed to this mythical figure (chapter II);
Then it presents - as clearly and systematically as possible in the case of such difficult texts - the basic characteristics of the hermetic doctrine (chapter III);
Fourthly, it makes a brief survey of the academic studies on hermetism, with special emphasis on the discussion of the first half of this century, commenced with the famous ”Poimandres” by Reitzenstein, and its evolution after the discovery of the new writings at Nag Hammadi (chapter IV);
Fifthly, it informs the reader about the phenomenon of the so-called ”technical hermetism”, and about the history of the hermetic tradition among the Arabs and in the Renaissance (chapter V).
Special attention is paid to the attempt to construct a ”theory of the hermetic gnosticism.” The hypothesis of the chapter VI is as follows. There exist some basic models of the mythical thought, which underlie the majority of the mythological ”sacred histories”. It is important, that the most original and influential among the hermetic texts, the CH I, does present to its readers such a sacred history. Not only Hellenistic hermetism, but also many of the Gnostic systems of the same period (2nd-3rd CE), as well as Plato and the Orphics, needless to mention for the Judeo-Christian mythological tradition, are deeply occupied with the construction of a sacred history.
On the basis of hermetic and gnostic mythological material I try to demonstrate, that in the kernel of the sacred history myths there is a small number of pre-narrative notions. In most cases these notions are connected with the well-known (and very typical of the ancient mode of grasping the reality) dichotomy between the unchanging, unmovable, eternal on the one hand and the changeable, movable, ephemeral on the other hand. According to our hypothesis, every sacred history of gnostic type is a single realisation of the mentioned basic models, which exist as results of some simple relations between the two ”principles”.

2. Detailed summary

In the introduction there is a short explanation of the terms ”hermetism” and ”hermeticism”, in accordance with the definition of A. Faivre (Hermetism. Encyclopaedia of Religion. ed. M. Eliade, Chicago, 1986). Then it follows a presentation of the legend of Hermes and its writings in the way it was probably known after the 1st C.E. (I,1-2). The greater part of the first chapter is dedicated to a detailed description of the arguments of all religious and philosophical hermetic writings, preserved in Greek, Latin, Coptic and Armenian. These texts are known to the specialists as Corpus Hermeticum, Asclepius, Stobaei Hermetica, Fragmenta Hermetica, Nag Hammadi Hermetica, Definitiones Hermetis ad Asclepium and Fragmenta Vindobonensia (I, 3).
The second chapter is devoted to the testimonies of the ancient authors about hermetism. Firstly, the knowledge of the classical authors (up to the 1st B.C.) of the Egyptian god Thot-Hermes is discussed. The references of Herodotus, Plato and Cicero are cited (II, 1). After that there are comments on the testimonies of some Christian apologists like Athenagoras, Tertullian and Lactantius, and also on the information we find in pagan writers like Zosimus and Iamblichus. This part ends with a presentation of the testimonies in the works of St. Augustine and St. Cyril of Alexandria. We may conclude, that the opinion of the Christian authors in respect of Hermes is at least twofold. Some of them (Lactantius, Cyril) admire Hermes as the ”first philosopher”, and perceive him as a real Egyptian prophet of Christ.
Others, especially Augustine, critisize him for his interest in magic and astrology, and ascribe his prophetic abilities to his contact with impure demonic powers. As to the pagan authorities, they see in him the greatest personification of the old and glorious Egyptian wisdom and, naturally, the inventor of philosophy and of all worldly and occult sciences and arts (II, 2). The last paragraph is a brief survey of the Byzantine testimonies. Most interesting are the references of Psellus, who, as far as we know, is the first European reader of Hermes after the disappearance of the writings by the middle of the 6th CE.
The third chapter tries to make a systematic presentation of the hermetic doctrine. The observation (made by Bousset some 80 years ago), that in hermetism can be found two almost antithetical world-views, is accepted without objection. On this ground a comparison is made between the conceptions of the creator, the world and the soul in the ”optimistic” treatises and in the ”pessimistic” ones (III, 1-3).
The theme of the fourth chapter is the history of the studies on hermetism from the beginning of this century. The interest of philologists and historians of philosophy and religion is directed to the following problems. Was there in the late antiquity something like a hermetic church, or hermetic school of philosophy, or hermetism was only a kind of sophisticated religious literature, addressed to educated people? Where are to be sought the origins of religious and philosophical dogma of the hermetists? How to deal with the firmly established (since Bousset and Scott) distinctions between the different trends in hermetism, such as the ”technical” and the ”learned” one, and the ”optimistic” and ”pessimistic” one? The work of every scholar in this field is oriented to some of these problems and suggests one of the possible solutions. So, for example, R. Reitzenstein seeks to demonstrate the connection between hermetism and the Egyptian, or, in a later study, the Iranian mythological traditions. In his learned “Die Hellenistische Mysterienreligionen” he posits the hermetic ideas in the context of the very complicated religious life of that period. He is also the first 20th-century editor of hermetic texts. The evolution of hermetic studies after him can be seen as a series of attempts to develop his work and to examine his hypotheses (IV, 1).
So some scholars like Scott and more recently Mahe, are concerned chiefly with the editing and commenting on the extant texts. Others, like Heinrici, Dodd and Grese, are interested in the detailed study of the textual parallels between the hermetic treatises and the Bible. In the third place there are historians of the religious literature (Striker, Derchain) who are interested in the possibility to prove the ”Egyptian hypothesis” of the origin of the hermetism. A special attention is paid to the work of A.-J. Festugiere, a highly learned and undoubtedly the most productive author in the field of the academic studies on hermetism. He was interested, just like Reitzenstein, in all the aspects of this phenomenon. It can be said, that while the German scholar simply poses the questions, Festugiere gives a full and abundantly supported answer to them. The results of his life-long studies on the subject can be summarized as follows. Firstly, Festugiere says, there was no such thing as hermetic church, although it may be supposed, that some kind of schools of hermetic philosophy existed in the big cities of the Roman Empire.