Those were the days?
Five years ago I gave the Sather lectures at UCBerkeley, on Roman laughter; and had a truly wonderful time. It's these lectures -- for those who havent been following very this long saga -- that I have just about finished writing up into book form (about 6000 words still to go), and am just at this minute waiting for the comments on the bulk of the manuscript from the Sather Committee itself. Don't count you chickens, Beard; but if all goes well, then the book will come out with the University of California Press.
"Fifty Years" is one of those old fashioned academic memoirs that you think is frightfully quaint when you first pick it up. For a start Dow explains, as he sets the scene, that he always tried to leave his office on campus spot on 6.00, so he could hear the bells chiming from the lovely campanile that Mrs Sather also endowed: "when the evening air is full of notes rebounding from the marble walls of the buildings, rolling over the wide lawns, and filling the cool green walks under the trees". ("Hang on," I found myself thinking, "isn't this the time of the Berkeley riots? Didn't he notice anything else rebounding around the campus on his gentle stroll home?")
And there are all kinds of statistics lovingly wheeled out, in a kind of "Trivial Pursuit" version of Sather general knowledge. How many of the first fifty died between election and delivery? Answer "two" : Samuel Elliot Bassett and Benjamin Oliver Foster, in what must have seemed like a run of bad luck in 1936/7 and 1937/8 (though Bassett's lectures were published posthumously, so he was better prepared than me obviously. Who was the youngest Sather Professor? Answer "Henry Washington Prescott" (aged 41 in 1914/5 when he gave c 20 lectures on "The Classical Epic". Which was the longest book to come out of them? Answer "J. L Myres, Who were the Greeks (672 pages)".
But on a second look, what might seem at first sight a rather cloying institutional, turns out to have much more bite -- once you get the hang of the mid-twentieth century rhetoric.
Dow is actually fearless about saying which of the published volumes he thinks are the best ("again Page, Dodds and Syme excel" -- that is History and the Homeric Iliad, The Greeks and the Irrational and Sallust), and M. P. Nilsson's final lecture on "Olympus" gets the prize for the "supreme award" (published in The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology). And he is engagingly frank about the mistakes that had been made: "Actually, among the 50, some selections have been better than others (!) . . . judgement can be fallible, mistakes can be made. (oh God, thinks Beard, hope i wont go down as a mistake!).
But it's gender that is the most striking difference. Today's Sathers have a really good and proper representation of women (and my mate -- and one time teacher -- MM is upcoming). But in the first 50 years there was just one woman, Lily Ross Taylor (and she was photographed for the rogues gallery to make her look as male as possible).
This gave Dow a bit of a problem when he came to discussing the dress code. The lectures were originally "evening performances", with the lecturer "in a black tie". Lighting restrictions in World War II shifted them to 4.00, but then some went back to the evening black tie routine -- " or," he conceded, "in the case of Lily Ross Taylor, its equivalent"). Right... ?
And the moral of my little read? Well, not to be put off a book by old-fashioned rhetorical surface (get the rhetoric and these guys are just as wry as us). And to wonder -- with trepidation -- now we will be written into the micro histories of our subject. Hope I wont be one of the mistakes!