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Waxing Lyric

In response to:

The Masks of Mary Renault from the February 8, 1979 issue

To the Editors:

In his review of Mary Renault’s The Praise Singer (NYR, February 8) Peter Green referred to and used my critical study The Hellenism of Mary Renault (Southern Illinois University Press, 1972), noting that I was not “competent to discuss the classical background” of Miss Renault’s fiction. Ordinarily such an outrageous charge would not merit a rejoinder. However, since I was trained as a classicist who taught his discipline and published in the field before moving into Comparative Literature, I cannot allow Professor Green’s irresponsibility to go unchallenged. Robert Dyer in The Classical World (December 1974) called my book an “outstanding job in tracking down Mary Renault’s historical, mythographic, and religious sources,” and The Year’s Work in English Studies commended the book’s “scholarly approach.”

My greatest satisfaction comes from the fact that I pleased the late Gilbert Highet, to whom the book was dedicated and who was not above sending me errata. Gilbert Highet is a name to reckon with. Frankly, I have never heard of Peter Green.

Bernard F. Dick

Professor of English and Comparative

Literature and Department Chairman

Fairleigh Dickinson University

Teaneck, New Jersey

Peter Green replies:

Fair’s fair: frankly I’d never heard of Bernard F. Dick either (he can check me out in the UK Who’s Who if he likes; I’m still trying to find him). Naturally I accept, en cher collègue, his reassurances as to his own professional competence as a classicist; but in future he really musn’t tease the unwary with such a convincing smokescreen of amateurism. Those who talk about “Chaeronia” and “Oedipus at Colonnus” (both repeated, so not typos), who treat Robert Graves’s Greek Myths and Leonard Cottrell’s Bull of Minos as though they were serious works of scholarship, who refer to the “sexless quiescence” of Theocritean shepherds (has Professor Dick looked at Idyll V lately?), and who suppose that Athenian democracy died with the fifth century BC have only themselves to blame if they are misunderstood. While conceding that Mary Renault works from translations, Professor Dick waxes lyric about the pure Attic style (whatever that may be) of The Last of the Wine (but then he’s capable of writing about “a Platonic mysticism that lacerates the syntax”: is this—again in his own words—“a style lean enough to suggest cultural emaciation”?). He treats Herodotus as a kind of proto-Plutarch. It would be good to know the nature of those “important contributions to our knowledge of antiquity” for which he praises Miss Renault: they apparently include her odd claim that earlier scholars missed the influence on Alexander of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, though in fact this had been a cliché for years. I could go on, but enough is enough. It’s good to be reassured that behind this jokey camouflage Professor Dick is really a paragon of learning. The friendly ghost of Gilbert Highet (for whom I cherish just as much affection and respect as does Professor Dick) can now rest in peace.

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