Today I have decided to bring my blog to the attention of Oxford dons:
Allow me to invite you to my blog ‘Questions’ (http://juliustominquestions.blogspot.co.uk/), which is inspired by the approaching 25th anniversary of Nick Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’ (published in The Independent Magazine on November 18, 1989). Nick Cohen in the article referred to two controversies, which are as important today, as they were important in 1980, when I arrived in Oxford from Prague. The first controversy concerns the study of Ancient Greek. The traditional approach is illustrated by Kenneth Dover, the late President of Corpus Christi in his autobiography (Marginal Comment, 1994). Reflecting on his high-school years at St Paul’s he says: ‘A very important ingredient of our work was “composition”, which meant the translation of sophisticated literary English into Greek or Latin prose and of passages of English poetry into Greek and Latin verse.’ (p. 37) Of his teaching at Oxford in 1950 he says: ‘My tutorial work was much the kind of thing I had experienced as an undergraduate at Mods: translation from sophisticated English, prose and verse, into Greek and Latin … I myself had always found that six hours or more spent on a composition (and I sometimes spent twelve) taught me more about the language than the same amount of time on reading texts.’ (p. 67)
When Dover speaks about ‘reading texts’, he in fact refers to ‘reading and translating texts’, for the method of which he speaks deprived its adepts of the ability to understand Greek texts directly without translating them into English. This approach to Greek has been in ever more accelerated decline, of which classicists and classical philosophers are well aware, but appear to be so deeply affected by it that they cannot adopt a different approach. The Greeks did not translate their Homer or Plato into Hebrew, Scythian, or Latin to understand it, they understood it in Greek. My approach to the study of Ancient Greek is all about understanding Greek directly, in Greek. To promote this approach to Greek texts I have published on my website (www.juliustomin.org) my readings of Pindar, Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, Lysias, Isocrates, and Alcidamas.
To Cohen’s misrepresentation of this first controversy I briefly refer in my blog dated Sept 30, entitled ‘Three questions,’ with reference to Professor Ackrill’s response to Cohen’s article. With reference to correspondence with Jonathan Barnes dating back to November 1989 I indicate in my blog dated Oct 1, entitled ‘A confrontation,’ how this controversy could be properly brought to light for the benefit of all those who want to enjoy Ancient Greek literature to the full.
Concerning the second controversy Cohen writes: ‘Tomin’s work has raised a second controversy. He has revived an ancient tradition that The Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue, written soon after Socrates’ trial and death [the italics are mine, J.T.]. Barnes thinks that even if Tomin’s views were not “baloney”, there are no interesting consequences.’ Contrast with this what David Sedley said in his interview for The Daily Telegraph (August 25, 1988): ‘He [Tomin] holds that the Phaedrus is Plato’s first dialogue, which is contrary to the beliefs of pretty well all scholars in the field in this century … It means he is asking people to give up nearly everything else they believe about Plato’s development.’ Sedley says further on in the interview: ‘It is no good trying to ask people to revise their view on this particular bit of Plato’s work without rethinking the whole of Plato’s development.’ But rethinking Plato on this basis was what I have advocated and promoted as far as I could ever since I arrived in Oxford. This point is brought in Cohen’s article well to the fore: ‘Tomin believes that they [that is ‘Tomin’s views’] could change utterly philosophers’ understanding of Plato.’
It is imperative that this controversy is properly aired and discussed. Ever since I arrived in Oxford in 1980, I have tried to convince Oxford classical philosophers that it is in their best interest to allow such discussion and get engaged in it; so far in vain. The controversy came to light on the occasion of the World Congress of Philosophy held in Brighton in 1988. References to it could be found in The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Economist. Cohen brought the growing public interest in this controversy to an abrupt end. To present my views as ‘baloney’, he misconstrued and misrepresented them. There never was ‘an ancient tradition that The Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue, written soon after Socrates’ trial and death’. According to the ancient tradition Plato wrote the Phaedrus prior to the death of Socrates, and it is this dating of the dialogue for which I have found telling arguments over the past thirty four years, as can be seen in my texts on Plato on my website.
On the first anniversary of ‘The Pub Philosopher’, offering Professor Blumberg, the Master of Balliol, a paper on ‘The Early Plato’, I asked him whether it would not be in the interest of Balliol College, its classicists, classical philosophers, and its students, if the principle of open and public scholarly discussion replaced innuendo and misinformation. This question is as relevant today, as it was 24 years ago.
With best wishes,