Careers in Classics

One of the curious things about being a politics academic going to classics lectures on Herodotus (see below) is that J. Enoch Powell is regularly mentioned, but in his capacity as author of a standard reference work, A Lexicon to Herodotus, rather than in his more familiar (to me, at least) capacity as racist hatemonger.

It reminds me of the time I was reading a very dull book from 1930 by Richard Hope on The Book of Diogenes Laertius (quite unlike DL’s own book, which is fabulous, full of good things). On several occasions, as I remember, the Book of Richard Hope footnoted Friedrich Nietzsche’s DL scholarship — for before he became the Nietzsche we know today, he was a professional classicist at the university of Basel who wrote rather dull articles on DL’s sources, and those who work on DL are understandably more interested in these pieces than, say, Beyond Good and Evil or Thus Spake Zarathustra.

Writing those words reminds me that Powell did go through a phase of modelling himself on Nietzsche: think of his obsession with landing a chair in his 20s, which led to his brief migration to Australia just before the outbreak of war. But, all things considered, I think that Nietzsche made the right career move when he gave up his academic classics. It would have been much better for all of us — and for the world of Herodotus scholarship — if Powell hadn’t.

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