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This book, the first solely devoted to exploring Walter Pater’s place as a classical scholar in Victorian Oxford, makes a valuable and timely contribution to studies of the seminal essayist and fiction writer. The fruit of a conference at the University of Bristol in 2012, the book brings together classicists and scholars of Victorian art and literature, whose varied contributions cast new light on Pater’s life at Oxford and the influence of his classical scholarship, and open pathways for future scholarship. Although he first made his name for the controversial 1873 work Studies in the History of the Renaissance, with its infamous ‘Conclusion’, Pater spent the lion’s share of his time at Oxford as a teacher of classics. He held a fellowship in Classics at Brasenose College, where he tutored students on classical subjects, lectured publicly at Oxford and other venues on Pausanias, Aristotle, Plato, and Greek myth and sculpture, and was acquainted with the leading classicists of his day, including Ingram Bywater and Benjamin Jowett. His writings on classical subjects show a deep knowledge of both canonical and non-canonical works of Greek and Latin antiquity, and engage with forceful insight with the latest scientific theories of archaeology and classical mythology. As Isobel Hurst notes in her survey of his work as a professional classicist in the collection, Pater was also a powerful, if often unnamed, influence on the later schools of classical scholarship, notably the Cambridge Ritualists, through the mediation of Jane Harrison. Charles Martindale’s introduction to the collection argues that Pater has been unfairly labelled a dilettante, and that this has blinded later writers to the extent of his influence on classics. Although he was clearly ambivalent about the professionalization of classics in the period—he pointedly downplays the world ‘classics’, referring more frequently to ‘antiquity’—that did not mean he lacked qualifications, or that classical subjects were a mere sidelight to more pressing modern subjects and cultural and sexual politics. Indeed, the presence of the classical in modernity was central to his idea of culture. As Bénédicte Coste notes in her lively discussion here of Pater as a translator, for example, Pater displayed this presence on the very pages of his essays, weaving translations of classical texts with his own commentary, and liberally sprinkling his sentences with foreign words. The four essays in the collection on Pater’s novel Marius the Epicurean also show Pater thinking about the past with an eye cast to the present. In an illuminating intertextual analysis, Duncan Kennedy demonstrates the mostly unrecognized importance of Tibullus to the language and imagery of Pater’s novel, an importance very much out of step with the comparatively low Victorian reputation of the Latin love elegist. Richard Rutherford provides an informative account of the role of Marcus Aurelius in the novel, showing how Pater deliberately omits information from his portrait of the emperor that would stress his responsibility for the persecution of Christians. Shelley Hales looks at Pater’s depiction of houses in Marius, which, she argues, strategically layer Victorian and Roman representational conventions for depicting the domestic. James Porter, finally, reads Pater’s novel as an example of (and model for) a practice of classical reception that does not assume the stability of its object. The two essays in the collection on Pater’s other fictions, the form he called the Imaginary Portrait, show Pater using classical myth to think broadly about the relationship between past and present. Caroline Vout looks at ‘Apollo in Picardy’—a story based on Heinrich Heine’s tale ‘The Gods in Exile’—through the perspective of Pater’s essays on sculpture, a perspective that shows the classical world to be a potentially alien and unsettling presence. Lene Østermark-Johansen provides a carefully documented interpretation of Pater’s enigmatic text ‘Hippolytus Veiled’, which she places in an illuminating range of contexts, from the nineteenth-century reception of Euripides to Pater’s other tales about mothers and ill-fated young men. Robert Fowler’s essay on Pater and Greek religion complements these two essays by exploring what Pater took from contemporary ‘scientific’ studies of the classical world and where he departed from them. As Fowler notes, Pater’s ambivalence about the direction of classical scholarship made his discussions of ancient art, for all their modernity, seem old-fashioned to many Victorian contemporaries. Four essays focus on Pater’s interpretations of classical sculpture, among the least discussed aspects of his work. As Stefano Evangelista and Katherine Harloe show, Pater’s essay ‘Winckelmann’ engages both with the life of the pioneering classical scholar and with his complicated posthumous reception. Charlotte Ribeyrol provides a detailed account of Pater’s engagements with Pausanias, whose self-consciously belated survey of Greek sculptural remains anticipates the classical scholarship of both Winckelmann and Pater himself. Whitney Davis argues that Pater’s descriptions of classical sculpture work, ingeniously and with great philosophical insight, to solve a perennial problem in art theory: the balance between capturing, in a single image, the frozen moment and the epitome of a type. Prettejohn’s outstanding contribution shows how Pater’s four essays on Greek sculpture from the 1880 s and 1890 s constitute a careful and highly original engagement with the prevailing narratives about the history of ancient art that paves the way for twentieth-century valorizations of the archaic. The collection closes with four essays on Pater’s engagement with Greek philosophy, the subject upon which he most often lectured at Oxford. Giles Whitely parses Pater’s many allusions to Heraclitus, showing that Pater took many of his ideas about the great pre-Socratic philosopher from his reception among the German Idealists. Lee Behlman and Kurt Lampe argue for seeing Pater’s writings on Plato as a promotion of what Pierre Hadot has called ‘philosophy as a way of life’. They look in particular at Pater’s claim that Plato understood the Forms as akin to people, placing this notion into the context of Victorian theories of animism. In his contribution, Daniel Orrells looks at how Pater and his fellow classicist Richard Nettleship used the Platonic theory of education to think about the increasing specialization of university subjects in the late nineteenth century. Adam Lee, finally, considers how Pater understood Aristotle, a philosopher who seems to play a limited role in his work, but whose influence crops up in a surprising number of contexts, often signalled by words like ‘habit’ and ‘virtue’. The collection ends with a brief Afterward by Stephen Bann that mediates on Pater’s posthumous influence. Pater the Classicist suffers from some of the problems endemic to collections stemming from conferences. There are notable imbalances—four essays on Marius but only two on the Imaginary Portraits, for example—and the grouping of the essays is sometimes awkward, but overall the merits of the volume far outweigh its limits, and will make it required reading for scholars of Pater, late-Victorian literature and culture, classics and classical reception, and nineteenth-century art history. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017; all rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The Review of English Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Sep 27, 2017
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