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The World's First Online Collaborative Commentary to an Ancient Text

A Beginning: Control Levels and the Communtary

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In the months ahead, I will be reading, inquiring about, commenting and blogging on our site on a regular basis. This work will constitute the project for which the CHS has granted me a fellowship this year, and has two objectives:

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 2 First, I will be attempting to document an important aspect of Xenophon’s narrative technique and its influence on the development of later prose fiction. In an important recent study on the Greek romance, Tim Whitmarsh tells us: “One of the results of researching this book has been the realisation of how much intertextuality there is within the corpus of romances. I have noted instances where they have arisen, but a systematic study of this phenomenon is a desideratum” (Whitmarsh 2011:24). My exploration of the Cyropaedia and its novelistic successors is envisioned as part such a systematic study. A full investigation of this question, however, would be vast if not focused in some way. A narratological phenomenon with which I have become quite preoccupied will thus provide my starting point: this is the phenomenon that Nick Lowe has termed a “control level,” which is to say “A class of inhabitants of a STORY UNIVERSE whose NARRATIVE status is categorically distinct from, superior in POWER and KNOWLEDGE to, and more or less manipulative of, the human PLAYERS; gods, fate, The Force, unseen presences behind the scenes, etc…” (Lowe 2000:265).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This might seem a strange place to begin in charting the interrelations among the Cyropaedia and its later successors, but I think it will help us a lot in understanding the relationships among these texts. In my dissertation I investigated the role of dreams in the ancient novels and discovered that they are both a key motif in these works and the main foil by which a “control level” is included in most of the novels. The Cyropaedia, however, has only one dream, and that has relatively little narrative importance. In fact the “control level” of the Cyropaedia is far subtler, and far less active, than it is not only in the novels but even in some other historiographers, including Xenophon himself: Deborah Gera has remarked on the relative sterility of religion in the Cyropaedia by contrast with the Anabasis (Gera 1993:58). We must, then, understand the development of this narrative device if we are to understand why it is that the Cyropaedia, a work that some have proposed as a sort of “missing link” between the historiographical tradition and the ancient novels, shows characteristics of neither in its construction of the highest level of narrative motivation. More importantly still, this technique is quite simply one of the most important in the construction of many fictional narratives, and can play a key role, if Lowe’s narratological model is right, in shaping the affective content of a narrative work: without understanding where the Cyropaedia fits into the evolution of this technique, then, we can hardly understand the role it plays in the birth of what has become the dominant literary form of our day.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Second, I will be testing the capabilities of this site we have created, in particular its properties as a living “community of scholars” upon whose wisdom and expertise any of its members may draw. The boast of this site that we have all created, indeed continue to create, is that it has the potential to model a new way of doing Classics. The site is so much more than just another Classical text made available online (not that there is anything wrong with those). Besides providing a means for us to disseminate ideas to interested parties much more quickly than we would be able to in print, it also provides a way for us to model for students, inquirers, and any others who are relatively new to the field the kinds of dialogues we can have about Classical texts, the kinds of ideas they lead us to consider, and the fascinating world that we are investigating through them.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Finally, and most importantly, at the same time that we are disseminating our scholarship more rapidly and more universally, because it is done in an open community of experts, all 20 or so of whom can respond to and critique our work, or challenge us to refine it through their ongoing dialogue with us, it is subjected to a level of “quality control” that has the potential greatly to surpass any peer-review process at a press or journal in its rigor and fairness. There, only a few scholars and editors, many or all of whom may have little or no interest in the text or ideas under investigation, pass judgment over several months, even years, of review. After this, if the work is finally published it is crystallized in perpetuity as a fixed text with which little may be done beyond the occasional citation, a half-decade later, in a subsequent journal or book. Here, though admittedly a work of scholarship may reach public eyes before it has been fully vetted, it is immediately subjected to the scrutiny of dozens of scholars with a wide range of expertise who are interested in the same text. Their subsequent dialogue with the author may quickly shape his or her argument into something more useful, while simultaneously modeling good critical discourse in the field, opening up the process of Classical scholarship to a wider audience, and advancing knowledge and insight into a Classical text at a rate that would certainly be at least ten times slower if the dialogue were in print. That, at any rate, is the ideal which we envision for this site, and it is a notion I will be testing, a goal toward which I will be striving, in the months ahead: that is the second part of the work for which I have been granted a fellowship at the CHS. I ask that all of you who may be interested, may even have a stake, in the success of such an enterprise join me in my endeavor, and assist me by questioning my work. I will certainly do the same for you if you choose to test the site in this way with your own scholarship.