Sunday, November 28, 2010

One Thing I Still Don't Know

Is why The Classical Tradition by Anthony Grafton and others is so cheap. I found mine in the bookshop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at about $40. I did something mean; thinking it must be a mispricing, I snapped it up on the spot. I got my comeuppance, though: I got home to find I could have had it at Amazon for about $32. 

At first look, I would have guessed anywhere from $100 to $300. Not that it is worth that much (except maybe it is), but rather because publishers don't feel ashamed, even in the age of online bookstores, to slap a fancy price on an impressive item.

And impressive is certainly the right word: 1001 (sic) pages of suavely elegant essays intended (quoting the preface)   "to provide a reliable and wide-ranging guide to the reception of classical Graeco-Roman antiquity in all its dimensions in later cultures."
Which is to say: not the stuff you are likely to find in a random Google search, and precisely not what you will find in Google. This is a non-vacuous point: for years I kept my old one-volume Columbia Encyclopaedia on the ready because it had lots of stuff I simply couldn't find on the web. As time went by it was clear that its continuance was largely sentimental, like an old wife dog that you can't bring yourself to put down after so long an attachment. But where on the we will you find the kind of succinct elegance chosen here more or less at random:
Petrarch...made clear that he brought a new viewpoint to the study of the ancient historians. Like Trevet, he knew and prized the great compendia of Eusebius-Jerome and Augustine as well as the ancient historians. But it was Livy and Suetonius--as well as Virgil and Ovid--whose work he designated his 'favorite books' in a programmatic list, made up almost entirely of pagan authors. 'What else,' Petrarch asked, 'is history but the praise of Rome?' Though the question was rhetorical, Petrarch's answer was extremely substantive...
Match that, Jimmy Wales!

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