[b-greek] Precious books (was: Re: Denniston's Particles)

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Fri Nov 03 2000 - 08:48:51 EST

At 10:48 PM +1100 11/3/00, Alex / Ali wrote:
>Clay wrote:
>>Why would anyone in their right mind** give away "Denniston's "The Greek
>>Particles"? Since this question has come up off list I suspect that I might
>>as well say this in public.
>>I am fiercely pragmatic about my library. Books have to earn a right to
>>up shelf space. Denniston had been around for a number of years and was not
>>earning his shelf space. After 12 years of using H.W. Smyth I have learned
>>to consult him first on Greek questions outside of the NT. If I had to use
>>one and only one grammar Smyth would win the top slot. When it comes to
>>Homer, after consulting Cunliffe, Smyth, Monro, LSJ, Benner, I hardly ever
>>needed to look at Denniston and when I did he was generally not very
>Clay, your candour and your pragmatic ruthlessness in dispatching Denniston
>from your library amused me, but it brought back memories, too. One of my
>professors at Monash University here in Melbourne said, somewhat
>contemptuously, that Denniston's work was the sort of thing suited to a
>master's thesis; in context, this was a code alleging that it was hack work,
>showing lots of labour but not much higher order thinking, the sort of thing
>to be done by someone with more time than originality.
>Maybe that comment has influenced me over the years, for I have rarely
>consulted my copy. The last time I did, I was wondering if it might have
>something to say on ALL' hOMWS as opposed to ALLA. (The inquiry was prompted
>by J.B.Lightfoot's comments on one understanding of Philippians 2:6-7, in
>which he argues that the former would be required rather than the latter
>which the text actually has.) It gave me no help.
>All the same, I'm not giving it away.

I feel guilty about this thread (but not very much) inasmuch as I mentioned
on-list that I found the answer to Clay's question in the very book that he
had discarded from his library and sent me very graciously after asking if
I'd like to have it. I jumped at it as it's something I've always wanted on
my shelf but rarely have felt I had the cash on hand to buy for myself.

Personally I think Denniston was a giant, by which I don't mean that I
think he was right about everything he thought about (I can't think of
ANYONE to whom I'd award THAT palm and I'm also suspicious of anyone who
agrees 100% with anyone else!), but more because he embodies an ideal of
mine that when a question is asked, a longer answer is more often than not
better than a shorter one and just about always better than a "yes" or "no"
answer. It's simply that it's always seemed to me that Denniston respects
the reader's judgment when he offers examples to demonstrate his thinking
and explains why he thinks the way he does about the nuances of usage. And
he takes the nuances seriously rather than attempting to pigeon-hole every
usage under some least common denominator. Moreover, he makes it evident
without trying to show off that he really does know well the entire
literary tradition of Greek--or at least ancient Greek--and he treats
questions of usage historically. All of which is to say that his prejudices
match my own. His profession was not Linguistics or Classics but what has
been called "Philology" in the best sense of the term (again, I should
specify that this is what I personally think is the best sense of the term:
a passionate love of words, their histories and idiosyncracies, their
richness and variety, their nuanced differences from each other. It just
seems to me that in academic Greek (and Latin) we are in too great a hurry
to formulate categories and pigeonholes and catalog everything as neatly as
we can, whether or not we do it correctly, simply because we think there's
great pragmatic value in having all those categories wherein to stash
things away and not have to look at them again eyeball-to-eyeball. I think
of Browning's "Grammarian's Funeral" (which I take to be parody rather than

        "He settled hOTI's business--let it be!--
                Properly based OUN--
        Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic DE,
                Dead from the waist down ..."

It's not that sort with which I identify Denniston but rather with the true
Philologist, the lover of language--in this instance, Greek, a language the
problems of which I don't think he imagined he had ever settled, but had
only contributed to the discussion of them. I confess it is my own ideal.

All of this is somewhat off-topic, but I am rapidly approaching a critical
point in my life and career, five weeks away now from my last regular,
formal class before a final semester of paid leave of absence. I have to
clean out my office over the Christmas season and decide which books to
sell, which to discard, and which ones are precious enough that I want to
take them to the Blue Ridge with me where I have so very little space to
store them. So the book question that faces Clay perennially faces me
imminently and with an almost eschatological urgency: what on my
bookshelves is truly precious? what is useful if one had sufficient room,
and what is even now wasting my shelf space? I'm inclined to think that I
won't have more than two or three boxes of books that I'll need to take
with me if I make my selection carefully (it being understood that most of
the literary texts I'll ever want to read again in Greek and Latin are on a
single CD-ROM, and there are very few commentaries of which I'll want a
hard copy). So for me it's time for "triage de tomes"--and it's interesting
problem to be facing!


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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