Nardelli on Davidson and Dover
From: Jean-Fabrice Nardelli
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Dear Prof. Percy,
many thanks for humoring me and sorry for the long delay in replying ; my numericable email account has been branded as spam by your webprovider and despite my best efforts I could not manage to get it to un-ban me. So here I am, using another account which, I hope, will not be treated similarily.
Unlike most students in the field, who are either literary scholars or historians, I am a classical philologist (I matriculated with a dissertation on the language of early Greek philosophy) with a life-long interest in the Ancient Near East - which I have been studying for the last 15 years - and the history of male homosexuality ; both my fortes and my tastes are therefore somewhat different from those of the best scholars of Greek homosexuality. They cannot sift the wheat from the chaff when they try to broaden their horizons to Mesopotamia and Israel, lack rigor in eludicating controversial words (Winkler being very much a case-in-point as far as KINAIDOS is concerned ; the same holds true for Boswell's fascinating but flawed survey of the vocabulary for homosexual love in chapter one of Same-Sex Unions, and of course Davidson in his first two chapters), and generally speaking are rather at sea when they face corrupt or really difficult texts (see http://eruditionis-causa.blogspot.com/2010/06/dover-davidson-and-sexual-crux-on.html, apropos of Clouds, 978). My own fascination for the subject comes from my having read Dover's Greek Homosexuality and the French translation of Boswell's Same-Sex Unions when I was 18 (1993) ; I tried to store as much knowledge as possible in Greek, Latin and the Oriental languages and, a few years later, while I was writing a MPhil. on Parmenides, I thought I was learned enough to benefit from the acclaimed Maculate Muse by Henderson and Latin Sexual Vocabulary by Adams. My increasinging dissatisfaction with these books, on philological grounds in Henderson's case, on historical and lexical grounds for Adams, was confirmed by the correspondance I had entered in the meantime with Dover. So I was lead into believing that it would be interesting to bring to bear on the image of archaic homosexuality my knowledge of several oriental languages and my interests in hardcore philology, while working out materials for technical studies of the Greek love language which I should turn into books in my senior years. I thus wrote two studies of some of the best-known (or most elusive) same-sax pairings the Antiquity bequeathed us : David and Jonathan in 1-2 Samuel, Telemachus and Pisistratus in the Odyssey (Nardelli 2004, a monograph meant for Classicists though reviewers have called it heavy-going), Gilgamesh and Enkidu and once more David and Jonathan (Nardelli 2007, which is an attempt at rescuing both pairings from the clutches of liminality ; this study targets the Assyriologists and Biblical scholars and is somewhat technical in its handling of Bible Studies, Assyriology and Egyptology). Between these books, I had completed a philological commentary on parts of book 24 of the Odyssey (Nardelli 2006), as a preparation for my planned edition and commentary of the Iliad and Davidson gave the world his mammoth of a book, forcing me back to classical Greek homosexuality.
I really do not consider Dover as homophobic, but he was utterly uninterested in LBGT people and it is a safe guess to suppose that he had only contempt for gay affirmative action of the kind the USA have known since Stonewall. You know that brand of aloofness, so typically British, senior English scholars used to cultivate ; Dover mastered it exceedingly well, but he was a very warm-hearted man and incredibly devoted to junior students who showed promise (in that he was an exception in Great Britain ; when I tried writing to his peers Martin L. West and the late Hugh Lloyd-Jones, I was rebuked rudely - the latter told me to stop bothering him - and ignored - the former never answered even when I was commended by one big name in Classical Studies). This is not to say that Dover's 1978 book must be considered the best account of Greek homosexuality we have ; though still solid, compared to Boswell's two books (whose rather naive essentialism is damaging, who ignores the evidence from Attic vase-paintings and lacks caution so much in the interpretation of its elusive Slavonic and late antique evidence that its authority is mortally impaired), or to Cantarella 1992 (whose mastery on non-legal sources is notoriously flimsy), Greek Homosexuality is showing many traces of wear while its judgementality reflects too much the judgementality from the 1970s, but we still miss something as comprehensive and broad-minded. Skinner 2005 is as fine a survey of the whole Greco-Roman sexuality as was feasible in her limited compass but cannot claim to cover adequately the many particulars of Greco-Roman homosexuality / pederasty ; Ormand 2009 would have been more satisfactory, due to its attention to details and its sensitivity, had the popular destination of the work loomed less large and had the author been a good Hellenist, with more independance of mind in matters technical ; Halperin's contributions indulge too often in flights of fancy and angry polemics for the author's erudition not to be more or less wasted - I have to say I find both his style and his disregard for any ideas of gender in same-sex dealings to be unpalatable. 100 Years of Homosexuality... in particular is a book I learned very little from, and one where the author's ignorance in matters Oriental betrayed him into utter errors (cf. what he says about Gilgamesh and Enkidu).
With this backgroung in mind, you can picture my disappointment at Davidson when I found out he had chosen to fill his work with sweeping generalisations and imaginative reconstructions. Some of his blunders as a professional historian I have exposed in a little detail at http://eruditionis-causa.blogspot.com/2010/06/yet-some-more-comments-on-davidson.html ; and I may write more in the future. I recommand my students to work out the pedagogic sides of homosexuality in your own book coupled with chapters from Sergent's two studies and Buffière's Eros Adolescent, and to learn of the vascular evidence in Kilmer 1993 and Lear-Cantarella. If someone is best equipped to write an authoritative, detailed treatise, I am in no doubt that it is Hubbard - as learned as Halperin, but so much less speculative and doctrinaire.
You have my agreement to put my review of Davidson on your fine website ; you will find the text in the attached document. Though I am not gay, I very much vouch for gay rights, and am happy to number the excellent Bruce Gerig (whose good surveys of Biblical homosexuality you known perhaps : http://epistle.us/homobible.html) amid my most trusted friends. America seems to be a truly terrible place to work on the history of homosexuality, due to all those right-wingers and religious nuts in the academia ; when I sent, in april 2008, several copies of my 2007 book to a GBLT center in New York, I was told that the parcel arrived safe but empty. It must have been emptied and resealed by someone in the customs because of the title of the work : Homosexuality and Liminality in the Gilgamesh and Samuel ! I seldom show scholarly hatred even for people I hold in low esteem ; but there is one scholar I would gladly strangle with my own hands, namely the Biblical ayatollah Robert A. J. Gagnon, who is tireless in his preaching against GBLT - that man even makes DVD of his preaches ! Just look at his website to see how much bigoted one can be. But let me cut short this ramble.
Yours truly, J.-F.