Reviews of The Greeks and the New from the following sources:
1. Runciman Prize Notice John Taylor
2. Anglo-Hellenic Review Carol Atack
3. Times Literary Supplement Jon Hesk
4. Greece and Rome Malcolm Heath
5. Classical Journal Online Ruth Scodel
6. The Spectator Paul Johnson
7. Bryn Mawr Classical Review Peter Schultz
8. Common Knowledge Journal Rachel Hadas
9. Journal of Hellenic Studies Josiah Ober
10. Classical Review Eoghan Moloney
11. Journal of Classical Studies Akiko Tomatsuri
1. Runciman Prize 2012: Notice of Chairman
The Greeks and the New appears sixty years after the classic work of E.R. Dodds The Greeks and the Irrational, to whose title and argument it alludes. Like that book it challenges a prevailing orthodoxy, in this case the idea that the Greeks were essentially traditionalist and conservative, despite the implicit paradox of being at the same time conspicuous innovators in so many fields. D’Angour deals with innovation in music, art and warfare as well as in literature; writing itself was of course once an innovation. Big picture and small detail are handled with equal facility. If you ever wondered why Greek has two words for ‘new’, neos and kainos, you’ll find the answer here. The book’s conclusion is essentially that the Greeks would have agreed with Newman (‘to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often’), and that the stimulus for this acceptance of innovation was the vibrant life of the polis, especially classical Athens. Lightly worn learning and generous quotation from Greek (and other) literature make this an enjoyable read. We sense an author who genuinely loves his subject – something that cannot always be said of academic writing.
2. The Anglo-Hellenic Review No. 46 Autumn 2012, p. 26:
The poetic revelry in innovation, whether in the lyrics of Pindar or the comic verbal inventiveness of Aristophanes, has not enjoyed such a thoughtful and focused close reading before. D’Angour selects his texts well and provides a much-needed counterbalance to the prevailing view; he sets out to ‘loosen the grip of the past’, and succeeds in doing so.
3. Times Literary Supplement 6 July 2012
Armand D’Angour shows in The Greeks and the New, that the ancient Greeks were much less ‘in the grip of the past’ than is often claimed. For a start, the history of the archaic, classical and Hellenistic Greek worlds is a tale of continual innovation ingenuity and (more arguably) ‘progress’ in politics, literature, the arts, mathematics, medicine and warfare. An incidental pleasure of reading this book derives from its plethora of arresting yet little-known examples of the depth and breadth of Greek innovation. […]
But D’Angour’s engaging and aptly original study is not really an attempt to quantify the extent to which the Greeks were (or were not) exceptionally innovative. As an entertaining methodological chapter shows, the business of deciding what counts as ‘progress’ or ‘salient and significant innovation’ is a highly subjective and historically contingent one. Instead, D’Angour uses archaic and classical Greek sources to explore how the Greeks themselves ‘thought and felt’ about novelty and innovation. The considerable gains of this type of exploration, alongside an impressive handling of every conceivable genre and medium of evidence, put me in mind of classic works by Jean-Pierre Vernant, Marcel Detienne, Richard Buxton and Geoffrey Lloyd on other Greek ‘categories of thought’. Like these scholars, D’Angour has a good ear for the way in which evaluative concepts are subject to the ruses of rhetoric. […]
Another of D’Angour’s key points is that the Greek conception of novelty itself undergoes innovation in response to social, economic and technological change. This is dramatically figured in the emergence of a whole new word for novelty (kainotes) around the beginning of the fifth century. D’Angour is careful not to stretch the evidence but his point is that this word signifies ‘a salient quality of created novelty’. Before its creation, ‘newness’ was designated by the adjective neos and it is hard to find examples where that adjective does more than simply signify ‘of recent occurrence’ or ‘young’. Armand D’Angour’s careful dissection of these different senses of ‘new’ and their history suggests that it is now time to investigate the roots of modernity’s fetishization of ‘innovation’ and ‘originality’.
4. Greece and Rome Subject Reviews
The Greeks and the New is recent, up-to-date, and original — in other words, it is itself new in a variety of different ways. Armand D’Angour’s exemplary awareness of the lexical and conceptual diversity of ‘the new’, together with his strikingly wide range of reference, makes it hard to say exactly what he has succeeded in doing. The negative project of refuting the view that the Greeks were ‘in the grip of the past’ seems too easy for success to count as a major achievement: but could the positive task of illuminating attitutes to such a polymorphic phenomenon as novelty possibly succeed? No matter: if exploring a large topic with subtlety and elegance without confining it in a narrow prison of reductive formulae is failure, we would profit from more such failures.
5. Classical Journal Online 21 November 2012
A general investigation of Greek attitudes to the new is itself new and worthwhile, both because we sometimes repeat tired clichés about Greek conservatism, and because Greek attitudes were obviously not uniform or uncomplicated—there was a powerful tendency in Greek thought to value stability and the past, as well as a strain of cyclic thought. […] This book is wide-ranging and hard to summarize, but it is consistently balanced and thoughtful. It wisely concentrates on novelty in the Greek imagination, on how Greeks thought about the new rather than on the “actual” new.
Competition spurred Greeks to innovation in music and poetry, but not in industry. Even in warfare, the evidence that competition prompted invention is weak. Greeks associated innovation not with competition, but with multiplicity, complexity and pluralism, and Athens was a center of innovation because it was a center of trade and contact. One of the richest features of the book is the treatment of the vocabulary of newness. There is a sensitive and sensible discussion of the complex semantics of words for “new,” which overlap with “young,” “recent,” and “strange.” A particularly interesting discussion concerns the association of innovation and youth. Although Greeks did not think about why young people welcome innovation more than their seniors, they clearly recognized this phenomenon, and D’Angour speculates that Greeks may have given themselves freedom to innovate because they thought of themselves as racially and culturally young.
The book is well-written and fun to read—it has itself some of the gleam and glamor of the new, and I expect that its readers will give it kleos.
6. Spectator: ‘Book of the Year’ selection November 2011
The most nourishing book I have read this year is Armand D’Angour’s The Greeks and the New: Novelty in Ancient Greek Imagination and Experience (CUP, £19.99). This book ranges across the whole flow of culture.
We all know that the ancient Greeks were the first to do many things, but D’Angour examines the underlying question: what did they think about novelty and why, given their conservatism in so many areas of conduct, did they regard it as desirable? His knowledge of Greek literature is exhaustive and he has a gift for the apt quotation, so every page glitters with gold nuggets. You don’t need to know Greek to get joy out of this rich book: just intellectual curiosity and the power to concentrate on difficult material.
7. Bryn Mawr Classical Review 23 Jan 2013
“What does one prefer?” Robert Hughes asked in his famous The Shock of the New, “an art that struggles to change the social contract, but fails? Or one that seeks to amuse and please, and succeeds?” Fortunately, in the case of Armand D’Angour’s The Greeks and the New. Novelty in Ancient Greek Imagination and Experience, we don’t have to choose. In this book, D’Angour offers us a gloriously disruptive narrative in a manner that is self- conscious (without being lamely solipsistic), meticulous, and multifaceted; quite pleasing indeed. D’Angour’s insistence on multiplicity is especially important, since his approach to the new in ancient Greece is based on a dazzling host of subjective, embodied perceptions and presentations. It is a move – borrowed from R.G. Collingwood, among others – that allows D’Angour to explore the new using a number of divergent methodologies ranging from the logico-lexical to the psychologico-philosophical, from the literary-symbolic to the socio-historical; it is a move that allows D’Angour to search, to hypothesize, and to question rather than reductively anatomize. The result is something appropriately “new”: a resounding return to the rigorous application of the historical imagination, a scintillating, hypermodern Altertumswissenschaft.
After a brief Introduction, in which he outlines his project and his methods, D’Angour opens with his Chapter I, giving an account of previous scholarly approaches to ancient Greek innovation and creativity. Here, D’Angour is specifically interested in the perceived incompatibility between the Greeks’ apparent (and oft cited) socio-political conservatism and their equally apparent (and rather unprecedented) obsession with novelty and “the new” across multiple spheres of endeavor. Also included here is an explanation of the various senses of what “the new” can mean, a section on the psychology of novelty, and a short section on some possible structural and symbolic associations with “newness” in ancient Greek thought and myth.
In Chapter II, D’Angour argues that a more holistic view of “newness” can be used to subvert the traditional view that the ancient Greeks were “held in the grip of the past,” an entrenched notion most famously articulated by B.A. van Groningen in 1953. D’Angour’s project here is to show that there was no paradox between “ancient Greek conservatism” and “ancient Greek creativity.” Rather, these two concepts are best understood as conceptual poles between which a vast range, and the vast majority, of ancient experiences and expressions regarding both the new and the old were manifested. “Novelty and innovation were no less real phenomena for the Greeks than for us,” D’Angour notes (62). As such, we should not expect to find an objective, monolithic “ancient Greek view of the new.” Nor should we expect that ancient notions of the new were always positive. Rather, we should expect fluid, shifting hierarchies of values that are every bit as complex, subjective, and socially determined as our own present moment. The entire chapter is masterfully argued.
A new Greek term for “the new” – kainos – is the subject of Chapter III. Here, D’Angour uses an impressive set of literary and linguistic tools to show how, at the beginning of the fifth century B.C.E., the ancient Greeks began to use a novel word for new. Moving from epic to old comedy, from the mythic tradition of the ancient Greek hero Kaineus to the linguistic tradition of the Old Testament anti-hero Qāyin, D’Angour demonstrates the close connection that existed between technology, innovation, and originality in the minds of some late Archaic and early Classical Greeks. Of particular interest here is the connection that D’Angour reveals between kainos, metallurgy, and metal craftsmanship and how the meaning of the more traditional neos could not encompass the “modern, artificially created and potentially disruptive kinds of novelty” (80-81) that kainos came to signify in reference to the shiny, glimmering, avant-garde artifacts circulating in the post-Orientalizing Aegean.
In Chapters IV and V, D’Angour develops the philosophical and linguistic arguments further. Chapter IV revisits and complicates the argument made in Chapter II, treating the “new” in juxtaposition to its antonym the “old.” Chapter V tackles the concept of the “new” for both the pre-Socratics and some later thinkers. Specifically treated here is how the notion of newness was sometimes placed into cyclical contexts that blurred the new/old dichotomy and how a fifth and early fourth century interest in the compilation of discoveries and inventions (heurēmata ) both documented and praised past inventions while also promoting contemporary creativity.
In Chapter VI, D’Angour shifts gears and explores the interconnected notions of birth, wonder, light, and the senses. That bright light bulb that blinks into existence over a cartoon character’s head when they get a new idea? It is rooted in a Greek intellectual tradition. D’Angour shines in this chapter, and shows how ancient Greek notions of the new can be thoughtfully explored not just by way of texts, but also by way of images. These images can be both literal and artistic, with metaphors and imaginings of birth, of awe, and of radiance all playing multiple, and sometimes contradictory, roles in ancient Greeks’ perceptions of “the new.” For example, while brilliant light was a common trope associated with various aspects of novelty in both literature and art (141-150), D’Angour also notes that this illumination need not be completely pleasurable. Indeed, the revelation of horror or a dire reversal could also be signaled by metaphorical radiance, dragging hidden truths to light. Also treated in this chapter are the visual arts. D’Angour rightly affirms that some ancient Greek artists, both painters and sculptors, were obsessed with originality, that some were self-conscious social actors competing with each other for commissions and novel aesthetic effects, and that some of these artists’ products “could be viewed as a technē worthy of respectful consideration and intellectual analysis” (154-55). These are important points, precisely because they help us continue to undermine the tidy, traditional biologico-evolutionary model of stylistic development currently entrenched in our histories of Greek art. The picture that D’Angour paints is far more realistic, far more nuanced; it is one in which artistic transformations, differences, and novelties can be understood as phenomena born from an agonistic culture of struggle. Thus, the “Greek revolution” of the fifth century need not be seen as the result of some generalized, inevitable march towards naturalism, but rather can be seen as the result of socially placed individuals battling their way towards (and away from) the new.
The connection between competition and the new is further developed in Chapter VII, “The Inventions of Eris.” Here, D’Angour describes the relationship between the agōn and ancient Greek notions of novelty, innovation, and creativity. While there is little textual evidence to connect innovation with commercial activities and everyday goods, the archaeological record is a bit more promising: for example, the development of red-figure pottery and the Corinthian order can thus be seen as the result of competitive drives in the fifth century arts . More firmly, D’Angour sees innovation resulting from competition in the spheres of music and poetry. (Sport is also treated, but there seems to be little connection between competition, athletics, and innovation. Indeed, sport, for D’Angour, is a rather conservative field: “New victories were the aim, not new ways of winning” (171).) War was also a playground for “the new,” as generals, tacticians, and engineers experimented with new deployments, strategies, and war-machines with devastating effect. Interestingly, D’Angour sees the famous invention of the catapult by the technicians of Dionysios I, as described by Diodorus Siculus, as “the result of the preponderance of expertise rather than a competitive desire on the part of the technicians to outdo each other in inventiveness” (179). This might very well be true. And yet Dionysios was himself involved in an ancient arms race in which military innovation and competition (that is, the war against Carthage itself) were directly, and practically, linked. While micro-competition between individual technicians might not have given rise to the catapult, the macro-competition between Carthage and Sicily (or the cultural gestalt that this conflict generated and reflected) almost certainly did.
Chapter VIII treats the ancient Greeks and their music. For D’Angour, music is a sphere that provides the most direct and long-lasting evidence of the Greeks’ obsession with creativity and innovation; indeed, as he shows, novelty and change in music had been both encouraged and demanded since at least the time of Homer. Interest in “the new” in music takes a number of different forms. The new in music could be simply the latest song. It could also be “news” – that is to say, the events of which a bard sang could have been events that had never been sung of before. Moreover, since song embraced and was expressed through diction, meter, verse, tone, melody, and harmony, all (or some) of these particular areas could be seen as a potential sphere of innovation. The self-conscious juxtaposition of new harmonies with a conservative theme (or vice versa), for example, would have opened up near infinite creative possibilities for ancient Greek bards. The motivations for particular musicians to claim to be “new” were also diverse. Some musicians sought to highlight authentic change, others sought to dazzle their audiences (or their fellow musicians) with ostentatious novelty, and still others seem to have only paid lip service to the traditional trope of “the new.” This range of potential innovations and how these innovations were characterized could be found in virtually all types of music. Moreover, musical instruments (first among them the human voice) were themselves loci for change, novelty, and revolution, and this revolution, in both performance and instrumentation, was acknowledged as such by ancient commentators and practitioners. Conservative thinkers connected new trends in music to failures in education, promiscuity, radical individualism, and worse; young musical professionals, on the other hand, praised innovation and saw the radical transformations in fourth century music as both exciting and, to a certain extent, necessary. That there were (at least) two poles of rhetorical reaction to revolutionary musical praxis in the fourth century should hardly surprise, of course. Elvis and The Beatles were thought decadent by some. This is a brilliant, dazzling chapter and should be required reading for any student or scholar interested in the nuances of ancient Greek art, literature, music, or creativity.
The same can be said for Chapter IX, “Constructions of Novelty.” Here, D’Angour demonstrates conclusively that some ancient Greek thinkers clearly recognized that language itself could be both a rich source of novelty and a potent sphere within which innovation could be generated. D’Angour’s focus here is on the rhetoric, drama, and comedy of late fifth century Athens, an energizing time at which “The creative, persuasive power of words was variously viewed as positive, exciting, dangerous, or frightening” (211). Important here is that D’Angour is not only talking about new rhetorical forms or new poetic formulae. Rather, he is talking about how the authors of these forms and formulae were themselves self-consciously writing and thinking about the potential newness of their own products. Also important in this chapter is the impact warfare and Athenian imperialism had on the climate of innovation that dominated the polis in the second half of the fifth century. The book concludes with Chapter X, “So What’s New”, that ties the whole package together.
In sum, this is a fascinating, engaging book. D’Angour has demonstrated that the ancient Greeks , in almost every sphere , believed that novelty, change, and newness were not necessarily things that “just happen.” Rather, as he shows, these phenomena could be seen as the result of human intention, ambition, skill, effort, and ingenuity. In a field that has only recently begun to remember its roots in (and its obligations to) the minds of ancient individuals, D’Angour’s The Greeks and the New shows the way forward. Not to be missed.
The Greeks and the New wears its massive learning lightly, in the sense that D’Angour writes with exemplary clarity. But the scholarship that informs this study is both broad and deep. D’Angour’s focus on each successive text or even word is so precise that at one level his book functions like a lexicon: what does neos or kainos actually mean as used by successive authors? And from Homer to Mimnermos to the tragic poets to Aristophanes to Parmenides to Plato, D’Angour is deeply inward with his authors. But this praiseworthy scholarship is never blinkered, for the book is also a philosophical and cultural investigation of the ways we still think about newness. The footnotes and bibliography alone suggest a wealth of further angles of inquiry. D’Angour is an expert in things Hellenic, but the real subject of his rich and remarkable book, which ranges from Montaigne to Gombrich and Winnicott, from Baudelaire to the Bible, proves to be novelty in the Western imagination and experience.
9. Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol.133, Jan. 2013, 184-185
Was ancient Greek society innovative? If so, what did the Greeks themselves make of that? While mostly focused on the second question, this book has useful things to say about the first as well. It concludes that the Classical Greeks were highly innovative in various domains and that Greek intellectuals were consciously aware of innovation. Moreover, on the whole, they approved of it. The Greeks advanced beyond traditional conceptions of change as cyclical and as characterized by inevitable repetition, to a new understanding of change as (to some degree) progressive, such that the present is partly discontinuous with the past. This conclusion challenges B.A. van Groningen’s influential argument (In the Grip of the Past: Essay on an Aspect of Greek Thought, Leiden, 1953) that the Greeks always remained ‘in the grip of the past’, that Greek society was traditional and past-oriented in a way that made novelty seem a danger to be avoided.
D’Angour presents overlapping lines of argumentation against van Groningen’s thesis. He begins with philological analysis of the shift in meaning of neos, from ‘young/recent’ to ‘new’, and the introduction of kainos as a term for novelty. He assesses mythologies of birth (especially Athena’s) as bringing something brand new into the world. He demonstrates that there was substantial technical innovation, for example, in warfare (especially beginning in the Peloponnesian War), in medicine (where innovation was exemplified by steady advances in empirical method), in art and architecture, and especially in literature and music. The book is primarily concerned with literary constructions of novelty, with generic innovation and literary self-consciousness exemplified by the emergence of literary and musical criticism. D’Angour regrets that Greek innovations in art, literature and criticism failed to advance beyond the representational.
Although sixth-century Miletus of the physikoi is surveyed as an important early centre of new thinking about change, and military innovation in fourth-century Syracuse, Thebes and Macedon is noted, it is imperial Athens in the fifth century BC that is D’Angour’s prime exemplar of Greek ‘innovationism’. The Sophists, along with Aristophanes and the great fifth-century tragedians, are key figures. With the defeat of Athens comes a backlash; thus the negative attitudes toward novelty exemplified variously by Isocrates, Plato and Alcidamas. Much of this seems right and the core argument for a prominent strand of both self-consciousness about and approbation of innovation in Greek thought and culture is convincing. Yet I missed, first, a comparative dimension. Just how innovative was Greece relative to other pre-modern societies? It seems intuitively plausible that Greece was a historical outlier; but there is no ‘null hypothesis’ against which to measure Hellenic exceptionalism – i.e. to show that the expected level of innovationism, based on relevant comparisons = x and Greece >x.
Next, the book has very little to say about institutional change. Yet surely the development of Classical Greek political, financial, economic and legal institutions is as striking as Greek innovations in warfare and medicine. Moreover here, as with war, the fourth century is worthy of attention, with the emergence of koina, inter-state arbitration, bronze (fiduciary) coinage, constitutionalism and banks. Third, it is not clear which segments of Greek society we are to imagine as innovation hotbeds or whether it was those who enthusiastically embraced innovation who also produced it. There is passing reference to itinerant Sophist, exiles (Thucydides, Xenophon) and other ‘outsiders’ as leading innovators, to rural areas and agricultural pursuits as bastions of traditionalism and to slavery as a damper on innovation in at least some domains. But all this seems rather pat, and the reader is left wanting more. The conventional chronological arc, from a vibrant and progressive fifth century to a retrenched and chastened fourth century seems to miss, not only institutional innovation, but remarkable (and highly self-conscious) innovations in moral philosophy: Plato’s reworking of Socrates, Aristotle’s challenge to Plato and the development of schools of thought dedicated to pursuing their philosophical argument, are surely among the big Greek innovationist stories.
Finally, I missed a causal argument to explain change over time. Why did Greece turn from a garden-variety pre-modern traditionalist society to an exceptionally innovative and self-consciously innovationist society? Why is fifth-century Athens so central to the story? Was democracy or empire or scale the cause or the result of innovation or of its willing embrace? I recognize that I am unfairly asking the author to have written a different and longer book. That may be taken as an indication of how engaging and significant I found this book to be. As an account of the problem of novelty in Greek literature and music, this book is of great value. The range of texts addressed is wide and the bibliography extensive. Those who claim that Greek culture was ‘in the grip of the past’ are now required to answer D’Angour’s detailed and cogent argument that many Greeks recognized and approved of the dynamic changes that characterized so much of Classical Greek culture.
10. Classical Review 64 (1):194-196 (2014)
In an erudite, eloquent, and wholly engaging work, D’A. reviews and reassesses ancient responses to novelty and the new. Taking issue with those who might dismiss Greek ‘innovationism’ too easily, D’A. bears witness, instead, to a ‘deeply ingrained fascination’ with the notion of newness (p.232). This excellent book represents a significant contribution to our understanding of the ancient Greek experience, and will prompt further fresh thought and new discussion.
The volume stems from D’A.’s own attempts to reconcile contrary modern perceptions of the ancient Hellenes, often lauded for their pioneering achievements across a wide variety of fields even as there endures a ‘general consensus…that the Greeks were averse to innovation and shunned the new’ (p.1). D’A.’s method is to open out an impressive array of textual and archaeological evidence for consideration, and attempt to outline a coherent picture that might do justice to the ‘richness and variety of the landscape of novelty in the classical Greek context’ (p. 7). The intention from the outset is to eschew a simple historical narrative, as ‘the experience of the new cannot be determinately described or evaluated, no straightforward narrative of innovation can be constructed’. Instead, D’A. suggests that ‘Observing characteristic ways Greeks reacted to novelty can be more helpful’ (p. 26); and so, after a short introduction, eight of the ten chapters reflect on the impulse towards innovation in different areas of culture or thought.
Inevitably, given the diverse subject matter, D’A.’s choice of explicit or suggestive ‘indications of newness’ may not satisfy all; none the less, his remains a fine, coherent selection on a multifaceted topic. Indeed, given that complexity, D’A. begins carefully, using the first chapters to establish the general parameters of his investigation. Chapter 1 assesses earlier critical proposals, qualifying the view ‘that the Greeks did not like novelty’, and moving instead towards a more nuanced discussion of all forms of the new (p.35). The discussion expands in Chapter 2, offering a basic ‘distinction between those areas in which innovation tended to be espoused by the Greeks [tekhnai such as medicine and gymnastics (following Aristotle), philosophy, art, literature and science] and those in which it was rejected [politics, warfare and religion]’ (pp.38-9). In this pivotal chapter, D’A. insists on a greater awareness of the challenging context in which claims/charges of newness are made in any given text, establishing that ‘what counts as ‘new’ is a subjective and cultural construction rather than an objective reality’ (p. 61). Indeed, the concept of constructed novelty provides a neat example of the shifting nature of the ancient engagement with the new in Chapter 3; a chapter that examines the Greek use of both neos and kainos, proposing that the relatively late emergence of the latter (end of the sixth century B.C.) highlights a greater appreciation for innovation generated by human effort and initiative . D’A.’s cross-cultural review details the materialisation of a beautiful and brilliant newness in the Greek register: neither organic nor temporal, kainos is ‘more readily suggestive of modern, artificially created and potentially disruptive kinds of novelty’ (p. 80-1). Further distinctions are highlighted in Chapter 4, which offers a consideration of the contrast between ‘new’ and ‘old’ in the ‘discourse of innovation’. For D’A., ‘a simple binarism cannot be sustained’ when it comes to this opposition (p. 98): there is no intrinsic or consistent quality, positive or negative, that can be fixed to this pair; instead the ‘evaluative force of each term depends on the object it qualifies’ (p. 103).
Having confirmed the need for a more considered approach to ancient novelty, D’A. begins his own ‘new’ review with a an exploration of the origins and causes of innovative ideas in Presocratic thought and early Greek literature. Chapter 5 poses an array of questions about new knowledge. Does it emanate from outside, or is it generated from within? Does the new supplant or merely repeat the old? How does any such process work? Answers come as the chapter explores disparities between philosophical and popular views of the new: unpacking the Pythagorean belief, for example, that nothing can be wholly novel in the recurring cycles of time, but also offering a consideration of the ‘real and observable fact of novelty’, unfolding in linear time. Moving through the Archaic and Classical periods, D’A. brings together different strands to form a picture of a growing interest in the ‘inventive consciousness’ (p. 133). Although this awareness owed much to the influence of ‘foreign’ cultures, the new was increasingly recognised by the Greeks as internally generated and crucially claimed to be Hellenic (and human) in origin. This key shift to a more positive evaluation of novelty is explored further in Chapter 6, where the consideration of the new as evoked in notions and images of ‘genesis, light, and wonder’ leads into an examination of innovation in Greek art and sculpture. The review of both the real experience and the symbolic use of birth and light highlights, again, an often uncomfortable response to things new. In general, however, we do tend to see a more unequivocal attitude towards novelty in the Greek visual arts, where the rivalry between specialists to ‘outdo their fellows in technical and imaginative inventiveness’ fuelled a remarkable pursuit of originality (p. 154). In a difficult section, D’A. is careful to acknowledge the lack of contemporary accounts as to how fifth-century artistic inventiveness was received, but does enough to establish how those notable ‘self-conscious attempts to innovate’ that we can consider were ‘in keeping with the competitive spirit of the age’ (p. 152).
That distinctive agonistic ethos is considered at length in Chapter 7, which asks whether the competitive drive of the Greeks was ‘directed at doing or producing something new?’ (p. 163) For D’A., neither in the more traditional forms of competition (warfare and athletics), nor in the banausic tekhnai do we find that innovation results from ‘competitive striving’. At least not in a contest with one’s contemporaries. Granted, taking a diachronic perspective does allow us to see how the bitter and protracted fighting of the Peloponnesian War prompted crucial technical and tactical changes in the conduct of warfare by the start of the fourth century. None the less, advances in the technical domains still tended to be the result of a collective and incremental process. Individual innovators, where noted, were outstanding figures, and it remained the case that ‘the production of novelty as such was prized more in intellectual and artistic spheres rather than in practical ones’ (p. 182). As we see in Chapter 8, which offers a quite brilliant consideration of creativity and novelty in Greek mousike. Artist in other spheres may not have innovated in order to gain acclaim, but the Muse here required novelty in melody, style, content, expression and effect even before the rise of the New Music. The late fifth-century musical ‘revolution’ is reconsidered as part of the natural development of the discipline, as a ‘social and technical phenomenon’ (p. 202). While the secularisation of musical practice and performance may have been disconcerting for some contemporary commentators, that separation allowed singers and musicians a rare ‘freedom to experiment with the possibilities of their art’ (p. 204). A fine balance is maintained throughout this chapter: even as D’A. considers ‘the most explicit and enduring examples of innovationist discourse in any sphere of Greek cultural activity’ (p. 184) , he remains mindful of the ambivalent reaction to the ‘vitality of mousike’ that we find in the work of a number of fifth- and fourth-century thinkers. Similarly, the review of new texts in Chapter 9 offers notes on select fifth-century Athenian authors and orators, and the imperial city in which they worked. Perhaps both key parts of this short chapter could be developed further: certainly, one would have like more depth to D’A.’s thoughts on the importance of writing in the development of new tekhnai, while the quick review of Athens’ distinctive ‘orientation to innovation’ aims at a number of targets and is a little less satisfying as a result.
Of course, some unevenness is inevitable in an ambitious volume that aspires to represent the ‘elusive and many sided aspect’ of the Greek understanding of the new. None the less, this rich and challenging book succeeds in offering a suitably bright assessment of ancient innovation and novelty. D’A.’s outstanding study is one that all with an interest in ancient Greek culture need to read.
11. Journal of Classical Studies (Vol. 62, 2014)
[…]It is a great achievement to present social trends with respect to newness. Recent research into ancient music, for example, tends to treat the New Music from a literary viewpoint. However, reconsidering music in the overall context of a society pursuing innovation sheds new light on Greek musical developments. This important study of novelty in ancient Greece is a must read for all who are interested in the subject. […]