Representational Power of International Criminal Courts

This post is published in advance of the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18. #ASCPhilly

Joachim Savelsberg recently spoke at a symposium on power in international criminal justice. The event, held in Florence, Italy, and organized by the Centre for International Law Research and Policy and the International Nuremberg Principles Academy, included judges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as well as representatives from the United Nations and NGO experts.

Savelsberg argued that international human rights courts hold substantial representational power, defined as the probability to impress on a global public, even against resistance and competing narratives, an understanding of mass violence as a form of criminal violence. The argument is urgent as international criminal justice institutions are under fire from many sides. Most recently, Burundi was the first country to withdraw from the Rome Statute on which the ICC is based. Savelsberg presented empirical evidence from Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur to support his argument.

His analyses of the Darfur case show that international criminal justice institutions and their supporters in civil society are engaged in struggles with competing forces. The latter include diplomats who privilege representations that open up spaces for mediation and negotiation, and humanitarian aid organizations advancing narratives that allow for collaboration with the perpetrator state in the interest of the delivery of humanitarian aid. Yet, international criminal justice representations dominate in media reporting in all eight countries under investigation. They prevail over frames of the violence as armed conflict or as a humanitarian emergency, especially after the onset of institutional intervention. Sources of this dominance likely include control over rituals, access to channels of communication, and legitimacy based on procedure.

The representative power of human rights courts faces constraints, however, that color their message. They include the court’s focus on the role of individual actors (at the neglect of structural forces); limiting evidentiary rules; neglect of historical context; and a simplifying binary logic of guilty versus not guilty. They further include the need to satisfy institutions and states that exert power by controlling funding and the statutory basis of the court. The ICC also needs to be on good terms with permanent members of the UN Security Council on which it partially depends for the referral of cases and for enforcement action. The result of such tension is a treacherous journey between Scylla of formal-rational justice and Charybdis of practical concerns in the highly politicized environment of international relations. Finally, international criminal justice depends on the diffusion of its representations through mass media that follow their own rules of the game. Some of these rules induce selectivity.

Despite such constraints, theoretical arguments suggest, and Savelsberg’s analysis documents, substantial representational power of international criminal courts. Will this power advance a reduction of international human rights crimes, long-term pacification in the realm of international relations? When powerful leaders with responsibility for mass violence are repeatedly represented as criminal perpetrators, international criminal justice may then become imbued with symbolic power. A resulting broad-based understanding of such leaders as criminal perpetrators could quite possibly contribute toward a diminished role of naked violence in the international realm. Yet, the jury is still out, as they say—and that jury includes those engaged in continued scholarship.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

During the ASC conference on Thursday, November 16, see Joachim discuss the Punitive Term and the Justice Cascade. And see Joachim’s previous work on genocide from Armenia to Darfur, the 101st anniversary of the Armenian genocide, and the cultural consequences of international criminal justice intervention.


Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur by Joachim J. Savelsberg is available as a free Luminos Open Access e-book as a free download.


A Vibrant, New Translation of Hesiod with Stunning Images

In this new translation of Hesiod, acclaimed translator Barry B. Powell gives an accessible, modern verse rendering of these vibrant texts, essential to an understanding of early Greek myth and society. An exciting introduction to the culture of the ancient Greeks, The Poems of Hesiod is the definitive translation and guide for students and readers looking to experience the work of this influential poet, who ranks alongside Homer in Greek antiquity.

Praise for Barry B. Powell’s translation:

“Powell’s accurate but sparkling English renditions make this book the ideal place to begin reading Hesiod’s timeless classics.”—Ian Morris, Stanford University

“Powell’s translation is fresh, rich, and nuanced but never arcane or difficult to follow. Perfect for undergraduate students and anyone who loves Greek epic poetry.”—Carolina Lopez-Ruiz, The Ohio State University

“An exciting and most welcome new translation.”—Silvia Montiglio, Johns Hopkins University

 

Ideal for classroom use, this new translation includes:

Beautiful, color illustrations that bring Hesiod‘s words to life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Substantial notes that clarify complex passages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maps to orient students to the places where events happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genealogical charts alongside the text for seamless reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a glossary/index with pronunciation of ancient names, brief annotations, and alternative spellings.

With a fresh translation and up-to-date introduction, charts and maps, substantial notes and beautiful images, Powell’s The Poems of Hesiod is the ideal book to teach with.

Read the introduction and request your exam copy today.


Jerome Rothenberg on “The Symposium of the Whole”

Fifty years ago, when I was assembling and then publishing the first edition of Technicians of the Sacred, my concentration was on the poetry foremost, the sense that came to me as a poet that the roots and resources of poetry were far more complex and widespread than how we commonly thought of them. In my search, informed by the ways in which poets of my own generation and those immediately before had expanded the idea of what we could both hear and create as poetry, I discovered by looking “everywhere” (but especially in places neglected by others) a richness of poetic means and methods that both extended and confirmed the sense of what we were doing in our own place and time. What I stressed far less, though I thought it was apparent to all, was that behind the poetry as such was a diversity of autonomous peoples and deep cultures beyond anything we had previously imagined and cherished. And with that came not only new possibilities for our work as poets and artists, but the possibility of opening up the full dimension of what it meant to be totally and meaningfully human.

Today that total humanity – that “symposium of the whole,” as our fellow poet Robert Duncan named it – has again come to be challenged. I take this as the context in which this revised and expanded edition of Technicians of the Sacred is now appearing. As Anne Waldman expresses it for me, “More radically timely than ever in a tormented era of xenophobia, racism, post-truth, and psychic crisis when words are abased, perhaps it will be transmission such as this that reinvigorates imagination and highlights our generative cultural inter-dependence.” In my own words I see the new Technicians both as a testament to the survival and revival of many indigenous and threatened poetries and languages and as an instrument against new acts of genocide and ethnic and religious cleansing abroad and an upsurge closer to home of still potent nationalisms & racisms, directed most often against the diversity of mind and spirit of which the earlier Techni­cians was so clearly a part.

That I continue to assert a central place for poetry as an instrument of change and difference is also to be noted.

Watch Jerome Rothenberg’s recent lecture on ethnopoetics and Technicians of the Sacred given at the The Faculty of Arts – The University of Melbourne.


Jerome Rothenberg is a poet and an internationally acclaimed anthologist. His more than fifty books include the anthology Poems for the Millennium, coedited with Pierre Joris. He is Professor Emeritus of Visual Arts and Literature at the University of California, San Diego.

Keep up to date with his poetry and writing on his blog Poems and Poetics.


Variants and Errors in Old Editions of Island of the Blue Dolphins

By Sara L. Schwebel, editor of Island of the Blue Dolphins: The Complete Reader’s Edition

Island of the Blue Dolphins: The Complete Reader’s Edition

While preparing Island of the Blue Dolphins: The Complete Reader’s Edition, I was shocked to learn how significantly the text of individual copies of Scott O’Dell’s Newbery-winning novel differed. Island of the Blue Dolphins is not Sister Carrie, with its complicated publication history, or Walden, famous for its textual variants. It is a twentieth-century Newbery winner published with numerous printing but just three editions: the first (1960), a thirtieth anniversary edition (1990), and a fiftieth anniversary edition (2010). Given the availability of late twentieth-century computer software, I had thought the editions would be identical.

How wrong I was.

Houghton Mifflin first sold the paperback rights to Island of the Blue Dolphins in 1971, and this opened the floodgates to variants in U.S. editions. Dell retyped the first edition, and in doing so inserted a series of variants. The first printing of the first Dell paperback, for example, introduced 6 variants in punctuation, omitted one word (the pronoun “I,” in chapter 8), and made seven printing errors, ranging from a lower case “i” that is missing its dot to a lower case “m” that is only half printed.

In some but not all reprintings of this Dell paperback, errors were corrected. For example, the Laurel-Leaf Historical Fiction imprint published in 1978 corrects two missing periods and a missing comma, as well as the missing pronoun “I;” however, it inserts a different error (“though” for “thought,” in chapter 8). The 1987 Yearling paperback is identical to the 1971 Dell first printing with one exception: it corrects a missing open quotation mark in chapter 8. But bafflingly, the 1999 Newbery-Yearling imprint reverts to the original 1971 Dell paperback: no corrections are made at all. These variants, while slightly annoying, are largely insignificant. And this is where things stood until 1990.

Houghton Mifflin celebrated Island of the Blue Dolphins’ thirtieth birthday by issuing a gift edition of the book illustrated by Ted Lewin. This cloth edition made a series of welcome corrections to Houghton Mifflin’s first edition; most of these corrects are inconsequential (commas, subjunctive verbs, etc.), but three are interesting and substantive.

Continue reading “Variants and Errors in Old Editions of Island of the Blue Dolphins


Who Was the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island?

by Sara L. Schwebel, editor of Island of the Blue Dolphins: The Complete Reader’s Edition

This guest post is published in conjunction with the airing of the documentary series West of the West: Tales from California’s Channel Islands, directed by Peter S. Seaman and Brent Sumner and produced by Sam Tyler; check here for your local listings.


When the producer, directors, and film crew pulled into the winding driveway of Stoneapple Farm in Julian, California, their first remark was, “Well, this is different.” For three years, the team had been filming West of the West, a sweeping documentary about the eight islands situated just beyond the California coastline—and the continental United States’ border. As you might expect when you’re producing a film set on the “Galapagos Islands of North America,” you have some pretty spectacular backdrops. And here they were, inland, in a tiny Gold Rush town.

It was Island of the Blue Dolphins, a children’s book, that brought them here.

The California Channel Islands are known for their spectacular vistas, pristine shorelines, and startling biodiversity. Located close to the mainland, they nonetheless feel a world apart. Intense conservation efforts help to keep it that way: five of the islands are protected as part of the Channel Islands National Park and a fifth is managed by the Nature Conservancy.

But West of the West isn’t telling a story of the islands’ flora and fauna. Instead, it is interested in the human history of the Channel Islands. And there is a lot of it. The island chain is the site of the first human habitation in North America, as many as thirteen thousand years ago.

Amidst this long history, one story has fascinated the public for centuries. It unfolds on the most remote of the islands, San Nicolas. About two hundred years ago, the Channel Islands attracted the attention of maritime fur hunters enraptured by the silky sheen of otter fur. Their drive for profit profoundly disrupted indigenous life on San Nicolas Island, and after a violent clash between hunters and Natives in 1814, the surviving Nicoleños were taken to the mainland by a Mexican ship, in 1835. But one woman was left behind.

For eighteen years.

René L. Vellanoweth at the mouth of the cave the Lone Woman is thought to have lived in, 2012. (Photograph by Steven J. Schwartz)

This Nicoleña became a news sensation, with journalists calling her a “female Crusoe” in newspapers printed across the nation and throughout the English-speaking world. Later, anthropologists would refer to her as the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. Today, this Lone Woman is best known as Karana, the protagonist of Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Karana’s story was composed in Julian, a 7.8 square-mile Census Designated Place in San Diego County. Population: 1,500. In a quirky stone cottage equipped with a wood-burning stove and shelves upon shelves of California and western history books, the struggling writer Scott O’Dell (1898-1989) thought back to his childhood days in San Pedro, when he could look across the water and spy the Channel Islands. He had undoubtedly heard the tale of the Lone Woman as a boy growing up in and around Los Angeles: everyone had. Moreover, a famous account of the Lone Woman’s life—written by journalist Emma Hardacre, for Scribner’s Monthly—was republished in 1950, just a few years before O’Dell began to put pen to paper, producing one of the bestselling children’s books of our time.

West of the West’s film crew set up cameras in Stoneapple’s Great Room to capture the story of O’Dell and his wife Dorsa retreating to Julian in a desperate attempt to overcome Scott’s writer’s block. It was a last-ditch effort that worked spectacularly well when O’Dell chose the Lone Woman and San Nicolas Island as his subjects.

As I discovered in researching and writing Island of the Blue Dolphins: The Complete Reader’s Edition, the story of Scott O’Dell’s years at Stoneapple Farm have long been lost to researchers because soon after his book was published, Scott and his wife separated. Dorsa remained in the house—which contains an assortment of Scott’s books, literary awards, manuscript drafts, and ephemera—until she died in 2008. Today, Stoneapple Farm operates as a VRBO writers’ cottage, and anyone who stays there is treated to Julian, a town where everyone has a story to tell about Scott, Dorsa, and Island of the Blue Dolphins.


Scott O’Dell was the author of numerous books for children and adults. He received the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1972.

Sara L. Schwebel is Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina, author of Child-Sized History: Fictions of the Past in U.S. Classrooms, and editor of the Lone Woman and Last Indians digital archive.


Learning to See from Thoreau

by Richard Higgins, author of Thoreau and the Language of Trees

I once sat in an old barn to soak up the quiet before heading in the woods. A rusty iron hay rake hung from the rafters, and light poured through warped boards. One minute turned into three, then five. As I sat motionless, the swallows that scattered when I entered slowly returned. Soon dozens of them were pecking ever closer to my feet, oblivious to me. I was enjoying my sudden intimacy with nature when the devil whispered in my ear, “Hey Saint Francis, what about a photo?” My camera was next to me. I thought if I could just slide my hand out and drag it to me ever so slowly, the birds would be none the wiser. I moved a finger to start—and every single bird flew off as if I had yelled “OK everybody, say cheese!”

For much the same reason, I used to wonder if carrying a camera in the woods ruined the purpose of a walk. Was I out to experience the beauty of trees or to shoot them? Thoreau helped me shed that ambivalence.

We only truly see, he said, when we look. “The scarlet oak must, in a sense, be in your eye when you go forth,” he wrote in “Autumnal Tints.” “We cannot see anything until we are possessed with the idea of it, take it into our heads.” Even the hunter “must take very particular aim, and know what he is aiming at….So it is with him that shoots at beauty.” He may wait all day but won’t bag it “if he does not already know its seasons and haunts, and the color of its wing—if he has not dreamed of it.” When he has, “he flushes it at every step.”

Thoreau knew what he was aiming at and was always ready to see it. His eye was sharp, but, more important, his soul was able to appreciate beauty. That was the inner “film” that let him receive its impression. “There is just as much beauty visible to us in the landscape as we are prepared to appreciate—not a grain more.” Seeing a beautiful tree isn’t about capturing anything, but about wanting to see it and letting it in. Ansell Adams, who saw the world much like Thoreau did, agreed. You don’t take a photo of nature, he said. You make one with it.

I think that, over the years, taking a camera into the woods has actually increased my desire to see the miraculous things nature presents and made me more inclined to notice the expressions, character and beauty of trees.

One tree that I see might remind me of others I have known or photographed for this book—Big Guy, Doubletree, Hutchins Oak, Soldier Pine, Davis Elm or Shadow Tree. Or it might call to mind other trees I have seen in a certain light or in a certain stance, and make me hope to see something similar. I go off trails, down ravines and up hills because I never know what I will see—but I want to find out. In the woods right after a snow storm, I am sometimes so excited that I fairly race from one favorite haunt to another.

Seeing the possibility of a photograph in a particular tree or thinking about where to stand or how to frame it can now produce a second reaction in me. I pause and really look at it, take in its wonder. On those occasions, the camera in hand is telling my eye to be ready to see. If I’m lucky, I’ll carry that image in my mind.


Richard Higgins is a former longtime staff writer for the Boston Globe, the coauthor of Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion after 50, and the coeditor of Taking Faith Seriously. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Christian Century, and Smithsonian. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts.


Celebrating National Poetry Month with Technicians of the Sacred

Borneo, Indonesia; 40,000 BC

Rooting poetry beyond location and historical time, Jerome Rothenberg’s seminal compilation Technicians of the Sacred has educated and inspired poets, artists, musicians, and other readers—from Allen Ginsberg to Nick Cave—for generations, exposing them to the multiple possibilities of poetry throughout the world. A half-century since its original publication, this landmark anthology is more timely than ever, maintaining its vital place in our culture, and we are proud to be publishing the 50th anniversary edition this August. The following excerpts reveal the ongoing histories and intersections of language, land, and community through the lens of poetry.

From his 2017 preface, Rothenberg writes:

Something happened to me, now a full half century in the past, that has shaped my ambition for poetry up until the very present. Not to focus too much on myself, it was a discovery shared with others around me, of the multiple hidden sources & the multiple presences of poetry both far & near. I don’t remember clearly where—or when—it started, but once it got under my skin—our skin, I mean to say—that which we could hope to know as poetry drew in whole worlds we hadn’t previously imagined. Nothing was too low—or high—to be considered, but the imagining mind & voice, once the doors of perception were opened or cleansed, were everywhere we looked.

This also tied in to the search to create new forms of writing & thinking & to bring to light experiences & actions heretofore closed to us: a move that began with an earlier avant-garde & that we now repossessed/ reclaimed as our own. A result of that—from the beginning, I thought— was an expansion of what we could now recognize as poetry, for which our inherited definitions had proven to be inadequate. In that sense that which was traditional in other parts of the world or buried & outcast in our own came across as new & unforeseen when placed within our own still too narrow framework. For myself, the discoveries, once I opened up to them, proved as rich in possibilities as what we & our predecessors had been creating for our own place & time. That so much of this came from an imagined “outside” or from long outcast & subterranean, often brutally repressed traditions was evident even before we named them as such.

Revised and expanded with newly gathered and translated texts from reinvigorated indigenous cultures, this volume brings to the fore the range and depth of what we recognize and read as poetry. From oral tradition and song to the written word and beyond.

Juxtaposing “primitive” and archaic works of art from many cultures with each other and with experimental poetry, Rothenberg contends that literature extends beyond specific temporal and geographic boundaries, and must be understood globally, cutting across space and time. The first poem from the book reads:

Genesis I

Water went they say. Land was not they say. Water only then, mountains were not, they say. Stones were not they say. Trees were not they say. Grass was not they say. Fish were not they say. Deer were not then they say. Elk were not they say. Grizzlies were not they say. Panthers were not they say. Wolves were not they say. Bears were not they say. People were washed away they say. Grizzlies were washed away they say. Panthers were washed away they say. Deer were washed away they say. Coyotes were not then they say. Ravens were not they say. Owls were not they say. Buzzards were not they say. Chicken-hawks were not they say. Robins were not they say. Grouse were not they say. Quails were not they say. Bluejays were not they say. Ducks were not they say. Yellow-hammers were not they say. Condors were not they say. Herons were not they say. Screech-owls were not they say. Woodcocks were not they say. Woodpeckers were not they say. Then meadowlarks were not they say. Then Sparrow-hawks were not they say. Then woodpeckers were not they say. Then seagulls were not they say. Then pelicans were not they say. Orioles were not they say. Then mockingbirds were not they say. Wrens were not they say. Russet-back thrushes, blackbirds were not they say. Then crows were not they say. Then hummingbirds were not they say. Then curlews were not they say. Then mockingbirds were not they say. Swallows were not they say. Sandpipers were not they say.  Then foxes were not they say. Then wildcats were not they say. Then otters were not they say. Then minks were not they say. Then elks were not they say. Then jack-rabbits, grey squirrels were not they say. Then ground squirrels were not they say. Then red squirrels were not they say. Then chipmunks were not they say. Then woodrats were not they say. Then kangaroo-rats were not they say. Then long-eared mice were not they say. Then sapsuckers were not they say. Then pigeons were not they say. Then warblers were not they say. Then geese were not they say. Then cranes were not they say. Then weasels were not they say. Then wind was not they say. Then snow was not they say. Then frost was not they say. Then rain was not they say. Then it didn’t thunder. Then trees were not when it didn’t thunder they say. It didn’t lighten they say. Then clouds were not they say. Fog was not they say. It didn’t appear they say. Stars were not they say. It was very dark.

Cahto [Kato] (Northern California)

Happy National Poetry Month and Happy Reading!


Jerome Rothenberg is a poet and an internationally acclaimed anthologist. His more than fifty books include the anthology Poems for the Millennium, coedited with Pierre Joris. He is Professor Emeritus of Visual Arts and Literature at the University of California, San Diego.

Keep up to date with his poetry and writing on his blog Poems and Poetics.


An Ode to Ancient Poetry, Performance, and Peter Green

by Josh Beer

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Society for Classical Studies conference in Toronto, January 5-8. When sharing on social media, please be sure to use the hashtag #AIASCS!

In the following post, contributor Josh Beer, who taught Greek and Roman Studies at Carleton University for 45 years, pays homage to Peter Green and his translation of the Iliad while describing his own approach to lecturing as a form of theater and how ancient poetry was meant to be sung or recited aloud. When you’re finished reading, head to an earlier blog post, where our classics editor, Eric Schmidt, also explores the ways in which music and literature converge.


In the mid 1960s I was asked to teach a course on Classical Literary Genres to about 100 English Majors. Some textbooks were obvious choices – Lattimore’s Homer, Lattimore and Grene’s tragedies – others less so. The sexual revolution was penetrating the classroom. Former bowdlerized translations of authors like Aristophanes, Catullus and Juvenal were no longer acceptable.

Peter Green’s Juvenal (1967) appeared like a breath of fresh air. Readable, witty and explicit, it captured both the rhetoric and the humor of Juvenal’s original. The poet Martial addressed Juvenal as facundus, a word meaning ‘eloquent’. It is a term I would use of Peter Green himself. That he had won many glittering prizes among London’s literati after graduating from Cambridge was no surprise; his joy in the English language shines bright in all he writes.

Continue reading “An Ode to Ancient Poetry, Performance, and Peter Green”


Holiday Research Roundup

As the holidays approach, we wanted to unwrap notable holiday-themed articles published across UC Press Journals. From the history of Christmas dinner to Chrismukkah multiculturalism, Dickensian literature to Russian holiday foods (and recipes!), we wish you happy holidays from UC Press Journals!


Screen Shot 2016-12-08 at 1.24.37 PM
Harper’s Weekly, December 1860. Source: cathy kaufman (for Gastronomica)

Chrismukkah: Millennial Multiculturalism
Samira K. Mehta
Religion and American Culture (Vol. 25 No. 1, Winter 2015)

The Ideal Christmas Dinner
cathy kaufman
Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies (Vol. 4 No. 4, Fall 2004)

Dickens and Christmas: His Framed-Tale Themes
Ruth F. Glancy
Nineteenth Century Literature (Vol. 35 No. 1, Summer 1980)

724px-Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Title_page-First_edition_1843
First edition frontispiece and title page (1843). Source: Heritage Auctions

 

 

 

 

Borscht – A Love Story  (Bonus: recipe included!)
Bryan Demchinsky
Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies (Vol. 15 No. 3, Fall 2015)

Believing in the Black Messiah: The Legio Maria Church in an African Christian Landscape
Matthew Kustenbauder
Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions (Vol. 13 No. 1, August 2009)


On Bob Dylan Winning the Nobel Prize: An Ancient Greek Perspective

Bob Dylan just received the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, and the Internet exploded. I own pretty much every album Bob Dylan’s ever put out, so you can guess where I stand on the issue. But there is an interesting question that keeps coming up in the online debate over Dylan’s award: Should a musician even win a literature prize? As Salmon Rushdie has pointed out, music and literature have long been closely linked—for much of human history and around the globe.

Bob_Dylan_-_Azkena_Rock_Festival_2010_2

Take Ancient Greece. The tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides and the epic poems of Homer, for example, have been celebrated for centuries as foundational literary texts. However, we know that performance—public performance—was their primary medium. Greek tragedy was essentially musical theater (closer to, say, Hamilton than Strindberg), and it had all the hallmarks we associate with musical performance: meter, rhythm, melody, and instrumental accompaniment. Even dancing. One of the defining features of Greek tragedy was the chorus, which sang, danced, and led the audience through such intellectual and artistic heavyweights as Antigone and the Bacchae. The Greek word “chorus,” in fact, comes from a family of words signifying dance and movement, and it’s the same word we’ve used in English for five hundred years to refer to a group of people singing. Although it’s controversial whether the Iliad and the Odyssey were recited to instrumental accompaniment, they were both certainly performed, augmented by the power of rhythm, intonation, gesture, and pitch. In our recent edition of the Iliad, translator Peter Green does a wonderful job of capturing the fantastic, varied sounds of Homer’s poetry. Go to our website, where you can download for free the whole of Book IX. Read it out loud, and see for yourself.

Iliad

Tragedy and epic poetry are just two examples, and Greek is one of countless traditions where the “musical” and “literary” converge. West Africa, the Middle East, and many other regions all had flourishing cultures that combined literary technique and musical expression. For the novel-lover and/or the Dylan-hater, I doubt pointing out this heritage will do much to persuade them that Dylan’s music is as deserving of literary status as, say, Philip Roth’s output. Maybe you think Dylan is crap. Or maybe you think awards should celebrate the many massively talented artists around the world who haven’t already had a lifetime of accolades. Those are entirely defensible positions, of course. But if you’ve only ever thought of literature as words on a page, maybe it’s time you gave it another listen.

Eric A. Schmidt is the Classics and Religion editor at UC Press.