If you read this site regularly, you may have picked up that I like books just a bit. Back in the olden days when I started to collect Latin and Greek books, they were very difficult to find, and you took what you could get. The first Latin book I bought, with my earnings from my very first solo painting gig when I was 16 or so, was a beaten-up seventeenth century copy of St. Augustine’s De Civitate Dei, a text which I wasn’t particularly interested in reading and still haven’t read all the way through. But it was in Latin, and in my local bookshop, and I could buy it with my hard-earned £20 note.
[That was when I learned to put my books in a plastic bag and leave them in the freezer for a few weeks, to annihilate the bookworms. There’s rarely a time now when I don’t have a couple of books in the freezer. My son thinks that’s normal; at some point I’ll have to break it to him that some people use their freezer for food.]
Finding a specific classical text for a university class was a particular challenge. I remember that in my first year at university I needed a whole pile of books, including multiple critical editions of Cicero and Suetonius. These editions were in the university bookshop – but I couldn’t afford to buy them all. So I came up with an elaborate workaround that involved photocopying the Loebs in my local reference library, and sneaking into the bookshop regularly to consult the commentaries and make surreptitious notes on my bundle of photocopies before the relevant lesson. When asked by lecturers where my book was, I’d stammer something about having left it at home. Our class was small and entitled (I use the word literally, since some of my classmates actually did have titles), and I don’t think it ever occurred to anybody that a student might struggle to buy all the books on the booklist. (In fairness, I should admit that for some reason it never occurred to me to ask for help.)
It still catches me by surprise sometimes that people don’t need to go to those lengths any more. The Internet has brought us Perseus Digital Library, Theoi.com, and a host of other brilliant free resources. Many Latin and Greek texts are immediately available in their entirety, and relevant bits are searchable without spending three days in a reference library. And then we have eBay and AbeBooks and Amazon Marketplace, and all kinds of other opportunities to pick up cheap or second-hand copies of the very text – and sometimes the very edition – that we need.
It’s like somebody reached into my head – back in 1998 when I was trying to sort out the fifty-third paper jam in the library photocopier – pulled out my wish and put it into the ‘grant eventually’ pile.
But that’s the thing with wishes: you have to frame them carefully.
The catch, of course, is that while we now have unprecedented access to free resources, there are still things which we can’t access unless we’re part of an institution, and unless our institution is prepared to pay a LOT of money. These things include specialist databases, new books and a lot of the biggest journals in the field. So we can read older stuff to our heart’s content: but if we want to undertake serious research at the cutting edge of the discipline, we can’t easily do so independently. That’s why I’m always happy to use my access to help people get hold of the articles that they need: don’t ever hesitate to contact me if you need to get to something that’s behind a paywall!
Not every journal or new book is payment-only, of course. For instance, I work sometimes on editing the OU’s Reception journal, New Voices in Classical Reception Studies, and all of the articles we publish are free to read. Hopefully there will be more of this in the future; there are certainly a lot of people campaigning for Open Access, around the world. But for now, there are some helpful links to open resources from Sarah Bond over at History From Below.
I was writing this (prompted by a lot of online discussion this week about free resources and the need for authors to think about wider access to their writing), and pulling together some links to various aspects of the Open Access debate, when I came across an article on exactly the same issue posted this week by Sententiae Antiquae which says everything I’ve just said (only better, and without the bookworms) and goes into so much more detail that I might as well just pack up and go home. It’s well worth a read.
I’m going to be spending a chunk of next week away from my computer, so I won’t be posting any Weekend Reading next week (*pause for gasps of shock and horror*). I’ll be off visiting family – and also celebrating my birthday, which I intend to do with cake, a pile of books, a bottle of wine and at least two days of absolutely no work (sorry if you’re waiting for me to reply to an email: I will get to it eventually!).
If you’re sad about missing your regular fix of classical news, don’t worry: I am by no means irreplaceable. You can follow the Rogue Classicist’s #Thelxinoe posts every day for a morning update, or BGS Classics Weekly for a Monday round-up. And normal service will be resumed here the following Friday. Hope you have a lovely end-of-the-summer, folks!
This week from around the internet
Military diploma in Bulgaria – The Sofia Globe
Discoveries near Cardiff – Wales Online
Race to uncover fort’s secrets – The Independent
New finds at Paphos site – Cyprus Mail
Mythos on stage: review – The Telegraph [I’ll be seeing this in September, and I’ll write my own review!]
Comment and opinion
Reading the Iliad – Sententiae Antiquae
The new treasures of Pompeii – Smithsonian
Defending Troy – Cultured Vultures
The survival of old books – Society for Classical Studies
A sorceress’ kit? – A Don’s Life
On not really discovering Circe’s cave – Jason Colavito
Christians and the Olympics – Joy of Museums
Podcasts, video and other media
Kleon and Aristophanes – The History of Ancient Greece
The murder of Hypatia – TED Ed
Facebook and antiquities – BBC World Service
A heavy metal myth playlist – Spotify
Funding opportunities (primarily US) – Society for Classical Studies
Sponsor a roof tile – Vindolanda
The Wine Boy: free ebook – Amazon