Riffing on Relevance

Like constructing a sundae

M. Thomas' book is as full of good things as a plum pudding, but in this particular case his observations are not arguments, they are impertinences. M. Thomas who, like nearly all Frenchmen, is an admirable writer, is here quite calmly telling two of he very greatest artists in prose, Tacitus and Petronius, how to write history, and how to write novels. He joins those critics, ancient and modern, who blame Jane Austen for not depicting English sentiment during the Napoleonic Wars, Charles Dickens for dealing with "low" life, and Rudyard Kipling for ignoring the struggles of Indian nationalism. A great artist has the right to make his own rules of relevance. It is obvious that all ancient historians, Polybius not excluded, had very different ideas from modern historians on what was relevant. No doubt a modern historian, with his academic career in mind, would, in the text and in the footnotes, have given us a complete biography of Petronius, the exact date of his birth, his full cursus honorum and list of works, with dates, places of publication, and variant editions. It would all be extremely useful and valuable; but how dull!
The M. Thomas in question is Émile Thomas and his book is Pétrone — l'envers de la société romaine. And the lovely passage above is by Gilbert Bagnani (Arbiter of Elegance: A Study of the Life & Works of C Petronius).

And so for day 1643
13.06.2011