This past September Matt Fox (Oregon BA 1996, Princeton PhD 2004) came to RU after three years in one of the most unusual and rewarding academic positions that this country has to offer, the Robert B. Aird Chair in the Humanities at Deep Springs College (California). This coming year is the second in Matt’s two-year appointment at Rutgers Classics as a visiting assistant professor.
Matt’s scholarly interests range widely—he is equally adept in Greek and Roman literature—but, as he puts it, they “tend to center on literary and oral cultures, especially on the role of music and other media in creating and transmitting cultural memory”. All this in turn involves “detailed philology and contextual analysis and synthesis”.
This summer Matt is finishing a translation of Lucan’s Civil War for Penguin Classics, and working up for publication by University of California Press his 2004 Princeton dissertation, a comparative study of ancient musical cultures.
Matt’s wife Kate Shea (Oregon BA 2000)—who from 2004-2007 held the title of Librarian of the Glorious Peoples Library of Deep Springs College—is an advanced Rutgers graduate student in Classics. Their adorable twin daughters (born 21 February 2007) Jordan Nevada and Camella (Ella) Mae are the focus of every Rutgers event they attend.
“In late June we’re heading for Idaho to visit family”, reports Matt, “where I’ll also be working with my brilliant collaborator Ethan Adams of Loyola Marymount, who is helping with notes and adding to the volume a translation of Petronius’ mock civil war poem.”
“Here’s a brief sample of lines recently completed.”, adds Matt. “Pompey has been soundly beaten at Pharsalus and is on the run from Caesar. He’s heading for Egypt where boy Ptolemy is engaged in civil war with his sister Cleopatra. On word that Pompey is coming, Ptolemy summons all his unsavory advisors to council, one of whom, Pothinus, recommends dispensing with Pompey as soon as he arrives.”
“His speech opens with these realpolitischen thoughts, which one supposes must have inspired a young Niccolo Machiavelli. It brilliantly and brutally upends every traditional Roman virtue—rectum, iustitia, honestum, libertas, pietas, virtus, pudor—in a quick tutorial on maintaining absolute power. ”
Lucan Bellum Civile 8.487-95
ut distant et flamma mari, sic utile recto.
sceptrorum uis tota perit, si pendere iusta
incipit, euertitque arces respectus honesti.
libertas scelerum est quae regna inuisa tuetur
sublatusque modus gladiis. facere omnia saeue
non inpune licet, nisi cum facis. exeat aula
qui uolt esse pius. uirtus et summa potestas
non coeunt; semper metuet quem saeua pudebunt.
As distant as stars
from earth and fire from sea lies advantage
from the straight and true. A scepter loses all force
once it starts weighing justice, and citadels
are toppled by regard for honesty. License
for crime is what props up hated regimes—
that and an extravagant number of swords.
You can’t get away with all your brutal deeds
unless you keep on doing them. If being devout
is what one wants, let him leave the court.
Virtue and absolute power just don’t mix.
Those who feel ashamed at cruelty
live in constant fear.