Ripping Victor Davis Hanson a new one
And rightly so. Hanson is, alas, an insufferable Right-wing apologist who is also a Classics scholar. Read this wonderful column in Salon by Curtis Dozier:
Imagine who might deliver a tirade against the “sexual shamelessness of Lady Gaga,” global warming, the liberal media, Washington elites, political correctness, “Kardashian-style displays of wealth,” and “Clintonian influence peddling.” You probably aren’t imagining a professor of Greek and Roman Classics, usually regarded as one of the tweedier and more buttoned-up academic disciplines. But Victor Davis Hanson, a prominent classical scholar, ancient historian and Hoover Institution senior fellow, has given us exactly that in a blog post for the National Review last week, complete with a picture of Miley Cyrus’ now notorious performance at the Video Music Awards.
True to his training in Classics, Hanson takes inspiration and his title, “American Satyricon,” from a venerable ancient text, the “Satyricon” of Petronius, which was probably written in the 60s A.D. and which Hanson describes as “a brilliant satirical novel about the gross and pretentious new Roman-imperial elite.” It is certainly that, but Hanson’s is not the only way to read it. In fact a more careful reading of Petronius’ text tells a different story, not only about the decline of societies like Rome or our own, but about diatribes like Hanson’s.
Hanson focuses on the description in the “Satyricon” of the banquet of Trimalchio, an over-the-top orgy of luxury and excess, which for Hanson embodies the decline of the Roman Empire and provides a cautionary parallel to the jaded self-absorption, immorality and hypocrisy of our own culture. But Hanson fails to account for the lens through which the reader sees this banquet unfold. The “Satyricon” is one of the earliest examples of a first-person narrative, and Trimalchio’s banquet is described not by Petronius but by the novel’s main character, perhaps the first example of what American high school students have learned to call an “unreliable narrator.” This is Encolpius, whose name means something like “Mr. Crotch” and who, by his words and deeds, shows himself to be a pretentious buffoon whose cultural aspirations can’t conceal that he is little more than a strung-out petty criminal suffering from erectile dysfunction.
When Encolpius arrives as a guest at Trimalchio’s house, he . . .
I bet it really stings when a Classics scholar must defer on a point of critical knowledge to high-school students.