Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sir Kenneth Dover

Kenneth Dover, the English classicist, died in Scotland on March 7 at the age of 89. Dover is best known for his 1978 monograph on "Greek Homosexuality."

The NY Times obituary (which appeared in the paper today) spends some time in going over Dover's wish, expressed in his autobiography, to kill an academic colleague, Trevor Aston. Dover, who made a great fuss about heterosexual antics with his wife, once threatened to sue a man in California who had alleged that he might be gay. These denials have more than a whif of protesting too much. Rumor has it that as an Oxford undergraduate he was known as "bend-over Dover."

I never met Sir Kenneth. Perhaps that is just as well, as he does not seem to have been very simpatico.

The Times obituary contains this extraordinary claim about Dover's Greek homosexuality book. "It was the first openly published scholarly work to talk about Greek male love in unfettered terms. (A few earlier books on the subject had been privately published and were little known as a result.)"

This claim is complete nonsense. As I have shown in an article published in an essay collection edited by Beert Verstraete and Vernon Provencal, the subject had been carefully studied by respected German philologists for more than t w o - h u n d r e d years before Dover's book appeared. The culminating figure in this procession of luminaries was Paul Brandt, who wrote under the name of Hans Licht. In 1932, Licht's superb book summing up this achievement was published in English as "Sexual Life in Ancient Greece," a volume that is still widely available. The title notwithstanding, this book deals mainly with male homosexuality. Licht's work contains many intriguing details, some of which have not been followed up even now.

The obituary points up a disturbing trend that the Internet is accentuating. If something hasn't been originally published in English, then it doesn't exist. This anglophone chauvinism is an obstacle to the progress of knowledge. Recently, the Australian gay scholar, Paul Knobel, has assembled a vast bibliography of 4600 publications on homosexuality, all of which have been published in languages other than English ( This stupendous research covers 39 languages. There are all sorts of riches out there, if one will only attend to them, as Knobel has so tenaciously done.

Of course time has not stood still since Dover's book was published. Some assertions in the book are questionable. Especially notable as correctives are the recent publications of William A. Percy and Thomas K. Hubbard. See Amazon for details.



Post a Comment

<< Home