I used to take the campus metaphor seriously. I took colleges and universities at their word. Each was indeed situated on a campus, an open field where people could move about freely, and ideas and knowledge could easily be exchanged. You could wander around or settle down in the shade of the great plane tree, talk, argue, love. Even in the most crowded, urban setting a campus was a locus amoenus, a pleasant, pastoral setting, a good place for all three of those activities.
No, that’s not a fantasy; we experienced it first-hand. Don’t you remember?
But then signs began to go up: “Private Property.” The campus was no longer one field; it was a cluster of fields, with carefully surveyed disciplinary boundaries. That was, I guess, the way it had to be. If you’re serious about knowledge, you have to be willing to specialize, dig down at one place or another, find friends and maybe your vocation there.
After a while, though, the signs changed: “No Trespassing.” “No Hunting.” “Keep Out.” OK. I understand that. This is my field. That’s yours. Good fences make good neighbors. Keep away from my field and I’ll keep away from yours. Cut the barbed wire and what was once a locus amoenus becomes a minefield.
Well, not really. Nobody gets blown up. Those signs are just the “Trespassers W” sign in Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood. But they left me dissatisfied, looking for something more, “hungry”, you could say. And D.H. Lawrence knew what that meant: “They poach because they’re hungry.” Think of the signs as essential to the joy of poaching. You can’t poach without them. It’s delicious, sneaking in and out by the back gate, trying not to get caught, savoring the catch that night by the fire.
In Classics poaching is a special joy, not just because the field has been so subdivided, but because now so much has been outsourced. Ancient history has goes over to the History silo; Plato and Aristotle to Philosophy. Things are crowded in Art these days but maybe they’d take upGreek and Roman art and ancient material culture for that matter. Political theory? Sent off to Political Science. Don’t worry the Quants won’t even notice. Interested in the development of literary genres? Comp. Lit owns the silo for that. And so on.
That’s why three of us renegade classicists decided to start poaching. We were hungry, sick of hearing the old Tom Lehrer song:
“Once the missiles go up
Who cares where they come down?
That’s not my department,”
Says Werner von Braun.”
We couldn’t claim expertise in any of the outsourced fields. Others knew the specialized scholarship, but as classicists we thought we knew something, too: How to interrogate a Greek text. So we picked a short out-sourced one, the Gospel of Mark, and tried reading it together as if it were a newly discovered text from the Hellenized eastern Mediterranean at the beginning of the Roman empire. Verse by verse, chapter by chapter, we read it as Greek, and emailed each other about what we saw in it. We argued, agreed, disagreed, and along the way kept experiencing a kind of discourse for which we had been trained (partially at least) but hadn't encountered very often in academia. I hope that we three renegade classicists might have modeled that discourse by our efforts to be true to the Greek, by our frankness and honesty with one another, and by our play-filled tussling with the text and the issues it raises.
You can judge the results at www.Gospelrenegades.com.
For the sheer joy of it, there’s nothing like poaching -- well, nothing quite like it. Give it a try.