"Sexual activity was regarded so differently then."
"Every society has its rules and norms, and they just happen to be different in various societies. The Greeks were actually pretty prudish, except in some contexts, they did allow open expression of sexuality in some religious context and in comedies. They didn't have a sexualized culture in the same way that we do.
"It's always in service of larger themes. But it must have been all the funnier because the outlets were so restricted. I think that modern western culture is overloaded with erotic imagery in advertising and sexual situations in literature and television and films. It's just not special. Among the Greeks, twice a year, you could see comedies that had a pretty open expression of sexual situations and language, but only then."
"I was amazed to read in your translation ofLysistrata women talking on stage about their use of a six-inch dildo."
Professor Henderson laughed. "They had them. And they had a dildo maker."
"How did you learn that?"
"Well, we actually know something about that because there were not only references in comedies, but some medical writings, and bills of sales and so forth that were important. The best ones came from Hyonia. There was a certain import trade in them. The Athenians tended to like Malesian ones."
"Why were those preferred?"
"They were well made and realistic. We have a little snatch of dialogue from a lost comedy. Two wives are comparing their dildos and talking about how life-like one of them is. And the other one is saying, 'Well, nothing substitutes for the real thing when it comes right down to it."
"Of what were they made?"
"Leather. I hate to think what the Greeks would have done with plastic."
"That's interesting. There's been a good response from readers in the Aristophanes series. We also have done all the tragic poets and we're working on fragments of those. There are a lot of quotations of lost place by the major poets and we're publishing those so that people can see what, at least poets of the plays written by Sophocles and Aeschylus, and Euripides. Because we only have a small fraction of what they wrote, but we have thousands of fragments of lost plays. And they're very hard to get at, and impossible to get at in translation. So, I think that'll be interesting.
"We generally haven't done fragmentary works in the Loeb because they're discontinuous and not read in schools and so forth, but I think they're very interesting and there's been a lot of interest now in partially preserved works of the major authors. So, we thought since no one else is doing this, we might as well do it."
"How did you come to the classics?" I asked Professor Henderson.
"An inspired teacher.
"Who was it?"
"William McCullough, at Kenyon College. I went to Kenyon; I was interested in English and science. And I'd taken years of Latin, because in those days you did, so I knew Latin pretty well. But I didn't know Greek. And when I got to Kenyon, I asked who the best teachers in the college were, and somebody mentioned Bill McCullough as one of those, and so I took his beginning Greek course. And he was."
"Is he still alive?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, he's retired now but he truly was an inspiring teacher. So, I got hooked on Greek and majored in classics and went on in that, instead of physics or chemistry."
"Thank God," I said.
"Well, who knows? But, I've greatly enjoyed my career as a classicist. I can't imagine doing anything else."
We talked then, again, about Professor Henderson's Loeb collection. He said, "I think students now are more interested in the everyday life of the Greeks and Romans than they were in my day. We were mainly interested in military and philosophical and historical text, and not so much social stuff.
"And now, it's kind of standard courses in college Greek curricula. The Loebs really help it. One change in my time has been that you didn't want to be seen with a Loeb because it implied that you couldn't read the Latin and Greek, and you needed crib notes, so in graduate school it was very serious to be seen with one. Certainly, you'd never take one to class with you. But now, I mean they're actually assigned as text and people think the translations from the text are good enough that they don't mind if students look at them and use them in classes. When the Loeb started out, it didn't have as scholarly a reputation as it does now.
"James Loeb wanted to make the classics available for everyone, and he thought scholars had their own resources. But he wanted to preserve all that was important in Greek and Latin literature forever, so he endowed the library so that all the volumes would always be in print."
"At what did he make his money?" I asked.
"He was a banker, a Harvard graduate in the late 19th Century and really loved the classics and a bookworm. He came from a powerful family.
"They were bankers and industrialists. And they expected their children to do something useful. So, James Loeb played his role in his family business, but, I think he would have preferred to be a scholar. But, he did his thing during his lifetime: he endowed various enterprises, including medical science, music and theater and then he did the Loeb.
"Early on, old headmasters and various talented amateurs would do the translations. They were okay. Those guys could write, even if they weren't the greatest scholars, they were excellent writers and the translations were good enough for the ordinary reader. And they just used standard Greek and Latin text. Not the first editions. So, the Loebs were considered for everyday readers and not scholarly reliable. And so, students and graduate students that used them were thought to be using unreliable editions from the point of view of critical scholarship. But, as I say, since the '70s, we've been redoing a lot of the volumes and certainly when we do the new volumes, we get both revisions and new volumes, using the top scholars in their fields. And we want them to do fresh editions of the Greek and Latin text too. So, the volumes that have come out, new and revised for the last 35 years, are excellent scholarly tools. And, in some cases, they're the best editions available."