• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

"I thought that it was interesting that somewhere in the publicity material they talked about the Loebs having decorative appeal."

"We have had orders, for the entire sets for interior decorating purposes," the professor said. Martha Stewart, for instance, has the entire set. In her magazine a few years ago, they were featured in her daughter's kitchen. There was a section of built-in bookcases in the kitchen with the green Greek Loebs in it, as a decorative touch, and on the end along with all these mixers and coffee makers and ovens and things, there was the Loeb Classical Library. Martin Scorsese bought a set.

"They are attractive. They're an unusual size. James Loeb wanted them to be a size that a gentleman could carry in his coat pocket."

"When people wore Norfolk jackets."

"That's why they are of a rather modest size," said the professor. "And, Loeb insisted in his bequest, that they be that size and he designed the volumes as they are today. And they've always been that way. He endowed the library so that the Loeb volumes would always be in print and available at a modest cost. They're very nice volumes. They're all the same price and we try to keep that price as low as possible. They come, you know, in red or green cloth and green or red dust jackets, and they look rather nice all together in a bookcase. All Greek texts have green jackets, and all Latin texts have red jackets."

I asked, "Has the number of people who major in the classics gone down in the past two decades?"

"It's gone up," Professor Henderson told me.

"At Boston University, we have almost a hundred Classics majors now. There are far more than there were twenty years ago. I think there are a lot of reasons for it. In the humanities, there's been praise for critical theory and kind of non-literary enthusiasms in various departments, and that turns off students that are natural humanists because they want to read. They love to read and they love literature. So, they tend to gravitate away from English departments and other language departments toward Classics because this is real literature and very, very good literature. And, it's still taught as literature.

"There's been a great interest in the ancient world, generally. Students are intrigued by films that have classical themes, they want to know more, and students now grew up on comic books and video games, like heroes. Greek literature is full of heroes."

"And demons too," I said.

"Demons, and far-fetched adventures and mythology."

"Makes perfect sense," I said.

"Classics have been around for 2,000 years and it always has its fans. The one change that I've seen is that a lot of students that major in Classics or Greek and Latin, are double-majoring in something more practical. We have a lot of pre-med students and science majors and economics majors, and professional majors who also do Greek and Latin just for fun.

"The Loebs are really good to have because people can read the literature in good translations, and maybe get interested in it, and even if they don't ever move to the Latin and Greek, or move very much to the Latin and Greek, they can at least have it there. I've decided to take Latin, and I can now read it. I'm in a little reading group, and I correspond with a group of 80-year- olds. They read Greek literature twice a week together."

"So, a person could buy 500 of these?" I asked.

"You can buy the whole set," the Professor said. "They gave me a set.

"But you know, if I hadn't gotten a set as editor, I would have bought one anyway. They're wonderful to have around because everything is there, and all these things that you want to look up, are referenced. I used to have to run to the library to get it, but now I can just go down and pick one out of the shelf, it's still an amazing, great resource.

"I still haven't read all of them.

"On what would they have written?" I asked.

"They had paper. They used vellum for an expensive work. Papyrus was basically the paper source for the ancient world because papyrus reeds grow everywhere along the Nile, like weeds, and you can just make as much paper as you want by pressing reeds."

The professor had made paper. "It's messy but the result is fun. You can do all kinds of stuff. It's great for calligraphers; if you're a really serious calligrapher you want to make your own paper." Professor Henderson is also a calligrapher. "It is one of those things when I retire I plan to get back to, big time. That and watercolors.

"I did actually make papyrus in a class, just so we could get an idea of what kind of paper ancient paper was, and how it was made. It is an exceedingly labor intensive process. You craft-hatch it, lay it in a kind of grid, and then you have to pound it, and the sap inside is spread out, and holds the paper together and gives it texture. And then you finish it, and it's very sturdy stuff. It's not that hard to make, but you couldn't really automate the process, I don't think."

I asked the professor if he had any final words.

"I hope that the Reader manages to entice people that don't know about classics to pick this up and get intrigued and pursue this stuff. I think there's always a lesson in historical perspective, knowing about the past and what makes classical literature so good for this, not only is it good literature in itself, but the Greeks and Romans articulated things about the world so clearly that it's really compelling. It's not just that it's old, it's really a mirror on the world."

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!