Saturday 29 September 2012


Aeneas stages hairsbreadth escape
Have you ever wondered how Aeneas managed to escape safely from Troy when practically all the other Trojan men were killed? Especially when he was lugging around Anchises and a small child? Perhaps all that pathos in the account of his flight he delivered to Dido in the Aeneid was a cover-up for something more cynical.
This week's news from Birmingham University is that the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Michael Whitby, a Classicist) is about to propose to the University Council that he will create a committee to select three of the Classics/Ancient History and several more Archaeology lecturers for compulsory redundancy. The Professor of Classics, Ken Dowden, is (at best) standing by helplessly. 
This has reminded me of an ancient explanation for Aeneas' rather anomalous survival. In one plausible  version of the Troy Story, Aeneas saves his own skin by helping Antenor betray the rest of the Trojans to the Greeks. Aeneas gets to be ruler in Italy, and  Antenor's reward is the throne of  Troy.
Professor Ken Dowden

When Classics was threatened with closure and/or a savage programme of redundancies last year at Royal Holloway University of London, the entire department, regardless of promotional level, worked together against the "Senior Management Team". That is why they won.  Attempts were made to divide and rule by buying the Head of Department and another Professor off with promises of job security if they collaborated, but these bribes failed. Staff resisted the assault unanimously. 

In contrast, the junior staff at Birmingham, out of whom several are to be selected for culling, are in an impossible situation. Their own Professor and his crony in Management  have stitched them up and handed them over to the V-C. In military terms, the Brigadier and the General have advanced their own careers by telling the  Field Marshall that it is the foot soldiers who are to blame. 
Dares' On the Trojan War
The information that Aeneas and Antenor calmly did deals with the besieging Greeks, unbolted the Scaean Gate, signalled with a torch, let them in, led them to the palace and handed over their own compatriots for slaughter, was  recorded in chapter 41 of an ancient account of the war attributed to "Dares the Phrygian". Dares was an eye-witness. He had actually been in Troy at the time, and thus benefitted mightily from his sponsor Antenor's cynical collusion with the real enemy. 

Punishment of Birmingham Uni Pro-VC?
Dowden is a specialist in ancient mythology and has clearly been paying attention to the surviving Latin translation of Dares' memoirs, on which he has certainly written. Whitby admittedly prefers the history of warfare and the more robust type of Christian miracle. But they should both remember that Dante reserved a special place in the ninth circle of Hell, the "Antenora" , for leaders like Antenor and Aeneas who cynically betray their own people.


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