The book is . . . particularly good medicine for the times we find ourselves in, where there exists a burgeoning faction in American Internet Letters wishing to claim the Greek world as a sort of masculine daydream, and one in eminent need of recovery as such. Reading Ladies’ Greek, one immediately stumbles into a momentum that amounts to zeitgeist, into a world peopled by women thinking through their encounter with everything from irregular verbs to Pindar, making alphabet puns, writing doggerel poetry (in Greek of course), being praised as the sex with more skill in translation (so hinted The Athenaeum in 1865). If you didn’t know better, you could wonder how you could have missed it all until now.
Coneys, they were once called—
and kittens were their young.
Rodents they were believed to be,
though herbivorous, cute,
and gregarious burrowers,
they actually were lagomorphs.
Are they pets? To say a coney
is gregarious is to note
it roves in vaguely defined herds,
not that it shows up in top hat
and waistcoat twirling its pocket
watch like an overzealous
New Orleans antiques dealer.
Empson’s academic career in England was over, at least for the time being, and the best job he could find . . . was a teaching position in the booming city of Tokyo. And it was while teaching there, in 1932, that he visited the old city of Nara, where, as Rupert Arrowsmith says in his introduction to The Face of the Buddha, “the beauty of a particular set of Buddhist sculptures struck Empson with a revelatory force.” And thus began a curious detour in his career, a project that occupied him off and on for more than a decade before it eventuated in a book whose manuscript was promptly lost, by a drunkenly careless friend, and only recovered twenty years after Empson’s death.