O multiperspektivnosti i mnogim „licima“ povijesti staroga vijeka – Intervju s Oswynom Murrayjem / An interview with Oswyn Murray


O multiperspektivnosti i mnogim „licima“ povijesti staroga vijeka – Intervju s Oswynom Murrayjem


Oswyn Murray je professor emeritus s Balliol koledža u Oxfordu, kao i suradnik u nekoliko drugih znanstvenih institucija. Njegovi su interesi ponajprije usmjereni na starogrčku povijest te je u tom polju objavio niz značajnih djela kao što su Early Greece i Sympotica, u kojima je grčku povijest i društvo promatrao s različitih gledišta. Profesor Murray također je bio urednik zbornika The Greek City, kao i sinteze Oxford History of the Classical World.


Na Filozofskome fakultetu Sveučilišta u Zagrebu 21. svibnja 2019. godine profesor Murray održao je predavanje na temu Sympotic history u kojemu se bavio tematikom grčkih simpozija, pritom sagledavajući niz aspekata tog fenomena. Potrebno je pojasniti da se termin simpozij u antičkome svijetu odnosio na zasebni dio gozbi u kojemu se nakon konzumiranja hrane i pića prelazilo na intelektualno stimulativnije teme, kao što su glazbene izvedbe, recitali i razgovori. Tom smo prilikom kontaktirali s profesorom koji je pristao na intervju te mu na tome iznimno zahvaljujemo.


PT: We were wondering, why did you choose to study Antiquity? What exactly sparked your interest in the discipline?


OM: At school I wanted to learn Latin and Greek because they were the two most difficult subjects in the humanities, and therefore they attracted the most intelligent students and the best teachers. But I discovered I was better at history, which involves making connections between disparate objects and ideas, than at philology.


PT: In which components of your work would you recognize traces of Arnaldo Momigliano’s[1] guidance and his ideas? Which among his many lessons would you consider crucial for modern-day historians of Antiquity to apply in their work?


OM: Momigliano, professor at London, was appointed my doctoral supervisor because there was no-one in Oxford competent in the Hellenistic world. From the start I worshipped him, and we became close personal friends over thirty years. He was the fiercest of critics of his colleagues, but wonderfully helpful to those junior to him. You would go to him with a historical problem, and he never gave an answer; but five minutes of conversation transformed the problem, and inspired you to look for a new solution. Apart from the fundamental seriousness of true historical research, I think what I learned most was the importance of the classical tradition, and not to dismiss earlier scholars, but to try to understand why they wrote as they did. He knew everything, including what problems had not yet been solved.


PT: A couple of questions regarding your work. Would you consider your book „Early Greece“ which covers phenomena such as inter-cultural exchanges between the Greeks and the inhabitants of the Black Sea and Oriental regions as something of an antecedent to writing global history? Would you characterize the Mediterranean world in the examined period (especially after loads of new discoveries since the book came out) as a proto-globalized sphere?


OM: Yes, I have been asked to write a new edition of the book, and it will begin with global history and the Mediterranean world as a place of interchange. It will start with the Minoans and the Near East, and include new work on the Jewish mercenary settlements in Egypt. It will also include a new chapter on the Persian empire as a global phenomenon. These ideas were already hinted at in the earlier editions, but I did not know enough to write about them.


PT: What sparked your shift from writing or editing „all-encompassing“ histories or encyclopaedias of the classical world and macro-historical works such as your analysis of Hellenistic political thought into more anthropocentric subjects exemplified by your work in the history of symposia? Did the Annales school and their focus on histoire totale and histoire des mentalités have any influence on your work generally or particularly on this shift?


OM: I began my doctoral work from a footnote in Rostovtzeff’s Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World which said that research was needed on the Hellenistic theory of monarchy. My encyclopedic work was mainly as a result of publishing commissions. The shift to the symposion is the subject of my talk on Tuesday; but yes it was inspired by the work of Vernant[2] and the histoire des mentalités, as well as by the discovery of art history and the tradition of Aby Warburg.


PT: Speaking from a continental perspective where we mostly study ancient history as part of human past instead of it being entailed as a part of classical studies, do you think it is possible to study ancient history outside the framework given by the discipline of classics?


OM: The great advantage of studying ancient classical history is that one can seek to master all the relevant disciplines by the end of one’s life: you can at least aim to create a total picture. It follows that these cultures being literate, one must study the ancient languages and literature in order to understand how they thought. Equally one must be aware of other periods and their problems. So one must try to be both a classical scholar and a general historian. That is very difficult at the start, but if art is long so too with luck is life. One should never stop learning new skills.


PT: In your opinion, what is the fundamental relevance of studying the classics and ancient history in the 21st century? Also, would you say ancient history has become more politicized in recent years?


OM: The 20th century was a disaster, as bad as the 17th in terms of persecution of intellectuals; the 21st century does not look much better. How can we save humanity? At least ancient history enables us to see a culture as a whole, without modern prejudices: the coals are still too hot in modern history. One thing I have fought against all my life is the politicisation of all historical phenomena: that is just to falsify history in order to create a modern myth for the worst elements in our own over-politicised culture. We should try to write a cultural history without politics, warfare, economics and perhaps without religion. My other great hero is of course Jacob Burckhardt, the wisest man in the age of nationalism.


PT: As someone whose career in the field of classics and ancient history has spanned more than half a century, what do you think how much was the discipline open to new impulses from other sciences and disciplines in that period? In which directions and topics of interest do you think the discipline will possibly be moving in the near future?


OM: We were fascinated by Marxism, structuralism, anthropology, sociology: we did our best to keep up with these our colleagues. People now seem to have retreated into positivism and technical problems, as if great ideas no longer existed. Perhaps they don’t: if so history will cease to be interesting. If there is hope it surely lies in the crossing of frontiers, between art, history, literature, and between different historical traditions in China, India – and perhaps in environmental studies and the biological sciences. I have been much impressed by the work of Stephen Jay Gould, also now dead.


Intervju proveli Andrija Banović i Igor Krnjeta.

U Zagrebu, 19. svibnja 2019.


Napomena: intervju će biti objavljen u dvojezičnom izdanju (na hrvatskom i engleskom) u časopisu studenata povijesti Pro tempore br. 14.



[1] Arnaldo Momigliano (1908-1987) jedan je od najznačajnijih povjesničara staroga vijeka. Nakon isključenja s talijanskih sveučilišta 30-ih godina 20. stoljeća zbog rasnih zakona, Momigliano bježi u Ujedinjeno Kraljevstvo gdje radi do umirovljenja. Fokus njegova rada, s izuzetkom izučavanja antičke povijesti i kulture, ponajprije je počivao na antičkoj i modernoj historiografiji. Na hrvatski jezik prevedena je 2012. godine njegova knjiga Antička povijest i antikvar.


[2] Oswyn Murray objavio je tekst „The Reception of Vernant in the English Speaking World“ u zborniku Annales in Perspective: Designs and Accomplishments (ur. Drago Roksandić, Filip Šimetin Šegvić, Nikolina Šimetin Šegvić, Zagreb 2019, str. 97-108). Na hrvatski jezik prevedene su knjige Jean-Pierrea Vernanta (1914-2007) Lukava inteligencija u starih Grka (s Marcelom Detiennom, Zagreb 2000) i Geneza grčke misli (Zagreb 2016).