Interview with Alan Cameron

Interview by Philip Matyszak

Alan Cameron (born 1938) is a British classicist, Charles Anthon Professor of the Latin Language and Literature at Columbia University. Cameron gained a BA from Oxford University, and his MA in 1964. He has taught at Columbia University since about 1977. In March 1997 he was awarded the American Philological Association's Goodwin Award of Merit in classical scholarship. Alan Cameron is the author of the recently reviewed The Last Pagans of Rome.

Philip Matyszak, aka "Maty" Thank you again for taking the time to discuss your book with us. What sort of feedback or reaction have you had from the academic community? Have (for example) Matthews, Paschoud or Bleckmann responded to any of your arguments?
Alan Cameron: Matthews is very enthusiastic, but I haven't heard from anyone I seriously disagree with. Have you seen Peter Brown's review in NYRB [The New York Review of Books] for 7 April?

Maty: When reading this work, I also had to read several associated texts by other historians which you deal with in detail. The impression I received is that in this field the discovery of even a single inscription naming the right person and giving a verifiable date might turn a number of theories on their heads. Do you feel you have given any hostages to fortune in this regard?
Alan Cameron: A single new inscription COULD cause me problems, for example, in some of my conclusions about pagan priesthoods (Ch. 4). But this is true of almost every topic in the entire field of ancient history. On the other hand, most of the theories I attack are pure speculation, based on evidence better explained differently. One new bit of evidence would refute them too. The medieval library catalog that gave the name of the author of the poem 'Against the Pagans' as Damasus was an unexpected find that supported my view.

Maty: There is an amazing amount of scholarship and detail in this book - how long did it take to put it all together?
Alan Cameron: I was working on the book on and off for 20 plus years, but I took long periods off, as you can see from the (incomplete) list of my publications during that period.

Maty: The overall argument in this book is hard to refute. It seems set to become the definitive study of Paganism in Rome during late antiquity. Do you think this book will encourage discussion, or settle it?
Alan Cameron: I'm sure it will encourage discussion, though probably in a somewhat different direction.

Maty: This is a weighty read which requires serious effort on the part of the reader. It currently retails for $85 in the USA. Yet the book has sold extremely well. Do you feel this indicates an appetite for this type of book among the general public?
Alan Cameron: I'd like to think so. But it is VERY long, longer than I had planned, but I decided that its strength lay in the detail, and fortunately the press agreed.

Maty: One reviewer has called this book your 'magnum opus'. Do you share this opinion?
Alan Cameron: Well, it's certainly my biggest book, but I'm also still very pleased with my 1970 book on Claudian, and my 2004 book on Greek Mythography. Also my 1973 Porphyrius the Charioteer.

Maty:: Thank you for your time!

Philip Matyszak received a doctorate in Roman history from St. John's college at Oxford. He is the author of such books as Chronicles of the Roman Republic, The Enemies of Rome, and Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day.

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