Serial groping chronicles

The world could live without Hegel’s philosophy of right, or his principles of logic, but I shed a metaphorical tear when I realized that his philosophy of history was no longer on my shelves, for it is full of juicy anecdotes. Give Hegel up? Personally, I’d find that one of the easier things to omit for Lent; though I know a man for whom it might be difficult. A Hegel quote in every email; one looks for it as for the Captain Midnight secret decoder ring in the box of Sugar Pops.

Was Hegel a serial groper? I don’t know; I’m just asking.

There is no truth to the often-circulated rumour that Germans are boring. Indeed, as I once argued to a beautiful German woman (who worked for the FAZ in Frankfurt, which aspired to be the most boring newspaper in the world, except for the NZZ in Zurich), the more interesting they become, the more dangerous. She retaliated by earnestly asking me to explain the English concept of “irony” — knowing full well that it could not be done. (She was a dangerous woman.)

In the subsequent conversation I held up the book, Horace, by the late great German philologist, Eduard Fraenkel. It is a breathtaking work of classical scholarship, which I still have on my shelves, though let me be the first to admit that I have never read the thing right through. Page after page one is arrested by the breadth of his knowledge and the subtlety of his reasoning; this makes it slow-going. Too, even though he was exiled to Oxford (same old story: Jewish in 1933), there are no jokes.

We don’t know if Horace ever groped anyone, but we can know that the poet was as full of sly ironies as any English schoolboy and, I would imagine, given to mischief. Fraenkel certainly knew this, but his reader might never guess. At the moment when Horace’s humour becomes slam-bang obvious, while his good taste seems to be taking a rest, Fraenkel falls mysteriously silent. He was not merely a brilliant German scholar, but an heroic one.

I mention him today to be topical.

They were letting women into the English universities in the last century and, according to quite a few who studied under him, Fraenkel was a serial groper. Verily, there were almost public warnings about him, in which it was conceded that he was a remarkable teacher, but you’d better come to a tutorial armed; because he had arms, and they strayed everywhere. He was the Joe Biden of classics professors.

Between Fraenkel and Biden, I think there may have been others. Someone with a lot of prurience, and patience, should compile a list of famous historical gropers. It won’t be me. I am much too prim.

In the olden times, to which I’ve been referring, groping — even by learned classicists — was a risk the learned woman ran. Some acquired husbands in this way; there is a vogue for #MeToo confessionals among prominent elderly female Latinists just now. I daresay the phenomenon was known in other branches of society. There were no laws against it. There was no law against a woman giving her assailant a crisp slap across the face, either; though I suppose she’d have to wonder what the effect might be on her grades.

But defending one’s virtue is a skill that must be acquired, like any other skill in the jungle of human life. Parents of female children used to teach it, and mother crow could give examples of how it was done to her chicks.

(I think of an unnecessarily attractive waitress in a beer hall I used to frequent. She had mastered the art of dancing with a tray of fully-charged beer steins, never slopping a drop. When male customers reached for her, she’d dance very slightly away, drawing them out until their chairs toppled and they’d be washed by their own beverages. She wouldn’t even look back. One night I counted four such “accidents.”)

Poor Joe Biden. How sad that he may never become President. My heart bleeds. But if he were a real man, he wouldn’t stop. He’d go right out and grope AOC. Turns out, he’s just a coward.