by Matthew Cobb
Back in January, while Jerry was on a trip somewhere, I posted a poem by the writer and translator, E. V. Rieu, and went on to discuss the controversy over what exactly Homer meant by ‘wine-dark sea’. To liven up the post, I included what I thought was a photo of E. V. Rieu:
Except, as was pointed out by Drew Herzig in a comment in March,
“I think the photo you show is of Anton Chekhov, not E.V. Rieu!”
Once this is pointed out, it’s obviously not Rieu – Rieu was born in 1887 and the man in this portrait is in his 40s. Neither the shirt not the glasses seem right for a photo that would therefore have been taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s.
Neither myself nor Jerry noticed Drew’s comment, but yesterday Eben van Tonder asked whether the photo of Rieu was indeed of him. I dug about a bit, and discovered to my embarrassment that the photo I posted is clearly a portrait of Anton Chekhov.
This minor misteak raises an interesting epistemological point. I thought I took the photo from Rieu’s Wikipedia page but the history of the page doesn’t say anything about deleting a photo, so I guess I just copied the first thing I found on Google. Here’s the lesson: a Google image search of the photo above reveals 139 results. The first page sources all identify him as E V Rieu, and that’s Google’s best guess. But if you dare to enter the second page of results, you come up with loads of Russian language sites, all of which name the face as that of Anton Chekhov. Indeed, apart from 10 ids as Rieu (including my post), the internet is convinced that this is Chekhov, which indeed it is.
As far as I can see on the internet there is no portrait of E. V. Rieu. I have tweeted two of the UK’s leading classicists – Mary Beard and Tom Holland – and they don’t know of a portrait either, but Tom helpfully said he would ask the Penguin Classics folk (who publish Rieu’s translations) whether they knew what he looked like.
What does all this have to do with Why Evolution Is True? Not a lot, but it reminds us – and me – to indicate my sources, and above all to go past the first page of a Google search.