Classically Inclined

November 2, 2011

Reading as Consolation in Seneca – a preview

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:11 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

My good luck with abstracts continues! First it was Animating Antiquity (which is now, um, next week…), then it was Feminism and Classics VI, and now it’s the Classical Association 2012 conference! There are a couple of reasons that I’m really excited about this one. It’s only the second paper I’ve had the opportunity to present that will be based on my thesis research (the first was at the Oikos-Familia conference, link leads to PDF), although technically it’s a further offshoot of the Ad Polybium article. The important thing is that it’s an opportunity to talk about Seneca, who is supposed to be my author of special interest and as yet is a bit underrepresented on the CV. The other major reason I’m very pleased about this is that the CA conference is the major classics conference in the UK, so I’ll have the chance to present my work in a nationally significant arena. It’s the first time it’s been possible for me to talk about my research to this large a group since I returned to England, and thus it will be the first time that I meet many of the people who are now my peers in the profession. It’s great that part of that process will be a chance to share what it I work on.

(I should mention that it also looks like it’s going to be a really good CA meeting for Birmingham – so far I know of one graduate-organised panel and one graduate paper that have been accepted besides me, and I’m sure more will appear on the program.)

So, what is this particular paper about? Two of the themes that this year’s CA hosts at Exeter highlighted as a suggested topics were the ancient book/material text and reading in antiquity. While I was working on the Ad Polybium article, it became increasingly clear that I needed to think about how Seneca was presenting Polybius in relation to literature and scholarship (especially as part of my argument hinged on the fact that Polybius had to be able to understand any Stoic arguments that Seneca might include in his consolation). When the CFP for the CA conference came through, it struck me that this might be a good place to begin thinking about what Seneca does with the topic of reading in his consolations – after all, he makes a similar recommendation in his consolation to his mother, so there’s a bit of a theme going here, and as yet it doesn’t seem to have been discussed much in the secondary literature on the consolations. (Not that there is that much secondary literature on the consolations in the first place, but I digress.)

The paper I will give at the CA is a chance for me to unpick these ideas of consolation and its connection to reading in a little more detail than I had the chance to do in the Ad Polybium article – it seems like it’s an important strategy, and deserves more consideration than I could give it in the article (and indeed in the thesis). I want to focus on the fact that reading seems to be viewed as something that the addressee needs to work at, really get their teeth into, in order to get the most out of the process. I particularly like the comparision Seneca draws in the consolation to his mother, where he makes a distinction between the comfort that comes from reading and the temporary distraction that comes from mathematics!

I also want to look at the kinds of literature that Seneca recommends people should read. It’s obvious in some cases that he’s referring to what we would classify as ‘literature’ (that is, Homer and similar authors), and in other places that he’s thinking of philosophical writing. I want to see if there are differences in how he conceptualises reading and the sorts of benefits we get out of it, and if what we read matters more than how we read. And that, I think, remains a live question in the cultural discourse that surrounds us today.

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