Classically Inclined

July 30, 2019

Me on Coffee and Circuses!

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 2:54 pm
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I was absolutely delighted to be interviewed by David Walsh for the latest episode of the Coffee and Circuses podcast. If you’ve not encountered Coffee and Circuses before,  the format is an hour or so’s chat with an academic about their current research project and the general state of the field – so obviously I had great fun talking about Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture, as well as Seneca, decolonising classics and the state of my kitchen (guess which one didn’t make it into the final recording for technical reasons…)

Many thanks to David for hosting me, and I hope you enjoy listening!

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July 24, 2019

The monsters are coming…

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 3:40 pm
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Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture

It’s all starting to get a bit real now on the Tracking Classical Monsters front. I think I last wrote about the structure of the book when I thought it was going to look rather different, so I thought I’d take a moment to give a quick update on how it actually turned out. When I shared the original outline, not only did I think the book was going to have a different title, I also thought it was going to split nicely into two even sections. The first half of the book would do theory and overview, exploring a bit about film and television; the second half would look at four individual monsters as case studies, drawing out the consequences of the arguments made in the first half. Simple.

Alas, the book had other ideas, as I realised when writing the film chapter. It just was not going to be a single chapter, and there was no way I could condense the material down into a single chapter without horribly compromising what I was going to say. Similarly, when I got to the television chapter, I found myself with absolutely buckets to say about Hercules: The Legendary Journeys – in retrospect, I might have realised that there’d be quite a lot to say given that I had watched 111 episodes of the thing, but never mind. This is a great example of the way a project can change between your original conception of it and the final result – in this case, the source material was just so much richer than I anticipated, and I found that in order to say what I wanted to say, I needed to take more room.

Now, it was probably a bit of a blessing that I realised this in the middle of the book rather than at the end, because I was able to make adjustments to the overall plan to reflect this shift in my sense of what I wanted to include. In order to include all the things I’d found and wanted to say about the films and television, I decided that the most sensible thing to do was to cut two of the case study chapters. Sadly, the sirens and the centaurs fell by the wayside, although I did try to work them into other discussion wherever possible – hopefully I’ll be able to come back to them at a later stage when I’ve got a bit more time to look at them in detail. The Minotaur and Medusa stayed because in some ways, they are the most prolific of the ancient monsters who crossed my path while I was doing my research – not that other monsters weren’t there, of course, but these were the two who consistently got sent my way.

So there you have it – the book shifted shape not because the argument changed, but because my source material turned out to be so much more interesting than I thought it was going to be. It was a nice problem to have.

What’s next? Well, there are plans for a book launch in the works when the book is released on Halloween, so watch this space. There’s also now a Facebook group for the book, which you can like here – as well as updates on the progress of the book, I’m also using it as a place to share all the fantastic monsters who get passed on to me as the result of being A Person Who Does This Sort Of Thing. I’m sure there will be other things, but in the meantime I’m going to try and concentrate on not melting…

May 24, 2019

A general update

Filed under: Research,Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:28 am
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Most of the posts on here recently have been in support of teachers and students working on the Love and Relationships option for the OCR Classical Civilization A-level – there’s more of that to come (and do get in touch if you have any suggestions for topics to cover!), but I thought I’d take a moment to write a bit about what else is going on.

We are in the middle of marking mayhem here – I’m working through my first year Roman Literature exam scripts, with the promise of my Latin Language & Reading exams dropping into my lap this afternoon, with everything needing to be marked and moderated by Thursday. It’s a tight turn-around, but doable if nothing else gets done. It’s been quite a good year for teaching – I want to write in more detail about my Contemporary Approaches to Latin Literature course, but for now, I’ve had bright and engaged students in all my courses who have pushed me to do better. One thing that I did notice is that there is a world of difference between teaching my first year Roman literature survey to students in the first term, as I did this year, and the second term, as I usually do. I usually meet the first years once they’ve worked out how assignments work, how to follow the style guide (more or less). how to navigate the library catalogue and JSTOR. This year, I met them when they had none of that experience, and I had to do a bit of rapid adjustment to give them the support they needed. It’s a really obvious thing, I know, but I’ve never caught this course in the autumn before, and it caught me a bit off balance.

I’ve really enjoyed the texts I’ve been teaching to the Latin Language & Literature students – Seneca’s De Brevitate Vitae and Plautus’ Amphitruo, both of which have done interesting things for my understanding of those particular texts and for my Latin grammar. I last taught Latin L&R in my first year at Royal Holloway, with the De Brevitate Vitae as a set text, and there was something quite gratifying about coming back to it and realising how much better my Latin has got over the intervening years. Now, of course, I have to make sure that I don’t assume my students know Thing X because Everybody Knows Thing X when actually I know Thing X because I’ve been handling Latin for mumble years.

In terms of research, the main crunch this year has been the Monster book – now with the proper and exciting title of Tracking Monsters in Popular Culture (available for pre-order now…). The turn-around on this has been much faster than I anticipated – I submitted a full manuscript at the end of July, and expected reader comments back in December; they arrived in October/early November, which meant the date for delivering the final manuscript was the end of February, not after Easter… I worked hectically to meet this deadline, more for myself than for anything else, but it did mean essentially doing eight weeks’ worth of hours in six weeks after Christmas. The book went into production – and the proofs arrived with a two week turnaround deadline just as my dissertations needed marking and the Women’s Classical Committee UK AGM needed planning and attending! Those have gone back now, but I think it’s safe to say that the monstrosity inside this book has leaked out into the production process.

In terms of other research, I’m in a slightly odd position of having been absolutely rigorous about blocking out a research day during term, but now doing no research at all. Part of that is to keep on top of marking mayhem, and part of it is that I need a bit of peace and quiet to jump-start working on the next projects. On the plus side, I will be on research sabbatical in the autumn and the spring, which means no teaching or administration. The plan is to get started on the second Seneca book, which will look at the family ethics of his tragedies, along with turning a couple of conference papers which also look at drama into proper publications, but that’s a bit intellectual shift from monsters. So the current plan is to clear the decks of admin and marking (hopefully by next week!) and then focus on getting back into Latin literature gear.

There should start to be a bit more activity on this blog, not least because of the sorts of questions that research sabbaticals throw up and that are good to write out in this forum. However, the reality of the thing is that it’s always going to be an optional extra, and in crunch periods it’s one of the first things to go.

March 29, 2019

What’s nature got to do with it? The Stoics and secundum naturam

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:05 am
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This is one of a series of posts designed to support students and teachers looking at the Love and Relationships unit of the OCR Classical Civilization A-level. You can find all the posts in the series by clicking on the OCR Seneca hashtag.

A central element of Stoic theory to remember when thinking about love and relationships and Seneca is the importance of acting in accordance with nature, or secundum naturam in Latin. Since the Stoics believed that this is the best of all possible worlds, and that the universe has been created by a providential deity who is the equivalent to perfect reason, this means that nature itself is closely aligned to reason. By looking at nature, we can learn important lessons about what behaviours are in accordance with nature, and thus rational.

For love and relationships, there are two very important implications of this theory. First, getting married and having a family is in accordance with nature, because that’s what we see creatures in the wild doing. Seneca gestures towards this in Letter 9.17:

As long as [the wise man] may order his own affairs by his own judgement, he is content in himself, and marries a wife; he is content in himself, and brings up children; he is content in himself, and yet would not live, if he were to live without a human being. No personal benefit brings him to friendship, but a natural stimulus; for as the enjoyment of other things is innate to us, so it is with friendship.

So long as having a family does not interfere with the sage’s pursuit of wisdom, then having a spouse and children is acceptable, and indeed a preferred indifferent. It is natural to want friends, and natural to want to be part of a family; thus the drive to find someone to have such a family with is also natural, and thus compatible with pursuing virtue (provided there are no opposing factors, such as falling in love with someone of dubious morals).

The second implication concerns the distinction between sexual desire and lust. Sexual desire, the desire to procreate, is considered natural – after all, it is abundantly visible in animals. What is not considered natural is when sexual desire ceases being a healthy natural urge and instead becomes an obsessive, irrational passion – that is, when desire turns into the passion of lust. This is an important distinction, and needs to be remembered when Seneca condemns lustful behaviour – it isn’t the fundamental instinct that he disapproves of, but the way that it has become twisted out of its natural path and into irrationality.

March 20, 2019

Letter 104: an insight into Seneca’s marriage

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:06 am
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This is one of a series of posts designed to support students and teachers looking at the Love and Relationships unit of the OCR Classical Civilization A-level. You can find all the posts in the series by clicking on the OCR Seneca hashtag.

I mentioned that places where Seneca talks about his own marriage can give us some insight into what he thinks about relationships. In this post, I’m going to take a close look at the start of Moral Epistle 104, which talks about this in some detail. Seneca has just arrived at his villa in Nomentum for the sake of his health; he has left his wife, here named as Pompeia Paulina, in Rome. While John Henderson reads this passage in light of the rest of the letter’s comments about the uselessness of travel, and sees Seneca actually running away from Paulina here, I think that we can draw out some significant strands of Seneca’s thought about marriage and relationships more broadly.

I said this to my Paulina, who tells me to pay attention to my health. For since I know that her spirit depends on mine, I begin to care for myself as I do to her. And although old age has rendered me braver for many things, I am losing this benefit of age; for it comes into my mind that in this old man there is also a youth who is spared. And since I do not ask her to love me more bravely, she asks that I love myself more carefully. For honest emotions must be allowed; sometimes, even if misfortunes press down, our breath must be recalled and held in the mouth itself, even if with torment, in honor of those who are ours, since the good man must live not as long as he wishes but as long as he should: he who does not think enough of his wife or his friend to linger longer in life, he who will persist in dying, is spoiled. The mind should also give itself this comment, when the advantage of its own people requires it; not only if it wishes, but even if it has begun, to die, it should pause and adapt itself to those dear to it. It is a sign of a great mind to return to live for someone else’s sake, which great men have often done; but I also judge this a sign of the greatest humanity, to take care of one’s old age (whose greatest delight is a more careless oversight of itself and a braver use of life) more carefully if you know that is sweet, useful and desirable for your own. What’s more, this business has to no small degree joy and profit in it: for what is more pleasing than to be so dear to your wife that you become dearer to yourself because of it? And so my Paulina is able to consider not only her own concern for me, but also my own.

One feature that jumps out of this passage is the reciprocity between Seneca and Paulina – because she cares about his well-being, he finds himself caring more about himself as a result. This is a cyclical reinforcement of care; caring begets more caring. The marital relationship creates a kind of intimacy and closeness which lets real care develop. The underlying principle here is that it is a sage’s job to remember that she does not just live for herself, but for others too – hence Seneca’s scorn about those who decide to die without bearing the impact on those around them in mind. (Remember that this is the world of Roman political suicide, and a world with a very different level of medical knowledge – suicide was sometimes a virtuous choice, although only under circumstances where choosing life was no longer the rational decision.)

The focus of this passage is this interconnectedness between each human being and ‘their own people’, or ‘people dear to them’ – the Latin is simply sui or suorum, which we translate literally as ‘their people’ but suggests everyone to whom a person is bound by ties of affection, obligation and biology. Paulina, as Seneca’s wife, is definitely one of these for him, but the way he thinks about relating to her becomes an example for how we think about all of our relationships. The idea that we are bound to consider the well-being and benefit of those we love as well as our own interests suggests we need to think of taking care of ourselves as an act of love and service for other people, not simply something we do for our own sake. The implications of understanding ourselves as part of a wider network of human society, not simply disconnected individuals, is at the core of how Seneca and the Stoics frame understanding our relationships with others.

Finally, I want to dwell on the shared sense of identity that Seneca suggests exists between himself and Paulina. She understands not only what she worries for, but also what he worries for; there’s a shared sense of understanding that exists between them. A sceptical reader might comment that Paulina is acting as Seneca’s handmaiden here, positioned simply as a supporting actor in her husband’s pursuit of virtue, and there are merits in that reading. However, look a little closer. Paulina is not simply facilitating her husband’s journey, she is shaping it. Seneca listens to her and changes his behaviour as a result. This suggests that he is taking her seriously as a moral actor in her own right, and indicates the way that marriage can serve as a location for the development of virtue.

March 15, 2019

Musonius Rufus workshop – registration now open!

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 1:35 pm
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I’m delighted to share that the registration for the Musonius Rufus workshop that I’m co-organising with my Royal Holloway colleague John Sellars is now open! The programme is as follows:

10.00-10.30: Arrival / Registration
10.30-11.20: ‘Musonius’ and Epictetus’ lectures on exercise: a case-study of influence in
Roman Stoicism?’ – Jean-Baptiste Gourinat (Paris)
11.20-12.10: ‘Musonius on oikeiosis and appropriate relations’ – Georgia Tsouni (Basel)
12.10-1.00: ‘Musonius Rufus on Gender Equality’ – René Brouwer (Utrecht)
1.00-2.00: Lunch
2.00-2.50: ‘Sexual Pleasure in Musonius Rufus’ – Kurt Lampe (Bristol)
2.50-3.40: ‘The Diet of a Stoic Knight: Musonius Rufus on Food Ethics’ – William
Stephens (Creighton)
3.40-4.00: Tea/Coffee
4.00-5.00: Roundtable Discussion

The workshop is free to attend but spaces will be limited so we are asking people to register in advance. You can do this via Eventbrite.

Musonius is a really interesting yet underappreciated figure in Roman Stoicism, and I’m really looking forward to a day of discussion about him and his thought.

March 6, 2019

New publications! From the Family Archive Project

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 8:43 pm
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I’m very pleased to share that the second jointly authored article to come out of the Family Archive Project has now been published! You can read We Are What We Keep: The “Family Archive”, Identity and Public/Private Heritage at over at Heritage & Society – it’s been published open access, so anyone can get to it. The abstract reads:

What do our possessions say about us? More specifically what do they say about our past, present and our future? Many families possess a “family archive”; documents, photographs, heirlooms, scrapbooks, recipes and a whole range of other items that “reveal insights” into past generations, and preserve family stories. They may never have thought of these assemblages as “archives”, but by retaining and preserving possessions these items mold a sense of family identity either consciously or unconsciously. This article explores the initial findings of a series of focus groups conducted in the UK, which considers the “family archive” as an important and undervalued site of meaning and identity construction. The article also highlights the relationship between the “official” or publicly recognized heritage and “unofficial” or everyday/private heritage, locating the “family archive” across these domains. We argue for greater recognition and promotion of this “behind the scenes” heritage and for museums and archives to explore the potential opportunities that the engagement with the “family archive” offers for wider audience engagement.

This article came out of the focus group work that we did as part of the Family Archive Project, talking to people about their own family archives and how they were formed; we pulled together some of the key themes in those discussions and explored what they mean for our understanding of the family archive.

I’ve just realised that I’ve said this is the second jointly authored article from the Family Archive Project, but I don’t seem to have mentioned the first one on here yet… The Ties That Bind: Materiality, Identity, and the Life Course in the “Things” Families Keep is also available open access, from The Journal of Family History, and appeared last year. The abstract reads:

Using an interdisciplinary research methodology across three archaeological and historical case studies, this article explores “family archives.” Four themes illustrate how objects held in family archives, curation practices, and intergenerational narratives reinforce a family’s sense of itself: people–object interactions, gender, socialization and identity formation, and the “life course.” These themes provide a framework for professional archivists to assist communities and individuals working with their own family archives. We argue that the family archive, broadly defined, encourages a more egalitarian approach to history. We suggest a multiperiod analysis draws attention to historical forms of knowledge and meaning-making practices over time.

This article came out of the comparative case study work we did around the family archive over our four time periods, to look at where the differences and similarities came together, and to see how we might use those frameworks to help us get a better sense of how family archives function over time.

We’re not quite sure where this research goes next… but it’s great for these two articles to be out there, and I know people are already finding them interesting. I hope you do too!

January 3, 2019

Learning from Seneca’s own marriage

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 6:31 pm
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This is one of a series of posts designed to support students and teachers looking at the Love and Relationships unit of the OCR Classical Civilization A-level. You can find all the posts in the series by clicking on the OCR Seneca hashtag.

A major feature of Roman moral education was the use of exempla, from which we get our word ‘examples’. An exemplum was a biographical story which communicated some important moral lesson about what it meant to be a proper Roman – or, for Seneca’s purposes, an important Stoic truth. Seneca was very aware of the power of exempla, not least because of his father’s background in Roman controversiae and suasoriae, which relied heavily on the use of exempla as part of the fictitious cases that young men argued as part of their legal training. From the way that both Cassius Dio and Tacitus report his death, he seems to have deliberately framed his forced suicide in an effort to out-Socrates Socrates and make himself the go-to exemplum of a perfect philosophical death. (James Ker writes more about this in The Deaths of Seneca.)

Given that Seneca knows about the power of the exemplum, it’s not unreasonable to ask what he says about his own marriage and whether there are lessons here about what he thinks a good marriage should look like. One particularly moving passage comes from his description of his bedtime routine in On Anger 3.36.3-4:

I use this ability and every day I plead my case before myself. When the light has been taken away and my wife, my accomplice in my habit, becomes still, I examine my whole day, and I reflect upon my words and deeds; I hide nothing away from myself and pass nothing by. Why should I fear any of my mistakes, when I can say ‘take care that you don’t do this again; now I forgive you’?

As Seneca talks about his daily routine of scrutinising his conscience, he notes that his wife remains quiet so that he can concentrate on his process of reflection. She does this because she is familiar with her husband’s nightly ritual and respects it, presumably seeing in the value in it and supporting him in the process. Whether or not she is quiet because she is going through the same process, Seneca does not say; the word used, conscia, is usually translated to mean that she is aware of Seneca’s practice, but could also mean that she is a fellow participant in it.  The central point to draw from this vignette is that Seneca’s wife supports him in his pursuit of virtue. This links nicely back to the idea found in the fragments that the recognition of each other’s virtue and a shared journey towards reason is so important as the bedrock for marriage; what this passage of De Ira shows us is the way in which Seneca’s own relationship built on this critical principal.

 

December 11, 2018

Call for Papers: Musonius Rufus Workshop

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:00 am
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Musonius Rufus Workshop
10.00-5.00, 12 April 2019
Room 102, Senate House,
University of London,
Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU

Call for Papers:

The Roman Stoics have received renewed attention in recent years, both from scholars and from the wider public looking for guidance in everyday life. Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius are now being worked on and read in ways that would have few would have expected a couple of decades ago. Lesser known Stoics such as Hierocles and Cornutus have also benefitted from new studies and translations. The poor relation, though, is Musonius Rufus, who has not yet benefited from a similar resurgence in fortune.

To address this undeserved oversight, we invite proposals for papers for an informal workshop dedicated to Musonius. We welcome submissions relating to any aspect of his thought; possible themes could include philosophies of gender, adapting Stoicism for a Roman audience, politics and exile, the role of the sage, textual traditions, practice versus theory, methods of moral education, and asceticism, although these suggestions are offered as prompts rather than as limitations.

We hope that the workshop will offer an opportunity for those with interests in Musonius and Roman Stoicism more widely to come together, make new contacts, and think collectively about further research and publication collaborations.

We welcome submissions from people at any stage in their career, from doctoral students and early career researchers through to more established academics. We hope to be able to offer bursaries to those who might need financial assistance with travel or caring responsibilities in order to attend. The event will take place on the first floor of the University of London’s Senate House, which has lift access. If anyone has specific access or dietary requirements, please contact us and we will do our best to cater for them.

Abstracts should be no more than 500 words long. Presentations will be around 30 minutes long, and followed by discussion. The deadline for abstracts is 11th February 2019.

If you are unable to attend the workshop but would like to be kept informed of future developments, please do get in touch.

Abstracts and any questions should be sent to the organizers:

Dr Liz Gloyn (Liz.Gloyn at rhul.ac.uk), Department of Classics, Royal Holloway, University of London
Dr John Sellars (John.Sellars at rhul.ac.uk), Department of Philosophy, Royal Holloway, University of London

November 27, 2018

What does a good marriage look like?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:17 pm
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This is one of a series of posts designed to support students and teachers looking at the Love and Relationships unit of the OCR Classical Civilization A-level. You can find all the posts in the series by clicking on the OCR Seneca hashtag.

Seneca believes it’s possible to love another human being without giving in to irrationality; he also thinks that women have the same capacity for virtue as men, which means they are not automatically inferior to their husbands. This is worth pointing out as it wasn’t necessarily a shared belief in the ancient world; by contrast, Aristotle argues in his Politics that the husband should have what he calls ‘constitutional rule’ over his wife, since men are more fit for command because of their more mature intellect (1259b). Given the premises that Seneca is starting from, what does he think a good marriage looks like?

The first important thing to remember is that Seneca doesn’t think there are any hard and fast rules here – marriage is an indifferent, a thing that in and of itself does not affect our ability to be virtuous. Similarly, a spouse in the abstract is also an indifferent – but while there are no such thing as abstract spouses, there are people who we might be married to. The combination of individuals in a marriage will determine whether or not it is a positive or negative influence on the virtue of Stoic disciples.

One point Seneca is very strong on is that relationships between spouses should not be ruled by affectus or irrational passion; the relationship should be grounded in reason, although since individual circumstances vary so greatly it’s impossible to produce a handbook of suitable guidance. What should be at the heart of the relationship, though, is that sense that reason is important. This comes back to Stoic ideas about eros and the idea that it is generated through attraction to someone else’s potential for reason: if you’ve fallen in love with someone because of their inherent potential for virtue, then you are going to use the relationship as an opportunity for them to develop that potential. This means that the non-wise become wise because of the mutual relationship between spouses, as the wise person educates their spouse or two disciples support each other along the intellectual journey. A marriage based on virtue and reason thus produces more virtue and reason.

The really important thing about the Stoic belief in the equality of the sexes here is that this means that the wise person in the marriage doesn’t have to be the husband. It could be the wife who is wise, or who is further advanced along her intellectual journey towards virtue. This opens up the possibility of a wife guiding her husband towards virtue as well as vice versa.

A further important factor about Seneca’s expectations of married life is that he strongly disapproves of the sexual double standard, as we see from On Marriage V 28:

The marriages of certain people adjoin adulteries and – what a shameful thing! – the same men who took away pudicitia taught it to those women. Consequently, satiety quickly broke down the marriages in the same way. As soon as fear vanished from the charm of desire, what became allowed became worthless.

Seneca is not impressed with men who encourage women into adultery and then expect their own wives to remain faithful – they’ve lost the moral high ground. If a relationship has at its foundation this kind of confused belief, that it’s alright for one group of people to behave in a certain way and not alright for another group of people to behave similarly, then that’s a warning signal of a marriage based on irrationality.

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