Classically Inclined

June 10, 2022


Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 6:44 pm
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*tap tap* Is this thing on?

Well, yes, obviously it’s on, and hello to you kind people who have presumed that I would eventually resume writing here. It has, I think it is safe to say, been All A Bit Much.

As Neville Morley often remarks, blogging seems to be a medium which has fallen out of favour for reasons which aren’t entirely clear – it allows long-form thought in an informal style, which is often just what you need when you want to play with an argument, share good teaching practice (or ask for ideas about solving a teaching problem), or talk about wider professional issues. It’s also free, which makes it excellent for sharing research with the broader public (as my posts about Seneca do for those working on the Classical Civilization A-level Love & Relationships topic). But (and of course there’s a but) they take time, and over the last couple of pandemic-inflected years, time was what we did not have. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that, after the initial burst of upskilling my on-line teaching skills after my sabbatical ended in spring 2020, the energy to make time and space for blog writing was subsumed into survival mode by spring 2021 and then the slow attempt to recover and get back on top of things in the 2021-22 academic year. I will say that I felt as if I taught the most exhausted and drained students I’ve ever taught in the second half of the spring term this year, regardless of which year they were in, and I knew exactly how they felt.

That said, I do miss blogging and I want to come back to it, not least as a way to think through Stuff, particularly around teaching – I’ve noticed that I’ve been a bit less intentional about improving and tweaking my teaching praxis over the last few years, which obviously, hello, pandemic, but at the same time, writing and reflecting in this space has been an important part of creating the space to do that continuing work. So, here we go, attempting to do another round.

I thought I’d start with Research Things that have happened since I last wrote properly about my research, which (now I look back) was in 2019 when I talked about the publication of Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture. There has been quite a lot of water under that particular bridge in the intervening, um, three years, so here are some potted updates.


October 18, 2021

Five unmissable novels about ancient Greece and Rome

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 5:24 pm

It’s been a busy few months… but I’m popping back to mention that I have put together a book list for! It’s a list of five unmissable novels set in ancient Greece and Rome, featuring some of my favourite authors and favourite reads.

I really enjoyed putting this list together – it gave me a chance to showcase some fantastic women writers, and share some more of the wonderful reimaginings of the ancient world that show just what can be done when you use scholarship to build up things we’ll never know about antiquity. The wonderful thing about fiction is that there are no limits to what you can do in rebuilding the past, and these books showcase that beautifully.

July 22, 2021

Some suggestions for an office mental health first aid kit

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 5:21 pm
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A few days ago on Twitter, I asked what people would want to have in their offices as a mental health first aid kit – or, to put it another way, what people would have wanted their lecturers to have available in their offices if things got just that bit too much. There were so many great suggestions that I thought it would be a good idea to collate them all in one place so other people can get some inspiration!

What I’m envisaging here is some kind of box or basket, within easy reach of people who come into the office; I found myself thinking that you would probably want to split it into sections marked ‘please take’ and ‘please use’, as you would probably not want some of these things to go walkabout, but others would be there precisely for people to use.

Two quick caveats. First, this is in no way meant to substitute for properly funded and resourced mental health care services at universities, or to put pressure on academic staff to provide sole care for these issues. That said, we are often the first point of contact, either as lecturers or personal tutors, and being prepared for making that first encounter as supportive and positive as possible can’t hurt. Second, this is a comprehensive list of all the suggestions made in response to my thread, and does not imply that any member of staff should feel obliged to provide every single one of these items. This goes double for precarious colleagues, particularly given the financial costs associated with making sure you are prepared in this way. You know your own students best; the point of this post is to provide some ideas that might resonate with you, and for people to pick and choose what works best for their individual context.

With that out of the way, here we go…

Practical things

  • Tampons and pads
  • Blister plasters
  • Extra face masks
  • Hand sanitizer or wipes
  • Lavender or other soothing things to smell
  • Essential oil roll-ons for wrists
  • Rescue remedy
  • Tissues, both in a box and in take-away packs
  • A mirror, for tidying up after tears
  • Sunglasses
  • Ear plugs

Several people mentioned painkillers; I’ve not included these as I know that there is some complicated legal stuff around supplying painkillers to students or colleagues, and so I am erring on the side of caution by not recommending that these items are formally included in a kit.

Food and drink

  • Granola or cereal bars
  • Rice crisps
  • Chocolate
  • Trail mix
  • Lollipops
  • Long-lasting fruit like apples
  • Mini-packs of dried fruit
  • Vegan lollies or biscuits
  • Fruit chews
  • Nice biscuits
  • Glucose tablets
  • Calming herbal tea bags
  • Hot chocolate
  • Coffee
  • A kettle and spare mugs
  • Water and spare glasses
  • Mini water bottles

Comfort items

  • Blanket
  • Pillow or cushion
  • Comfy chair
  • A hot water bottle
  • Fidget toys
  • A teddy or cuddly toy
  • A bubble pop toy
  • A squeezy stress toy or stress ball
  • Adult colouring book and felt tip pens
  • Happy/cheerful stickers
  • Affirmation cards
  • Mindfulness cards
  • Gratitude cards
  • Postcards
  • Mini-pots of bubble bath
  • Sample or mini size lip balm and moisturiser
  • A sleep mask and a sign saying “I need a bit of quiet” if you have an appropriate space for students to get some peace


Other helpful things

People made various suggestions about other useful but intangible things people might offer as support, which I am listing here.

  • Offer to write a referral to the student to Counselling directly, copying them in
  • Offer useful reminders that studying is hard, but they have got this far, and have achieved huge amounts
  • Reminders that rest is essential
  • A supportive, non-judgemental ear
  • Cultivate relationships with the support staff who know people, to make accessing support easier

Thank you!

With thanks for suggestions to Sara Barker, Stephanie Lawton, Emma Sheppard, Wheeled Classicist, Kate Ferry-Swainson, Sarah Martin, Ellie Mackin Roberts, Ruth Cruickshank, Helen Lovatt, Sarah Porter, Alice Rae, Kelli Conley, Gabe Moshenska, Cora Beth Knowles, Isabella Streffen, Aven McMaster, Sophie Agrell, Elspeth, Penny Goodman, Clare Clarke, Stephe Harrop, Jane Draycott, Alexandra, Joy Evans, Heather Self, A, Magdalena Öhrman, Alice Little, Miriam. Marchella Ward and the Royal Holloway Library! Apologies to anyone I’ve missed – it was a busy thread. I gloss over the fact that the vast majority of people who joined in with this discussion are women or non-binary, and what that might say about the dynamics of care in academia.

July 1, 2021

A curve in the road: some personal news

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:18 pm

Over the last year or so, those of you who follow me on Twitter with any degree of attention will have noticed cryptic references to doing Things Not For Work or having Big Non-work Things on the horizon. This has been partly because it was entirely possible that there would be no news to share in the end, and partly because – well, it’s the sort of thing which you only really want to make public if there is news to share.

That news is now confirmed, so I am both very pleased and a wee bit scared to tell you that I have been recommended for training for ordination in the Church of England.

I am anticipating that this will raise a lot of questions, so I thought that I would use an FAQ format to address the ones I’m assuming will come to mind, and quite possibly some that won’t. There will inevitably be some God-language in what follows.


April 24, 2021

Reflections On A Year Of Pandemic Teaching

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 6:35 pm
Tags: , , ,

We have come to the end of our teaching for the academic year, although there’s still plenty to do in the term ahead in terms of student support and assessment. (I seem to be spending an extraordinary amount of time explaining how our extenuating circumstances process works at the moment, reflecting not only the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our students, but an awful lot of Life that they’ve also been dealing with at the same time.) At the start of the year, I wrote about how the first week of teaching fully on-line had gone; now we have had a whole year, I wanted to capture some things I’ve learned from the process overall.


January 23, 2021

The way we live now

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:56 am

It is exhausting, the way we live now,
and I am one of the lucky ones.
Whatever luck means, in the midst
of chaos.

I reply to e-mails, to invitations,
to things which might have sparked joy
in the before-times.
No, no, no, no, certainly not,
yes – but not yet.
I question my decisions, but
they have to be made.

I confuse my time zones
for a commitment made a thousand years ago
in November,
and sit, waiting to be admitted to a Zoom meeting
which has already moved on without me,
crushed by the unnoticed slippage of an hour.

I record videos, smiling blithely at the green light –
record, embed, caption, upload,
record, embed, caption, upload.
I teach to black squares with initials, to faces
against uncomfortably personal backgrounds,
rooms I have no right to be in
and which I try to ignore.

I stay up late (too late)
editing, marking, pouring out effort
which I would have rejoiced in
during the before-times, but now
comes from a well which has run decidedly dry.

I learn a curriculum which I thought
I had left well behind me.
Pounds and pence without the shillings,
shapes in varying dimensions,
the formation of the letter d.
The waterproof properties of materials must be investigated;
the kitchen floor is flooded.
I refuse to be apologetic
about my second full-time job.

Do not mistake me –
there are joys, smiles, laughter.
Having dinner together every night,
the weekly family film,
the silly imaginative games.
The students thriving under these circumstances,
growing towards the light despite everything.

But there is no let up, and no respite,
and even paradise becomes tiring
without variety, or the space
to be lonely, to be bored.

In the midst of this chaos,
whatever luck means –
I am one of the lucky ones,
and it is exhausting, the way we live now.

October 3, 2020

One week down…

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 4:02 pm
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I’ve just finished my first week of teaching completely on-line in the new exciting world of COVID-proofed education. Most of my colleagues have been experimenting with the exciting world of HyFlex delivery, where half the class attend in person and half beam in through MS Teams; while there are a couple of rooms where the technology isn’t working at all well, most colleagues seem to have found that it’s all worked a lot better than we feared. For reasons which were entirely predictable, I’m teaching entirely on-line for at least the first half of this term, and I anticipate that being extended to the second half at the very least; as such I’ve been doing a lot of reading and training on the best way to run a fully on-line class. Someone over the summer asked me how much time I thought I’d spent on this; I then guesstimated I’d spent about 40 hours on professional development stuff, and that’s only gone up. (My employer has been running a considerable amount of training, some of which has been catching up with things by the skin of their teeth as IT functionality is implemented, but there’s been a sincere and coordinated effort to provide something. Plus I’ve been spending a lot of time on Futurelearn.)

So this week, reality hit – the first week of teaching. Was it all going to work?

Do you know, it actually wasn’t bad. There were bumps and lumps, of course. Neville Morley has been documenting his particular set of trials and challenges over on his blog, which I’d been watching with some trepidation since one of the things he had noticed was that students were being reluctant to get stuck into the bulletin board aspects of the course. My experience has been very different, but I think I have a very different group of students which also makes a difference to the kind of engagement they’re willing to have. My advanced language course is full of second and third years who came up together from Latin Language & Reading last year, and so are well over the ‘but what if I make a mistake in front of these people?’ stage; some students hadn’t engaged at the time of writing, but there was enough of a lively debate for me to feel they were cracking on.

My other course, Contemporary Approaches in Latin Literature, was a bit more of a worry. Nothing. Crickets on the bulletin board. Why, I wondered, why are they being so quiet when I know from correspondence they’re keen and they’ve introduced themselves on the student introduction forum? All became clear when I got an e-mail on Friday asking why it wasn’t possible to post to the forum. Here’s a picture with the link to press! I blithely replied. We don’t have that link, they counted. Bother and blast, I said, undoing the setting which was meant to stop my colleagues’ inboxes being inundated with thousands of Moodle notifications. We’ll try again next week, but at least it’s a technical hitch which we know about now and the students will let me know if it repeats itself.

On Friday, I had three face-to-face seminars over Teams. Would it work? Would the students turn up? Would they end up in the right meeting? Would anyone press The Forbidden Button and start a parallel meeting? Would I manage to beam in the intercollegiate students who haven’t yet got registered on college systems for the MA seminar? Well, I guess it helps that I’m dealing with a small number of students, because not only did they all end up in the right place, they all managed splendidly. I had three hours of really good discussion-based teaching, including getting my Contemporary Approaches students to separate out into six separate break-out groups without getting lost there or on the way back. I know that coming on Friday, I may have benefited from mistakes earlier in the week – but, do you know, we had a great set of conversations, some really good insight building on the work earlier in the week, and it was as good as being back in the classroom. Yes, there’s work to be done on getting used to the asynchronous work they have to do and I want to do some tweaking for some tools – but, actually, I’m really pleased.

I also met all my dissertation students this week, and they’re as bubbly as ever, full of excitement and enthusiasm for the eclectic area of the subject they’ve identified as their focus for the next six months. The glory of the dissertation supervision is that I can give each student full focus just as well on a virtual meeting as I can in a classroom, and indeed the year before I started going on sabbatical I’d started doing Skype supervisions to make use of my non-campus days rather than cram everything into three days already overfull as it was. I love starting them off, and this year was no exception.

I know that not everywhere is having such a smooth ride. I know that the level of support being provided to colleagues across the sector is wildly variable (and that’s putting it mildly). I know professional service colleagues who are being required to be on campus are having a completely different experience. But for this very small corner of the world, and my contribution to the degrees of a small number of students – actually, it’s going alright. Thank goodness something is.

September 15, 2020

How did Seneca’s ideas relate to the world he lived in?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:53 am
Tags: ,

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’m often asked what Seneca’s contemporaries thought about his philosophical ideas. Sadly, we don’t have any ancient sources which explicitly discuss this, so we have to make some educated guesses.

We know that some of the ideas he expressed would have been strongly counter-cultural. Arguing that one should base amor, and presumably one’s choice of marital partner, on virtue and the potential for virtue would have been odd in a world where the usual priorities for a spouse were about financial wealth, beauty, physical health (for child-bearing), or political alliance. All of these were Stoic indifferents, but not so much for Seneca’s non-Stoic acquaintances.

The implicit gender equality in the idea that all humans have the same potential for virtue on the one hand sounds pretty radical, but on the other hand, the Stoics didn’t advocate for an overhaul of social structures. Instead, they argued that people should exhibit virtue in the positions that they found themselves, meaning women should exercise virtue in their current social roles. Seneca thus did not challenge the idea of marriage, and marriage as traditionally expressed in Roman society. It’s also worth remembering that Roman women were pretty visible in Seneca’s period. They had big roles as civic patrons funding charitable works, as priestesses in city cults (particularly outside Rome), and as semi-discreet players in political life – not just the empresses, but the wives of significant politicians as well. The idea that Roman women had intellectual competence and autonomy is one that Seneca’s peers were very familiar with, even if they had particular ideas about where those abilities should be exercised.

The Roman idea of companionate marriage was well-established by Seneca’s time, so his development of that framework to philosophical ends does not come out of nowhere. The orientation of some of the language related to marriage in order to place virtue at the centre of a couple’s relationship is radical, but part of Seneca’s overall strategy is placing Stoic thought and conventional ideology next to each other and letting the moral lessons emerge from the comparison. While his contemporaries might superficially think that he is saying something quite conventional, the underpinnings of his overall argument are very different, and he constantly plays on the tension between conventional Roman ideas and the Stoic perspective on an issue.

That said, the critique of the sexual double standard in relationships is unusually explicit in his writing – other Roman authors play around with it, and other authors do suggest that it is a bad thing, but Seneca’s objection stands out as being particularly pointed.

Another important way that Seneca’s model of relationships works is that it runs counter to traditional Roman family structures. In a traditional Roman family, power lay with the paterfamilias, the most senior male; hypothetically he had the power of life and death over everyone who was under his legal control, even if we have very few examples of that power ever being exercised. The authority of the paterfamilias created a lot of restraints around what men could legally do before they were emancipated, and women technically always needed some kind of guardian or tutor (although there were lots of practical ways around these restrictions). Nonetheless, the Roman family was deeply hierarchical in terms of its operation.

By contrast, the Stoic model is based on a position of equality. All people have equal potential for virtue; nobody has inherently more or less power in any relationship. The family structure offered by Stoicism offers a reciprocal arrangement which respects and supports all the family members’ pursuit of virtue. Again, Seneca quite subtly presents his different model, but it is radically different to the way that Roman society was structured.

What about Seneca’s relationship to Stoicism? Some people have argued that he isn’t Stoic at all, labelling him as an eclectic thinking. However, Stoicism is by definition a fluid philosophy. Unlike Epicureanism, which follows the doctrines of a founding thinker, the Stoics emphasise the importance of using your own reason to react to the circumstances in which you find yourself. Rather than being eclectic, Seneca is part of the tradition of innovation and reflection that categorises Stoicism more broadly, working with and developing core theories in his own way.

Since ideas about love and relationships aren’t central to what we have that survives of Seneca’s writing, we have to unpick how it relates both to Stoicism and to the broader world. However, what he does say on the subject is steeped in Stoic philosophy and seeks to show his contemporaries that there is a different way to do things.

September 12, 2020

On Responding To Anger: Growing Pains

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 7:30 pm

With thanks and apologies to Sara Ahmed, without whom I would not even be attempting to write [like] this.

Something happened to me a few week ago. Someone thought I had got something wrong. What’s more, they thought I had got something wrong that I had tried very hard to get right.

This post is not about that incident. My personal encounter with the fallout of the Well-meaning White Woman’s Dilemma – do we act, write and speak about racism and colonialism in the knowledge that we are going to get it wrong, or do we remain silent and expect people of colour to pick up the burden yet again – is not particularly edifying, and is work best done more privately. This is a post about a process.

Earlier this summer, I read The Uses of Anger by Audre Lorde for the first time. Among all the observations that still remain insightful almost four decades after it was written, one in particular jumped out at me:

Most women have not developed tools for facing anger constructively. CR [consciousness raising] groups in the past, largely white, dealt with how to express anger, usually at the world of men. And these groups were made up of white women who shared the terms of their oppressions. There was usually little attempt to articulate the genuine differences between women, such as those of race, color, age, class, and sexual identity. There was no apparent need at that time to examine the contradictions of self, woman as oppressor. There was work on expressing anger, but very little on anger directed against each other. No tools were developed to deal with other women’s anger except to avoid it, deflect it, or flee from it under a blanket of guilt.

No tools were developed to deal with other women’s anger – or indeed for any kind of anger. Anger is not ladylike, not civilized, not appropriate.

But it is necessary. It is needed. We need a way of responding to it – but a way which takes anger as the gift that it is, that accepts the learning and the knowledge that anger gives us, and does not perform the kind of negation and willful ignorance that Lorde describes and that is so familiar, most of all in ourselves.


September 7, 2020

Seneca, homosexuality and homoerotics

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:49 pm
Tags: , ,

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.

In order to understand Seneca’s position on homosexual relationships, we need to go back to the Greek Stoics, who defined erōs as the desire to create a relationship with someone else based on their moral and physical attractiveness. In the Greek world, this usually manifested in same-sex erōs; men identifying virtue in other men and forming erōs-based relationships as a result is the usual context for talking about this in Greek Stoic texts. However, over the centuries between the original Stoics and Seneca, the frame changes; what was originally a pretty homoerotic concept becomes thoroughly domesticated. Amor (the Latin for erōs) becomes what happens inside a heterosexual relationship, particularly the relatsionship between a married couple, as the example of the husband and wife overcome with affectus showed us.

So what does Seneca think of same-sex relationships? We have a bit of a challenge here, as he doesn’t actually say very much – it’s not a big priority for him compared to other ethical matters. The passage that is usually mentioned here is Moral Letters 122.7, which appears very explicit:

Do those who change their clothes with women not seem to you to live against nature? Do they not live contrary to nature who strive so that boyish youth shines out at the wrong time? What can be crueller or more miserable? Will he never be a man, so that he can endure a man for a long while? And although his gender should have snatched him from insult, will not even his age deliver him?

On the surface, this is an appeal to the importance of living in accordance with nature or secundum naturam – Seneca asks whether this kind of behaviour is precisely that, living against nature, and thus something that should be avoided. Similarly, there are appeals here to the nature of being a man which should have protected such a man from this fate, which again seems to draw on the idea of the lessons that nature gives us. But when we read on in the letter to 122.8, this is what we find:

Do these people not live contrary to nature who long for a rose in the winter and who force the lily, a spring flower, with the application of hot water and with the adjusted change of heat? Do they not live contrary to nature who plant orchards on the tops of towers? What about those men whose trees nod their heads on roofs and gables, with roots rising from the place where crowns reach for? Do they not live contrary to nature who build the foundations of bathhouses in the sea and don’t think that they are swimming pleasurably unless heated pools are struck with the wave and storm?

The wider context of Moral Letter 122, then, is about the dangers of ignoring the natural flow of time, ignoring the fact that we are meant to mature, and attempting to artificially hold on to youth – this is attempting to reverse the natural flow of things, just like trying to grow flowers in artificial weather.

The overall direction of the argument, then, is not about same-sex desire in and of tiself, but a particular manifestation of same-sex desire which seeks to artificially prolong youth to look attractive. All of the tropes here play into contemporary Roman stereotypes about homosexuality, in particular the cinaedus and pathicus, effeminate men who enjoyed being penetrated, and who were seen as staying in the role of a ‘youth’ longer than they should; these concepts were very much in line with the Greek model of pederasty, which saw the eromenos as a youth who would transcend the role as he matured. The cinaedus in particular is the subject of much aggressive satire in Juvenal and other Roman writers, so it would be very easy to get the impression that the Romans completely disapprove of homosexual relationships.

However, there’s more going on than that. Homosexual activities had a tacit acceptance in elite Roman circles, so long as they were not attached to particularly effeminate behaviours. Don’t forget that in 130 AD, the emperor Hadrian was so upset at the accidental death of his lover Antinous that he ordered him deified. The penetration of enslaved or low status free men doesn’t come in for comment, and the penetration of young free men is sort of acceptable within certain limits – Julius Caesar is meant to have taken the passive role in an affair with King Nicomedes of Bithynia, and the rumours around this didn’t do him any harm in the long term. In Seneca’s own time, Petronius’ Latin novel The Satyricon features a homosexual love triangle as its protagonists – the romantic entanglements certainty complicate their affairs, but their sexual preferences are not really an issue. So while a single line from Moral Letter 122 conforms with some general social prejudices against a particularly reviled stereotype, there’s not enough there to be sure of what Seneca’s actual position on same-sex relationships per se is; he is far more concerned about behaviour ‘against nature’ which involve extravagant and expensive displays than he is about same-sex desire.

A second example of Seneca’s views about same-sex desire comes from Seneca’s Natural Questions 1.16.1, reporting the antics of Hostius Quadra:

There was a man called Hostius Quadra, whose obscenity was even the subject of a stage performance. The divine Augustus considered this rich and greedy man, a slave to his millions, unworthy of vengeance when he was murdered by his slaves, and almost pronounced he seemed to have been killed lawfully. He was not depraved only with one sex, but was as greedy for men as for women, and made mirrors of the kind I mentioned above which reflect much bigger images, in which fingers exceed the length and width of arms. He arranged these in such a way that when he himself was enduring a man, he could see behind him all the movements of his stallion and enjoy the false length of his own member as if it were true.

Again, the theme of going against nature is upmost in Seneca’s commentary here. The critique of Hostius focuses on his misuse of mirrors and his excessive sexual desire – not the choice of sexual partner.

Working out Seneca’s views on same-sex relationships, then, has to be carefully untangled from a complicated web of widely shared social prejudices and Stoic concerns. Unfortunately, there’s far too little there on same-sex relationships specifically for us to be able to say with confidence what position he would have taken on them.

Edited on 29th September 2020, with thanks to Sophie Ngan.

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