As you will have picked up from my last post, I spent the week before the Jubilee weekend in Canada, at Feminism and Classics VI, held at Brock University in Ontario. I think I have already mentioned elsewhere that I attended Feminism and Classics V, where I presented the paper which recently came out as the Fortunata article, so I knew what I was letting myself in for – four days of really good intellectual discussion, some forthright but supportive and helpful criticism of my paper, and an opportunity to see a lot of the people who I hadn’t seen since I left the US.
I’m delighted to say that my expectations were wonderfully met, and I had a fabulous time. You may have caught some of the live tweeting I managed to do before I lost my conference folder in which I had carefully stored my username and password for accessing the university wifi. I felt less happy livetweeting Feminism and Classics than I did tweeting the Classical Association – not because of participant hostility to the technology (there were far more people taking notes on laptops, iPads and so on in each panel audience), but because the content didn’t seem to get such a strong positive reaction from the Twitter audience. I don’t know if this was due to all those nebulous things-outside-the-internet which mean predicting response to livetweeting is very difficult to do, or whether the conference’s subject matter was perceived as somehow ‘less interesting’. But as I was finding it less rewarding than the CA tweeting, I didn’t chase up a fresh log-in when I mislaid my original one.
If the reason for lower Twitter response was a sense that this material was ‘less interesting’, then I can only say that I fervently disagree. When I saw the first draft of the conference program, my immediate reaction was ‘brain candy’. The vast majority of papers were pushing some interesting theoretical and content boundaries, reading things in new ways, proposing new theories, opening up new frontiers of knowledge to me. The environment of the conference was also exactly as I remembered it, although this time I had the benefit of knowing a lot more people, having the PhD under my belt and feeling a lot more confident that I knew what I was doing. The atmosphere was much more like that of the Classical Association than the APA, but even then there’s an extra level of collegiality and general friendliness that I certainly really relished the first time I attended. This is the sixth Feminism and Classics VI, which is held every four years; there’s a little history on the Women’s Classical Caucus webpage, but I think there’s something about the origin of the meeting as an independent movement that has contributed to its unique feel.
But, as usual, I’m lingering on the social side of things – what of the academics? I want to begin by highlighing something not strictly academic, which is Mary-Kay Gamel and Mark Damen’s production of Alcestis on the Friday afternoon of the conference. The play has become A Tradition, and this year’s was a great modern production (with modern ending!) of Euripides’ problematic sort-of-satyr-play-but-not-quite. Top notes include John Starks’ compelling anger as Pheres, Del Chrol’s bombastic but gradually deflating Admetus, Jenna Chrol’s glamorous Alcestis, and Brett Rogers’ hyper-masculine Heracles, with beard specially grown for the occasion. It would also be criminal not to mention the songs written specially for the occasion by Alison Futrell and John Given; I think all of those of us in the audience who were Buffy fans were instantly won over by Alison’s fabulous adaptation of “Walk Through The Fire” from Once More With Feeling for the chorus immediately after Alcestis’ death. Mary-Kay is threatening a tour to Seattle for the next APA, so do look out for that if you’re there and support the fabulous cast!
Moving on to the papers, there were some particularly interesting body-related themes that I picked up throughout the conference, particularly on the theme of hermaphrodites. Paula James argued that Salamacis in Ovid’s retelling of the myth is the real hermaphrodite (and she hinted at some reception she wants to do with the 2009 film Splice on this issue, which sounds fascinating). Linnea Åshede brought together some really interesting visual representations of Hermaphroditus post-transformation to show that the iconography associated with zir is usually feminine rather than masculine, erect phallus not withstanding. Lisa Trentin gave an excellent exploration of the development of the ‘sleeping hermaphrodite’ statue type through antiquity to the Renaissance and the modern period. Katharine von Stackelberg explored the association of hermaphroditic imagery with certain areas of the Roman house, seeing a significant connection between the conceptual matrix surrounding the hermaphrodite and the garden, both as spaces of gender slippage and experimentation. I now have a yearning to teach Ovid’s Metamorphoses again and spend more time on the Salamacis story, which I deliberately bypassed when I last had the opportunity to engage with it closely.
In terms of personal research, a couple of papers made important impressions. Angela Hug gave a good account of the various factors affecting the birth rate in ancient Rome, exploring how marriage was structured and some possible reasons why the upper classes were not reproducing to replace themselves – this is one of the big questions of Roman demographic studies, and Angela neatly outlined the reasons for reading authors like Juvenal (who blame elite women themselves) as evidence for male anxiety about childbirth and pregnancy, rather than as evidence for the widescale practice of contraception or abortion. Sanjaya Thakur’s paper on Ovid’s construction of his wife in the Tristia once more reminded me that I need to spend more time with that corpus of poetry (as I do with so many things). Susan Prince explored the representations of women philosophers in Diogenes Laertius, particularly Hipparchia, and Dorota Dutsch gave an outstanding account of ways to read the characters of Theano and Hipparchia in wisdom literature of this period (something I explored a little during my graduate work and really want to come back to eventually).
There were also other fascinating papers which expanded my horizons without necessarily connecting to anything I have in view at the moment. The whole panel on “Gender and Architecture” gave me some ideas how I might go about thinking about this sort of thing when I get to the vague future projects I have in my mind; Krishni Burns’ paper on the temple of the Magna Mater and the Games of the Megelensia held in her honour was particularly fascinating, given that I had just taught this material. John Starks’ paper on the age discrimination faced by ancient actresses showed that the pressures facing women in performance progressions hasn’t changed much in the intervening centuries. Anise Strong made a compelling case for the use of imperial concubinage to marginalise and neutralise the threat posed by imperial women, moving away from the concubine as threat to the family in the Republican period. This fitted in nicely with an idea that surfaced at the “Gender and Architecture” panel about the role of female benefactors in putting up architecture at Rome, which seems to have been a feature during the Augustan period and then have faded away; there seems to be a general theme here about how society coped with the massive social shift at this time and the role that powerful women sought for themselves, and I wonder what more can be made of it. (Or, indeed, what Really Obvious Books I have not read on this very subject.)
So! Some excellent papers, some fascinating connections between them, and a brilliant way to spend four days. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.