Classically Inclined

January 30, 2014

“By A Wall That Faced The South”: Crossing The Border in Classically-Influenced Fantasy

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:44 pm
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The title of this post may seem familiar if you were reading around the time that I was was preparing my paper for Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World - you can read my write-up of the conference and the abstract of the paper I gave, if you’re interested.

However, I’m delighted to share that the written up article version of the paper has appeared in this week’s edition of Strange Horizons! I’m particularly pleased by this for two reasons. Firstly, this is ground-establishing work for my broader interest in monsters, borders and space; without this, I doubt that the material in the conference paper would have seen the light of published day, at least not in its present form. Secondly, Strange Horizons is a publication that is not targeted at classicists – its readership is made up of people who are interested in science fiction. It’s a way of getting my work out to a wider audience who come at the texts from a different angle, and that kind of outreach can only be a good thing.

If you’d like to read the article, you can find it here.

December 7, 2013

My failure at Stoic Week

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:57 pm
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Stoic Week 2013 finished on Sunday. I said I was going to take part - and I have to admit that my participation was a complete and utter failure.

Before I think about why, I want to direct you towards Edith Hall’s critique of the project, because she raises some interesting points about why we might want to reconsider introducing Stoicism to a society that’s very slowly starting to get better about dealing with the nastier parts of the human hindbrain rather than repressing them. I’m not sure I agree that Stoicism calls for a Victorian-style suppression of the viler beast within. After all, this is also the philosophy that tells us the best guide to how we should live virtuously is to live according to nature (kata phusin or secundum naturam), and that points us to the affectionate relationship between mammals and their offspring as not only evidence of the providential arrangement of the world, but also a model for our own relationships with our children (check out De Natura Deorum 2.128 and environs, although apparently since fish abandon their eggs they’re a special case). Her comments about the problems of reintroducing a philosophy that relies upon the ability of its adherents to use their resources and leisure to devote time to doing philosophy are, however, right on the money.

Which brings me to why I think I failed Stoic Week. As I mentioned in my last post about this, we moved house during Stoic Week. We also had to deal with a bathroom renovation which was supposed to be finished on the day we moved in but is, as I type, still in progress upstairs (don’t ask). I started off doing my morning exercises diligently, but plenty of things demanded my attention at lunchtime, and before I knew it even the morning exercise got squeezed out. (The evening reflection didn’t stand a chance.)

Why did I fail at Stoic Week? Simple. I was in the middle of a massive emotional, physical and practical upheaval, handling lots of unexpected events, running myself ragged trying to keep up. These are not the optimal conditions in which to begin a new spiritual or mental discipline. I can almost see Seneca shaking his head – of course it was pointless to try and pick up Stoicism in the middle of a crisis. Stoicism is supposed to be there to get you through a crisis; it’s no good trying to reinforce the roof when the water is already pouring through. The aim is to establish good habits during a period of comparative calm, so that one deals with the day-to-day emotional disturbances and disruptions first, and thus has the resources to not be floored when the tidal wave of unexpected chaos hits. That’s why running through things that might go bad during the day and rehearsing one’s potential responses to them is such an important mental exercise within the Stoic tradition, and why some richer Stoics went so far as to regularly schedule a few days of living in conditions that mimicked poverty (or at least what they thought poverty looked like).

Here is where I think I tie in with Edith’s critique. In order to have the time and resources to find this period of relative calm to get your philosophical bedrock established, you need to have the luxury of creating that space. No job which sets demands for you; no colleagues or students with expectations of work to be completed by fixed deadlines; certainly no children or people for whom you are the primary care-giver; and ideally all the minutiae of life, like laundry and cooking, handled by somebody else. On reflection, it’s not surprising that one of the articles going around Twitter in the early days of Stoic Week was about how Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Conde Nast International, found Stoicism so helpful.

November 24, 2013

Stoic Week 2013

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:13 pm
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As those of you who frequent Twitter will have noticed, tomorrow marks the beginning of the second Live Like A Stoic Week, coordinated by a team at Exeter working on Stoicism Today to research whether Stoicism still works in the modern world. I meant to get involved last year, but life intervened. Life is again intervening this year, but as I type, my little printer is preparing the Stoic Week Booklet and I have just diligently filled out all the pre-Stoic Week measurement scales.

I am, of course, not the target audience for this exercise in any way, shape or form. I spend most of my intellectual research time hanging out with Seneca, one of the best plain-speaking Stoics out there. One of his major goals is to communicate what Stoicism can do for you clearly, effectively and persuasively to a highly educated Roman audience who may not automatically be on side. It’s quite hard to spend most of your time reading this stuff without it getting to you. I’m also quite well disposed to Stoic thought generally; the first time I read the discourses of Epictetus, a slightly later Roman Stoic, I was struck by how contemporary a lot of what he was saying felt and how it resonated with my situation (I was a MPhil student at the time, but we can draw a veil over that). What will be different about this week is seeing whether I can actually put some of this stuff into practice in a conscious instead of an unconscious way. As I keep telling people, ancient philosophies like Stoicism and Epicureanism are ways of life that not only explain how the universe operates but also affect how their adherents live. The challenge of putting that into practice is not a bad reminder for me that these words mean something – I’ve said them so often that there’s a risk I’m forgetting how much they actually matter.

Besides my professional studier-of-Stoics identity, I also worry a little that my week is not going to be typical. I am, as some of you will have noticed, in the middle of a house move. My study is in boxes around me as I type. Much of the last month has been spent trying to get a bathroom refitted (without much success so far). I’ve spent the weekend packing and cleaning, and next Saturday we will move and spend the rest of the weekend unpacking. So this is not a week in which I can apply Stoicism to my usual tranquil(ish) routine and see if it makes a difference. It is a week in which, actually, a bit of Stoic detachment and awareness of what is and isn’t within my control might not be a bad thing – but it’s also a week in which Stoicism is going to get a proper test, in circumstances which are rather trying. After all, moving house is meant to be one of the most stressful life events that one ever goes through. Let’s see how Stoicism and I stand up to the challenge together.

October 1, 2013

Those summer goals… 2013 edition

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:41 pm
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At the end of June, I set myself some summer goals - so it’s now time to see how they turned out…

Personal

  • Have a holiday – achieved! We spent a week in Germany and I had a week in Suffolk, so that’s not bad going.
  • Move – achieved! Although now it looks like I’ll be moving again in the next couple of months as we have (quite excitingly) bought a house, but never mind.

Conferences

The Book

  • Finish sorting out the new chapter four – not-quite-achieved… well, when I wrote my summer goals post, I had a very rough full draft with incomplete footnotes. I now have a chapter that has been past my reading group and thus needs some fairly heavy-weight restructuring, but I know what I’m doing with it. So getting this done involved the first draft being more or less fine, which it wasn’t. This is actually OK, and getting this into shape will be my big autumn project.
  • Complete revisions on introduction and chapters one to three – achieved! The appendix still needs going over and I will need to rewrite the paragraph in the introduction which describes what chapter four does, but that’s fine.

Miscellanea

  • Complete a book review – achieved!
  • Do an archive trip to Cambridge if possible – achieved! And very positive it was too.
  • Put together a proper research bibliography on Plautus and Roman comedy – possibly achieved? I had an undergraduate student working with me who was putting this together as a bit of an independent research project over the summer, and am waiting to see the final files before I count this as done. But at least that’s a start made!

I said in my original goals post that the focus this summer needed to be on the book. I think it was, not least for getting the earlier chapters sorted out (they needed rather more work than I had hoped, but that’s always the way). This was a more ambitious set of goals than I set last year, but I’ve still actually done quite well in comparison. I do notice some patterns, namely the tendency to bite off more than I can chew on the research front – but I’m assuming that’s a good thing. I’d rather be overambitious than less, not least because the process of working through this stuff makes it better than it would be if I just fudged along. So autumn is going to be all about trying to sort out chapter four, and I should really start thinking about my classical women chapter as well. I draw a veil over my current interior dialogue over whether to submit something for LonCon3′s academic track and/or for From I, Claudius, to Private Eyes: the Ancient World and Popular Fiction, although that may turn up here in due course…

September 6, 2013

Between Words and Walls: Material and Textual Approaches to Housing in the Graeco-Roman World

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:38 pm
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Last week was very much a week where all sorts of things seemed like very good ideas on their own, but in aggregate started to look just the tiniest bit over-optimistic. One of those things was attending the conference Between Words and Walls, organised by April Pudsey and Jen Baird of Birkbeck. I don’t think I have ever been to a conference before where I have had to explain why I’m there quite so often – and, let’s be honest, perhaps it’s not immediately obvious why I was there. The conference wanted to examine the study of ancient housing, how to combine the archaeological sources with the literary sources without privileging either, and consider new methodologies for studying the ancient house. It is an entirely fair question to ask how all that links in with what I do.

However, there is actually a very nice link between my stuff and ancient housing. A lot of the study of ancient housing has started looking at what, for want of a better term, you might call the sociology of living – that is, how the shape and layout of houses reflects the hierarchies of the families living in them, and what we might extrapolate about kinship relationships based on the space that families inhabit. This is where the link with my research comes in – although my work on Seneca’s concept of the family is currently based on his representation of the idealised philosophical family, I can’t discuss that without a good grounding in the social history of the Roman family, of which the study of housing forms a part. I told you it made perfect sense.

From mthat perspective, there were a couple of very interesting papers. Jen’s paper on houses at Dura-Europos included as a case study the records of a house which was given to four brothers as an inheritance, and the process of splitting one oikos into four oikoi - but within the same building. This is kind of mind-exploding from an ancient housing point of view, because when we think about houses, there’s a tendency to assume that one family unit inhabited one building, and that each building was a single oikos. If you have the sense of multiple households living in a single structure, that changes a lot of our assumptions about life in the ancient world – population density, the hierarchy of shared spaces within the shared structure, the practicalities of living in such small quarters, not to mention the difference between what the legal document says and what may have actually happened. The paper given by Heather Baker offered a brilliant counterpoint with evidence from Hellenistic Uruk, with tablet documentation of parts of houses being sold off to family members, or records of habitation that suggest multiple households in a single building again. Heather also bought out the evidence this gives us for female economic activity in this period, which for various reasons is not as well documented in other spheres of life.

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August 2, 2013

Archive diving

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 8:52 am
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Last week, I had the treat of visiting the Newnham College archives. For a classicist, this is an unusual pleasure – most of the time, particularly for somebody like me who works on Seneca, the relevant material has been available in various editions for many years. The joy that most historians get from uncovering new snippets in archives isn’t something that we get, unless we are working with fragments of papyrus or neglected inscriptions (which, as regular readers have probably gathered, is not where my research interests lie). However, I’ve got myself involved in a new project which means that I get to actually look at the handwriting of real people rather than the printed word for a change.

You may remember that just before Easter, I went off to a conference on women as classical scholars. An outcome of that conference is that Edith and Rosie are now putting together a collected volume of essays concentrating on women philologists in particular. And because I observed at the time that it was a shame that there was no coverage of the woman at Oxbridge in the fin de siècle, that means I volunteered myself to write the relevant chapter. Of course, there’s no way that one can do justice to all the varying environments of women’s education at Oxbridge in that period – each college really was its own closed city, with its own attitudes and customs – so I’m narrowing it down to the classicist women at Newnham from the late 1880s to the early 1920s.

This has meant reading an awful lot about the general atmosphere of higher education at this period, which is a fascinating subject in its own right, but there’s only so far that reading will get you – at some point you have to actually look at documentation. One thing that I particularly wanted to find out was how extensive the records are about who’s doing teaching when, although I have to admit that the main purpose of my trip was to test the water and see how much stuff there was to get through. A project like this, in a way, will take as much time as you give it – I can prioritise my archive activity to pick out certain things that are important, or decide how much time I actually need to work out what’s there.

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July 24, 2013

On editing and catharsis

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:55 pm
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Things have been a little quiet here on the blog, partly because I took some time off to go to the seaside, and partly because what I’m doing at the moment doesn’t necessarily translate terribly well into exciting blog posts. For, dear readers, in line with my summer goals, I am trying to work through edits to my book manuscript in order to get the chapters which are coming out of the PhD into shape.

Now, this does not mean that I have been quiet on the internet. Any of my very, very patient Twitter followers will be able to tell you that I have been whinging like mad about this process over there, because let’s face it, if you need to vent for more than 140 characters, you should probably rethink your venting forum and whether there’s a bigger problem there. That said, thinking about this process honestly made me realize there was probably a blog post in here.

I should point out here that I’m already doing something a bit unusual in trying to convert the PhD into a book to begin with – plenty of academics just don’t bother. Well, that’s not quite accurate. They decide that the PhD was a thing good in and of itself, but that it’s best suited to life as a series of articles than as a monograph. Or that this chapter and this chapter are worth keeping, but the rest of it can go and they’ll write the rest of the manuscript from scratch. Or that now they actually want their first book to be on this topic instead. All of these are totally reasonable and sane decisions to make, but I’m in the minority, because I want to keep the structure of my PhD and add an extra chapter.

I’m currently up to my elbows in trying to deal with chapter one. Ah, chapter one. This was the ‘let’s see if it works’ chapter, the cocky chapter, the ‘I’m completely sure that there will be no problems whatsoever with this’ chapter, but also the ‘what if I’m wrong’ chapter, the ‘I have no confidence in my own writing’ chapter, the ‘excessive deference’ chapter. I started reading and writing for it in summer 2008. That’s five years ago. Just sit with that for a moment. Five years. In between which, I have won my PhD, had my first peer review articles published and accepted, and generally just… grown up a hell of a lot academically. But I’m trying to get something I wrote when I had just passed my qualifying exams into shape. It’s come a long way – from those first early steps to the last-minute restructuring a few months before submission to the first-round edit it had before going through the department’s work in progress seminar, and now my attempts to edit according to that feedback. And, you know, it’s hard to keep all that development in perspective.

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July 5, 2013

Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:09 am
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Oh, where to begin with this one. Let’s start with some basic data. This conference was organised by the Science Fiction Foundation; it also has a conference blog which will keep updating with topics of interest. The programme and abstracts are available online. The conference was well live-tweeted, and a Storify of the relevant tweeting is available . The conference’s aim was to bring together various folks interested in the cross-over between science fiction, fantasy and classical reception, and essentially to give things a good shake and see what happened. Which is all a very prosaic way of saying that it was bloody brilliant. I had an excellent time, met some lovely people, and came away feeling all energised and cheered up. I know that a number of other people went away with brains fizzing and popping with ideas for future research; I’m afraid my brain is so settled on my summer plans that there’s not much space for anything new (and, incidentally, how come it’s July?), but I still got the benefit of the academic adrenaline buzz. Even if I did occasionally forget which day of the week it was.

Now, any conference write-up has to be selective, especially one trying to deal with a conference that has over eighty papers, so let me say up front that I didn’t hear a single duff paper. I heard one or two that could have done with a little more preparatory work, but every paper had an interesting idea that it tried to get across, and that itself is worth celebrating. So, if I don’t mention your particular paper and you know I was in the audience… sorry. I’m sure Tony Keen will have picked up what I said at the time on the Storify. Because I was pretty heavy on the livetweeting, and all my Twitter followers are either interested in the sci-fi/fantasy/classics cross-over or very, very patient people. What I’m going to try and do instead of summarise every single paper is sum up some of my take-homes from the conference and things that jumped out at me. Beyond, of course, the fact that I now have a very long list of things to add to my already very long reading list.

I want to start the impact of the conference on my research, as I gave the first paper of the parallel panels on Saturday. The panel hung together with a remarkable coherence considering that we had all submitted our papers individually, and I’m fairly sure that at least one person will be picking up Lud-in-the-Mist to take on holiday with them as a result. There were some really strong resonances about walls and borders and Roman Britain as a creative space and identity and all that good stuff. I couldn’t have been happier with the company I kept, and with the intelligent and helpful questions from the audience. So many thanks to Sandeep Parmar, Cara Sheldrake and Stephe Harrop, and Penny Goodman for chairing the panel.

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June 24, 2013

Summer goals 2013

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:10 pm
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Last year, I found having a set of summer goals surprisingly useful in making sure my work was targeted and well-organised, so I’m going to have another go at it. That’s not to say that I managed to meet all of my goals, of course, but part of the point of strategy is to have a plan and see whether or not it’s a realistic one. Something that’s becoming more and more clear is that I need to be thinking practically about ways that I can keep my research moving over the year to respect the different patterns that the academic year imposes upon academics. The same strategies that work for the summer won’t work in the middle of term, for instance. After an academic year where I’ve been pretty dedicated about carving out half an hour here or there for research, I’m finding that to have days without anything else in them is slightly disconcerting – hence the need for some proper goals to create a bit of structure and order.

Personal

  • Have a holiday! This turned up last year, but it is an important goal, and one that needs acknowledging.
  • Move. This is going to be fairly straightforward, as I have somewhere to move to sorted, but the end of August is going to involve a bit of logistics-wrangling.

Conferences

The Book

  • Finish sorting out the new chapter four.
  • Complete revisions on introduction and chapters one to three.

Miscellanea

  • Complete a book review.
  • Do an archive trip to Cambridge if possible.
  • Put together a proper research bibliography on Plautus and Roman comedy.

There’s a lot of small stuff drifting around the edges, but the main focus over the summer really does have to be on The Book. I’ve made quite big strides with getting the new chapter written during term time, but now I need to pull it all together and get it to a stage where I can send what I have off. Wish me luck!

May 30, 2013

Commemorating Augustus colloquium

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:05 pm
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I decided to take an afternoon trip up to Leeds one Friday to attend the first of a series of events designed to commemorate the bimillenium of the death of the emperor Augustus. (I’m a bit late writing this up, as the colloquium actually happened at the beginning of May, but this is what happens during exam term.) The Commemorating Augustus project has its own website which explains its aims far more elegantly than I can, but suffice it to say that it is being run by Penny Goodman (she of Penelope’s Weavings and Unpickings), and seeks to take a good look at what the last two millennia have done with Augustus and his image. There’s also an official report of the colloquium available here.

I have only a humble delegate’s views to add, but I wanted to make some observations about the colloquium. I’m afraid the first is rather mundane: if I’m ever in a position to do so, I’m replicating the format. Starting with lunch, then having four papers broken by a tea break, made the whole thing far more convivial, and meant that those of us coming from a bit further afield could arrive in time for lunch and not miss anything (especially handy as I had to subject invigilate a Latin exam that morning). Let my hearty noises of approval inspire others!

More importantly, the papers at the symposium began the countdown to the big conference scheduled for 2014 which will mark the actual anniversary of Augustus’ death. They formed two well-matched pairs – Mary Harlow and Ray Laurence’s paper on Augustus’ old age and Valerie Hope’s paper on Augustus’ funeral both looked at events very close to his death, while Penny’s paper on commemorations of the bimillenium of Augustus’ birth in 1938 and Martin Lindner’s paper on representations of Augustus in the novels of Günther Birkenfeld brought us closer to the present day, and provided a structure for how we might look at more contemporary approaches to the first emperor.

As well as being an afternoon of listening to interesting scholarship, I also had an alternative motive behind attending – I’m planning to pull together an abstract for the 2014 conference myself, and I wanted to listen in to what other people are doing with the subject. It’s always nice to see how other people are framing what they’re looking at, especially if you’re dealing with something as thematically unified as this topic. I’m planning to use some of the work I did in my PhD on Augustus as an exemplum (an improving anecdote told to Romans for the purposes of emulation), and seeing how Seneca uses Augustus for the purposes of moral exhortation. There are plenty of reasons this is an interesting question to ask – Seneca was alive when Augustus died, and lives a little over fifty years more himself, but within that short time span there’s a noticeable calcification in the way that Augustus is handled. That said, Seneca also uses a number of devices to point out the shortcomings of the emperor, despite his exemplary role – so it will be interesting to see whether that flexibility of working around the established image continues as the distance from the actual death increases.

What was particularly helpful for me at the colloquium was to see the sorts of themes and ideas that I think will emerge from what I’d like to say, and how I might make the most of those intersections with the work of others. It was a fascinating afternoon, and I hope that the conference next year will be equally as rewarding!

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