Classically Inclined

September 24, 2016

To Cyclops or not to Cyclops?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:15 pm
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When I first came up with the Monster Book proposal, I decided I wanted to have the first half of the book think about some of the big issues around monsters and dedicate the second half to chapters focusing on individual case studies – the plan is for those to look at Medusa, the Minotaur, centaurs and sirens. As I’ve been starting to get to grips with the project, I’ve had to think about what I want to do about Polyphemus, the Cyclops who first turns up in Homer’s Odyssey. It’s funny, because when I initially thought about classical monsters, Polyphemus simply didn’t come into my mind.

If you read the original text, for me it’s a story not about what makes a monster, but how to be human. Polyphemus is one of a tribe of Cyclopes rather than a one-off beast. Yes, he eats some of Odysseus’ men and has every intention of eating all of them, but he only does so after discovering the company in his cave, rifling through it and breaking all the laws of guest-hospitality that should govern the first encounter between civilised peoples. Odysseus’ decision to rifle through Polyphemus’ possessions, essentially pillaging them, makes it clear he doesn’t think that Polyphemus is worth treating like an equal – so Polyphemus returns the contempt. So there’s appalling interpersonal relationships, but no worse than many of the humans that Odysseus meets on the rest of his travels.

However, although Polyphemus is an exaggerated human rather than a monster for Homer, in his later incarnations the trappings of civilization that surround him get stripped away. Eleanor OKell has written about this in the context of the cyclops created by Ray Harryhausen for The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, if you fancy reading more about this (the link goes to a PDF), but the general gist is that the social complexity of Polyphemus’ life, his co-existence with other Cyclopes, his command of language and his obvious competence in the complicated art of shepherding and cheese-making get overwhelmed by the man-eating and the single eye. In the process of transmission, he gets flattened out into a beast.

So I think my initial instinct on this is right, and I’m not going to spend too much of the book talking about Polyphemus or the Cyclops – he’s a special case, in that his monstrosity is imposed on him. It certainly wasn’t the only thing that the ancients associated with him – he fell in love with the sea nymph Galatea, who did not return his affections. Both Theocritus and Ovid wrote about Polyphemus’ unrequited love – not something you find when people are talking about the Chimera or the Minotaur. While it’s understandable that the Cyclops in contemporary popular culture has been trimmed down to a one-dimensional bogeyman, the price that’s paid is the humanity that Homer and other ancient poets saw in him.

September 13, 2016

Can you have a monster outside a horror movie?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:42 pm
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This is what I hope is going to be the first of a series of blog posts exploring some of the central issues that come up as I spend my sabbatical getting to grips with the Monster book. I am currently reading All The Theory – that is, trying to get my head around what it is that makes a monster monstrous, and how a monster manifests. On my reading list, inter alia, sit Kristeva’s Powers of Horror and Freud’s essay on the uncanny or unheimlich, along with a dose of Barthes and Benjamin. I am getting familiar with the stomping grounds of monster theory, delineated by Asa Mittman and Jeffrey Cohen, as well as looking at how various parts of cultural and media studies talk about this stuff. The logic here is that I’d like to draft out my initial two chapters, thinking through what a monster is and where monsters live, and then think about the third chapter, which looks at classical monsters in film (and which will build on the paper I gave at the Celtic Classics Conference this summer, “Release The Kraken? Ancient Monsters In Modern Epic”). So while the hope is that I’ll come up with a framework that’s broad enough to cover all the kinds of popular culture I want to talk about, in terms of examples I’m currently circling around film.

Which has led me to a problem of genre, which I ran up against when writing “Release the Kraken” but didn’t really explore there. Much of the writing about the monstrous, about what causes fear, assumes that for something to be truly monstrous, it has to generate a particular sort of response. That is, as viewers, we must fear it. What makes a monster a monster is terror, the emotion that it evokes in the viewer – the shudder of the horror film. Indeed, Asa Mittman argues that what makes a monster is its impact – by its effect shall ye know it. The cinematic monster, for instance, is often visually horrifying because it is covered in blood, pus, ooze – taking the form of a slimy mess of a blob that pulsates and repulses us. The connection between this and the psychoanalytic approach to horror, that we are terrified by the return of the repressed and the impure (to oversimplify), is clear – bodily fluids are taboo, we shudder and fear them.


August 10, 2016

Changing times, changing working practices

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:12 pm
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Of all the possible blog posts I could write at the moment, I’m starting with the low-hanging fruit of some reflections on what I’ve learned over the past few months about the reality of being on sabbatical and being a parent. This is partly because Academic Twitter has been talking about working practices a bit more than usual, focusing around Raul Pacheco-Vega’s posts about low-hanging fruit and how to pick it, and another burst of interest in my post about academic otters. But as I mentioned in my last research-focused post, I am moving into a new book-sized project at the same time as having a sabbatical, and I need new strategies for how to organise my time and workflow now I’ve moved to an ideas-generating phase rather than a refining phase. (Jo Van Every has a post that articulates this better in thinking about summer writing plans in general.)

My initial plan was brilliant, simply brilliant, I tell you. I mapped out precisely which chapter and side project I was going to work on for every single week until the end of the calendar year, so that I’d have a full draft of the book by the end of my leave, and would have done All The Things. Marvellous.

Except that by the end of the first fortnight of the new Grand Plan, it wasn’t marvellous at all and I was already very, very behind what I’d hoped to get done. There were a couple of reasons for this, the most obvious of which was that I had assumed I would be able to work on the Monster book and Mazes Intricate, a related but separate chapter manuscript, at the same time. The chapter is due in November, so squeaked priority – and while some of the reading I’d done for it also fed into my thinking about the Monster book, when I got into the writing I wanted to get Mazes Intricate finished rather than spinning off onto other things. So, big lesson one of Being A Researcher With A Small Child – don’t try and do multiple projects at once. Focus on finishing one thing at a time. This is very different to when I was doing my PhD, when I’d have (at least) one other article on the go alongside my current chapter, as something to go to as an intellectual break and refresher. Now my intellectual break is helping infans explore how pouring lentils from one container into another via the medium of a yoghurt pot works. Same intellectual function, different learning outcome, to repurpose some jargon.


May 23, 2016

New worlds, new projects, new monsters

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:26 pm
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I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while but finding the opportunity and the words has been difficult. I’m coming through a bit of a perfect storm of conclusions – the end of being on a temporary contract, the end of working on the Seneca book manuscript, the end of teaching, the end (nearly) of exam term, the end of when I was supposed to be working at Royal Holloway. The thing about endings is that they bring beginnings with them – but these aren’t the sort of beginnings I’ve been used to. I’ve been thinking about this quite hard, because at first I assumed that my inability to think beyond the next short-term task was down to the small person – as I’ve said before, during maternity leave and the first few months back at work, I wasn’t up to anything more strenous than editing work. But there’s more to it than that.

In intellectual terms, the submission of the Seneca book (even if we still have to get through the foothills of indexing and copyediting) is a remarkably huge deal. At this point I have been working on it for eight years, in one form or another, from the original idea I suggested for my PhD and which got laughed out of court, to the germ of an idea about Seneca which I still vividly remember coming up with when walking down a summer road in Brooklyn, through the process of writing and defending the PhD, then the elongated and lengthy reiterations of editing, editing and editing some more to make the thing into a book… it’s been a long intellectual journey which has revolved around that material. To wave it off has been more of a jolt than I was expecting.

Moving onto a permanent contract marks a new phase too. I’ve spent every single year of my life up to this point thinking in terms of stages. Work to the GCSEs, to the A-levels, to the BA, to the PhD, to this short term contract, that one, and that one… there’s always been a fixed end-point around which I have structured my time and goals, particularly over the last five years. Suddenly, that’s gone. I am finding it quite difficult to adjust. (I know this is ‘my golden slippers pinch terribly’ territory, but bear with me.)

One of the immediate effects of my contract change is that I am eligible for a research sabbatical term next academic year – for those of you unfamiliar with this, the idea is that you take some time off teaching and administrative duties and focus solely on your research. In practice, all sorts of things tend to encroach on that time – but, thankfully, because nobody was planning for me to be at Royal Holloway next year, there is very little that has the potential to encroach, this year at least. So I can take the excellent advice that has been given to me by various people and think about consolidation.

What that means in practice is that I’ll be spending the summer and autumn working properly on to the next book project, which feels unbelievably daunting because the manuscript is due next year. I have to keep reminding myself that there are lots of different reasons that this book is different to the first, in terms of content and audience, and indeed the fact that I have got a lot better at writing than I was back at the start of the PhD. I’ve also been thinking about the ideas I want to explore in the new book for a while – ever since I wrote the Harryhausen piece – so I’m not starting entirely from scratch.

Yes, folks, this is finally the debut of the Monster Book. I had been planning to do this after the second Seneca book, but at the last Classical Association meeting I attended the opportunity came up to explore doing it at this stage, and I figured it would be a nice change of pace to do something reception-y that has been bouncing around in my head for a while. The book all stems from my vague dissatisfaction that there doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory way of explaining the appearance of classical monsters in popular culture. The book is meant to look at the ways that the ancient monster is reimagined in popular culture, and locates it in contemporary space. I may have to come up with a System, which is a bit unnerving, but I’m sure I’ll think of something. I’ve already made a start with the conference paper I’ve just given in Poland at the excellent Chasing Mythical Beasts conference – the paper for that is going to turn into a free-standing article but it’s all grist to the mill. I’m also giving a paper at the Celtic Classics Conference which I’m hoping will be one of the earlier chapters doing some of the theoretical heavy lifting.

There are so many issues to think through here. There’s the whole glorious world of monster theory to get stuck into, not to mention the fact that monsters have got all trendy in scholarship about ancient texts and I should probably get the hang of that. There’s a wealth of popular culture to get to grips with (which means a lot of bad things to read and watch, and hopefully some gems to discover in the middle of it all). But most of all, I have to get into the mindset of doing new, fresh research again, and start generating new words and ideas. At the moment, that feels like the hardest thing of all.

April 4, 2016

How to write a thesis conclusion

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:27 am
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One of the most popular posts on this blog is about how to write a thesis introduction. Several years later, this post serves as its companion, and explores how to write a thesis conclusion. The thoughts here cover the genre of PhD thesis and book conclusions, but the general points apply to undergraduate and MA dissertations too (as indeed do the points in my original post). Conclusions have a habit of looking suspiciously easy, particularly if you follow the structural rubric that says you tell your reader what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Up to a point, Lord Copper. The problem with this approach in any kind of writing is that it very easily generates a laundry list summarising your chapters but not really offering anything new. I think the warning sign for a conclusion is that it feels like you’re reading the final paragraph of each of your chapters in a single document. There’s a place for that sort of writing, in a thesis synopsis or an abstract, but it’s not really a conclusion.

So what does a conclusion do? Once more taking the philological turn, it should conclude. It should tie up the loose ends, bring everything together neatly – and, yes, articulate the argument one final time, just to make sure that your reader has got the point. It should leave the reader in no doubt about why what they have read is of deep intellectual significance, the contribution it has made, how it has changed how they think about your subject.

I’ve found that the most sensible way to consider what you might want to say in a conclusion is to look at your argument thematically. What ideas have emerged again and again, perhaps in different shapes? What are the big points of contact between your various chapters that then build to mean something really significant? What concepts run through your work that you didn’t highlight in your introduction because the reader wasn’t ready for them until they had read the whole thing? Thinking thematically can help you provide a synthesis rather than a summary of the thesis. I know that sounds jargony, but it’s actually a helpful distinction – you’re pulling together the threads of your argument and revealing the jumper that you have been knitting from them, rather than just pointing to various balls of wool and expecting the reader to produce the jumper themselves.

The shape and the form that the conclusion will take will differ radically from work to work. When I was writing my PhD and using a rolling synopsis, I didn’t actually include a section for the conclusion – I assumed it would sort of write itself. It did, in the end, and came to just over five pages of general observation and tying up. I made sure that I restated the big take-away point I wanted the PhD to make; pulled together some elements of the individual chapters that otherwise did not get put side-by-side but needed to be; attempted some synthesis; and mentioned some directions for future work. That worked for the PhD.

However, it didn’t work when I came to revise the PhD for the Book. In the end, I actually retitled the Conclusion – it’s now an Epilogue, just over four pages long, but working in tandem to the main text rather than doing a wrap-up. You can get away with this sort of thing in a book, and this book needed to – there’s a big question about how the case I’ve made about Stoicism and the family fits into the bigger picture of Stoic doctrine as a whole, and which I don’t think can be answered until after the final chapter. Which is why the Epilogue answers it – so sometimes conclusions are places to deal with the big methodological or argumentative concerns which for whatever reason have had to be delayed until all the relevant material has been presented to the reader. Most of the Epilogue as it stands currently handles that big question, but it’s an answer that wouldn’t make any sort of sense without the book which will come before it.

But ultimately, the biggest thing that the conclusion should do is make it absolutely clear why the idea you’ve been exploring in your research needed and warranted as many words as it did, and why your reader will never think about the subject in the same way again. They’ve read your chapters, and have the evidence. It’s the conclusion’s job to make sure that there’s no mistake about the impact that evidence has on their understanding of the world, and to leave your point ringing in their ears as they finish the final page. The form that will work best does, I think, depend a lot more on the personality of the writer in conclusions than it does in introductions – so think of it also like ending a really long, really enjoyable phone call. Finish the conversation off, but in such a way that your (silent) interlocutor has plenty to think about. After all, scholarship is a conversation – hopefully somebody will pick up where you have left off and continue the dialogue.

February 28, 2016

On impact

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:26 pm

This post has been brewing for a while – since I took part in the Family Archive Project’s two outreach events last year, in fact. Given the emphasis that’s currently placed on impact, and how important it is in terms of the REF (or so we assume), these two events highlighted the variety of possible kinds of impact and what we actually think we’re doing when we’re doing it.

Before I say anything else, I should sing the praises of Fiona Blair, our research and administration assistant, without whom neither of these events, nor any of the focus groups we also ran as part of the Project, would have happened. She spent fantastic amounts of time putting together all the materials and props needed for the sessions, and was the brains behind quite a bit of what actually happened at the events. She also prodded me into thinking about the issues behind this post. So thank you, Fiona.

The first outreach event had always been built into the Family Archive Project – it was a workshop at the National Archives, with various academics and professional curators, sharing the findings of the project up to that point and getting conversation going around the issue of family archiving. The event showcased some fantastic projects, like the Seacroft Story and My Route, and there was some really interesting discussion around the general questions we raised. The attendees were, as I say, PLU – People Like Us, that is, with qualifications at a certain level, with an academic or professional interest in these issues, or with a personal archive that they were dealing with in a semi-professional capacity. That’s the sort of event that I usually think of when I think ‘impact’ – how to get professionals in a room to tell them things that might make a difference to how they do their jobs, so that they can then tell us how our research has changed how they’re doing things, so we can tick the impact box. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s the model of impact I feel that I default to, for better or worse.

The second outreach event was a bit more of a ‘right place, right time’ affair – we were lucky enough to be asked to put on an event as part of the University of Leeds’ participation in the Being Human festival. For this event, we set up a participation station in the Merrion Centre, a lower end shopping centre in Leeds city centre – we were located right outside the Brighthouse store. We set up three tables – one with lots of leaflets and further information, including a lecture and a small workshop we were also putting on as part of the Being Human programme; a ‘touch table’ with photo frames, books, and other objects reflecting the family archive and what might go into it; and an activity table for children where they could make a memory book, as well as sheets with colouring and an activity booklet themed around the family including a word search and other activities. We had a trunk in the middle of the tables where members of the public could submit items they had in their family archive, tangible or intangible, and it got filled up with postcards as the day progressed. (It was a freezing cold and rainy day in Leeds, and we were very grateful for the wind-shield effect we got from the prematurely erected Santa’s grotto in front of us.)

The participation station reached a very different kind of audience. Although we had a couple of banners up explaining about the project and how we were connected to the university, not many people seemed to realise that we were academics or that this was about research; we had a number of people asking if we were social workers, for instance, or whether we were offering family counselling. We had some good chats with various passers-by, and were able to highlight the resources that Leeds City Library have for researching family history. We had lots of interested children making memory books, and plenty of parents took away our colouring sheets and word searches for a rainy day.

So, where was the impact of that? What were we going to measure to report back to the assessors of how ‘effective’ the event had been? How could we count how much change we had made?

Well, I suspect that the thing I have learned as a result of helping to run these two very different events is that those are sort of the wrong questions. They’re questions focused on a particular model of outreach – the one that expects change to happen measurably at the level of professionals and policy organisations, or talks given in urban centres to a particular audience of people, where attendees will be happy to fill out questionnaires afterwards. The participation station had perhaps a couple of hundred people stroll by us or cast an eye over the banners, which may have made them think about something they weren’t otherwise thinking about – but they weren’t going to fill out a survey form and tell us that. The impact is much more difficult to track, although not necessarily smaller.

Yet the sorts of event like the participation station are crucially important, because they get the work being done at universities out into communities who may not see the relevance of it, or even realise it’s meant to be relevant for them. They get the very fact of university and research out there, although you have to find ways of telling that story that fit the context you’re telling it in. It takes the research out beyond the ‘usual suspects’ for talks and workshops and things where you book tickets in advance. The very nature of an exhibition designed to catch the interest of people having a normal Saturday is fundamentally different to the more traditional formats of ‘outreach’ event, and correspondingly more difficult to measure in terms of impact.

It may be that the greatest traceable impact that event has is giving a parent ten peaceful minutes on a rainy afternoon after they have dug out the colouring sheets that they took home from our stall. But in and of itself, that’s a worthy difference to make. So next time I start thinking about impact, I’m going to try and be a bit more aware of this distinction – surely if part of the point of sharing your research is to get it out to the people who have funded it, that includes all sections of our society.

December 23, 2015

2015: A review

Christmas and the turn of the year are coming over the horizon, so it’s as good a moment as any to have a look back over the last year. The blog has been a bit quiet since the arrival of infans, as my priorities have been geared towards getting on with my teaching and research rather than this enjoyable but not particularly critical activity. Which is a shame, as there have been several things I’ve wanted to blog about and may still get around to, but it’s not as much fun as introducing infans to stacking cups. However, the good thing about the silence on here (and the comparative silence on Twitter) is that there’s been a lot getting done elsewhere!

Teaching: this term I’ve been coordinating our first year skills course, repeat teaching Intermediate Latin and teaching Roman Life Stories from scratch. I’ve also had third year dissertations and some MA teaching, along with a spot of Catullus too. I’m really enjoying Roman Life Stories – it’s a version of the Roman Life Course module I taught at Birmingham, into two hours of seminar/lecture rather than just a lecture, and limited to third years rather than second and third years together. It’s lovely having the extra time and being able to have some proper discussion going about the sources, and the students seem to be finding it very interesting too. It’s slightly strange that I’m back to using very detailed lecture notes, written when I was a bit less confident, but it’s all getting there! I’m also enjoying seeing how students engage with secondary literature – I’ve got them leading discussion about a designated article each week in groups of three and four, and that seems to be going quite well.

Intermediate Latin is going pretty much as it did last academic year, with a couple of tweaks to the insignia system. The course has got to the stage where the students have settled down and are a bit more confident in their own abilities, which means they start having more fun with the language and that makes it more fun for me too. It’s always a pleasure to watch students levelling up, and this year is no exception.

Research: the big project this year has been getting on with the book manuscript… and I’m delighted to report that last week, I finally submitted a complete manuscript to the press and have just received the approval of their external reader. There’s still plenty to do – the reader requested a few minor changes, the manuscript needs to be gone over to meet the press style guide, there’s metadata to provide and indexing to sort… but with any luck, it’s all now into the technical bits and bobs, and the academic hard graft is done. Fingers very much crossed for this to go smoothly in the new year.

The other major project on the go has been the AHRC Family Archive project. It’s nearing its final stages – we’ve done all the outreach activities we built into the grant, and are now working on co-writing the two articles we had planned as a result of it. We had a meeting earlier this month to discuss how to structure those articles and what they should say, and it was delightfully productive and positive. I’ve been having a blast working with the project team, and I’m hoping we can find directions to go with this in the future.

I’ve also finally got the pedagogy article that’s been hanging around for a couple of years out the door, which is no small feat but a very nice one to have out of the way, and there’s been continuing admin work around getting the piece on women classicists at Newnham into print. Conference activity has been non-existent this year for pretty obvious reasons, but I’ll be gearing up with two papers in summer 2016 that relate to the Monster Project (which I really do have to write about properly before too long). I’m quite looking forward to getting stuck into new projects now that these ones are coming to their natural ends.

Personal: the most obvious amazing thing is the arrival of infans, followed closely by surviving my first term as a parent, followed even more closely by managing to submit a book manuscript (or as near as you can get) whilst parenting. At the end of last year, I wrote that this would be life-changing for me and my husband. Of course, it has been, but in some strange ways things have kept on pottering on just as normal – I still research, I still teach. I also now keep an eye out for new nursery rhymes and memorise any vaguely catchy folksong I come across, and have discovered Views I never knew I had about childrearing and high chair design. Other things have diminished to compensate for that, but they’ve not been things I’ve missed terribly much – and indeed, their current absence is more a fallowness than a complete loss. It does mean I’ve been saying no to things a little more, but that’s not actually a bad thing.

It feels slightly strange to put this under personal, but I’ve been delighted that my vague inclination that we should actually have a British equivalent of the Women’s Classical Caucus has finally started getting somewhere – the Women’s Classical Committee UK is now up and running (or has a proper webpage, which is just as good). We’re organising our launch event for April 2016, and it’s going to be fabulous.

The big question for 2016 is what’s happening with my job prospects. As you may remember, my contract with Royal Holloway lasts for three years, which ends on 31st August 2016. There are jobs coming up, but having a baby and a fixed abode means I don’t have the amazing geographical flexibility that lets me apply for everything. That’s OK – it’s a compromise I decided I was willing to take. Despite this being a three year post, it also comes with a three year probation period; maternity leave meant I had my mid-probation meeting with our dean this semester rather than in the summer. I’m very pleased that I will now be judged to have passed probation when the book is in press… it’s all so close! So if I get that done by Easter, that will be a double whammy. Let’s see how it goes…

November 10, 2015

A seasonal Movember post on philosophical facial hair

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:06 pm
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Tis the season for people to start doing extravagant things with their facial hair – yes, Movember is upon us. It will not surprise you to learn that the question of whether to beard or not to beard was also asked in antiquity, in particular in terms of whether a philosopher should have a beard or not. If you think of the statues of philosophers you see in museums, or at least the statues that are represented as being of philosophers, they tend to have a prolific growth of facial hair to their credit. For some in antiquity, possessing a beard was seen as a defining characteristic of being a philosopher – beardedness somehow became equated with possessing wisdom.

Alas for those currently cultivating their facial foliage, it turns out that the connection isn’t quite that simple. This post is a quick round-up of some things that the Roman Stoics have to say about what’s going on with beards, gender and wisdom.

The division between those with beards and those without isn’t just between the wise and non-wise – it’s also seen as a dividing line between men and women, although again, having a beard isn’t in and of itself enough to make you a man. Having a beard is described as natural or according to nature. The Stoics are very keen on the idea that if something is according to nature, then it’s also in accordance with virtue, which makes the deliberate distinction between men and women caused by facial hair something to be valued. In Musonius Rufus’ On Cutting The Hair (Discourse 21), he compares the beard to the crest of the cock or the mane of the lion. Epictetus uses the same imagery in Discourses 1.16.12, again to emphasise the difference between the male and the female of the species.

There are always those who aren’t so happy with their stubble, which turns out to be a sign of a deeper existential malaise. In Discourses 3.1, Epictetus critiques a young man for depilating himself and confusing the natural boundary between the genders. However, he then goes on to remind his victim that he is not human by virtue of his hair, but by virtue of his moral purpose (proairesis). While the young man’s attitude to his bodily hair is a symptom of his confusion about how the world works, he needs to do more than cultivate a healthy beard to address the underlying problem. Indeed, while Epictetus attacks the youth for his excessive personal care regime in this discourse, in Discourses 4.11 he expresses a different view – he would rather have an over-coiffured youth come to learn philosophy than one with ‘his moustache reaching down to his knees’, because at least he would be able to point the first student in the correct direction of what is good and beautiful (to kalon).

The Roman philosophers are also aware of the tension between the beard as an emblem of the philosopher and the fact that simply having a beard is not enough to make one a philosopher. Epictetus says that his beard and his rough cloak identify him as a philosopher to the young man attacked for depilation (3.1.24). He lists growing a beard, along with composing philosophical treatises, as one of the marks of philosophising which Epicurus demonstrated but attributed to the flesh (sarx) rather than his moral purpose (proairesis; Discourses 2.23.21). He implies that a philosopher should reject the threat of having his beard shaved, even if such an action could result in the philosopher’s decapitation (Discourses 1.2.27). Yet  in Discourses 4.8, he parallels philosophy to music and carpentry to illustrate that simply taking on the attire of a trade is not enough to make one a practitioner of that trade. The beard signals an affiliation with the philosophical life, but it holds no guarantee that its wearer will actually be living in accordance with that philosophy.

Epictetus’ comments reflect anxiety about balancing what is according to nature with the requirements of society and the line between acting like a philosopher and merely looking like one. Seneca makes a similar observation early in the Epistulae Morales, when he encourages his addressee Lucilius to continue with his philosophical studies (5.1-3). He draws a distinction between moral improvement and simply adopting the trappings of so-called philosophers; Lucilius should not deliberately present himself in a way that arouses comment. Among the things Seneca discourages him from are an outspoken hatred of silver, a bed put on the earth, messy dress sense, uncut hair – and a more unruly beard. The danger of this sort of thing is that it puts off precisely the people whom the philosophers want to reach most: the decision to look so out of step with the world around them means ‘ordinary’ people run a mile from any philosophy that seems to require them to behave so outlandishly.

Given the various attempts at facial hair that will be materialising over the coming months, and the varied range of responses they are sure to generate among the friends and acquaintances of Movember participants, I suspect the power of the beard to overstep the common boundaries of good taste is about to be tested to its limits once again. Perhaps we might bear in mind the warning that just to wear the beard isn’t the same as having the inner disposition associated with it. The Movember Foundation focuses on four key areas of men’s health – prostrate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical inactivity. If you are participating in Movember, or somebody you know is, then take Seneca’s advice and think about the hidden ways in which you’re committed to improving those problems, which will last beyond the application of the razor on 1st December and the eventual donning of the charity Christmas jumper.

July 6, 2015

June is busting out all over…

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 6:28 pm
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…and it’s taken me until July to blog about it. Such is the life of a new mum. I type this with infans in his sling, finally having the nap he has resisted all day, while I reflect upon the changes and developments that have happened in my life over the last twelve weeks.

Arguably the most significant of these is the arrival of the new small person, who is growing and thriving at a slightly alarming but very encouraging rate. We’ve all got the hang of the basics now, so it’s a matter of doing the day-to-day living, which is demanding but rather less intense than the first six weeks or so. That the final output of my maternity leave, when it finishes in September, should be a happy, cheerful and generally content baby looks like a goal that is on track.

However, I will happily own up to the fact that the itch to get back on with research work has already returned, reinforcing my personal conviction that a year’s worth of maternity leave would have had me climbing the walls. I’ve already been surprisingly productive – I finished off the science fiction piece, have done more work for the Family Archive project, and have sorted out the edits to an article about writing for the Companion to the World of Roman Women that started off as a series of blog posts on here.

Most importantly, however, last week I signed and posted back my contract with Cambridge University Press for a book provisionally entitled The Ethics of the Family in Seneca.

As you will probably have guessed, this is going to be the book version of my PhD thesis, and I’ve spent the time since submission in 2011 working on getting the manuscript into a good enough shape for publication. In fact, I’m still working on revising the manuscript, as those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, but now there’s an end date for the manuscript to be finished, and everything feels more… real.

When I graduated, I said that my life goals for the next few years were a baby, a book and abode. It looks like the most elusive of those three is finally getting closer. I may write more about the process of getting here at some stage, but right now, I’m going to go and help infans (who has woken up since I started writing this post) practice rolling onto his side.

May 6, 2015

New publication: In A Galaxy Far, Far Away: On Classical Reception and Science Fiction

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:57 am
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Following on my recent blog post about science fiction, classical reception and fannishness, I’m glad to announce that the final piece has now been published!

You can read In A Galaxy Far, Far Away: On Classical Reception and Science Fiction over at Strange Horizons.

Ultimately, I’m very pleased indeed with how the piece turned out. As I explained in my preliminary blog post, this is quite a big shift away from some of my usual stomping ground, and I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to get familiar with the territory. That’s because I have another project on tap that looks like it will make really good use of the sort of material that I got to use and get familiar with for this piece – but that’s another story for another time. Until then, enjoy this overview of the state of the field, and do let me know what you think!

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