Classically Inclined

November 16, 2016

Coming soon to a bookshelf near you… The Ethics of the Family in Seneca

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:59 pm
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seneca-book-page-proofThere are quite a lot of things contributing to a sense of unreality around here at the moment. One of the more pleasant of these is that I am currently working through reviewing the proofs for my soon-to-be-published book, The Ethics of the Family in Seneca (available for pre-order now!). There’s something very surreal about seeing the words that I’ve agonised over for almost ten years in the font of Cambridge University Press, suddenly getting a whole new dose of authority in the process – are these really my words? In a way, the other surreal thing is that they aren’t my words any more. My job in checking the proofs isn’t to change anything, but to look for problems of presentation, spelling, referencing and so on. To use a natural metaphor, these are words in their chrysalis, waiting to become fully published words and spread their wings, not words that I’m nourishing on some kind of intellectual cabbage. (Alright, it’s an odd metaphor. I’m sticking with it.)

Starting to look at the proofs and working out a strategy for approaching everything that needs to be checked has reminded me that I’ve never really written about the book here. I started blogging just after defending my PhD thesis, so while I’ve grumbled a bit about the whole revising the thesis into a book thing and have talked about some of the spin-off work that’s come out of it in more detail (like the ad Polybium article), I’ve never done more about the thesis/book’s content than a plain English summary of the thesis early on. I guess this is one of the perils of living with a project for so long: it becomes utterly normal to you. I certainly know I’ve had days of wondering why I’m putting in all the effort, before reminding myself that the ideas that have become so familiar to me will be completely new to other people – which is why I’ve followed the long road that’s got me to these proofs and will, eventually, produce a real live book.

9781107145474So I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the book and what you can look forward to when it comes off the presses and into your eagerly awaiting hands. My modest goal is to revolutionise how people think about ancient philosophy and the family. There’s a tendency for the family just to be ignored – to be treated as if it’s something that only those social historian types need to worry about, while we can read ancient philosophers as if they knew their Kant. This is a problem, particularly with Stoicism – Roman philosophy is about constructing a system of belief in which everything has a place and everything intersects. That is, if we can spend so much time talking about how various ancient philosophies think about friendship, we can surely give some attention to what they have to say about how we should relate to our family.

This may sound like common sense, but there’s very little out there that thinks about how familial ethics operates in the ancient world, or even if it’s a thing. I argue that it is – that Stoicism offers a framework through which to understand all parts of the world, and that through reading Seneca we see how Stoic concepts shape our relationship with family members. There are chapters on mothers, fathers, brothers and marriage; I have a look at how Seneca handles the imperial family, and close by running through Seneca’s Epistulae Morales or Moral Letters, which are written to someone with a serious commitment to becoming a better Stoic rather than the general audience Seneca is trying to attract to Stoicism in most of his other writing. All of them suggest that the family is a significant place for moral formation and education, and that when the family gets it wrong, bad things happen. Bad things like Caligula.

Why does this matter? Because looking at ancient philosophy as if it were something that doesn’t match up to the other bits of ancient society doesn’t make any sense. Because treating the family as if it doesn’t connect to the intellectual sphere doesn’t make any sense. Because seeing how these various layers of understanding the world interlock and inform each other matters if we are going to understand what Seneca thinks he’s saying, and what we might make of what he’s saying. Because, oddly enough, women and children feature in the lives of philosophers. The Romans didn’t see any distinction between their philosophical activity and the rest of their lives – neither should we.

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.

April 17, 2012

L’Annee Philologique under threat?

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 11:24 am
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Alright, this isn’t technically a department under threat as per the tag, but it’s close enough. For those of you who don’t know L’Annee Philologique, it’s the major publication and electronic database for classics bibliography. It gathers together all the new publications in the field, and their on-line database is a major piece of research kit – frankly, I wouldn’t be able to do my work without it. However, news is now circulating of a threat to the German office. The regional offices are key to the work that L’Annee does – the APA has recently put considerable effort into making sure that funding exists for the North American office, for example. The text below is from the petition website and explains the problem in more detail; if you feel so moved, you can sign the petition here.

The Année Philologique, a critical and analytical bibliography of Greco-Latin Antiquity, has existed since the 1920s : over the years, its generalist orientation has made it a working tool that is useful for all, whatever one’s specialty may be. Since its creation and its dissemination on paper, it has been a bibliographical tool that is universally recognized, utilized, and appreciated by students of Antiquity throughout the world. Since 2002, its dissemination online has facilitated the access of an ever-broader public to the bibliographical data it offers.

However, this irreplaceable tool is threatened, in the very near future, with disappearing in its current form, and perhaps with simply ceasing publication.

The cause of this threat is simple : the German office of the Année Philologique, the Zweigstelle Heidelberg, must close its doors at the end of the fiscal year 2012, unless a durable source of funding is found. The Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, which has funded it until now, has let it be known that it will cut off all subsidies at that date. In so doing, it is applying the government’s decision to no longer fund continuing projects and positions, but to henceforth grant funds only to short-term scientific operations, answering to invitations to tender. If it were to take effect at the planned date, this programmed closure would have disastrous consequences for the entire project : with it, the totality of German-language research, whose importance for the classical humanities is known to all, would cease to be covered by our publication. Quantitatively, this would mean a decrease of approximately 30% of the bibliographical items made available to the public.

Unless a solution is found, the consequences will boil down to a sinister alternative : the transformation of a project of high scientific value into a bargain-basement search engine, or the outright disappearance of the publication.

We the undersigned express our indignation in the face of this blow against classical bibliography and, more generally, against the whole of humanist studies. We solemnly request the appropriate German academic and political authorities to find the means necessary for the preservation of this working instrument of undisputed scientific value.

December 5, 2011

Reviewing a collected volume

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:47 am
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Writing a book review for a collected volume is a tricky and often perilous undertaking for the young book reviewer. A book by a single author allows you to concentrate on the overall argument, while a multi-authored book offers a different agenda with each chapter, and it is normally impossible to give each chapter the kind of in-depth analysis that it deserves within the review’s word count. (Plus, add the more cynical, if the book deserves a stinker of a review and you write such a review, you’ve just alienated multiple members of your profession rather than one.)

Despite knowing of the difficulties this sort of project presents, I recently finished writing a review of a collected volume of essays, a Blackwell Companion, for Scholia. I’ll let the review speak for itself when it’s eventually published, but I wanted to think a little bit about the process of writing for a Companion or Collected Volume, as it’s worth talking about effective strategies for approaching this task. There seem to be two approaches to reviewing a multi-author volume. The first is to list each chapter and make a brief comment on its content. This has the advantage of being comprehensive, but does tend to be rather dull and plodding as a form of writing (and I’ve written that kind of review before now myself). It’s also not particularly feasible for the Blackwell Companion style of book, which often has thirty plus chapters. The second approach takes a more holistic view of the volume and its stated purpose, which most volume editors will now explicitly address in the general introduction. This sort of review looks at what the volume aims to do and whether it’s managed to do it; it acknowledges that, inevitably, some contributions will be stronger than others; and it tries to sum up the nature of a book which by definition will mainly be used by people who dip in and out of it.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I tried to write the second type of review, not least because one-line summaries of 32 chapters would be incredibly dull to read and not very helpful in communicating whether the book is any good or not. For that  is the key purpose of an academic book review – to tell the reader of the review whether this volume might help them in their research. (more…)

October 19, 2011

Reviving and invigorating: Lindsey Davis at the Birmingham CA

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 2:42 pm
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Last Thursday was incredibly exciting for me, because I had the opportunity to hear one of my favourite authors of all time speak. The occasion was also an exciting one; it was the relaunch meeting of the  Birmingham and Midlands branch of the Classical Association. The branch actually has a long history, as it was founded over a hundred years ago, but in recent years things have been a bit on the quiet side. Thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of, among others, Elena Theodorakopoulos of the University of Birmingham’s IAA and Joanna Johnson of Solihull School, the branch is now back up and running, with an exciting program of events including a planned sixth form conference in March next year.

So what better way to begin a period of exciting new activity than by inviting one of the great popularisers of classics to speak? I refer to none other, of course, than Lindsey Davis, best known as author of the Falco books. I should own up here that I can’t remember precisely when I started following Falco’s adventures, of which there are now twenty, but it was early on enough for me not to have to read more than half a dozen or so to catch up. Although I’ve been a fan for that long, I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Davis herself speak before, and discovering that this was going to be happening in a lecture room two floors down from my office felt too good to be true.

I’m glad to report that it wasn’t too good to be true, and that I had a thoroughly pleasant evening and enjoyed myself immensely. It would be churlish to try and report absolutely everything that was said in the talk and subsequent Q&A session, especially as I wouldn’t do it half as well as the original, but I did want to pick out a couple of themes that struck me. The first was the importance that Ms. Davis’ early experiences with classics had in eventually making her think of Falco as a character, and of the continuing significance of intellectual curiosity in the Falco books. Those of you familiar with them will know that they often take place in a particular area or focus on a specific topic (Ode to a Banker looks at publishing, for instance; Alexandria takes on the politics inside a library; and one which now escapes my mind demonstrates a keenly researched interest in Roman medical theory). The initial hook seems to have come from a number of different directions – the Rosemary Sutcliff novels The Eagle of the Ninth and the Lantern Bearers (both set in Roman Britain, neither of which I have read yet); hearing  Barry Cunliffe give a talk at her school’s archaeology club about the site he was digging and how he thought it might turn out to be quite significant (it turned out to be Fishbourne Palace). So an early engagement with people who found the period exciting, whether through actual hands-on experience or through creative storytelling, provided an important foundation for what was to come. (more…)

August 10, 2011

Seneca’s De Matrimonio, or On Marriage – a discussion of the text

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:32 pm
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I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting quite a few hits as a result of a search for the terms “Seneca on marriage”, “Seneca De Matrimonio” and variants thereof. The problem is that those hits get directed to this post I wrote about turning a thesis chapter into a talk, which mentions the De Matrimonio briefly, but doesn’t really give much of a background into Useful Things about it. So I thought I’d write a proper post explaining a bit more about the text, and giving some useful bibliography. I know I would have appreciated such a thing when I was trying to find out more about the De Matrimonio in my M.Phil. year, when all the books I could find referred to it in passing in a footnote and never actually explained what on earth it was.

There’s a good reason for this, and that’s because we don’t actually have a proper surviving text. Our only ancient evidence that Seneca wrote a text titled De Matrimonio comes from Saint Jerome’s Adversus Jovinianum, which is mainly concerned with Jerome’s attempts to prove his opponent Jovinian wrong about the relative merits of virginity and marriage. Jerome is strongly pro-virginity as the appropriate Christian life choice, and writes to oppose a tract of Jovinian’s in which he has expressed the opposite opinion. (Apparently Jerome’s vitriol against marriage came as a bit of a surprise to his married friends, and his letters include a very lengthy apology to the Roman senator Pammachius.) Jerome marshalled a band of worthy writers to support his case, both sacred and pagan – unfortunately, he was not, shall we say, particularly scrupulous about how he deployed his quotations and whether he correctly represented the intent of the original authors. I think his reading of Dido as “a woman of chastity devoted to just the one husband” was my favourite gem. This is our first problem with using Jerome as a source for Seneca – we can’t be completely sure which fragments are direct quotes from Seneca, which passages are paraphrases of Seneca, and which parts Jerome made up himself or took from another source. (more…)

May 2, 2011

Breaking up is hard to do: returning the library books

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:50 am
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I am coming to the end of a very traumatic process that nobody warns you about when you come to the end of a Ph.D. That’s right, I’m returning my library books.

When you are a Ph.D. student, you build up a comfortable nest of books you want to have around – things that are relevant to your research, that it’s helpful to have handy to dip into rather than get out every time you want to check a reference, books you are quoting constantly, that sort of thing. As a student living away from campus, my stash has been… a bit epic. When I realised I was going to have to return everything before 15th May or else Rutgers wouldn’t let me graduate, I had 63 library books that I hadn’t got around to returning. I’m now down to 25, and it’s quite revealing which books I’m holding on to until the last gasp library run.

There are some books that are holding on because they’re useful for research I’m still up to my elbows in. For instance, I’m using Roy Gibson’s commentary on book three of the Ars Amatoria for preparing the Companion passage; Audre Lord’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name and Thomas Waugh’s Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from their Beginnings to Stonewall are background reading for an article I’m writing on queer theory and classical reception, more of which another time. But there are some books that I really don’t want to give back!

(more…)

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