Classically Inclined

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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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!

March 29, 2013

Women as Classical Scholars

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 6:28 pm
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I know I’ve been a bit quiet on here lately – this is mainly due to the end of term (which I should write about at some point) and the general pile-up of work that seems to hit everyone at the end of the spring teaching season. However, before I go on holiday next week (yes, a proper holiday!), I want to take time to comment on the conference I was at last weekend, which was titled Women as Classical Scholars. The honouree was Jacqueline de Romilly, who would have celebrated her hundredth birthday on 26th March; she was a well-respected Hellenist, the first woman nominated to the Collège de France, and the second woman to enter the Académie Français. However, the conference served as a springboard to think about women as classical scholars more broadly, starting with Carmel McCallum-Barry’s paper on Italian and English women in the early modern period and moving on from there. I should take this chance to give my thanks publicly to the conference convenors, Rosie WylesEdith Hall and Lottie Parkyn, for organising such an excellent and intellectually rewarding event. As I said at the time, it was just what I needed after a long term of teaching – a chance to get my brain back into research mode, and to be among people who were thinking of me primarily as a researcher rather than a colleague in teaching.

I went to the conference partly to see some friends and colleagues from the US who I knew would be presenting, but mainly because I was interested in context. One of the eternally on-the-boil projects I’m contemplating is something to do with classical reception in the work of Hope Mirrlees, who is known to history as the woman who was Jane Harrison’s companion in the last years of her life. I’ve written a little about this before in an article for the CA News, which is available here if you’re interested, but it’s an on-going process of research, and I thought the conference would be a good way to get some broader context into what academic women were doing around her period. Well, I got far more than I bargained for – thanks to Jacqueline Fabre-Serris, I also got Renée Vivien’s translation of Sappho (in comparison with Anne Dacier’s). Vivien was part of the Paris South Bank movement, with which Harrison and Mirrlees also had connections, and was apparently bought the Greek text by the notorious Natalie Barney.

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December 14, 2012

By A Wall That Faced The South: A Sneak Preview

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:18 am
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I’m delighted to share that I have my conference abstract accepted to Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World in Liverpool in June! I’m really quite excited, as it’s going to give me a chance to develop some of the monster theory ideas that I’ve been working with in the Harryhausen paper, and try to look at some of the same sorts of phenomena in a different context. For those of you who are interested, I’ve put the abstract below the cut. It should be a very exciting conference, and I’m already looking forward to it.

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July 9, 2012

Ancient Greek Myth and Modern Conflict in World Fiction since 1989

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:21 am
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At the end of last week, I had the pleasure of attending Ancient Greek Myth and Modern Conflict in World Fiction since 1989 at the British Academy, ably organised by Edith Hall and Katie Billotte. The aim of the conference was to examine the use of myth in modern fiction since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War; to examine what ways authors have used to engage with Greek myth; to see if we could identify what in particular about Greek myth helps people think through conflict; and to ask how Greek myth operates in the post-colonial world, where the classics were once the curriculum of imperialism.

We enjoyed a packed schedule of papers spread over two days covering a gleefully broad geographical range – I now know more about New Zealand Maori fiction, German Holocaust fiction, contemporary Japanese fiction, the work of Jhumpa Lahiri, Arabian political fiction and Iranian short stories than I had any chance of discovering by myself. The glory of it is that authors from such a wide arena are choosing to use the Greek myths to explore contemporary issues of conflict, and that classicists can speak to their appropriations in interesting ways. Each paper offered powerful observations on the use of myth in cultures with which I am unfamiliar. Running through the papers was a concern with the intentionality of the author and the deliberateness of allusion (and, indeed, how much this mattered); the tensions of appropriation and repurposing of myth; and the way in which myth seemed to be a way of thinking through things as an interpretative framework rather than a source of plot.

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June 7, 2012

Feminism & Classics VI – Brock University, Canada

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:25 am
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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.

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May 22, 2012

Gone conferencin’

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:20 am
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Just a quick note to say that I’m off to Feminism and Classics VI today. When I get back next week, I’ll be taking some much needed R&R time; I’ve spent the last five days or so completely immersed in exams so that my colleagues responsible for second marking have enough time to do their job rather than being rushed, so I’ve earnt a break. Not to mention that I’ll need a couple of days to sleep off the jet lag.

I’ll be back after the Jubilee weekend with a conference report, some thoughts on the sex lives of Homeric heroines, and the final judgement on those new assignments. See you then!

April 30, 2012

Classical Association Conference live tweets

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 8:44 am
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I promised that I’d link to the livetweet archive from this year’s Classical Association conference when they were available; if you are interested, you can find them here.

Enjoy!

April 19, 2012

Reading as Consolation in Seneca – The Aftermath

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:14 pm
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I promised that I would write a little more about my paper on reading as consolation in Seneca which I gave at the Classical Association conference. I thought I’d start out with a Wordle of the paper itself, just for the sake of interest:

As you will be able to guess from the Wordle, most of the paper was about consolation and how it works. I specifically looked at two passages from the consolations Seneca writes to his mother and to the freedman Polybius in which he advises them to turn to various forms of literary activity in order to assuage their respective grief. Telling people to go to philosophy for consolation is nothing new – Cicero does it in a lot of his extant consolatory letters, for instance. But where Cicero tells people to go back to tried and trusted things that they have already learned, Seneca tells his addressees to pick up entirely new intellectual projects, which will actively engage their minds and thus have the psychological effect of bringing balance back to a disturbed soul.

Reading forms a well-known part of the Stoic armory against the distractions of the world, as Martha Nussbaum explores inter alia in her influential book The Therapy of Desire; reading serves as a grounding point, a place to start thinking about ethical growth. By applying this general Stoic attitude to the specific task of consolation, Seneca makes a new point about the use of reading for practical purposes, in this case the calming of grief. He also makes it clear that he expects his addressees to engage with their reading material actively, and that the material is itself an active participant in the process. This is in contrast to Helvia’s finances, which Seneca explicitly says he does not recommend as a distraction from grief. There’s some interesting stuff going on there about the difference between numbers and letters in terms of intellectual activity – the accounts seem passive, for sifting through, rather than active players in the consolatory process.

Where next with this work? Well, sadly, to the back of a desk drawer until I finish The Book, but I’ve got a few ideas for what to do after that. By that point, hopefully a book on the consolatory tradition that somebody mentioned to me will have appeared, which will help me work out if I’ve got a point to make in the first place – but I suspect I will. The current plan is to look at literary activity specifically as a consolatory recommendation in the Latin sources, and to see what that means in a social context where people are not necessarily reading themselves but may be read to by slave secretaries, and what differences this makes to the consolatory admonitions. This was a thread that I only identified at the end of my research for the paper and so didn’t get a lot of airtime in the paper itself, but I think it’s an important social factor to consider when Seneca is so adamant that philosophy must be an active rather than passive occupation.

April 16, 2012

The Classical Association meeting 2012 – Exeter

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:10 am
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I have just got back from the Classical Association annual conference, this year hosted by the department at the University of Exeter. For those who were not able to attend, you can read all the abstracts of the papers presented at the meeting online, and there was also a fair amount of live-tweeting going on (including my own modest efforts); I’ve been informed that the CA Secretary intends to archive the tweets alongside the abstracts as part of the records of the conference, and I’ll share the link to that archive when it becomes available. It’s the first time I’ve live-tweeted an event, incidentally, and overall it was a very positive experience; I was asked to stop once, in a session which was very popular and thus didn’t let me find an isolated spot where I could tap away at the netbook without disturbing anybody, and that’s pretty good going. I should add that I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the superb wifi provision throughout the venue, which meant I could tweet without relying on a smartphone vel sim (a form of modern technology I continue to vehemently resist).

I should also note that the Classical Association has worked out that if  you want to sell merchanise to academics, you come up with groovy cloth bags and bears. I purchased my own Percy bear, pictured on the right settling into his new Birmingham home; apparently the plan is to fill a gallery with images of bears enjoying themselves around the world. Which, I think, says an awful lot (mainly positive) about British academia, including the gentle echoes of Brideshead Revisited‘s Aloysius that it invokes.

The format of the CA conference also makes a very positive statement about British academia, in that the format is so very different to the megaconferences of the American academic world which are the only national opportunity for academics to gather together. The CA maintains the practice of communal meals and, even better, the celebratory disco at the end of the Gala Dinner on the Friday night. Never before have I seen so many classicists in one place doing the Macarena.  (It helps that the air is not saturated with the nervous terror of people interviewing for jobs, which puts a heavy damper on the atmosphere of the APA conference.)

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