Classically Inclined

January 21, 2014

The classical pedagogy of trigger warnings

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 8:03 am
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So, I was putting together my syllabus for Roman Literature of the Empire recently, which is the half-unit course I’m currently teaching to the first year students. It is going to be awesome – we have Livy, Ovid, Lucan, Petronius and Seneca, so I get to spend some time with my favourite boys talking about my favourite things. However. I had decided that for Ovid, if I was going to get the students to read some of his love poetry, I needed to have a lecture titled Why Ovid Is Problematic.

Why? Because it’s not pedagogically responsible to set students loose on the Amores and the Ars Amatoria without explicitly talking about sexual violence and rape. There is a darker side to our witty, playful poet that does need to be talked about, and students need to be given the tools for thinking about these difficult issues. This is, in part, what my article handling teaching the Metamorphoses in the classroom addresses. I had to think quite carefully about how I structured that lecture and what I do with it – I want to talk about the romanticisation of rape in terms of the Sabine women, the abuse of power as it appears in the two Cypassis poems, the violence against the female body as it appears in the two poems about Corinna’s abortion, and the problems of consent and its absence that some of the Amores pose, which feels like a well-structured progression through the issues posed by this sort of writing with some concrete examples.

I have, of course, yet to face the issues involved in actually preparing the lecture. My problem when I was constructing the syllabus was how to make it clear that the content of this session could be disturbing for survivors of rape. What is the pedagogy of the trigger warning on the syllabus?


April 25, 2013

Outreach: speaking with IRIS

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:36 am
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I’m sure most of you who hang around here will have come across the awesome IRIS Project, whose mission is to give children from all walks of life an opportunity to learn about the languages and cultures of the ancient world. One of their initiatives is the Mayor of London’s Love Latin scheme, where Boris has put his money where his mouth is – after saying publically for so long that Latin is wonderful, he’s backing a scheme to get Latin into as many schools in the capital as possible, not just those in economically privileged areas. The scheme pairs volunteers with schools; the volunteers then go in to give a talk on whatever subject the school would like. Hopefully this then creates the opportunity for the school either to use the interest that generates in pupils to start teaching a new subject, to continue as members of the scheme next year, or to build on the experience in some other way.

Given that my roots are in London and that I too think it’s hugely important to let students from as many backgrounds know that classics is for them as much as it is for anybody else, signing up to be part of the scheme was a bit of a no-brainer. I wasn’t able to participate last year, which was the first year the project ran, but I was able to fit something into my schedule this year. So last week I pottered off to a primary school in Highams Park to give two Year Four classes an hour’s taster of Latin, as the beginning of their unit on the Romans.

I will admit to having some nerves about whether I’d aimed the talk at the right level – Year Four is eight and nine year olds, and while I had quite a lot to do with that age group when I was a teenager working with the YMCA Day Camps, it’s been a while since I engaged with them in a meaningful way. Thankfully, it soon turned out that I’d pitched it just right, with three activities for the hour and enough variety to keep the children engaged. They’ll be going to see the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum in May, so I finished off with a bit of graffiti – real graffiti, mind, albeit with a little bit of judicious age-appropriate editing and a very informative crib sheet (and thanks are due to Jane Draycott for pointing me in the direction of Ancient Graffiti in Context). They all got extremely excited about this, which is what I was hoping – even in a heavily supported fashion, that feeling of solving the puzzle of translation is a reward worth earning.

I’m still smiling over the feedback sheets that they’ve filled out for the IRIS project. There’s something about the unrestrained enthusiasm of that age group that makes you grin – not to mention the boost to the ego of knowing that you have earned the accolades of ‘best time in the history of school’ and ‘the best ever visitor’. Shame that sort of keenness doesn’t last when students come to fill out university module evaluation forms!

December 5, 2012

Defining the Roman family

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:28 am
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I’ve been talking around the idea of the Roman family, and the idea is central to my work, but I’ve realised that I’ve never actually explained what the family is on this blog The Latin word for family is familia, but while the two words look more or less the same, familia represents a very different sort of concept – our idea of the nuclear family would have felt very foreign to the Romans. The Roman idea of familia had a primarily legal meaning, which encompassed only those blood relatives who are agnates, or related through the male line, and not cognates, or relatives through the female line. Marriage did not necessarily mean a close legal tie; if a woman married without manus, she remained in the legal control of her father and thus in his familia, not her husband’s. The consequence of this was that she would not legally be part of her children’s familia either.

Another way to define the familia was as those under the legal authority of the paterfamilias, the oldest and most senior male. This definition included the slaves belonging to a household as well as those biologically related to each other through the male line. In fact, familia can be used to refer to the slaves of a household on their own, not including any of the biological family members at all.


August 7, 2012

The sex lives of Homeric heroines

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:31 am
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The subject of this post is an offshoot from the paper I gave at Feminism and Classics VI. Some of you may remember the translation of poem 68 in the Priapea that I posted just before I left for the conference. This poem really jumped out at me for a number of reasons, but the main one was that the last few lines dedicate a lot of space to praising Penelope, the heroine of the Odyssey, best known for her fidelity to her absent husband – and also express Priapus’ conviction that he would have been able to “please” her if he had existed when she was around.

This passage highlights a bit of a trend I’ve been noticing in Latin poetry of the Augustan period and later, which is a mild obsession with the sex lives of Homeric heroines. When I was teaching the Ars Amatoria last term, I found some of the imagery very striking, particularly in book three, where the praeceptor/teacher-narrator of the poem addresses his female readers. The final section of the book explicitly addresses sexual positions, and advises that each woman should pick the position which shows off her best physical attributes. In describing the woman-on-top position, the praeceptor says that women who are tall should not attempt it; as a supporting proof, he comments that Andromache was so tall that she never sat astride her ‘horse’.


June 27, 2012

Judging Stoic Influence

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:30 am
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I’m in the middle of revisions for the ad Polybium article, which are taking me a while to get back into – such are the consequences of letting the research wheels stop during the middle of term and the resulting dissipation. But never mind, I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things now. One of the things the article tries to do, in a very small and modest sort of way, is point out that the ad Polybium is a Stoic text. But what does being a Stoic text actually mean?

This is the sort of question that generates heated discussion at conferences, particularly when people are talking about Seneca’s tragedies. The tragedies are the sensible place to start because they exemplify the problem particularly clearly(and if you’re into this sort of thing, check out the article by Hine in the further reading at the bottom of this post, because he provides brilliant summary of the various arguments involved). We know that the Seneca who wrote these plays was a committed Stoic – but does our knowledge of his philosophical convictions change how we interpret the plays? Are they deliberately written to promote Stoicism? To illustrate the horrors of lives lived against Stoic doctrine? To show that Stoicism doesn’t work? Does Seneca expect the people who consume his plays to be fully aware of a Stoic framework, entirely unaware of it, or a mix of the two?


May 15, 2012

The Fortunata article is now out!

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 10:58 am
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I’m delighted to be able to announce that my first peer reviewed article has now appeared in print! “She’s Only A Bird In A Gilded Cage: Freedwomen At Trimalchio’s Dinner Party” appears in the latest edition of Classical Quarterly.

Fortunata’s journey to this point has been rather long and arduous; it started back in the autumn of 2006, when I wrote a graduate seminar paper offering a close reading of the chapter which now forms the core of the article itself. I submitted the article to the Winkler Memorial Prize, and although it didn’t win, it did produce an encouraging e-mail from one of the judging panel. So I carried on trying to refine and rework the piece, through an outright journal rejection, and then a revise and resumbit for Classical Quarterly that happily was then accepted. I doubt any of my work is going to have a pedigree that rooted in my early academic career (unless I go back to my undergraduate thesis to see what I can salvage), so it’s wonderful to see her finally in print.

What spurred me to write the original seminar paper was the good old academic vice of close reading. I noticed features of the text which didn’t make sense, and wanted to know why. These features centered on Fortunata, the wife of the nouveau riche Trimalchio who throws an extravagant dinner party in the Satyricon, a Roman novel by Petronius. The dinner party episode is one of the best preserved sections of the novel, so we can say a lot more about context and characterisation than we can about characters who turn up elsewhere. But all of the secondary literature I found didn’t address the character of Fortunata in a systematic or significant way. The most she got was a couple of disparaging lines commenting on her past life as a prostitute. And, it seemed to me, this was not a conclusion supported by what the text actually said.


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.

November 2, 2011

Reading as Consolation in Seneca – a preview

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:11 pm
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My good luck with abstracts continues! First it was Animating Antiquity (which is now, um, next week…), then it was Feminism and Classics VI, and now it’s the Classical Association 2012 conference! There are a couple of reasons that I’m really excited about this one. It’s only the second paper I’ve had the opportunity to present that will be based on my thesis research (the first was at the Oikos-Familia conference, link leads to PDF), although technically it’s a further offshoot of the Ad Polybium article. The important thing is that it’s an opportunity to talk about Seneca, who is supposed to be my author of special interest and as yet is a bit underrepresented on the CV. The other major reason I’m very pleased about this is that the CA conference is the major classics conference in the UK, so I’ll have the chance to present my work in a nationally significant arena. It’s the first time it’s been possible for me to talk about my research to this large a group since I returned to England, and thus it will be the first time that I meet many of the people who are now my peers in the profession. It’s great that part of that process will be a chance to share what it I work on.

(I should mention that it also looks like it’s going to be a really good CA meeting for Birmingham – so far I know of one graduate-organised panel and one graduate paper that have been accepted besides me, and I’m sure more will appear on the program.)

So, what is this particular paper about? Two of the themes that this year’s CA hosts at Exeter highlighted as a suggested topics were the ancient book/material text and reading in antiquity. While I was working on the Ad Polybium article, it became increasingly clear that I needed to think about how Seneca was presenting Polybius in relation to literature and scholarship (especially as part of my argument hinged on the fact that Polybius had to be able to understand any Stoic arguments that Seneca might include in his consolation). When the CFP for the CA conference came through, it struck me that this might be a good place to begin thinking about what Seneca does with the topic of reading in his consolations – after all, he makes a similar recommendation in his consolation to his mother, so there’s a bit of a theme going here, and as yet it doesn’t seem to have been discussed much in the secondary literature on the consolations. (Not that there is that much secondary literature on the consolations in the first place, but I digress.)

The paper I will give at the CA is a chance for me to unpick these ideas of consolation and its connection to reading in a little more detail than I had the chance to do in the Ad Polybium article – it seems like it’s an important strategy, and deserves more consideration than I could give it in the article (and indeed in the thesis). I want to focus on the fact that reading seems to be viewed as something that the addressee needs to work at, really get their teeth into, in order to get the most out of the process. I particularly like the comparision Seneca draws in the consolation to his mother, where he makes a distinction between the comfort that comes from reading and the temporary distraction that comes from mathematics!

I also want to look at the kinds of literature that Seneca recommends people should read. It’s obvious in some cases that he’s referring to what we would classify as ‘literature’ (that is, Homer and similar authors), and in other places that he’s thinking of philosophical writing. I want to see if there are differences in how he conceptualises reading and the sorts of benefits we get out of it, and if what we read matters more than how we read. And that, I think, remains a live question in the cultural discourse that surrounds us today.

September 19, 2011

The eroticization of knowledge in the Priapea – a preview

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:10 am
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I seem to be having a good run with abstracts at the moment – first I was accepted for the Animating Antiquity conference (for which, incidentally, booking is now open), and now I’ve heard that I’ve had my paper accepted for Feminism and Classics VI in May! This is brilliant news for two reasons. First, it means I get to go back to North America and check in with some of my friends and colleagues from my six years in the US – you know, reassure them I haven’t grown an extra head, that sort of thing. Second, it finally gives me a chance to road-test an idea I’ve been sitting on since 2007 and that I’ve wanted the opportunity to come back to.

Every year, the Rutgers classics department participates in something called Latinfest, or the Latin Day Colloquium if you want to be more formal about it, along with Columbia, NYU, Penn and Princeton. The idea is to take a relatively unfamiliar Latin text which hasn’t had a great deal of scholarship done on it, and to put it at the centre of a day’s conference/seminar/discussion. Each of the five schools takes a section of the text, and graduates from each school give a short presentation on various relevant topics before opening up to more general discussion on each segment. It’s a great way of presenting in a friendly atmosphere and exploring an unfamiliar text, and I’m actually quite keen to import it to the UK. (I think one of Penn’s graduates has already taken the idea successfully to Germany, so there is precedent.) (more…)

September 9, 2011

Undiscovered treasures – the Laus Pisonis

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:32 am
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I’m loving the fact that working on the Ad Polybium is taking me to some really strange places, mostly to attempt to work out what ‘stereotypical panegyric’ looks like. One big response I got from my reading group on the original article draft was a sense that the features I was pointing out formed part of the ‘normal’ panegyric repertoire – but I have to say that after going through the secondary literature and doing a bit of digging in the primary sources, I’m becoming less and less convinced about what a panegyric trope actually looks like and whether anyone’s proven one exists. Sure, we know what panegyric feels like, but I’m starting to have my doubts about dismissing something from anything in the early imperial period as a ‘trope’ without a lot more groundwork.

The text I want to talk about today is called the Laus Pisonis, or “the praise of Piso”. We’re fairly sure that the Piso in question is Calpurnius Piso, who was one of the ringleaders in a plot to assassinate the Emperor Nero; it was this same plot that Seneca and his nephew Lucan got incriminated in and were killed over, which gives some pleasing syncronicity to investigating it. The text is about 260 lines long and takes the form of poetry – and, I’m afraid to say, for the first dozen lines or so it really is dreadful poetry. I suspect this may be an artefact of the “introductions are hard” phenomenon that anyone who does any academic writing is very familiar with, because once the poet has got into his stride, he starts having quite a lot of fun with the language. (We have No Idea who wrote the Laus; it was preserved in a 1527 edition of Ovid by Sichard, who says it was traditionally attributed to Virgil, and various medieval compilations say it was written by Lucan, but this typifies the desire to hang orphan texts on famous names rather than anything approximating cast iron proof of authorship.)

I have a couple of thoughts about the text which are based mainly on what jumped out at me while I was translating the piece for myself, and some kind pointers from Ted Gellar-Goad over on Twitter. Ted responded to my tweet that olorinus, meaning of or belong to a swan, was a great word that I hadn’t seen before by pointing out that choosing that word was actually an important poetic choice – what the poet arguably should have done was pick cycneus, derived from the Greek word for swan, rather than the native Latin word, thereby signalling his allegiance to a certain kind of Callimachean poetry. Now, I’m not an expert on Callimachean poetry by any means, but suddenly a lot of other things about the poem’s style fell into place – the heavy reliance on lots of obscure mythological references and adjectives, for instance. The poet is clearly putting himself into a firm poetic camp, although I suspect it may be a Roman home-grown neoteric one rather than a strictly Callimachean one – he uses the word lepos, meaning smooth, at line 163, and that’s a notorious catchword for the neoterics, whose most famous member was Catullus. So while I can’t unpick precisely what’s going on here in terms of poetic agenda, there’s obviously something being said about allegiance and Roman-ness and style that’s worth unravelling. (more…)

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