Classically Inclined

February 21, 2014

The Problematic Ovid lecture

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 11:57 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I wrote recently about my thought process behind putting a content warning on my Literature of the Roman Empire syllabus for a particular lecture on Ovid. This post seems to have struck a nerve, and I’ve had a number of people asking how the lecture went. I’ve now delivered the lecture, so I thought I’d let you know my thoughts on it, both as a reflective exercise for me and as a way to share good practice.

A couple of contextual observations. Firstly, this isn’t the first time I’ve taught difficult texts, particularly those which deal with sexual violence. I’ve thought about them as part of a conversation that started in the Women’s Classical Caucus and has been slowly moving outwards – I recently published an article on a test-case lesson that formed part of a gender and sexuality course I ran in the US aimed at a diverse range of students, and you can download a post-print of that article here if you don’t have access to Classical World, where it first appeared. This lesson was an opportunity to try out some of the strategies I developed in that context with UK students specialising in the subject, and also to see how they worked with a different group of texts – that class focused on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, this lecture looked at selections of the Amores and the Ars Amatoria.

Second, this lecture formed part of a Literature of the Roman Empire course where, frankly, my goal is to make my first year students realise that there is more to the world of the Romans than A-levels let on. Some of them have looked at Ovid as part of a Latin AS level, but the selection of the Amores chosen is the most insipid and uninteresting four poems in the whole corpus (at least to my mind) – it’s doing Ovid without doing Ovid, which is profoundly cross-making. Mind you, here is one of the reasons I teach at university level, to be able to teach the sorts of texts you can’t teach to the under-eighteens without getting angry letters in the press. However, for a lot of students this will be their first exposure to Ovid in a systematic way, let alone to the world of Roman literature as a whole, so I’m really laying the foundations for how they think about and approach texts, as well as widening their horizons. In that sense, a lecture saying ‘so, this is difficult, what do we do with that?’ is a necessary question to ask at this stage of their undergraduate careers, because this sort of stuff happens all over classical texts. As one colleague said to me, “at least you’re not trying to teach comedy”.



January 21, 2014

The classical pedagogy of trigger warnings

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 8:03 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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?


September 4, 2013

Reading Rape in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: A Test-Case Lesson

Some of you may remember that I wrote a post back in January last year about pedagogy research and reading rape in Ovid. I’m delighted to be able to share that the article I wrote about then has finally appeared in print – the PDF and the bibliographic reference are on Project Muse, and the journal is Classical World. You will need an institutional subscription to read through that link, but if this is of interest and you don’t have such a subscription, do get in touch.

This piece has taken its time to turn around – it was first given as a conference paper in January 2009, and since then has been working its way through the long process of peer review and journal scheduling that’s a bit inevitable in these things. However, I’m really pleased that it’s now appeared along with two of the other papers from that conference panel. Together, they make a well-proportioned suite of papers offering sensible resources for coping with teaching difficult topics.

A number of other workshops and publications around these themes (looking more broadly at difficult topics rather than specifically at rape) have now started to surface, and it’s getting some air in the pedagogic discussion in our field. I’m really pleased that this article is now out there and part of the conversation. There’s been a very positive reaction to it over Twitter and Facebook, including from people who have already had their copy of the journal in the mail, and I can only hope that everyone who reads it finds it practical and helpful.

August 7, 2012

The sex lives of Homeric heroines

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:31 am
Tags: , , , ,

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’.


January 16, 2012

Politics, pedagogy and research: “Reading Rape in Ovid”

Filed under: Research,Teaching — lizgloyn @ 2:18 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

January is turning out to be quite an exciting month, research wise, as (on top of everything else) I’ve had back some suggested edits for a paper that I hope will eventually  appear in the Paedagogus section of Classical World. I first gave this paper as part of a panel at the 2009 American Philological Association conference [link to PDF], so there’s some pleasing poetic balance in getting the revisions at around the same time as this year’s conference.

The panel and paper came out of a conversation at Feminism and Classics V about how we deal with the topic of rape in our classrooms, both as a social phenomenon and something that’s normalised in the texts we teach. If you have ever read any Greek New Comedy or the works of the Roman comic playwrights Plautus and Terence, you’ll know that rape is an almost ubiquitous plot device, and that the problems it causes are often resolved by the rapist marrying his victim (a state of affairs which is normally accepted as a perfectly sensible solution). Dealing with this sort of thing by anachronistically reading modern interpretations of rape onto ancient texts is not the way to go, but it seems to me that there’s a place for thinking about how we approach and present this material in way that is both historically appropriate and socially responsible.

The article that I’m tweaking at the moment is about a class I taught during my time at Rutgers-Newark that aimed to do just that. I tried to use a single class meeting as a properly researched and well-planned experiment in whether it was possible to deal with this material responsibly in such a short period of time. I think I found a way of creating discussion and awareness that actually worked, although it was far from perfect. But what seems to me to be the central point is that when this sort of material turns up in our classrooms, we can’t turn a blind eye to it and its impact on our classroom community. The usual statistic invoked in these circumstances is that at least one in four American college women have experienced rape or attempted rape. Those statistics may not transfer to a UK classroom, but I’m willing to bet that the numbers aren’t so very different. The responsibility remains ours to work out how to talk about this  material in a way that’s productive and open about the unacceptable behaviour it represents.

If you’re interested in reading a bit more on this topic, the first issue of EuGeStA includes an article by Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz titled “Greek Tragedy: A Rape Culture?”, which is freely available and well worth a read.

July 4, 2011

The tail end of Ovid’s Ars

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:01 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m delighted to announce that the Ovid passage I’ve been preparing for the Online Companion to “The Worlds of Roman Women” has now gone up on the website! I’ve already written about the process of picking a passage and preparing the materials, and I wanted to finish off this mini-series of blog posts by writing a little bit about the process behind actually getting the passage up on line.  

As I said in my previous post, the first thing to happen was a discussion between myself and my editor, Ann, about questions she had about the text and glosses I’d sent her. This collaborative work makes a vital contribution to the strengths of the Companion; I brought her up to speed on the latest scholarship on the text, in the form of Roy Gibson’s Cambridge commentary on Ars Amatoria 3, and she brought fresh eyes to a couple of passages of the text which I’d got unnecessarily twisted into knots over. We sorted out our issues by clarifying some of the notes and including a handful of references to Gibson’s commentary at appropriate points (Gibson’s text differs from the OCT, so the differences needed flagging up for anyone trying to use that edition). Ann also helped to refine the glosses I’d prepared and get them more in line with the Companion‘s house style. (more…)

May 9, 2011

How do you solve a problem like the Amatoria?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:16 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Phew! At the weekend, I finally finished the text, commentary and introductory essay for the Online Companion to “The Worlds of Roman Women” that I mentioned in an earlier post. This is brilliant because the project has been getting done in dribs and drabs, so it’s a good achievement to have the materials sent off to the website editor so we can move into the next stage of getting the passage on-line. Now that I’ve finished off this first part of the process, I wanted to talk a little bit about what creating a passage like this involves. It’s the kind of work that normally doesn’t get talked about, and it’s actually a rather interesting intellectual exercise – so interesting, in fact, that a number of the passages on the site have been prepared by students in courses where creating a commentary has been an assignment.

The aim of the Companion is to provide thorough grammar notes that are easy to understand, and that students can navigate without professorial help; a preliminary essay that focuses the text specifically on women and their lives; and suitable images to place text in the world of material culture that it references. The images I don’t have to worry about so much; when I submit a passage, the editors scan the vast files of VRoma, an associated project, to find what they need. At this first stage, it’s my responsibility to generate the first version of the text, commentary notes and essay.

The first part of the process is whittling down a suitable passage from all of Latin literature, consulting with the editors to make sure the passage you pick fits in with their master-vision for the site. I initially wanted to do something from the Priapea, but alas, there was nothing high-school friendly in the entire corpus (but I will write about these poems another time). The third book of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria fits the site’s mission both in terms of being addressed explicitly to female readers and slotting nicely into one of the conceptual worlds that organise  the Companion. We narrowed the choices down to three possible selections – 3.235-250, in which a nasty mistress mistreats her slave hairdresser; 3.255-280, on minimising defects; and 3.281-310, on adjusting one’s laughter and walk to attract a man. I went for the third passage, with a view to doing the second at some point in the future.


April 25, 2011

Keeping company with Ovid and his Ars

In my current research project, or the one that is taking up what brainspace I have free from completing job applications, I’m working up a text and commentary for the Online Companion to “The Worlds of Roman Women”“The Worlds of Roman Women” is a  language textbook designed to teach Latin at the intermediate level with a thematic interest in teaching students about cultural history at the same time; the Companion takes it that one step further and provides texts with hyperlinked glosses, a short essay to introduce each passage, and appropriate supporting images. The texts are all organised into Worlds, so teachers can pick passages that look at marriage, the family, the body, flirtation, or any other area that interests them.

I’m a collaborator with the site, which basically involves proofreading new contributions when they go up, and contributing my own passages now and then. I’ve previously done two texts and commentaries; the first was Tacitus’ account of the death of Pompeia Paulina, Seneca’s wife, while the second was a description of Seneca’s aunt and her courage after her husband was killed in a shipwreck from his Consolation to Helvia. As you may have astutely spotted, these two passages are both pretty directly related to my Ph.D. thesis. Half of chapter one was dedicated to the Consolation to Helvia, while the Tacitus passage provided pretty crucial evidence for chapter three.

This time, though, I’ve decided to go a different route, for two reasons. First, I’m bored of prose! Well, that’s an exaggeration, but I’ve spent my whole Ph.D. looking at prose, and I wanted to ease myself back into some poetry, not least of all because I have two nascent articles that look at poetic texts. Second, the Body world of the Companion is a bit thin, and I thought it would be a good idea to bulk it up. This gives me an excellent reason to get into one of my favourite texts that I haven’t been able to play with for a while: Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, and more specifically, book three thereof.

Those of you who are unfamiliar with the Ars will be interested to know that it’s Ovid’s poetic handbook for how to seduce members of the opposite sex – where to hang about to meet girls, what pick-up lines to use, what techniques to employ to gain a furtive caress (and more), that sort of thing. The first two books address male readers, but the third decides that all’s fair in love and war, and attempts to teach the female reader how she might get her man, going so far as to advise how to ensure the most flattering views of one’s body during sex. We can’t really include those kinds of passages in a resource that’s targeting high school as well as college students, but there’s plenty of less X-rated material about posture and how to carry oneself that’s good fodder for the Companion’s intended audience. The passage I’m currently preparing focuses on how to laugh and cry attractively, and the most becoming way to walk – and I’ll talk a little bit about how I’m preparing the text another time.

Blog at