Category Archives: Classics

Hadestown

Anyone done any work on Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown project?

It seems that there was some commentary in Syllecta Classica (which is on my To Be Read pile) but I know very little about Reception in music so I’m looking for some broad thoughts…

It is a ‘modern folk opera’ based on the Orpheus myth and I heard about it on the Radio; partly because, although it was started a while ago, she is planning a stage show which might eventually come to the UK.

I am hoping to actually sit down and listen soon but I would welcome thoughts from any classicists who’ve heard it or can offer some background on the various Orpheus poems/operas etc already out there.

Psycho-Geographies

Inspired by this post by an old secondary school friend (which is co-incidentally sort of about Mills) – I have been thinking a little bit about conceptions of space and how it influences us.

The author of the piece comments in the footnotes that (as a consequence of growing up in Cornwall) “for a long time [I] believed that everywhere could be divided into: Cornwall, Up-Country, North, Scotland. I think Wales somehow came under Cornwall, or perhaps Elsewhere. Anyway, it resulted in a belief that Newcastle and Birmingham were right next to each other, as indeed were Dorset and London, and that everywhere in Scotland was between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The realisation that this was not the case has resulted in an enduring fascination with pyschogeography and perceptions of place, and occasionally, some very dubious travelling decisions.”

Having also grown-up for the most part in Cornwall and, although I had previously given little thought to it being a shared conception, I also grew up with a slightly vague sense of place which consisted of: Cornwall; up-country (everything between Plymouth and London, and Wales); London; The North (everything from London to Glasgow except Edinburgh but probably including most of Ireland); and Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow & everything north of Glasgow). I also sort of absent-mindedly believe there is nothing to the west of Cornwall but The Sea (anything but the Atlantic ceases to feel like ‘real sea’) and that going east covers the entire rest of the world.
I have always considered that my sense of geography is simply very poor through lack of knowledge – I would struggle to locate most European cities on a map, am similarly bad at naming any of the old Soviet bloc countries and get considerably worse the further outside the realms of the Roman Empire you ask me to go; indeed my geography of Cornwall itself is somewhat hazy and is based entirely on up, down, and over from my home village (plus anything north of about St. Austell was suspiciously close to up-country). However, seeing a strikingly similar sense of place articulated by someone with a similar (and yet notably different) background has drawn me back to half-formed ideas in my thesis.

As part of of my research I read Katherine Clarke’s “Between Geography and History” and began to think about how time and place are entwined and separated in our writing and in that of the ancient Greeks, at the time I wanted to analyse approaches to ancient writing about Britain without really going into its meaning for more recent historiography but..

  1. How is the concept of place, when it is subjective, centred on one’s own location and judges other places based on their proximity and relevance to that location, echoed in the process of writing local history?  The local historical text is able to outline the development of the place as situated within the flow of people, knowledge and goods to and from it as well as literally describing events from that place’s point of view (in some senses this has more in common with historical writing that privileges individual actors than say process-driven historiography like Marxist writing – how does this affect how we view it?).  Although Cornish writers are often painfully aware of the peripheral status of Cornwall in relation to the political hub of London (or Rome) they are able to re-centralise it within the narrative and are often keen to do so. The idea of this historical imagination ‘mapping’ onto/paralleling the geographies constructed by Cornish peoples suggests a psychological connection as well as the overt political one though perhaps that should be considered a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario.
  2. How does this fit into the process of geographical writing and especially travelogues… Most travel narratives (and antiquarian texts especially) that I have read featuring Cornwall describe both the physical features and the historical points of interest (to be fair that was of course why I was reading them) and come from either an outsider on a journey or as a guide for tourists to the county – presumably this is because one does not describe the countryside you see everyday to someone else who sees it everyday – but I have not compared whether the spatial journeys to-and-from have an impact on the way the historical component comes across

Food for thought at any rate..

Thinking about collaboration – Classics & Law

I have been thinking a lot recently about how to justify spending money on conferences… (there have been some family related things recently which mean we are being cautious about cash!)

And it occurred to me that what would make it better is if my partner and I could go together.
She is a law lecturer and – though her specialisms are a long way from mine- some of the most glorious moments of our courtship involved arguments about the meaning and relevance of Sophocles’ Antigone to social reform and protest movements and the place of Roman inheritance law in modern society.

Over the last few years we have seem the decline in interest in the classics within law degrees as increasingly not only have they dropped Latin terms but also they focus on practical skills over ‘history of the legal system’, ‘comparative law’ and ‘law and culture’. There can be little doubt that there is lots for students to get to grips with and ancient legal systems are hardly a priority but it is also difficult to believe that acknowledging the processes of development doesn’t help prepare future lawyers for work in a multi-cultural jurisdiction and that by applying skills learnt in Reception they are better equipped to deal with juror bias…
It would be nice to just present a paper on the importance of classics to the study of law, it would even be nice to consider the role of law the development of heritage management and translations but what about how the study of law itself offers something to classicists?

 Is there something in the way that we analyse the impact of media etc on contemporary law-makers that is of relevance to considering how it might have affected ancient ones? Similarly, we are increasingly looking at the role of economic pressures on writing and interpreting laws – how has that crossed over into classics? Have we compared how The Eumenides & Antigone are taught by classicsts and how they are taught by lawyers?
I don’t know enough about research into ancient law to know how much impact legal anthropology and sociology have had on it but now I’m curious…

Some Bibliography on Roman Britain & Time-Travel

Mostly for my own reference (apologies for the mixed referencing styles):

Primary Sources

  1. E. Nesbit (1906) The Story of the Amulet
  2. S. Cooper (1977) The Silver on the Tree
  3. G. Clews (xxxx) Jessica Jones and the Gates of Penseron
  4. J. Jarman (2001) The Time-Travelling Cat and the Roman Eagle London: Andersen Press [Also online resource: Julia Jarman ‘The Time-Travelling Cat and the Roman Eagle’ 17 March 2009 http://www.juliajarman.com/books/booksinbetweens/143-ttcromaneagle.html ]
  5. Haynes, Toby, dir. 2010a. ‘The Pandorica Opens’ [New] Doctor Who 5:12 (212a) UK: BBC One [First broadcast BBC One: 19 June 2010]
  6. Weiland, Paul, dir. 1999. Blackadder: Back and Forth UK: New Millennium Experience Company, Sky, Tiger Aspect Productions [33 mins.]

On Time-Travel

On Classics in fiction & British life

  • Haverfield, Francis. 1912. [2nd ed.] The Romanization of Roman Britain Oxford: Clarendon Press
  • Hingley, Richard. 2008.The Recovery of Roman Britain 1586-1906: A Colony So Fertile Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • P. Ayres (1997) Classical Culture and the Idea of Rome in Eighteenth-Century England Cambridge University Press: Cambridge/New York
  • V. Hoselitz (2007)Imagining Roman Britain: Victorian Responses to a Roman Past Royal Historical Press/Boydell Press: Woodbridge
  • S. Stroh (2009) “The long shadow of Tacitus: Classical and modern colonial discourses in the eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Scottish Highlands,” in Transcultural English Studies: Theories, Fictions, Realities, F. Schulze–Engler & S. Helff. Rodopi: Amsterdam/Atlanta pp. 339-354.
  • Goodman, Penelope. 2010. ‘Doctor Who and the plastic plastic Roman’ Weavings and Unpickings:  http://weavingsandunpickings.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/doctor-who-and-the-plastic-plastic-roman/ 
  • Hobden, Fiona. 2009. ‘History meets fiction in Doctor Who, “The fires of Pompeii”: A BBC reception of ancient Rome on screen and online’Greece and Rome (Second Series) 56.2: 147-163 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0017383509990015
  • Joshel, Sandra et al. 2001 Imperial projections: ancient Rome in modern popular culture Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press
  • S. Piggot (1989) Ancient Britons and the antiquarian imagination: ideas from the Renaissance to the Regency Thames and Hudson: London 
  • S. Smiles (1994) The Image of Antiquity: Ancient Britain and the Romantic Imagination Yale University Press: New Haven CT/London
  • K. Trumpener (1997) Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ

On the individual books/authors

  • Bar-Yosef, Eitan. 2003. ‘E. Nesbit and the Fantasy of Reverse Colonialization: How Many Miles to Modern Babylon?’ English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 46.1: 5-28
  • Butler, Charles. 2006. Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press and Children’s Literature Association
  • Drout Michael D. C. 1997. ‘Reading the Signs of the Light: Anglo Saxonism, Education and Obedience in Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising’ The Lion and the Unicorn 21.2: 230-25
  • Rahn, Suzanne. 1985. ‘News from E. Nesbit: The Story of the Amulet and the Socialist Utopia’ English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 124-144
  • Rheimer, Mavis. 2006.  ‘The beginning of the End: Writing Empire in E. Nesbit’s Psammead Books’ In E. Nesbit’s Psammead Trilogy: A Children’s Classic at 100. Ed. Raymond E. Jones. Lanham, MD, Toronto, and Oxford: Children’s Literature Association and Scarecrow Press, Inc pp. 39-62
  • Smith, Michelle. 2009. ‘E. Nesbit’s Psammead Trilogy: Reconfiguring Time, Nation and Gender’ English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 52.3: 298-311
  • Carroll, Jane S. 2011 Landscape in Children’s Literature New York, NY/Abingdon: Routledge
  • C. Butler & H. O’Donovan (2012) Reading History in Children’s Books Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke
  • V. Krips (2002) The Presence of the Past: Memory, Heritage, and Childhood in Postwar Britain Taylor and Francis e-publishing

Thinking about time-travel

So if you could go anywhere, anywhen and see anything what would you do?

Why?

What makes any particular location interesting? Is there a famous person you’d like to meet or observe,  some aspect of your life you’d like to re-visit, a subject from school that has nagged at you either because there wasn’t enough information or because you thought it was wrong?
Do you want to change the past or learn something about it or yourself? What will you bring back with you to your life now? What, after all, is the point?
And what if you were going to write fiction about a time-period? Its not enough that you are interested in the subject matter but rather you have to know enough about it to make it convincing but not get so caught up in the details that it becomes overwhelming. Ideally your readers should already be broadly interested in the time-period but neither know so much about it as to get bored nor so so little as to be confused. And again what is the point – why that time period and not any other one? what is it about then that shows off the ideas you are bringing out?

Naturally, I tend to think that the ancient classical world offers an excellent setting for fiction. Apart from the obvious fact that we tend to define it rather loosely – it easily covers 1000 years (are we including Myceneans or Minoans? Is 476 the real fall of the Roman empire – what are you doing with the East?) and covers (at various times) from Britain to the Middle East with a chunk of North Africa thrown in – and that means there is plenty of scope for exploring, it is also something that many people are able to recognise and pick out stories from. Not only have chunks of its history and literature been traditionally taught in Western schools but it has also been absorbed into our culture in more subtle ways (such as architectural iconography and narrative tropes).

OK so far so obvious but actually it raises more questions for me:
Who chooses to write fiction about the classical world, especially to contrast it directly against their contemporary world? Is there a gender bias? a racial one?
Are some parts of the classical world more popular than others – what makes them so, their familiarity or shared themes (I tend to notice themes of imperialism everywhere so…)?
What do the characters learn? Is it the same as the readers?
How does the portrayal of the ancient world react to scholarship on the topic?
Does the immersive potential of fiction allow scholars to examine the past differently or do we simply partake in the wish-fulfilment?

So… as part of my ongoing thinking/research on the topic I want to collect examples.
I am focusing on time-travel and NOT historical fiction so there must be some element of the character(s) experiencing contrasting time periods but I don’t mind if thats by magic or a device and I am willing to be persuaded on what counts as the ‘classical’ world – if you have suggestions please add them to the comments.

Tweeting CA14

It is really hard to deal with Jealousy.

I am fairly busy in my personal life; working as usual, trying to help organise a beer festival, looking for work, volunteering & generally attempting to keep my shit together.
I did not, however, go to the Classical Association conference this year. I knew I wouldn’t/couldn’t afford to last August when I didn’t send in an abstract but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the twang of regret.

Every day that passes I feel my academic life and credentials slip further away. In part it is because I haven’t been keeping up with my writing (soon I promise), but in part it is because I haven’t kept up with changes…

But…. Thank the daemons of the internet for Twitter. Without it I could not have followed panels of research at the biggest UK conference of its kind and found new things to investigate.  Without it I would be totally cut off waiting for the open access journals to show up on Google and research to be made available through JSTOR from several years ago. Twitter gave me instant access to ideas and to people.
I know that (for many good reasons) people are nervous about the implications for their research, reputation and finances with regard to the broadcasting of their ideas online and I also know that the potential for misrepresentation in such a limited medium is very high but I can’t help feeling that the opportunities far outweigh the risks.

So, yes, I am still horrendously jealous that I couldn’t go and absorb information and ideas first hand. I feel lost without that spark and push of novelty but I am grateful that even when the money is far too tight and even if the social anxiety is far too crippling I don’t have to rot away because there are so many people generous enough to publish their interpretations in a way that reaches into my home and lets me think!