And so it ends.

July 6, 2012

Though it’s hard to believe, I’ve finally finished my undergraduate degree. It’s been a long road, starting with my first beginners’ Latin evening classes 13 years ago; and now it’s reached the point I’ve always been aiming for, a First in Classics, straight Latin and Greek. Of course, this isn’t really an ending at all, more the jumping-off point for everything else I want to do. Next step is to start an M.A. in the autumn, but I’ve proved to myself that there’ll always be space for Classics in my life, whether studying formally or by myself, and whatever else is going on.

I’m not sure what will happen to this blog. I’m glad I kept it, if only sporadically, as it’s good to remind myself of some of the steps along the way. Quite unexpectedly, I’ve found myself a fascinating and productive research niche, and I think most of my blogging energy will be focused in that direction for the time being. But I expect I’ll stop back here from time to time, my own little quiet corner of the internet. If you happen to have stopped by too, thank you for reading.


Out of step

February 15, 2012

Things have got a bit out of joint lately; I’m getting very close to the end of my undergraduate degree, but my mind is already firmly fixed on what comes next. I’m doing some voluntary work with the local museum, which is opening up all kinds of new and exciting areas of study, and it’s proving difficult (and slightly frustrating) to keep my mind on making a good job of my last couple of modules. And I’m constantly thinking of ways of improving my chances of getting all-important yet elusive funding, both for a summer project and for the Masters I’m planning to start in September. I suppose it’s a bit like running a marathon (except that absolutely no exercise has been involved), the last few hundred meters before the finishing line are the hardest.

Still, it’s not like I’m not enjoying spending time with Propertius and Horace, and even Apuleius is beginning to grow on me. And there is excitement on the horizon – my first ever trip to Athens, which is going to be something of a 48-hour museum crawl. Just a couple more assignments to get done first…

Bathtime mythology

September 26, 2011

I have discovered that supervising a toddler’s bathtime provides a useful 15-20 minute slot for some light reading. At present I’m using this to get more of a grip on Greek mythology, starting gently with J.-P. Vernant’s retelling of the major myths. This is really good, very simple but also capturing many of the interesting ‘points to think with’ about the myths. I’m not too keen on the translation though, which provides the perfect excuse to buy it in French as well. My French isn’t great, but I don’t think ‘Odysseus… never abandoned the memory of the return’ is a good translation of ‘Ulysse… n’a cessé de garder en mémoir le retour’, which carries more of a sense of ‘keep in mind’ in the English idiom. Anyway, nitpicking aside, it’s a good read.

Next step is The Uses of Greek Mythology, which provides a theoretical framework for thinking about what myth is and how it can be of use. I’m a big fan of this Routledge series Approaching the Ancient World, which provides straightforward but not simplistic guides to using different sorts of evidence. It’s more for historians, but one of the things I love about studying Classical literature is that you really need to know a bit about a lot of things.

Then there’s Art and Myth in Ancient Greece, which very helpfully brings together some of the visual evidence grouped around myths rather than date or medium; among other things, it’s interesting to see how representations change over time. And looking at pretty pictures is always soothing.

And then for a bracing contrast there’s Palaephatus, who, writing around the 4th century BC, conceived the ultimately doomed project of providing rational explanations for myths. A sample: ‘They say that Diomedes’ horses ate men. Ridiculous! Horse enjoy barley and oats rather than human flesh.’ Always refreshing to hear a voice of sound common sense.

More holiday reading

August 16, 2011

Still having lots of fun reading in a leisurely way, without thought of immediate utility. As an end-of-term reward for exam results (hurray!) I treated myself to Theophrastus’ Characters, which is extremely entertaining, and each sketch is a nice length to practise a little Greek. I’m sure I’ve met half the people he describes, plus or minus a toga.

I’ve also devoured Mary Beard’s The Parthenon, particularly interesting as I’m hoping to visit Athens next year. I had no idea that there were so many levels of development and destruction overlaying the ‘original’ Parthenon, and that the current monument is to such an extent a reconstruction.

But the book that’s really kept me busy is Scribes and Scholars, which should be required reading for first-year undergraduates. Finally I understand something of the process by which texts have ended up on the shelves at Blackwells, and the techniques and pitfalls of textual criticism. The subject-matter is quite dense but the book is beautifully written, with occasional touches of dry humour such as:

‘Boniface heard one [priest] carrying out a baptism of dubious efficacy in nomine patria et filia et spiritus sancti


‘[Lovato] also tried his hand at archaeology, and identified a skeleton which some workmen had turned up as the remains of the legendary founder of Padua, the Trojan Antenor, a gorgeous error.’

There is definitely a new chapter to be written though, about ‘electronic’ texts and the impact they may have on transmission. Amazon is full of comments that texts are badly scanned and illegible, or badly transcribed and unintelligible. I don’t think we would be in a good state if we were suddenly reliant on electronic copies alone. I remain a Kindle resister.

Having been freed from the constraints of exams, I’m thoroughly enjoying reading for wider interest. (No results as yet; I’m slightly disappointed by a good but not outstanding first class mark for an art essay, but am trying to get a grip.) Clearly the answer is to avoid the grandiose reading list and just read.

I thoroughly enjoyed Simon Goldhill’s How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today, not least because I’ve seen several of the productions he discusses. He makes excellent points about the reasons why they succeed or fail, in terms of audience impact. It has also made me want to see another production at the earliest opportunity; there seems to be a very good Oedipus (not sure which one; possibly all three) at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, so I’m contemplating the logistics of a quick dash further North.

It’s also made me want to catch up with Greek drama I haven’t studied in detail yet – so far Sophocles’ Electra, which is a tremendous play. I’m taking advantage of Blackwell’s Loeb centenary celebrations to complete my collection. As I may have said before, I do love the Loebs (those with recent translations). Once, long ago, I wrote an essay on King Alfred’s Metres of Boethius almost solely to justify the purchase of the relevant Loeb. There’s something about their hardback weight relative to their size, and cheerfully bright paper jackets, that makes them very pleasing.

Currently I’m engaged in Hugh Bowden’s Classical Athens and the Delphic Oracle, which is admirably clear and to the point. I had assumed, largely based on Thucydides, that fifth century Athenians did not really put any faith in oracles in affairs of state, but it appears to be more complicated than that.

And of course, when brainpower is at a low ebb, there’s re-reading novels and crime fiction. Happy summer days.

The latest

May 25, 2011

All been a bit quiet here of late; for some reason it’s felt like tempting fate to blog instead of work this semester. Now it’s all finished, with the last exam sat, and nothing to do but wait for the results; so here are some reflections on the last year.

I’ve been waiting a long time to study Greek art, and it was entirely worth the wait. Black-figure and archaic red-figure pots are still my favourite, but I’ve got a better appreciation of a much broader range of art now, and a good foundation for much further study. I immediately want to rush off and see some more in real life rather than on the page, which is unfortunate as I have no immediate prospects of getting to the British Museum, the Fitzwilliam, or the Ashmolean, whose exhibition on finds from Macedon looks particularly tempting.

The most rewarding subject has been my dissertation, which was an excellent exercise in scoping out a subject, doing the reading, changing direction, focusing down on the main themes, and turning it all into a reasonably scholarly piece of writing. And the finished product was a work of beauty, with spiral binding and colour illustrations! I am definitely ready to do more research, and seriously planning the best way to pursue an M.A.

I’m pleased to have done some Menander and quite enjoyed Demosthenes, but could take it or leave it. Thucydides and I have come to a grudging mutual understanding, but are in no hurry to prolong our acquaintance. I thoroughly enjoyed Wasps and was pleased to confirm that the smoke joke at line 144 is the best one in it; I’d love to see it performed, but am not holding my breath, as performances of classical drama seem to have receded again following a high point a few years ago. And rather against expectation, I think Pindar’s soft-voiced odes with silvered faces are entirely brilliant.

I have no major plans for self-improvement over the summer, but intend to find some time for relaxation rather than carving out every possible moment for work. It’s been something of a slog. But next year is a much lighter workload, and my enthusiasm is unabated.

Cold feet

December 21, 2010

Not literally at this precise moment, though snow lies heavy on the sullen ground. More figuratively, in terms of what I have in store next semester: a draft dissertation to transfigure into half the length and four times the quality; an intensive module on Greek Art; a language paper including two unseens and a lot of lyric; and an enormous chunk of Aristophanes’ Wasps to translate. And all kinds of domestic and administrative difficulties which make it difficult, if not impossible, to find useful amounts of time to do it in. It’s not the work which causes me concern at this stage, it’s the logistics. If I do pull it off, I’ll be on the home straight next year, with a mere two papers to complete; if not, there goes my degree class. No pressure.