Another installment in my long-term project to make available copies of old chapters and articles, when I have a spare moment. This one is prompted by another exchange with Will Pooley at Bristol, who asked on the Twitter about modern historians using the dialogue form, whether invented or found. My immediate thought was Keith Hopkins’ A World Full Of Gods, which (if you don’t know it) experiments with a variety of unexpected literary forms to capture different aspects of religions in the ancient world and the numerous historiographical issues involved in trying to study and represent them. As I think I’ve remarked on here before, I’m not convinced that many of Hopkins’ experiments actually work properly – the professional exponents of science fiction do time travel stories rather better, for example – but it’s amazing that it was done at all, and a great shame that this aspect was largely passed over by reviewers as quickly as possible with an air of great embarrassment.
This was one reason why, when it came to my contribution to the volume, Rome the Cosmopolis, that was produced as a kind of Festschrift for Hopkins I chose to engage with his experiments with historical form as a means of trying to recover the lost voices and memories of those who migrated to the city of Rome in antiquity, and those who railed against this invasion of nasty foreigners and their repulsive habits (if I’d been working on this theme in recent years, all sorts of impact and engagement projects come to mind, and I’d probably have done a much better job of the article. I should mention this to my Exeter colleague Lena Isayev, who’s currently working on migration-related projects related both to antiquity and to the present).
The other reason why I took this approach, to be completely honest, is that I was expecting it to get rejected by the editors, who would then leave me in peace. I can’t actually remember why, but when I was asked for a contribution I was incredibly stressed and over-stretched, and really wanted to get out of it without being rude or alienating powerful people (who were also friends). It probably didn’t help that my relationship with Hopkins was on the ambivalent side; great intellectual influence, as is probably evident from much of my published work, but he liked people who would respond robustly to his forthright and penetrating criticisms, and I preferred people who didn’t make me feel entirely useless.
Anyway, the result was this piece, which the editors refused to reject despite its scholarly slightness and essential silliness…
Migration and the Metropolis, from Catharine Edwards & Greg Woolf, eds., Rome the Cosmpolis, Cambridge 2003: 147-57.
[Update: mentioning this on the Twitter elicted the news that Jess Torgerson from wesleyan has actually had his students perform the piece in class, which is a wonderful idea, and I now wonder why it had never occurred to me to do this…]