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Posts Tagged ‘classics’

My book has been published (on Friday, to be precise, at least for the UK)! Rather to my surprise, it’s already been getting some attention, with blog posts from Matthew Reisz in the Times Higher Education Supplement and from Mary Beard. Yes, a gratuitously stroppy account of the current state of Classics as a discipline and Why It Matters is more accessible than some of my usual obscure ramblings – but I have written would-be accessible things in the past, which have largely sunk without trace. Maybe it’s the moment.

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When it comes to my own writing, at least, I’ve always been a follower of the “that’ll do” principle; not quite the slapdash approach the phrase might imply (though doubtless there are critics out there who think my books exemplify the slapdash approach), but the art of recognising the point of diminishing marginal returns, when – given that perfection will always remain out of reach – the expenditure of addition time and effort ceases to yield proportionate improvements in the quality of the manuscript, especially when it’s probably already months (if not years) overdue and double especially when there are loads of other things I want to write about as well. It’s all about the jazz idea of creating something in the moment, of the moment, and then moving onto what the next moment calls for, rather than endlessly honing the same thing in the hope of transcending intellectual entropy.

This approach has worked well enough – until now. (more…)

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This isn’t the Summer of Love; it may be the Summer of Bad-Tempered Arguments About Classics and Racism. Over in the US, Sarah Bond‘s articles on the ‘white-washing’ of classical statues – that is, why do we think of them in terms of gleaming white marble when they were actually painted? – have provoked a furious backlash from the far right, including death threats.* In the UK, an alt-right blogger objected to the fact that a BBC educational cartoon on life in Roman Britain included black people – “I mean, who cares about historical accuracy, right?” – and was carefully schooled by @MikeStuchbery_, Matthew Nicholls from Reading, Mary Beard and others – with the result that Mary, at least, now seems to be spending six hours a day responding to people on Twitter about this.

What is surprising about these two arguments is that the substantive issues – ancient statues were painted, the Roman Empire (including Britain) was ethnically diverse – are such old hat. (more…)

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One of the (probably innumerable) ways in which I irritate my wife is by going round claiming to have a classics degree, despite having studied no Greek or Latin at university. Actually I feel this characterisation is slightly unfair, as I do have a bona fide classics degree, 100% legitimate according to the rules of the university at the time, despite the lack of any language, and it’s not as if I have ever actually attempted to pass myself off as a ‘proper classicist’ with a permanent fear that someone might ask me to translate Vergil, revealing my deception and leading to summary dismissal in disgrace. On the contrary, I’m more likely to go to the other extreme of describing myself as not a classicist but a historian who happens to do ancient stuff; some of my best friends are classicists etc., but that’s not generally what I do. Still, I occasionally wonder how many of the colleagues who wearily tolerate this ideological pose do so in the belief that I actually have the grounding in ancient languages that would entitle me to the status of ‘proper classicist’ if I only chose to claim it, and might therefore look at me differently (or break out the pitchforks) if they knew the truth. (more…)

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Has Boris Johnson ever given a speech without throwing in a classical reference or two? It’s part of the brand, clearly – and always reminds me of Josh Ober’s classic study of Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens. Ober noted the surprising readiness of wealthy Athenians, especially those who’ve chosen an active role in public life, to parade their wealth and their difference from the mass of the citizens, even when faced with the task of winning over several hundred jurors drawn from the ordinary population. The ancient equivalent of a modern British politician taking off his jacket and tie, rolling up his sleeves and dropping a few aitches is conspicuous by its absence. (more…)

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Part of the joy of holding any sort of position of academic leadership is the need to respond quickly and imaginatively to unexpected bits of randomness appearing out of a clear blue sky. This week it was our student newspaper publishing a story about whether arts students get value for money for their student fees; they’d acquired some figures from the university under a Freedom of Information request, and divided a total for teaching expenditure in each department by the student numbers, yielding a figure for ‘spend per head’ that could be compared with the standard £9000 fee. Not surprisingly, arts students were revealed by this calculation to be ‘subsidising’ scientists to the tune of many thousands of pounds per year – with one striking exception: Classics students appeared second in the table, just after Clinical Dentistry, apparently subsidised by everyone else by more than £6K pa.

Once we’d got over the hysterical giggling, it was imperative to work out what on earth was going on so as to demand a correction, in hope of preventing the appearance of an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob of disgruntled English and History students from marching on the department. (more…)

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We’re now 25% of the way through Bristol’s Deep Classics conference (which I’m also erratically live-tweeting), and some key over-arching themes and questions are already becoming clear. One is of course focused on the cultural connotations and possible subliminal messages of the name itself: is this intentionally or unintentionally referencing Deep History, or the Watergate mole, or a 1970s porn film, or the Bee Gees? Another focuses on the nature of the project and its possible hidden agenda: is Deep Classics effectively Queer Classics, as Sebastian Matzner seemed to suggest in his paper this morning? Or is it Anti-Classics, as implied by Helen Morales in her passing discussion of the conference in a review in the TLS earlier this year? Anti-Historicism, Post-Historicism or the New New Historicism?

A third theme, inevitably suggested by Deep Classics’ emphasis on the fragmentary nature of our knowledge of the classical past and “the very pose by which the human present turns its attention to the distant human past” (Shane Butler’s now much-quoted phrase), is that of its relation to Reception Studies – is this an alternative, or a development, or even a repudiation? (more…)

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