Monday, November 30, 2009

Robert Holdstock, 1948-2009

After a day visiting various relatives, I came home to the news that Rob Holdstock had died.

I didn't really know Rob, having only met him a couple of times. And I haven't read all his novels - I've read neither Mythago Wood or Lavondyss, though the latter has sat on my shelves for a long time.

But Rob was my first guest when I officially took over as London Meetings Officer of the British Science Fiction Association. He was an excellent guest, interviewed by Paul Kincaid. We had a packed room, and everyone enjoyed it.

In preparation for this meeting, I had read Rob's then most recent series, The Merlin Codex. In this series, he mixes up two distinct legendary stories, those of Jason and Merlin. This brings a brilliant new twist to the often overly familiar Arthurian mythos, though Rob told me that this wasn't why he wrote the series - his original intention was to explore Jason and Medea, and Merlin was added later.

One should also mention Rob's non-fiction writing and his fan activity. Back in the 1970s he was a regular fixture at sf conventions. And one of my prize finds in my local bookshop was a copy of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, for the princely sum of 50p. Rob was consulting editor, which essentially meant he edited it. Overshadowed nowadays by the more famous Nicholls/Clute Encyclopedia, it's worth getting hold of, if you can. There's some excellent contributors, including Brian Stableford, Chris Priest, Harry Harrison and Malcolm Edwards.

I should have got Rob to sign it.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Nero's rotating room

I'm usually pretty cynical about the excessive PR associated with some archaeological finds, that sometimes bends over backwards to make a link between a discovery and some known historical figure. I am not convinced that a young girl's body is that of Cleopatra's sister, because the arguments that it is are thin, and the evidence that it can't be rather compelling. I don't buy the identification of a portrait bust as Julius Caesar merely on the grounds that it looks a bit like other ones we have (though sufficiently unlike that a reason for this unlikeness has to be found).

So my first reaction when I heard that the rotating dining room of Nero's Golden House (Domus Aurea), as described by Suetonius (Life of Nero 31.2), had been found, was that of Mary Beard, to wonder if everyone had got carried away again.

But, on studying more closely the Associated Press report (here reposted on CLASSICS-L), and some good photographs, I have come to the conclusion that this is exactly what the archaeologists say it is.

For a start, the location suggests that it's part of Nero's Domus Aurea. The bit of this that tourists visit (when it's safe to be opened, which has been rare in recent years) is on the Oppian Hill, north-east of the Colosseum, the amphitheatre that Vespasian built on the site of the lake that formed the centrepiece of Nero's park.* But it's clear that this is just one part of the complex, a self-standing pavilion above the lake. The Golden House as a whole was probably many inter-linked buildings, and from Suetonius' account ranged from the Palatine Hill, where Domitian later built his palace, which still survives, across to the Esquiline Hill, of which the Oppian is the southern cusp. This new discovery comes from the eastern slopes of the Palatine. It seems pretty likely that a buried high-status building in that area would be part of the Domus Aurea.

Then there's what has actually be found. The chief feature of the room excavated is an enormous round brick-faced pillar, from the top of which buttresses emerge like spokes of a wheel. The pillar has a row of holes, that look like sockets for wooden beams. If that's the case, then this could be an enormous capstan, similar, if much larger, to what the Museum of London has driving their reconstruction of a Roman water wheel. [But see Edit below.]

It's very odd. Why would one need a room with a pillar in like this? To be honest, I find it hard to imagine what this could be for, if not for supporting a rotating platform above. Unfortunately, the photos don't show whether the pillar is bonded in to the floor, but I presume not.

It's certainly a better candidate for Nero's dining room than that previously advanced, the Octagonal Room in the Oppian pavilion. Until now, that's been as good a suggestion as any. But the trouble is, nothing in that room rotates, and one has to assume that there was a rotating false ceiling in the room. That there was a false ceiling seems probable, but that it rotated is not supported in the archaeology. And Suetonius says that the whole of the main dining room rotated, not just the ceiling.

cenationes laqueatae tabulis eburneis versatilibus, ut flores, fistulatis, ut unguenta desuper spargerentur; praecipua cenationum rotunda, quae perpetuo diebus ac noctibus vice mundi circumageretur

The dining rooms had pannelled ceilings, with versatile ivory slats, so that flowers could be showered from above, and pipes, so that the same could be done with perfume. The principal dining room was round, so that it might revolve perpetually, day and night, like the world.

Suetonius seems to be contrasting the ceilings of the other dining rooms with the whole of the main dining room. This would suggest that identifying the Octagonal Room with the main dining room is wrong, as the whole room can't possibly rotate (though it may well have had the ceiling devices Suetonius says the other dining rooms had). This hasn't stopped generations of scholars writing notes correcting Suetonius, and saying that it was only the ceiling that rotated (Robert Graves in his Penguin translation even adds the word 'roof' into Suetonius' text). But, though it is true that, by the time Suetonius wrote, all of the Golden House had been demolished or buried, he was much nearer the events, and in this case I think scholarship is wrong and the ancient source right.

So yes, I believe this one. And it's a fantastic piece of technology.

A final anecdote: a few years back, I was lucky enough to get in the Domus Aurea in the brief period between its reopening and its closing again. My partner and I were looking away from the remains of the building, out towards what once would have been the view down to the lake, but is now the under-vault of the Baths of Trajan. My partner asked me where the earth had come from that now filled Trajan's substructures. To my surprise, I realized that I was able to answer her. For the Baths of Trajan were built at the same time as the Forum of Trajan was being built a few hundred yards away. And for the latter, a hill was removed, the height of which is indicated by the height of Trajan's column. That earth had to go somewhere, and I think a lot of it must have ended up on top of the Oppian pavilion.

* As an aside, I've always been partial to the suggestion, made I think by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, that the part of Nero's Golden House was like the Royal Parks of London; owned by the monarch, but an area to which public access was granted by the grace of that monarch, rather than shut off from all public use.

Edit: I should say that I thinking aloud here. And also I am not an engineer. So I may not 100% know what I'm talking about. And so the notion of the giant capstan probably doesn't work. Moreover, it's not what the archaeologists are saying, as quoted in a comment on Mary Beard's blog. They are suggesting the the pillar supported a wooden rotating floor, and are waiting to look inside the pillar (presumably hoping to find that it acted as a sheath for the mechanism). I still think they've found what they say they've found.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I've just this week finished and sent off to Vector, the British Science Fiction Association's critical journal, a review of Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin. Almost immediately, a large online discussion of the novel, conducted by Niall Harrison, Adam Roberts, Abigail Nussbaum, Nic Clarke and Jo Coleman, has appeared, in four parts spread across four separate blogs:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

There are a couple of other links that will be relevant: Adam Roberts' original review on Strange Horizons, and another interesting discussion of the book by Andries du Toit.

Rather than respond on the individual blogs, I've chosen to write my response up here. I'm not going to print my review here, though inevitably my response to the discussion will end up covering some of the same ground. (But I've left aside, largely, my comments about Lavinia being a feminist novel, in giving a voice to a character pretty much treated in Virgil - if not so much in Livy - as a piece of meat.)

The problem with coming late to a book that has garnered almost universal praise is that one's expectations are set very high, so high, in fact, that usually the actuality cannot possibly meet them. As with Geoff Ryman's Air I was prepared for a transformative book, and as with Air, I was slightly disappointed when it turned out merely to be very good. (And that then leaves me wondering if the problem isn't simply that I'm too dumb to pick up on why the novel is so great ...)

has moments of brilliance. I love the function of the shield (something taken directly out of Virgil), and the way different people see different things in this, frankly impossible, object. I like the way Le Guin creates a Bronze Age Latium that has yet to fully anthropomorphize its gods, and how that interacts with the arrival of a Trojan culture that does (whether this actually represents how people in the Bronze Age thought about their gods is, I suspect, unknowable). But I agree with Abigail Nussbaum that the last third of the book isn't anything like as effective as the earlier bit. The earlier sections have a complex structure, akin to what Adam identifies as one of the strengths of the Aeneid. But then it becomes, as Abigail says, rather a straight narrative: 'this happened, then this happened ...'

There's some discussion about whether one needs to have read the Aeneid to appreciate Lavinia, and what is the effect if you haven't. Certainly, it's inescapable that this is a novel in dialogue with the Aeneid (or as Cheryl Morgan puts it, it's 'Virgil fanfic'), just as much as (so John Clute tells us) Greg Bear's City at the End of Time is in dialogue with William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land, or Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships is with Wells' The Time Machine. So yes, if one is not familiar with the Aeneid, part of the conversation will be missed. What interests me is that, where the source text lies within the sf canon, this is seen as less problematic than when the book lies outside science fiction. (Also, everybody should read the Aeneid anyway.) And one of the things I like about Lavinia is that Le Guin chooses to have that dialogue with the second part of the epic, rather than the better-known first half (escape from Troy, Dido, etc.).

Abigail comments that she finds the existential moments a bit heavy-handed. For me, those moments are one of the points of the novel. At its best, when Lavinia meets the spirit of Virgil in some timeless zone, this work seems to me to be a musing on the nature of fiction. Once our lives are written about, are they any longer our own? What is the nature of the relationship between the 'real person' and the person that exists in stories? Le Guin raises these questions, but doesn't answer them. Can anyone? It's this postmodernist metafiction that intrigues me most about the book. This doesn't get much coverage in the discussion, with Niall even suggesting that he thought Virgil could be removed. I think Virgil is what the novel is about (and du Toit seems to follow this line of thinking as well).

Is Lavinia a fantasy novel? Perhaps another question that can't be answered. What I note, however, is that it does not read like a typical heroic fantasy novel, translated into a Graeco-Roman (semi-)mythological context. There have been quite a few of these recently, such as David Gemmell's Troy trilogy, or Jo Graham's Black Ships. These are both, for the most part, historical novels, yet written in the idiom familiar from the quasi-mediaeval fantasy. This is not necessarily to knock these books - Gemmell's is quite an interesting treatment, Graham's less so. But Lavinia doesn't follow that road - in this it is perhaps more like Gene Wolfe's Soldier series, which works in a fantasy mode that owes little to the traditions of north-west Europe.

Cheryl makes an interesting comment about the gender roles portrayed, and the apparent hostility to gay men. There are several points to be made here: (1) To think of things in terms of 'gay men' is probably to impose twenty-first century categories on Bronze Age sexual behaviour; (2) a writer should never be held to the opinions of their characters; (3) Lavinia comes from a time when gender roles were different from how they are now, and in some ways quite rigid, and one shouldn't expect Le Guin to write her with more modern attitudes. That said, Le Guin's portrayal of Ascanius as a man who behaves in an unseemly fashion with his male lover, and grieves excessively after his death, whilst reflecting Roman attitudes to this sort of behaviour, does seem oddly hostile, and doesn't seem to be based on anything drawn from ancient sources (though I'm prepared to be proved wrong on this). I think Le Guin is turning on its head Roman legend that portrayed Lavinia as, in her later years, an evil crone that worked against her stepson, and is seeking a motivation for Ascanius.

All this discussion has made me think again about this novel, and want to reread it. Sadly, there are other things I must do.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Hadrian's Wall shout-out

Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie, presenters of my favourite music radio programme, are walking Hadrian's Wall this week. You can go here to find their Twitter photos, and links to the programmes they've broadcast so far (going back to Thursday, the day before they set off).

It's a shame that they did a lot of the really interesting bits of the Wall over the weekend, when they don't broadcast - by Sunday night they'd already got to Twice Brewed. But this is a product of them wanting to finish in Newcastle for their Thursday night show. They're also only giving themselves a week. I took slightly over two when I did it in 2006, but I wanted to give myself more time to see stuff around the Wall. What they are doing, which I also did when I went, is go west to east. This supposedly means the wind is at your back, but all the guidebooks are written as if you're going east to west, so it can get a bit confusing at time.

For my 50th birthday I have a plan to walk the whole of the frontier, not just Hadrian's Wall, starting in South Shields and ending in Ravenglass. That should be fun.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Publications news from me

One of the side-effects of my prolonged hiatus from this blog is that I've been quite bad about blowing my own trumpet. So, I didn't mention when my review of Greg Bear's City at the End of Time appeared. Nor did I blog the publication of a revision of my piece on Claudius and Nero and the imperial succession.

In fact, 2009 has seemed more a year of abandoning, or at least postponing, projects rather than bringing them to fruition. So it's nice to be reminded that I have actually managed to finish some things this year. One such popped through the letterbox last week. The new issue of the British Science Fiction Association's critical journal, Vector, contains two pieces that at least partly came from me. One is a piece on the way fantasy author Hal Duncan intertwines Greek tragedy into his novels Vellum and Ink. I'm quite pleased with this piece, as is Niall Harrison, the editor, though it's probably not theoretical enough for some. There's also an interview with Duncan conducted by me. When I was transcribing this (which I will never do again - far too time-consuming), I thought that I had asked sensible questions, which rather decided me to choose myself to interview Ian McDonald when he comes to the BSFA London meeting in October.

This issue of Vector has other stuff, of course. Most interesting for the readers of this blog, perhaps, is a piece by Paul Kincaid on the novels of Robert Holdstock, including Holdstock's recent Merlin Codex series, in which Jason and Medea are central characters.

Now, off to finish a few more projects.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Blogging against racism

This week is International Blog Against Racism Week. I'd first like to point to a couple of sensible and interesting posts that I've seen. Mary Robinette Kowal makes some salient points about why we should all care. The History News Network has a post about how the Obama administration is overlooking issues of race, and pointing out that Obama's election does not mean, as some commentators said at the time, that Martin Luther King's dream has been fulfilled, and racism is a thing of the past (which I never believed in the first place). And there's an excellent post by Ika Willis at Now and Rome. I don't want to address Ika's post directly - you should go and read it instead - but it inspired the following.

In the early part of this year, there was a great debate in the science fiction fan/online community, which has gained the name of RaceFail 09. I didn't get involved, as I was busy with other things, and by the time I became aware of it, there was a great deal of discussion, and I felt unable to comment fairly. I'm not really going to engage with the core argument here either (there's a starting point with links here if you want to find out more). What I want to write about, at the risk of starting up an emotive debate that has gone quiet, is what I learnt from RaceFail, how I have changed my way of thinking as a result.

I was brought up in a liberal tradition, one of the core values of which is that one has to be fair to everyone. If one sees someone being attacked unfairly, especially if it is a friend, one wants to defend them - indeed, one can sometimes feel obliged to do so. What I now understand better is how that approach can look to someone from an oppressed minority (and whilst this post is about racism, much of what I say applies equally in terms of sexism). If I leap in to defend a white friend from what I perceive to be an attack made by a person of colour, untempered by any awareness of my own white (and male) privilege, it looks like the whites closing ranks. Suggesting that a polite and respectful tone be employed looks like white folks finding ways of shutting up uppity POCs. [Edit, 03/08/09: Ika Willis points out below that this looks like white folks finding ways of shutting up uppity POCs because it is white folks finding ways of shutting up uppity POCs.]

It's that lack of awareness of privilege which is the problem. A lot of the problem of RaceFail (and I may be wrong here, and if so, I apologize) seemed to be people getting very upset about having their behaviour described as racist. The response (and I may be caricaturing here, so again I apologize) was often "I am not and never have been a racist, and how dare you call me one!" What has happened here, I think, is the polarization of the term "racist", such that it is assumed to refer only to hooded KKK types with burning crosses and lynchings. Most white people reject that position, and are proud of dealing with people in a wholly colourblind fashion. Before RaceFail, this a view I'd have signed up to myself.

Which is all well and to the good, at least on the surface. But dig a little deeper, and I think that it's a bit naive and self-deluding. Sure, we may not go along with the British National Party's wearisome nonsense about English whites being discriminated against in their own country. But that doesn't mean that we're not capable of unthinking racism. Indeed, given that we whites (especially educated elite whites) are brought up in an implicitly racist society, whose wealth is at least partially based on profits made out of the eighteenth-century slave trade, it would be a miracle if any one of us were wholly devoid of some racist attitudes.

Here are three examples. When watching the 2006 television adaptation of Ruby in the Smoke, I remember being surprised that one role, apparently of a Victorian gentleman, was played by a black actor. My natural assumption was that Victorian gentlemen were white. I don't think that's based on exhaustive research into the period, but on the way the period has been portrayed in the culture to which I've been exposed. It is therefore a racist assumption.

Second example - my first reaction on hearing the rumour that Patterson Joseph would be the next Doctor was to think that there was something not right about that. Fortunately, I rapidly changed my mind, and realized that there was no good (i.e. non-racist) reason to object to this casting, and indeed that it was an idea whose time had more than come (and I now think it's a shame that this isn't what actually happened). But my first response was a racist one.

Finally, by coincidence, yesterday I read the section of Farah Mendlesohn & Edward James, A Short History of Fantasy, that deals with Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea novels, where the point is made that the central character, Ged, is a person of colour, but that readers hardly ever notice this. I am among those readers. Intellectually I know better, and have for some years, but this is not what I saw in my mind when I first read the novel (influenced by various covers, and illustrations for a reading of the story on Jackanory, none of which made Ged's skin colour clear), and even now it is hard for me to imagine Ged as non-white.

Now, I don't think it makes me an evil person that I have these responses. I think it just means that I'm a product of my environment. And I think it's a good thing that I recognize these responses for what they are, and reject them as guidance for my conscious actions. But it does mean that I cannot claim that I am entirely devoid of racism, and I would be a fool if I asserted that there are not responses that I do not recognize as such.

It is only through awareness, acknowledgment and addressing of our own failings in this respect that we can progress. Of course, behaving in a colourblind fashion is an ideal to which we should all aspire. But behaving in a colourblind fashion in a society which is not itself colourblind can contribute to the problem as much as to the solution. It encourages the notion that racism is in the past, and that we no longer need anti-racist legal measures (an argument often put forward by those who wish to reassert white privilege). But whilst Obama in the White House shows that things have improved, it does not demonstrate that there is no further room for improvement. This is a process that I don't expect to be completed in my lifetime, or for that matter, in the millennium.

So where does that leave the liberal concept of being fair to everyone? Still there, but slightly modified. I'm certainly not advocating placing POCs on a pedestal where their colour makes them immune from criticism. If anti-racism is about anything, it is about trying where possible to disregard race and treat someone as a human being.* (This is the mistake the Republicans made when appointing Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate - they assumed that feminists would support her because she was a woman, whereas what feminism is about, in my view at least, is disregarding the fact that someone is a woman, and assessing them as a person, on which assessment Palin came up short for many.) Human beings are sometimes wrong and sometimes unfair, and it is legitimate to call them out for it when they are. But if one is engaging as a privileged white with a POC on these grounds, one must be aware of one's own privilege. Because if one isn't, then the fairness one aspires to is spurious, because it doesn't take the full picture into account.

* And I know I've said that's not always possible, and sometimes counter-productive. Life is complicated. Get over it. [Edit, 03/08/09: an anonymous commentator rightly points out that talking about 'disregarding' race is not actually helpful. Given what I said about the colourblind approach, I should have seen this myself.]

Friday, July 24, 2009

Further things I've seen

Carnivalesque, the pre-modern history carnival, is searching for a host for August (ancient/mediaeval). Contact carnivalesque AT earlymodernweb DOT org DOT uk if you're interested. Now sorted.

Also, I saw another CFP on Wormtalk and Slugspeed:

We are issuing a call for papers for a proposed volume of scholarly essays on J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Papers should address any aspect of the work, but the editors are especially interested in works which make connections among disciplines, demonstrating the richness of the trilogy as well as its continuing widespread appeal.
Papers should be between 20 - 30 pages, note key words, and include a 250 word abstract.

The deadline for papers is 15 September 2009; decisions will be announced by 1 November 2009.

Papers should be submitted to
Prof. Kathleen Dubs
Angol Intézet
Pázmány Péter Katolikus Egyetem
2087 Piliscsaba
Egyetem utca 1.
kedubs AT axelero DOT hu

Dr. Janka Kaščáková
Katedra Anglického Jayzka A Literatury
Katolícka Univerzita v Ružomberku
Hrabovská cesta 1
023 01 Ružomberok
janka.kascakova AT fphil DOT ku DOT sk

CFP: Antiquity in Film – Gender on Screen

The following just popped into my inbox. Unfortunately, I'm trying to shed projects at the moment rather than add new ones, and I don't think I can afford the time or money to go to Berlin, so I shan't be doing an abstract myself; but it looks very interesting, and there might be people reading this who would want to be aware of it.


Call for Papers

Conference: “Antiquity in Film – Gender on Screen”
December 10-12 2009 at the Freie Universitaet, Berlin, Germany

Contact: AntikfilmGender AT gmx DOT de

Prof. Dr. Almut-Barbara Renger
Department of History and Cultural Sciences
Institute for Religious Studies
Chair in Ancient Religion, Culture and the History of their Reception
Gosslerstr. 2-4, 14195 Berlin

This conference shall explore reception(s) of antiquity in film – from the silent era through to sound film and to present-day blockbusters. Film adaptations of ancient figures and material and what they have to say about the present, about culture and society will be examined in light of the specific significance of gender. Aside from the return of antiquity in cinema, we can also see an increasing interest in antiquity on television, in the form of miniseries or fantasy series.
“Gender” here is an analytic category that will serve as our methodological basis. This thus assumes that “femininity” and “masculinity” are not biologically determined, transhistorical constants. As this project is based primarily on the body and sexuality and their representations and reproductions in film, they will be examined as parts of gender constructs in the sense of nature as cultural text.
Approaches in recent film and gender theory look at the performance and negotiation not only of gender, but also of cultural background and national identities, using concepts such as “bricolage” to bring their various facets in contemporary film into sharper focus. The body’s boundaries and the transgression of these boundaries, e.g. in scenes of excessive violence, are often dominant motifs. In the last few years, the literature of antiquity has been adapted to film and turned into blockbuster Hollywood films, yet this has rarely been discussed. It is therefore all the more important to examine the significance of these films and their socio-political function, and thus develop interpretations that reach beyond what has been considered analytical common sense for the past several years.
To date, a few Classics scholars have written articles dealing with this topic area. These have touched on the historical figure of Cleopatra as film heroine and symbol of oriental culture, and the mythical figure of Helen in film history, as well as the connection between gender on one hand and domination, barbarism and slavery on the other. With this in mind, we will also look at gendered codes of representations of state sovereignty, (post-) colonial power relations and expressions of cultural superiority.
The goal of this conference is to attract papers that demonstrate to what degree the representations – constructions, destructions and reconstructions – of gender and gender roles have changed along with the changes in film (and societal structures).

We particularly welcome projects from the following fields:
– History, Classics and Modern Languages and Literature
– Cultural Studies, Religious Studies
– Theatre, Film and Media Studies, Art History
– Philosophy, Theology and Political Science

In addition to issues in gender theory, we also want to address:
– analyses of films based on media theories
– the Production Code, a mode of self-censorship current in film studios as a response to pressures from social and religious lobbyists
– the effects of the Cold War and the end of it on antiquity in film
– new approaches in Gender Studies such as Postcolonial Theory, Critical Orientalism and Critical Racism

We aim to publish representative results of the conference’s profile in an anthology.
Abstracts should not exceed 1 page and should be submitted together with a short biography of a few lines by 1 August 2009.

We are looking forward to an inspiring conference and lively discussion!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Predictive dreams, or why many historical novels are science fiction really

This is the first of a couple of planned blog posts that fall out of the Asterisks and Obelisks conference I went to earlier this month, and that got me all enthused for writing blog posts again (and maybe even, God help you all, fiction).

Anyway, one of the invited speakers at the conference was Caroline Lawrence, author of the Roman Mysteries series (I confess to being not too familiar with her books, though I've seen a couple of the tv adaptations). In her talk, she mentioned that in one of the later novels, a character dreams of his future. This got the interest of Juliette Harrisson*, as she's interested in dreams (I think it's her thesis topic, though I'm sure she'll put me straight on that). Which in turn led to a conversation about how prophetic dreams and other sorts of accurate prophecy still occur in historical novels set in the ancient world.

Dreams are, of course, an important feature in ancient literature. Zeus sends a lying dream to Agamemnon in Book 2 of the Iliad. In Aeschylus' Persians, Atossa, Queen of Persia, has a symbolic dream demonstrating that Asia and Greece can never be joined together in one empire. And, of course, Cassandra is the ultimate prophetess, always right, but never believed (I always wondered about that - you'd have thought that someone might notice her 100% accuracy rate ...). There are dreams to be found in Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Accurate predictive dreams are also found in historiography. Herodotus has them (note the symbolic dreams in Book 1 predicting Cyrus the Great's conquest of Asia). This continues into Roman and Romano-Christian writings; in particular, Lactantius' account of a dream that instructs Constantine to fight under the sign of Jesus Christ (presumably promising victory, though Lactantius is not explicit). The Old and New Testaments also have prophetic and symbolic dreams (e.g. the vision of Jacob's ladder in Genesis, or Peter's dream encouraging him to preach to the Gentiles in Acts).

This, however, is not the place for a study of dreams in Graeco-Roman literature, of which there is at least one book-length study, and no doubt more. What I'm interested in here is the persistence of the prophetic dream, and other forms of accurate prophecy, in modern historical novels.

On one level, it seems slightly odd. Post-Enlightenment, 'realism' has become the dominant mode of the novel, and accurate prophetic dreams fall very much into the mode of the fantastic. Yet they are still to be found. Robert Graves' I, Claudius, for instance, begins with a sybilline prophecy, which not only predicts the length of the reign of Claudius, but also in which century his autobiography shall be rediscovered and published. This is picked up in the television version, where, in the final episode, Claudius has a turn in the Senate and allusively names both Graves and Jack Pullman, the adapter of the novel for the screen. A similarly prophetic Sybil is to be found in Sophia McDougall's alternate history novel Romanitas.

Why is this? It's one thing to have characters in a novel who, because of the religious and cultural background, believe in the power of prophecy and dreams. It would be perfectly within the parameters of a realist novel for Claudius to report a prophecy of events from a perspective of writing after the prophesied events have taken place (Claudius is, after all, not necessarily a wholly reliable narrator). It's quite another for the reported prophecy to relate to events that the novel's readership know, because they have happened, but which happen millennia after Claudius' death.

I wonder if it is because the notion of prophecy is hardwired into the ancient-set novel right from its origins in the Roman imperial period. Of course, the best-known of the Greek and Latin novels, Apuleius' Metamorphoses (also known as The Golden Ass), is very much in the fantastic mode. But prophecy is also found elsewhere in the ancient novel. The troubles ahead for the lead characters in the Ephesiaka of Xenophon are accurately predicted by a soothsayer, and predictive dreams feature in Achilles Tatius.

A special case for the modern ancient historical novel are those works dealing with the Trojan War. As has been observed by many, modern retellings of the matter of Troy tend to eliminate most elements of the fantastic, removing the gods from the field of play, and turning the mythological narrative of Homer into a historical novel. But one element of the fantastic often still survives; Cassandra's predictions of the fall of Troy, either through dreams or another method of prophecy. This is the case for David Gemmell's Troy trilogy. It is also the case for Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze, and also for the Doctor Who story The Myth Makers, where otherwise the only fantastic element is the TARDIS crew.

What I don't know about is prophetic dreams in other historical novels. I don't remember anything, for instance, in the mediaeval novels of Jean Plaidy, which I read a lot of in my youth. Are there, indeed, prophetic dreams in mediaeval historiography? Or what about the novels of Dickens, a man certainly open to the possibilities of the fantastic (e.g. A Christmas Carol)? Are there dreams in any of the other novels.

Please leave any further examples you can think of in comments, and I will add them in edits.

* Yes, that is how she spells her name. I've been misspelling more traditional Harrisons for the past couple of weeks.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The end of the school visit? Hardly.

Today there has been a lot of discussion in the papers about authors declaring that they will boycott school visits if new regulations are brought in. You can read it about it in The Times, The Guardian and The Independent. What the authors, who include the likes of Philip Pullman and Anthony Horowitz, say, is that the new Vetting and Barring Scheme will require them to pay £64 to register themselves on a database and undergo a check that they are not a danger to children, should they want to do any school visit. This is, apparently, demeaning, and why should authors have to prove that they are not paedophiles?

There's a lot of hyperbolic outrage here. One is tempted to suggest that some people should get over themselves. What, after all, is more important - protecting an author from being affronted that somebody might want to check that they are not a danger to children before allowing them to work closely with them, or protecting children from people who might be a threat? Pullman mentions authors who depend on the income from school visits, who would now lose that money - but if the income is that important, I'd expect them to stump up the £64. Anthony Browne's views seem rather less hysterical.

However, there are implications here, not just for writers, but for people like me. Last October I gave a talk to my niece's primary school about Romans. In November I gave a talk in a school in Oxford. I was scheduled to do another schools conference in May (though that fell through), and have an invitation to go to another school sometime in the autumn. At no point did anyone mention that I might need a Criminal Records Bureau check before doing that. Today's stories would suggest that this is no longer the case, which has implications not just for me, but for any university doing Outreach activities in schools.

The thing is, the story's broadly not true. Because I'm the sort of person who likes to back his opinions up with evidence, I went on to the website of the Independent Safeguard Authority. Several pages have interesting things to say. This page, for instance, says "In England and Wales, the requirement to refer and criteria for referrals remain the same from 20 January 2009. From 13 March 2009, the requirement to refer and the criteria for referral are unchanged in Northern Ireland." To me, that implies that no-one who didn't need registering before will need registering now. This page talks about what constitutes regulated or controlled activity, and talks a lot about frequent or intensive activity. I wouldn't immediately interpret that as applying to a single visit into a school supervised by a teacher.

Finally, the BBC story carries an official refutation of the authors' position. It's a bit buried, and the story gives more weight to the authors' point of view. But the Department of Children, Schools and Families say that the regulations have been misinterpreted. They only apply to someone who goes into schools more than once a month (the official definition of 'frequent'). Moreover, they say, "visitors to schools, even if they are supervised by a teacher at all times, are being placed in a unique position of trust where they can easily become deeply liked and trusted by pupils. We therefore need to be sure that this trust is well placed in case pupils bump into them out of school where a teacher is not present." From which I infer that the intention of the regulations is that only people who go more than once a month into the same school need register. That, to me, would eliminate most authors from needing to register, and it certainly means I don't need to worry. Some Outreach programmes may have to be careful, but even then, it is also the case that if someone isn't being paid for the visit, then, whilst they need to be registered, they don't have to pay for it.

So in the end, this story appears to be a bunch of authors getting the wrong end of the stick and then getting rather overly upset about it, exacerbated by journalism that could have been rather more through. None of the newspaper sites mention what is on the ISA's website. Instead, they chose to print what the authors said without question. Because that makes a better story ...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Random playing of the Classical Receptions card

Just watching the end of Fire Down Below (Robert Parrish, 1957), and I note that the ship that Jack Lemmon gets trapped in towards the end is called the Ulysses. Not sure that this is particularly significant ...

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Readers (if there are any left) forgive me, for I have sinned ...

... it has been nearly four months since I last posted anything here. As ever, in the middle of the year, other things appear which are more urgent, like teaching, and trying to finish research papers, and my spare time for anything else decreases dramatically. So apologies if I have not given full coverage to everything I should have this year. In particular, I owe an apology to Hugh Viney, director of this year's UCL Classics Play, who was expecting a review to appear here sometime. A full review, I am afraid, is not going to happen now. Which I do feel bad about, as it was an excellent production, with exactly the right level of irreverence towards text and audience. In particular, the use of music meant that this was one of the most imaginative Frog choruses that I've seen. I really enjoyed it, and I should have said so before now.

However, my blog has now been mentioned in CA News, in relation to my taking over as editor of that publication. So I probably need to provide some content again.

Right now I'm taking advantage of the Internet facilities at the University of Wales, Lampeter, where I'm attending a convention of Classical receptions in Children's literature. It's been an interesting conference so far - I particularly enjoyed a session this morning on fiction set in Roman Britain, which will help me finesse my own views on the tensions inherent in writing about the Roman occupation (basically, which side is the reader on, the Britons or the Romans?). My own paper went okay. I was talking about the Roman empire in the boys' adventure comic. I hadn't had time to do all the research I wanted to, but when I came to write the piece I realized that anything more than a short introduction to the subject wasn't possible in twenty minutes anyway. I may report again after the end of the conference.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Some liberties have been taken with Cleopatra

One of my friends likened Neil Oliver to Michael Wood. Both have that same handsome (dare I say, sexy) archaeologist vibe going on. But there is one crucial difference. Wood almost always writes his own material. Oliver very often doesn't. This is important. If you speak your own words, you can ensure that what you say is what you want to say (Marc Morris, who lives just round the corner from me, wrote a very sensible article about this). Act as a mouthpiece, and you are at the mercy of a script concocted by a committee of researchers, producers and executives, some or all of whom may put sensationalism, not confusing the viewer and 'telling a good story' before actual adherence to facts and rules of evidence.

Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer (and yes, I know you've got less than twelve hours to watch this - I should have posted this last week - but if you have HD it's on again on April 6th) was, I regret to say, a particularly bad example. Towards the end, the programme was full of assertions such as "experts are now convinced", "archaeologists believe", and "beyond doubt", with reference to their theory that the bones of Cleopatra VII's sister Arsinoë have been found in Ephesus. But one has to point out that not all experts are convinced. And I would hope that anyone who was trained in evaluating evidence would see how tissue-thin was the argument presented here.

The programme had two threads. One looked at the relations of Cleopatra with her siblings, portraying her as a murderer. I don't have much to say about this, which didn't have anything significantly new. Anyone who's seen the 1963 Liz Taylor Cleopatra will know that Cleopatra didn't get on with her older brother. The only point worth commenting on is the programme's assertion that Cleopatra's actions resulted in the wiping out of her father's line. In fact, Cleopatra had a daughter by Mark Antony who grew to adulthood. She did not rule in Egypt, but was married to a king a Mauretania, and her son ruled in Mauretania until AD 40, when he was killed by another descendant of Antony, the emperor Gaius.

I will address here the issue of the identification of a body buried in Ephesus with Cleopatra's younger sister Arsinoë. This suggestion was first made by Hilke Thür in 1990, in an article which I have not read and is not online ("Arsinoë IV, eine Schwester Kleopatras VII, Grabinhaberin des Oktogons von Ephesos? Ein Vorschlag", Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts, vol. 60, 1990, pp.43–56). At this point the argument was presumably based entirely around the Octagon tomb from Ephesus, so I will tackle that first.

The tomb dates to the middle of the first century BC. It is ornate, and, unusually, positioned within the city boundaries. This indicates that whoever was buried there was an important figure. The most prominent person known to have died in Ephesus at this period was Arsinoë, killed in 41 BC in Ephesus on the orders of Antony, at the request of Cleopatra. The tomb is decorated with carved papyrus leaves, indicating Egyptian influence on the iconography. It was in octagonal, which is interpreted as a reference to the octagonal Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria. All these are taken as further support of the identification of the tomb's occupant with Arsinoë.

As I said, I haven't read the article, so I don't know how Thür addresses the questions I'm going to raise now. I can only speak about the original programme, which overlooked them.

First of all, why should the occupant of the tomb be someone otherwise known to us? It's a very antiquarian approach to link archaeological evidence with names from the historical record, but it's not often sound unless the archaeological evidence is unequivocal. There are cases where that applies. The tomb of Gaius Julius Classicianus from London, for instance, is almost certainly that of the man mentioned in Tacitus' Annals (but even that was only true once the part of the inscription that named him as Procurator of Britain was found). But the Octagon tomb itself (leaving aside the evidence from the body, which I will get to later) provides no such firm evidence. The presence of clearly Egyptian iconography on the tomb, in the form of papyrus leaves, proves nothing about the ethnicity of the occupant. Egyptian iconography is found on tombs all over the Mediterranean (for example, in a tomb from the early second century BC from Thugga in Numidia). In the latter part of the first century BC there was a particular trend for Egyptianizing monuments, such as the pyramid-shaped tomb of Gaius Cestius in Rome.

As for the alleged reference to the Pharos in the tomb, the programme never addresses the basic question of 'why?' The Pharos is stated to be both symbol of Arsinoë's greatest victory, when she drove Caesar's forces out of the Pharos, and of her greatest humiliation, when a model of the Pharos was carried in Caesar's triumph at Rome, where Arsinoë was exhibited as a prisoner of war. Which is it supposed to be for the Octagon? If an emblem of her humiliation, thus indicating that the tomb was created by her enemies, why allow her to have a rich ornate tomb at all? If the tomb was the work of Arsinoë's friends, would they be allowed to have such an overt reference to her triumph over Roman forces in a city in a Roman province, ruled over by the man who had ordered her death?

Of course, if the forensic evidence can prove that this is Arsinoë, these questions become curiosities. But can it? Let's look at this passage from The Times:

Fabian Kanz, an anthropologist, was sceptical when he began this task two years ago. “We tried to exclude her from being Arsinöe [sic],” he said. “We used all the methods we have to find anything that can say, ‘Okay, this can’t be Arsinöe because of this and this.’”

After using carbon dating, which dated the skeleton from 200 BC-20 BC, Kanz, who had examined more than 500 other skeletons taken from the ruins of Ephesus, found Thür’s theory gained credibility.

He said he was certain the bones were female and placed the age of the woman at 15-18. Although Arsinöe’s date of birth is not known, she was certainly younger than Cleopatra, who was about 27 at the time of her sister’s demise.

The lack of any sign of illness or malnutrition also indicated a sudden death, said Kanz. Evidence of the skeleton’s north African ethnicity provided the final clue.

We'll leave aside the ethnicity issue, as that's a circular argument (this body has North African ancestry, therefore it's likely to be Arsinoë, therefore Arsinoë's family were of North African ancestry). As for the other arguments: the body is female - so was Arsinoë; the dead woman was young - so was Arsinoë; she was slim - so might have been Arsinoë (tenuously argued on the basis that her sister got herself smuggled into Caesar's quarters in a bag); the body is carbon-dated to a range the lower end of which covers the date of Arsinoë's death; the dead woman had had not had a physically hard life - neither had Arsinoë; the woman died suddenly, and not from any disease - such was Arsinoë's fate.

All these arguments seem to indicate that the body could be Arsinoë. But none of them conclusively prove that the body is Arsinoë - the description could possibly cover dozens of young women from the first century BC.

Moreover, I think that the forensic evidence as presented rather points away from the body being Arsinoë. The age is given in the programme as 15-17, possibly 18. With a death date of 41 BC, that would mean that she was born between 59 and 55 BC. This would mean, at the time of the Alexandrian War in 48 BC, she was between 8 and 11.

Yet Arsinoë played an active role in this war. It's generally considered that she was older than her brother, Ptolemy XIII, who is constantly said to have had all his decisions made for him by his advisors. He is known to have been thirteen in 48 BC. (There's a good summation of the issues here.) Certainly the dramatic reconstruction in the programme takes the line that Arsinoë was, if young, older than her brother, and so at least fourteen in 48 BC. That would make her a minimum of twenty-one when she died, older than the forensic evidence allows. (It's always a bad sign when a programme doesn't notice that it's contradicting itself.)

So, to me, the identification of the body with Arsinoë can only be accepted if one fudges both the forensic evidence for the body, stretching it to the top of the age range, and the historical evidence for Arsinoë's age. This is at least one fudge too much for me, and I must conclude that, whilst it's not completely impossible, the evidence makes it very unlikely that this body belongs to Cleopatra's sister.

Given that, the issue that got highlighted in a lot of the coverage, that this skeleton demonstrated that Cleopatra had North African ancestry, becomes irrelevant. There were a lot of caveats anyway; for a start, the forensic study of the skull, as reconstructed from photos taken in the 1920s, only suggested that there were possible indications of North African ancestry in the body, not that this was definite, and also we don't know who the mother of either Cleopatra or Arsinoë was (complicated by the fact that Cleopatra V, most likely candidate to be mother of both, disappears from the historical record about the time of Cleopatra VII's birth), so they might not have been full sisters (though they probably were). But these become moot points if this body is not Arsinoë.

Lest I be accused of Eurocentrically trying to prove that Cleopatra VII was pure-white European, I should add that none of the above proves that Cleopatra did not have North African ancestry. Given the poor state of the sources about the parentage of various Ptolemaic figures, it's not impossible that there was some local blood in her veins (though I would be very careful about eliding the possibility of North African ancestry into a possibility of ancestry from sub-Saharan Africa, which is a different and less likely issue), even if predominantly they considered themselves as belonging to Macedonian Greek culture (Cleopatra was reputedly the first to actually learn the Egyptian language). But this body from Ephesus is emphatically not the conclusive evidence for this theory that this programme alleges it to be.

Meanwhile, over at BBC4, where they still consider that their audiences can think, Waldemar Januszczak's series Baroque! takes an audience through his material without the need from drama-documentary, and not trying to assert that his view is shared by everyone (indeed, he spends a fair time making oblique by identifiable criticisms of Simon Schama's Power of Art). Of course, I don't know the material so well, and it may be that this programme is as weak as Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer. But I don't think so.

Edit 31/03/09: Rogueclassicism links to an abstract from the forensic team that opens: "Arsinoe IV of Egypt, the younger sister of Cleopatra, was murdered between the ages of 16 and 18 on the order of Marc Antony in 41 BC while living in political asylum at the Artemision in Ephesus (Turkey)." Looks fine, doesn't it? Arsinoë was murdered between 16 and 18, the body is aged between 15 and 18, therefore it all fits. Except that there is nothing in the sources to say how old Arsinoë was when she died. The only reason for assuming that age is because it fits with the age of the skeleton. This is a circular argument.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Afternoon Play

A quick mention of BBC Radio 4's Afternoon Play from Monday, an adaptation by Salley Vickers of her own novel, Where Three Roads Meet, a retelling of the Oedipus story from the Canongate Myth series. It wasn't publicized much, but it's worth catching. You have until next Monday afternoon to listen to it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

University Challenge

I've been a fan of University Challenge for ages. It's something of a Monday night ritual, to try to answer the starter questions before the contestants do, to shout at the students as they struggle to come up with an answer that is, to me, blatantly obvious. But this year's competition has something a little extra. Not since the OU won in 1999, prompting accusations from some quarters that it was unfair, because the OU students were so much more experienced, have I known the programme to get so much press coverage.

The reason is the team from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and their captain, Gail Trimble. There's an article in Sunday's Observer all about her.

And she (and her team) are very good. They trounced Exeter in the quarter-finals 350 points to 15, the lowest losing score since 1972, and a lot of that was down to Trimble answering starter questions (it was also partly due to Exeter panicking towards the end, and interrupting with incorrect answers, thus incurring penalties). After that, I expected them to be series winners without much difficulty. (Though this is a view I've slightly revised - I'll return to this later.)

There are noteworthy things about the press and blog coverage. Leaving aside comments on her attractiveness, which really is neither here nor there, I find it interesting that the Observer article focuses on her cleverness and breadth of knowledge. To me, that's not what makes her such a good University Challenge contestant. It isn't just that she knows the right answer so often. I'm sure others on her team and their opponents also know the right answer (even poor Exeter, who after all had beaten two other teams to get to the quarter-finals). What sets Trimble apart is her self-confidence - she doesn't just know the right answer, she knows that she knows the right answer, and so doesn't hesitate to buzz in. She gets her points not so much through knowing things, but through getting in first. I wonder if the reason this isn't played up is because the media is much happier praising women for their cleverness than for their assertiveness. The comments that focus on the latter quality are the negative ones, the ones that label her as 'cocky' (comments often flavoured with a good old dollop of rampant British anti-intellectualism, also manifested in a piece in The Sun where she failed to know the answers to the sort of questions that Sun journalists think are important, such as who won Celebrity Big Brother or who the 13-year old father splashed all over the tabloids was).

Of course, as a Classicist, I find it intriguing that Trimble is reading for a D.Phil. in Latin literature, and that one of her colleagues, Lauren Schwartzmann, is reading for a D.Phil. in Ancient History. These are people who I'm quite likely to encounter at conferences in the future.*

The Classics angle leads me to mention a comment of Jeremy Paxman's highlighted in the Observer piece. He said at one point in the quarter-final (and I remember it) "You're laughing because they're so easy". In the Observer this is made out to be a general comment on Trimble's cleverness. But the remark was made in the context of a bonus round, and whilst I can't recall the exact topic, I do know that it was Classics-based. Corpus certainly used to have a reputation for being one of the best Oxford Colleges for Classics, and this team, as well as the D.Phil.s, also has an undergraduate doing Ancient and Modern History. If a Corpus team like that can't sail through a Classics-based bonus round, there's something wrong with the world. Trimble was laughing because her team had just been gifted 15 points (as they were in the semi-final where they had to give the meaning of phrases from Horace), and Paxman knew it.

Finally, in all the focus on Trimble, one thing has been overlooked - their opponents in the final, the University of Manchester. Because they are also very good. They went through the first two rounds with scores of 285 to 70, 280 to 80, and if they wobbled against LSE in the quarter-finals, with a score of 210 to 165, they then beat Lincoln College, Oxford 345 to 30. Corpus only managed 260 to St John's Cambridge's score of 160, and Trimble's own performance was a notch less effective in the semis than in the quarter-final. The assumption of some commentators that Corpus are bound to beat Manchester seems, if not wholly unfounded, at least premature.

I think tonight's final could be very close and hard-fought (or could have been - I believe it's pre-recorded, so presumably Trimble and her teammates already know whether they've won or not). I shall certainly be watching. And, because it is, after all, my old institution, I shall be rooting for Manchester. Sorry, Corpus.

* I'm doubly interested, because she's done a paper on Catullus 64 and C.S. Lewis' Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which sits close to my own research interests.

Edit at 20:47:Corpus 275, Manchester 190. Well, I think I called that about right. I'd said in a comment I'd left on one of the Guardian web pages that I expected a close and hard-fought contest between two well-matched teams, in which Corpus possibly would have a slight edge. and so it proved. It was much closer than many people had predicted, with Manchester still in the lead until after the second picture round.

And despite the way the Guardian is already spinning it, it wasn't Gail Trimble's single-handed victory. Only once they actually got into the lead, did Trimble, in the last five minutes or so, suddenly start performing the way she had in the previous rounds. Up until then, it was her teammates who were getting the starters, and they as much as she deserve the credit for keeping Corpus in the match and the last-quarter overtaking of Manchester's lead.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dr Who Call for papers

The Unsilent Library: Adventures in new Doctor Who

Published by the Science Fiction Foundation
edited by Simon Bradshaw, Antony Keen, and Graham Sleight

The Science Fiction Foundation, which has published a number of books on sf (including The Parliament of Dreams: Conferring on Babylon 5 and Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature) is now seeking contributions for a new book, proposed for publication in 2010, on Doctor Who. This book will focus on the series' revival since 2005. Contributions are invited on all aspects of the new series, including its scripting, production, and reception, as well as links to the "classic" series. A variety of critical approaches/viewpoints will be encouraged.

Potential authors are asked to submit brief proposals (max. 250 words) for chapters by 1st March 2009. Final chapters (max. 6,000 words) will be due by 1st August 2009. Please send proposals to

Contributions should follow the style guide at

Please pass on to anyone else who might be interested.

(You can blame me for the title.)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A history of Scotland

A new year, a new blog post (maybe I'll keep it up this year), and a new documentary series on the BBC.

A couple of years ago, the last broadcast took place on the BBC of an Open University course programme. A few people nostalgically bewailed the loss of those late-night programmes, but the truth is they had long since ceased to meet the needs of students. The spread of video and DVD machines made it more appropriate to supply materials to students directly, which could be tailored to the appropriate length for the material concerned, rather than expecting students to watch the television broadcasts. Most courses had been delivering their material that way for years.

Some people felt that the end of broadcasts meant the loss of tasters for the OU that would pull people into doing their courses. But in fact, this event did not represent the end of the OU's relationship with the BBC - instead the OU has developed this partnership, and is now more visible on prime-time television than ever before. The OU had recognized, and quite rightly, that a better way of pulling in the punters is popular documentary shows that won't just be seen by insomniacs.

The OU has gone into partnership with the BBC on recognized brands such as Timewatch and The Money Programme, and developed new series. Coast is a product of this.

And now, Coast's lead presenter, Neil Oliver, brings us A History of Scotland.* Its title aligns it with common academic practice. It's a history of Scotland - other histories can be told. There are a lot of good signs - Oliver proclaims from the start that he intends to demythologize Scotland's history, and so he does with Calgacus and Saint Columba, both figures we are told about by writers who had their own agendas, and are not necessarily to be relied upon. The recognition of academic debate, such as when he acknowledges (though rejects) a recent trend to re-evaluate the Vikings, is also good.

But I worry when he states categorically that Calgacus survived the battle of Mons Graupius (actually, we just aren't told one way or the other, and I've seen it just as confidently asserted that he died), suggests that the Caledonians/Picts "helped drive the Romans out of Britain" as mythologized an interpretation of the end of Roman Britain as anything he rejects, or whitewashes the Antonine Wall out of the story of Roman Scotland altogether. And on the periods I don't really know, he asserts that the battle of Brunanburh took place on the Wirral - yet this is only one possibility for a vaguely located battle, and other suggestions, such as Bamburgh in Northumberland, have been made, and may be more plausible (other suggestions, such as Axminster in Devon, seem less plausible).

So sometimes this programme does oversimplify, as all historical programmes do, and perhaps must, to a degree. Still, overall this looks like a good thing, and I will watch future episodes, if not necessarily believing all the hype.

* It's not entirely clear who wrote the programme. Oliver is listed as presenter, and there are then various consultants in the credits.

Reception Theory: some preliminary thoughts

I’ve had a project for a while to educate myself more thoroughly in reception theory and methodology, rather than just doing articles on individual instances of reception. I’m always aware (not least because it comes up a lot in readers’ comments on papers I submit) that I am a bit on the theory-light side, and I would like to correct that. Recently, a number of circumstances combined to actually get me started on some of the reading. So, over the past couple of months I have read or reread Lorna Hardwick’s two books Reception Studies (you’ll have to scroll down, I’m afraid, but if you’re going to get a copy I’d rather you got one directly from the Classical Association) and Translating Worlds, Translating Cultures, the collection Classics and the Uses of Reception, edited by Charles Martindale and Richard Thomas, and Martindale’s seminal Redeeming the Text, which set the terms for the debate on reception theory back in 1993, as well as large chunks of the Blackwell Companion to Classical Receptions, edited by Lorna Hardwick and Christopher Stray. I’ve also read a number of related articles, such as Martindale’s entry on ‘reception’ in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, the BMCR reviews of the Martindale/Thomas and Hardwick/Stray volumes (the latter, by John Henderson, is in his usual idiosyncratic style), and one work, Mary Beard and John Henderson’s Very Short Introduction to Classics, that doesn’t mention reception once, but is widely (and rightly) recognized to be a key text on the subject. If I was pointing someone to a quick introduction to the subject, I would recommend Reception Studies, followed by cherry-picking the Blackwell Companion, which includes, among other delights, an excellent article on film by Joanna Paul.
As a result of this reading (and with a memory of other texts I have looked at in the past, such as Goldhill’s Love, Sex & Tragedy), I feel able to present the following, which is a preliminary statement of my response to the theoretical approaches. It is likely to be modified as the project proceeds.

An attitude to theory

I’m a lot less suspicious of theoretical approaches than I used to be. There was a time when I shared what remains outside academic circles (and quite often inside) a common suspicion of theory, ready to write it off as pretentious rubbish. I now recognize that theory can be a useful tool. It doesn’t necessarily lead me to say things that I otherwise wouldn’t say, but it does help me to say them more effectively.
Similarly, I am no longer afraid of jargon. I recognize that technical language can be useful. In this I differ from some Classicists, who can be resistant to the appropriation of terminology from literary theory. There was a debate about this in the pages of CA News back in 2005/2006, including an article by Gideon Nisbet, and a set of letters in the following issue. The letter-writers objected strenuously to Nisbet’s suggestion that classicists should be more open to jargon,[1] but what I feel they were really objecting to was bad use of jargon, when it is used to obfuscate rather than clarify, or when a term like ‘hermeneutics’ is used by people who don’t really know what it means (I’m not too sure myself, which is why I rarely employ it). I’m against that as well.
So, I wish to be theory-aware in my work. But I don’t want to be theory-heavy or dogmatic. Models must fit the evidence – evidence must not be bent to fit models. My original training as a historian makes me primarily an empiricist, and I remain an evidence-led scholar. And theory must not be allowed to get in the way of having something interesting to say.

Reception theory in Classics and elsewhere

Nick Lowe has on a number of recent occasions (most notably at a one-day seminar on Teaching Reception Studies in the Institute for Classical Studies in November 2007) said that Classicists don’t use ‘reception’ in the same way as other academic fields. I felt I ought to check this out, and I did, focussing on film studies, solely because, since I am about embark on a film history course, I have quite a few theoretical works lying about (I consulted in particular Maltby, pp.549-53, and King). I did also look up ‘reception theory’ in The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, pp.282-3.
And Lowe is right. In most fields, reception theory is about reader-responses, and concerns itself with how a particular text (using ‘texts’ in the broad manner employed by Roland Barthes, to mean not just written accounts, but any item to be studied) has been received. Classical receptions almost always focus upon a receiving text, and how that has received an originary text. To a degree, it is true, as has been pointed out to me, that this is a natural product of the field. Classicists cannot produce a meaningful study of the original audience of the Aeneid, and so we are forced to looking at other forms of response. Nevertheless, it does mean that Classical reception studies operate differently to other forms.
It’s also probably the case that many early examples of Classical reception studies thought little about theoretical approaches. This has clearly changed, as those working on reception studies have felt the need to be more rigorous and self-critical in their approaches (an observation made by Joanna Paul in the abstract for a paper delivered in 2007).

Martindale’s theory of reception

As I said earlier, Charles Martindale set the terms for reception theory about a decade before reception became all the rage in Classical Studies. And though most people don’t do reception in the way Martindale recommends, there isn’t really a counter-theory other there (I’m channelling Nick Lowe again here). I therefore need to engage with Martindale’s works. This is not easy. I have read most of the Martindale pieces listed in ‘Works cited’ below (with the exception of the Arion article); a number of them I have read repeatedly. And I’m still not sure if I understand the argument fully.
The problem is that Martindale, unlike many Classicists (and certainly unlike the majority of Classicists when he began publishing this material in the early 1990s) is well-read in literary theory. His take on reception, laid out in the various pieces listed, draws heavily on Hans Robert Jauss, and through him on Hans-Georg Gadamer, and on Wolfgang Iser. I have read almost none of these writers (just one article by Jauss). As a result, I don’t find it easy to follow Martindale’s argument. I suspect this is shared by many in Classics, which as a field has always been reluctant to embrace theoretical approaches – indeed, anecdotal evidence would suggest that some (unfairly, I think) reject what Martindale has to say because of what is perceived as an excessive amount of literary theory contained in what he said. I witnessed the debate at the Classical Association Conference in Reading in 2005 between Martindale and Christopher Rowe, recorded in the two pieces from the CUCD Bulletin listed in ‘Works Cited’; there seemed something of a perception that Rowe had won, and I would say that was partly because Martindale seemed to be putting forward a post-modernist argument about which many in the audience were highly suspicious. (On paper, it seems more balanced – in particular I think Rowe goes too far in asserting that he has uncovered the correct reading of Plato’s Lysis, as opposed to a reading.)
Martindale’s argument is most fully expressed in Redeeming the Text, especially Chapter 1, and the introduction to Classics and the Uses of Reception (an abridged version of which is here). My reading of it is as follows (and I suspect Martindale himself would argue that, even if my reading differs from his, that doesn’t make my reading invalid):
The traditional approach to study of Classical texts aims to approach the text in its original context, and establish its meaning. This cannot be done. It is impossible to read any ancient text devoid of the cultural associations built up around it since it was created, no matter how hard we try. The traditional approach is excessively positivist. We should reject this, and instead of ignoring later receptions of the texts in which we are interested, use them to formulate new approaches to the texts.
There’s quite a lot in what Martindale says with which I agree. I share his distaste for the overly positivist approach. Positivism in its purest form rests on assumptions about the unproblematic ‘knowability’ of ‘objective’ ‘facts’. There are no absolutely knowable facts. The post-modernists are right that everything we know is only partially known, and influenced by the means in which we receive the information, and the people generating that information. No witness is wholly unbiased. This doesn’t mean that we can believe what we like, and that all views are equally valid. That’s a misuse of the post-modernist view. What post-modernism is saying (in my understanding) is that we should think about how we know what we think we know.
However, once we have done that, I don’t see why we can’t carry on as literary critics or historians, doing much the same thing as have done before, but with a full cognisance of our limitations. We know that we can never establish fully what happened in the past, or what an author intended in their work – but we do know that events happened in the past, and that authors had intentions when writing. Even though we cannot ever fully achieve our objective, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make the attempt. When talking about establishing the text of an ancient author, Beard and Henderson write (p.57; p.61 of the repaginated 2000 printing): ‘there is no alternative to taking the risk and trying, at least, to reach as accurate a view as possible of what ancient authors wrote’ (their italics). I think that applies across the board in study, to historical events and authorial intent. I don’t buy the ‘death of the author’ concept or the intentional fallacy, at least not as fully expressed – every text that we study was created by a human being, and that human being had an object in mind when they wrote. Moreover, the context in which a work is produced is a factor that shapes it, for all that the New Criticism attempts to reject such an approach. Properly qualified, I think that this is a valid way to tackle antiquity.
Moreover, rejecting this strikes me as an unwarranted limit on human imagination. To say that a critic cannot try to imagine their way into the mindset of someone in first century ce Rome is like suggesting that an author of fiction cannot write a black person if they are white, or a woman if they are a man. One can never fully get inside the head even of the person one knows best in the world besides oneself. But we can still try. And as long as the nature of this imaginative exercise is made explicit, I think the exercise can be performed.
I don’t think Martindale would agree, and would probably view my approach as still positivistic, for all my attempts to dress it with some sops to a more post-modern approach. But I’m not sure what he offers in its place. Taken to its logical extent, the reception process as described by Martindale becomes potentially excessively solipsistic, and it would become hard to say anything meaningful about any text whatsoever. I should add that Martindale himself doesn’t take it to that extreme.
In any case, there is, for me, value in Martindale’s approach, even for more traditional textual commentary. Yes, one can never strip away entirely the expectations arising out of subsequent receptions. But if one were to identify the effect of those receptions, as best as one can, then it is possible to get someway towards how that text might seem without the influence of the later receptions. Of course, what one is left with would be one’s personal response to a text, which might, or might not be the response the author intended to create. Looked at in this way, it seems potentially a rather spurious way of approaching the text. But I’m not sure what else one can do.
This does all mean that the study of a text’s reception is crucial to understanding a text, so Martindale’s theoretical approaches are important. But one cannot only study Virgil through Dante, or Ovid through Titian. A complete view of a work’s reception must include how the work was received by its very first readers, which brings us back (though perhaps by a different route) to the sort of looking at the text in its original context that Martindale seems to disapprove of.
And, as I said, most people working in reception don’t go as far as Martindale. He criticizes a lot of reception studies as positivistic. Here again I think he has a point. There are certainly cases where people seem too eager to find Classical receptions where they perhaps don’t exist – I would cite attempts to interpret 2001: A Space Odyssey as a full-blown reworking of Homer, rather than something which occasionally alludes to ancient epic.

Introspection in reception

One thing I have noticed of late is a tendency for reception studies to get quite reflexive. Lorna Hardwick rightly identifies redirecting our attention back on the original source as a key element of reception studies (Reception Studies, p.4). I agree that a reading of a receiving text can certainly bring new insights to the originary text, though one must be careful not to give way to anachronism. When one says, e.g., that T.S. Eliot reconfigures Virgil, one must be clear what that means. We must always remember that, whilst Eliot read Virgil, Virgil never read Eliot.
But I have seen Hardwick’s comment reformulated as ‘the key element’, and that to me is wrong. Yet often the first question that gets asked in theoretical studies is ‘what does the reception tell us about the original text?’ That is implicit in the title of the Martindale/Thomas volume. Martindale makes a valid criticism (in the Blackwell Companion to the Classical Tradition, p.303): ‘The assumption is that such receptions tell us only about the receiving culture, little or nothing about the work received.’ It is certainly incorrect to assume that this would be the only way of doing reception. It would be equally incorrect to assert that the only way of doing reception studies is to treat the receiving object as a mere adjunct to the received text.
I can see various reasons why this might appeal. For a start, most research proposals have to get past a committee of Classicists, so emphasizing the originary texts is natural. Also, some reception theory has been developed in the context of staging of Greek and Roman drama, where the original text and what the staging reveals about it is an important issue.
In an ideal world, of course, every reception study would do both, and have something interesting to say about both receiving and originary text. But that’s not always going to be the case. An examination of the brilliant way in which O Brother Where Art Thou? reconfigures the visit to the Underworld into its cinema scene tells you an awful lot about the Coen Brothers, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you that much about the Odyssey. But that doesn’t make it an invalid approach. To act as if it does works against truly cross-disciplinary studies, and in the end will alienate those to whom the originary texts are important in their own right. (Martindale is on the money here: ‘research on, say, the Victorians must be credible to Victorianists as well as classicists’, Classics and the Uses of Reception, p.9.)
I should say that a great many instances of reception actually in practice do say interesting things about the receiving text. Such instances can be found throughout the Blackwell Companion, and even in the Martindale/Thomas volume.

An élitist approach?

Another problem, particularly with the sort of reception I do, is that it can fall foul of an élitist agenda. It’s very easy to dismiss study of popular culture as not really being serious scholarship, and from there it’s a short step to tarring all or reception studies with the same brush. One reaction to this is to concentrate upon ‘high culture’ receptions. In the introduction to Classics and the Uses of Reception (p.11), Martindale writes:
if we abandon a serious commitment to the value of the texts we choose for our attention and those of our students, we may end by trivialising reception within the discipline; already a classics student is far more likely to spend time analysing Gladiator than the Commedia of Dante. I find that worrying. This is not to decry the study of a wide range of cultural artefacts (there are many more good things in the world than the canon knows), and certainly not to criticize the study of film or of popular culture; it is simply to say that we form ourselves by the company that we keep, and that in general material of high quality is better company for our intellects and hearts than the banal or the quotidian (often we use the latter, archly and somewhat cheaply, merely to celebrate our own cultural superiority).
In reading, he added a verbal aside that he didn’t think Gladiator was important. The problem is, this is judging the importance of Gladiator solely on its artistic merit. But Gladiator and films like it are important, because for a great many people, these films their only experience of Classical culture. By dismissing the film in this much criticized statement (by, e.g., Rowe, and Paul in her film article, pp.304-5), Martindale is saying that those people’s experiences of Classical culture don’t really count. Instead of demonstrating cultural superiority through mocking popular culture (granted, best avoided), Martindale attempts to demonstrate cultural superiority through ignoring popular culture. And indeed the volume goes on to largely eschew engaging with the media through which most people experience Graeco-Roman antiquity.
This won’t do. We need to understand everyone’s experiences, not just those of an élite. A theme that has just started to appear in recent work is that of the ‘democratic turn’ (see the introduction to the Blackwell Companion to Classical Receptions, pp.3-4). This identifies a movement that takes Classical culture away from the élites, and reconfigures is a vehicle for dissent. For myself, I wonder if the manifestation of the democratic turn is a product of the development, and increased visibility, of mass culture in the twentieth century, rather than any actual change in attitudes. Whilst élite culture certainly drew heavily upon the Classical past, did it ever have exclusive ownership of the Classical tradition? There is a case for saying that non-élite receptions of the Classics always took place, but were until recently largely invisible (or at least not examined); there are good articles on this by Siobhán McElduff and Edith Hall, and Hall at least plans more in this respect.
I’d like to cite here a recent example from Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), the well-known scene where Brian (Graham Chapman) is painting on a wall ‘Romans go home’ in very poor Latin, and is put through his grammar paces by John Cleese’s centurion. This is a sketch written by people who went to posh schools where they were taught Latin, and had encountered teachers who took this sort of approach. I and my immediate companions were laughing our heads off when we first saw it because we were going to a posh school where we were taught Latin, and recognized our teachers in Cleese’s portrayal. But the rest of the cinema were also laughing their heads off, and I doubt they had all gone to posh schools where they were taught Latin. And the scene remains funny. What is it that allows most audiences to connect with that scene? This is something I don’t think has been fully investigated, and it ought to be.

My kind of reception

This is the point where I get solipsistic. But there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the personal voice where appropriate.[2] So, where do I see my own research fitting within this theoretical framework? I addressed this in a paper given at the Classical Association Conference in Birmingham back in 2007 (I am preparing the ms. for a revised version of this paper, but this passage has been removed from that). Paula James had asked in the abstract for her paper in the same panel a ‘so what?’ question; why were we bothering with this material, could we bring anything to the popular culture material that anyone wanted to hear, and what can it tell us about the Classical texts? My response was:
there remains the question Paula posed – ‘so what?’ Can we as Classicists bring something new to the study of this material? I believe we can. I don’t just give papers at CA conferences or in university departments. I also give talks at sf and comics conventions. And the audiences there are fascinated. They want to hear the different perspective that we have to offer.
As for the other part of Paula’s question, how does study of this material enrich our own study of the original Classical culture, perhaps in this case, it doesn’t much. You’ve probably learnt far more about superhero comics than you have about the Roman god Mercury, and I’ve been speaking more about receptions of themes developed initially against a classical background and then moved into other contexts than I have been about direct classical receptions. But, so what? Lorna Hardwick rightly identifies redirecting our attention back on the original source as a key element of reception studies. But does that mean that every paper written about Classical receptions must fulfil that purpose, and if it does not, then that paper has failed? I don’t think so. I looked into the subject matter of this paper because I was interested in it. I wrote the paper because I hope that you might be interested as well, and I want to communicate what I’ve discovered to you. And, for all the concerns about Research Assessment Exercises, and postgraduates wanting to further their careers through presenting papers, ultimately, research is about finding out things because you’re interested, and telling other people because you think they’ll be interested too. For myself, that’s all the justification I need.
This remains my view. My approach is, I think, dictated by the sort of scholar that I am. I am not just a Classicist with an interest in reception studies, who happens to have picked science fiction as my area of interest. I am a Classicist with an interest in reception studies, but at the same time I am a critic of science fiction, and get published in the sf critical journals. Most of the time my work in each field overlaps (for reasons of time if for nothing else). So I am interested in both originary and receiving texts. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with coming into a field of reception purely from a Classics background. But that’s not who I am, and who I am shapes how I want to do reception.
The sort of reception works I am interested in are those that are as useful for those concerned with the receiving text as with the received. I point to works like Maria Wyke’s Projecting the Past, or Gideon Nisbet’s Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture (I focus on popular culture only because that’s what I know – similar pieces on opera, or painting, or whatever, can be found in the Blackwell Companion, or even in the Martindale/Thomas collection). Significantly, both authors have backgrounds that take them outside a pure classics approach – Wyke has an M.A. in Film and Television Studies as well as her Classics Ph.D., and Nisbet is a long-standing comics and sf fan who I first met at an Eastercon (British National SF Convention). I haven’t read Edith Hall’s The Return of Ulysses fully yet, but from what I’ve skimmed it looks to be another example of the sort of treatment I like; it’s worth noting that the publisher has a long background in cultural studies, and is not a traditional Classical studies publisher. The sort of conferences I enjoy are the likes of Classics Hell: Re-Presenting Antiquity in Mass Cultural Media, which took place in Reading in April 2007 (the proceedings will soon be published), or the schools conference in Oxford last November, with many of the same speakers, and at which I was invited to speak.
When I write, I am aware that I am often writing for two audiences, one of Classicists and one of sf readers – this will be especially the case when (and it remains when, not if) I finally write the book on the subject that I want to. One result of this is that I have to include a lot of explanation of things that one audience would take for granted, but of which the other audience is ignorant. But it also works against a theory-heavy approach. If I write a theory-heavy book, many of the sf readers won’t look at it. There are people in the sf community who do get deeply involved with theory – mostly people in academic institutions. But there are a lot of respectable sf critics and scholars who operate outside academia, and they are as theory-resistant as Classicists.
So my approach is theory-aware, but theory-light, at least in terms of what gets onto the page, and aimed at saying something interesting to both Classicists and sf readers. Given the papers I’m having accepted, and now often invited, and the responses I’m getting, this seems to be working.
But as I say, this is all provisional. My attitude to theory has evolved a lot over the past fifteen years, and I have absolutely no doubt that it will evolve again in the future.
Edited 16/01/09: Coincidentally, there is some very interesting discussion on theory in the context of sf criticism going on here and here.

Works cited

Baldick, Chris (2008) The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, 3rd edn., Oxford, Oxford University Press (1st edn. 1990, 2nd edn. 2001).
Beard, Mary, and Henderson, John (1995) Classics: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press (repaginated edn. 2000).
Goldhill, Simon (2004) Love, Sex & Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes our Lives, London, John Murray (paperback edn. Love, Sex & Tragedy: Why Classics Matters, 2005).
Hall, Edith (2008) The Return of Ulysses: A Cultural History of Homer’s Odyssey, London, I.B. Tauris.
Hall, Edith (2008) ‘Putting the class into Classical reception’, in Hardwick, Lorna, and Stray, Christopher (eds.), A Companion to Classical Receptions (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World), Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp.386-97. [Online] Available from (Accessed 12 January 2009).
Hallett, Judith P., and Van Nortwick, Thomas (eds.) (1997) Compromising Traditions: The Personal Voice in Classical Scholarship, London, Routledge.
Hardwick, Lorna (2003) Reception Studies (Greece & Rome New Surveys in the Classics 33), Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Hardwick, Lorna (2004) Translating Worlds, Translating Cultures, London, Duckworth.
Hardwick, Lorna, and Stray, Christopher (eds.) (2008) A Companion to Classical Receptions (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World), Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.
Hardwick, Lorna, and Stray, Christopher (2008) ‘Introduction: making connections’, in Hardwick, Lorna, and Stray, Christopher (eds.), A Companion to Classical Receptions (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World), Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp.1-9.
Henderson, John (2008), review of Lorna Hardwick, Christopher Stray (ed.), A Companion to Classical Receptions, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.08.38 [Online]. Available from (Accessed 6 January 2009).
James, Paula (2007) ‘Delapsa per Auras or Bat out of Hell? – comparing and contrasting Glorificus (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Five) with gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon’, Birmingham, April 13 2007, Classical Association Annual Conference.
Jauss, Hans Robert (1970) ‘Literary history as a challenge to literary theory’, New Literary History 2.1, pp.7-37 (translated by Elizabeth Benzinger).
Keen, Antony G. (2007) ‘A Flash of Quicksilver: mythology and anti-Nazism in Jack Kirby’s Mercury’, Birmingham, April 13 2007, Classical Association Annual Conference.
King, Noel (1998) ‘Hermeneutics, reception aesthetics, and film interpretation’, in Hill, John, and Gibson, Pamela Church (eds.), The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp.212-23.
Lowe, Nick (2007) ‘What Classicists do when they do reception’, Teaching Reception Studies, London, November 21 2007, Institute of Classical Studies.
Maltby, Richard (2003) Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction, 2nd edn., Oxford, Blackwell Publishing (1st edn. 1995).
Martindale, Charles Anthony (1992) ‘Redeeming the text: the validity of comparisons of Classical and post-Classical literature. A view from Britain’, Arion (3rd series) 1.3, pp.45-75.
Martindale, Charles Anthony (1993) Redeeming the Text: Latin Poetry and the Hermeneutics of Reception, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Martindale, Charles Anthony (2003) ‘Reception’, in Hornblower, Simon, and Spawforth, Anthony (eds.), The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edn., Oxford, Oxford University Press, first published 1996, corrected paperback edn. 2003, pp.1294-5. [Online] Available from (Accessed 6 January 2009; requires login). Reprinted without bibliography in Hornblower, Simon, and Spawforth, Anthony (eds.) (1998) The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p.586 ([Online] Available from (Accessed 6 January 2009; requires login)).
Martindale, Charles Anthony (2005) ‘Reception and the Classics of the future’, Council of University Classics Departments Bulletin 34 [Online]. Available from (Accessed 11 January 2009).
Martindale, Charles Anthony (2006) ‘Introduction: thinking through reception’, in Martindale, Charles Anthony, and Thomas, Richard F. (eds.) (2006) Classics and the uses of reception, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp.1-13.
Martindale, Charles Anthony (2006) ‘Reception’, in Kallendorf, Craig W. (ed.) A Companion to the Classical Tradition (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World), Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp.297-311.
Martindale, Charles Anthony, and Thomas, Richard F. (eds.) (2006) Classics and the uses of reception, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.
McElduff, Siobhán (2006) ‘Fractured understandings: towards a history of Classical reception among non-elite groups’, in Martindale, Charles Anthony, and Thomas, Richard F. (eds.) (2006) Classics and the uses of reception, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 180-91.
Murnaghan, Sheila (2007), review of Charles Martindale, Richard F. Thomas, Classics and the Uses of Reception, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.07.19 [Online]. Available from (Accessed 6 January 2009).
Nisbet, Gideon (2005) ‘Argos and the Jargonauts’, CA News 33 (December), p.17.
Nisbet, Gideon (2008) Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture, 2nd edn., Exeter, Bristol Phoenix Press (1st edn. 2006).
Paul, Joanna (2007) ‘Pompeii: towards an alternative model of Classical receptions’, Current Debates in Classical Reception Studies, Milton Keynes, May 18-20 2007, Open University. [Abstract Online] Available from (Accessed 11 January 2009).
Paul, Joanna (2008) ‘Working with film: theories and methodologies’, in Hardwick, Lorna, and Stray, Christopher (eds.), A Companion to Classical Receptions, Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp.303-14.
Rowe, Christopher (2005) ‘Reply to Charles Martindale’, Council of University Classics Departments Bulletin 34 [Online]. Available from (Accessed 11 January 2009).
Wiseman, Peter, Bulley, Michael, and Miller, David (2006) ‘Argos and the Jargonauts’, CA News 34 (June), p.5.
Wyke, Maria (1997) Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome, Cinema and History, London, Routledge.

[1] Sometimes, I feel, going over the top. Michael Bulley, for example, asserted that classicists had no need of technical language, which begs the question of how one classifies such terms as ‘anapaests’ and ‘hexameter’, as well as the usages classicists put to such terms as ‘tragedy’ or ‘satire’.
[2] The personal voice was much promoted as an alternative to dry ‘objective’ scholarship about a decade ago (Compromising Traditions being a key text), but seems rather to have been subsumed into reception studies, at least in Classics.