Last Friday saw the first ‘real’ Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar of the year, which I’m co-organizing this term with Stephen Harrison. (Technically the first GIS was the week before, but the time was used instead for a meet-and-greet session with new MPhils and PhDs, followed by a drinks reception in the Cast Gallery, where a merry time was had by all.)
Last Friday’s GIS was also the launch of a new and, we hope, exciting format for the seminar. Attendance at the GIS has been pretty low and getting lower for the past couple of terms, and Stephen and I are hoping this term to give it a bit of jumpstart, and to make it more useful and more fun both for the presenters and for the people listening to them. To that end, we’re making presentation length a lot more flexible, and encouraging people to come to the GIS not only with full-fledged 20 minute papers, but also with half-formed, perhaps even half-baked, ideas they want to run past their fellow grads: anything from a conference abstract or MPhil essay title, to a translation issue, to that fun Classics idea that you just haven’t had time to explore, because it’s unrelated to the PhD. This blog post is also part of our new format – we plan to put brief recaps of each seminar on the blog, so that discussion can continue online, and so that grads who miss a week’s seminar can join in on the conversation.
We’re still working through these format changes (and welcome feedback!), but last Friday’s seminar seemed to go over well with all present, and we certainly had a varied, wide-ranging, bunch of presentations to listen to!
First up was Stephen, giving a paper on ‘Alexander, Orxines, and the Iranian Satraps.’ Stephen works on concepts of Achaemenid kingship, and their influence on later Hellenistic rulers, including Alexander, and in this paper he applied those interests to the problem of Alexander’s relations with the Iranian satraps after the king’s return from India. He showed quite convincingly that Alexander’s dismissal of most of the satraps upon his return stemmed most likely, not from their having been rebellious in his absence, as most scholars have concluded, but rather because Alexander’s definitions of the limits of satrapal authority differed from those of his Persian predecessors, which set up an inevitable culture clash. Alexander’s satraps thought they were acting loyally, but to Alexander they had well overstepped their bounds, and had to be removed.
After Stephen’s paper, we moved into the shorter presentations, or ‘Snippets’, as we’re calling them. Hannah Price opened with a hilarious yet eye-opening look at the way soundtracks to movies set in the Classical world have changed over the past 60 years. We went from the brassiness of Ben Hur, brilliantly parodied later by Monty Python, to the ‘vaguely ethnic wailing women’ of Gladiator, Troy, and others in the 21st century. In discussion, we questioned whether classical films do have a distinct ‘sound’ nowadays, the way they did in the 1950s, or whether they’ve been lumped in with other fantastical epics like Lord of the Rings or Avatar – and if the latter, what does that say about the way modern culture connects to antiquity? Is Rome just a slightly more plausible Gondor now?
Fran Middleton continued the reception theme with her current thoughts on reception theory and the problems inherent in it. Fran, who works on ancient responses to Homer, is concerned that the study of reception as currently practiced by most academics, will inevitably result simply in reinforcing the canonical status of the older texts, rather than putting all texts, both old and newer, on an equal footing and seeing each as an object of study in its own right. We still haven’t found the answer to this conundrum…if you have any bright ideas, I bet Fran would love to hear them.
Finally, Ben Harriman wondered whether we had any bright ideas about the lack of a grammatical connection between the first two sentences in the First Fragment of Alcmaeon. Frankly…we didn’t.
As usual, discussion and socializing continued after the seminar at the pub. The organizers would like to thank everyone who braved the outside table, the only one big enough for us all, despite the crisp autumnal air – I think it was worth it, in the end!