Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar

GIS Report: 20/11/2015

GIS as ever delights in variety, and on Friday 20th November we’ve been spectators of two papers of a very different nature. Last Friday we were busy thinking about the study of gender in ancient Rome and about how ancient military manuals tackle morality. Rebecca Lees talked to us about how intersectionality can be useful to the study of gender in ancient Rome, and Daniel Chiritoiu introduced us to Frontinus’ Stratagemata.

Bex, a second year PhD, introduced us to the concept of Intersectionality in a paper titled ‘Understanding Roman gender through Intersectionality’. The research question she addressed for an interdisciplinary conference on Intersectionality was: ‘how useful, practical, or limiting is intersectionality as a methodological framework?’ Bex took up the task to give her answer this question in respect to ancient Rome. She did so by showing us how her PhD work takes an intersectional approach to ask questions of cultural history to Latin poetry. By talking us through the structure of her doctoral project, she discussed how an intersectional approach could be helpful to the study of ancient gender. In her doctorate she is looking at poems of Lucretius, Catullus, Propertius, Virgil and Ovid—namely at cultural products spanning six decades (ca. 50 BCE-10CE)—to study the development of conceptions of gender during that timeframe. Even though another way to look at the material might be that of shaping her study by way of studying an author at a time, or look at the different treatments of the same myth recurring in poems of different authors, Bex explained how exploring one intersecting category at one time allowed her a more effective synoptic view of the diachronic development underpinning ideas of gender. The practice of creating different interacting rubrics under which to study ancient gender proved particularly useful to her project of cultural history also in another sense: the conscious operation itself of selecting headings for her project highlights how ‘gender’ itself is not a stable idea. Productive rubrics for the study of gender in ancient Rome are doubtless different from the ones that one would use to study gender nowadays, and thanks to the prominence of these headings in her study continuities and discontinuities between Roman and modern representations of gender are put into focus. Rebecca concluded with a case study. She gave us a reading of the myth of Omphale and Heracles in Ovid’s Fasti 2.335-52 by looking at each category that she proposed for the study of ancient gender separately. In this way she teased out a series of idea about gender that interact in complex, layered ways in the poem.

Daniel, a history PhD student, through Frontinus’ Stratagemata introduced us to a set of questions about battlefield morality that he is now confronting in looking at ancient military manuals. Frontinus, most famous now for his work on Roman aqueducts, had had lots of ‘hands-on’ experience with war as a general before he set out to write his military manual. His paper, titled ‘Do ‘military manuals’ care about the ethics and morality in warfare? The case of Frontinus’ Stratagemata’, showed us a version of how these manuals tackle the discourse of Roman battlefield morality. From what is possible to tell judging from sources such as Cicero, Livy and Polybius, righteous behaviour in war was valued very highly in ancient Rome. The Roman mores belli included notions that war should only be waged after it is openly declared, that those who surrender should always receive mercy, that promises made to the enemy should be kept even when disadvantageous. In Polybius however one finds the suggestion that in his days fighting in this manner was considered to be anachronistic by generals. Frontinus, thanks to his actual experience on the battlefield, potentially offers an interesting glimpse of a link between theory and practice: did generals actually worry about adhering strictly to this moral code when engaging in war? The topic of Frontinus’ manual itself—stratagems—undoubtedly is dangerous turf to tread for one particularly concerned to remain faithful to Roman war morality; the Roman ethical bellic code in fact instead appears to disdain all forms of behaviour that is not straightforward. The language in which the manual is couched however seems to strive to appeal to ideas of morality: at the opening of his manual Frontinus claims to want to give exempla of consilium and providentia—all highly morally charged words—in generalship. After showing to us that in fact many of the exempla provided by Frontinus seems vastly distant from what Roman war morality dictates, Daniel pointed our attention to how Frontinus emphatically leaves space open for the reader’s implementation of the book with additional material of their own. Is it that ultimately the war moral code is there for the reader who wants to find it?

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