Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Classics in 30 Minutes or Less

Tomorrow morning (January 20th) I'm giving a lecture to high school students (aka, potential customers, er, UofW students) and possibly a few odd parents at the UofW on behalf of our department.  Why me?  I volunteered because I hadn't done it before and felt it was my turn to give it a go.  In other words, it's part of the job. 

The lecture itself is about 30 minutes (maybe closer to 25 with time left for questions and for the attendees to fill out a questionnaire).  The topic?  Well, Classics:  what it is, who are we, and what we do.

How do you fit the wide world of Classics into 25 minutes or less?  I'm not sure.  If you teach in a smaller (though growing) department like mine you tend to be something of a jack of all trades, ready and able to teach a host of different aspects of the subject.  On the other hand, the fact remains that there are always some areas you're much more comfortable with than others.  I tend to prefer Roman stuff to Greek stuff with some exceptions (I'll take Greek myth over Roman myth and Greek historiography over Latin, for example), and later Roman history to the earlier stuff, again with exceptions (love the Punic wars and Roman imperialism in the mid Republic). 

Still, if you're trying to be representative of the field certain things get sacrificed.  So, the late antique world gets the shaft, though I managed to squeeze in Justinian and Procopius.

The other problem is unity:  an introduction could easily descend into a random collection of widely disconnected facts, which doesn't do me and wouldn't do them any good. 

My solution, then, is to frame my lecture around the theme of a TV show, and "Ancients Behaving Badly" in particular.  I've taken a host of famous characters and persons from the Classical world and will share some of the "bad" things that they've done.  The individuals I've chosen are (among others) Zeus (cheating husband), Apollo (failing lover), Agamemnon (daughter killer), Achilles (ancient soldier par excellence), the tyrannicides (Aristogeiton and Harmodius - tyrants removed due to a love-triangle), Alexander (violent drunk), Ovid (shameful ladies' man), Caligula (horse lover), Nero (mother killer), the Pompeians (several individuals then - riotous and writers of obscene graffiti), Caracalla (brother killer), and Justinian (he of the floating head).

Is it the best list?  Perhaps not, and it's not likely to please everyone.  But, fingers crossed, it will please enough of them tomorrow.

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