Beard the Blog
What were the papers like at the APA? Several people have asked -- and the fact is that I didn’t actually go to any except my own, and those in my own panel. I wasn’t buried away interviewing, like some (though I did interview two potential graduate students for Cambridge).
No, I was sitting in my room writing an essay for a catalogue to go with an exhibition about the Roman Triumph, due to open in the Colosseum in the spring (it looks a good show by the way, for anyone who is going to be in Rome). My theme was fraud and deception at the triumph – including those marvellous stories of Roman emperors who dressed up fake prisoners to adorn their processions, or Domitian who, in the absence of any good spoils raided his own palace furniture store and paraded that. OK this should have been a piece of cake, but it still took me more than a day to put together.
Anyway my panel was called “From Classical Tradition to Receptions Studies: four national perspectives” – featuring me, Jim Porter from Michigan (on “Hellenism and Modernity”), Ernst Schmidt from Tübingen (on “The German rediscovery of Vergil in the Early 20th Century’) and Alessandro Barchiesi from Stanford (on whom more later).
So how did it go?
I was quite happy with how my paper turned out in the end. I focussed on Alf Williams and Ann Yearsley (the poet milkmaid) as examples. But I was trying to make two points. The first was, as I mentioned in my earlier post, that British Classics isn’t (and wasn’t) a unitary phenomenon, a toffs-only subject, a definer of exclusive elite culture. The second point was to query the implications of that. When working class autodidacts took up Classics was that a sign of acquiescence in the dominant elite culture, or was it a challenge to it? Did they offer different a different kind of engagement with Classics from that of the public school and Oxbridge elite?
Barchiesi gave an interesting account of a novel by Sebastiano Vassalli, Un infinito numero (I haven’t read it, but from his account, it is set in the reign of Augustus, featuring Vergil and Maecenas and the opposition between Etruscan and Roman culture. But, as I understood it, his main point was that, unlike Britain, Italy hadn’t traditionally used fictional recreations of ancient Rome as a means of defining its own cultural identity. Italy hasn’t produced a stream of Bulwyer Lyttons, Ben Hurs, Rosemary Sutcliffes etc.
An interesting point, but I wasn’t sure that it was entirely true. Or, to put it another way, it is probably true for novels in the strict sense. But not for other forms of fictional recreations, film, opera, art etc. I mean the first Last Day of Pompeii was not Bulwer Lytton’s, but an opera in Naples (with a rather different plot – apart from the end, obviously).
The other main thing that came home to me at the conference was that this blog is now much better known than anything else I’ve ever done. When I checked in to the conference, the guy behind the desk said “Are you Mary Beard?” “Yes,” I replied, fancying that he might be going on to say how much he’s enjoyed what I’d written on Roman Religion, the Roman Triumph, the Parthenon . . . In fact he just smiled and said “You write a blog”.
So from now on, it’s “Beard the Blog” as the Welsh might say.