Writing my first chapter
We have had a great Christmas, but not a huge holiday. Daughter and son working like devils, husband writing an article and Beard trying to write the first chapter of her Roman Laughter book, and a lecture for California.
The good news is that I met my resolution to have written the first page by Christmas Eve. Since then things haven't gone quite so smoothly (though I have been in the library plus laptop on every day except The Day itself). Let me explain a bit .... what follows may be a bit dull, but so few people ever try to share the PROCESS of writing academic books. So here goes.
I have more or less determined to keep the structure of the six lectures I gave in Berkeley last year as the basic structure of the book. But I still needed an introduction, to get readers interested -- and to give a first glimpse of the big issues coming up.
I had decided to start with a couple of scenes from the Roman comedy "The Eunuch", by Terence, first performed in 161 BCE. The are from the middle of the play (around lines 420-500), a patch of repartee between a "braggart soldier", Thraso and a professional sponger, Gnatho.
I chose this because on two occasions during these lines Gnatho ("Gnasher") actually laughs -"hahahae" (there are a dozen or so "hahahae"s in classical Latin literature). And it is a great couple of passages for showing just how slippery Roman laughter is.
Gnatho, as a professional sponger/flatterer, is bound to laugh at his patron's "jokes". So here we have two "jokes" that Gnatho cracks up about, but of course they are emphatically NOT funny. Lesson one: laughter doesnt always erupt at the funniest jokes (and you can see how the methodological line might go on from there).
So far, so good.
I was going fine till about the day after Boxing Day. Then, I just got slower and slower.
Past experience has shown that when you creep down to 200 words a day, you have a problem -- and you almost certainly need to rethink. When I read my (eventual) 2200 words over (in the clear light of a couple of glasses of wine), I realised that I had loaded everything too much up front. I had said so much about why this passage of the "The Eunuch" would be so important (a perfect indicator of the ambivalence of Roman laughter, raising the question of whether we can ever make sense of laughter in past times .. etc etc) that by the time I got to analyse it, it was a damp squib.
You have to tell people up front why they want to read this, but if you tell them EVERTHING in advance, then the examples get boring. If you see what I mean?
So I have had to go back and change the who order around..and play down some of that Freud.
New Years Eve I'm back to, or up to, 1500 words again.
The other project is to be writing a lecture for a big conference in he USA on 6 January. I'm looking at Lucian's "Death of Peregrinus" -- an amazing story of the self immolation of a philosopher/ex-Christian at Olympia in 165 CE. There's loads of stuff in this relevant to the earliest history of Christianity and I have loads of interesting points to make. But not a POINT as yet. So I will be back in the library on my birthday.