Conference in Disneyland
To those of you who asked whether I made it out of Heathrow to the American Philological Association meeting in Anaheim, the answer is YES -- but it took me 39 hours door to door.
OK, only 11 hours flying time; but a good few hours in the Sofitel at Heathrow, and a good few hours on the tarmac, wondering if we would outlive the legal flying time of the crew (in the end they gave us an extra pilot from some plane that had been cancelled to somewhere else). Still, the good news was that I got here, unlike our panel chair and organiser, who was stranded at Heathrow and forced back to Oxford.
So far as I can see, Anaheim is not my kind of place. And outside the conference hotel, there is little to do by explore Disneyland. This has its advantages for a big conference. Go to Chicago or New York, and the big rich guys are always off to some expensive foodie restaurant, or at least doing the galleries (for the not so rich). Here in Anaheim, everyone stays in the conference hotel, because there is no alternative.
The result is that I have seen more people in a shorter time than at almost any other recent conference I have been to. Moral, I suppose: hold conferences in nasty places and the delegates will meet each other much more easily.
The theme was religious controversy in the ancient world (and now). Sarah went first and talked about neo-paganism, and where contemporary neo-pagans got their ideas from (answer: Jane Harrison, J G. Frazer and Walter Burkert it seems, plus Sarah herself on Hekate). Why so Greek, I wondered? After all, the most detailed records of ancient sacrifice come from Rome.But as Sarah explained, neo-pagans tend to be a bit ambivalent about animal sacrifice and many take the view that "the gods" have now transcended it -- and many of them, for that matter, don't read French, which you would need to access the best recent material on the subject .
My own paper was a bit of a provocation, a blurt - combined with some thinking about Lucian's Peregrinus. I was asking how we might put the controversy and the polemic and the blood and the guts back into ancient religion. To put it another way, have we gone so far in the direction of celebrating ludic ambivalence that we fail to see that some ancient writer may be saying that traditional religion is a load of rubbish. I am as guilty as anyone here.... years ago I looked at Cicero's apparently sceptical dialogue On Divination and concluded that it wasn't sceptical at all, really, but merely adding to the ambivalence of Roman divinatory practice. I would still argue that, and it was certainly the right intervention to make at the time; but I wonder what it would take to make me (or us) think that Cicero was saying that he didnt believe a word of this mumbo jumbo.
But it is a very nice example of how close to the bone ancient religion can be, if we let it.