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A Day in the Life of A Classicist is a monthly column on the SCS blog, celebrating the working lives of classicists. In this month’s edition, we speak with Hamish Cameron, who is a digital humanist, game designer, and lecturer in Classical and Medieval Studies at Bates College.
I’m an ancient historian who specializes in the Roman Near East, ancient geography, and borderland theory. I am beginning to branch into the reception of the classical world in contemporary pop-culture, especially games and movies.
As well as an academic, I’m a practicing analog game designer. Most of my hobbies are related to games in some way, so I’m always learning about how different games work and how different people encounter them. The close relationship between game design and classroom pedagogy means that thinking about games also bleeds into the classroom. As a game designer, everything I encounter, view and experience, becomes fodder for a game, and in many ways, also becomes fodder for pedagogy.
Prof. Cameron at work at his desk at Bates College.
by Karen Rosenbecker
Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (2005) depicts the damage done to the west Texas hill country by both the violent cross-border drug trade and the ineffectual law enforcement that attempts to contain it.1 The novel’s exploration of what happens to a society that is unable to police itself shares that same central theme with Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy (Agamemnon, Choephoroe, Eumenides). The better-known parallel between McCarthy’s works and ancient literature is between his novels and the Bible, a comparison encouraged by certain titles (Child of God, Cities of the Plain), and by his focus on the collapse of society and the accompanying tectonic shifts in moral order.2 But much in McCarthy’s writing also welcomes a comparison with Greek tragedy, a genre that shares McCarthy’s interest in juxtaposing the limits of human understanding with the human desire to pursue knowledge despite the cost.3 In particular, No Country for Old Men and the Oresteia resonate with each other in terms of literal events, which depict characters struggling to resolve a situation that resists resolution, and in terms of the sweeping implications of those failures. Although what lands Aeschylus’ Orestes and McCarthy’s Llewelyn Moss in their life-threatening predicaments is quite different, the consequences of those actions betoken a breakdown of both societies.4 As a result of the failure of traditional rituals of justice in west Texas and in Argos, Anton Chigurh and the Furies—supernatural agents of their respective worlds—are summoned to apprehend the guilty and to restore order. But it is at this point, when the fate of both communities hangs in the balance, that McCarthy and Aeschylus unfold the future of ancient Greece and of modern America in a contrapuntal manner: one of these communities, guided by the wisdom of men and godly authority, will redeem itself and step into an age of reason and order; the other will slip into the abyss. What accounts for this difference rests on each community’s ability to recognize the divine avengers and to react accordingly, but the dissimilar trajectories of each world also reflect another conceptual parallel between No Country for Old Men and the Oresteia, namely that the quality of contemporary conditions rests upon that of the past.
Second University of Florida Classics Graduate Student Symposium
NATURA/φύσις vs. ARS/τέχνη: Artificial vs. Natural, in the Ancient World and Beyond
The development of ancient civilizations, reflected today in their literary, artistic, and architectural artifacts, was made possible by several scientific and technological advances. Aimed at improving the human condition, and enhanced by the philosophical observation of the natural world, ancient technologies gradually allowed for human habitation and expansion, and opened new avenues to artistic creation. Whether in the form of grand irrigation systems, harbors and ships, road systems, or city walls, ancient societies dynamically manifested their will to control the natural environment. Viewed, in contrast, as a domain of the divine, nature held an ambiguous position in the imagination of ancient peoples: it could be both hostile and propitious. In the realms of artistic and scientific invention, human creations are in constant dialogue with nature, trying either to imitate it, with varying levels of success, or to surpass it in perfection.
Remembering Antonia Syson (1973–2018)
As readers may have learned from an earlier posting, Antonia Syson, associate professor of Classics at Purdue University, died on March 25, 2018. Her death was the outcome of inflammatory breast cancer, diagnosed only a few months prior. Here we retrace Antonia’s academic path and describe some of the qualities that made her an inspiring friend, colleague, scholar, and teacher. (Prepared by James Ker, Erin Moodie, Melissa Mueller, and Jennifer William, with contributions from Lucy Gaster, Lydia Syson, Christine Albright, Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, Julia Davids, Nicholas Dew, William Fitzgerald, Katherine Ibbett, Jo Park, Anna Lawrence Pietroni, Josephine Crawley Quinn, Allen Romano, Oliver Taplin, James Tatum, and Christopher van den Berg.)
In my first presidential letter, right after the annual meeting last January, I wrote about the need to consider not only where we meet, but at what time of year. This letter addresses the first question; I will write separately about the other one.
When I wrote my previous letter, we had already signed contracts for meetings through 2024, and since then we have signed another for 2025; the details are here. So, no immediate change is possible, but we still must move quickly since we have to make decisions that far in advance in order to get the venues we want, when we want them, and at an affordable price. It will soon be time to sign a contract for 2026, no matter where, or on what specific days we want to meet.
With that in mind, I wish I could say there are no other constraints, but in reality there are some powerful ones. Apologies to those who already know all of this, but from talking to quite a few members over recent months, I’ve got the impression that explaining the basic issues might be beneficial.
The first point is very simple, but very important:
SCS members and AIA members agree that they want SCS and AIA to continue holding a Joint Annual Meeting.
On April 30th 2018, Maya Little, a graduate student in the Department of History at UNC-Chapel Hill, was arrested after covering the Confederate statue known as “Silent Sam” in a mixture of red ink and her own blood. The monument has stood in a prominent position on UNC’s campus since its dedication in 1913, but has for years been the object of debate and protests, which have intensified since the national push to remove confederate statues following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy and a group of UNC alumni, “Silent Sam” was originally dedicated as a tribute to UNC students who lost their lives fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War, though like many such statues, it was erected during the Jim Crow era decades after the war had ended.
Ruth Scodel, SCS delegate to the American Council of Learned Societies, has written up her report of the annual ACLS meeting.
You can read her full report below:
The most important news from this year’s meeting of ACLS may be from the president’s report: the organization is financially healthy.
For the Thursday evening session there was a panel about free speech in the academy (“The Contested Campus”). Leon Botstein was a member of this panel. Of course the other speakers were interesting and distinguished people —Judith Shapiro, the president of Teagle; Jerry Kang, a UCLA law professor and the first vice-chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Ben Vinson, soon to be provost at Case Western, Botstein dominated, as I suspect he does in any event in which he participates. Never having seen the Botstein show, I was fascinated. The panel considered two related problems—how difficult it can be to have even serious speakers from the right, and how hard it can be to manage the provocateurs who have nothing worth hearing like Yiannopoulos. Botstein was furious over complaints that a conference at the Arendt Center had included Marc Jongen, especially since Jongen’s respondent was Ian Buruma.
In a photo essay, Roman tour guide and classicist Agnes Crawford spoke to the SCS Blog about the newly reopened House of Augustus on the Palatine, which was uncovered by archaeologists in the early 1960s. Although it underwent extensive renovations for the events surrounding the 2000th anniversary of Augustus' death in 2014, other portions have now been reopened to the public in time for the summer crowds. Crawford also comments on the myriad restoration projects going on in Rome, Pompeii, and elsewhere in Italy. Together, these initiatives are bringing the color and grandeur of the ancient world back to life within Italy.
Bond: What is new about the casa di augusto?
The deadline for nominations for the SCS Awards for Excellence in the Teaching of Classics at the College Level is June 1, 2018.
You can find more information about the award and nomination process here.
The SCS has learned from Anatole Mori that the Department of Ancient Mediterranean Studies Graduate Program at the University of Missouri will not be discontinued.
Here is her full statement: