2018: a “monstrous” year?

I am about to start a course on ancient monsters. We will focus on mythological handbooks such as Hyginus’ Fabulae, Ps.-Apollodorus’ Bibliotheke, Antoninus Liberalis’ Metamorphoses, and Ps.-Eratosthenes’ Catasterisms, and the goal consists in translating and discussing passages where monsters are mentioned. I am very much looking forward to this class.

While preparing the course since last spring, I discovered with great pleasure that I was not the only one who was dealing with monsters this year!

First, I could follow, however from rather far away, the book launch of the Making Monsters Anthology edited by Emma Bridges and Djibril al-Ayad. You may find a summary of the event and more informations about the book at the blog of The Institute of Classical Studies.

Congratulation to all the contributors!


Secondly, I met last week, Lena van Beek, a colleague from the Medieval German Studies who is preparing her PhD on Giants in Medieval Literature. She also gave a seminar last semester on monsters! You may find a nice interview about her course on the website of the University of Hamburg.

Moreover, during her course, she prepared with her students a blog and I am very happy to present it here. All the contributions have been made by the students in small groups and represent the outcome of their seminar. Have a look at their work. It is worthwhile!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them

Capture d_écran 2018-10-07 à 23.35.20

Congratulation also to all of them!


Cicero at Open Book Publishers

Having given a talk on ancient commentaries this summer, and remembering a conference on ancient commentaries a few years ago, during which one talk compared ancient commentaries and modern ones, I am happy to share a few thoughts on a recently published work. It is Ingo Gildenhard’s, Cicero, Philippic 2, 44-50, 78-92, 100-119. Latin Text, Study Aids with Vocabulary and Commentary. This work is much more than a commentary, as it is lined out as a textbook and provides a whole range of additional information one would perhaps not expect in a commentary.

The book falls actually in two parts: in a first part, we have the Latin text, with three rubrics of questions (Study Questions, Stylistic Appreciation, Discussion Points). It also provides a list of vocabulary as useful help for the translation of the original. The second part is dedicated to the commentary of each of the sections of Phillippic 2 that the author included in his work and he discusses, among many other points, the questions listed in the first part.

Even though the book is targeting UK readers (with the Oxford Cambridge and RSA (OCR) As/A Level specifications as its primary focus), it may certainly also be useful outside the UK. As suggested by the author, and especially when considering a non-English speaking educational environment, I could very well imagine that the book could still be inspiring, in particular for teachers (secondary teachers and beyond). Moreover, the work is published open access and can be read for free as a digital edition.

Therefore have a look at it!



Finally, this is not the only work Ingo Gildenhard published this way. Under the rubric Classics Textbooks at Open Book Publisher you can find a whole list of works, most of them by Ingo Gildenhard.

Reading Herodotus

I am back from an afternoon that I spent with a friend reading Herodotus. We started last spring with book 5, chosen by my friend because it was a part of the Historiai, with which we are least familiar. We wanted both explore something, which was more remote from our everyday topics.

We have great fun discovering together the text, its topics and Herodotus’ language and expressions. We were, however, most surprised by the way the stories were connected to each other, or rather how often they were interrupted by further stories, digressions or comments. For an expert on Herodotus, this may not be new, but for us it was amazing to see how many different stories Herodotus narrates within other stories. Indeed he often interrupts the narration when mentioning a name or a person and starts telling the history of the place, with may subordinated stories, or gives further details about the life, past and future, of the protagonist, again with may other stories told in more or less details within the story.

For instance, I remember very well discussing in different circumstances the famous passage, in which Herodotus speaks about the introduction of the Phoenician writing system to Greece (Hdt 5, 58-61). I was less aware of the fact that it comes as a digression, within a story about the ancestors of Harmodius and Aristogeiton that Herodotus starts when telling his audience that Aristagoras from Miletus went to Athens after his request for support has been rejected in Sparta by Cleomenes. Moreover, we do not learn what would be the outcome of Aristagoras’ visit to Athens, before having heard Herodotus’ account about the Peisistratids and the early stages of Athens’ democracy.

There are more than 40 chapters between Aristagoras’ arrival in Athens and the narration of his negotiations with the Athenians. We modern readers are able to go back and forth within a book, but we just wondered how Herodotus’ audience would have felt when having to wait such a long time before having the rest of the story!







Having fun with Demetrios…

As first short note, after my holidays, I just would like to draw attention to Pour l’amour du grec, another blog, from which you may learn, among other interesting things, how reading the highly scholarly work of Demetrios of Scepsis may still provide some everyday knowledge for those fond of travelling to the Greek seashore…

Il a mangé un oursin entier


11th Celtic Conference in Classics

I just spent a few marvellous days in St. Andrews at the 11th Celtic Conference in Classics. Now, as I am on my way back, I would like to take the time to sum up my impressions.


My paper belonged to the panel on mythography that had as its title Mythography not Mythology: commentaries and boundaries. We touched on an amazingly wide range of topics that came from a broad chronological framework. The panel was roughly divided into four thematic blocks.

The first block contained a variety of papers that focused on case studies and examples from Greek texts. In this context, we began with papers that gave us insight into the commenting tradition and its link to and/or usage of mythography.

  • In my paper (Mythography: Commenting on Homer or Collecting Mythological Stories? Apollo Smintheus as a Case Study), I tried to show how the complex nexus of comments about one special passage from Homer (Chryses’ prayer in book 1 of the Iliad) was transmitted, alluded to and reworked from Strabo to Aelianus.
  • We also examined in the second talk (Pelops in Lesbos: Analysis of the Scholion to Iliad 1.38 and Hamburg Papyrus 199 (Mythographus Homericus)) to what extend comments preserved in a very indirect way, for instance reworked in the scholia to the Iliad or preserved in papyrological fragments can provide information about non-standard versions of a myth. Our example here was a Lesbian version about the hero Cillus, who was the charioteer of Pelops. This version, linked to the topography of the Troad, must have developed in answer to a panhellenic version that was linked to Olympia.
  • The commenting tradition on Pindar’s poems was also the topic of the next paper (Erginus, Protogeneia and Cycnus: Three Mythographical Narratives in the Scholia to Pindar). From several examples we could see how diversified the commenting tradition was, as each of the examples showed the many different ways, in which one line or expression in Pindar’s text could be explained. The focus could be on paraphrasing Pindar’s text in simpler terms. This could be done with a more or less direct link to the primary texts. Parts of the comment could also be composed by more or less independent phrases, where the scholar shows his skills and knowledge by providing additional information.
    • In these two papers we got the newest insights into the state of affair about the mysterious but fascinating Mythographus Homericus.

A second block was created by papers that were not primarily focusing on commenting but on other literary activities linked to mythography.

  • A very interesting perspective was given by the analysis of a papyrus with a collection of anecdotes with either mythographical or ethnographical contents (Challenging the Borders between Mythography and Historiography in the Papyrus P.Oxy. II 218). It was especially tantalizing to see how one can work on a text, for which the author remains unknown. Nonetheless, we can observe his deep understanding of several traditions that he could associate freely and blur for us the boundaries between mythography, ethnography and paradoxography.
  • In a further paper (Diodorus’ Authorial Mythography) we also looked at Diodorus and how he shaped the mythological accounts, while transmitting them, for his own literary and political agenda. At the end of the paper, we were presented with a witty observer of his time, who felt the great changes the Augustan age brought and acknowledged it in his careful selection and composition principles.
  • The focus on the author at work was also dealt with by the paper on Ps-Apollodorus (Cohérence et diachronie dans la Bibliothèque du Pseudo-Apollodore). Similarly to what can be observed in Diodorus, it is worth investigating the voice of the author in Apollodorus’ Library. He is a mind that worked independently from his sources and reworked and selected information from their texts according to his own convictions, and literary principles. If we do pay attention to this, besides the study of Apollodorus’ sources, we may gain access to other more submerged version of a given narrative.
  • When speaking about a tradition, to which people can allude or which can be played with, we have also to investigate how this form of knowledge was learned and how widespread it was. This question was raised by the talk on the evidence from school texts (Learning (through) Mythography). We saw through these fascinating scraps of papyri how mythography was also part of the class room, either on the teachers’ or on the pupils’ side.
  • How widely mythological lore was know and how fully it belonged to ancient culture was demonstrated by the paper on paroemiographical texts (Between Myth and Exegesis: Mythography in the Paroemiographical Tradition). We were told how in Zenobius’ collection, some sequences of the explanations, given for proverbs that have their roots in mythology, can be seen as witnesses about previous mythographers such as for instance Hellanicus.

A third block was dedicated to the Latin mythographer Hyginus and contained a fascinating group of papers on Hyginus. Although the text is transmitted in a very problematic way, the colleagues who study this text showed us how much we can still gain from it about the author behind it.

  • We had a very convincing paper on the arrangement of the anecdotes, in which I was particularly interest because of my own interest in the question of arrangement/ordering of collections (Le (deuxième) cycle thébain d’Hygin: étude de l’organisation narrative des fables 66 à 76).
  • We also focused on the sources of Hyginus, either Greek or Latin (Commenting on Hyginus). The case studies from this joint-paper were taken from tragedies, and I found it particularly enriching to have an outlook on Latin tragedies, which is very seldom done.
  • We also dealt with some thoughts about how the anecdotes are composed and that the way they narrate the storis is focusing on the heroes themselves, rather than on the story, the setting or the gods (Condensing Mythological Material: What Does Mythology Mean in the Pseudo-Hyginus Epitome Called Fabulae?).
  • We saw in the last paper (Lycurgus in fabula. The Eventful Afterlife of Greco-Roman Drama in Hyginus) how this could be done, as the paper focused on a case study dedicated to Lycurgus. This paper also reminded us of the visual sources that authors had at their disposal and which contributed to the tradition, from which they could take their inspirations.

A last block was opening up our perspective and focused on examples from far beyond Antiquity.

  • One of them focused on the reception of Palaephatus and his way of reinterpreting and rewriting myths. It was in the Renaissance and especially through Spanish scholars that Palaephatus went as far as Mexico in the form of visual representations of Centaurs (Le voyage de Palaephate de la Grèce au Mexique: les routes et chemins de la réception).
  • We also saw how puzzled the first modern editors and collectors of mythography were when dealing with the texts that were at the centre of our panel (Les Opuscula mythologica de Thomas Gale (1671-1688): stabilité et variabilité du corpus mythographique ancien). Here too, I found the paper very suggestive, as it focused on collecting, however from a completely different angle. So it allowed us to think further on this literary activity and the modification it underwent during the ages.

Many thank to all – especially to the two organisers – for this panel!


Helgoland and Tacitus

A few weeks ago, I spent some wonderful sunny days in Helgoland, in the North of Germany. While walking around the island and admiring the amazing scenery,  I stumbled upon this panel which told me about previous, even prehistoric occupation of the place:


So, back home, I checked Tacitus and read those lines about the Suevi tribes located on the shore of the North Sea:

nec quicquam notabile in singulis, nisi quod in commune Nerthum, id est Terram matrem, colunt eamque intervenire rebus hominum, invehi populis arbitrantur. est in insula Oceani castum nemus, dicatumque in eo vehiculum, veste contectum…

none of these tribes have any noteworthy feature, except their common worship of Ertha, or mother-Earth, and their belief that she interposes in human affairs, and visits the nations in her car. In an island of the ocean there is a sacred grove, and within it a consecrated chariot, covered over with a garment… (Tac. Germ. §40, transl. Perseus Library)

Several scholars believe that this island with the sacred grove is Helgoland, even if the interpretation has also its opponents. At least the findings of prehistoric tumuli suggests that the island was known and used by humans for religious purposes.



Some more personal notes

I am still reading Morson’s The Words of Others and very much enjoy it.

When reaching the chapter “Burden of the Future” (p.189), I was frowning my eyebrows. Morson describes in this chapter a situation, in which a person discovers much later that words or thoughts that he or she created for a given occasion have already be expressed long ago. This person gets then the feeling, according to Morson, that they have been stolen from him / from her in advance. While reading these lines, I wondered whether this may really happen? Could that be possible: given the almost infinite combinations of words to create meaning, or to express one’s thoughts, was it possible to fall twice on the same formulation, by chance, so to say, or at least without having any intention to do so?

I read further, without giving much thought to my doubts, eager to discover the rest of the book.

At page 238, I get puzzled and smiled. We are now in the chapter entitled “Lists and Crumbs”. Morson quotes here an extract from Francis Spufford’s The Chatto Book of Cabbages and Kings, a work that I totally ignored before reading this chapter. The end of the quote goes as follows:

“Crumbs should not be scorned; from time to time they have been made into a very satisfactory banquet in themselves.”

While reading this, I remember a situation back in 2005, – or was it 2006–, when I said to someone who was inquiring about how I dealt with an unfavourable decision:

“They give me crumbles, I shall make a feast out of it!

That comes pretty close to the feeling that something has been stolen in advance…


Interesting way of dealing with fragments

I just received an announcement about a British Academy Network entitled “The Art of Fragments”. I copy the description here. The person in charge is Dr Laura Swift from the Open University in London. Looks interesting…


Thanks to the generous support of the British Academy, we are delighted to announce the launch of a new collaborative network bringing together academics and creative practitioners around the theme of ‘fragments’. We aim to use the form of the fragment, and the concept of fragmentation, as a springboard for creative opportunities. The network will support and showcase recent or ongoing projects where academics have worked in partnership with artists, and will provide a forum to discuss the challenges and opportunities for this type of collaborative work.

This is the launch event for the network, and its aim is to lay groundwork for discussions or partnerships that will continue over the next year. It will focus on themes of general interest, including:

– Why are fragments artistically inspiring?

– Finding the right partner

– Managing the relationship with project partners

– The funding landscape

– Organisations which support or facilitate collaborative work

Attendance is free, but places are limited so booking is essential.

We particularly welcome involvement from creatives of all types and from early career academics (defined by the British Academy for this scheme as those within 10 years of the award of their doctorate) who are interested in collaborating with the creative sector and/or in the creative potential of fragments.

To learn more or book your place, see here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-art-of-fragments-network-launch-event-tickets-45387322704?ref=estw

If you are unable to attend the launch event, but would like to stay  informed about the network and any activities over the next year, please contact me (laura.swift@open.ac.uk).


I am looking forward to hearing more from this Network. Unfortunately I am no longer within the timespan of 10 years after my PhD.

Quotationality and Quotability

I stated to read a book by Gary Saul Morson (Professor of Slavic Languages, Northwestern University) on quotations entitled “the Words of Others”


I have noticed this title during the revision of a contribution I was writing together with a colleague on ancient quotation practices. I decided to explore it in more details as a reaction to a comment that has been made about our contribution. I am now almost half through it and it is, for me, a refreshing new approach as the book presents the point of view from someone who is only loosely related to Classics.

Here some thoughts:

First I was surprised to see that the first chapter was dedicated to anthologies and calls them museums of utterances. This is certainly a very nice formula, which makes a very good point. But I was puzzled, as I would not have started this way. When thinking of a museum (in its modern understanding), I think of a place where items are presented to a visitor (or viewer) in a static way. They have been collected, from different places or sources, and stand now together in a new environment, for which they were not created in the first place. There can certainly be a narrative in a museum according to which the items are arranged and ideally viewed by the visitor, but the items themselves seem to play a rather passive role and are contemplated, admired or studied.  Up to now, I saw quotations in a more active role, used by a speaker with a certain purpose to enhance his utterance. They have therefore to fulfil a function for the speaker, and this is the reason where they are made. So there seems to be three layers here: the original text or utterance to which the textual sequences belong, then the instances where these textual sequences are quoted – once or several times – within new utterances or texts. At some point then, these reused sequences are gathered in anthologies, and for this we have to take for granted that quotations are used more than once, so that they may be believed worthwhile to be assembled. A Classicist would certainly not start with the anthologies, as textual reuses – well, let’s say quotations – are much older than anthologies

I was also amused by Morson comparing quotations with food. This happens in the context of his introduction of the notion of quotationality. He believes that certain utterances acquire a kind of quality that suggests to the hearer the characteristic of otherness, which make them think that these utterances are quotations (that is Morson’s quotationality). The listener may be right or wrong about his feeling. If he is right, he identifies a quotation, and if this is not clearly signalised by the speaker, he may have reached a further lever of understanding (or takes part in a more elaborated form of communication with the speaker). If he is wrong, he may have defined a textual sequence or an utterance as a quotation for which there is no original wording. Sometimes quotations (for which there was once an original, which they repeat) lose their quotationality. This is the case, if the formula enters a given language as foreign food may become part of another culture. He uses the example of pizza and sushi, which were first typically foreign, available only in special stores or in restaurants run by those belonging to the foreign culture, but become over time part of more everyday food, and language. If this happens to textual sequences Morson call them “former quotations”. This is also a tricky aspect for Classicists: how can we deal with textual sequences that we modern readers see as a quotation of a previous work, but which may not be used by the author as quotation? Indeed a given formula may have entered the common language and was used without quotationality in antiquity. But as we modern readers have no longer access to this process and can read only a very small portion of ancient literature, we may indeed see a given formula as typically of a source and hence as quotation from this source, because we lost all the other instances, where this formula was reused.

Finally, there is the notion of quotability: this is the quality an utterance in a given text may have so that it may become a quotation. Morson mentions three elements: the formula must be brief, easy to remember and it must be able to stand for its own. This has two consequences for Classicists. First, it is the place where Morson introduces the distinction between quotation and citation. For him a citation is a repetition of a textual sequence that lacks the three criteria of a quotation. It is an extract of a text that has been reused for a given purpose. This may be done several times, but the passages selected to be reused may not always be brief (some such repetition can take several lines). Moreover they are not particularly easy to remember and finally they are not meant to stand for their own but keep their link to the original text where they come from. With quotations this is different. They often get a life of their own, because of the three criteria, and in some cases, the original context and/or the original speaker are forgotten. If we accept this difference, there is a further difficulty for Classicists. If we are reading a work, in which a quotation is used as a Morson-quotation, standing for its own and having lost, in antiquity, its link to the original, would we not misread the author using it by establishing that he is reusing parts of a work we were able to identify, because it is the only one we have kept with this formula?

As a summary, we may for the time being say:

  • Quotationality seems to belong to the speaker who wants his listener/reader to react in a certain way to his utterance, namely seeing in it a textual reuse (a quotation).
  • Quotability, on the contrary, is a characteristic of a given formula enabling it to stand out in a text and to be reused as such.

I am looking forward to discover the second part of the book!


Digital Humanities: one year ago

While in Köln DH people gather for the DHd 2018 conference, under the nice title “Kritik der digitalen Vernunft”, I have been reading a nice contribution from Prof. Pierre Chiron from the Université Paris-Est Créteil, who I happened to meet one year ago, while being in Paris, actually at the very moment when he published the article. So, it is a pity that I had to wait one year before discovering this piece of writing!

You find the contribution at la vie des Classiques.

It is an interesting essay on the advantages and the challenges of the digital technologies to which we are now used, often without fully understand the ways they may influence our behaviours in the long term. His focus lies on the educational environment and, perhaps a little surprisingly, he finds a way back to one of the ancient systems of rhetorical education (the progymnasmata) to describe his vision of new learning practices, where digital tools may play a crucial role.