Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sparrow's Work

I find it easier to talk about my work now. For years I would demure, I would deny, and I would shuffle aside what I was doing, or how much of it I'd done. Since the beginning of my graduate career, I've kept much of my work a secret. I did this not out of some misplaced notion of privacy, but out of fear. Fear, not that someone would steal my ideas, but of ridicule.

Fatherhood has done many good things for me. One such thing was to make me less concerned about ridicule. I should have put aside my adolescent worries years ago, but only becoming someone's dad forced the realization. There are things that I need to finish. There is work that I need to do. So, in light of this transformation, it is time to write about my work here.

I am currently involved in three research projects. One is my dissertation, the second is a work that I hope will become an article on Martial's poetry, and the third is an examination of the strange marriages mentioned by several of our surviving texts. The first and second projects are well under way, but the third is floating in a preliminary "wait-until-later" stage.

My dissertation, which remains untitled, concerns children in Roman antiquity. I decided, while reading Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria, that the elements of elementary education present in the late Julio-Claudian and early Flavian periods had not received the type of attention they deserved. Extensive work has been done on elementary education's role in creating the adult orator, specifically on the what of education. I am more interested in the how. I want to understand the pedagogical methods that Quintilian and other instructors relied upon to teach their students. I want to understand this not because my dissertation focuses on pedagogues and pedagogy, but because understanding these topics provides a window into adult understandings of children's minds and imaginations. We cannot directly study the minds and imaginations of ancient children. They left behind very little, and almost none of it psychologically revealing. We can, however, study the minds and imaginations of the adults for whom the education of children was important. I hope that by engaging with such individuals, like Quintilian, a better picture of the Roman child can be achieved, one that takes into account their intellectual capacities and the creative impulses.

My second project concerns the poetry of Martial. While attending a seminar on ekphrasis in ancient poetry (both Greek and Latin), I was struck by Martial's use of it. Some famous examples deal with a variety of art objects that Martial enlivens through brief, epigrammatic ekphrases. My project ignores those famous examples, as they have already received a decent survey by scholars. Instead, I've focused on a series of poems, among the lengthier of Martial's tidbits, which describe, in sometimes vivid detail, various topographical features. I've limited my sample to those works that Martial wrote during his time away from Rome (he left for Spain), and which deal directly with the empire's capital. These topographical ekphrases, a term used by some scholars, though none associated with antiquity as far as I am aware, describe Rome's streets, her statues, her buildings, and treat the city as a canvas, a static art object that Martial's mind has memorized. His memory of Rome permits him to send his little book (libellus) down through what he hopes are still familiar streets. As the book goes, so does the reader, living and walking through Martial's imagined Rome. I hope to show in this work that Martial's use of these elements resembles (perhaps, echoes) his use of more traditional ekphrastic styles.

My third project has not advanced beyond the 'clever idea' stage. During a debate with a faculty member, I was struck by Plutarch's discussion of Cato (the Younger's) marriage. His second marriage, I believe. There is something exceedingly odd about the entire episode, and as of yet I haven't found a scholarly reading of it that satisfies me. Cato has married a much younger woman, whose fecundity is, apparently, a proven fact. A friend of his, who greatly desires children, asks Cato if he would be willing to divorce his wife so that he, the friend, could marry her, have a child, and then return Cato's wife to him (Cato). Actually, the friend first asks for Cato's daughter, but Cato demures, claiming that his daughter's marriage is, in fact, a happy and prosperous one. Cato, however, agrees to the divorce, and his friend is made happy. What does this mean? What does it say about marriage in the late Republic? What does it say about Cato? I find the entire episode bizarre, and as soon as I have the time, I intend to tackle it.

 There, now, in public, are my three projects. Each moves along nicely, and I hope each will eventually see successful completion. Dum spiro, spero.  

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