‘I so appreciated this workshop as I’m especially interested in the intersection of arts and academics, i.e. creating pathways into the history of conflict through the arts.’
‘You can really see the research that’s gone into this project, I love the layers.’
‘I wanted to thank you again for taking the time to talk to us about NMT Automatics and its relationship with Classics a couple of weeks ago. I have seen variations of ‘poor theatre’ used for Marlowe and Shakespeare, but I had not seen it being used so effectively in telling classical tales in a wider community.’
‘I wanted to learn more about the Visualising War project as I continue to think about performance pieces based on individuals’ writings’
‘I’m interested in the broader conversation between researchers and practitioners from a range of disciplines about how to represent conflict visually’
‘I was intrigued at the idea of bringing together other organizations and individuals working in the same space.’
Extract notes from interviews:
- Competing to have the best section
- Second lieutenant out of Sandhurst will be given a platoon to run – containing three corporals, sergeant
- in charge – he was 24 – his sergeant was late 30s – the officer focuses on the enemy, while the sergeant does the administrative stuff
- “You must have seen a lot – fuck off”
- “Not everyone has PTSD”
- “Hundreds of thousands went to Afghan and not loads got it”
- Officer’s mess- has a separate dining room to soldiers
- It’s that what serve – you want to serve your country, it sounds very cliched and corny but it’s true
- Modern culture is very dismissive of it
- I joined to protect my country, to give back
- I was very conscious, growing up, how lucky I was with my education and stable country, but also how lucky I was to be born in Britain – you’ve literally won the lottery of life to be born in Britain – I was motivated by the want to protect that
- I did my research, I knew what to expect
- Frankly there’s also that small element of that schoolboy excitement – you want to test yourself, how robust am I?
- Can I motivate myself and the people I command to do something no rational person would want to do
- In Estonia he just sat there – they put 1000 British troops there so the Russians wouldn’t invade
- It was a shame joining an army when everyone had been to Afghanistan
- While at Sandhurst he lived there most of the time and he would go to London to stay with Emma
- The commission ball- amazing party
- Burn phone – partner at home is given an old-style phone and soldier abroad has to use new sim card each time
- Satellite phone can call normal home phone – encrypted – given a ten-minute slot maybe only once a week – if you miss it, you miss it – not knowing when he’s going to call next
- “The Russians are nasty”
- Blueys – air mail – military postage system – every unit has its own British Forces Post Office – so royal mail will always get it to correct unit – but maybe only once a week – so wife at home will probably not hear back as often as she likes – would get a few together
- Emma – With tours, the thing I struggle with the most is the not knowing – when am I next going to see him or when am I next going to hear from him? I don’t adore the way the army works. If you are not a wife, I don’t think the army treats you well.
- Why wouldn’t you live on the patch – you get a four bedroom house with a garden and a garage for £400 a month
- Officers move around more than soldiers – as an officer you bounce between a command job and a headquarters job whereas soldiers stay in their regiments – but today its rare that regiments move about
- Easiest thing to do is to be a teacher or a nurse or a physio – because you can move about
- You get holidays in the military that roughly match up with school holidays – for the sake of children
- Officer’s mess – where you live, eat, plan events – you socialise the whole time – there is a bar there
- If you live on an army base then you socialise a lot there – if you don’t then you only see other wives etc for balls etc
- Your regiment is like family, everyone knows everything about each other
- The Patch – useful as a support unit – not many other people who get it when I say I’m really struggling – you don’t want there there, you want yes, this is crap, but let’s do something fun in the meantime – it is a life choice I have made, sadly, and I’m okay with that, but sometimes you want to be reminded that he is thinking about you
- Under the surface, lots of people worry about things – but at least, there’s some things I don’t really ever consider – I never worry about Freddie cheating on me – because he’s more likely to see a penguin than a woman
- In Germany – opposite the army barracks are whore houses – different houses for different ranks
- Met life partner at 21 – broke up lots of times
- Lived long distance for a while – eventually she said fine I’ll give up I’ll come and live with you
- I want to be Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men
- He was yearning for a bit of adventure
- We got married because he was going to Afghanistan and three days later he went on pre-ops training , then he came back, we had a mini moon in Cornwall
- During his first tour I had inherited some money so went travelling round South America and trained as a TEFL teacher and taught in a school – so in his mid-tour break we met in an airport in Florida
- Military life gives you these peaks and troughs that other mere mortals don’t get to experience
- When you walk into an airport and see a man drinking a beer from a distance, you go, who’s that fittie- almost like his face is a Picasso painting – like their eyes and nose is in the wrong place
- First 24 hours you are these two awkward strangers, then it breaks and you go, why the fuck have you left your shoes on the stairs, and then it’s all normal again
- I had my phone on my desk and if he phoned that was your moment – you don’t miss that call – there’s no question – you never know that it might not be a good phone call
- Came back from travelling and lived in Germany
- 2nd tour we’d had one daughter Annabelle – she was 15 months old, and I was pregnant with my second – he went “Oh, um….not definite….yet…but I might have been pinged for….just floating an idea” – you know full fucking well that within minutes it’s going to be definite
- He left when she was 3 months old
- Pretty bleak time in my life
- I lost lots of weight and leaned very heavily on my neighbours
- When you’re going through these shit things, you can find friends who will prop you up, and have been there before and know what you need
- You cut through the crap – you make friends very quickly because you don’t have time and they might leave at any point
- I went to the doctors and got anti-depressants – but I was just sad
- In the end I just had to get through the sad.
- I just had to take each day at a time
- A friend of mine from my life before was meant to come to visit and she cancelled and my world fell down – she didn’t realise how much I had invested in her coming
- A lady in the street told me to go home and sleep and she took my children- so I did and it was incredible
- I try to bring forward acts of kindness in my own life
- That song – the military wives choir song – the lyrics were letters of women whose husbands were away on tour – the song played everywhere. – when it played I would start crying every time I heard it – even now, the notes that start playing, I can’t, it’s like Pavlov and his dog
- We moved another two times.
- We were double posted twice – you get to put down roots – but then harder to leave and others who you know get moved on
- The military flower is a dandelion because you blow anywhere on the wind and take root
- My career has been quite patchy – I work in PR
- I went to Dundee University and studied English and Spanish – met during 3rd year at uni
- Got married when I was 30
- A lot of the patches are segregated – I had a party and a lot of my women friends’ partners didn’t want to come and let lose in front of someone of a senior rank
- Rank jostling is a bit distasteful
- You know what rank they are from the size of their house- they might say “We took under entitlement” – to let you know that their rank is higher than the size of their house
- I have enjoyed my life and have come to terms with it but there have been times when I have been so fucking angry – when I had my third child, I lost my job and joined the Women’s Equality Party
- I cannot have this for my girls that a man’s life governs their life but I have now come to realise that every couple has to make compromises
- If I wasn’t part of the military, I wouldn’t have the extraordinary network of friends all over the country
- My kids go to boarding school – constant battle – I love my kids and they should be with me, versus I love my kids and they need stability – if nothing else is stable in their lives at least school is
- Managing emotional layers
- Getting triggered by strange things – sad moments
- But a lot of the time we manage it, it’s just normal
- My main circle of friends are military or ex military- there’s a diminishing return on why you should stay – the patches are not maintained, we are being encouraged to buy outside of the patch, the camaraderie is disappearing, the benefits of being in the military are being eroded but you understand because women don’t want to sacrifice their jobs
- The favour pot – you don’t have to feel like you owe somebody – you just do the thing, and then some point in the future you do the thing for someone else – you don’t have to do it back to the same person – like recently, every time we made bolognaise we took it round to a lady with a new baby – just to make their life a bit easier
Students blogs in response to workshops:
Classics for the Masses: learning for society and ensuring diversity
Ellis Williams is a 3rd-year student in the School of Classics. She has been taking a new Honours module entitled ‘Classics in the Modern World: interventions and applications’, which explores how we can draw on our study of Greco-Roman antiquity to help address contemporary issues like ‘fake news’, anti-immigration narratives, misogyny, racism and even climate change. In this blog, she discusses the importance of widening access to Classics and how Citizen Scholarship can take the discipline in exciting new directions.
My perception and understanding of Classics are inextricably linked with its complicated history and reputation. For centuries, an education in Classics was exclusive to the upper classes and therefore limited to wealthy white men. The study of Classics was seen as an almost Herculean task: it demanded extreme mental discipline as well as ample time and money to achieve even a semblance of understanding. As a result, Classics was largely inaccessible to the lower classes in the 18th and 19th centuries (although there were some exceptions, as Hall and Stead underline in their A People’s History of Classics). Classics was undeniably a rich man’s pursuit and success in the subject reinforced the privileges of wealth, status and class. This elitist reputation has not been easy to shake off. We need only look to our current Prime Minister, whose expensive education and bombastic classical recitations embody for many the traditional Classicist’s privilege. Nonetheless the discipline is slowly changing.
There is a new generation of Classicists striving to diversify, rethink and redefine aspects of the ancient world for a modern audience. They particularly focus on those previously excluded from the discipline and narrative. To me, the purpose of the new St Andrews module Modern Classics and of ‘Applied Classics’ in general is to drag the subject – kicking and screaming in some cases – into the 21st century. Applied Classics encourages us to think beyond our current notions regarding the uses of Classics, to fight against age-old stereotypes concerning the discipline and to apply our knowledge to implement serious change in the modern world. I chose to take the Modern Classics module for entirely selfish reasons. As a student within the School of Classics, I have had to justify my chosen degree subject numerous times to various people over the years. There are only so many times you can be asked, by schoolteachers and students alike, ‘what’s the point?’ and ‘what job do you expect to get with that?’. With this module, I thought I could finally provide some solid examples of the real-world applications of my Classical Studies degree. I wanted to feel vindicated but already it has done more than that: I have been vindicated, but I have also been radicalised.
Reading Mary Beard’s book Confronting the Classics has reminded me that my study of Classics is ‘about [me] as much as [it is] about the Greeks and Romans’. I am an example of a non-stereotypical Classicist. I’m Scottish and state-educated – my school didn’t teach French or drama, let alone Classics. I once joked in an essay that the only Latin lessons available in Motherwell were dance classes in a chapel hall. My experiences and thus my interpretations of the ancient world will not be the same as the vast majority. However, they are still valid. I agree with Beard that ‘Classical tradition is something to be engaged with and sparred against’, and this idea is evidenced throughout history. For as long as Classics has been at the cornerstone of a gentleman’s education and maintained class stratification, it has also been used as a subversive tool by the downtrodden to resist oppression. For example, South African dramatists have adopted and appropriated Sophocles’ Antigone as a means to denounce apartheid and tyrannical governments. Similarly, the figure of Spartacus and his slave revolt have influenced many radical labour movements across the globe. Classics can be used and appropriated by anyone, simultaneously promoting democratic and undemocratic trends . After reading about the concept of ‘citizen scholars’, I have become increasingly aware of the moral and ethical purpose to our learning . We should use our knowledge to actively engage with existing appropriations of the Classical world and vocalise new interpretations to implement social change as well as change within the discipline. Donna Zuckerberg states that classics is ‘inherently resistant to change’, but that does not mean it is impossible.
In recent years, the alt-right has grown from an obscure community on Reddit to a hate-filled powerhouse that is seeping its way into mainstream politics. If not alarming enough, the alt-right are ‘weaponising the classics’ to perpetuate, legitimise and further their dangerous ideologies. The alt-right’s reading of the Classical world is not always inherently incorrect, but it is tired and shallow – and important to challenge. Eidolon and Pharos are two online publications dedicated to progressive Classics. Eidolon and its founder Donna Zuckerberg have sought to make Classics more inclusive and intersectional through a nuanced interpretation of ancient sources. Furthermore, both use their knowledge and platform to expose and correct the alt-right’s ‘superficial’ appropriation of the ancient world. A pitfall in the methodologies of Eidolon and Pharos is that they appeal to an audience that already has a Classical background – arguably they are preaching to the converted. They also acknowledge that their actions are unlikely to stop or change the minds of the people whose misappropriations of Classics they are challenging. If they are to undo misappropriations popularised by the alt-right and others, modern Classicists must widen access to their work.
Whilst Eidolon and Pharos seek to reinterpret and correct appropriations of the classical world,NMT Automatics aims to improve accessibility by updating ancient myths to make them relevant for modern audiences. NMT Automatics operate a ‘community participant model’, and in doing so they hope to affect change in the lives of their volunteers by facilitating their access to ancient myth and their subsequent impact on society. Their most recent production of Pandora’s Box, for example, challenged the original misogynistic undertones present in the myth – an important re-interpretation at a time when gender equality is still more myth than reality. Some audience members critiqued their decision to simplify the language and adapt the source material to make it accessible. In my view, however, the simplification and colloquialisation of ancient texts is not a downside to Applied Classics but one of its strengths. As noted by Hall and Stead in A People’s History of Classics, translations have always been ‘derided as vulgar and an inferior mode of access to Classics’ by those unwilling to believe that Classics can be studied effectively in English. By increasing accessibility and modern relevance, NMT Automatics’ approach has encouraged new people to explore and engage with the ancient world – and in the process, to reflect on pressing issues like the negative representation of women in the 21st century.
The modern application of Classics is just as complicated as its history and it must be approached with careful consideration of ethics and methodologies. Whilst it is evident that progressive ventures are underway to diversify and decolonise the discipline, not every use of Applied Classics is well-meaning. It is part of our job as modern Classicists to call out unnuanced and superficial use of Classics. As Chantois, Kuhn and Kuhn state in their book Applied Classics: comparisons, constructs, controversies, ‘Classical paradigms should not offer models to be copied, but stimuli for reflections’. As aspiring Citizen Scholars and Classicists, we must recognise the flaws within the ancient world itself as well as failings in its subsequent interpretation. In doing so, we can change the discipline for the better by increasing inclusivity and accessibility, as well as opening Classics up to comment constructively on the modern world. Oliver Burkeman’s reflections on the need for nuance are relevant here: as he notes, ‘when you are scared to contemplate the possibility you might be wrong, or when you build your identity around the things you believe […] that is when the world gets twisted into something that blinds us to reality and sucks us into vicious hostilities’. Arguably, the study of Classics has been plagued by this kind of thinking in the past; but when Applied Classics is combined with critical reflection, it offers an exciting opportunity to for us not only to change the discipline but also to change the world for the better. To return to my quotation of Mary Beard above, our study of the ancient world is about us as much as about the Greeks and Romans.
 Lawartsch Melton, B. Appropriations of Cicero and Cato in the Making of American Civic Identity. In Hardwick, L. and Harrison, S. (2013). Classics in the modern world: a democratic turn? Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
 Arvanitakis, J. and Hornsby, D. J. (2016) Universities, the Citizen Scholar and the Future of Higher Education.
‘Applied Classics’ done well involves exploration, not reductionism
Posted by MLWKon
Josephine McEvoy is a final-year student in the School of Classics. She has been taking a new Honours module entitled ‘Classics in the Modern World: interventions and applications’, which explores how we can draw on our study of Greco-Roman antiquity to help address contemporary issues like ‘fake news’, anti-immigration narratives, misogyny, racism and even climate change. In this blog, she discusses some of the potential pitfalls of ‘applying’ Classical content to modern issues and identifies some more productive approaches.
This semester, I have gained a clearer understanding of the power and reach of Classics in the modern world; but I have also learnt about the social and ethical responsibilities that come with being a ‘citizen scholar’, and how important it is to be attuned to and wary of abuses of the discipline. From examining how Classical content is used and abused in our modern day, I have come to see ‘Classical applications’ as broadly falling in to one of two categories; exploratory, or reductive. Reading ancient content against our real time experiences in an exploratory way can be emotionally cathartic, leading to relief and connection with timeless aspects of the human experience, as Stephanie McCarter relates in her article exploring the tumultuous war-faring journey of Aeneas besides that of her grandfather. However, more reductive applications of Classical content to modern issues can, as I have discovered, be incredibly dangerous. Using the same example of Virgil’s Aeneid, Reddit-style blogging platforms – where content such as this article circle freely – can provide a space for disillusioned ‘Red Pill Men’ and others to use superficial narratives about Classics to bolster their delusions that misogyny, racism, and xenophobia are both the foundations and future of a ‘golden society’.
Classical receptions are by nature not apolitical, which raises a question about whether or not the Classical receptionist has a moral imperative towards activism – and where that imperative can take us. Pharos and Eidolon are two blogging platforms that publish articles about Classics in the modern age and pursue similar activist agenda. As Eidolon’s founder, Donna Zuckerberg, explains in a 2020 article, she was not always confident in branding her journal as leftist-feminist, partly for fear of alienating potential readers who were not aligned with or even resistant to these politics. The articles published on Eidolon have not found universal favour, but they do enjoy a broad readership and support within communities which already share leftist-feminist politics, and they have also shaken up approaches to the discipline well beyond that. I find Pharos’ comparatively more transparent and straightforward politics refreshing and affirming, although of course this approach is also not free from limitations. Their aim is direct and specific: “Pharos is a platform where classical scholars, and the public more broadly, can learn about and respond to appropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity by hate groups online.” Debunking Classical misappropriations feels like a very helpful goal for educating non-radicalised readers, a portion of whom may be susceptible to the Alt-Right Pipeline. However, as Donna Zuckerberg points out in her book Not All Dead White Men, intellectualising misappropriations to explain them back to the Red Pill community is unlikely to be useful in prompting them to dismantle their own perspectives. These Alt-Right communities are not studying Classics, they are simply drawing on it; and their abuse of Classical material reveals a dangerous pitfall in Classical applications which do not properly engage with source material: ‘while most Red Pill references to the Classics are often inaccurate, confounding, or lacking in nuance, they can still be dangerous nevertheless’ (Zuckerberg, 2018, p. 9) .
Clearly, attaching oneself to an image of Classics as the cradle of Western culture in order to justify problematic agendas invites mismatched parallels and false equivalencies. The uncomfortable baggage surrounding Classics today can be examined in light of Dan-El Padilla’s controversial debate with Mary Frances Williams, as reported in the New York Times Magazine. Arguably, the reporting in this article straddled a fine line between lazy and harmful: the tagline ‘He Wants to Save Classics From Whiteness. Can the Field Survive?’ was clearly intended to provoke an emotional rather than intellectual response in a reader inclined towards upholding and defending the ‘honour’ or ‘tradition’ of Classics. The wider debate, however, has highlighted Classics’ complex relationship with racism, colonialism and other forms of oppression or exclusion. Combatting extreme views which people try to ‘justify’ through co-opting the cultural capital of Classical content is incredibly difficult because, to quote Zuckerberg again, ‘they have turned the ancient world into a meme’ (Zuckerberg, 2018, p. 3). While it is true that our corpus of Classical sources does contain evidence of misogyny and xenophobia, as modern Classicists and citizen scholars we must handle this material appropriately and sensitively, especially when we encounter misappropriated content which invites informed intervention. Problems arise when people conflate these sources not only with the entire discipline of Classics, but with the idea that this is how a flourishing society should operate. It would appear that the revival of nuance should be the first imperative of a helpful, constructive, and exploratory Classical reception.
Returning to my opening points, exploratory approaches to ‘Applied Classics’ can be much more productive than reductive ones, and successful exploration invites much more creative methodologies. One challenge for any ‘Applied Classics’ project is to get it to speak to its target audience in accessible and productive ways. NMT Automatics is a theatre company that specialises in staging ancient myths for modern audiences. The tagline for their production of Pandora’s Box on their website is: ‘An eerie forest, an abandoned palace and a mystery woman who holds the keys to the universe; if you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…’. The infusion of modern nursery rhyme into the ancient myth anticipates a performance more concerned with the timelessness and transferability of the story than complete linguistic and stylistic faith to the classical original, and indeed their script diverges from translating Hesiod’s account and instead uses more contemporary language. NMT Automatics faced some backlash from some audience members who were familiar with the original text and dismayed at the production’s departure from it, while other audience members were able to appreciate the performance for its accessibility and creativity. This was striking, since this idea that Classics should be kept ‘pure’ or ‘original’ resonates with how the Alt-Right weaponised ‘their version’ of Classics at the Capitol riots this January by branding anti-democratic insurrection with symbols of Spartan warriors and Roman Imperialism. As one of our guest lecturers (Prof. Neville Morley) pointed out, people are mostly like to engage with ‘Applied Classics’ projects when you ‘give them what they want’ – that is, when you offer them something they are already interested in or can relate to. It is important to remember, however, that this need not involve confirming what they already think about the ancient world; it can be creative, experimental and thought-provoking. A Classical application, in my view, is particularly useful when it finds a way to avoid preaching to the converted, and only helpful when it avoids co-option of ancient materials for destructive goals. And as I suggested at the start, ‘Applied Classics’ done well involves exploration, not reductionism.