Weekend Reading: Binge-watching Cicero

What caught my eye this week

There’s been a lot written about Robert Harris’ Cicero on stage this week; the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, despite theatregoers being subjected to a mammoth seven hours of Roman politics.

This raises a couple of interesting questions. One is whether the recent trend for theatre marathons is actually bringing us close to the experience of (in particular) Athenian theatre-goers, who would settle in for a full day’s entertainment from a set of plays. How does the audience’s attitude change, when we enter a theatre with the intention of investing a serious chunk of time in a performance? How does that immersive experience affect the viewer?

Another interesting point is raised by Mike Poulter, who adapted Harris’ novels for the stage. He calls it ‘an addictive, box-set experience’. This is an intriguing comparison, if we link it to the previous question. If a full day of theatre is similar to binge-watching, then does that make Ancient Greece a binge-viewing culture? And what are the implications of that for understanding our own modern viewing practices, which are often viewed as destructive to both our physical health and our mental well-being?

I feel a research project coming on…!

The marathon drama isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. I remember when the nine-play series Tantalus came to Newcastle in 2001. As a final-year Classics undergraduate, I felt obliged to roll up my sleeves and give it a go. Ten hours later, I came out of the theatre reeling and wondering what had possessed me: but certainly it was a memorable experience! One thing I took away from it was the feeling that I knew the characters; after spending an entire day with Cassandra, Hector, Electra and Achilles, they felt like old friends, and their fates were all the more compelling because of it.

What is your view of binge-watching, theatrical or otherwise: is it a modern phenomenon, or a return to a much older mode of viewing?






From Classical Studies Support

On the neglected art of writing an abstract – Classical Studies Support



Pompeii’s unluckiest man not quite so spectacularly unlucky – New York Times 

…and a discussion of social media responses to him – The Conversation 

The unexpected dangers of Latin manuscripts – The Conversation

The ‘hand of god’ at Vindolanda – Independent


Comment and opinion

Edith Hall talks about Aristotle and happiness – Aeon 

…with a follow-up article on Lucian – The Edithorial 

Greek and Roman backsides – History from Below 

Mary Beard reviews Robert Harris’ Cicero stage play – A Don’s Life 

…and Cicero reveals his own obsession with book-collecting – Sententiae Antiquae 

Classics and cinematic superheroes – Classical Fix 

The Discobolus and its political exploitation – Hyperallergic 

Epictetus on giving up smoking – Eidolon 

Shiny cheeks and clean armour – Tyne and Wear Museums 

On not giving up on education – Guardian 

Lords in agreement about the value of the OU – Hansard 

A compilation of articles on the Odyssey Eidolon 

Classics, feminism and activism – Women’s Classical Committee 

Sites of conflict and cultural memory in Rome – Society for Classical Studies (US) 


Podcasts, videos and other media

Nick Lowe on Greeks and jokes – The Gaisford Lecture 

Christopher Smith on the Romans and kings – De Carle Distinguished Lecture series 

Phil Perkins on the new module A229 – Student Hub (see also the module description here)

A video for classical book-lovers – The Hellenic and Roman Library 

Updates on the Digital Rosetta Stone Project – Digital Classics London 

Donate your photos of Roman stuff to the Roman Society – Imago 


Off our beat

Making mistakes can be a good thing (remember this at results time!) – BBC 

Previously unpublished photos of the Tutankhamun excavation – BBC 


And finally…

“The things you think of to link are not in your control. It’s just who you are, bumping into the world. But how you link them is what shows the nature of your mind. Individuality resides in the way links are made. . . . You know, I could list things I saw but that’s not why I put them together, that would be an afterthought. I put them together by accident. And that’s fine, I’m happy to do things by accident. But what’s interesting to me is once the accident has happened, once I happen to have Simonides and Paul Celan on my desk together, what do I do with the link? What I do with it depends on all the thoughts I’ve had in my life up to that point and who I am at that point. It could be Simonides and celery, it doesn’t matter; it only matters insofar as I’m going to make a work of art out of it. It seems totally arbitrary on the one hand and on the other, totally particular about who I am as a thinker.”

–Anne Carson in LitHub 

One thought on “Weekend Reading: Binge-watching Cicero

  1. A History of Binge-Watching? I think this is an interesting concept, I certainly hadn’t thought about it in the context of classics, but like you point out, you can almost picture hordes of Greek spectators settling down at the City Dionysia ready for the onslaught of Athenian Tragedy etc. That being said, the competitive nature and the necessity of engagement with the Greek audience is different to my notion of binge watching. I don’t manage to binge watch as much as I used to, but when I find something I like I watch it over and over. Despite the modern ideas about it being bad for health etc, I personally find it a relaxing escape from daily life. Although that’s depending on the choice of program!


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