The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with David Meadows
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
The sarcophagus at the Metropolitan Museum depicting the contest between Sirens and Muses.
When did you first come across this sarcophagus?
I honestly can’t recall but it was during one trip down a rabbit hole when I was looking for photos of portrayals of Sirens.
Can you tell me a bit about this story and its context?
The story is mentioned in one of Pausanias’ books (and probably elsewhere) of the Sirens being talked into a singing contest with the Muses. The Muses won, and then plucked the feathers from the poor Sirens to make victory crowns. The sarcophagus in the Met is from the third century or so and depicts the whole progression of the contest.
What is it about this sarcophagus that appeals to you most?
I love the ‘narrative’ of the sarcophagus. From left to right we see Zeus et al as judges, a few vignettes from the contest in a way that appeals to modern sensibilities — the best is the Siren taking on Euterpe and they look like a pair of metal guitarists competing at some Battle of the Bands. As the scene closes on the right the vanquished Sirens are depicted almost as fallen warriors. Outside of the great visuals, it’s also a great metaphor for social media, with the Sirens distracting you from the serious stuff represented by the Muses. In real life, though, the Sirens sometimes win.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
I watch far too many sporting events for my own good.
David Meadows has an MA in Classics (Queen’s) and was ABD (McMaster) when the decision was made to head into elementary-level education instead. Even so, he is actively involved in the ‘internet side’ of the Classical World and has been blogging at rogueclassicism for 17 years — the sarcophagus mentioned above is the current anchor picture for the site. For the past decade he has been curating #Classicstwitter and continues to whinge about how Classicists should be making more use of the Internet and social media than they currently are.