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 Anactoria Clarke
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
Tryphiodorus’ The Taking of Ilios. I’ve been fascinated by the Trojan war epic cycle since I first started studying the classics, and love reading the later ancients who fill in the missing gaps from texts we have lost. I like the thought that even when there are gaps, people have found creative ways to fill them and record what might have been there.
When did you first come across this text?
My research originally started looking at minor male prophets (still a sideline of research) and I was looking for references to Calchas and Helenus. I was trying to cut down my spending on Loebs and, having previously found Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica in the dusty basement of my local library service through the online catalogue, I idly wondered if Tryphiodorus would be there too. It was! I now have a tradition where I take it out over Christmas and New Year every year, to re-read.
Can you tell me a bit about this work and its context?
Like Quintus Smyrnaeus, Tryphiodorus was writing in Greek in the later Roman empire, 3rd or 4th century AD. He was based in Egypt, and this is his only surviving work, although we know of two other lost poems, Marathoniaca and The Story of Hippodamea. It only covers from the building of the wooden horse through to the sacrifice of Polyxena, so is much shorter than Quintus Smyrnaeus.
What is it about this text that appeals to you most?
There are quite a few elements that seem to show the various receptions we have of some of the characters – Helen in particular. It also shows Cassandra, daughter of Priam and prophetess (although it was her curse to be an accurate prophet but not believed); she is dealt with particularly harshly by Priam, and this reaction feels to me very much modelled on Agamemnon’s reaction to Calchas at the beginning of the Iliad, even calling her ‘prophetess of evil’. If my Greek ever gets good enough, I’d love to do a detailed comparison!
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
I am a colossal geek so in my spare time I study; as a rare treat, I might read the odd Nordic Noir thriller. I also work on creative writing, specifically poetry which usually has a classics-based theme. I regularly try and brush up my ancient Greek and Latin, and intersperse this with not doing anything to brush up on them and taking two steps back. During the pandemic and working from home, I’m currently being shadowed 24/7 by Freddie the miniature long-haired sausage dog. Walking him definitely cheers me up.
Anactoria is a Staff Tutor for Access modules and an Associate Lecturer in Arts for the Open University. She originally studied for a PhD in late nineteenth century gothic literature, and then undertook a Masters in Classical Studies whilst working at the OU. She is currently working towards a PhD in Classics at Kings College London, looking at Cheiron the centaur in ancient sources and in reception.