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 James Robson
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
I’m going to say Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Because I love it, yes, but also because I’m writing a book on it at the moment, so it’s my daily companion.
When did you first come across this play?
In my first year of university as part of my Greek and Roman Drama module. I found Ancient Greek comedy frustratingly difficult to get my head around at the time, but Lysistrata was different. I felt that I got Lysistrata somehow – plus it made me laugh.
Can you tell me a bit about the play and its context?
It’s a comic play from 411 BCE. This was in many ways classical Athens’ darkest hour: the city had recently lost thousands upon thousands of its men in the disastrous Sicilian Expedition and was now at serious risk of losing the Peloponnesian War which it had been fighting against Sparta for 20 years. Yet out of these dire times comes this extraordinary, sparkling play – a fantasy about the women of Greece staging a sex strike and forcing the men to reconcile their differences and live at peace.
What is it about this play that appeals to you most?
It’s kind of got it all: an inventive plot, sassy dialogue – and lots of wonderfully dirty jokes, of course – but also lots of hidden depths. It also feels very modern compared to most ancient drama. The first time you read it, that’s what makes it accessible. But the more you read it, the more you understand how it was put together, why it’s capable of giving modern audiences that instant hit and just how innovative it was. Plus, I’m forever noticing new details or subtle allusions that get me thinking … .
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
Well, with a three-year-old son and a cocker spaniel in the house, there’s not much opportunity to mope. But I’m also going to give a shout out to good food: making it, eating it, thinking about eating it, that kind of thing. Our lockdown indulgence is high-end ingredients so, yeah, we’re eating well!
James Robson is Professor of Classical Studies at the Open University. His publications include Aristophanes: An Introduction (Bloomsbury, 2009) and Sex and Sexuality in Classical Athens (Edinburgh University Press, 2013) and he is also co-editor of Sex in Antiquity: Reconsidering Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World (Routledge, 2015). He is currently working on a book on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata for Bloomsbury and completing a funded project called The Battle for Latin looking at beginners’ Latin teaching in UK universities.