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 Ian Tompkins
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
The ruins of Cyrrhus in northern Syria.
When did you first come across this place?
When I started studying Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus, for my D.Phil in the 1980s.
Can you tell me a bit about the city and its context?
Cyrrhus was a small city nestling just inside the Syrian border with Turkey. An Hellenistic foundation, named after a city on the Greek mainland, its most famous son had been Avidius Cassius, the second-century usurper. Theodoret was bishop of Cyrrhus in the fifth century for around 40 years, apart from the brief and unfortunate interruption when he was deposed by the Second Council of Ephesus. The ruins of Cyrrhus include a theatre, city walls, churches, and a hexagonal tower incorporated into a Yazidi shrine. The picture I have included was my last shot of the site when I visited it many years ago, so it has a poignancy that marks it out from the others I have of it.
What is it about this place that appeals to you most?
Theodoret has been my main research interest throughout my career. I have continued to read and study him as opportunities allow. I’ve always sought to understand him in the context of his city and its territory.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
In the second half of my fifties, I have become a very keen runner. I ventured outside for the first time at Easter last year, loved it and kept going. To my amazement, I found I could fairly comfortably run longer distances, and in October last year I ran my first half-marathon, in my beloved home city of Manchester, on behalf of the amazing people at the Christie Hospital. This was the most wonderful and exhilarating experience, and I knew that I had to keep this going. “I get up, I get down. Now that it’s all over and done, Now that you find, now that you’re whole.”, as Jon Anderson put it. I have run a number since then, and had been planning and training for my first Marathons until these were postponed. I try to run most days now. When I meet friends and colleagues, the opening query usually now seems to be “How’s the running going?”
Manchester Grammar School, 1974-81
Wadham College, Oxford University, 1981-5, MA Lit Hum.
University of Manchester, 1985-7, BD Theology
Wadham College, 1987-90, & Queen’s College, Oxford, 1990-1, DPhil in Ancient History, supervised by Averil Cameron, passed 1993, examined by Fergus Millar and Wolf Liebeschuetz.
Tutor in Classical Studies, University of Wales Aberystwyth, 1991-6.
Administrative Assistant, Academic Registry, UWA, 1996-2003.
Warden, Penbryn Hall of Residence, 1999-2003.
Senior Assistant Registrar, Corporate Planning Office, University of Sheffield, 2003-5.
Classics Teacher, Ellesmere College, Shropshire, 2005-date.
Continuing to work on Theodoret of Cyrrhus, in collaboration with Anthony Bowen in Cambridge, and on Syria in late antiquity.