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 Rebecca Futo Kennedy and Max Goldman
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
For both of us, Classical texts are not necessarily a place of comfort from the world, if by ‘comfort’ we mean ‘escape’. If we had a choice of looking at something to turn to as the world falls apart around us, for me (Rebecca), that answer is Fantasy or Sci Fi, especially something I’ve read before. For Max, the answer is Calvin and Hobbes or PG Wodehouse.
If, however, we think of ‘comfort’ instead as something that brings us pleasure or joy despite the fact that the world is ending, then for us, it isn’t an actual specific text or object or even genre, but rather that, whatever we are reading–for teaching prep, for research, as a rabbit hole we fell down due to a Twitter discussion–the answer really is that the comfort comes from doing it together. We rarely work solo anymore. Even when working on individual authored articles or projects, it is a continuing conversation with the other; sharing our discoveries, hashing out our arguments, disagreeing and helping each other articulate exactly what we each are trying to say.
We recognize that not everyone has a built-in Classics partner at home, but for me (Rebecca), I have also found a Comfort Classics in regular online pomodoro work sessions with my colleague Jackie Murray and a number of others (some people I knew before, others I did not) who join us each day. Again, it is this idea that, whatever we are working on in the moment, whether an article on Athenian metics (me) or on Herodas’ poems (Jackie), we are somehow helping each other out and sharing that work. In this time of insanity, the use of Zoom and other technologies has actually made us more communal about our Classics than before the quarantines and the current nightmare that is US politics.
When did you first come come to the conclusion that you could share your work and not get upset with each other?
We think for many of us, we are trained to think of ourselves as lone wolves, with a strange fetishization of the individual genius. But over the course of our 10 year relationship, and especially over the last 4 years when we have been able to live in the same state together, we find it a pillar of our relationship that we do not have to be alone and that this thing–Classics–that is so central to our lives in so many ways and that we spend the majority of each day thinking about, is shared and shareable with the other. It makes the work part of Classics a lot less lonely and being able to share with each other has made us both better teachers, scholars, and colleagues. We do have our fights–we can no longer discuss Euripides’ Hippolytus without voices being raised–but for the most part, it is a comfort and not distressing.
In times like this, we do find a sense of purpose and satisfaction in our work–Rebecca is working on multiple articles on metics and ancient ideas of race and ethnicity and the Black Achilles controversy; Max is working on a study of the term pallakis in both Greek and Latin texts–but it is the fact that we aren’t in it alone and don’t have to be solitary in our Classics that brings the most comfort.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
We took sailing lessons this summer. Just the two of us in a small sail boat on a lake. It was fun. We did not get injured in the process. We watch anime with the teenagers and the occasional obscure Japanese arthouse films. I (Rebecca) power watch Haikyu!! or Avatar: The Last Airbender and reread NK Jemisin and the just completed Daevabad Trilogy by SA Chakraborty. Max likes to read books that are locally famous but internationally unknown, like The Long Ships (by FG Bengtsson from Sweden) or The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll (by A. Mutis from Colombia). Max’s comforts are clearly a bit more cultured than Rebecca’s, but he also reads Zerocalcare, which maybe balances us out a bit .
Rebecca and Max both teach at a small liberal arts college (about 2200 students) in rural Ohio in the US. We have 2 cats, 2 teenagers, and a shared home office. Rebecca’s work includes Athenian social history (metics, esp), ancient theories of race and ethnicity and their modern reception, and Aeschylus–probably the closest thing she has to a ‘Comfort Classics’ author. Her most recent publication is the Brill Companion to the Reception of Aeschylus (2019), which she edited and her monograph, Immigrant Women in Athens (2014). Max’s work is pretty spread out as he tends to research and write about whatever interests him. Right now it is the ancient term pallakis, while he has also published, most recently, on Demosthenes’ funeral oration (in Brill’s Companion to Military Defeat in the Ancient World) as well as an article on ancient physiognomic texts in the volume Identity and the Environment in the Classical and Medieval Worlds (2016; edited by Rebecca and her friend and colleague Molly Jones-Lewis). They are both currently working to complete a new collection of translations on women in the Greco-Roman World and collaborated earlier with Sydnor Roy on Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World: An Anthology of Sources (2013).
While we each maintain our own blogs, we have begun writing posts together, the most recent being An Ethics of Citation.
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.