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 Jennifer Gane
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
Well, my favourite quotation from a Classical work has to be “in duris haerentia mora rubetis” from Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.105 because I think it’s the most accurate description of blackberries resisting when you pick them off the branch – and I always recite the phrase when I’m blackberry-picking which increases my joy in the activity even more than the thought of blackberry crumble!
But one text that I’ve re-read recently is the funeral inscription known as the Laudatio Turiae.
When did you first come across this source?
This was one of the set texts when I taught the Women’s Life in Greece and Rome topic for AQA’s A Level Classical Civilisation, and later I used it as a source for one of my essays in my Ancient History MLitt.
Can you tell me a bit about the text and its context?
The text dates from the 1st Century B.C. and is a very long funeral inscription dedicated by a Roman man to his wife of 40 years who had died. It’s not known who the dead woman or her husband were, but she was once thought to be Turia, the wife of Quintus Lucretius Vespillo who was consul in 19 B.C.
What is it about this inscription that appeals to you most?
This was the first source I came across about a ‘normal’ women who exercised a degree of freedom and power within a society where women had fewer rights and opportunities. We tend to think of Roman women as being submissive and downtrodden (not as much as Greek ones, but still nowhere near as capable and active as women of today), but this text describes how Turia avenged her parents’ murder, fought against those who wanted to corrupt her father’s will, defended her home against Milo, appealed to the Emperor Augustus for her husband’s return from exile, confronted Lepidus when he refused to acknowledge her husband’s pardon and was beaten for her pains, and made decisions about dowries for younger members of her family, while all the time being the very model of virtuous Roman womanhood!
I love that we see a strong, capable Roman woman being so praised by her husband, and I also find it comforting to think that although Turia’s life could be seen as a catalogue of disasters and misfortunes, she still managed to overcome each one. It encourages me that if she could survive all the events of her life, I can manage to get through a pandemic, working from home and looking after the children!
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
Since Classics is no longer part of my everyday life, I do like to read novels set in Classical times to remind myself how much I love the Ancient World, which always makes me happy. I also enjoy sitting in my garden in the sunshine, since I’ve only had a garden for 18 months and I always feel blessed that I’m able to be in my own outdoor space.
After completing a PhD at Newcastle University on St Basil’s attitude to education, Jennifer left Classics and joined the dark side by becoming an apprentice software developer at STCS Ltd in Gateshead. She enjoys development because it feels just like translating Greek and Latin texts, but with the added bonus of making magic things happen on a computer screen!
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.