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 Hardeep Dhindsa
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
It would have to be an inscription from Pompeii that reads XIII K MAIAS PANEM FECI (CIL IV.8972), which translates as ‘On April 19 I made bread’. It just makes me so happy, and I refuse to believe any other date deserves to be International Bread Day.
When did you first come across this source?
I came across this inscription during my postgraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh. I was studying Classical Art and Archaeology and was relatively new to Classics, having done my undergraduate degree in History of Art. During a course about Hellenistic art I was tasked with writing an essay about some frescoes at Boscoreale so went to work researching all I could – and by that I mean I was searching ‘frescoes Boscoreale hellenistic’ on Google Scholar. I somehow ended up looking for inscriptions that might help me with the essay and I stumbled across it online and just sat there for five minutes trying to contain my laughter.
Can you tell me a bit about this inscription and its context?
To be completely honest I know absolutely nothing about the inscription except that it is carved into the wall at a Palaestra in Pompeii (Regio II, Insula 7 as far as I’m aware). I did some quick googling at the time and couldn’t find much about it apart from some entries in a database of graffiti from Pompeii but that didn’t matter to me so much. I feel like I don’t need to know everything about it to enjoy it, and in a weird way I think the more I try to dive through publications to find out about it the more I move away from my wholesome joy. It’s okay to like something just because you like it, in the grand scheme of things the consequences of not knowing anything about it (I haven’t even seen a picture) are pretty minor.
What is it about this source that appeals to you most?
I’ve always hated reading academic texts; I’m a slow reader/writer. Because my parents didn’t go to university it took me a while to even begin understanding how academics write and gain a basic background knowledge of whatever it was I was studying – I just wasn’t used to it. And then once I found my groove in History of Art I decided to uproot everything and jump ship to Classics and I had to start that process again. I took an intensive Beginner’s Latin course and let me tell you it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I literally knew 0 Latin by the time it finished apart from some choral chants to remember the declension endings. So when I found this source, I think it just represented everything I enjoyed about academia at the time: it’s a pointless inscription written by a random person in simple and easy Latin. There is no importance, no analysis necessary – it’s just there.
I’ve struggled with calling myself a classicist because of my gaps in basic classical knowledge (please don’t make me list characters in the Iliad and their relationship to one another – my friend screamed when I thought Hektor was Paris’ dad) but this inscription helped me realise that the classical world is not so much different than our own, and I can enjoy whatever the hell I want to enjoy and thrive in whatever subfield I want to without knowing how to find a verb in Cicero (by the way I’m doing Beginner’s Latin again and I’m great at it – so take that traditionalists!).
This inscription exists outside of the canon of Latin works and it speaks to me as a relative outsider in Classics. I’m a brown state-school educated art historian who likes decolonisation – a “Classicist’s” nightmare!!!
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
Before I started art history, I actually went to art school to start a degree there. I did two art A Levels and I had never picked up a history book before starting at Edinburgh. Now I wasn’t the best at drawing because I have no sense of perspective or proportions but I ended up finding my way through scribble drawings or very simple line drawings. I was always able to sketch out the basic outline but if I had to shade or add lines or make it 3D it would end up in the bin. I wouldn’t throw it – my tutor would, during every crit.
I gave up on drawing after my year there and only made the occasional foray into sketching during my degrees, but I recently started drawing again! There is no amazing progression story here – I still suck at shading and 3D – but I’ve found my style and a little niche that allows me draw the most basic 2D models that I actually enjoy looking at and contribute to my research. I illustrate classical sculptures but then give them a splash of neon colours to make fun of the idea that these sculptures shouldn’t be white. The idea is that the way I’m laughing at a hot pink Apollo Belvedere, so to would the Greeks and Romans if they saw that white stuff in the British Museum or the MET.
I’ve made a Redbubble store where I sell these illustrations as stickers and it’s been phenomenal. Since launching on August 15th, I’ve sold 851 stickers so I’m happy knowing that our Classics classrooms and Hydroflasks are just a little more colourful.
You can find my shop at www.redbubble.com/people/Neo-Classicist/shop
Hardeep Dhindsa is a current PhD Classics student at King’s College London, where he looks at the relationship between whiteness and Classics during the British Empire in art, and how that has affected our perception of Classics today. He previously studied at the University of Edinburgh, completing an MA (Hons) in History of Art and an MSc in Classical Art and Archaeology. Hardeep has spoken at several conferences about his research on classical pedagogy, decolonisation, and whitewashing in European Art, and he is a guest speaker at next year’s Symposium Cumanum. Currently, he is writing a chapter alongside Professors Barbara Goff and Shelley Haley for the upcoming Routledge publication, Handbook of Classics and Postcolonialism.
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.