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 Claire Millington
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
I thought that I didn’t. Then I realised that I was spending longer than I needed to looking at particular Roman epitaphs. Not those of the great and the grand, but the sorts of inscriptions everyday people put up for people who have died and they want to have remembered. My favourite is probably one from the legionary fortress at Lambaesis (Tazzoult) in Algeria (CIL VIII, 2772). It says that the person who put it up is a legionary officer, Marcus Servilius Fortunatus, and he has returned over land and sea from Dacia bearing the remains of Flavia Iuliosa, his wife. We can guess that she’s from the local area – her name Iuliosa isn’t very common in inscriptions and most of them were found in Algeria – so he’s brought her home.
When did you first come across these sources?
Research for my PhD – I’m looking at evidence that survives for the households of Roman auxiliary officers when they were stationed along the empire’s western and north African frontiers. Before getting involved in Classics I was a diplomat and was posted to Rome for a few years, so the lives of people migrating for whatever reason resonate – they’re at least somewhat relatable and also quite alien.
Can you tell me a bit about these sources and their context?
Funerary monuments turn up all across the empire. They are more numerous though in town contexts or wherever people settle down with families and take part in these funerary cultures. They also tend to vary a lot according to place and fashion so you need to look at both when you’re trying to work out what is going on.
What is it about these monuments that appeals to you most?
It’s the very basic fact that they evidence: this person mattered to someone else, for whatever reason. Being able to grieve and mourn is essential to us, and the stripping away of the rituals and basic human contact that we need seems to me to be one of the cruellest aspects of this pandemic. My mother’s cousin died this summer and she was not able to go to his funeral; my friend’s father’s funeral I watched online. With funerary inscriptions there is an insistence that people’s lives do matter. Although then you start thinking about the inscriptions you don’t have and who doesn’t get to have one too.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
I’m a really keen gardener and also write fiction. Although Classics creeps into the fiction as I’m writing a children’s book set in Pompeii, just before the volcano erupts…
Claire Millington is writing up her PhD at KCL. She has interests in Roman frontiers, Latin epigraphy and archaeology. She blogs at www.thewordmuses.wordpress.com
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.