New book: Homicide in the Attic Orators

book coverI’m happy to announce that on 17th January 2020, my first monograph Homicide in the Attic Orators: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Context was published by Routledge. The blurb appears below. At time of writing, the book is available from Routledge for 20% off. Please consider requesting the book for your university library.


This study identifies specific features in the legal procedure and social perception of homicide in Athens in the time of the orators and examines how these features affected and were represented and utilised in forensic rhetoric.

The socially transgressive nature of the crime in Athens resulted in homicide receiving a distinctive treatment in Athenian law, where it was ‘set apart’ from other crimes in a number of ways, including the courts in which it was tried, the procedures involved, and the fact that uniquely these laws were attributed to Drakon as mytho-historical lawgiver. Plastow explores how four distinctive features of homicide procedure and law at Athens played out in rhetoric: ideology, pollution, relevance, and the connected issues of motive and intent. Through exploration of these rhetorical themes, the volume also provides insight into the popular perceptions of homicide amongst the Athenians, since the orators’ speeches make extensive use of persuasive techniques that tap into the deeply held beliefs and ideologies of the jury members. A secondary aim is to explore the effects of the physical context of delivery on the rhetoric of homicide: the courtroom spaces themselves, whether homicide courts or popular courts, with the variable ideologies that their locations and physical attributes provoked, as well as the aspects of ritual that would have been performed physically during a homicide trial.

Homicide in the Attic Orators offers insight into this complex subject, and is of interest to anyone with an interest in Athenian law, rhetoric, and society.

New publication: Doctors in Attic Forensic Oratory

My first journal article has now come out, and is available open access from the Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies journal! It can be viewed here, and you can read a short abstract below.

C. Plastow, 2019. ‘Doctors in Attic Forensic Oratory.’ GRBS 59.4. 575-595.
In Demosthenes 54 Against Conon, the speaker Ariston calls a doctor or doctors to give witness statements both to the alleged attack by Conon and the severity of his injuries. What is the context for understanding the appearance of the doctor(s) in the courtroom? This article surveys the mentions of doctors that appear in the Athenian forensic speeches to assess their presentation and rhetorical use. Both figurative and real doctors are deployed in rhetoric in a positive or negative light depending on their alignment with the litigants; some demonstrate trustworthy, reliable, and professional values, while others are incompetent, disreputable, or even criminal. This survey helps to contextualise the doctor(s) in Dem. 54 and other instances where doctors may have appeared as witnesses, by showing that they were not necessarily more credible than other witnesses by virtue of their profession, but rather could be characterised as necessary by the logographer.

Review: Christopher Carey, Ifigeneia Giannadaki, Brenda Griffith-Williams (ed.), Use and Abuse of Law in the Athenian Courts. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2018.

This review originally appeared in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review.

This volume collects together a selection of papers from a 2013 conference at UCL of the same name discussing uses of law in Athenian legal cases, particularly those uses that might be considered to be abusive. ‘Abuse’ is interpreted in a variety of ways, from stretching the meaning of laws and employing legal procedures for purposes other than the pursuit of justice to the question of whether Athenian law could in fact be subject to abuse. After Chris Carey’s introduction, the book is split into four parts. In Part 1, ‘Conceptualising the System’, Michael Gagarin considers whether it is possible to distinguish between use and abuse of Athenian law. He argues that the lack of authoritative meanings of laws in the Athenian system means that interpretation was down to the orator and thus that no interpretation can definitively be called ‘abusive’; even the setting of precedents does not preclude the use of new legal interpretations in future cases. Robin Osborne discusses the elasticity of law in Athens, arguing that inelastic laws using technical terminology were of no use to Athenians and that even laws which appeared to be more defined could be ‘stretched’ in rhetorical argumentation. This elasticity was checked, Osborne asserts, by the choice of legal procedures available with different levels of risk and reward and by the pre-trial procedures that offered the chance to bring the charge to an early conclusion. Edward M. Harris takes a survey of references to previous trials in the orators alongside a study of the role of the plaint to argue that the primary goal of Athenian courts was to make a determination with regard to the legal charge, that the dikasts knew the law and voted in accordance with it, and that their vote reflected an Athenian belief in the rule of law. Chris Carey addresses the established view of the division between public and private in Athenian law with a study of charges, particularly the dikē exoulēs, that straddle that boundary by being procedurally private but allowing for penalties that had some public aspect, such as a fine paid to the city.

In Part 2, ‘Procedural Manoeuvres’, Brenda Griffith-Williams examines the use of the blocking diamartyria procedure in Isaios 6 and the speaker’s claims of abuse to argue that the speaker was indeed unfairly disadvantaged by his opponent’s use of the procedure and that this kind of disadvantaging of the opposing litigant can be identified as a form of procedural abuse on a case-by-case basis. Christos Kremmydas takes up the subject of the little-known anakrisis, a pre-trial procedure, distinguishing it from other pre-trial procedures such as arbitration, identifying its purpose in deciding the admissibility of the charge, and then discussing its potential effect on argumentation; the anakrisis allowed litigants on both sides of a case to anticipate their opponents’ arguments and pre-emptively address them. László Horváth addresses the potential for the postponement of the trial in cases of graphē paranomōn and suggests that many cases were postponed indefinitely and never came to trial, noting that this postponement could allow individuals to be involved in a large number of cases at one time. Noboru Sato continues the discussion of pre-trial activity with a survey of the use of procedures including arbitration, paragraphē, and hypōmosia to impede the process of the trial and of the reasons for using these procedures; he draws attention to the fact that these procedures required negotiation and mutual agreement between the litigants.

Part 3, ‘The Rhetoric of Law’, opens with Lene Rubinstein’s discussion of the use of partial citation of laws, examining the effect when the laws were read out officially or simply paraphrased by the litigant; she argues that the paraphrases could be less readily anticipated by opponents as they would not need to be mentioned in pre-trial stages, and she suggests that there must have been a level of tolerance of these creative interpretations of the law. Ilias Arnaoutoglou surveys uses of law in the surviving speeches to illustrate where legal malleability could be exploited by litigants and to argue that, ultimately, the decisions of the dikasts were the only way to establish which uses of law were acceptable. Ifigeneia Giannadaki takes a broader view, examining how the orators make rhetorical arguments about the whole Athenian legal system and exploring their simplification of the system as well as their use of arguments about the intent of the lawgiver in order to make the system appear unified and coherent. Kostas Apostolakis examines the rhetoric of law in the one surviving speech from a case of antidosis, noting that the speaker is particularly subtle in his commentary on laws and in using laws susceptible to varied interpretations. Victoria Wohl takes a spatial reading of the rhetoric of law in Demosthenes 23, arguing that the orator establishes a bounded view of Athenian legal jurisdiction that is tied to the space of Athens and then rhetorically brings Thrace within this Athenian space in order to extend the city’s jurisdiction over it. S.C. Todd explores the metaphor of ‘theft’ for abuse of Athenian legal process, examining how the status of theft in the Athenian legal system as both a public and a private crime allows a litigant to adjust the level of seriousness of his opponent’s transgression, often without clearly specifying a ‘victim’ of the alleged ‘theft’.

In the final section, Part 4, ‘Specific Areas of Law’, Mirko Canevaro argues against the prevailing view that the Athenian ideology of legislation was conservative and anti-change to suggest that Athens was in fact in favour of new laws, as long as they were passed using the proper procedures; these procedures sought to avoid haste and contradictions with existing statutes and to promote alignment with the pre-existing ēthos of the Athenian legal system. Eleni Volonaki focuses on the eisangelia procedure, and particularly the use of the procedure in a greater range of ways in the later 4th century, arguing that the procedure was extended not by legislation but by interpretation; she also outlines the limits of such interpretation. David D. Phillips uses categories of culpability from the US Model Penal Code to read intent in Athenian homicide law, making useful distinctions and drawing attention to problems of complex liability for which the system did not seem to allow. Rosalia Hatzilambrou responds to the traditional view that Isaios abused the law more than any other orator to argue that, in fact, Isaios’s use of the law involved interpreting vague statutes in ways that were expected and acceptable to his audiences and that favoured his argumentation, just as any other orator would.

The volume as a whole offers a very successful examination of the ways in which law could be used in Athenian legal cases and outlines the room that was available for interpretations, manipulations, extensions, and contractions of law that might be understood as ‘abuse’, depending on one’s reading of the legal system. It is certainly useful to begin the volume with several papers taking broad and contradictory views of the subject, allowing the reader to get a sense of the breadth of debate. But overviews are only useful up to a point in a field where the evidence is distributed so unevenly across areas of law, and it is appropriate that the majority of the volume is given over to papers that take a closer look at individual aspects of the Athenian legal system. All of the papers have something to offer, and many offer innovative and succinct readings that contribute greatly to the field. It is especially gratifying to see a section on rhetoric in the volume, acknowledging that all information on law taken from the Attic orators must be read through a rhetorical lens. The papers in the collection draw primarily on the forensic speeches of the Attic orators for their subject matter, as is to be expected, since it is in these texts that we are able to discern the actual application of law most easily. A few papers did, however, also usefully consider other sources, such as the theoretical texts of Aristotle and Anaximenes (Giannadaki) and the hypothetical Tetralogies (Phillips), which help to offer a somewhat broader perspective. The inclusion of 18 substantial contributions adds richness and variety to the volume.

Perhaps the most successful section of the book is Part 2. In this part, the four papers work particularly well together to give an overview and analysis of the legal procedures that took place before or apart from the trial. These areas are less studied than others in Athenian law because of the lack of evidence about the operation of such procedures. The angle of use and abuse allows the authors in this section to draw on the strength of the evidence for the ways these procedures are discussed by litigants in the surviving speeches. Naturally such discussions often focus on the ways that a litigant’s opponent has exploited, or indeed abused, these processes. Thus the papers of Griffith-Williams, Horváth, and Sato employ this evidence persuasively to demonstrate the ways in which a knowledgeable litigant could use legitimate legal procedures to his own advantage, whether the case eventually came to trial or not. Kremmydas’s discussion of the potential role of the anakrisis is particularly useful in adding to our understanding of how rhetorical strategies were shaped by factors outside of the courtroom context itself: a litigant’s entire strategy was not necessarily contained or represented in a surviving speech.

One other contribution that stands out is that of Victoria Wohl. Her spatial reading offers an innovative approach to forensic oratory which acknowledges both the performed nature of speeches as sources and the complex cognitive functions of the audience that have important implications for the effects of persuasion. She also illustrates the value of paying attention to the rhetorical nature of our sources and to how the sources can affect the perception of law, both from our modern perspective and from that of the Athenian audience—an aspect that appears to be overlooked in some discussions of the subject. This volume, and Wohl’s paper in particular, demonstrates that there is still plenty of room for innovation in the fields of Athenian law and oratory.

Authors and titles

Chris Carey, Introduction
Michael Gagarin, Abuse Is in the Eye of the Beholder
Robin Osborne, The Elasticity of Athenian Law
Edward M. Harris, The Athenian View of an Athenian Trial
Chris Carey, Bridging the Divide between Public and Private: dikē exoulēs and Other Hybrids
Brenda Griffth-Williams, Isaios 6: a Case of Procedural Abuse (and Scholarly Misunderstandings)
Christos Kremmydas, Anakrisis and the Framing of Strategies of Argumentation in Athenian Public Trials
László Horváth, The Postponement of the Trial by Jury in Athens: the Timing of the graphē paranomōn
Noboru Sato, Use and Abuse of Legal Procedures to Impede the Legal Process
Lene Rubinstein, Clauses out of Context: Partial Citation of Statutes in Attic Forensic Oratory
Ilias Arnaoutoglou, Twisting the Law in Ancient Athens
Ifigeneia Giannadaki, (Re)constructing the Athenian Legal System
Kostas Apostolakis, Liturgies and the Rhetoric of Law in Fourth-Century Athens: a Case Study on an antidosis ([Dem.] 42)
Victoria Wohl, Jurisdiction and Jurisprudence: the Topography of Law in Demosthenes 23 Against Aristokrates
S.C. Todd, ‘Theft’ as a Metaphor for the Abuse of Legal Process at Athens
Mirko Canevaro, Laws Against Laws: the Athenian Ideology of Legislation
Eleni Volonaki, Abuse of the eisangelia in the Latter Half of the Fourth Century BC
David D. Phillips, Athenian Homicide Law and the Model Penal Code
Rosalia Hatzilambrou, Abuse of Inheritance Law in Isaios?

Review: Paula Perlman (ed.), Ancient Greek Law in the 21st Century. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018

This review originally appeared in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review.

This volume is intended to assess the state of Greek law scholarship in the 21st century, and is divided into four (unmarked) sections according to the approach to their subject. In the first, key debates in the field of Greek law are reassessed. Robert W. Wallace tackles the apparent Athenian preference for procedural over substantive law, offering the explanation that the lack of a more general procedural law required that procedures be outlined in each case, while the matter of the offence was more properly contained to the indictment. He then argues that Athenian law was primarily shaped by the concerns of the democracy. Eva Cantarella addresses the issues of revenge and punishment as the intended outcomes of an Athenian trial, and reinforces the argument that Athenian litigants were aware of the conceptual difference between the two, and were not solely motivated by a desire for revenge. Michael Gagarin approaches the question of the Athenian law on contracts (or “agreements” in Gagarin’s formulation), arguing that the law applied to all agreements (understood to be voluntary by nature) and that illegal agreements were practically unenforceable and therefore not binding. He then applies this to a reading of Hyperides Against Athenogenes to argue that the facts are at issue in the case, not the law. Edward E. Cohen returns to the issue of slave-owned businesses previously addressed in his work on Athenian banking, reasserting his view that enslaved business owners were liable for their own debts. Through comparison with the Roman system, he argues that the Athenian conventions of credit worked alongside this legal liability.

In the second section, the authors explore some understudied subjects and periods, and outline potential future directions for exploration. Alberto Maffi addresses the question of “public” and “private” law, showing a preference for the concept of the “rule of law” over the power of the democratic assembly. He then searches for “administrative law” in Athens, which he concludes is difficult to identify, and explores the role of the actions of institutions and individuals in the public interest. Martin Dreher’s chapter on “sacred law” and Lene Rubinstein’s on summary fines will be discussed in more detail below.

Complementing these new topics, in the third section explores new methodologies, drawing on modern legal scholarship. Julie Valissaropoulos-Karakostas explores the value of seeking “soft law” in the legal systems of ancient Greece, meaning rules not established by formally identified law-making bodies. She indicates the rise of a form of “globalisation” after the death of Alexander, and suggests that forms of soft law might be found in the incorporation into law codes of royal decrees, local laws in areas outside of Hellenistic kingdoms, and customs in international relations. Adriaan Lanni summarises the value of previous anthropological approaches to Greek law and promotes the complementary use of sociological principles to further advance the field, primarily the economic analysis of law and social norms theory. Mogens Herman Hansen returns to the question of whether oral law existed in Greece prior to written law; his contribution will be discussed in more detail below, alongside the only contribution in the fourth and final section, Gerhard Thür’s essay on the importance and method of teaching oratory in contemporary universities.

As a whole, the volume provides a succinct and learned overview of modern thinking on issues that have been debated since the subject flourished in the 1970s, and includes some convincing and innovative readings. The volume successfully draws together both the Anglophone and continental European traditional approaches to Greek law, that is, approaches from both social and legal perspectives, as well as proposing entirely new approaches. The volume’s focus on issues of critical debate results in some areas of the field remaining unaddressed, though this does not lessen the volume’s immense value. As with many discussions of “Greek law,” due to the state of the evidence, a majority of the papers take Athens—particularly Athens in the classical period—as their primary area of exploration. The papers in the first section build considerably upon, and thus rely heavily on, knowledge of the work of previous scholars, and so would perhaps be of less use to the desired broader audience identified in the acknowledgements (p. ix). In general, though, the volume will be a great resource for students, established scholars, and indeed teachers of Greek law. As the volume contains eleven substantial chapters, I limit my more detailed discussion to highlighting some of the most persuasive and innovative contributions.

Martin Dreher’s chapter takes a fresh approach to the often neglected topic of sacred law in Greece. He begins with the important question of terminology, which has not been standardised by scholars. He identifies sacred law as part of the law of the polis, rather than a separate entity, and divides it into two categories: sacred legal forms, which are sacred elements incorporated into the wider law of the polis such as laws on impiety, and sacred laws, which are laws (broadly understood) relating to the regulation of the religious sphere. His categorisation is convincing and thorough, providing useful terms (both in English and German) that tie together previous definitions in a more productive and accessible way. He proceeds with a discussion of the role of gods in law, concluding that they were seen in some ways as “juridical persons” in charge of the places regulated by sacred laws (p. 91). He then provides useful surveys of forms and, crucially, the enforcement of sacred law, demonstrating that sacred laws could include sanctions, particularly fines, and that divine punishment also played a role in their enforcement. In a section looking forward to future research, Dreher identifies the need to examine the role of magic in legal matters, such as curse tablets, as well as to consider the influence of contexts of democracy and oligarchy, war and peace. The chapter is an impetus to study Greek sacred law in a more cohesive, coherent way moving forward, accounting for the full range of evidence available.

Lene Rubinstein’s contribution on the imposition of summary fines in Greek law is the longest and perhaps the richest in the volume. Her chapter provides the most extensive discussion of Greek law outside of Athens, extending beyond the period and sources of other discussions, and taking as her primary evidence inscriptions both from the Hellenistic and Classical periods. Her main point is a methodological one, which questions the fact that many inscriptions on this matter lack details about how the prescribed fines should be imposed, and by whom, as well as how guilt was determined. Her survey of the sources is thorough, taking each individual example in depth and then drawing comparisons. Her conclusions suggest that the imposition of summary fines varied little between democratic and oligarchic communities, and that in many cases the reasons for the use of summary fines were “practical rather than ideological” (p. 128), relating to the effective control of mass gatherings of citizens for political or religious reasons, potential abuse of public officials going about their business, and small-scale offences for which a trial would be an impractical waste of resources. Most compellingly, Rubinstein’s chapter suggests an aspect of law that was reasonably consistent across the Greek world, and thus could feasibly be classed under the category “Greek law.” Her valuable approach takes a more holistic view of the sources while allowing for the methodological problems intrinsic to epigraphical material. One hopes that the study of Greek law will continue to expand extensively beyond the bounds of classical Athens.

In his chapter, Mogens Herman Hansen returns to the question, raised in detail in Michael Gagarin’s books Early Greek Law and Writing Greek Law, of the existence of a system of oral law in Greece prior to the written system. Gagarin argued that, due to an intrinsic connection between law and writing, oral law cannot exist as such, and therefore the ancient Greeks did not have oral laws that differed from customs or traditions. Hansen, however, here presents a number of convincing parallels from different locations and time periods that clearly demonstrate the potential success of a system of oral law, as well as illustrating how such a system is transformed by the introduction of writing. Hansen also provides examples for the human ability to remember abnormally large amounts of detailed information; although his examples here are less compelling, he makes the valuable point that while such people are considered curiosities in modern societies, in a more oral society their skills would be prized. He ends his chapter by addressing the lack of evidence for oral law in ancient Greece in conjunction with examples from societies where the evidence for oral law is extremely slim, but does exist. These case studies are particularly illuminating in demonstrating how and why so little evidence is preserved of their existence; in some cases, we are aware that an oral system preceded the written system only because it is referred to (often briefly) when the laws are enshrined in writing. As a result, the chapter provides an essential counterargument to Gagarin’s position.

Gerhard Thür’s contribution, the last in the volume, is perhaps the most forward-looking, as indicated by its title, “The Future of Classical Oratory.” His introduction draws attention to the contemporary value of teaching classical oratory as a route into the study of rhetoric and communication. He highlights the strongly visual nature of much modern rhetoric, taking architecture as an example, and makes a fruitful comparison between the images that may accompany a modern speech and the various atechnoi pisteis of Athenian rhetoric. He then turns to explore the issues of lying and manipulation of the facts in Greek oratory, laying out his theory of the logographers’ ability to “isolate the facts”: that is, to present facts in such a way that they are divorced from their true context and therefore create a false impression. This is an incisive method of approaching the speeches, and surely more accurate than one that presumes that speakers could get away with outright lies. The chapter demonstrates its currency further by presenting as one of its examples the rather recently discovered fragment of Hyperides’ Against Timandros. Perhaps the most interesting part of Thür’s chapter is his account and interpretation of his method of teaching Greek oratory by working with students to prepare and then perform an Athenian-style moot court over the course of a term. He notes that this gave the students the opportunity to learn about Athenian oratory in theory and through both its writing and performance, as well as to practice communication more generally. Teachers of oratory could learn from such an approach, which surely makes the subject more actively engaging for students, as well as fitting it in more successfully with the liberal arts model already common in the USA and increasingly seen in UK universities as well.

Authors and Titles

Adriaan Lanni and Robert W. Wallace, Introduction
Robert W. Wallace, Administering Justice in Ancient Athens: Framework and Core Principles
Eva Cantarella, Revenge and Punishment
Michael Gagarin, Hyperides’s Against Athenogenes and the Athenian Law on Agreements
Edward E. Cohen, Slaves Operating Businesses: Legal Ramifications for Ancient Athens––and for Modern Scholarship
Alberto Maffi, Toward a New Shape of the Relationship between Public and Private in Ancient Greece
Martin Dreher, “Heiliges Recht” and “Heilige Gesetze”: Law, Religion, and Magic in Ancient Greece
Lene Rubinstein, Summary Fines in Greek Inscriptions and the Question of “Greek Law”
Julie Velissaropoulos-Karakostas, Soft Law in Ancient Greece?
Adriaan Lanni, From Anthropology to Sociology: New Directions in Ancient Greek Law Research
Mogens Herman Hansen, Oral Law in Ancient Greece?
Gerhard Thür, The Future of Classical Oratory

Homer’s Women: Reflections

[This post originally appeared on the By Jove Theatre Blog]

In January 2018, I began teaching a course on the Homeric poems in translation at UCL. The course was designed around a lecture and seminar per week; the students learned about the background and reception of the poems in the lecture with my colleague, then were split into two groups to study the books of the Iliad in detail. The course requires a large amount of reading and interpretation of the original poem in translation, but the richness of the reception history of both poems, as well as the London location, also made the course ripe for bringing in additional materials, including films and exhibitions. But perhaps one of the most evocative aspects of the poems is their orality, which cannot often be captured in class. As a result, I decided that teaching the class presented an opportunity to produce a performance with By Jove that would both augment the learning experience of my students and allow us as a company to explore some of the themes that we found particularly interesting in the poems.

It should come as no surprise that I envisioned the performance as a way to explore the female characters, primarily the mortal female characters, in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. When we think about the protagonists of these stories, we usually think of Achilles, Agamemnon, Hektor, Odysseus. The (speaking) female characters that we encounter are almost all entirely dependent on these men, in terms of both their characters and their narratives. Many of them exist to wait for men and their actions. Andromache waits for Hektor to win or to die, knowing that her own fate is tied up in his. Hecuba and the other Trojan women do much the same. Helen waits to be rescued, or not – to end up with one man or the other, with no apparent will in the matter. Penelope may be the patron saint of waiting for a man. Others seem to exist purely to further a male narrative – Nausikaa, that helpful princess, exists in the Odyssey purely to facilitate Odysseus’ progress – her story begins and ends with him. Even women with divinity in their blood exist (in a narrative sense) only to be helpers of (male) heroes – Thetis in particular – and though Circe and Kalypso would rather hinder Odysseus’ progress, both end up guiding him forward.

As a result, Homer’s women are negative space around male heroes. The narrative pushes them towards and shapes them around men, so that they barely exist without them. In this performance, we want to explore what happens when we focus only on that negative space – when we remove the men, the narrative, even the poet? What happens when we hear the words that Homer puts in these women’s mouths in isolation? When we read between the lines of what they say and don’t say? When we go beyond paradigms in search of people? Without men, who are these women?

I worked on the development of the performance with three members of By Jove – SJ Brady, Sinead Costelloe, and Wendy Haines. We began by taking extracts of the poems that contained the women’s dialogue, and separated it out from the rest of the narrative. We used Richmond Lattimore’s translation of both poems, for the benefit of its poetic language and having the same translator for both poems. We selected those characters who we felt we could fit together into a mini-narrative for the performance, and whose characterisation in the original poems showed the most nuance and space for development in a new version, settling on Helen, Andromache, Kalypso, Penelope, Thetis, and Circe. If we had had more time for development, or had chosen a slightly different frame, we would also have included Hecuba and Nausikaa.

In our development discussion, we settled on the concept that as Circe acts as an instruction-giver or guide to Odysseus, she would have the same role for our audience during the performance, guiding them from one character to the next. The performance would take the structure of a prologue, followed by five character ‘monologues’ divided by Circe’s interludes. The interludes consisted of passages lifted from the original poems matched in some way to the themes of the following monologue, finished off by a triplet composed of lines from elsewhere in the poem naming the upcoming character. Each of the women’s narratives was a new piece of poetry adapted from the original text, with more or less resemblance to it. Each performer delivering a monologue wrote it herself.

The performance sparked a lively and interesting discussion in the Q & A afterwards, both about our methods and choices in writing and about the ways in which our work allowed reflections on the original poems. We were particularly struck by how rich the speeches of these women were when lifted out of the clamour of battle and men’s voices, and how little we had to step outside of the poem in order to bring them to life. For myself, too, as a first time performer, I found the experience of memorising and reciting lines of Homer especially evocative. In my section on Thetis, I chose to recite the names of 33 Nereids that Homer includes in the original poem, and this long recitation took on an almost ritual quality for me. I felt somehow like a spiritual descendant of the original oral poets who composed the poem, and also felt like I had tapped into an aspect of these poems that cannot be accessed by simply reading them on the page.

All in all, I was extremely pleased with the final performance, and found the experience as a whole both artistically rewarding and academically stimulating. I hope to be able to develop the piece further for a future performance.


New article in CUCD Bulletin

It’s been a long time since my last post – who knew getting an academic position would mean I would be so busy! But I did want to share this with you all. Recently I had a short article appear in the CUCD Bulletin, which discusses matters of interest to Classics teachers. My article discussed my involvement in a project called ‘Research equals Teaching’ at UCL, which explored research-based teaching through staff-student partnerships. I worked as a student editor on the book project, which will be released next month. I’ll be speaking at the book launch event, and continuing to work with the next generation of R=T student contributors.

If you’d like to learn more about the project, its findings, and specifically their applications in the Classics HE classroom, you can read my article ‘Staff-Student Partnerships in Pedagogy and Research-Based Education: Lessons for Classics’ here.

My first ‘job season’

Now that I’ve settled into my new job at the Open University, I thought I’d share what my journey from the end of my PhD to this first, fixed-term job. Reading about other people’s trajectories was something that helped me a lot during the long slog of job applications, so I hope this might be able to do the same for some of you, who might be stepping onto that path soon, or may even already be on it.

I submitted my PhD thesis roughly a year ago (22nd September 2016). As far as I remember, I only applied for one fixed-term job before submitting – it was at my home institution, and I had a lot of knowledge about the job because of that, so I applied despite knowing I would be in an unfavourable position compared to other candidates who had the PhD in hand (and indeed I was). After that, I didn’t keep track of how many jobs I applied for pre-viva, but I don’t think it was very many, it being September-October and my viva being only 6 weeks after submission. The majority of the jobs I applied for came up after I had passed my viva. These were a mixture of hourly, fixed-term and permanent positions – the latter I didn’t hold out much hope for, but was advised to apply for everything, as I think many of us are. This is good advice in some ways, as it gives you a lot of practice at writing applications, but unless you’re a really exceptional candidate (as in, book contract in place as soon as the PhD is done, lots of publications, lots of teaching experience, and probably some other x-factor too) these permanent positions seem to go to people a little further along the career road, and so applying for them at the stage immediately post-viva adds a healthy dollop onto an already weighty pile of rejections. I don’t know what the best route is, in that case – but I have to say that I really did hone my application-writing skills over the many applications I submitted.

All in all, I submitted 37 applications to 18 different institutions. Four of these were academic skills positions; the rest were in subdivisions of Classics. Three of the jobs were research-only; the rest were solely or primarily teaching, with one or two 50/50 exceptions. For 32 of the jobs, I was rejected at the first stage, prior to shortlisting.

Before talking about the other five, a word on those rejections. Writing it out, 32 doesn’t seem like many. It felt like A LOT. Some rejections hurt more than others – ones at institutions where I knew colleagues, ones where the job description seemed to perfectly fit my skills – basically, ones that I let myself get my heart set on. This sucks, but if you’re an emotionally-focused and future-imagining person like me, it’s unavoidable. I’m lucky that I’m also good at picking myself up and dusting myself off. Still, some of those rejections were firmly drowned in wine and chocolate. It also didn’t help that it was (what felt like) a long time – 6ish months) – of applying and rejecting before I started getting any shortlistings. I know a lot of people go a lot longer, and my heart goes out to them.

It was just at the point of the year when I was starting to get really antsy about the coming year’s financial (and, let’s face it, psychological) situation when I started getting some shortlistings. I passed the first round of the Leverhulme ECR applications, which was a whole thing. I was shortlisted for two academic skills posts – both were two hours commute by car from my home, one 3 days a week, one full time. I interviewed for both within one week of each other, thought I gave a great performance at one and a pretty good performance at the other, and was offered neither. I wasn’t heartbroken about this in terms of the jobs themselves – I’d applied for them because I believed I had the skills, they paid well, and I really needed a job this year – but the double blow and the ‘back to square one’ feeling hit harder than I was expecting, along with a fresh dose of financial anxiety (and the fact that one of them never paid me my travel expenses claim). A couple of weeks later, I got rejected at the final stage for the Leverhulme. This one hit really hard, particularly because of the long and laborious application process, but also because of how much I love my post-doctoral project idea – I think it’s really great, and I’m still pursuing it. The only good thing was that these rejections all come out at the same time, so there were plenty of people to commiserate with on twitter.

Another couple of weeks passed, and then I received two invites to interview in one week – for my job at the OU, and another job. The OU gave me about four weeks until the interview, which was great – I felt I had plenty of time to prepare, and was able to arrange a mock interview at the UCL careers service. For the other job, I had around a week, which I understand is very common. This meant I’d be doing the interview the day after I arrived back around 11pm from a conference in Poland. I didn’t hold out a whole lot of hope because of this, and because of the nature of the activity I had to prepare for the interview – the job was firmly weighted towards Greek History, and I have more literary knowledge. I went, I interviewed, I wasn’t offered the position. It went to a colleague, who I couldn’t be happier for.

I went into my OU interview relaxed and reasonably confident. I felt I’d prepared well – the mock interview was really helpful, and highlighted some areas that I hadn’t fully realised were weaknesses in my interview style. I’d really recommend this sort of service if it’s available to you. I also felt better having had three academic interviews already, including one in Classics, because I felt I had a better sense of the things I might be asked, and therefore a clearer idea of what sort of research to do. I also really, really wanted the job, primarily because I loved the job description and the OU’s mission, but also because I wouldn’t have to relocate. I interviewed and felt it went well – I came out with the sense that if I wasn’t offered the position, it would be because they were looking for something different from what I was offering, not because I hadn’t given a good account of myself (as I felt was the case at the first Classics interview). Clearly they were looking for someone like me, and I got the job.

I’m very aware that this isn’t the end of my job application journey, but I’ve got a little breathing room until I need to start the push again. I’ve taken some valuable lessons from this first round, which I’ll summarise:

  • Do try to get as much experience writing applications as you can. I never got feedback on any of my applications from colleagues, at least not to a great extent, but this is a good thing you can do if it’s possible for you. But as with anything, the more you write them, the better they get.
  • Continue doing CV-enhancing things while you’re on the market. Your CV can be improving all the time, and it helps to break up the seek-apply-seek-apply monotony.
  • Give yourself room to breathe, especially after rejections. Just be as good to yourself as you can – this is a really hard thing to do.
  • If you don’t get shortlisted for the ‘perfect job’, the world will not end. There will be other perfect jobs, I promise. (It’s also a little trite, but if you don’t get it, it’s not your perfect job, is it?)
  • Take advantage of any interview preparation services you can if you do get shortlisted. I can’t stress how invaluable this was to me, especially in highlighting things like…
  • If you feel like you don’t have direct experience of something, find indirect experience, or extrapolate from other experiences. In any case, find a positive response to the question – I was a devil for: ‘what’s your experience with x?’ ‘I don’t really have any, but…’ That’s not something an interviewer really wants to hear.
  • Let your personality shine through at all stages. If you write that you’re friendly and collegial, be friendly and collegial at interview.

There is also plenty to be said about deciding if and when it’s the right time to leave academia and pursue something else, but those issues have been covered much more meaningfully than I can right now. All I’ll say is that there’s nothing wrong with deciding not to do all this. It’s a lot, to be sure. Everyone has a path to go down, and if it feels wrong, it might just be.

I hope that some of this might help someone on the academic job market for the first time. If you have any questions about any of this, or related issues, please tweet me or comment here – I’m happy to impart whatever tiny grains of knowledge I might have. And finally, here’s to all those on the job market – may your fortitude be maintained, your applications be brilliant, and your wine glass be full.

Academic new year

My academic new year’s day is going to be this coming Monday, 18th September. It’s a particularly exciting one this year, as it’ll also be my first day under contract (though not actually on site) in my new job at the Open University. This is not only my first academic position (yay!) but my first salaried job ever (double yay!) – and also the first year of my life since I was four when I won’t be some kind of student. That’s weird. I guess that after 22 years of education, I’m a real person now.

I’ve seen several colleagues on Twitter making resolutions for the new academic year. I love a resolution – people are often glib about making resolutions at (calendar) new year, saying that it’s an arbitrary time to make changes, but I think an arbitrary time is better than no time at all. Of course, the beginning of a new teaching session, and a new job, isn’t arbitrary at all. So, some resolutions or goals for the coming academic year:

  • Learn lots about distance teaching and learning technologies – This is a bit un-quantifiable, and also pretty compulsory in my new role, but I’m excited about it nonetheless. It’s an area of experience I can really expand on, and that I’m passionate about, for the purposes of making education more accessible. (What does it say about me that in my first year when I’m not a student, the first goal I have is to learn new things?)
  • Apply for Fellowship of the HEA – I found my Associate Fellowship application a really rewarding experience, and I’m keen to progress further and reflect on my own teaching practice. It’s also good for the CV, of course.
  • Sign a contract for the thesis book – This is a big one. It’s reliant on finding the right publisher, amongst other factors. I’m antsy about it, because I wanted to have it done by Christmas, but I think that was a bit too optimistic. The stretch goal for this is to actually finish the book – there’s not an enormous amount of work to do, as far as I can see.
  • Write one/two great conference papers, and turn at least one into an article – Whether it’s one or two depends on whether I get accepted to the second conference I’ve submitted to. I have one conference confirmed for the year, and I’m excited about the paper – it’s the kind of textual-analysis-as-social-history approach that I really love and employ heavily in my thesis. It’s also something quite different from what I’ve been working on recently, though still within forensic oratory. If it comes out as well as I’m hoping it will, I think it would make a neat article. The other submission is another foray into my new ongoing project on space and place in oratory, and I really hope it gets accepted so that I have an excuse to write it.
  • Buy academic books – This may seem like a weird one, but my personal library is tiny – like two shelves on a narrow IKEA Billy bookcase tiny. This is because I’ve never had any money for books. Now I’m actually going to be being paid to be a classicist, I’m going to invest a little of that money back into my own research resources.
  • And finally, a non-career-related but still important one: stay active – In two weeks, I’m running 10km for the Race for Life. After that, and particularly through term time, I’m determined to keep exercising. This is something I’ve been terrible about for my whole life, and better about this year – but I need to keep it up, if only because I don’t want my back to go back to being in pain all the time, when it’s just starting to get better. I blame desks (no, I blame myself for being sedentary).

With these goals in mind, I’m keen to dive into the new year and make it an amazing one. I’ve never been so excited for the start of term. Happy academic new year everyone!

I graduated!

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On Wednesday, I graduated from UCL with my PhD! This felt weirdly ceremonial and unreal, particularly as I officially received my degree at the end of February and got my certificate in the post several months ago. Also, because UCL is massive, they don’t even read out the title of your thesis; when I graduated from Royal Holloway with my BA, I remember the one PhD student graduating getting a brief description of her research read aloud. As it was, I was in the middle of a parade of maybe 25 Arts and Humanities PhDs, and not even next to my colleagues, who were classified under C for Classics while I was under G for Greek. I chose bad shoes, which were hurting already by the time I had to walk across the stage, and I was convinced I’d fall/lose a shoe/limp. But in spite of all that, it was a pretty wonderful day. My parents and friends whooped for me as I crossed the stage (as was encouraged by the Vice-Provost); my mum said afterwards she was about to cry, but turned it into a cheer. My Nanny, well into her 80s, was there along with my parents and my partner – I know it’s a cliché, but I really couldn’t have done it without all their support. In that spirit, I’ll close this brief post by reproducing my thesis acknowledgements – it’s strange to think it’s really, officially finished, but I’m excited for all the next steps.


First and foremost, my thanks go to my supervisor Chris Carey, who has been an unfailing guide as I wrote this thesis. When I began, I hardly knew where I was going with it, and it would not have grown into the shape that it did without our discussions and good-natured arguments. I also thank the staff of the Greek and Latin Department at UCL for their support and the opportunities they have offered me; particular thanks go to Peter Agocs, David Alabaster, Dimitra Kokkini, and Antony Makrinos.

            Spending three months working at Yale University was a great privilege, which could not have occurred without the support of the Yale UCL Collaborative Exchange Programme and the UCL Doctoral School. I am very grateful to Victor Bers for his warm welcome, insightful comments, and continued support. My thanks also go to the graduate students of the Yale Department of Classics for making me feel so welcome, particularly Rachel Love and Jennifer Weintritt, and Bryant Kirkland for allowing me to speak at the Work-in-Progress seminar. I am also grateful to Adriaan Lanni for meeting with me while I was in America, and for her supportive and constructive comments.

For advising on the workings of the modern UK legal system and providing the highest level of specialist knowledge, my thanks go to John Lafferty. My proofreaders were invaluable: David Bullen, Emily Chow-Kambitsch, Joe Dodd, Tzu-I Liao, Rebecca Payne, and Andreas Serafim, who together caught my very glaring and amusing typos and offered helpful comments and essential moral support. I am also grateful for the support of my other colleagues and former colleagues in the department at UCL: Manuela dal Borgo, Emma Cole, Manuela Irarrazabal Elliott, Ioannis Lambrou, Victoria McVicar, and Oliver Schwazer, who have made my time at UCL so enjoyable and the process of writing the PhD far less daunting. And thanks to my friends – Hattie Kassner, Laura Sowman, and Kat Thompson – who have been there through thick and thin.

I really could not have done any of this without the support of my family: my Mum and Dad, Susan and David, who have supported me in every sense of the word at every stage of the process, and who I cannot thank enough for letting me pursue my dream. Thanks to my grandparents, who may not have always understood why I was doing it, but were always proud of me anyway. A special mention should go to Dada, who would have loved all of this Greek. This thesis is dedicated to my Grannie – here’s one for the boasting book.

Above all, thanks to Alex Burnett, who has seen me through the toughest times and brought me out of them laughing. Thank you for writing the soundtrack to this project, and to my life.

Project planning

I have a confession: I’m a terrible project planner.

Or I have been up until this point, at least in formalised terms. I’m a very organised person – I tend to know what needs to be done and when, but the information is all held in my head, combine with some skeletal to-do lists in the form of things to do this week, this month, and this year. These lists were managed in Evernote, which as an app is basically fine, except that I never learned to use any of the features beyond making checklists and notebooks, and is really a better notetaking app than a planning one. Besides that, I tend to just think about what needs to be done in the next month or so, and then… do it.

Somehow, in spite of this aversion to Gantt charts, bullet journals, Trello, and the other tools of the project planning trade, I managed to write a PhD, while working various part time jobs, in just over three years. That sounds like a brag, but really I’m trying to say that I think this was a fluke – and, in fact, I know there are some areas of my thesis that would have greatly benefited from more formal project planning from the beginning – not least the bibliography, which was a little bit all over the place during my final edits, and ending up lacking a couple of major sources (because I was terrible at keeping up with recent publications).

So, my new academic year’s resolution is to learn how to do project planning properly. Now is the ideal time, as I’m embarking on the first section of my career where I’ll be juggling numerous ‘projects’ at once: teaching work, my new research project on Space and Place in the Attic Orators (more on that in another post), and (hopefully!) my thesis book. All this on top of the daily projects of life, like keeping my house from running into complete disarray, trying to keep up some reading for pleasure, and trying not to be so terrible at running.

Today I embarked on the first two steps of this journey, and signed up to Asana and Mendeley. I like Asana already, despite the fact that it’s really designed for team work rather than solo projects. The lists of sections and tasks and sub-tasks appeal to my tickbox-oriented mind, and it was satisfying to lay out deadlines for a whole project over the next three years. I’ve set up some home tasks to be completed over the weekend, so I’m hoping that’ll give me a chance to actually test the functionality (of the phone app, as well as the programme more generally). If anyone has any tips on how to use it successfully for this kind of planning, I’d love to hear them – please tweet me @chrissieplastow.

Mendeley I’m not so certain about. I have a vague idea of how the interface works, but little to test it out on properly yet. It doesn’t strike me as particularly intuitive, and the layout is rather Windows Explorer-esque, which makes me less inclined to use it for some reason. Still, I’ll give it a chance in the initial stages of my new project, and see how it works in practice. Again, if anyone has any tips, or any other reference management software recommendations, let me know.

I expect that I’ll continue using Evernote, as I do like the system, but that I’ll transition to using it more for actual note-taking on sources etc than for planning. I’m also a devil for failing to keep all of my analytical notes in one place, so there’s another hurdle to jump there.

(Perhaps a note on why I’m doing all of this digitally – I love the aesthetic of bullet journals and handwritten notes in moleskine notebooks, and my ideas do tend to flow more freely on paper – all of my structural planning is done that way first, and then transferred to digital means. Unfortunately I don’t have the creative inclination to set up a bullet journal successfully, much as I’d like to. But the more pressing issue is how heavy all of those notebooks are to carry around. My laptop is a reasonably cheap thing, and therefore much heavier than the Macbooks and similar used by many of my colleagues. As a result, I try not to carry too much additional weight alongside it in my bag – especially as I gave myself back problems in the first year of my PhD, essentially by being too sedentary – so physical notebooks just aren’t the best option.)

I’m excited about taking control of this kind of planning and doing it the ‘proper’* way. Hopefully it’ll result in several successful end products. Onto the brave new frontier of not winging it!

*there’s no ‘proper’ way to plan; it’s ok to do whatever works for you!