Saturday, 16 May 2020

Update from One Classicist's Lockdown


Blogging has not come naturally over the last few weeks. I’m not cracking many jokes and those I do are so saturnine as to be in bad taste, e.g. talking about the death+incest count in Oedipus' family on twitter on UN International Day of Families. I'm writing this more for myself so I can later remember May 2020 than in the expectation anyone else would be interested.

There have been severe downs. My siblings and I got our ailing father safely into a (mercifully still!) Covid-free nursing home just in time before lockdown. But my husband’s stepmother of 60 years died in Guernsey and it is wretched that he has been unable to be with his 95-year-old bereaved father.

R.I.P. Best Kitten Ever
Our youngest child, who had returned to university in January after depressing health issues forced a deferral, can’t now go for the year abroad in Japan she was so excited about. Her kitten, the adorable Captain Pugwash, got killed by a car speeding through our estate. At least we could all attend his funeral. Now top management at my employer is sending out universal emails about imminent pay cuts and retirement packages. But others have it SO MUCH WORSE.

My Brilliant PhD
Aristotle’s ethics have been a support in all this. Opportunities to follow his basic recommendations that we nurture our primary relationships, constantly review our life’s trajectory, and cultivate constructive uses of leisure, are all facilitated by lockdown. I have been reminded why I like my gutsy close family so much. I’ve realised that I’m quite proud of two of the things I’ve done and identified some more I want to do, especially in the area of free public education. I’ve added several new skills/items to my cooking repertoire including lactose-free chocolate cake and home-made pizza dough.

My Favourite Picture of Aesop
There has been some excitement. My former PhD student, the remarkable Oliver Baldwin, who despite looking like a large Viking is effectively Spanish, has won 1st prize from the Association of Hispanists of Britain and Ireland for his outstanding dissertation on Seneca in the Second Spanish republic. 

I’ve finished my 31st (I think) book, on the poet Tony Harrison’s radical classicism. I’ve had some lovely face time with close friends and realised that some estrangements have been petty and fixed them. I’ve been interviewed by my friend the the wondrous Natalie Haynes on ancient heroines (first instalment tomorrow, on Helen of Troy, BBC Radio 4 at 1630). I recorded a radio programme on Aesop with esteemed colleagues Vaios Liapis (Cyprus) and Dan-el Padilla Peralta (Princeton) which will be broadcast on BBC World Service on 28th May. 

One of the Two Work Things I'm Proud Of
I’m also about to record a Start the Week on my new book with Henry Stead, A People’s History of Classics, to be broadcast on 25th May. I wrote a Gresham Lecture on Hippocrates and ancient Greek medicine to be live-streamed at 1300 on May 28th if I can manage to stop my hair looking like an electrocuted bobcat and my husband and I can stop giggling while recording it in front of the dog. I've enjoyed doing new podcasts on Disney's Hercules and on Virtue Ethics. 

With Nat Haynes pre-social distancing
But what worries me is my shrinking horizons. Reading international news makes me go boss-eyed. I don’t seem to have opinions on important issues any more. I don’t enjoy shouting at Tories on the TV and just turn it off. I keep losing my phone without ever taking it out of the house and finding it in strange places like  my underwear drawer. I have begun to get obsessive when I can't find dried mushrooms in the local supermarket. I have wept because I couldn't get the microwave to work and because I heard a melodious songbird. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. 

As I read this I can barely recognise myself. When on earth did I become so earnest, narrow, inward, self-centred and self-pre-occupied? I've never used such a dense cluster of first-person singular pronouns in my life. Let’s hope we all get let out soon or I  fear I’ll forget what I’m on the planet for, at least other than making home-made pasta.

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