Wednesday 10 August 2022

On Vindication and Robert the Bruce's Spider

What a difference a month can make! A year ago I was in the greatest pickle of my working life.  Fortunately, the visionary Head of Classics & Ancient History and the management at Durham, which still understands  the purpose of a university, embraced my job application and have made me welcome.

The downward spiral began at the end of 2014, when I was officially invited by the Oxford Faculty of Classics to apply for their Regius Chair of Greek. I would not have applied otherwise. Uncivilly, they did not shortlist me. I got over it quickly. I loved my job at King’s College London.

But the events of 2020-2021 took my public humiliation to a whole new level. I was interviewed for the Cambridge Regius Chair of Greek, and told it had been offered to another candidate. He is brilliant; it was no shame to lose to him. I got over it quickly. But nobody told me I had been deemed unappointable. This meant that for more than two months after he turned it down, I was forced to field endless enquiries from all over the world asking if I ‘had heard anything’. My 'unappointability' was visible to all. I hit an all-time low.

In the end I swallowed my pride and asked a friend at Cambridge what was going on. I did eventually get an apology that I had not been kept informed. When I asked Cambridge HR on which of the published criteria I had been deemed unappointable, they said the committee had identified my ‘Research Plans’ as inadequate. This was somewhat mystifying since I had included in my dossier full details of all my current research grant applications.

None of this would have mattered if management at KCL had not decided that the tasks I had been contracted to perform nearly a decade ago no longer applied, and that I was now required to do substantial amounts of elementary teaching. I could no longer travel in term and needed, demeaningly, to tell all the international institutions I had agreed to lecture to that I could no longer come because of my many first-year seminars backing up other lecturers’ courses.  

I love teaching and I could have coped with this if it were not for the coercive tone taken by management. I accessed my inner socialist rebel and union member. But I was facing being driven out of one university by brutality after being deemed unappointable at another. I was being pensioned off when I still need income to educate our children.

The verb ‘vindicate’ originally meant ‘to proclaim (dicare) authority (vis)'. I felt I was disrespected by many peers and had lost all authority as a scholar of Greek. So it is with incredible joy to me that I’ve heard, within four weeks, three pieces of news that have restored my self-belief. I’ve been elected Fellow of the British Academy, and won two large research grants, one of which, on Aristotle’s prose style, pays 70% of my salary for five years as well as supporting three others. Things can change quickly! Readers, do not give up!

I’m delighted to have my authority restored and to be giving Durham any benefits that accrue. I am also pleased that the Aristotelian principle motoring my life—it doesn’t matter how others judge you if you are true to your own principles and project and never give up—has been vindicated.

My mother often told me the story of the King of Scotland called Robert the Bruce and the spider. Robert’s army kept being defeated by the English. When he was taking refuge in a cave, he watched a spider fail six times to attach her web to the cave wall.  She succeeded on her seventh attempt. This inspired Robert to try to expel the English again. He won. He proclaimed the Scots' authority.


  1. Excellent news. Well done!

  2. What an inspiring story! Well done, Edith.

  3. Congratulations Edith. I wonder the agenda of the institutions and individuals who disrespected your work and thank heavens you reached safe harbor, wonderful result for your projects.

  4. Gunning it in from the Left, go Edith!

  5. I'm mentally reciting Henley's 'Invictus', well 'invicta' in your case. Well done you!