Once upon a time, a pair of professors asked me to describe the role I might play in their Department, to which I responded, “I’ve always thought of myself as a utility player.” The professors were not baseball fans (or perhaps they were looking for someone who could hit the long ball), and I did not get that job. I think I have gone on to be a utility player, teaching a wide variety of courses in Latin and Greek, classical culture courses in English translation, and an occasional archaeology course.
My research interests, too, cover a number of bases. Serendipity played a role in the evolution of my big project, a study of libraries in the ancient world. It started when a visiting professor gave a lecture in Ann Arbor on the Alexandrian Library; a professor leaned over and said, “You know, libraries would make a good dissertation topic.” The professor turned out to be right; my dissertation concentrated on private libraries in the time of Cicero and on the first public libraries in Rome, and has provided grist for a series of long articles.
I’ve recently begun another project, creating a game for the series “Reacting to the Past.” An innovative pedagogy created by Mark Carnes of Barnard College, RTTP consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned “roles” with “victory objectives” informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. Once instructors have introduced students to the historical background of the game and the texts on which they base both their game personalities and their arguments, students run the class sessions; instructors advise and guide students and grade their oral and written work. Professor Nancy Felson introduced RTTP to UGA with a weekend conference in spring 2004 in which we played abbreviated versions of two Reacting games. I immediately took to Reacting and attended another conference at Barnard, in which I received an “award” for playing a religious fanatic in the “India 1945” game.
When a call went out for the development of new games, I decided to propose a game set in Rome, at least in part to complement the “original” Reacting game, “The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 BC, ” created by Professors Carnes and Josh Ober. Needing a collaborator for this project, I called upon a graduate school friend, Carl Anderson, then teaching at Michigan State University. We had collaborated on two articles about the “Eteokarpathian decree,” an inscription recording the gift of a cypress beam from a community on the island of Karpathos in the Dodecanese to the city of Athens for the temple of Athena Athenon medeousa, “Athena the protectress of Athens.” Carl was interested in the decree because Athena Athenon medeousa occurs in the Knights of Aristophanes, and I was interested in the destination of the cypress in Athens. Our articles suggested that the decree reflected a complicated political relationship between Athens, imperial overlord of the Delian League, and one very small community on the fringes of the Athenian empire; Athens had protected the Eteokarpathians from their more powerful neighbors on Karpathos, and the Eteokarpathians had reciprocated with the gift of a cypress beam from their sanctuary of Apollo. Chronological considerations led us to suggest that the cypress was destined not for the Parthenon, as was generally thought, but for the Erechtheion on the Athenian Acropolis, a suggestion which has important implications for the date of the Erechtheion.
Our Reacting game is entitled “Beware the Ides of March: Rome in 44 BCE” and takes place in the aftermath of the assassination of Julius Caesar. The roles to be played by students include Cicero, Marcus Antonius, and Gaius Octavius (while he is still just the heir of Julius Caesar and before he becomes Augustus), various other members of the Senate, and one visitor to Rome, Queen Cleopatra. Students meet in the Senate to deal with immediate threats to order in the city and in the empire. The decisions they make to deal with the immediate crisis may also set the future course of Roman government: resorting to one-man rule may ratify the recent trend towards autocracy; on the other hand, if the Senatorial traditional of rule by consensus can bring Rome through this crisis, the Senate may be able to “restore the Republic” and resume its predominant role in Roman governance.