Flavian Literature & Intertextuality: Giving a Paper Further Afield

Earlier in the semester (sometime in February, if memory serves), my supervisor (Professor Bruce Gibson) mentioned the possibility of some sort of gathering or workshop, centred around Flavian Literature, taking place at the University of Manchester.  Naturally, I was delighted!  I spent a hefty chunk of my MA year working on Valerius Flaccus for my main dissertation, and hadn’t had much chance to return to Valerius, or any of his Flavian counterparts since.  I was even more excited to be given the chance to contribute a little something to this gathering by presenting a paper of my own.  I decided to build upon some of the material and arguments covered in my MA dissertation (which examined navigation as a poetic and political mechanism in Valerius’ Argonautica), refining and redeveloping my work to better fit the theme of the workshop: Flavian Literature and Intertextuality.  I eventually decided to explore Valerius’ engagement with Lucan’s complex poetic legacy, through close examination of the loaded use of civil war imagery in the Argonautica.  At last, after many sleepless nights, countless mugs of coffee, and several frenzied writing sessions, the paper was ready to go.  I must say, I’m VERY proud that the paper wasn’t finished during the small hours of the night/morning before it was due to be delivered! 

Order of business for the two days.

I found the format of this workshop to be really useful for postgraduate students.  The two days featured some theoretical sessions, fun analysis and close reading activities, and presentations from both academics and postgrads, with plenty of tea, coffee, and biscuits for (intellectual) sustenance!  I’ll admit that, in the past, I’ve often shied away from dense and heavy theoretical reading.  As such, I found the first session, which took us on a chronological journey through the history of intertextual reading, to be incredibly valuable, particularly at this early stage of my own PhD adventures.  Firstly, it was useful to get a neat overview of the development of different ideas and schools of thought, an exercise which helped to place much of our own reading exercises in context.  Secondly, it was interesting to see how approaches to intertextual studies in ancient literature can be approached in our fast-moving digital age.  We were introduced to a variety of digital humanities tools with the capacity to facilitate intertextual analysis of ancient texts, through their vast database resources and precise in-text search capabilities, and given an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each tool.

Useful sites include:

                        -Tesserae: www.tesserae.caset.buffalo.edu
                        -Musisque Deoque: www.mqdq.it/public
                        -Pede Certo: www.pedecerto.eu

After getting to grips with the latest tools and approaches to intertextual reading, we turned to the fantastic range papers and presentations which covered diverse areas of pretty much every author from the Flavian period-there really was something for everyone to get their teeth into, no matter where their key research interests lay.  It was encouraging to hear papers from individuals at all stages of their academic careers, from postgraduate students to established figures in the field.  I got great insights into works I’m ashamed to say I’d never studied in depth, such as Statius’ Achilleid and Silius Italicus’ Punica, as well as texts I count amongst my firm favourites-Statius’ Thebaid and, of course, Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica.    

Some of the handouts showing the incredible range of topics and texts covered over the two days

My own paper, ‘Braving the Lucanian Storm: Navigating Civil War in Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica’, came on the morning of the second day.  By this point, the bar had been set incredibly high, and I was very grateful to have had the experience of presenting at my departmental PGR work in progress seminars and compiled a list of presentation do’s and don’ts!  I had been reassured repeatedly that this would be an equally relaxed and friendly audience, and, fortunately, this was very true (I was also having too much fun to be a really nervous wreck, which was probably a good thing).  Despite initially worrying that my paper was far too long, then worrying that it was far too short following a brutal editorial/culling session, I ended up running slightly over time.  I hadn’t quite achieved the goldilocks measure of ‘just right’, but no one threw anything or protested loudly at my lax approach to time keeping, so I chalked it up as another lesson learned for the future.  When I (eventually) finished speaking, I received some really valuable feedback on my paper, with plenty of questions and suggestions to help further develop and refine my ideas.  I was also lucky to be surrounded by people whose varying interests and research projects meant I was privy to all sorts of intertextual readings of key passages from my paper which I would not have stumbled upon any time soon by myself.  I found the possible scope of my paper extending beyond Valerius’ text, and shaping up to become a substantial project to which I could devote some serious time.

I was pretty pleased with myself...
The second day closed with a fun practical session on close reading and intertextual analysis, bringing together everything we had discussed over the course of the workshop.  We were presented with a booklet of extracts (and translations-by this point my poor brain was too buzzy and caffeinated to do serious translation work), and divided into groups to discuss a selection of the texts.  Once again, the benefits of having groups of researchers with varied and diverse interests became clear, as each party came up with a whole range novel and contrasting readings of the passages, and thus brought a great deal of food for thought to the table for our final deliberations.

A handful of the passages chosen for close reading and intertextual analysis

Overall, I had a wonderful couple of days at another one of the NWCDTP’s institutions, getting to know students and academics whom I had only really ever spoken to over social media, experiencing life in another vibrant and exciting department, and broadening my understanding and appreciation of the Flavian literary corpus.  Although I had great fun presenting, listening to the other papers, and getting my teeth into some Latin text, my favourite aspect of the whole experience was, without a doubt, how welcoming, warm, and friendly everyone was.  I arrived slightly unsure of what to expect and how I would be able to contribute to the workshop as a lowly first year PGr student, and left having met a fabulous group of people from so many different academic institutions, and with a long list of ideas for future collaborative projects and workshops.


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