Thursday, October 22, 2015

October 22 dissertation notes (Week 10): Unfamiliar ground

It might not be hopeless.

The problem with being asked to reorient my project around contemporary rhetoric in late antiquity is that I feel I need a degree in classics in order to understand it. This is why I’ve always steered clear of focusing too closely on the topic—I know I can’t really do it justice. This week I looked a bit at some speeches of Himerius and some of Themistius, both roughly contemporaneous with Gregory. They are, unsurprisingly, packed with classical references I’m too shallowly versed to understand. I know a little about the broader context of rhetorical education in this period; I reviewed its basic structure and content today with the help of a very useful, just-published Companion to Ancient Education. (Thanks, university eBook access!) However, I’ve simply studied too little of the pre- and non-Christian literature to grasp the import of the myriad allusions found in any writing of the period. Kevin was classically educated; I've barely read snippets of Homer. :-( So I'm uneasy about writing a historically, literarily naive dissertation.

But I said it might not be hopeless. The only thing I read this week that made me think that way was an oration by Themistius, “On Speaking, or How the Philosopher Should Speak,” which contains some intriguing lines on the power of speech, and in defense of speaking on philosophy to the masses. Interesting, but enough to start building substantial revisions around? It’s too early to tell.

So next week I’ll pick up with more of Themistius, and also look at the work of another contemporary, Libanius.

In other news, my anxiety level has been a bit higher than normal this week (not just because of academics). Mercifully, it hasn’t been like this for a good while, but for the past few nights, I’ve had some physical symptoms that have made it difficult to fall asleep. It’s mildly distressing to feel that your body is attempting to sabotage you in this way, even when your thoughts seem calm and under control. However, I’m feeling somewhat better today, so I hope that sticks.

Next week, I have some things going on which might make it difficult to post an update; however, you can look for one, as usual, the first week of November.

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