odi et amo ; thoughts on classics and academe

july 7 ✧ 2023

the long and short of it is i ended up saying no to the programs that offered me placement, which... was a wild ride. i'll be back to add more thoughts about all of that and everything that happened

feb 19 ✧ 2023

just to get it out of the way first and foremost. a note because i would rather die than be associated with people who promote western civilization, white euro superiority shit. i aim to help break down those ideas in the field. lots of my research is done with that goal in mind, explicitly so—i have zero interest in upholding, promoting, or engaging in white supremacist or progress narratives, imperial structures of power, and increasingly, sit around and joke about any aspect of the ancient world, "fandomize" it, or engage with pop culture that centers on it. i also think it's critical to state upfront that "classics" itself as a field, discipline, term, title/name is inherently rooted in those structures of power. there is no taking the evils out of the field—it is the field itself. other scholars have said it far better than me, and i'l quote one here. in a lecture i cannot recommend enough, Shelley Haley states

Currently there is a lot of hand-wringing that classics is being appropriated by white supremacists, but this is not new. We need to acknowledge that classics was forged in the crucible of white supremacy. The white supremacists are not appropriating something they built. [24.54]

i would highly recommend anyone wanting to learn more about race, racism, gender, and the experiences of a woman of color in classics give this lecture a watch.

i named this section "odi et amo" after catullus 85. i wrote an essay once about the poem and it's stuck with me ever since. i do think, as many do of course, it captures that dichotomy of love, bitterness, pain, pleasure all at once. but it characterizes many more things beyond that, to me. the full poem reads:

Odi et amo. quare id faciam fortasse requiris
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

I hate and I love. Perhaps you wonder why.
I don't know, but I feel it happening, and I am crucified.1

when you read the text aloud, the first words elide together—they blend into one "odet amo." fast, like a plea. read it out loud, with me—odet amo. i love and i hate. the line is hardly there, between the two. i love and i hate without end, without definition, without boundary. the poet cannot tell us why, why, why; why both at once, why both in the same breath, why both without tangible end. "nescio"—i don't know. it always struck me as so strikingly honest. the poet elaborates he feels it—my professor warned me i was reading too much into the use of the passive voice. but i will indulge in reading too much into it here, between us. he feels it unto him—loving and hating. in one breath. something beyond himself. and it leaves him crucified. "excrucior; some translators render it "torn," "ache," or "tortured," but there's a specificity in crucifixion. it was historically a death sentence given to Others—non-roman citizens—and carries such a weight in its use, contrasted to the simplicity of "odi" and "amo." i don't know why i study classics. but i feel it, excruciating.

on some levels, i know why i study it—because people like me were not supposed to, not really. the ivory tower keeps poor folk like me out. when i wrote my undergraduate thesis, i ventured to claim i was likely the first transgender person to translate and compile the specific passages i used. how horrifying and lonely. but it matters deeply to me. it is infuriating. i want to pry open the barriers that hold people back from touching the ancient world—in honest engagement, in honest human connection, in honest effort to learn. there is beauty to be found, catharsis, comfort in the dark. but there is work to be done in dismantling, and that work is endless, and it cannot be done alone. maybe one day i can say clearly, explicitly why i study classics—the thing that eats me—but for now, i leave it here in the abstract and half-formed. just know i feel it happening to me.

i don't often have a lot of energy to talk about classics related things because it is often so upsetting to me. i had a strong desire to start this page as a log of my thoughts as two weeks ago i did interviews with two graduate programs in classics. both experiences were very valuable, and one of them was...a lot. i also had an unfortunate situation with the program of another university which left me in tears. i haven't fully processed my feelings on it yet, but it brought up a lot of painful feelings and highlighted reality of being a first gen graduate applicant.2

i always say that classics as a field has a "machine" in it. i talk about this metaphor nonstop. the machine is made to eat people—people who aren't wealthy, white, cis, het, able-bodied. when we refuse to acknowledge the structural way the machine eats these students, but turn around and wail and cry about low levels of diversity in classics we've failed at every turn. i cannot afford to not work a job (often multiple at once) so i could have more hours to study, i cannot afford tutors to help me with areas i struggle in, i cannot physically sit at my desk for the hours the machine requires me to. when a person who has some sort of disparity in privilege attempts to do classics, the machine can be felt gnawing away. sometimes it's more obvious than others. sometimes you can be very, very adept at acting like your leg is not being eaten up. and other times you can find yourself screaming about this thing that's destroying you and it's as if you haven't said anything at all—haven't you tried vocab cards more? why don't you switch to a different author, one that doesn't make you so upset? don't you know this is ancient studies—all these horrible things come with the territory, toughen up. the machine plows on.

something i find particularly disturbing in recent years is the way that classics programs will act like changing the paint (name of the department, a diversity statement, etc) means the machine has been dismantled. pointing to the machine, and yelling, "see! it exists! there's a machine in the field" does nothing. programs will develop special opportunities to draw in "underrepresented voices" in classics—students of color, disabled students, first gen/working class students—only to throw them directly into the maw of that very machine. it is made to eat people. and it is structural. rebranding will not make the incredibly demanding foundations—the structures of classics—disappear, or resolve them, or remove their claws that tear to shreds. it only works to better hide the rendering it carries on doing.

i spend a lot of time thinking about what a genuinely better classics looks like. it looks very much like the Critical Ancient World Studies (CAWS) manifesto.3 i see a broader map, borders moved far past the bounds they've stuck in. i see "reception" not being sneered at, instead taken as a nameless component of the work required in critical studies of the ancient world. i see a revealing, untangling, contending with the painful, ugly, vicious, harmful things we carry. i see "classics" burning to the ground. i see something better rising. i see a recognition for the ways classicists have built the world, the way that classics is a tool of (white, western) power structures, and i so desperately wish for a time when classicists will see their own un-neutrality and see their hands in the way they perpetuate harm when they don't question. have you ever wondered why we all do this the same way? have you ever wondered why we all translate this one word the same way? why are those ancient jokes funny? who is laughing? why are you uncomfortable when certain topics are brought up? why do you shy away from confrontation? why do we say "let's stick to the text" like a mantra in the dark? what are you afraid of lurking in the shadows of cultural, historical contexts? i want to be a part of a classics that brings questions to every single person who has been kept away from "classics" and all things of the ancient world. i want to ask—why do we have ionic columns on our banks, courthouses? why do we flash latin and greek as status symbols? why do we find the neoclassical beautifulbeautiful at all? why are there fasces on the lincoln memorial? why do the politicians, the rhetoricians, refer time and time again backwards? why do we hold these as symbols of power? why? and how do we continue to let it happen, why do we participate? why do we let these long-reaching evils lie in plain sight? and what do we do after we see them, plainly?

1 - my translation.
2 - it's important to me that i also explain my background a bit further. beyond coming from a single-parent, working class household in the southern US my parents had less than normal undergrad experiences. my dad got an AA from an art institute. my mom got into a 4 year program on athletics. both were the first of their families to receive a post-secondary degree. neither of them were able to help me navigate the post-secondary school system the way most parents w college education can. it breaks my heart to hear them both want to help me so terribly and be unable to, and feel as if they've done something wrong, that it's their fault.
3 - i'll try to find a citation for this, if i can.