Amidst the changes brought about by COVID-19, Cornell graduate students have found ways to keep presenting their research. Last month, second-year Classics PhD students Charlotte Hunt and Emmy Shanahan presented at the UVA Classics Graduate Student Colloquium, “WARNING: Storm Approaching: Weather, the Environment, and Natural Disasters in the Ancient Mediterranean”. The colloquium was originally scheduled to occur on March 21 at the University of Virginia, but due to public health concerns, it was moved to an online, virtual format. Although participants were unable to meet physically, Charlotte said, “Most of the presenters were still able to make the conference, and I think there was an even larger (and geographically diverse) audience than there would have been if it had been held in person, so I would say it was a great success!”
Paper topics ranged from discussions of the Nile flood cycles and earthquakes in the Greco-Roman world to literary topics that included Aristotle, Seneca, and Aratus. Charlotte’s paper, entitled “Drowning out the Empire: Rivers and the Flood in Book 3 of the Natural Questions,” explored the relationship between rivers and Seneca’s ideas about the expanding Roman Empire. She argues that the breakdown of the integrity of the rivers with the flood of Book 3 challenges the durability and longevity of the empire and, suggesting that Seneca weaves Stoic wisdom journeys into his descriptions, she proposes, “By mapping the Empire in rivers and repeatedly destroying them in the flood, while also using them to tempt the reader with cosmic wisdom, Seneca overlays Book 3 with the appearance of imperial context, while cleverly alluding to its ultimate unimportance and inevitable change or destruction.”
Emmy’s paper, “Aratus’ Phaenomena as Celestial Ekphrasis,” looks at two ekphrases of the northern and celestial hemispheres and their descriptive techniques. She argues that Aratus’ treatment of the celestial hemispheres as separate objects takes the reader through the experience of stargazing. She also explores the embedded technopaegnia of the constellation Draco, in which Aratus places body-part nouns in the text as to create the shape of the constellation across the text. With the two ekphrases and technopaegnia, Emmy demonstrates how Aratus both describes the natural phenomena and recreates the experience of viewing them in person.
Despite the new format, Emmy and Charlotte both felt that the conference was successful. Emmy described the discussion as “lively and helpful,” and Charlotte noted that one benefit of the virtual format was that her head of committee, Athena Kirk, was able to see her presentation. She added that she “really appreciated being able to get feedback from her and from the other audience members and presenters.”