Medewerker van de maand (mei 2024): Chiara Monaco

The staff member of the month is Chiara Monaco, who joined the Linguistics Department of UGent in 2021 with an FWO junior postdoctoral fellowship. Yasmine had a virtual chat with Chiara and asked her all about Athens, where she is currently spending two months as a fellow of the Gennadius Library at the American School of Classical Study.

Hi Chiara! Or, as you’re currently in Athens, καλημέρα! Can you tell us what you are doing there?

Apart from eating, sunbathing and drinking ouzo, I am a fellow of the Gennadius Library at the American School of Classical Study. I am working at the Gennadius Library, which is extremely well-equipped with modern Greek sources, especially in relation to the Greek language question, which is the focus of my research. The founder of the library was quite crazy about languages and language-related issues, so he built up a huge library with all sorts of treasures for people interested in the history of the Greek language, and not only! The library is also beautifully situated on the slopes of Mount Lycabettus, which makes a visit all the more worthwhile.

I am working at the Gennadius Library, which is extremely well-equipped with modern Greek sources, especially in relation to the Greek language question, which is the focus of my research.

Congratulations! It is an incredible opportunity – and definitely something that make your colleagues jealous… How is your ordinary day in Athens? Do you happen to have any local tips?

My ordinary day is actually quite extraordinary, as I have the opportunity to walk around Athens every morning to get to the library (sometimes with some deviations), passing by the main attractions and stopping at a café along the way. Our Greek colleagues have done a great job of passing on their knowledge of museums, tavernas and cafes, and I am happy to share this very important piece of knowledge with anyone planning a trip or research stay in Athens (both highly recommended!). I guarantee the quality!

Looking forward to hearing more once you’ll be back! Just before leaving, you took part in the “Bloemlezing van Aristophanes’ Vrouwenparlement”, an event organized by members of the Greek Section on March 20. I heard it was a great success! What was your role in it?

I had the pleasure of teaching students about Aristophanes and political satire in a workshop organised with our colleague Eleonora Cattafi. We tried to explain the political relevance of ancient comedy with references and comparisons to modern political satire (and a good dose of memes), all the while wearing very fancy Dali-style moustaches, which gave our look an interesting kick. It was a very nice and enriching experience, firstly because it gave us a different perspective on our studies, and also to promote the study of ancient languages among young students. Evelien Bracke and Katrien Vanacker do a great job in organising these events, which, however, require a lot of energy and time, so I think it should be a more collective effort, even more so to enjoy the collective reward of seeing more students in our department!

We tried to explain the political relevance of ancient comedy with references and comparisons to modern political satire (and a good dose of memes), all the while wearing very fancy Dali-style moustaches, which gave our look an interesting kick.

Most of the time, though, you are not wearing a fake moustache to debate about gender issues, but you are sitting at your desk with a pile of books by your side. You joined the Linguistics Department of Ghent University with an FWO postdoctoral fellowship a few years ago. What is your project about? And what do you find to be the most challenging and rewarding in your research?

My project falls within the framework of the Greek language debate about what kind of language should be used for writing and then as a national language. The timeframe is quite broad, as the debate runs through the history of the Greek language, at least from the Hellenistic period to modern times. While for my PhD I focused on the Hellenistic and Imperial periods, for my FWO I jumped a few years forward to study an influential early nineteenth-century theory, the so-called Aeolodoric theory, which defended the use of Modern Greek in writing by seeing it as a mixture of ancient Aeolian and Doric dialects. It is very interesting to note that this theory is based on linguistic theories that were formulated in the Hellenistic period and reused at different stages of the Greek language and were still very much in vogue at the beginning of the 19th century. This gives us an idea of the continuity of linguistic approaches and ideologies from antiquity to modern times. Quite an interesting subject for a classicist interested in modernity, especially as the language question is still a hot topic in Greece today! Despite the many challenges, dealing with such a long timeline carries the risk of applying a modern perspective to ancient sources and vice versa. This is one of the trickiest parts, but it also brings the best reward: the chance to follow the latest episodes!

From Rome to Ghent, passing through Cambridge and with a stop in Athens… What’s next?

I wish I could tell you now, but at the moment I only know that I have a number of applications to send in. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy Ghent, my friends, my colleagues and the university environment, which is very stimulating. And next year I will probably take the opportunity for another research stay somewhere else!

Thank you very much, Chiara! And enjoy a Greek iced coffee for us as well!

Medewerker van de maand (april 2024): Camila de Moura Silva

Staff member of the month April 2024 is Camila de Moura Silva, who has joined us all the way from São Paulo! Camila is doing a joint PhD at Sao Paulo and UGent, and is currently doing research in Professor Koen De Temmerman’s research group Novel Saints. Julie Van Pelt chatted to Camila about her research, lots of travel, and living in Ghent.

Julie: Hi Camila! You joined our Section a few months ago in the context of your joint PhD between Ghent University and the University of São Paulo. Welcome to Ghent! We hope you have been able to adjust to Belgium, its habits, its weather, and its cuisine without too much difficulties?

Camila: Thank you very much! I am very glad to be here. Apart from the inherent toils of moving across the ocean, the arrival was smooth – even with rain! Of course, the Belgian weather is famed for its moodiness, but coming here I was happy to escape the ferocious Brazilian summer, which can be quite harsh, with temperatures well above 40 degrees. The city has been quite receptive – people are kind, there are cafes everywhere where I can spend hours just reading a book, and I love the sight of the canals. The feeling of being in a new place is very stimulating for me, and I love to explore the surroundings and discover precious new spots every day on my way to the University. About the cuisine, I can say I was pleasantly surprised!

When I first came across the volume Writing Biography in Greece and Rome, edited by UGent Professors Koen De Temmerman and Kristoffel Demoen, I was ecstatic. There, I found a fresh approach to ancient biography that would be the starting point for my future work, and eventually would lead me here!

Julie: Your PhD research focuses on a special type of ancient biography, Lives of poets. Can you tell us what fascinates you about this topic, and what you hope to achieve during your one-year stay in Ghent? 

Camila: I had my first contact with the subject in a rather casual way, while working on the fragments of Aeschylus during my undergraduate years. I had an edition of Aeschylus’ fragments whose very first pages contained an anonymous Life, as it is usual for Lives of poets to be edited as testimonies – a practice whose history I will touch upon in my dissertation. My supervisor then, Professor Beatriz de Paoli, suggested that I translate it as part of my work – these are considered rather easy-to-read Greek texts –, and as I read it for the first time, I was immediately captured. The tale of how Aeschylus died in Sicily struck by a turtle thrown by an eagle, his mysterious epitaph, the account of people fainting at the theatre at the sight of the Erinyes, all fascinated me in a way that is difficult to describe. I felt like there was something in there ready to be discovered!

I kept on reading, and as I began to delve into it, I was surprised to find out that much of the available scholarship on the subject was quite negative, with a general view of the ancient biographers as faulty historians who derived biographical information from the poetic works of their biographees as a way of deceiving the readership. However crucial to the history of biographical reception, these works did not speak fully to my impressions as a reader and my incipient scholarly interests, as I felt there was much more to them. So, when I first came across the volume Writing Biography in Greece and Rome, edited by UGent Professors Koen De Temmerman and Kristoffel Demoen, I was ecstatic.

There, I found a fresh approach to ancient biography that would be the starting point for my future work, and eventually would lead me here! After investigating the influence of Aristotelian theory of tragedy in the Lives of the Classical tragedians in my Master’s thesis in Philosophy, I am now concerned with a much larger corpus, comprising the Lives of Greek Poets from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period, including the hundreds of entries on Greek poets in the Suda, which I am currently cataloging. The finds are exciting – just yesterday I ran into the account of an obscure epic poet called Epimenes, dated to the 7th century BCE, who is said to have been found after death with his body fully tattooed with letters, and other invaluable anecdotes. My project comprises two main steps – the establishment and translation of the corpus to Brazilian Portuguese, and a comprehensive study of the narrative patterns found throughout this varied collection of texts, regarding the poet’s education, oracles, divine and vocational dreams, fantastic deaths, humble and noble origins, just to mention a few.

At first, I thought it would be interesting to work exclusively on classifying these patterns while here in Ghent – but, as is usually the case, the work finds its own way. After my first presentation at the GCLA meeting on Hesychius of Miletus, to whom most biographical entries in the Suda are attributed, I realized I should profit from the theoretical expertise of my colleagues and professors here, and focus on further developing the conceptual framework of my dissertation. I also look very much forward to presenting and discussing the ongoing chapters in the near future! The opportunities for exchange and dialogue here are very encouraging, and it is great to be working among colleagues with similar interests.

The city has been quite receptive – people are kind, there are cafes everywhere where I can spend hours just reading a book, and I love the sight of the canals.

Julie: You are all the way from Brazil, and a little bird tells me you have lived in all of its major cities! We are curious to know more about your (academic) experience in a big city, compared to which Ghent, I’m sure, must seem just a tiny village!

Camila: Yes! You know, this is actually one of the things that drew me to Ghent. There are many challenges in doing research in a metropolis as busy as Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, where I have lived most of my life. I graduated from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro having studied for many years on a campus located in an industrial neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city. It took me one hour and a half to get there every day by bus – and I was one of the lucky ones, many colleagues of mine took twice as long! The University of São Paulo campus is amazing, with lots of trees, lakes, and even wild capybaras, but it is also quite difficult to reach. It is important to bear in mind that mobility is a big issue for students and academic workers worldwide. One of its immediate consequences for post-grads is that we work from home a lot more, and may become isolated. When I was planning my trip here, I had the idea that Ghent would be a lot more manageable and that I would have more time to write – and I was right! Coming to work on foot or by bicycle is an absolute joy, which I am still becoming used to.

Julie: Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to during your time in Ghent – perhaps any travel plans in Europe while you’re at it?

Camila: I am now preparing a talk that I will give at Humboldt University in June, getting ready for a Summer School at Crete University in Rethymno, which I am very excited about, and on the lookout for events and seminars that might be interesting to my work. I also have dear friends in Germany and Portugal whom I would like to visit, not to mention all the libraries and museums – I just hope I have enough time! But more importantly, I wish to create a pleasant work routine, wander around, watch the birds, and simply enjoy my time along the waters and buildings of this old and beautiful city.

Julie: We wish you lots of inspiring wanderings around Ghent – and good luck with the PhD!

Medewerker van de maand (februari 2024): David Pérez-Moro

The “medewerker van de maand” of February 2024 is David Pérez-Moro, from Spain. David has been part of the Greek Department at UGent since May 2023 and works as a postdoctoral researcher within the ERC project MELA (The Meaning of Language). Michele Didoli has caught up with him to ask him for a review of his (almost) first year in Belgium.

Hi David! After hearing you speak in the kitchen, we are curious to know which Italian region you come from…

Hahaha, I appreciate the compliment, but I am not Italian. I come from Valladolid, a Spanish city in the northwest, in the region of Castile and León. My adventure with the Italian language is a bit long, but I will make a brief summary for you. I studied Italian during my first year of university; later, I lived in Italy for about a year and half; and, last but not least, my family-in-law comes from Veneto, Italy.

Well, then, congratulations on such an excellent Italian! Now we are even more curious to get to know you! Describe yourself with five adjectives – in Italian, Spanish, Dutch or English… whatever you prefer, as you speak many languages!

Well, I could describe myself better with adjectives in Spanish, but I will try to find their English equivalents to make them more understandable to everybody.

I consider myself a (1) precise person. I like doing my work well or accomplishing what has been proposed, even if it requires spending more time on it or helping others to do it. Moreover, in my opinion, it is important to be a (2) tidy person to bring out the best in ourselves and to avoid losing our goals in our personal chaos. On the other hand, I have learned to be an (3) adaptable person, as this helps me to navigate diverse situations with different people without any problem. It is true that, at the beginning, I can be (4) shy, especially because speaking in a language other than your native one requires an extra degree of effort. As for the 5th adjective, I prefer to leave it in blank, so that readers can fill this void according to how deep they know me!

I strongly believe that experiences in other countries contribute to our personal and professional growth; for this reason, I have chosen to spend time in Bologna, Rome, and now Ghent.

Tell us about your studies and experiences abroad that you had before coming here to UGent as a postdoctoral researcher.

I completed my Bachelor in Classical Studies (Latin and Ancient Greek) at the University of Valladolid. This program focuses primarily on the study of Latin and Greek language and literature, and on the methodology for translating Latin and Greek texts into Spanish. Although the main focus was on the Classical period, some professors took the opportunity to introduce us to the postclassical authors, leading me to discover Byzantine Studies, which became the topic of my Bachelor’s thesis.

After these four years – in Spain, Bachelors generally last four years –, I obtained two Masters from the same university, in Pedagogy of classical languages and in Post-Classical languages and literatures. In the latter, I specialised in Medieval and Byzantine literature and linguistics.

Both my Bachelor and my Masters have influenced my decision to do a PhD at the University of Valladolid with prof. Juan Signes-Codoñer. I chose to explore the rewriting process of Homer’s Iliad during the Byzantine period, specifically from a linguistic perspective.

As for my experiences abroad, I spent the third year of my Bachelor at the University of Bologna (Italy) to enhance my knowledge of Ancient Greek – and of Italian, too –. Some years later, during my PhD, my supervisor and I opted for a six-months stay at Sapienza University of Rome. There, I had direct access to manuscripts and bibliographical resources I needed for my project. I strongly believe that experiences in other countries contribute to our personal and professional growth; for this reason, I have chosen to spend time in Bologna, Rome, and now Ghent.

From Spain to Gent on the trail of medieval Greek, then! Tell us more about your research here at UGent within the ERC project MELA (The MEaning of the LAnguage) supervised by Prof. Andrea M. Cuomo.

¡Claro! I am part of the ERC project MELA, led by Prof. Andrea M. Cuomo, with you and with six other colleagues: Katharina Preindl (Project Coordinator), Dr. Valentina Barrile, Dr. Maria Rosa de Luca, Dr. Theofanis Tsiampokalos and Dr. Grigory Vorobyev.

As member of a project, each of us has a specific role, but we collaborate towards a common goal: the study of Byzantine textbooks and the teaching of high-register Medieval Greek. My research, in particular, focuses on Manuel Moschopoulos’ works: his Schedography, his Ἐπιτομὴ Νέα Γραμματικῆς, his Metaphrasis and his scholia on Homer’s Iliad and other minor works. I had previously worked with this author during my PhD, specifically with the aforementioned metaphrasis and his scholia. Now, I am ready to delve deeper into his works.

The primary objective of my research is twofold: firstly, comprehending how Moschopoulos taught Ancient Greek and determining the rules of the high–register Greek learned at medieval schools; secondly, creating a database in which Moschopoulos’ works, manuscripts, language, or metalinguistic terminology are accessible to scholars.

We heard that you gave some lectures in the ‘Ancient Greek Linguistics I’ course. How did they go? Have you had any teaching experience in Spain during your PhD? Did you find any differences between the two teaching methods?

I took part in “Ancient Greek Linguistics I” during the first semester of this academic year 2023/24, and it was an enriching experience! My lessons were devoted to the evolution of the Homeric poems beyond the Classical period. In particular, I focused on the Byzantine instruments, as metaphrases and lexicographical sources, that constituted the way students approached and learnt Homer’s literary production for centuries. I highly appreciated the students’ active participation in the lessons!

Teaching was not an entirely new experience for me, though. In Spain, I have taught at various levels. For two years, I worked in a high school, teaching courses such as Latin, Ancient Greek or Classical Culture. Moreover, I assumed the role equivalent to a lecturer in Spain for “Ancient Greek Linguistics”, a course in the last year of the Bachelor in Classical Studies. Fun fact, even if they share the same name, the program I taught in Spain was significantly different that here at UGent. I had teaching experiences also during my four-year PhD, as in Spain, PhD students with funding can teach up to 60 hours per year. At the same time, I collaborated as a teacher of Ancient Greek with the Faculty of Theology of Northern Spain.

The teaching methodology I employed in Spain and at UGent is quite similar and it focuses on a theoretical-practical approach. However, if I were to highlight some differences in teaching methodologies, I would mention the “mid-term exams”, which I find very beneficial for students and professors. I look forward to learning from the various approaches used at this university.

The primary objective of my research is twofold: firstly, comprehending how Moschopoulos taught Ancient Greek and determining the rules of the high–register Greek learned at medieval schools; secondly, creating a database in which Moschopoulos’ works, manuscripts, language, or metalinguistic terminology are accessible to scholars.

Let’s close by breaking some stereotypes. Spain: hot, sun, playa, sangría. Belgium: chill, rain, Blaarmeersen, beer. Did you feel such a big leap coming here to Gent, or is it just stereotypes? What makes you feel ‘at home’ here in Gent, despite the distance from Spain?

Haha, I love stereotypes because every time I hear them, I realise they are not true. Well, as mentioned, I come from Valladolid, a Spanish city in the northwest. The weather in summer is really hot (30º-35º), but during the rest of the year is cold – and it can even go down to -6º, in winter! – and there can also be foggy days. The nearest beach is along a river… so hot, sun and playa do not represent my city at all. About the last one, I can confess that I do not like sangría: I undoubtedly prefer a cold blond beer. In my personal experience, there are for sure some differences between Spain and Belgium, but the leap is not as big as the stereotypes make us believe, and it is very easy for me to adapt quickly to a new environment.

Since I have arrived here, I have perceived several things in Gent that make me feel at home. Let’s consider human and professional interactions, within MELA project, in my office and in the whole department. My colleagues are very approachable, and I feel at ease. The nostalgia for Spanish language is sometimes mitigated by the presence of other Spanish speakers in our department, such as Dr. Julián Bértola, and by the Spanish tourists in the city center.

Moreover, I have already established new habits here: I live near the remains of Charles the Fifth’s castle, and, on sunny days, I love visiting the park close to them to read a book. And my weekend cannot start without a pizza on Friday evening at Neapolis!

Medewerker van de maand (december 2023): Kyriaki Giannikou

The staff member of this month is Kyriaki Giannikou, who recently started her PhD within the framework of the Database of Byzantine Book Epigrams project. Eleonora Cattafi spoke with her about her past and present experiences in Ghent… and some future wishes.

Dear Kyriaki, you have just started your PhD in our Greek section, but you are definitely not a new face around the corridors of the Blandijn! In fact, you came to Ghent as an Erasmus student for the first time: what brought you to Ghent then and what do you remember from that experience? And why have you decided to come back as a scientific employee?

Choosing Ghent as an Erasmus destination in 2019 was a recommendation from one of my professors, and it turned out to be a transformative experience. The academic and social aspects were enriching, and the city itself felt like a welcoming home. Later, after completing my master’s at Leiden University, I seized an opportunity to work as a Research Assistant at Ghent University, in the EVWRIT project. This served as a valuable testing ground, allowing me to explore whether academia was my desired path. The positive working environment solidified my decision to continue as a doctoral student.

You are doing your PhD research within the new DBBE project “Interconnected texts”, which brings together Greek manuscripts, linguistics, and even artificial intelligence. This sounds very exciting! Could you tell us a bit more about your role in the project and the topic of your doctoral investigation?

Certainly! My research revolves around Byzantine book epigrams, intriguing paratexts nestled within manuscript margins. These epigrams intertwine poetic expression with practical details, unveiling insights into manuscript patrons and the identities of the scribes. Despite their formulaic nature, they also exhibit nuanced linguistic variations; these aspects remain unexplored in current research. Acting as a bridge between linguistic research on everyday speech formulas and those in oral poetry, my work addresses the challenge of identifying linguistic patterns within these short, transient epigrams – all within the intricate constraints of written Byzantine Greek.

Acting as a bridge between linguistic research on everyday speech formulas and those in oral poetry, my work addresses the challenge of identifying linguistic patterns within these short, transient epigrams.

From Greece to Belgium, that’s quite a cultural leap! What do you like the most about your daily life in Ghent? Is there anything you would recommend to future international (or Greek) colleagues to feel at home here?

Despite some cultural differences, Ghent has become a second home for me. What I appreciate most about daily life here, coming from the hustle and bustle of Athens, is the serenity of not living in a capital; it might sound minor, but I’ve noticed a significant change since that transition. To future colleagues, I would recommend fully embracing the opportunity to experience a different culture. Diversity enriches the experience, so I encourage them not to limit their social interactions to those within their own cultural circle. In simple terms, let’s stop complaining about the lack of sun and broodjes for lunch!

Every researcher has an artistic side to complement for their scientific activity, so I am sure you have one too! What do you do in order to relax from work?

Outside of academia, I find solace in crafty activities. Knitting, crocheting, and embroidering are not just hobbies but therapeutic outlets for me; yes, it might make me sound like a 75-year-old lady, but I embrace it! The tactile engagement is a perfect counterbalance to the cerebral demands of research! Moreover, I’ve grown to be a proud plant-mum, creating a calming atmosphere to return to after work.

Knitting, crocheting, and embroidering are not just hobbies but therapeutic outlets for me; yes, it might make me sound like a 75-year-old lady, but I embrace it!

Final question. Since New Year is approaching, do you have any special wishes for 2024 or something you look forward in your academic or personal life?

Looking ahead to 2024, I, of course, wish for breakthroughs in my research, contributing to the broader academic discourse. On a personal note, I wish for personal growth and more opportunities to immerse myself in the cultural richness of Belgium. Here’s to a year filled with exploration, achievements, and enriching experiences!

Cheers to that, Kyriaki! And best of luck with your PhD!

Medewerker van de maand (november 2023): Grigory Vorobyev

Grigory Vorobyev is one of the first members of the MELA project, which started last year. We gave him some time to settle in and look around, and now Serena Causo is very pleased to ask him some questions as our medewerker van de maand!

Hi Grigory! Let’s break the ice with some academic questions: what is your work scope within the project?

Hi Serena! The pleasure is all mine! In MELA, I am responsible for the most down-to-earth part of the job, that is to say paleographic and codicological analysis of manuscripts. Rummaging among old books might sound boring, but I find it the most fascinating activity of all! Indeed, such humble details as a manuscript’s handwriting, watermarks or even wormholes shed light on the history of the texts transmitted in it. Thanks to such information, my colleagues who draw linguistic evidence from Byzantine texts can interpret their data in a more precise way. I immensely enjoy my role as MELA’s paleographer in charge!

It is exciting to be a member of a growing team, to share interests and ideas with your team members, all while building new friendships. How are you getting along with your colleagues within the project and the department? We hope that you had a warm welcome at the Blandijn!

More than that, I am feeling at home! One aspect I would like to highlight is the sense of freedom, and I am not (only) speaking of free coffee. I am deeply grateful to the people who made this feeling possible. Besides, when I just arrived, I was impressed by the chronological span covered by the Hellenists here, and I have to say – this is not an attempt at flattery! – that sharing the office with papyrologists has a strengthening, reassuring effect: I am doing stuff in many ways similar to what you guys are doing for the earlier period, so I feel I am stepping on firm ground! This diachronic dimension of the office space is something I appreciate a lot, just as much as the great help I got, synchronically, from several colleagues when I was looking for a flat and moving! 🙂 As for everyday life at Blandijn, sure enough, I am not the first interviewee to tell you how enjoyable the multilingual atmosphere in the project team and in the department is. This constant code-switching is a healthy habit! Of course, in whatever language you are chatting with a colleague, it is always fun to discover they share your non-academic interests, like early music or water sports.

As for everyday life at Blandijn, sure enough, I am not the first interviewee to tell you how enjoyable the multilingual atmosphere in the project team and in the department is. This constant code-switching is a healthy habit!

We hear that you are a wanderer, both for your interesting academic journey but also because you like to wandel (“walk”) in nature. Tell us more about it!

Indeed, I adore traveling in the wilderness, be it on water or in the woods. When you go kayaking or trekking, the huge advantage is that, in contrast to a conventional vacation, you cannot but leave your laptop at home. The study of manuscripts is a continuous voyage, too: doing codicology is impossible without consulting the originals, and they are kept in libraries all over the world. As for my academic journey, I did my BA and MA in Saint Petersburg, the city where I was born, but that period also included a fantastic exchange semester in Florence (that’s where I fell for paleography) and a short research stay in the Hellenic Institute in Venice. My double passion, for the Italian Renaissance and for Greek manuscripts, brought me then to Münster and Rome. I defended two doctoral theses on different topics, in Rome and in Saint Petersburg, and started working in the latter place. Apart from teaching, I was involved in several projects in the fields of Neo-Latin philology and Greek paleography. It was rewarding to work with manuscripts there, for they are quite numerous and to a great extent unstudied. Still, something went wrong outside academia. Already in the 2000s I was aware that terrible things were going on in my country, the feeling of helplessness and shame has been increasing ever since, and yet, even after the catastrophic invasions in 2008 and 2014, despite the steady growth of repressions and censorship, I hoped against hope that the regime would change soon. Well, that optimism turned out to be naïve. In late February 2022, I grabbed my backpack and got on board one of the crowded airplanes heading to Istanbul. As numerous Russian scholars who spoke up against the war and for whom it was unbearable to stay in their country any longer, I fled. I was lucky enough to have that possibility (indeed, so many people who want to leave are unable to), and I was even luckier to quickly get two short-term research positions, first at the University of Innsbruck, in the Noscemus project, and then at the Free University of Berlin, in the Aristoteles-Archiv. In both places I had the opportunity to work on topics very close to those I had been dealing with before. In 2023, I became a member of the MELA team, and I cannot express how happy I am to be part of it now. Ghent University is more than a safe haven for me: as I said, I feel at home.

In late February 2022, I grabbed my backpack and got on board one of the crowded airplanes heading to Istanbul. As numerous Russian scholars who spoke up against the war and for whom it was unbearable to stay in their country any longer, I fled. I was lucky enough to have that possibility (indeed, so many people who want to leave are unable to).

The initial period in a new country is the moment when one starts to settle in and build his own new habits. Have you already established some favorite rituals – maybe a place to go, a bite to eat, a person to hang out with – in Ghent?

In Ghent it is easy, for this city is so welcoming and, if I may use this word, cozy! It boasts a marvelous selection of cafés, but almost directly upon my arrival I discovered an alternative to having a piece of cake in one of those: you can just take a broodpudding at Bloch and consume it meditatively in the stillness of Blandijn’s Japanese hortus conclusus. As for my other new rituals, I found a regular jam session to participate in and I joined a choir. Besides, I am enthusiastic about the fact that Ghent has so much water. I grew up at the riverside, so the mere fact of crossing two bridges on my way to the university is a gratifying routine.

Last question for a travelling academic: what is the one book that you must always bring with you when you move to a new country?L

Well, this might sound strange from a person who works with manuscripts, but the nomadic life I have got used to over the past decade has taught me that living close to a good library is more important than possessing books. Hence, to my mind, the only indispensable book-like object to carry with you whenever you move to a new country is your head!

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Grigory! We are glad to have you with us and we wish you the best of luck with your work!

Medewerker van de maand (oktober 2023): Piril Us MacLennan

The staff member of this month is Piril Us MacLennan, who is working on space in historiographical writing and recently went on a research stay to Oslo.

 

Hi Piril, lovely to have a chat with you! You started your PhD two years ago, can you tell us a bit more about your research and how it’s going?

I’m working on Byzantine history writing of 11th and 12th centuries. The 11-12th centuries were an exciting period for Byzantine literature with prolific experimentation between different styles and genres. So, it has produced a lot of well-known and fascinating histories. I was trained as a historian but my interest has always been to treat these sources as literature first. My main goal in my project is to demonstrate how authors’ depictions and/or narration of spaces, places and landscapes can contribute to the narrative arch of these histories, help realize the authors’ goals or make these histories more entertaining or immersive for their readers. I make use of various tools and concepts from literary studies, narratology and cultural geography.

How fascinating! Earlier this year, you also spent a few months in Oslo on a research stay. How did that go?

My research stay at the University of Oslo was very productive for me. It is great to hear different points of  view, especially when they counter your own. My interactions there helped me question and – if necessary – kill my darlings, so to say. It was also great to have a change of scenery. I enjoy living in different cities, meeting new people, learning about new languages, cultures and cuisines. In Istanbul, we try to do everything we can by the sea. So in Ghent, I miss being in close proximity to the sea and Oslo was perfect for me in this way. I quite enjoyed long meals and long runs by the fjord. Although I must confess it was a bit cold, but I find almost everywhere cold.

My interactions [in Oslo] helped me question and – if necessary – kill my darlings.

Now that the new academic year has started again, are there things you are looking forward to? How do you prepare for a new busy term?

I’m looking forward to actually writing the first chapter of my thesis with the feedback I received from my colleagues in Oslo last year. It’s daunting but exciting! Also, I love teaching and spreading the love for all things Byzantine. So, I’m very excited to lead the discussion seminars of the Byzantine history class in which we discuss Byzantine historiographical sources with bachelor students. It was a Byzantine History class in my last year as a bachelor student at Tufts University that sparked my interest in Byzantine sources, so I would be very happy if I could also help pass the torch to someone someday.

Sounds like a lovely goal! Lastly, what are some of your favourite places in Ghent? Any you would recommend?

I’m a big fan of Ghent’s small wine and tapas bars. But I must add, I’m developing a taste for dark Belgian beers as well. And lastly, It’s going to sound a bit boring, but where I go most often and regularly are Ghent’s parks. I especially enjoy going on runs at the Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen nature reserve and along the Coupere.

Thank you very much, Piril!

 

 

Medewerker van de maand (september 2023): Antonia Apostolakou

The staff member of this month is Antonia Apostolakou, who recently went on a research stay to Switzerland and is now putting the finishing touches to her PhD dissertation.

Hi Antonia! In the Blandijn, you are quite famous to be the girl coming from one of the most evocative places in Greece: Sparta! Could you tell us more about your homeland and the adventurous journey that brought you to Ghent?

Hello! That’s true. Although people usually have a surprised reaction when I introduce myself at conferences, it does make for a good icebreaker, I have to admit. Sparta is a charming small city in the Peloponnese, surrounded by mountains, full of olive and orange groves, with locals that may exceed 300 but still come in short numbers. Apart from the natural beauty of the area and its apparent historical reputation, Sparta has been and is still being associated with a military lifestyle, extreme discipline, and toughness. This image has made its way to pop culture (for example in films or video games – there have been some nice discussions by classical scholars on this subject over the last couple of decades) and has been worshipped by notorious dictators and like-minded groups to this day. I therefore tend to be cautious when it comes to boasting about my hometown. The occasional homesickness and the excitement of colleagues have definitely made me focus on the bright side, though, so I will hopefully not disappoint any more enthusiastic classicists.
Now that I have already set out the proper ground for treason, I will continue by saying that my academic journey started when I moved to Athens. There, I studied ancient, Byzantine, and modern Greek philology, and had a lovely time that generated some of the tips I’ve been sharing with many of you before your Athens visits. I specialized in linguistics, and my fascination for the field led me to the Netherlands, where I completed my master’s, with a focus on intercultural and multilingual communication. After graduating, I came across an announcement for a PhD position at Ghent University and the EVWRIT ERC project. It felt like an ideal opportunity for me, as it combined all different aspects of my previous education and training: classical and Byzantine studies, but also multilingualism and language contact. And, better yet, the position offered a new challenge: papyrology! I applied, flew to Belgium for the interview, and the rest is history. A fun fact is that I had visited the city one year earlier with a friend and, as I liked it a lot, had said: “I could live here.” I am still enjoying my time in Ghent, so it turns out I was right.

My tip to new international colleagues, which applies to differences beyond eating habits and weather conditions, is to keep an open mind and try to find the beauty in everything unfamiliar, rather than get trapped in seeking what they had back home.

Replacing spanakopita for boterhammetjes must not have been easy! After a few years living here, I believe you developed some strategies to master the art of the broodje and to adjust to the northern weather. Do you have any tips to share for our new international colleagues?

Just as I was complimenting Belgium, you needed to bring up the food… Just kidding! Surprising as it may seem, I think my Greek culinary skills got stronger over the last years – sharing food with friends is always a pleasant experience. Quite unexpectedly, though not for those who are aware of the composition of the Greek section, I also became more familiar with Italian cuisine from different regions (shoutout to all the friends who have kindly invited me over for dinner) and gained a new appreciation for it. I do, however, occasionally enjoy the late-night frietjes or take my visitors to local restaurants to try stoverij, and I appreciate the many veggie options in Ghent (Did you know it’s one of Europe’s veggie capitals?). I’m also a big fan of Belgian desserts, especially a warm Liège waffle or a good mattentaart. I am afraid the lunch broodje and I still have some way to go. Belgian weather is certainly different than what I was used to growing up, but there is a number of fun and relaxing things I like to do when it’s rainy: going to the cinema, visiting exhibitions in Ghent or Brussels, watching shows while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate with friends or just curling up by the window with a good book. And once the sun shines in Belgium, everyone is excited and goes out for ice cream or a glass of cold beer by the water. My tip to new international colleagues, which applies to differences beyond eating habits and weather conditions, is to keep an open mind and try to find the beauty in everything unfamiliar, rather than get trapped in seeking what they had back home.

As you mentioned before, you joined the Linguistics Department of Ghent University to start your PhD within the ERC project EVWRIT. What is your research project about?

Right! It is one of the linguistics projects of the ERC, that nevertheless incorporates many paleographic observations. Simply put, it’s an investigation of papyri from the fourth to the eighth centuries CE, where more than one language and/or script are used. I could say that the project was inspired by my own experiences to some extent, as I have grown up in a bilingual environment (on my mother’s side), and have witnessed intriguing switches between the Greek and English languages by my relatives – or a mix of Greek and Latin characters in some of my grandma’s amusing notes and gift tags. In papyri too, we find certain choices in language and its writing (for example, writing Greek in Latin script or mixing letters from different alphabets within a single word) that often seem unconventional by modern standards, especially in the context of more formal documents. My project aims at understanding the complex motivations (sociohistorical, textual/practical, cognitive, etc.) behind this variation, and evaluating their importance in enhancing or creating meaning. To do this, I use theoretical concepts and methods from historical sociolinguistics and socio-semiotics, language and script contact studies, comparative paleography, and more, depending on each case study.

I could say that the project was inspired by my own experiences to some extent, as I have grown up in a bilingual environment (on my mother’s side), and have witnessed intriguing switches between the Greek and English languages by my relatives – or a mix of Greek and Latin characters in some of my grandma’s amusing notes and gift tags.

Sounds fascinating! Our work allows us to travel all around the world, and I have heard that you have been able to enjoy a couple of great experiences abroad in the last year. We want to know more! (Where were they? And on which purpose did you go there?)

I was indeed lucky enough to obtain a couple of scholarships and visit some beautiful places over the last year. The first highlight was without doubt the Summer Institute in Papyrology. After its postponement due to the pandemic, I managed to travel to Cincinnati for the summer institute last summer. During this intensive training, I improved my knowledge on papyrology and the preparation of papyrus editions, while working on original papyri from the collection of the University of Michigan, under the guidance of distinguished instructors. It was also a very fun month of making new friends, watching the fireworks on the 4th of July, and racing on chairs with wheels at the dorm’s corridor. I returned to Europe just on time for the 30th International Congress of Papyrology in Paris, which was completed with a memorable celebration of my birthday on the waters of the Seine. My second longer stay was at the Hardt Foundation in Switzerland in late spring. I was happy to work on my project in a beautiful library and interact with classical scholars of different ages and backgrounds on the daily, while enjoying the generous services provided by the kind staff of the foundation. Once books and laptop screens were closed for the day, I went on small excursions with lovely colleagues, like visiting the Bodmer Foundation, exploring Geneva by night or even traveling to a suburb where Kieslowski’s “Red” was filmed.
While all these experiences may sound wonderful (and they absolutely were), it’s important to remember that doing a PhD is not “all play and no work”, in more senses than one. It’s a personal journey and a challenging experience with many ups and downs, and I feel fortunate to have been able to share both my achievements and struggles with other PhD candidates in Ghent since the beginning of my project.

One final question: as we were children, September used to be the start of a new exciting school year. Sure, we now have moved to a bigger building and switched apple juice for coffee, and oral tests to conference papers, but September still feels like our yearly turning point. With the beginning of the new academic year, what are your good resolutions?

I think that highly specific resolutions like the ones people come up with on New Year’s Eve put unnecessary pressure on many of us, so I tend to avoid them and think of a very general and easy one instead, just for the fun of it. My 2023 resolution was to let myself be surprised, and I can tell you it has been a success so far! I nonetheless have a few humble plans for the new academic year and the near future: submitting my dissertation, completing some editions, and evaluating the options ahead. I would also like to do some more carefree traveling and maybe return to taking a language course after a short break. And let’s see if that one friend and colleague finally convinces me to join her at the gym – that would be the ultimate surprise for everyone!

Medewerker van de maand (juni 2023): Nadia Sels

Het academisch jaar loopt weer op z’n einde, en we zijn blij dat we onze illustere medewerker van de maand juni nog even konden strikken voor de zomer. Professor Nadia Sels doet zowel aan de UGent als aan de UHasselt boeiend onderzoek naar kunst en mythe. Evelien Bracke sprak met haar over beide – en over een historische dinner party

Dag Nadia, wat fijn om even met jou te spreken. Veel van onze lezers zullen je kennen als professor Griekse mythologie binnen onze afdeling. Als thema blijft mythologie ons ook nu nog eindeloos fascineren. Vind je na zovele jaren onderzoek nog onverwachte of nieuwe interpretaties van mythen die je goed kent?

Ja hoor, deels omdat de interpretatieve mogelijkheden vaak heel ruim zijn, en deels omdat verhalen nog voortdurend hedendaagse herschrijvingen krijgen. Maar anderzijds moet ik toegeven: ik duik tegenwoordig liever in niet-Griekse mythologie, zoals de Indische Mahabharata of de Popol Vuh van de Maya’s. Daar kom je vaak verwante thema’s of zeer vergelijkbare verhalen tegen, maar verteld tegen de achtergrond van een cultuur die zo anders is dat het je interpretatie radicaal bemoeilijkt. Dat soort weerhaakjes die zich tegen een vlotte interpretatie verzetten, daar kan ik minstens evenzeer van genieten als van een perfect sluitende duiding. Overigens hoef je mythologie ook niet enkel als een betekenismachine te zien: dat is het zeker, maar het is evenzeer een compositie van esthetische indrukken en emoties, vergelijkbaar met muziek. En ook op die muziek zijn de variaties eindeloos.

Wat sommige lezers misschien niet weten, is dat je ook aan PXL-MAD en de UHasselt verbonden bent, als docent kunstgechiedenis en coördinator onderzoek in de kunsten. Wat houdt je functie aan de UHasselt zoal in, en is er inhoudelijke overlapping tussen beide posities?

Ik zie kunst en mythologie, en dus ook mijn twee vakgebieden, graag in het verlengde van elkaar. Beeldende kunst is een belangrijk aspect van de mythologische verbeelding, en omgekeerd zijn er heel wat kunstenaars die werken met mythes of mythische denkbeelden. Maar de echte gemene deler is wat mij betreft het feit dat zowel kunst als mythologie (onder andere!) pogingen zijn om de wereld te interpreteren via verbeelding, via processen van metaforisch denken. In die zin lopen ze naadloos in elkaar over.

Hans Blumenberg, mijn favoriete denker over mythe en metafoor, stelt dat “het hebben van een wereld altijd het resultaat is van kunst”. Daarmee bedoelt hij dat de wereld niet inherent betekenisvol is, en dat het al zeker niet vanzelfsprekend is dat we ons meteen in onze chaotische, verhakkelde ervaring van die wereld kunnen oriënteren. Dat we de wereld alleszins soms als overzichtelijk en betekenisvol ervaren, is voor hem een klein wonder, en het resultaat van een voortdurend ‘werken aan de mythe’. Met dat ‘werk aan de mythe’ bedoelt hij alle activiteiten waarin we onze ervaringen omzetten tot betekenisvolle denkbeelden en verhalen – een proces dat nooit stopt en dat zich uitstrekt van de oudste verhalen en denkbeelden van de mens tot de nieuwe strategieën om naar de wereld te kijken die zich kunnen ontwikkelen in de kunst.

Concreet begeleid ik in Hasselt doctoraten in de kunsten, een relatief nieuw genre in de academische wereld. Artistieke disciplines hebben hun eigen vorm van expertises – dat is het uitgangspunt van artistiek onderzoek. Dat kan gaan over een soort belichaamd weten, over technische kennis, maar zeker ook over een soort in kunst geïmpliceerd denken doorheen de beelden en het contact met materialen. Het is een razend interessant veld waar nog veel kan gebeuren.

Overigens hoef je mythologie ook niet enkel als een betekenismachine te zien: dat is het zeker, maar het is evenzeer een compositie van esthetische indrukken en emoties, vergelijkbaar met muziek. En ook op die muziek zijn de variaties eindeloos.

We horen je regelmatig op de radio spreken over mythen, en dan vooral vrouwelijke personages in mythen. Waarom denk je dat onze huidige cultuur zo gefascineerd is door precies de vrouwelijke personages uit de oudheid?

Het is een inhaalbeweging, natuurlijk, en een noodzakelijke reflectie over cultureel erfgoed en de genderpatronen die erin geïmpliceerd zijn. Het is geen geheim dat die lang niet altijd vrouw- (en man-!) vriendelijk zijn, en om die reden gaan er zeker in de Angelsaksische wereld wel eens stemmen op om teksten zoals de Odyssee (die overigens verrassend veel krachtige vrouwelijke personages bevat) gewoon uit het curriculum te halen. Persoonlijk geloof ik daar absoluut niet in – waarom zou je jezelf qua historische kennis een oog uitsteken? Een analyse en kennis van die teksten is juist een fantastisch wapen om de taal en de redeneringen achter misogynie te leren kennen en te ontmantelen.

Tegelijkertijd is er ook een tendens om de verhalen van vrouwenfiguren uit de mythologie vanuit vrouwelijk perspectief te herschrijven of te herbekijken. Een interessant boek dat ik niet zo lang geleden in het radioprogramma Voorproevers mocht bespreken is De Kruik van Pandora van Natalie Haynes. Eén van de interessante conclusies die ze trekt is dat de antieke bronnen vaak lang niet zo vrouwonvriendelijk zijn als de negentiende- en twintigste-eeuwse hervertellingen. We denken vaak dat we die verhalen kennen, maar eigenlijk zijn ze vaak veel gelaagder dan gedacht.

Eén van je meest recente publicaties (link) gaat over autotheorie. Niet al onze lezers zullen deze theorie al kennen. Kan je daar iets meer over vertellen – en van waar je eigen interesse hierin?

Je hebt het over Project Passage, een onderzoeksplatform aan de UHasselt waar ook een online journal aan verbonden is. Het is een project waar ik voornamelijk mee ingestapt ben omwille van het voortreffelijke gezelschap van Kris Pint en Maria Gill Ulldemolins, twee collega’s die me ook persoonlijk zeer dierbaar zijn.

Autotheorie is een term die verwijst naar een verscheidenheid aan tekstuele genres (kritische memoires, creatieve kritiek, performatief schrijven…) die persoonlijke, belichaamde ervaringen expliciet als instrument wil gebruiken binnen kritische reflectie. Hoewel je voortdurend leest en kijkt vanuit je eigen ervaringen en lichaam wordt die subjectieve dimensie vaak verdoezeld in academische teksten. Autotheorie kijkt – met wisselend succes, naar mijn eigen mening – naar hoe het anders kan. Wie meer wil lezen kan terecht op de website van Passage.

[Anne Carson] schrijft dat ze zich nooit meer levend heeft gevoeld dan wanneer ze verliefd was of naar kennis zocht, […] ervaringen waarin er iets is dat je van jezelf weglokt. Voor de kennis van de oudheid is dat bij uitstek het geval: er is altijd iets dat je ontglipt, en precies daarnaar blijf je verlangen.

Om te eindigen, een historical dinner party! Je hebt al zoveel onderzoek gedaan naar moderne theorieën rond mythologie, moest je een dinner party mogen organiseren met één mythologische figuur en één moderne theorist, met wie zou je dan graag eens een avondje doorbrengen?

De theoreticus is een makkelijke keuze, als ik het begrip wat mag opentrekken tenminste. Ik zou ontzettend graag de benen onder tafel steken met Anne Carson, een Canadese classica en vertaalster van antieke teksten die ook nog eens een van de meest briljantste schrijfsters is die ik ken. Haar essay Eros, Bitterzoet, bijvoorbeeld, over het concept van liefde en verlangen bij de Griekse lyrici, is een van de mooiste pleidooien voor de waarde van de Oudheid die ik ken. Een vlijmscherpe filosofische analyse van de mythologische en poëtische taal rond het Griekse concept van eros, maar ook een betoog over de erotiek van vertalen en de studie van het verleden. Ze schrijft dat ze zich nooit meer levend heeft gevoeld dan wanneer ze verliefd was of naar kennis zocht. In beide gevallen zijn het ervaringen waarin er iets is dat je van jezelf weglokt. Voor de kennis van de oudheid is dat bij uitstek het geval: er is altijd iets dat je ontglipt, en precies daarnaar blijf je verlangen.

Het mythologische personage is moeilijker. Meestal zijn het niet zo’n fijne figuren, zeker de goden niet. Goden al dan niet uitnodigen is trouwens een uiterst heikele kwestie, die niet anders dan slecht kan aflopen: nodig er één uit, en een andere god voelt zich gefnuikt en neemt je te grazen. Maar als ik er dan toch een moet kiezen wil ik graag de naamloze god uit Kavafis’ gedicht ‘Antonius door zijn god verlaten’ van Kavafis op bezoek vragen. In dat gedicht wordt een subliem beeld opgeroepen van een onzichtbare stoet die onder betoverende muziek ’s nachts uit de stad Alexadria wegtrekt, een teken dat de gunst van de goden Marcus Antonius verlaten heeft. Misschien kan die stoet na al die eeuwen zwerven bij Anne en mij aanschuiven. Dat wordt een verrukkelijke avond!

Bij zo’n dinner party zouden we ook wel willen aanschuiven! Alvast bedankt voor het prachtige interview, Nadia.

 

Medewerker van de maand (mei 2023): Theofanis Tsiampokalos

Many new faces in our Greek Section these last couple of months: one of them is Theofanis Tsiampokalos, who recently started working as a postdoctoral researcher on the ERC-project “The meaning of language. A digital grammar of the Greek taught at schools in Late Constantinople” (MELA). Anne-Sophie Rouckhout caught up with him to ask about his first experiences as a new member of the Greek pack at Ghent University.

Hi Fanis! You started working at UGent a few months ago, on a brand new ERC-project called MELA. Can you tell us something about your research context and your own role in it?

Hi! Yes, I joined the Linguistics department at the Ghent University in February and I am really excited to be here, in this very beautiful city, and be part of this wonderful community. MELA, the project I am involved in, is – as you already said – a brand new ERC-project of Andrea Cuomo, hosted at the University of Ghent. The project brings surviving grammatical textbooks of the late Byzantine period to the fore. Throughout the whole period from the early sixth to the mid-fifteenth centuries CE, knowledge of a high-register variety of Greek, one which was modeled on a selection of ancient canonical authors and the church fathers and, therefore, differed from the contemporary vernacular, would mark in the Eastern Roman Empire a young adult for a promising career in the administration of the state or church, pretty much in the same way as in later times knowledge of Latin would mark someone for a post within the British Empire. MELA’s main aim is to achieve a deeper understanding of this language by means of producing a digital grammar of the Greek taught at schools in Late Constantinople, from where several textbooks survive that have not received so far the attention they deserve.
Within this broad context, my work focuses on a number of grammatical textbooks written by Maximus Planudes, a leading scholar of the late thirteenth/early fourteenth century. I try to shed more light to the sophistication that these textbooks show in particular, especially in terms of what we nowadays call “information management”.

Our Greek section hosts many international researchers, but not many of them are actually … Greek! How has the Ghent life been treating you?

The truth is that people expect a researcher to be detached from the object of their study, which is obviously not my case. I am joking. It was actually somewhat of a coincidence that I decided to study Greek in the first place – I was showing a similarly great interest in Latin as well as in Ancient History, and I think I would be as happy as I am now, had I chosen any of these subjects instead of Greek. I guess, what fascinates me in these subjects is the potential they show to help us overcome – as Hugh Lloyd-Jones eloquently put it – “the provincialism of those who know only their own period”. In other words, Greek and Latin literature as well as the ancient world in general could serve as a mirror for our contemporary world.
That said, I cannot but admit that the interest that people in Ghent show in both the Greek language and Greece really touches me – I am not talking about the Ancient Greek language and Ancient Greece. The activities organized by the “Griekenlandcentrum” at Ghent University focus on the Early Modern, Modern, or even Contemporary Greece . Last week, for example, I visited a fascinating talk on Greek children’s adoptions to the US and Netherlands during the 50es and 60es. These events attract not only people from the University, but also people who simply live in Ghent and show an interest in Greece, of whom many even learn Modern Greek – and needless to say, they grasp the opportunity to practice their Greek with me. I have been really impressed by their language skills by the way. My resolution for the next years is to master Dutch as well as they have mastered Modern Greek.

I guess, what fascinates me in these subjects is the potential they show to help us overcome – as Hugh Lloyd-Jones eloquently put it – “the provincialism of those who know only their own period”. In other words, Greek and Latin literature as well as the ancient world in general could serve as a mirror for our contemporary world.

If you have to name one weird habit of your Belgian colleagues, what would it be? No worries, we can take it! 😁 Also, for which reason are you most happy to be working here?

I haven’t spotted a particular habit of my Belgian colleagues. Is there something I should be aware of? I am joking. The only funny thing that has happened so far concerns the language. Before moving to Belgium, I was living in Germany, and even before that in Switzerland. But even though German and Dutch have much in common, there are still some “false friends” – my personal favorite is “bellen”; in German, it means “bark”.
The reason I am most happy to be working here is definitely the people. On the one hand, Ghent is a very beautiful city, full of super-friendly people. On the other hand, my colleagues at the University, be it from the MELA project or from the department in general, have proved themselves not only extremely friendly, but also very supportive. They are also very open to exchange and share insights from their own research and are always interested in hearing about my own work and giving me feedback. They have created a very fertile environment here and I am very glad to be part of it.

The reason I am most happy to be working here is definitely the people. On the one hand, Ghent is a very beautiful city, full of super-friendly people. On the other hand, my colleagues at the University, be it from the MELA project or from the department in general, have proved themselves not only extremely friendly, but also very supportive.

Now, let’s be serious again. This year, your PhD thesis was finally published as a monograph – congrats! You must be very proud … and maybe relieved?

Thank you very much! Yes. Soon after my defense in 2018 I started editing my thesis, so that it may be published as a monograph. My book is about Plutarch’s attitude towards rhetoric, an attitude which earlier scholarship had interpreted as rather ambivalent. My approach amounts to the first attempt to see this attitude within the broader context of the traditional conflict between philosophy and rhetoric in antiquity, while paying particular attention to the role that a subject so loaded as rhetoric might play for the construction of a distinct philosophical identity by Plutarch.
The first edition of my book in Modern Greek is about to appear in Athens – the book will be released within the next few weeks –, while a second edition in English is currently in preparation. I am indeed very relieved that this circle is gradually closing, also because the preparation of my thesis for publication had been a side-project for me over the last years. I was fortunate enough to begin my first postdoc in Trier, in Germany, already a month after receiving my PhD. It lasted for three years. This postdoc was on a different topic than my thesis – it was on the reception of presocratic philosophy –, which represented for me a unique opportunity to delve into a new area and, thus, broaden my research profile. But this also meant that the time I could invest in editing my thesis ought to be limited. Nevertheless, I managed to cope with the situation and I am now very happy.

Summer is coming! Will you stay in the Blandijn office or venture out into the world? Any particular plans that classicists might find interesting or inspiring?

I guess, the ideal for summer vacation for every classicist involves a combination of culture, culinary delights and the Mediterranean. In August, I am going to spend some days on Crete. It has been ages since the last time I visited the island. I would like to visit the new Eleutherna museum.

Sounds wonderful – don’t forget to send us pictures! 😉 Thank you for the interview, Fanis, and good luck with your research!

Medewerker van de maand (februari 2023): Alexander Vandewalle

Onze medewerker van de maand februari, Alexander Vandewalle, pendelt normaalgezien tussen Antwerpen en Gent, maar maakte vorige maand een wat langere reis, naar Nieuw-Zeeland dan nog wel! Evelien Bracke sprak met hem over zijn congrespaper, over video games en, jawel, Middle Earth.

Dag Alexander, leuk om even met jou te spreken. Je naam is veel mensen wel bekend als onderzoeker van de rol van de oudheid in videogames. Wat een interessant thema! Kan je uitleggen wat jouw onderzoek inhoudt? (En houdt het dan ook in dat je heel veel videogames moet uittesten?)

Bedankt! Specifiek kijk ik in mijn onderzoek naar de karakterisering van Grieks-Romeinse goden en helden in video games. In het eerste deel van mijn doctoraat stelde ik een framework op van karakteriseringstechnieken of -indicaties in games, waarvoor ik mij baseerde op bestaand onderzoek uit de letterkunde, narratologie, filmstudies, en game studies. Het resulterende kader pas ik momenteel toe op een corpus van mythologisch geïnspireerde video games, waarbij ik kijk naar gelijkaardige tendensen tussen verschillende games, of verschillen qua representatie tussen game-genres of productiecontexten. Gamen is dus inderdaad een belangrijk deel van mijn werkdag, hoewel het natuurlijk ook niet enkel om spelen draait!

Ik ben al eens op je database gaan snuisteren. Wat een uitgebreide lijst – en zoveel games waar ik nog nooit van gehoord heb! Hoe ben je hieraan begonnen, en hoe houd je zoiets bij?

Het idee voor de Paizomen-database ontstond origineel tijdens mijn FWO-applicatie: ook al is de academische interesse naar klassieke receptie in games de laatste jaren enorm toegenomen, toch bestond er nergens een grote lijst van ‘alle’ games die zich in de klassieke oudheid afspelen. (En om eerlijk te zijn: een deel van de inspiratie kwam ook uit het werk van de DBBE!) Bij het opstellen van de database ben ik op zoek gegaan naar alle mogelijke informatie die ik kon vinden, zoals academische publicaties, online encyclopedia’s, winkelplatformen, trailers, fora, game-gidsen (waarin spelers bijvoorbeeld aan andere spelers uitleggen hoe je het best aan een bepaalde game begint) en meer, om op die manier een overzicht te bieden van de enorme hoeveelheid games over de oudheid. Momenteel bevat de database informatie over iets meer dan 300 games, maar ik loop intussen alweer achter, en er zijn zeker nog honderden of zelfs duizenden games te vinden die zich door de oudheid laten inspireren!

Je onderzoek doe je zowel aan de Universiteit Antwerpen als aan de UGent. Hoe werkt dat praktisch gezien? Komt er veel pendelwerk bij kijken?

Ik onderneem inderdaad een dubbeldoctoraat: UAntwerpen is mijn hoofdinstelling, waar ik werk bij Communicatiewetenschappen, en UGent mijn partnerinstelling, waar ik bij de Afdeling Grieks aansluit. Ik heb aan beide universiteiten ook gestudeerd, dus is het mooi om deze zo te kunnen combineren. Dat betekent inderdaad geregeld pendelen, hoewel ik voor het grootste deel van thuis uit werk: voor mijn onderzoek heb ik uiteraard vaak mijn game-consoles nodig, en het is moeilijk om deze constant met de trein te verhuizen. De combinatie van de twee universiteiten heeft ook al voor mooie samenwerkingen gezorgd: aan UAntwerpen werk ik geregeld samen met andere game-onderzoekers die vanuit hun achtergrond in de sociale wetenschappen expertise hebben in publieksonderzoek (bv. meer kwantitatieve en statistisch gerichte studies, enquêtes, interviews), waar ik zelf niet in getraind ben. Dit stond mij toe om onderzoek te verrichten naar verschillende ervaringen die spelers meemaken in oudheidgames – iets waar ik anders maar moeilijk aan begonnen zou zijn, maar wat wel ongelooflijk interessant is.

Je twitter-account vertelt ons dat je nog maar net terug bent uit Nieuw-Zeeland. Waarover heb je gesproken op het congres waar je daar aan deelnam? En blijkbaar ben je ook naar Hobbiton geweest?

Klopt! Ik ben naar Nieuw-Zeeland afgereisd om daar een presentatie te geven op de jaarlijkse samenkomst van de Australasian Society for Classical Studies (ASCS), waar het thema dit jaar ‘Games and the Ancient World’ was: een hele dag presentaties over de oudheid en/in games, wat nog steeds redelijk zeldzaam is voor Classics-conferenties. Mijn presentatie betrof zogenaamde ‘haptic feedback’ in mythologische video games, of spontane vibraties of trillingen die spelers via hun game-controller ontvangen wanneer ze aan het spelen zijn. Ik heb een aantal games besproken en beargumenteerd dat dergelijke tactiele elementen bijdragen tot een specifiek soort ervaring van mythologie (of althans een bepaalde conceptualisering ervan door de huidige entertainmentindustrie) waarbij spelers in de rol van een god ondergedompeld worden, en waar de focus vaak op spektakel en goddelijke krachten ligt.

En ja, het leek een beetje jammer om helemaal naar Nieuw-Zeeland te vliegen en er slechts de vier dagen van de conferentie rond te lopen, dus hebben we er een grotere trip van gemaakt en inderdaad ook Hobbiton bezocht! Als Lord of the Rings-fan kon dit absoluut niet ontbreken. Het was een heel speciale ervaring om die prachtige set rond te wandelen, en ik was enorm onder de indruk van het detail waarmee Peter Jackson Middle-Earth daar tot leven heeft gebracht. Nieuw-Zeeland is trouwens ook gewoon een prachtig land met adembenemende natuur en gezellige steden – een grote aanrader! (Aangezien het daar in januari en februari nog volop zomer is, was het daar ook nog eens een goede 20 à 25° warmer dan hier!)

En misschien een beetje een cliché vraag om mee te eindigen, maar wat is jouw favoriete videogame waarin de oudheid voorkomt? En – misschien iets controversiëler – je minst favoriete? Wat zou je ons aanraden?

Een lastige vraag! Zo’n dingen evolueren altijd een beetje. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey hoort de facto thuis in mijn favorieten, aangezien het de game was die mij als eerste deed nadenken over games en klassieke receptie. Ik vind het nog steeds een mijlpaal in de geschiedenis van oudheidgames, die het klassieke Griekenland van Perikles op een naar mijn mening nog ongeëvenaarde manier heeft weergegeven. De game is zeker niet perfect (bij tijden heb ik er eerder een haat-liefde-relatie mee), maar ik kan er zelfs na 200 uur speeltijd en drie playthroughs nog steeds van blijven genieten. Andere favorieten zijn Immortals Fenyx Rising, die de Griekse mythologie op een vooral komische manier weergeeft; de God of War-reeks, die er in de laatste jaren in geslaagd is om één van de gewelddadigste game-reeksen aller tijden om te vormen naar een diep emotioneel vader-zoon-verhaal; en Hades, waarin spelers in de rol kruipen van het obscure mythologische personage Zagreus en keer op keer proberen de Onderwereld te ontsnappen op zoek naar Zagreus’ moeder, Persefone. In december werd een vervolg op Hades aangekondigd, Hades II, dat zal draaien rond het misschien nog obscuurdere personage Melinoë (bekend uit slechts één Orfische hymne) en nog een aantal nieuwe personages zal introduceren (onder wie bijvoorbeeld Hekate). Naar deze ben ik ongelooflijk benieuwd!

Over het algemeen ben ik iets minder fan van strategiegames als Civilization – niet omdat die games niet leuk kunnen zijn, maar omdat ik zelf als speler vooral ben opgegroeid met de meer narratieve, avontuurlijke games. De groep games waar ik persoonlijk het minst graag mee bezig ben zijn mobile games, of games die gemaakt zijn voor smartphones. Hier bekruipt mij altijd een dubbel gevoel: enerzijds worden ze door miljoenen spelers gespeeld (en zijn ze daarom belangrijke, maar nog steeds onderbelichte, studieobjecten), maar anderzijds vind ik ze vaak ietwat vervelende speelervaringen. Meer dan bij computer- of console-games maken mobile games het je vaak expres moeilijk of lastig, en is het de bedoeling dat je tegen betaling (zogenaamde ‘microtransactions’) de speelervaring bevordert (bijvoorbeeld om upgrades te krijgen, of om de constructie van bepaalde gebouwen sneller te doen vooruitgaan). Ook zijn er gewoon zodanig veel van, dat ik nooit goed weet waar exact te beginnen…

Bedankt voor de tips! We weten nu wat te doen deze zomer! Nog veel succes met je onderzoek.