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Rape Culture in Classical Mythology

Tarquinius und Lucretia, Hans von Aachen, ca. 1600

Tarquinius und Lucretia, Hans von Aachen, ca. 1600

I’m a little ambivalent about putting this take-home exam essay I wrote in second year up on the blog. On the one hand, it’s something I’ve thought about posting up for a while. On the other, I feel that even though I’ve learned more about Classics and grown as a person since second year, I still find this essay disturbing in many ways. It’s an answer to the question, “Why did Greek and Roman myths have so much rape in them?” A nasty subject at the best of times. But I’ve weighed up my options, and found two reasons why I feel this was worth posting.

Firstly, there’s a bit of bragging on my part. I’m pretty sure this is one of the highest marked essays I ever wrote in my first three years of undergraduate study. It was graded in the 90’s (whereas any mark over 80 would have put the essay in the top 10%). That didn’t necessarily happen because it was the best essay I wrote, but it was very well received by the university. Feminist essays are satisfying like that. I don’t think there’s any other ideology that the university would be happy to see you jump on your figurative high-horse and lambast your ideological opponents with. Looking back, I wonder if this essay is slightly overdone at times; but your reading of it may vary. Clearly my examiners very much enjoyed it.

The second reason I have for posting it here is that this essay very much resonates with the modern issue of Rape Culture. In the twenty-first century, we’re still consuming so many stories, films and TV series which shove images of violent, pushy, rapey sex in our faces, whenever directors want to make sex look more exciting or the protagonists more virile. I would say that these rapey depictions of sex are cheap thrills in movies, but they’re worse than that. The movies we watch tap into a deeper narrative which justifies a rape as understandable, that it’s the normal way for a man to react to seeing a woman – that woman – the one who takes your fancy, the one who’s dressed just slutty enough, the one who’s supposedly asking for it.

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Ciceronian Disputations

"Cicero denouncing Cataline," The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott A Beckett, 1850s.

“Cicero denouncing Cataline,” The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott A Beckett, 1850s.

What’s this? A creative piece, you say?

You’re spot on. This is a dialogue between Cicero and my supervisor at uni, Assoc. Prof. Parshia Lee-Stecum. I originally wrote it for Orpheus, the publication of MUCLASS (Melbourne University Classics and Archaeology Students Society). I was a little worried that my supervisor might not like it… Cicero does get a bit bitey with his replies! But thankfully it gave Parshia a chuckle and he said it was a good satire. In the end, I’m satisfied with the result.

As a senator of MUCLASS, I’m very proud of our first publication. The rest of Orpheus is full of amazing entries, including ancient recipes, Latin poetry, historical fiction, brilliant essays and much more.  Do go and check it out on our new blog at muclass.wordpress.com – if you like anything classical or archaeological, I am sure you will enjoy it.


(CICERO knocks on the door to Assoc. Prof. Parshia Lee-Stecum’s office, which is half-open.)

PARSHIA: Oh, please come in, Marcus.

CICERO: (lingers in the doorway, somewhat affronted)

PARSHIA: Marcus? (glances at paper) Sorry, you’re Marcus Tullius Cicero, right?

CICERO: Well of course. I’m just astonished that anyone could be so barbaric as to call an unfamiliar by his praenomen.
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Real men wear moisturiser

Dear modern society,

Men should be allowed to rub skin cream into their skin. Deal with it.

"Samuel anointing David", Illustrator of Bible Historiale, 1372. (Source)

“Samuel anointing David”, Illustrator of Bible Historiale, 1372. (Source)

The message I’m writing really should not need any historical precedent. For one thing, we accept that men and women both have teeth, and not only is it permissible for both men and women to brush their teeth, this is encouraged. What a daring new development! People in other societies might have looked down on our teeth care as a purely cosmetic preoccupation, but we know that teeth are important to our overall bodily health and that as responsible human beings we should take good care of them. Why isn’t the story the same with skin care? Both men and women have skin, and skin is a very important organ, regardless of gender. If it is damaged, it can become a site of infection. Worst of all, sun-damaged skin can become cancerous. A freckle-sized melanoma just one millimetre deep can become malignant, causing slow and horrifying deaths for thousands in cancer wards.

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What would happen if Vesuvius erupted again?

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Here’s the deal. Vesuvius has erupted dozens of times since its last massive eruption in AD 79. But news reporters and documentaries, the most easily consumable sources of expert advice (that phrase badly needs inverted commas), tell me the volcano is overdue for another catastrophic eruption.[1] I haven’t got a background in the earth sciences, so I won’t comment on the likelihood of impending classical déjà vu in the near future. But I am curious – what would happen if Vesuvius had another eruption in our lifetime, the kind that Pliny the Elder witnessed and ultimately died from?

Pierre-Jacques Volaire, View of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, ca. 1770.

Pierre-Jacques Volaire, View of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, ca. 1770.

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