Wednesday, July 23

A Job Well Done

Today was just another day at work, shining a light into the darkness of the Eurocentric/Classicist ivory tower, educating them about the world outside their Greco-Roman view of ancient history. Of course I’m kidding. …a little. :-) Really, though, it is true that those who are interested in ancient Greece and Rome are usually fascinated by ancient Egypt and typically don’t understand much about it. So today when I taught my course on “Religion in Greco-Roman Egypt: Negotiating Identities” at the museum, I had a full classroom of nearly forty people with lots of interest and questions. I’ve mentioned before that finding time to prepare for this course has been one of the challenges of my summer thus far, so now that it’s over and went well, it’s a great relief and very satisfying to put it behind me.

By this time in my career I’ve taught enough and spoken in front of large groups of people often enough that I don’t get petrifyingly nervous anymore, but I do get a case of the butterflies right before I go on. I mean, I’m only human—I want it to be good and I want it to be accurate, and I want to communicate and connect with the audience. That doesn’t just happen—it takes work! After our Education Specialist for Adult Programs introduced me and I began speaking at the podium I had some sweaty palms, but that cured itself as I got into the material and became focused on the subject and what I was talking about. With my own tendency to get swept up into what I’m talking about and audience questions the first part of the three hour session went over its allotted time, but I always expect that time will be an issue. The second half of the lecture went more quickly since I asked them to save questions for the last segment of the class, when we went up into the museum galleries to check out the artifacts in person, so to speak.

Without getting into too much detail, this course was on burial equipment (i.e. coffins, shrouds, funerary biers, etc.) from the time period in Egypt when the Greek and Roman empires had both come into Egypt and integrated aspects of their art and culture and religion with ancient Egyptian culture. It’s a very intriguing period because there’s so much going on, but it’s also complicated because there’s so much variation and ways in which the ancient Egyptian style of representation was used with the Greco-Roman style. To us the style looks like a hybrid of the two traditions, but as I discussed in my course, the contemporaries didn’t see it like that way. They saw nothing strange. What they did see was a sacred image and that was going to glorify them in death and help them get to the afterlife.

Here's an image of a linen shroud made for a woman from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It came from Akhmim, Egypt and illustrates well this so-called "hybrid" style of burial equipment from Greco-Roman Egypt:

By the end of three and a half hours, my voice was very much on it’s way out and I had a spectacular headache, but many people wanted to shake my hand and talk to me afterwards, which is always a good indication that people were interested and enjoyed themselves. Eventually I had to just simply retreat and run away. If I hadn’t, they’d have held me captive for even longer, I’m sure! All things considered it was a great success, and I look forward to being able to teach this course again. In the meantime, some of the research I’ve been working on in regard to the religious aspects of the Herakleides mummy (which played a significant role in today's lecture) I hope to turn into a conference presentation and if I'm lucky I'll get to present it to the scholars at the Villa during one of their “Brown Bag” lunch talks this fall. So I have more to do with my research on this topic, that’s for sure!

Right now I'm really, really tired, but I had fun today and feel like it was a job well done, so it's worth it.

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