a dumb question, maybe, but: what's one of your favorite parts about studying classics?
probably the constant reminders that throughout time and regardless of time, place, language, religion, ideology, system of governance or dominant school of thought, people remain fundamentally people
like i know that sounds really glib but it’s like - when i was doing this after alexander course last year, right, we looked at this thing called the zenon papyri, a huge stash of administrative documents from greek-ruled egypt addressed to an official called zenon, which was preserved because the winds changed and the building they were kept in was buried under a massive sand dune. and there’s one which we called the krotos papyri, which is a letter from a native egyptian writing to zenon telling him how he had been mistreated by greeks, who laugh at him because he doesn’t know how to “act like a greek” and call him a barbarian and refuse to pay him his proper wages. which is very familiar. and when you look at the actual papyrus fragment, the writing at the top is big and clear and spaced-out, but as it gets towards the bottom of the page it gets smaller and more cramped and the lines are all squint, because this nameless egyptian guy who does something with camels in the 250s BC hadn’t worked out how long his letter was going to be and he’s realised halfway through that he’s going to run out of space
and in first year i went on this trip to hadrian’s wall, and it started snowing while we were standing on it and the wind was blowing a gale right into our faces, and afterwards we heard a lecture about the vindolanda tablets, and there’s one, tablet 346, a letter to a soldier stationed there - and the soldiers stationed there could come from anywhere in the empire, rome or egypt or north africa, hot places, basically, and the wall is fucking cold - which is maybe from his wife or mother or sister, which reads as follows:
“… I have sent (?) you … pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants, two pairs of sandals … Greet …ndes, Elpis, Iu…, …enus, Tetricus and all your messmates with whom I pray that you live in the greatest good fortune."
and that’s not some kind of “people don’t change” idea. people do change, have changed. you read the stuff these civilisations produced and some of it is so, so alien to us, so hard to understand, so strange. but then in amongst it you find things like people running out of space on their last bit of paper, or sending their son more socks because he’s got a job somewhere cold. and we remember it, these weird small human things, by total random chance! no-one sat down and thought ‘let’s keep this’ - the wind changes and an entire archive of papyri is preserved under a sand dune for 2000 years. the excavators who found the vindolanda tablets thought they were wood shavings. there’s a pot of roman face cream in the museum of london which still has fingerprints in the cream, which was found hidden in a ditch outside a temple. and in the meantime, we have no firsthand accounts of the campaigns of alexander, one of the most influential series of events in western history, because… we just don’t. they existed, but they’re lost. for some reason, somehow, presumably though some kind of enormous cosmic joke, we have a fragmentary letter from an anonymous person sent to an anonymous soldier telling him his pants are in the post and to say hello to his friends, but we don’t have callisthene’s deeds of alexander or ptolemy’s memoirs. isn’t that infuriating? isn’t that great?