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The PhD Diaries: Identities in Transformation

The PhD Diaries is a series of pieces written by PhD candidates who work in areas associated with the Identities in Transformation research theme. Over the course of this series, they will examine their relationship with their research and how it has changed them. Lisa Doyle is a PhD candidate at Department of Classics

I have been fortunate enough to be able to study Classics from quite a young age. To engage with the literature of ancient civilisations over an extended period of time, as I have, has been a privilege. It’s also been interesting to note how my engagement with this discipline has developed over that time. As I have become more immersed in the subject, my exposure to ancient Greek language and literature has led to a better appreciation of how the ancients understood and structured their world.

In the early days of my studies, I was captivated by Greek myths and the tragic plays whose plots are inspired by them. These interests became more focused as my work progressed and I became enthralled by the ethics and values which pervaded Greek society and literature. The idea that men, women and people of varying status were expected to adhere to these values differently was fascinating to me, as were the many ways that these ethical concepts could be expressed in literary works such as the tragedies. The more I explored this topic in my undergraduate and master’s research, the better I understood the ways in which these values enforced gender roles and the more attentive I became to the lasting impact of Greek ethics, as the traces of these values are still felt today. So, Classics has played a part in shaping my views and provided me with a framework for thinking about contemporary issues.

Beginning my PhD project felt in many ways like a change of gear. My doctoral research looks at a corpus of scholia, or scholarly notes, which survive in the margins of manuscripts and originate from a diverse range of authors. Despite the fact that the scholia comment on a Hellenistic epic poem, the Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes, they are quite dissimilar to the cohesive narrative texts I had previously been engaging with, so it was initially difficult to adjust to analysing this new type of literary work. I still encounter the familiarity of the Greek value system, albeit in a critical context, due to the moralising tone and ethical judgements sometimes found in the scholia. But I have also been prompted by my current research to ask different kinds of literary questions. I am grappling with a work that is not just the product of one author, but many, and therefore reflects the identities and concerns of multiple individuals: the poet who composed the key text, the scholars who authored the explanatory notes on this text, and the other authors who are cited in these explanations. It has been challenging not only to formulate an approach to a corpus that has not yet been evaluated by modern scholars, but also to reframe my thinking in order to interpret someone else’s interpretation of a text.

That said, spending time with the ‘marginal’ viewpoints in the scholia has irrevocably broadened my own perspectives and made me reflect on the vastness of the literary tradition. I have become more attuned to the processes by which literature can be understood, and the ways literary responses can be expressed, in both academic and non-academic contexts. This, I suppose, is one of the personal benefits of PhD research: becoming aware of perspectives and influences that you won’t overlook again. It is an exhilarating feeling to make revelations and discoveries about these scholarly notes. I also feel fulfilled, and validated as a researcher, as I develop my own insights and discern meanings from the scholia that no one else has. To experience these feelings is one of the primary appeals of doing a PhD, and so far, I have not been disappointed. Moreover, I have come to appreciate the balance my work offers, shifting my investigation between Apollonius’ poem and the disjointed scholarly notes which comment on it. The variety and breadth of reading and analysis that this work requires illustrates to me how fulfilling Classics is as a discipline.

I have been motivated in this first stint of my PhD to reflect on my goals as a Classics researcher. This is due in part to my analysis of ancient scholarly texts, which has made me more aware of the tradition of classical scholarship which I now find myself a part of. However, it is also due to the work of popular classicists such as Mary Beard, Donna Zuckerberg and Natalie Haynes, who highlight the prejudiced undercurrents of the subject and exhort a more diverse engagement with it, symbolising the endeavours to make the field more accessible. The study of Greece and Rome in particular carries elitist and prejudiced connotations which have persisted into modern times. There has long been a practice of evaluating status and esteem based on an engagement with, and an education in, this subject matter. Therefore, the study of the ancient world has played a significant role in the construction of elite, male identity. It is slightly ironic that the works I have turned to in order to distract myself from academic life, and rejuvenate my passion for Classics, have also encouraged me to reflect on my responsibilities as an academic who is privileged enough to be involved in this field. These responsibilities are not restricted to my role as a researcher, however. I am very fortunate in that I don’t experience a divide between my work and my personal interests. Perhaps it is for this very reason, that Classics is more than a profession to me, but a passion, that I want to pursue this passion with conviction, without being idle about the negative connotations that continue to be associated with a subject area which I have found to be so enriching outside of academia.

As my doctoral work continues to evolve, and as I continue to develop alongside it, it is important to me that I conduct myself and my work in a way that doesn’t reinforce the exclusionary practices of this discipline (and the disconnect that people often feel with Classics) but invites connection and engagement with it.


Lisa Doyle

Lisa Doyle is a PhD candidate in the Department of Classics and an Early Career Researcher at the Trinity Long Room Hub (2020/1). She holds a BA from Trinity College Dublin and an MSc from the University of Edinburgh. She is working on the project ‘Margins of Learning’, funded by the Provost’s Project Award scheme. Her research explores the scholia, or ancient scholarly notes, which comment on the ‘Argonautica’ by Apollonius of Rhodes- a Hellenistic epic poem relating the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. The aim of her thesis is to provide a critical evaluation of this corpus of scholia and to contextualise it within the ancient intellectual tradition.