Category: masters

My Theseus

Between trips around the world and series of TV shows, I am actually an MA student at Newcastle University. I know, I forget sometimes too.

I’m doing a taught master’s program, so the first two semesters were mostly classes. The third semester, however, involves writing a dissertation on a topic that we choose. The final product is a 15,000 word essay on an original research question.

You may have gathered that I have a deep rooted love for Greek mythology. Archaeology doesn’t really lend itself to discussions on mythology. Or so I thought. But in December I started to ask around about the possibilities of studying something to do with mythology for my dissertation. And I figured it out.

My Greek Archaeology lecturer did her PhD on portrayals of women in Greek pottery. So what I decided to do, under her supervision, was portrayals of one certain myth in Greek pottery.

The difficulty lay in choosing. At first, my supervisor suggested that I write on Heracles, since we have a Heracles pot in our collection that I could work closely with. But it didn’t really grab me. I went to the British Museum on my way home for Christmas and took a bunch of pictures of their beautiful Greek pots. They have some stunning portrayals of the Judgement of Paris, which is my favourite myth.

As the deadline for a topic drew closer, we were told we had to start thinking of a question that involved original research. And I just couldn’t come up with a question for the Judgement of Paris. I was worried.

Then we had a class on the Athenian Agora. In particular, the artwork on the Hephaisteion. You see, this temple had a lot of sculptures of Theseus on it. Theseus, an Athenian king, represented as a hero to democratic Athens. The magic word? Propaganda.

I love the use of myth as propaganda. Last year, I wrote my favourite essay on heroic bone transfer as Spartan propaganda. Have I lost you yet…? Heroic bone transfer is a usually seen as part of a Greek hero cult. It involves finding the “bones” of a mythological hero (in the case of Sparta, most famously Orestes) and repatriating them to your city state in order to lay a claim on the power of that hero. In the case of the Spartans, it was their way to claim a connection to the heroes of the Trojan War, since the Spartans themselves weren’t autochthonous to the Peloponnese.

Right. So Theseus is used as democratic propaganda, even though he was a king. That’s too great to pass up.

In the end, this was my proposal:

Title: How does the change and increase in Theseus as the subject of paintings on Athenian pottery after the late 6th century BCE relate to the development of Athenian democracy?

Abstract: In the late 6th century there is a change in the portrayal of the Theseus myth on Athenian pottery. Most Theseus paintings prior to this period had focused on his slaying of the Minotaur. By the end of the 5th century, not only have representations of Theseus expanded to include a series of other events from his life, but he has also been firmly established as the national hero of Athens in a way that demonstrates close ties with democracy.

Even though in England they call this a dissertation, in North America is would be called a thesis. And so, I have started calling it my Theseus. Yes, I’m that cheesy.

The deeds of Theseus on an Attic red-figure vase, photo from the Beazley Archive

Grad school

I am applying for grad school.

It’s so terrifying to say outloud. But I am. That’s what I plan to do next year. A Master’s degree in Classical Archaeology.

I have to get a few things together in order to do this. I need a thesis proposal, references and an academic CV. Today, I talked to my 4th year seminar professor about being one of my references, and he said yes. So that’s one step. I also plan to ask the professor I’m TAing for.

I’m not sure if I’m going to get in. Most of the schools I’m applying to are in the UK, and they take the classics a lot more seriously over there. My marks are okay, but not stunning. My resume, I hope, is impressive. Most of my experience goes with my journalism degree, but I also have museum experience, and TAing experience. I hope those will help me seem more qualified.

I’m also really hoping that my journalism degree will work for me. Technically, I feel like proof that I can communicate as well as research, write, understand and interpret history will be something that I can bring that not many applicants can.

I’m just not sure that the universities will feel that way. And that having done two degrees will actually be mark against me. Because a lot of my time is spent on journalism, I don’t do as well in my Classics classes as I could. Because I’m doing a combined honours, I don’t have as many credits in Classics as I would, and I definitely don’t have the language credits I should.

When I applied for my undergrad, I knew I was going to get in. My marks in high school were in the top range, and that’s pretty much all they looked at. From that, I got early acceptance and a scholarship.

Now, I think I’m just one in a thousand similar candidates. And not even in the top range. The only hope I have is to make my thesis and resume stand out. On top of that, to go to school in the UK is VERY expensive for international students. Not only would my tuition be about 9000 pounds a year, but I also have to move and live there. In order to avoid getting a $20,000 student line of credit, I’d like to get a scholarship to at least cover my tuition. There are lots of scholarships available, particularly for Commonwealth citizens. But am I good enough to get them…?

All of this is incredibly scary, and all of this has to be done this month, over the Christmas break. Because it’s due at the end of January and I’m on overload next semester.

On a slightly more positive note, these are my top schools:

University of Edinburgh - Classical Archaeology (or Classics)
University of London - Classical Archaeology
University of British Columbia - Classical Archaeology
Simon Fraser University - Archaeology, Creative Writing
University of Ottawa - Classics
University of Leicester - Classical Mediterranean (Archaeology and History)
University of York - Historical Archaeology, Field Archaeology
University of Glasgow - Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
Newcastle University - Greek and Roman Archaeology

My favourites are University of Leicester (45 mins from London), University of Glasgow (where I get to do history as well as Archaeology) and the University of Edinburgh (one of my favourite cities EVER).

But on top of everything else, if I do get in I have to move to a completely different country all by myself and that’s terrifying.

I don’t want to grow up.