I rather like a reception desk – or area. There is something comforting about it. The friendly staff on the desk, the magazines, that moment of relative stillness before an appointment or interview. Reception desks are where you go when you have a question and need someone to point you in the right direction.
I know that ‘reception studies’ doesn’t refer to the same sort of reception as a reception desk, but in a way, it does. Classical reception is a growing area of interest and as a collaborative study, people contribute to this dialogue from a wealth of different backgrounds, interests, and expertise. By looking at how other cultures and groups have used – and sometimes abused – antiquity, classical reception allows us to ask different questions, see different perspectives, and reframe our understanding and perceptions of the ancient world in countless ways. Classical reception has allowed us to engage with our interests through antiquity and, perhaps most excitingly, to engage with antiquity through our interests; from movies, video games, theatre, children’s literature, the possibilities have proven endless. Classical reception studies are, then, a lot like the reception desk of the field. Anyone who has a question about something related to antiquity can come to ‘the desk’ to ask it. Hopefully, they are met with a warm smile and the support that will help them find to their answer.
This sense of inclusivity has, at times, given classical reception something of a bad name following the accusation that it isn’t real classics. One wonders, of course, what real classics is and who gets to make such a decision? Are they elected? Promoted? Do they wear a special hat? When we talk about ‘gate keeping’ or elitism, in many ways, we’re talking about this perceived ideal of the real study of classics. It is nebulous, and as far as I can see, unfounded. There are many studies and debates around what constitutes ‘classics’ as a field. These goal posts seem to be ever moving, which can be daunting, but are also ever widening, which is very exciting – if disastrously overdue. I’m not going to throw my sword into this particular ring,* not because I don’t think it’s worth discussing, but because I don’t feel I have anything very meaningful to add to this discussion, just yet. Most of my work with antiquity is centred on the literature of the Greeks and Romans, from Homer to the later Roman Empire. I don’t consider this to be definitive in any way, it is simply the area I have chosen to work on and is the area I will mostly be discussing in my work. It’s always worth remembering, however, when you hear the word ‘classics’ that the world of antiquity is far broader than this little cross section of the Mediterranean.
So what then, you may be asking, are my intentions? I find that in reception studies it is often easier to run before you can walk. There is a lot of theory and terminology out there, and of course, this is very important. But often, we find ourselves engaging in an act of reception without even realising it and sometimes, it is through these conversations, fuelled with excitement and intrigue, that we begin to understand the theories and terminology almost subconsciously. Reception isn’t a theory, like Marxism, nor is it really a field like Ancient History. Reception is a process, and reception studies is the act of observing and asking questions of that process. The Reception Desk, then, is a space for those observations of the classical in every day life or in the things I find interesting and exciting, and which I hope you will find interesting and exciting too. In exploring these, I hope that ‘classical reception’ as a concept becomes a little bit clearer and it gives you the opportunity to engage with and explore antiquity in new and personal ways.