Some thoughts on straddling the divide between fiction and academia.
I was recently reading an article by Richard P. Martin* of Stanford University titled Words Alone Are Certain Good(s): Philology and Greek Material Culture. It is basically a warning article by a philologist to other philologists not to forget the importance of archeology and material culture in understanding the works studied in philology.
At one point, he talks about interaction between archaeologists, folklorists, and Ancient Greek historians, as well as philologists. He notes that historians of Greece often work on excavations or in archaeological schools in Athens at some point in their careers, thus having a close association with the material culture of their field. He then goes on to note that philologists rarely have such close contact. And this got me to thinking of a specific character from Elizabeth Peter’s ‘Amelia Peabody’ series.
I have to explain, first, that Ms. Peters is another idol of mine, and nearly single-handedly responsible for launching me toward my current academic path. I devoured her fiction books as a teenager, particularly her Amelia Peabody series. For those who don’t know, this series chronicles the adventures of a family of English Egyptologists during the Victorian and World War I eras. The books themselves are well researched (Ms. Peters took her Ph.D in Egyptology from the University of Chicago, arguably the best Egyptology school in the US) and factual, despite their fictional main characters and somewhat sensational murder mystery premise.
One of these fictional characters, the son of the narrator, named Ramses, is a philologist, and a talented one at that (I hear you saying “ah hah! a connection!”) who is the son of two archaeologists. He is so talented, in fact, that he is recognized as one of the premier philologists, and his dad is supposedly one of the world’s greatest Egyptologists. Of course, these are all fictional characters, the point is more about the combination of great philology and great archaeology, in the same household.
Until I read the article, it would never have occurred to me, but now I am left wondering if this was all a subtle hint by Elizabeth Peters to philologists in general. Or perhaps, less of a hint, and more of a leakage of a personal philosophy into her fiction writing. Does Elizabeth Peters also believe that successful philologists should have a working knowledge of material culture? I don’t know. But the thought of such a cross-over between fiction and academia always amuses me, and makes me a little more hopeful. If others can successfully straddle both realms, then so can I!
*Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of him or his article. I hadn’t either until I was assigned it for the week’s reading.