Dr Sonia Pertsinidis, Australian National University
When I applied for the AWAWS grant in November 2016, it was a nervous time in my professional career. I had devoted six years to caring for our two young children and teaching in the evenings as a graduate mentor for the College of Law at the Australian National University (ANU). It was time for me to try and get back to my first passion: teaching and researching in the field of Classics. I had recently secured a book contract with Routledge and was teaching ancient Greek as a sessional staff member in the Centre for Classical Studies at the ANU but there were no fixed-term or ongoing positions in sight. I simply wasn’t sure what the future held for me.
I applied for the AWAWS grant so that I could cover the cost of a period of childcare for our three-year-old daughter (for whom I still had primary caring responsibilities). The alternative care arrangements would enable me to undertake valuable research at the ANU libraries and the National Library of Australia and to prepare an academic article for publication. I needed to get back into the headspace of researching and writing and to do so in a quiet space with undivided attention.
When the AWAWS grant was awarded to me in February 2017, it came as a tremendous source of help, support and encouragement. As I had hoped, I was able to start research on an article I had been meaning to publish for some time. The subject of the article is the Life of Aesop, a comic biography written in the first-second centuries CE. It is a fascinating but lesser known work of the Second Sophistic period that ties in well with my interest in Aesop and fables (my PhD thesis was on the subject of Babrius’ fable collection).
As I anticipated, I found that there had been several important developments in recent scholarship. The Life of Aesop, previously dismissed as a crude and unsophisticated work, was now coming to the attention of classical scholars. Kurke had published a volume entitled Aesopic Conversations in 2011, Hägg had published on The Art of Biography in Antiquity (2012) and there were important articles by Konstantakos (2010), Andreassi (2015), Grammatiki (2011), Millett (2011) and others. The AWAWS grant gave me an opportunity to update my research, collect the necessary materials, and review my approach and arguments.
In March 2017, I applied for an advertised position as Lecturer in Classics in the Centre for Classical Studies at the ANU. After a lengthy application and interview process, I was notified that I was successful and would be commencing the position on 3 July 2017. I have no doubt that the AWAWS grant played a part in the success of my job application because it represented an important vote of professional confidence in my academic record and potential. Since July 2017, I have been happily working as a full-time lecturer and researcher in the Centre for Classical Studies at the ANU.
On 21 September 2017, I presented a seminar on my research on the Life of Aesop as part of the ANU Centre for Classical Studies Seminar Series. This represented a valuable opportunity to present my research and to seek feedback from colleagues on the proposed topic of my article. In essence, I argued that the Life of Aesop can be read as a narrative about Aesop’s development of speech. After starting life as a mute, and receiving the gift of artful speech from Isis and the Muses, Aesop masters an ascending hierarchy of speech modes, from criticism and comic dialogue, to rhetorical speeches, philosophical reasoning and the interpretation of omens. It is only at a very late stage in Aesop’s life, after he has been made a freeman, that Aesop becomes a fully-fledged fabulist. I argue that in presenting Aesop’s development in this way, the author of the Life seeks to present fable as the final and triumphant form of Aesopic storytelling. This runs counter to the notion of fables as forms of speech used by those of lower social status to subvert authority. In the Life, Aesop is presented as a fearless speaker of the truth and fable as the epitome of his powerful free speech. My seminar paper was well received and there were some comments that prompted me to further refine my arguments. Following this, I set to work preparing my academic article in its final version.
Thanks to the AWAWS grant, I have now completed my article (9,300 words) and submitted it to Mnemosyne, one of the leading academic journals in Classical Studies. Mnemosyne is a double-blind peer reviewed journal. I am hopeful that my article will be approved for publication in 2018 and I look forward to citing the AWAWS in the acknowledgments.
To conclude my report, I wish to give my sincere thanks to the AWAWS for supporting me at such a crucial moment in my return to Classics. It is never easy to balance an academic career with family responsibilities, and it is even harder to re-establish an academic career after a lengthy career break. The AWAWS grant enabled me to get back to research but also to rediscover my capabilities as a scholar and to renew my confidence in myself as an academic. I have found it enormously helpful and reassuring to have the support of the AWAWS as a promoter of women in Classics and ancient world studies.
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