Tag Archives: edinburgh

Edinburgh or Ancyra?

Here’s a little gem, slightly edited for effect:

Once [there], our traveller could … feel safe in a proper metropolis, with its ancient fort standing proud on a rugged crag, its old town crowding down the hill’s gentler back, and its regular, properly-planned new town spread out below, with its imposing architecture and grand monuments to distant monarchs.

Immediately, this reads like a description of Edinburgh, doesn’t it? But, in fact, it is a description of late antique Ancyra — but written by Sara Parvis in Marcellus of Ancyra and the Lost Years of the Arian Controversy 325-345.

Sara (one of my Ph.D. supervisors) is Senior Lecturer in Patristics at the University of Edinburgh, where she had already been living for several years at the time her book about Marcellus was published.

This is the kind of little gem one writes into one’s book for those who know. I love it.

Reflections after a semester of lecturing

This past Friday I finished my first semester of lecturing. The day began with two hours of ‘The Emperor in the Late Roman World’, and in the afternoon an hour of revising Ovid, Metamorphoses 3 for Latin. These two courses constitute the bulk of the teaching I did this semester; I enjoyed all of it; it was fulfilling; it was also very busy.

I made sure to use this in class!

I made sure to use this in class!

‘The Emperor in the Late Roman World’ is a third-/fourth-year undergraduate course, and the only course the entirety of which I taught this semester (for the first two years of undergrad, Edinburgh likes team teaching). I greatly enjoyed it, discussing the emperors from Diocletian (284-305) to Justinian (527-565) and how the role and office of emperor changed over time, and the transformations the emperors wrought in the Later Roman Empire — and, of course, the Fall of the West. The main themes investigated, besides running through the history, were Christianisation, Ceremony, and Bureaucracy & Imperial Failures.

The students were engaged, interested, and invested. At least, those who came. By the end, only about 12 were turning up each Friday morning. The other eight will have to beg, borrow, or steal notes before the exam, I guess. Anyway, it was invigorating! I liked teaching this course to these students. I look forward to reading their essays.

I taught/read Ovid, Metamorphoses 3, to Latin 2A students over five weeks. This is the beginning of Ovid’s Theban cycle — Cadmus and the serpent, then the Spartoi, followed by Actaeon, leading to Semele and the birth of Dionysus, Tiresias, Echo and Narcissus, and closing with Pentheus and Bacchus. I enjoyed reading this, and I enjoyed reading it with the students. Their Latin is of a high calibre, and they are all very interested in Ovid. They seemed to enjoy Book 3 as much as I did, except for one fellow who dislikes the story of Echo and Narcissus. Along the way, I also delivered some lectures on Ovid and the Metamorphoses.

Only one came to the revision session. So she’ll have an edge over the others next week.

The rest of my teaching duties this term were a number of lectures as an outside lecturer on team-taught courses — a lecture on traditional Roman religion in the Republic; a lecture about rituals in Ancient Mediterranean Religions; a lecture/seminar on cities in the ‘long’ Late Antiquity; two lectures on chronicles in ancient historiography.

As I said, it has been busy. It has also been fulfilling. I enjoy the material that I teach, and I enjoy preparing lectures, even when I feel run ragged by the pressures of life.

Now we enter the season of marking: essays now (and more on Thursday), then exams next week.

And then in January, it begins again! ‘The Bishop and City of Rome in Late Antiquity’, ‘Crisis, Continuity, and Culture in the Fifth Century’, ‘Roman World 1B’, plus more outside lectures. It will be busy, I can count on it. But it will be fulfilling, worthwhile work. I look forward to it.


I’m partway into Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative, comprising the CBC Massey Lectures of 2003. In chapter 2 of this book (lecture 2 of the broadcast, I s’pose), ‘You’re Not the Indian I Had in Mind,’ King talks about Edward Sheriff Curtis, the man who at the turn of the 20th century immortalised the image of the proud, noble Indian (noble savage? Rousseau, anyone?) through his photographs, many of which were staged to ‘look right’, involving clothing from other native cultures than that being photographed, wigs, horses, the whole bit.

We’ve entered Festival season in Edinburgh. The already-congested-by-normal-tourists streets have become well-nigh impassible almost overnight as the festival-goers, pamphleteers, and street performers compete with frustrated ‘locals’ (like me?) who are just trying to get from A to B.

On the Royal Mile, besides the people trying to construct and immortalise the image of the proud, noble Scot (‘Braveheart’, unnamed other medieval Scotsman/Highlander, bagpipers, cheap cashmere all available on the Royal Mile now!), were some of those South American panpipe players who seem to have sprouted in most major cities, though I never saw any in Nicosia, Cyprus.

What made this group of South Americans interesting was twofold. First, they were playing ‘Chiquitita’ by Abba on the panpipes. Interesting choice. I’ll reserve my comments for that sort of thing, perpetrated by the Red Hot Chili Pipers and others day in and day out, later. Second, and this became apparent upon entering the line of vision to see these South American fellows, their attire was essentially ‘pan-Indian’.

These guys had similar facial features to the other indigenous South Americans I’ve seen either playing panpipes or in photographs; they were also appropriately swarthy, the sort of thing one goes for when trying to look Indian (I have a friend of Norwegian descent who can tan really well and has been known to comment on how much darker he gets in summer than some of the Ojibwe and Cree of his acquaintance — but he’ll never look Indian). They also had facepaint on. These factors alone would probably make them look Indian, or at least foreign to any passersby.

But these guys decided to make it perfectly clear who they were. So they were all wearing leathers, and the lead panpiper had on one of those feathered head-dresses that reach all the way to one’s feet, the sort of thing my immortalised image of ‘Indians’ associates with ‘chiefs’ of the Plains of North America, with Blackfoot or Assiniboine or Cree, not with Peru. Another member of the band had one of those bone breastplates as part of his attire.

When I mentioned them to a man I know who lived for many years in Peru, he said that he’d been unable to place the attire but that it was nothing he’d encountered in South America.

The immortalised Indian of Edward Sheriff Curtis has grabbed a hold of our imaginations to such a degree that ‘pan-Indianism’ is homogenising the image of these varied and vast peoples across the whole New World, taking attire from the Plains of Alberta into the jungles of Peru.

This is not what my Shawnee ancestors, ‘the Prophet’ Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh had in mind when they sought to bring the different native peoples of North America together in the early nineteenth century (the effort was largely Tenskwatawa’s, although Tecumseh’s efforts to gain national and land rights with Sir Isaac Brock are part of the same larger effort to preserve native ways and rights in the wake of the encroaching European colonies).*

Canada is large. Europe is not small, either. Living in Europe (or rather in the northern portion of a large island off the coast of Europe), I am aware of just how many different peoples live here, each of them with their own traditions, languages, stories, customs, literature, music, and so forth. Even on this island, we have three living languages and a gazillion accents with traces of the old dialects creeping in nooks and crannies, fighting boldly against the all-devouring dialect called ‘Standard English.’

Europe is aware of its diversity and embraces it while at the same time making movement within this natural diversity easy. The kilted Scot and the liederhosened German are free to mingle and get to know one another, free to find similarities, quite aware of differences.

One would imagine that North America would be just as varied, and South America equally so. Yet there were these South Americans in North American headdresses, in feathers and leathers, competing with the bagpiper in a kilt.**

It boggles the mind.

*Alas, their sister’s husband, the man from whom I claim direct descent, did not do much to realise the dreams of his brothers-in-law during his much-loathed tenure as Indian Agent on Manitoulin Island. He is not much-loved to this day, which is a shame. Things could have gone so much better, but somehow they didn’t, and unlike Thomas King I don’t blame Genesis 1-3 …

**And is that bagpiper really what my other (and much more numerous) ancestors fought for in the Jacobite uprising of 1715?

Windy Edinburgh

Me, My hat, and Sir Walter Scott

I am a wearer of a hat.* My hat is a black felt cap with the added feature of ear flaps that can fold down if needed. I think this hat is awesome. The only trouble with wearing a hat in Edinburgh is that, well, Edinburgh is windy.

On Tuesday this week, for example, I was crossing Princes Street at North Bridge (meaningless if you don’t know the city, but whatever; google it). As I crossed, the wind grabbed my hat and tossed it into the middle of the intersection (if it wasn’t the wind, it was a fairy, goblin, or gremlin).

North Bridge hits Princes Street as a T-intersection at a statue of the Duke of Wellington. We pedestrians were allowed to cross because the cars turning right (like a left in most of the civilised world) had a green. My hat landed approximately three feet from the outside edge of the turning cars.

I watched as they all drove past my hat. Determining that no car would hit either me or the hat I approached the hat. Then I waited until a bus was turning and grabbed the hat while the bus was beside it. I carried my hat until I was across North Bridge and on the Royal Mile.

This was not an isolated incident. One time, my hat was snatched by the wind, and I turned to see it descending from at least a metre or a metre and a half above my head. Thankfully it landed on the pavement (sidewalk). Another time, at the intersection of Lothian Road and Fountainbridge, the fences that the city erected along Lothian caught my hat before it could be blown into traffic.

My hat is not the only victim of these winds, however.

I used to own an umbrella. A good, sturdy £16 umbrella. Bought it at Boots when we first arrived.** It was a rainy, windy September day, and I was on my way to study, so I had to go up Granny’s Green Steps. These (as in this photo) are a very steep flight of stairs that go right up the side of the craggy, extinct-volcano-hill-thing upon which the castle stands. In order to keep the rain from soaking me and the wind from snatching away the umbrella, I angled my umbrella into the wind as I mounted the steps.

And then the spokes that go out from the stick in the middle (I know nothing of umbrella parts), the ones that hold the umbrella open (yeah, those ones) — half of them collapsed. They bent the wrong way.

Most people get their umbrellas destroyed by the wind turning them inside not, not the wind collapsing and imploding them. But I am not most people, and the high-speed, North-Sea winds that blow into Edinburgh are not normal winds.

These winds are cold and, as you can see from the above, strong. So the BBC will tell you that it’s going to be 10 above. Great! That’s balmy for many Canadians. Aye, but then there’s that wind, eh? Cold, bitter, driving, cutting through everything but wool. Lots of wool.

No wonder Scots raise so many sheep.

So if you ever come to Edinburgh, come equipped for the wind and leave behind your umbrella.

*Not a wearer of hats given that I wear only one.

**Maybe my problem is buying umbrellas at drug stores; I dunno.