So, before I head off to K’zoo, maybe I should say something about the last conference I went to. LDW and I went to a Late Antiquity conference in March. It is the third time I’ve been to this conference, and it is my favourite. It’s small — 45 papers (44 as it happened, as one presenter was not able to come), and maybe 150 attendees. All of the sessions are plenary, and it’s very hard to skip out — although the quality is so good that there’s seldom any desire to do so. So far, I haven’t given a paper there yet, because Carolingianists are generally considered to be a bit too late. This time, though, there were definite overtures to try to get some papers after the 5th century, because there seems to have been a bit of stagnation around C4 and C5. It’s kind of a funny thing — the conference is only about 14 years old — it’s biennial. And it was founded by a good friend of DV’s, DV, and the Roman historian at Beachy U who was one of the people who contributed the most to my formation as a historian.
Anyway, it’s the first conference I ever attended, and the most friendly. It’s also small enough that junior people — and there are some very junior people, i.e., scary-smart grad students — get to hobnob with some very senior people. This year was interesting because I’ve now got to know some of the regulars a bit, and am now less in awe, not to mention that I’m now a bit more able to identify different collegial circles. I’m also confident enough that I am willing to feel a bit censorious towards people who are outright rude, talking through presentations, running over time, etc.
Still, it was a great time. It started with an excellent paper by I scholar I find rather intimidating, although she’s very warm and friendly, on Boethius and the language he used to express different levels of meaning as a way of mediating between his heterogenous audience. There were also a couple of excellent papers on the decline of the Capitolinum from the age of Jerome, and one of my favourites, which was on the church of SS Cosimos and Damian.
Later, there were three very good an thoroughly entertaining papers around the theme of Constantine’s vision. I honestly thought that there was nothing new to say, but I was very surprised. The session on law, which included a fun paper on Lactantius and one on infanticide, was also well worth being there for. As it happens, those two papers were given by people who did undergrad work with DV, one before I ever went to Grad U, and the other by someone who remembered me from when she was an undergrad who took one of DV’s grad seminars on Rome. She’s got a couple of books out now, and teaches at an R1. By the time we got to the session on Emperors and Bishops, I was getting a bit sleepy, and was really happy that a charming British colleague who teaches north of the border talked about eunuchs, barbarian generals, and other overblown rumours. Amusing and woke me up, it did. Coffee got me through the panel on Ecclesiastical Leadership — I shouldn’t have needed it, but we’d moved to a lecture hall with horribly uncomfortable seats. I tend to get dozy when my back hurts. Fortunately, I had LDW next to me to
elbow me set a good example. But the paper on Eusebius Gallicanus was entirely new and interesting, and I’m always happy to hear papers on Ambrose.
The keynote for the night was fun. So much so that my notes for the talk read, “Blood! Gore! Ritual Sacrifice! Malleus Maleficarum!” And there’s a large picture of a dragon. The wine hour before the talk had provided us with really good snacks as well. Most of us (the conference runs from 8:00 to 8:00) wandered off after the talk, and some of us reconvened at a room party where I probably drank more than my fair share of wine. But I fielded a couple of personal questions, chatted with other friends, figured out who had the rooms on either side of us, and retired at a reasonable hour.
Day three started with a couple of very good papers on Arian iconography (there isn’t any) and Gregory’s discussion of Arians. After coffee, a very convincing paper on religious pluralism and factionalism in the east, mostly Antioch, kicked off a bunch of papers on John Chrysostum. I have to say that some of this stuff makes me feel incredibly ignorant, because these people work in Greek all the time. Fortunately, one of the women who presented writes some of the clearest prose ever. And after, when LDW and I were talking about how ignorant I felt — and that he did sometimes, too, which is ludicrous — he kindly pointed out that I was a Carolingianist who regularly teaches all of world history, is able to teach upper division courses in Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern, and is able to ask sensible questions on John Chrysostum. Made me feel a bit better. I’d still rather have a bit more depth to go with the breadth, though.
I was losing steam by the time we got to the papers on Iamblichus and Porphyry, especially when I got entirely lost in the discussion of theurgy, but revived for the papers on religious papers and patronage. The banquet was lovely, although the wine was pricey. LDW and I discovered that, for a dollar more than the wine, we could get seriously generous pours of Glenfiddich, so we sipped whisky after dinner. We then avoided going out drinking and dancing as an end to the evening, preferring sleep.
The papers on the last day were all on the east. I especially liked the one on how rabbis tried to dissuade Jews from attending Roman entertainments and the one on how an emphasis on Mary as theotokos rather than virgin fuelled a rivalry between Bethlehem and Jerusalem and what that meant overall.
So, I think a good time was had by all. I got to talk to a couple colleagues about submitting an article and maybe writing a paper for the next conference. I figure that in two years I’ll be ready to get up in front of a bunch of people who intimidate the hell out of me, but whom I now know a bit. Mostly, though, I felt entirely invigorated — until getting back to the airport on time at 11 p.m., and then waiting over an hour for our luggage and another 20 minutes to get to the car. And then an hour’s drive home!