bronwen listens

“Imagining the Ancient World”

“I so enjoyed this process because it was a conversation throughout—like a little classroom or think tank.”

Associate Professor of Classics Bronwen Wickkiser is talking about her latest book and her work with her co-authors—an art historian, a philologist, an architect and archaeologist, a classicist who specializes in ancient music and music archaeology—not to mention an acoustical engineer, a 3D modeler, and a Greek archaeologist.

The Thymele at Epidauros: Healing, Space, and Musical Performance in Late Classical Greece takes a look at a particular building in Greek antiquity located in the healing sanctuary at Epidauros. It attempts to answer an age-old question: What did they do there?

The Thymele was a “sumptuously decorated” round building in the center of the sanctuary adjacent to the temple. The building contained a substructure unique in Greek architecture and only accessible from a hole in the center of the main level—essentially a labyrinth.

Was it a healing space? A performance venue?

As with much that dates back to the 4th Century BCE, there is very little that can be said with absolute certainty.

“That’s all we’re doing as scholars of classics, really,” Bronwen says. “We’re imagining the ancient world. Do we have any certainty that we have it figured out correctly? I don’t think so. As long as we’re getting more people to talk about this building or spark more ideas, that’s a good thing. We want to get people thinking.”

Much of the writing and research were completed during the last academic year when Bronwen was on sabbatical and supported by the McLain-McTurnan-Arnold Research Scholarship. The grant allowed her to spend a good portion of the fall in Greece. In addition to completing her research, she also put together a proposal for an immersion course she is teaching this semester. “I’m always thinking, ‘How am I conveying this information to my students?’ I’ve always felt that the best teachers have active scholarship going on. The best scholars are also teachers and have an active life in the classroom. Those two branches of what we do feed off each other very, very well.

“That’s the luxury of a sabbatical, not just to write but to let your mind come to some new thoughts and realizations,” she says. “It’s also good fodder for future projects. You take notes and file them away. It’s planting some seeds for the next few years.”

The new book is the bloom from seeds that were planted nearly 14 years ago. Two of the collaborators on the project are based in Greece, two more in England, one in Denmark, the remaining three hail from the U.S., forming an international web of scholarship that was lauded by Professor of Classics Emeritus Joe Day at the book release on campus: “Bronwen does not do this work alone. This book offers us, but maybe most importantly Classics students and beginning Classical scholars, an example of collaborative scholarship. She breaks the old mold of the lone scholar toiling away in her study.”

—Richard Paige

Listen to Professor Wickkiser on the Wabash on My Mind podcast.