“Heavenly Haircuts and Missing Bodies”
Madeline Ezell ’18 had the opportunity of a lifetime to present her research at a national undergraduate Classics conference at Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC. Madeline’s paper, “Heavenly Haircuts and Missing Bodies,” was one of only six papers accepted for the conference out of a sizable national pool.
Madeline’s paper focussed on the presentation of royal women, specifically Berenice of Alexandria (mid 3rd cent. BCE), wife of the third Ptolemy in the famous line of Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt. Madeline’s close analysis of the poem Coma Berenice (“Hair of Berenice”) by the Alexandrian court poet Callimachus revealed that the poet crafted a new way to enhance the status of a living ruler.
Callimachus mythologized the story of Berenice’s hair, ritually dedicated by Berenice to the goddess Aphrodite. The hair was cast up to the heavens and became the constellation “Coma Berenice,” thereby finding its place rightly among the divine lights of the sky. While Ptolemaic rulers had been quasi-divine while corporal and still earthbound, the literary absence of Berenice’s body elevates her reception and represents ethereal and incorporeal existence appropriate to full divinity.
Participants submitted their full texts prior to the conference, enabling other authors, faculty, and senior scholars at the Center for Hellenic Studies to read and react before gathering together. The papers will be published by the Center.
About the experience, Madeline says “While in DC, I was exposed to an array of intellectual and engaged forms of Classical studies. So much of education is about asking questions. The faculty and students with whom I interacted helped me craft deeper and more immediate questions. From the fall and moving into the spring, my work with multiple professors from around the country has changed who I am as a scholar, demonstrating to me the importance of internalizing my research, integrating my academic work with who I am as a person.”
Madeline’s research springs from a course last fall on Hellenistic literature, an international, team-taught collaborative course offered under the umbrella of Harvard’s Sunoikisis consortium. As SU Classics professor Hal Haskell notes, “It is an intellectual thrill for all of us to break out of the cozy SU bubble and interact on a regular and sustained basis with students and faculty around the world.”
The course focussed on various aspects of Hellenistic literature, particularly on that connected with the Ptolemaic court. Each week, students participated in a plenary session (via google hangout) with all participants, during which various specialists led class discussions within their fields of expertise. For example, our colleague Monica Berti at the Universität Leipzig in Germany led the class through a fabulous discussion of ancient Alexandria. Students as well led class sessions in response to various study prompts, and also met on campus with their own professors.
Sunoikisis provides intellectual enrichment for SU students and has for many years. Prof. Thomas Howe, of SU’s Art History Department, remarked about Classics capstones by student Sunoikisis veterans, “Pretty obvious, without asking, that the level of sophistication would have been impossible without their having had access to several Sunoikisis courses.” Madeline’s time in DC and her classwork through Sunoikisis catapulted her into a national conversation, emphasizing the necessity for intellectual rigor and enrichment.