hunc deus arquitenens, numquam letalibus armis
ante nisi in dammis capreisque fugacibus usus,
mille gravem telis, exhausta paene pharetra,
perdidit effuso per vulnera nigra veneno.

(Met. 1.440-3)

This [serpent] the bow-wielding god [Apollo], who had never used his killing arms
before, except against deer and skittish wild goats,
felled with a thousand arrows, almost exhausting his quiver,
leaving black wounds seeping with venom all throughout.

It’s astounding how many new things I notice while writing this comic.  While making this page, for instance, it suddenly occured to me: Python doesn’t really do anything to deserve being slain in the Metamorphoses.  The Homeric serpent, in the Hymn to Apollo that I talked about in the last update, had at least gone around eating sheep (and presumably people), as we learn at lines 300-304.  Also, the serpent there had nursed the monsterous giant, Typhaon (we’ll meet him in Book 5), so there was a historical grievance.  While the Homeric Apollo is not exactly altruistic (he decides to slay the serpent because he reeeeeeeeeaaaaallllly wants to build his oracle where the serpent is sitting), at least the hymnist offers specific justification.  Ovid is content to just mention that Python was “terrifying” and leave it at that.  Apollo isn’t even explicitly trying to set up his oracle, at least not as far as Ovid tells us.  He just sort of shows up and starts firing on Python like he’s in one of those old-school bullet-hail video games.  I do have an explanation for that, but it doesn’t reflect well on Apollo, certainly.  Without wishing to spoil, let me just say that it fits with Apollo’s character as we will come to know him in the Metamorphoses.

I’ve actually just returned from the Classical Association Conference (CA) in Edinburgh, Scotland!  It was a great four days of hanging out with other classicists and just geeking-out together.  The term “conference” makes it sound like such a big important event, but in truth, I think of it as more like summer camp: we’re all just in some exotic locale, staying up late and having fun with our discipline.  It’s a great chance to catch up with old friends, who get scattered around the country, and indeed the world.  I would like to give a shout-out to everyone at the CA, but there were just too many great people there to mention them all!  I should definitely mention my co-panelists, though: Paul Martin, Sam Hayes and Andrew Worely from the University of Exeter invited me to join them on a panel about “Audience Interactions” in ancient literature.  Even though we are working on very different texts and authors (even languages!) we came together and had a great set of papers and discussions.  This is the best part of the CA: we get to unite different projects in new and exciting ways.  We also get to go to papers on wildly different topics – basically everyone who’s anyone in UK Classics was there, alongside speakers and delegates from around the world.  Amy Richlin gave a stirring keynote talk about “Classics from Below”, talking about how we can study the voices of average people in the ancient world (so often forgotten) and use them to make classics more relevant to average people today.  In addition to all the great papers and conversations, we got a good Scottish experience.  I ate tons of haggis (one of the best foods ever invented – really! try it!) and sampled the whiskey.  The highlight of the Scottish experience was the ceilidh after the conference dinner.  If you’ve never danced a ceilidh, then you need to… right now… go!  It’s a special Scottish dancing party – think of square dancing, but with bagpipes and kilts.  You end up exhausted, but it is so worth it.  In addition to the dancing, the eating and the drinking, we also got to tour the beautiful city of Edinburgh, which has an amazing medieval quarter, where the streets spiral up the huge hill to the castle that looms over the city.  It really was a spectacular time in Scotland (and I don’t say things like that lightly), and I am already looking forward to the conference in Canterbury next year!

My paper was actually very timely, since it covered the story of “Apollo and Python”, as well as the next episode of “Apollo and Daphne”.  I looked at the origins of the story, and posited how Ovid read previous versions, alongside other authors, while considering how to make his own version recognisable, yet unique and fitting for an epic like the Metamorphoses.  I’m not giving away spoilers here (or spoiling my paper before the ideas go in my dissertation), but the project gave me a lot to think about as I work on the next few pages of this comic.  The coming story of Daphne, to which the Python story is building, is generally very popular, and so I’m working extra hard to make sure it meets expectations.  Stay tuned, and watch this space!