“I, Claudius” spurs change in career path
When Andrew Scholtz was studying cello performance in the late ’70s at Boston University, PBS aired the BBC series “I, Claudius,” the sordid story of a Roman emperor’s rise to power. “My friends and I became addicted,” Scholtz says.
In fact, the series opened a whole new world to Scholtz, who started reading about Roman and Athenian history, discovering that “the ancients weren’t just marble statues, they were real people made of flesh and blood, imbued with emotion.” At the same time, “I discovered out of nowhere that I had a certain ability with languages, and I was able to study the ancient Latin and Greek,” he says.
So while he was still pursuing a career in cello performance (he eventually earned his master’s), Scholtz began teaching himself the classic languages, earning a place in Yale’s University’s PhD program in Classical Languages and Literatures.
It was there that Scholtz started applying modern critical theory to literature produced in ancient times, looking at how sexuality and sexual imagery was used in political discourse and rhetoric. The end result: a book, Concordia Discors, published by Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies.
“Ancient Athenians, passionate yet conflicted about their democracy, expressed their feelings through the language of eros,” Scholtz says. “And that is what my book explores.”
Now the chair of Binghamton University’s Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, Scholtz specializes in culture as a medium of communication and looks at the ancient cultural context in which communication took place.
His current research project applies modern social psychology ideas to fourth-century BCE Athenian oratory. Just as political speakers do today, Athenian orators laced their speeches with a heady cocktail of identity rhetoric. Yet few have studied the psychological side of identity-based persuasion in ancient times. By applying the insights of social psychology, Scholtz hopes to shed light on how speakers used an “Us versus Them” mentality to galvanize audiences and win support.