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University of Kentucky Journal of Undergraduate Scholarship

 

   Editorial Board Member

Robert Rabel (gains center)


 


I’ve been associated with the Gaines Center since its inception, so I am especially happy to be named its third Director, following in the footsteps of Raymond Betts, founder of the Center and historian par excellence, and Dan Rowland, scholar and teacher also from the History Department, who has done so much to enhance both the Center’s academic programs and its outreach mission.  


Once in high school I took what may still be called an “Interest Inventory” test. The results came back that I was interested in nothing. (I still recall one question: Do you like people with gold teeth? Does “yes” mean that one might want to be a dentist?) By college, I discovered that, rather than being interested in nothing I was interested in a whole lot of things. So Classics was the field for me. To be a decent Classicist, one must have certain language skills (Latin, Greek, French, and German are required); since so little survives from the ancient world—you could fit it all on a couple of book shelves—you also need to know something about history, philosophy, epic, tragedy, comedy, the novel, etc. in order to get much of an understanding of the ancient world in general. In a lot of ways, I think that being a Classicist is ideal training for serving as Director of the Gaines Center, where so many different disciplines in Humanities converge. (I use the word “Humanities” in Cicero’s sense of the term to include art and science also, not in the narrow sense of the term used today by the National Endowment for the Humanities.) I received my B.A in Classics from the University of Pittsburgh and my M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.


I received my B.A in Classics from the University of Pittsburgh and my M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.   
Here at UK I have taught a full array of courses in the Latin and Greek languages from the undergraduate to the graduate level and have for many years taught Honors 101 (Greek and Roman Civilization). In addition, I have also taught in the Governor’s Scholars Program and the short-lived Modern Studies Program here at UK. Over the past ten years I have been working to develop a large-enrollment course in Classics and film, designed to demonstrate to students the profound influence that Classical antiquity has had on modern cinema. Since the appearance of Gladiator almost ten years ago, films set in the ancient world, like Troy, Alexander, and 300, have begun to appear with some frequency and more are in the works. Films that borrow their thematic content from the ancient world like Chinatown, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Angel Heart, and Sommersby have long been a staple of the Hollywood repertoire. Beginning with an initial enrollment of ten students, the course attracted just shy of 300 during the past Spring term. (I was hoping to reach the magic number of 300, which would have allowed us to take over and hold the Classroom Building in imitation of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, but this dream went unrealized.)
I am the author of Plot and Point of View in the Iliad (University of Michigan Press, 1997) and editor of Approaches to Homer, Ancient and Modern (Classical Press of Wales, 2005). In addition, I have over the years published numerous articles on Greek and Roman epic, Greek tragedy, Greek philosophy, and Greek history. My course in Classics and film has provided the stimulus for much of my recent work on the Classical tradition as it is represented in both film and drama, and I have published articles on the Classical antecedents to such films as Angel Heart, which everyone should see, Sommersby, and Manon of the Spring. I am currently completing a book on American dramatist Maxwell Anderson, after Eugene O’Neill the most important American dramatist of the first half of the twentieth century. Much of Anderson’s work was inspired by Greek epic and drama, but nobody has yet explored the subject of this influence in any detailed or systematic fashion. When this book is done, I intend to undertake a much larger project, in which several presses have expressed interest, dealing with the influence of Greek tragedy on modern American theater, an aspect of the Classical tradition that has received remarkably little attention from Classicists up to now.
I look forward to serving in the Gaines Center both as teacher and administrator. As initial projects, I intend to arrange an all-day reading of Homer’s Iliad in September of this year. We’ll be bringing the Gaines Center outside! In addition, Lisa Broome-Price and I are setting to work on a symposium dealing with the various aesthetic, political, and historical considerations involving the acquisition and maintenance of important artistic treasures from both the ancient and modern worlds. But more about this later. 

 

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