My experience as an MA student, by Flora Stagg

I never intended to go on to do an MA, let alone an MA in Classical Studies, after my undergrad degree – BA (Hons) in Humanities with Music – but for the last module of that degree I chose a completely different subject ‘Myth in the Greek and Roman World’ and I became hooked on the classics. I was at a considerable disadvantage as I did not have a classical background, only a little Latin, but no Greek. My tutor gave me a list of books which helped increase my knowledge of the classical world before the first module began. Although the first year of the MA was a steep learning curve, it was very enjoyable, if tough. During the year I learned to improve my argument in my essays, and became more critical of academic writing. I developed a passion for the Etruscans after writing a TMA on the stork vase discovered at the Mola di Monte Gelato site in South Etruria. An essay followed on ‘Who were the Etruscans’ – a difficult subject to choose, as I soon found out! The Etruscans believed that there was a limit to the length a civilization would survive and it would indeed appear that after 800 years much of their own civilization was swallowed up by Rome. It was suggested I should consider archaeology for my dissertation topic, but I felt that was a learning curve too far.

fox and stork et alIn the second year I had reached the module that had sparked my interest in the MA in the first place – The Greek Theatre. The role of powerful women in the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides proved a fascinating area of research. After the tragedians, Aristophanes took over my life. For the EMA I spent an absorbing period comparing the text of Wasps prepared in 1897 by the classics scholar and barrister Benjamin Bickley Rogers, which Vaughan Williams set to music for the 1907 Greek Play at Cambridge, with its English adaptation by David Pountney to fit the original music of Vaughan Williams.  Bickley Rogers’ expurgated version was appropriate to the sensibilities of the time, but Pountney reinstated most of the obscenities, taking a fair amount of liberty in his interpretation of the text and structure of the play. He was faced with the difficult task of finding lyrics to fit the metre of the original Greek text which Vaughan Williams had set to music. It was intended as a concert version in which one actor would play the roles of Philocleon and Bdelycleon, renamed Procleon and Anticleon in the Pountney version, which the Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Trust had commissioned to make the whole work (rather than just the Wasps’ overture) more widely known. I would argue that Vaughan Williams came out of it better than poor Aristophanes.

My dissertation was on the last two extant plays of Aristophanes – The Assembly-Women and Wealth – which involved a considerable amount of research on the politics and social changes of the time. The evolution of Aristophanes’ style from Old towards New Comedy played an important part in my argument: I compared these plays with the New Comedy style of The Old Cantankerous of Menander, a playwright of whom I had not heard before the MA. A month into the dissertation I had a crisis of confidence and requested to change the topic to a music-related one, but still remaining faithful to Aristophanes. I nearly gave my supervisor a heart attack, but after thinking about it for a nano-second, and much to my supervisor’s relief, I realised what a foolish idea it was, since all my research up to that point had been on the last two plays. I was assured that it would not be the only crisis of confidence I would go through during that year.

I have always enjoyed the research aspect of studying and I am now suffering severe withdrawal symptoms, as I have no present plans to go on to do a Ph.D, but Aristophanes is my constant companion and who knows where he will lead me next. Learning ancient Greek would be a good start….

by Flora Stagg

11 thoughts on “My experience as an MA student, by Flora Stagg

  1. Silvia Logan

    This is an excellent story that you told. I, especially; love hearing about the different research that you did in your TMAs. EMA, and your dissertation. They appear to be interesting topics. Good luck, whatever you decide to do later!

  2. Laurie S

    Flora, it was really great to read your experiences and share your journey with you. I loved “Old Cantankerous” too! I am so glad you came out of your crisis and excelled the way you have. We tend to get so wrapped up in ourselves: I had a wobble last year too; I never imagined anyone else had. Thanks for sharing your story…

  3. Colin Gough

    Love this thanks.
    My worry is that I am a ‘butterfly’ in so far as I thought I was a committed Romanophile – until I found Greek Theatre to the extent in the last three years have seen Prometheus Bound and Frogs (Cambridge Greek Play and can’t wait for this year), Medea at the National, Elektra at the Old Vic and Oresteia at the Globe – all with long suffering Mrs in tow.
    The route I have taken is very Classics – Exploring the Classical World, Reading Classical Latin, Myth in the Greek and Roman World and partway through my last module the new bright and shiny Roman Empire.
    Now I flit all over the place and really wouldn’t know what to concentrate on.
    With that in mind I was please to see that you had guidance on the dissertation as I need all the guidance I can get!!
    Thank you again for posting this.

  4. Colin Gough

    I forgot to say – I notice that may even contemplate learning Ancient Greek. I don’t know where in the country you are but, and you never know, my tutor also teaches external courses in Bedford and happens to run a 10 week course Classical Greek. I know because I am in the third week (Wednesday afternoon!).

    Well I couldn’t just leave it at Latin.

  5. Flora Stagg

    Colin – I think it is OK for you to be a butterfly at first in the MA but eventually you have to settle on a ‘flower’ that has enough ‘nourishment’ in it to see you through the 12,000 words of the dissertation. The old MA dissertation was 16-18,000 words and it was surprisingly easy to write it. Each TMA was in fact a chapter of the dissertation and they were all brought together in a draft which was commented on by my supervisor before the final version was typed and sent off to Milton Keynes. I have to say there was an incredible feeling of sadness once it had gone.

  6. Silvia Logan

    Colin, I would not worry about being a butterfly in the MA in Classical Studies. It is quite normal. How is your Classical Greek coming along? Are you doing it through distance learning or are you going to campus to do it? Good luck in your Classical Greek! I hope that you enjoy it.

  7. Silvia Logan

    Flora, if I take the the MA in Classical Studies Part 2 which is module A864 next year, will my TMAs consist of the rough drafts of the dissertation that I am suppose to be writing?

  8. Heidi Thomas

    Wonderful article! Would you consider sharing your booklist? You must have an amazing personal collection! I am almost done with my bachelors, and a MA is Classical Studies is part of my next quest.

  9. Flora Stagg

    Heidi – I would be very happy to share the bibliography with you. If you let me have your email address I’ll send it. You are right, I do have rather a lot of books, too many for the available space. Good luck with your MA in Classical Studies.

  10. Helen King

    Silvia (and anyone else who is wondering!), in the current MA there are Tutor-Marked Assignments (TMAs) which involve the student submitting a dissertation plan and a sample chapter, but these are ‘formative’, meaning that the marks are for guidance rather than going towards the student’s final grade.

  11. Maria Tingle

    I too share Flora’s enthusiasm on the OU’s MA course in Classics, I would thoroughly recommend it!

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