On the Spot: Llewelyn Morgan

The historian of Roman literature on Augustus’ funeral and the world’s best museum.

Why are you a historian of Roman literature?
If I have any talent at all, it’s for figuring out what Roman poets are on about. I’ve no other professional option.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?
That for the vast majority of human beings the best time in history to be doing anything, including studying Greco-Roman literature, is 2018.

Which book has had the greatest influence on you?
My old supervisor Philip Hardie’s Cosmos and Imperium. It transformed our understanding of the Aeneid.

What book in your field should everyone read?
David West’s The Imagery and Poetry of Lucretius, Emily Gowers’ The Loaded Table, Oliver Lyne’s Further Voices and Alessandro Barchiesi’s The Poet and the Prince.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?
Augustus’ funeral in AD 14. Actors wore funerary masks of the greatest men of Rome’s past: what a weird, arresting scene that must have been.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?
Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics.

Which person in history would you most like to have met?
Lady Sale or, if she was unavailable, Ovid.

How many foreign languages do you speak?
None very fluently: I read quite a few more.

What’s the point of counterfactualism?
Rather limited in my area: it’s hard enough to establish what actually happened.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?
The interface of technical disciplines, philosophy, science, timekeeping, geography, medicine, etc., with literature.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?
I was once of the opinion that Homer was superior to Virgil.

Which genre of history do you like least?
What I’m currently finding difficult is the call to tie our research tightly to contemporary political needs.

Is there a major historical text you have not read?
Lots. But let’s start with Livy.

What’s your favourite archive?
Ancient documents don’t survive in great numbers, so archives are not so big a thing.

What’s the best museum?
The National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul.

Tudors or Stuarts?
Stuarts, especially Mary II.

Normans or Anglo-Saxons?
Normans, especially in Sicily.

Rome or Athens?

Cromwell or Charles I?

Braudel or Gibbon?
Braudel, actually.

Llewelyn Morgan is Professor of Classical Languages and Literature at the University of Oxford and a fellow of Brasenose College.