A Yarn With Ioannis

On the 14th of October, the Last Lecture was announced to an eagerly waiting ANU audience. To the surprise of many, a lecturer for the Classics Department, a small department under the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS), won the opportunity to speak at this prestigious event. As one of his students, having been in his Ancient Greek, Classical Myths and Legends and currently Latin classes, I decided to interview Dr. Ioannis Ziogas. Ioannis is a very popular lecturer in the Classics department, who focuses on Latin. He is a very witty and engaging lecturer and an enjoyable person to converse with on a range of topics.

How did you originally become interested in studying Classics?

When I was ten my parents gave me illustrated versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey, children’s books. Later in high school I started learning Ancient Greek and Latin. Reading the great works of Classical literature in the original fascinated me more than anything else.

What is the most favourite course you have ever taught and/or studied?

The Freshman Writing Seminar on Greek Myth I taught at Cornell in 2009. I’m still in touch with the students of this class. Some came to Cornell to study Economics and ended up doing PhDs in Classics. Also the Myth course I taught at ANU last semester. I can’t wait to teach it again! Favourite course I have ever studied: The graduate seminar on Plautus and Terence I took at Cornell with Prof. Fontaine. It was when I realised Latin poetry was full of crazy puns and anagrams. It opened my mind.

What are some of the qualities that you believe make a good lecturer? 

It is important to be approachable and maintain authority at the same time. Also knowing your stuff, but never hesitate to admit you do not know something. But most importantly, you need to change and adapt your teaching methods all the time. A trick that worked once rarely works a second time in teaching.

Who is your favourite Classical author and why? 

Ovid. He is the best; endlessly inventive, amusing, and profound. He is learned but never stuffy. He is capable of setting the most challenging goals for himself and achieving them effortlessly. He wants to seduce his readers and that’s why I love him.

Who is your favourite character in Classical mythology?

The virgin warrior Camilla in Vergil’s Aeneid. I still remember crying the first time I read Aeneid 11, the passage in which she is killed by a cowardly man. She is not a very famous character and I did not expect her to die. I was very young and it was a big shock.

What is your favourite mythological story and why? 

One of my favourite stories is the archery competition in the Odyssey. Penelope declares that she would marry the man who can string Odysseus’ bow and shoot an arrow with it through 12 axes. Odysseus, who is disguised as a beggar, rises to the occasion. He strings the bow, fires the arrow, kills the suitors and reveals his identity. It is fascinating to see the myth through Penelope’s eyes. I think Penelope knows that the beggar is Odysseus. But she is not going to acknowledge his identity before her husband proves that he is the man he was when he left for Troy 20 years ago. Penelope does not want to end up with an old and jaded veteran who claims he was her husband once upon a time. If Odysseus is not the man Penelope remembers, she is ready to marry someone else who can pass her test. And she is not kidding.

In your opinion, what does the study of Classics mean to a society such as Australia? 

Australia seems to be trying to keep a balance between her European origins and her strategic position in Asia. Classics can play a key role in negotiating this double identity. It is a field that is considered the foundation of the Western Civilization, yet current trends in Classics study its relevance on a global scale, exploring its impact beyond the Western world. More work along those lines needs to be done in Australia. Classics is a field that can encourage diversity and bridge cultural gaps more than anything else.

If his classes and this interview are anything to go by, the Last Lecture this Thursday (30/10/14) will be an absolute treat and I would encourage Woroni readers to go and have a listen. You never know what you could learn.

Photography by Stuart Hay