Where does that leave us?

At a recent (and superb) gathering of Classicists and Ancient Historians, I presented my research on the reading of Classical epic through the lens of ‘multiplicity’ theory. Specifically, I spoke on how the philosophical concept of multiplicity encourages us to view humans as multiplicities, as more-than-one. This perception of existence has, naturally, been associated with biopolitical scholarship and, in turn, discourse on the military (see Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies; also the discussion of the “war machine” in Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus).

This is a theoretical standpoint which I have developed and problematised throughout my doctoral studies, and I offer it to fellow scholars as a possible framework for thinking about the depiction of the militia in ancient texts. It is not a prescriptive methodology (use it or lose it, however you choose), and it certainly does not attempt to reveal the ‘intention’ of the Classical poet about whom I speak. These are some of the barriers that I encounter when presenting my research to authors a tad averse to thinking with modern philosophy when it comes to reading ancient literature.

But, that to one side. During the Q&A following my paper (and the same thing happened at a conference the previous week, where I presented on anxiety in the Roman militia) I was quizzed as to the benefit of applying a transhistorical approach to the Classics. Say you make a comparison between the ancient and modern soldier – well, where does that leave us?

What a question. As I now attempt to turn my doctoral research and off-shoot projects into black & white materials, I aim to keep this question in mind. What is the point of comparing the ancient with the modern world? In what space are we left when we drag these societies, millennia apart, into a Venn diagram? Plenty of scholars are already doing this, so how do I – or should I even have to – justify such a transhistorical approach?

This question is part of the underlying purpose of this project. Where does it leave us, if we continually segregate parallels into their respective historical contexts, because we are too afraid of compromising our integrity as historians by drawing ‘too bold’ or ‘too rash’ comparisons? According to multiplicity theory, we are still attached, in some way, to the discourse which ebbs and flows around us – meaning that the infusion of new strand of thought must change the consistency, the speed, the direction of the whole.

The question is therefore not ‘Where does that leave us?’ but ‘Where will that lead us?