Christian Brady is a 2nd year MA Classics student at UBC and recently took part in Prof. Siobhán McElduff’s class on Roman Spectacle. As part of the course, each student had to produce a digital humanities project on some aspect of Roman Spectacle. Christian chose to produce a podcast called “Prometheus Unbound“. In his own words, he is using Lucan’s Pharsalia “as a gateway into the Roman Empire…[covering] everything from political partisanship, war lit, family feuds of epic proportions, intertextuality, the macabre, remakes of Golden Age Latin epics, political resistance through art, atheism and much, much more! All while looking at ways the modern world can help inform us about what was going on with forays into Canadian PSAs and mashups of 80s action movies.”
First, can you give a brief description of your project?
The podcast is the culmination of hours and hours of assiduously documented and aggressively organized fooling around with friends. I wanted to make a podcast that showed people how classicists and academics talk to each other when they think no one else is listening.
What led you to this particular topic? Did you have a prior interest in the subject or did you choose the topic based on what could best be presented digitally?
The first three episodes of the podcast are on the way that an epic poem by a Roman Spaniard from the 1st century CE intersects with pop culture. But it’s sort of bloomed into a show about the crossroads between pop culture and the classical world, especially the early imperial era. I like the story because it defies a lot of the stereotypes of what I think people think of when they imagine classical literature in the abstract. Lucan is gritty, gory, and subversive. He comes at a wonky time in Latin literature, after all the greats have already written their best hits and the Romans are stuck in the rerun phase of artistic development, the whole sequel/prequel dysfunction of summer blockbusters. There are some great people at UBC who are working on him like Andrew McClellan (PhD) and Prof. Susanna Morton-Braund.
What resources did you use? Did you have prior knowledge of these resources?
I scoured the web for awful out of copyright sword and sandals films—the more badly dubbed, the better—found artists who’d put up their work for creative commons on Archive.org and SoundCloud, and put it all together on GarageBand. After tinkering with everything, I put it back on SoundCloud and iTunes for distribution. I’ve been fooling around for years with GarageBand to record my friends and me when we used to be in a mock country reggae rap band in undergrad. But I started composing music mashups for the first time with this podcast. I’m not saying that I’ve acquired the skills to DJ house parties, but I wouldn’t be surprised if after this interview goes on the Web I’m booked up for the year.
What was the most challenging aspect of the project?
Part of the nature of making this podcast was that I didn’t have anyone to foist it off on when things got dicey—I scripted a lot of it myself and then after recording the show, there were dozens more hours of editing. So there were times when I was unsure about whether or not I was beating a dead horse, but I think this happens with any artistic pursuit. You have that fleeting sense of doubt before you come up with a finished product.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of the project?
Scoring the podcast. Figuring out when something musical can add to the feelings you’re trying to produce is a lot of fun. Having guests on the show is also really neat, because the more people you have on, the more spontaneous everything is, the more surprising the conclusions you reach are. Having a bunch of really smart people in a room together is loads of fun.
Would you undertake a similar project again, now that you are familiar with the process?
Yes, podcasts are a really fun media to work with. It’s like painting. With sound. And you don’t have to wash your hands afterwards.
Do you intend to maintain the site you created, or add content in the future?
Yeah, since the first trial episode, I’ve worked on two others and tried some new things out, like varying the number of hosts or the style of delivery from a narrative form to something more conversational. I’m experimenting with different formats, but I also want to broad the scope of the show from the original purpose of relating Lucan’s Pharsalia to pop culture. I think there are other avenues we can look at with respect to the Roman world in order to breathe life into classics. I’m trying to find ways to do this with ancient philosophy and Vancouver politics, at the moment.
Do you think this project was an effective way to study/teach about your topic?
I’m not sure, but it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve gotten some very positive reviews from academics and the general public—enough to be encouraged to keep going.
Any final thoughts or comments?
Thanks so much for your interest!
And finally, if I’ve learned anything from tv over the years, it’s that every great interview ends with these 10 questions. Take it away, James.
What is your favorite word?
Lachrymose is pretty good. Or malinger. Possibly haberdasher.
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on?
Neil Gaiman,Wonder Woman, and goldfish crackers.
What turns you off?
Cabbage, Oxford, and Sandra Bullock.
What sound or noise do you love?
Chicken being deepfried.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Goodbyes in most forms.
What is your favorite curse word?
Hellsbells. Is that one word?
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
When I was little my dad would ask my brothers and me this question and we would say, “A piece of toast!” because we kept expectations low, but not too low. We weren’t going to be bread, for crying out loud.
What profession would you not like to do?
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Christian, thank you for answering our questions and for your very entertaining podcasts, which are available free on iTunes. You can also check out Christian’s thoughts on philosophy and pop culture at In the Agora.