Religion, mythology and the ancient novel are my main interests – whether in research or in teaching. And I enjoy the history of ideas, ancient and modern. I like innovation too.
I come originally from Newcastle-on-Tyne (a product of its Royal Grammar School). I took my undergraduate degree at Worcester College,Oxford and then precipitously became Lecturer at University College Cardiff (as it then was) in 1974, where I was for a while Chair of the non-professorial staff. In 1988 I moved to Birmingham and became the Senior Tutor for the Faculty of Arts General Honours programme, soon Senior Lecturer, and later Professor of Classics. From 2000 to 2003 I was Head of the School of Humanities, and from 2005 - 2012 I was Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity. In 2012 I became Head of the School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion.
I have taught most classical subjects in my time. Recently I have focussed on Greek mythology, Homer, Herodotos (as ethnographer, scribe of cultural memory) and sometimes more fragmentary historians. A particularly interesting venture is my course on the Iliad and the Mahābhārata exploring the resonances between Greek and Indian epic tradition. And I supervise undergraduate dissertations on quite a range of religious, cultural and literary subjects – from folktale to Dr Who, as it were.
I supervise postgraduate dissertations, at all levels, on religion and mythology, on cultural memory, and on the ancient novel. The section on my research gives a sense of what is possible.
I tend to write essays and articles on the ancient novel, commentaries on fragmentary historians (several of them arguably bogus), and everything from dictionary entries to monographs on mythology and religion – though there are some publications on different topics altogether and I remain pleased with ‘Homer’s Sense of Text’ in JHS 116 (1996).
I regularly attend conferences on ancient novel and narrative at Tours (thanks to Bernard Pouderon) and Rethymno (thanks to Michael Paschalis) and the result is a diverse stream of pieces – in French and English respectively. Cumulatively they represent a maturing, if at times risky, vision of the meaning and possibilities of the novel. Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11 is finally responding to treatment if you put together a Tours contribution with one in Wytse Keulen's (and Ulrike Egelhaaf-Gaiser's) Aspects of the Golden Ass III.
I think it is important to write for those beyond the immediate circle of experts and that it is possible to do so without limiting quality. I have written for the Cambridge Companion to Homer on the epic tradition, and the Blackwell Companions to Greek Religion (on the pantheon) and to Greek Rhetoric (on prayer and procession as rhetoric). Niall Livingstone and I completed the Blackwell Companion to Greek Mythology in 2011, which is much more than a copious set of chapters – it constitutes a vision of a still young subject and a spur to exploration. My Zeus book for Routledge (2006) tried to provide a coherent and comprehensive vision of an ancient god. And of course Uses of Greek Mythology (1992) has shown, over a very long period by now, how necessary and useful a clear mapping of mythology is. I must, and will, do a second edition, doubtless more authoritarian. Uses Deux maybe.
Others will doubtless judge, but I think my hardest-hitting work lately has been for the Brill New Jacoby (BNJ, masterminded by Ian Worthington). Diktys of Crete (49) and Aristeas of Prokonessos (35) are major exercises in reconstruction and in envisaging, in their different ways, the world-view and rules of the game for these authors of around 90 AD and 590 BC respectively. Diktys links in to the whole question of mythology games in the the 1st century BC and AD, on which I have written a number of pieces – many for the BNJ but others in an ancient narrative context. And then there's Poseidonios' History - a huge entry for the BNJ.
Finally, I am interested in other traditions. I have written on Iamblichos the novelist and Persian tradition, am supervising currently a PhD dissertation on ‘cultural translation’, and have published on night-attacks in Greek mythology and the Mahābhārata. But the most important work in this regard is my compendious European Paganism (Routledge, 2000). It is now available as a book on demand at a price people can afford.