20 Questions with Dr Polly Stoker!

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Well, heres our next instalment from Polly! She’s got some great answers so get reading!

  1. How long have you been at the University of Birmingham?

I’ve just worked this out by counting backwards on my fingers, and I am alarmed to report…that I ran out of fingers. It will be since around 2004/5.


  1. Do you have a favourite memory since being here?

My fondest memory has to be of Dr Niall Livingstone in his bravura performance in Athenian Drama. For those of you unfamiliar with the module, Athenian Drama culminates in student-devised performances of scenes from Greek tragedy and/or comedy. One group was a member down on the final day, only for Niall to come to the rescue. His star turn saw him take on the role of a stroppy teenager in an updated version of Aristophanes’ Wasps. Armed with only a baseball cap (which he wore backwards, obvs) and the most dramatic of flounces, Niall absolutely stole the show. I think Elena and I almost died from laughing.


  1. What is your favourite topic to teach?

I love teaching about classical literature via classical reception: how modern works can shed new light on old texts and invigorate our ongoing dialogue with the ancient world.


  1. What got you inspired to be a lecturer?

Probably the lecturers who taught me as an undergrad and postgrad and also the students I’ve taught along the way. Nothing beats the sense of collaboration and the exchange of ideas you get in an engaged classroom.


  1. Do you have a favourite bit of Classics/Ancient History/Archaeology?

Talking about and listening to other people talk about Homer.


  1. Do you have a least favourite bit?

The amount of material that is lost or fragmentary. I bet Ovid’s Medea was a lot of fun (?!). And I’d quite like to know what Aristotle had to say about comedy.


  1. Do you have any hobbies?

In non-Covid times, I go to the cinema regularly (I miss my visits to The Electric terribly), although my first and true love is tv (and ‘watching tv is a hobby’ is a hill I am willing to die on). I also like going on country walks and visiting country pubs with my dogs, as well as taking them on their annual holiday to the seaside.


  1. If you were a god, what would you be god of?

Maybe football? And I would use my power and influence to sort things out for Newcastle and we’d finally win a domestic trophy after over half a century (although I’m a Brummie, my mam and dad are from the North East and I’ve always supported Newcastle – thanks, Dad).


  1. What pet would you have? Mythical answers allowed.

There used to be a dog in Neighbours called Bossy. She was an Australian kelpie and very adorable and I think she would fit in with my dog pack wonderfully. Although if Bossy is too difficult to get hold of, I’ll go with Pegasus.


  1. Do you have a favourite artefact from the ancient world?

I went to the Troy Exhibition at the British Museum back in February with my mam and got very excited to see Nestor’s cup.


  1. Favourite mythological story? Why?

All the stories to do with Troy and its aftermath – it has everything!


  1. If you could travel back in time and observe, where would you go?

I would go to Athens to the City Dionysia of 458 BC to see the first performance of Aeschylus’ Oresteia.


  1. Top 5 dinner party guests?

Muriel Spark, Angela Davis, Dorothy Parker, Ash Sarkar, Catherine O’Hara (in character as Moira Rose).


  1. Do you remember what made you love Classics/Ancient History/Archaeology, what inspired you to study it?

I think my first exposure to classics was the tv series I, Claudius. I still struggle to imagine Augustus as anyone other than Brian Blessed and Livia *is* Siân Phillips.


  1. Most recent research?

Over the summer, I submitted an article to Classical Receptions Journal on Yael Farber’s play Molora. The play transposes Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy to post-apartheid South Africa.


  1. If you were a character from classical literature who would you be?

An unrepentant Circe.


  1. What books would you recommend for undergrads that aren’t academic?

I tend to push Anna Kavan onto people as she is under read and reading her writing is quite an experience. Over the last couple of years, I’ve also really enjoyed Anna Burns’s Milkman and Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori).


  1. What’s the best film you watched recently?

Lulu Wang’s The Farewell.


  1. What is something you wish more people knew about Classics/Ancient History/Archaeology

I’d like to echo what Maeve said and reiterate that this is an exciting time of change for and opening out of the discipline. And much of this is led by the passion and thoughtfulness of the students we teach, who are reshaping what it means to be a classicist, ancient historian, and archaeologist.


  1. Any words of wisdom for undergrads?

Work hard when you can, rest when you need to, and have lots of fun. And – there is no such thing as a stupid question!


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