Spotlight on Giulia Biffis

20 June 2013

Giulia Biffis

This week the spotlight is on Giulia Biffis, honorary research fellow in the department of Greek & Latin.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am an honorary research fellow in the department of Greek & Latin. I contribute to teaching in the department, but my main objective is research. I spend most of my time in the library reading what has been left to us by ancient Greek and Latin authors, and study how the modern critic has been interpreting their work and thoughts.

Then, I write about what I believe can help to improve our understanding of these ancient texts and try to enhance their value to us in modern times. Often I speak at seminar series and conferences, where scholars have the opportunity to share their opinions and debate their conclusions on different aspects of the ancient world.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

Before becoming a research fellow, I studied at UCL for 5 years as Postgraduate student in order to gain an MA and a PhD in Classics, specifically ancient Greek literature.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

I am proud of how the department contributed to the UCL Festival of Arts this year. For this event I organised a panel on ancient classical myths and their importance to modern society.  I wanted to let people understand better what a myth is, and why we have been dealing with these sorts of stories for centuries.

I had full support from senior members of the academic staff. Indeed, three excellent academics agreed to step in and be interviewed by me on the topic (Professor C Carey, Professor M Leonard and Dr R Andújar), and were also happy to answer questions from the audience.

The event was a success because people actually challenged the speakers, who are some of the most learned scholars in the world of Classics (how lucky UCL is to have them among the academic staff!) The debate was heated and left everybody with a smile on their face, rather than a yawn!

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list

At the moment I am mainly working on the publication of my doctoral thesis as a monograph. I love the idea of making a book out of many years of hard work and I want as many people as possible to be able to read my ideas about an ancient poet called Lycophron, who might have lived in the second or third century BC, possibly in Alexandria.

Even though his identity is still a mystery, a poem entitled Alexandra is attributed to him, in which the prophetess Cassandra is portrayed delivering a long, desperate prophecy about the future.

This prophecy is famous for the obscurities of its language and mythological subject matter, but I aim to show that the poem is not only an important religious document, but also a powerful and carefully constructed tragic masterpiece; the only fully surviving Hellenistic drama.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

One of my favourite films is Romeo+Juliet. I find interesting the way the original Shakespearean text has been combined with an extremely violent, but colourful and imaginative setting. Turning Verona into Rio, simply brilliant! I have not come across such a powerful adaptation for any Classical text so far and I look forward to it.

Among books, I think the Iliad is one of the most amazing stories ever written, with its speaking horses, great heroes, improbable gods and incredible women. The characters move between a fantasy landscape and ‘real’ challenges in which pure emotions triumph. Among these, love is the most powerful one in its diverse expressions: love for ourselves, for family, for friends, for a land or your sweet and bitter lovers.

As you can tell, I am a quite romantic person, so music goes along this line.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

A blind man walks into a bar, taps the man next him, and says: "Hey, wanna hear a blonde joke?"
The man replies to the blind man: "Look buddy, I'm blonde. The man behind me is a 400-pound professional wrestler and he is blonde. The bouncer is blonde. The man sitting over to your left is also blonde. Still wanna tell that blonde joke?"
The blind man is silent for a moment and then says, "Nah, I wouldn't want to have to explain it five times." (I’m blonde myself by the way).

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

I wish I could have dinner with Lycophron and ask him if he ever would have thought that someone would still be reading his words after so many years. I would ask him if I am right about my reading in between the lines of his verses, or if actually, he never thought that someone might find my ideas in them.

Many things he wrote about are still very enigmatic and unsolved mysteries, so it would be great to get some answers: what about those young Italian ladies who escape their suitors dressed in funny costumes?

What advice would you give your younger self?

If it's not good, it's not the end yet! Be patient and keep giving yourself a chance to make it good.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I love fashion, textiles, embroidery, colours and nice dresses! So I enjoy designing myself and I get literally lost browsing in textile shops.

What is your favourite place?

The National Gallery is my favourite shelter, where you can travel in time, visit the whole world and enjoy infinite stories, landscapes, colours and, ultimately, beauty.