Susan Jane Deacy: "Trying to make sense of the Greek goddess Athena"

During the winter semester 2010/11, the Käthe-Leichter visiting professorship for gender studies at the University of Vienna will be held by Susan Jane Deacy, Senior Lecturer at Roehampton University in London. On Thursday 21 October 2010, the expert in Greek history and literature will give her Käthe-Leichter-Lecture on "A traitor to her sex? Athena the trickster" in the Small Ceremonial Chamber.

What are the most important stations of your academic career?
Susan Jane Deacy: Working backwards, my current position is at Roehampton University in London, where I have the title of Senior Lecturer in Greek History and Literature. Before starting work at Roehampton in 2004, I taught at several universities in England and Wales (Manchester, Leeds, Keele, Aberystwyth and Lampeter).

What are your main research topics and interests?

Deacy: I would list my research topics as ancient Greek mythology and religion and ancient Greek gender. I do not see these topics as separate, but am exploring interlinks between them, particularly through my research on the goddess Athena.  Another of my research interests, in "Disability Studies", is stimulating work both in disability in antiquity and in the potential therapeutic value of classical mythology, particularly as a tool for reaching autistic people.

Where does your personal fascination for these topics come from?
Deacy: It all started for me in research terms with Athena. As I have told the students already in my seminar here in Vienna, when I was at around the stage they are currently at, around 20 years ago in the early 1990s, I became intrigued at how the patriarchal society of the classical Athenians could have venerated a female deity, and a curiously gendered, warlike one at that. Since then, I have continued to try to make sense of Athena. The more I work on her, the more questions I find I raise: not only about religion and mythology, but more broadly about the kind of culture that generated the images of her. In researching Athena, therefore, I study diverse areas including to list a few, ancient Greek art and architecture, gender systems, sexuality, daily life, and technology.

Can you give our readers some insight into your personal life and hobbies?
Deacy: Most of my time away from work is devoted to family life in Guildford in Surrey. My pleasures include telling my little girl her bed-time story, and banter around the family dinner table. Other than this, I love gardening, and, during the spring and summer, sitting outdoors on a warm evening with a glass of wine once the kids are in bed.

You gained the Käthe-Leichter visiting professorship for gender studies at the University of Vienna for the winter semester 2010/11. What does this mean to you - both personally and professionally?
Deacy: I awaited coming to Vienna with excitement the moment I heard that I had been successful in gaining the professorship. Not only do I value the opportunity to work in a prestigious university, but I have a personal, and research, fascination for the Viennese Secession's exploration of Athena. I am hoping that some of my teaching can even be carried out in Viennese museums.

Have you been to Vienna before? What kind of relationship do you have to this city?
Deacy: No, never. But when I was asked by Professor Marion Meyer, Head of the Department of Classical Archaeology, whether I was interested in being considered for the professorship, I was eager to say yes. As mentioned earlier, my love of Klimt has led to a fascination about Vienna. I would add to this an interest in Freud, whose most highly prized object, incidentally, was his little statuette of Athena.

What is your impression of Vienna as a working place for scientists so far?
Deacy: I feel at home here. My new colleagues have been wonderfully helpful. The level of support has made a big impression. As well as perfectly equipped office, I would positively mention the library of the Department of Classical Archaeology.

The title of your Käthe-Leichter-Lecture sounds very interesting. What can we expect from this subject?

Deacy: I am on the verge of submitting the manuscript of my Oxford University Press book "A Traitor to her Sex? Athena the Trickster". I chose to give the same title as that of my book in order to give a flavour of the questions that are currently guiding me through my research into classical antiquity. In the lecture, I shall outline past tendencies in the scholarship of Athena that have had the effect of reducing her ambiguities by turning her into the image of the "traitor" whose sole goal was to oppress others of her sex. By turning to a more open framework that the cross-cultural model of the trickster supplies, I will be explaining how I have been seeking to demonstrate how the ancient goddess could be both the "dutiful daughter" of her father Zeus, and also a dangerous, even transgressive, presence among the pantheon.

What are your aims concerning the visiting professorship in Vienna especially when it comes to teaching?
Deacy: I am looking forward to teaching students who are in a different academic system from the one I am used to. I am also looking forward to sharing my research and teaching interests with the students. I would say that I am a lively lecturer: student evaluations, certainly, recurrently mention the energy and enthusiasm of my teaching. I strive to make teaching accessible to students while not shying from the complexities of any given subject. In my classes I like to blend my own outlines of particular issues with activities such as group work and brainstorming sessions. (ms)

During the winter semester 2010/11 Susan Jane Deacy, BA PhD holds the Käthe-Leichter visiting professorship for gender studies at the Department of Classical Archaeology of the University of Vienna. She holds her Käthe-Leichter-Lecture "A traitor to her sex? Athena the trickster" on Thursday, 21 October 2010, at 6 p.m. in the Small Ceremonial Chamber.