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Sophie Ngan

Demonstrator (Ptt)

Demonstrator (Ptt) in the Department of Classics and Ancient History


I have previously completed undergraduate and masters degrees, both in Classics, at Durham University (2016 and 2017 respectively), specialising in Latin literature. My doctoral research, for which I have been awarded AHRC funding via the NBDTP, focuses on gender in Seneca’s writings. In addition to my research, I am and graduate teaching assistant in the department and have assisted with the first-year course ‘Monuments and Memory in the Age of Augustus’ (2017/18).

Research Project: Gender in Seneca

My PhD project aims to develop a fuller understanding of how Seneca’s writings engage with the gender issues relevant to the turbulent political climate during which he was writing. I consider male and female identity in both Seneca’s dramatic writings, which present extreme examples of gender issues, and his philosophical works, which offer solutions to contemporary life. Whilst the masculinity of men was a constant Roman concern, it was especially pertinent during the imperial period, with elite men losing political influence. Male anxiety about emasculation is prominent in the Thyestes, a play without female characters but pervaded by maternal imagery. Throughout his prose writings, however, Seneca presents the unmovable mind of the Stoic sage, able to bear bodily suffering, as a solution to violence against the male body. In response to the increased political influence of imperial women, Seneca explores female identity and women’s encroachment on masculinity. Seneca’s Medea portrays a woman appropriating masculine power at its most extreme, whilst his consolatory works addressed to women suggest that women can attain virtue (a typically masculine concept, deriving from vir, the Latin word for "man"), offering the possibility of a female space in the male-dominated world of philosophy.