This morning I started weeping as I read about the Agonalia.
Simon Price was an amazing scholar, a brilliant teacher and one of most kind and humane men I’ve ever known. He gave me my first teaching job. Back summer term of 1997 I had a series of undergraduate tutorials with him on Roman religion. I’d been to his lectures the previous term and was in awe of all the rich materials, tidbits of evidence from here and there he marshaled together into a captivating narrative, a narrative that showed something of all the questions left to be asked. He’d stand by the window in his black robe and look out of the room as he talked, making sense of the patchwork quilt of sources he’d assembled on a single handout.
The tutorials were good, but it was summer and Oxford was full of distractions. I found the way of thinking about the history of religion, very different from reading Polybius. The Isis essay was fine, a novelty really, but boy did I struggle the week on Ovid’s Fasti. He wanted me to answer the question what use is this poem to the historian. I thought I’d never read anything quite so dull.
This morning I started by reading the Fasti. I love every bit of it. Like a sibylline book, every time I read it, it seems new again and perfectly relevant to my project at hand. I never seem to be able to see or understand or remember a passage of it until the moment I need it. Simon was right, of course. He tried to teach me to read it. At least I got there eventually.
I regret most fervently never writing to him before he passed away about what he meant to me. Or just to say thank you. If there is someone you should write to, trust me it will be better to do it now, than redraft the letter over and over again in your mind for all the years to come.