Curiosity and playfulness in ancient Greek literature

Melissa Funke, associate professor, classics department

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Dr. Melissa Funke is an assistant professor in classics. From Manitoba, she completed her undergraduate degree in English and classics at the University of Winnipeg.

“I went to (the) University of British Columbia after a few years, and I had to do Latin and Greek. Those are the key tools for classicists,” she says.

Funke notes how lucky she is to have found a teaching position in Manitoba. “Academic jobs are hard to find anywhere, but it’s pretty special to teach some of the same courses, sometimes even in the very same classrooms that I took them in.”

She says one of the most valuable parts of her job includes curiosity when approaching ancient cultures. “I can always be curious about almost anything ... The fact that I get to do it for a job is really lucky.”

“I work on gender and sexuality as it’s depicted in ancient Greek literature ... I’m just finishing up a book project that looks at the biographical tradition of an ancient Greek sex worker (named Phryne) who was one of the most famous women in the ancient world,” Funke says. “I’m very excited about it.”

Funke says her students have helped her relearn how to approach ancient texts, too. “The playfulness of learning is something I have relearned ... when I’m feeling frustrated (or) I can’t find the thing I want, (I) look for that playfulness. My students here are always really playful and fun with what they’re learning.”

Speaking of her favourite Greek myth, she says, “It changes all the time. Lately, it’s the story of Demeter and Persephone where she loses her daughter and she basically upends the world. She upends the seasons when she’s grieving her, and she looks for her. I didn’t used to like this one, but now that I have my own daughter, I identify with it a lot more.”

What was your worst grade in university?

“It was a C in my introductory anthropology (class) in my very first year. And it’s completely related to attendance, or the lack thereof.”

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

“I would give people the time and space to do what they want to do ... and get rid of the circumstances that prevent them from thriving.”

What do you do in your spare time?

“Lately, I am coaching my daughter’s ringette team, and I play ringette as well. I’m spending a lot of my time on the ice these days ... We have a big rink in front of our house. It’s four yards long, so I get to skate as much as I want.”

Published in Volume 77, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 2, 2023)

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