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Greek and Latin curse tablets

25 March 2020

3 minutes to read

Greek and Latin curse tablets

Charlotte Spence is a PhD candidate in the Department of Classics and Ancient History whose research focuses on Greek and Roman curse tablets. In this blog, she explains what a curse tablet is, her journey to becoming a PhD student, distance learning from Salcombe and the support she receives from her supervisor Professor Daniel Ogden.

I’m Charlotte Spence and I am a PhD Student in Classics and Ancient History. My research focuses on Greek and Latin curse tablets dating from roughly the fifth century BCE until the fifth century CE.

These curse tablets were small pieces of lead which individuals in the ancient world inscribed. They were used to ask the gods and the restless dead for help. This could be help winning a legal case in Classical Athens, or hobbling the opposition team’s horses in a chariot race in Roman Carthage, or more explicitly asking a restless ghost to drag a woman from her husband and home by her hair to your help in Roman Egypt. As you can tell the source material is extremely varied and what I particularly love is the fact that these are personal insights into the lives of ancient individuals.

Route to PhD

My route to becoming a PhD student at the University Exeter has been a bit winding to say the least! I first applied to Exeter on the MA by Research pathway whilst still working full time as an Assistant Manager in a flagship retail store. After a year of part time study, I completed an upgrade by viva voce to be a “proper” PhD student.

I am still a distance learner, but I really believe that this gives me the best of both worlds. I am based down on the south coast of Devon in glorious Salcombe. It is a wonderful place to be- until you try to leave and then you realise how remote it actually is! (Although, one of my distance learner friends is a History PGR and she is based on the beautiful Isle of Mull which puts my commute into perspective rather!) It must be said though, sitting in a coffee shop working on my research whilst the sun glitters on the water in front of me is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Distance learning allows me to live somewhere I love and undertake the research I am passionate about, but it most certainly comes with its challenges. It took me being part of the Sexual Knowledge Symposium eight months into my studies to finally feel like I had found my place and that I really belonged at Exeter. I am lucky that there are a fair number of Classics and Ancient History PhD students at Exeter and they are an amazing, welcoming, sociable bunch. Every time I am on campus, they make time for me which I am extremely grateful for.

Being a distance learner

Being a distance learner means that you have to make a conscious effort to be part of the wider university community which in my case means making the most of the termly balls, research seminars, and sociable lunch breaks! At times it can feel like you are between two worlds without really belonging fully to either. This can also be exacerbated by the feeling of ‘imposter syndrome’ which many postgraduate researchers are afflicted by at times. I find the best way to cope with feeling like this is to speak up and reach out to your peers. No-one can read your mind, but people are always ready to help. I have also found that engaging my non-academic friends and family with my research has helped me. I think for them your academic studies can feel completely alien and inaccessible. Since I asked my partner to proof-read my upgrade chapter, they are suddenly much more engaged and excited about my work. I also now have someone to bounce ideas off before I speak to my supervisor. It is also good to remember that sometimes explaining something to someone else can help clarify things in your own mind.

As a distance learner the relationship you build with you supervisor becomes even more important. I am lucky because my supervisor not only has an encyclopedic knowledge of the sources but also takes a genuine interest in my life outside of my studies. Things like this are so important when overcoming the sense of not quite belonging which I mentioned above.

As is the case with any degree programme, at any level, it is the people who make it. I am lucky because I have a fantastic supervisor and a supportive department, as well as wonderful peers.


Charlotte Spence


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