Friday, 20 July 2018

'The Song of Arms and a Man' (The Latin Qvarter)

by Vaughan Webber



The performance of 'The Song of Arms and a Man' at the Ivor Gurney Hall in Gloucester on 9th June was a very unusual experience because it was the first time that I had ever heard Latin used as the language of a public performance. It turned out to be a fascinating and stimulating recital of great poetry and drama.

I am a former teacher of modern foreign languages and a translator, and I studied Latin at school to ‘O’ level in the sixties. Although I have, of course, always found Latin to be invaluable in understanding my own language and in learning other languages, I did not continue any direct contact with it.

However, in recent years I became interested in getting more closely acquainted with Latin again, and my current level of competence comes from having have studied a variety of texts, and poetry from Virgil and others, at Gloucester in recent years on Latin Qvarter courses. I have always enjoyed contact with other languages and this includes, on occasion, novels and poetry.

The recital was therefore of a text with which I was familiar to a certain extent, but which I would not have been able to read or listen to without preparation.

In the audience the text was available in a booklet. It was difficult to decide whether to look at it or not during the performance itself though. In the end I tried not looking at it, and found that I could be carried along by the language and follow the action. I tried to use it as a quick guide, but not get distracted by reading. Of course, there is some loss of comprehension to be taken into account if this is done, and so I had to strike a balance.



The readers and audience in the Ivor Gurney Hall
© Edward Gillespie

The readers were real actors in their presentation. They projected their voices very clearly and resonantly with plenty of expression, and it was a delight to be able to pick up whole phrases at a time without having to try hard. I am interested in how Latin must have sounded, and I felt that a great effort was put into making it as lively and natural as it could be. As a result, we really felt that we were sharing in something across a very long span of generations and across a great cultural distance!



Turnus (Steve Wright) showing his resolve to resist the Trojans.
Others behind L to R:  Emma Kirkby, Matthew Hargreaves, Elizabeth Donnelly and George Sharpley.
© Edward Gillespie

Overall, the performance was a little like seeing a well-performed Shakespeare play. That is, the language is difficult but we are carried along by the drama of the situation all the same, and we enjoy the language, imagery and turns of phrase as the play moves forward.

If a person in the audience had no knowledge of Latin at all, they might well still find it very interesting to hear it brought to life in such a way. Besides, so many elements of the tale have been handed down to us and form part of the common stock of our understanding about the past. The course of the story was explained between the readings, so the audience could follow the dramatic thread. The readers provided plenty of facial expression, gesture and intonation to help the audience along.



Venus (Elizabeth Donnelly) and Juno (Emma Kirkby) stalking each other like cats ...
© Edward Gillespie 

It was an excellent event and I would like to thank the performers and organisers for all the preparation and hard work which must have gone into it.


Vaughan Webber
10th July 2018










Friday, 23 March 2018

Artefact to Art (University of Leicester)


by Naoise Mac Sweeney

Every object tells a story. Indeed, behind each artefact lies not just one but a complex web of many untold tales – about the people who made it in antiquity, about those who used it over the ages, and finally about those who discovered it in modern times. As Keats mused in his famous poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn, sometimes an object can tell “a flowery tale more sweetly” than either poetry or prose.

In Leicester, we decided to put this idea at the heart of our latest engagement project, Artefact to Art (click here to visit the project website).  The A2A project (as it is affectionately known) encourages young people to take inspiration from classical artefacts, using this inspiration to create new and innovative artworks of their own. Over the last year, we have run workshops in schools and museums, produced teaching resources, and organised a competition for poetry and visual art.




The competition proved to have a wider appeal than we had dared to hope. We received submissions from four different continents, with the number of entries in some age categories running into the hundreds. We are delighted to be publishing sixty of these outstanding pieces in the forthcoming Artefact to Art book, as well as displaying them in an accompanying exhibition.

Especially exciting have been the original, and sometimes surprising, ideas that have sprung from artefacts that we in the classical community might dismiss as overly familiar. Our artists and poets have used Attic black figure pottery to think about colour in the natural world; gladiators’ helmets to ponder the nature of fear; and Roman mosaics to reflect on the recent “me too” campaign against sexual harassment.




The book launch and exhibition are part of the programme for the upcoming CA conference, which Leicester will be hosting for the first time in two decades. We felt that it was important for the conference to connect with our outreach and engagement work, and wanted the new project to reflect the nature of the department as a combined School of Archaeology and Ancient History. The Artefact to Art project, with its emphasis on the material traces of classical antiquity, emerged out of these two ambitions. 

We are grateful to the Classical Association for their help with setting up and publicising the project, to Routledge books for their generous donation of prizes, and to the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies for their generous support of the schools’ programme.

Dr Naoise Mac Sweeney is Associate Professor of Ancient History at the University of Leicester


Monday, 19 February 2018

Spring Books 2018


by Philip Hooker

Once again, we have studied the Bookseller’s Buyers Guide and picked out the books on classical themes which publishers believe will be of interest to the general reader.

Among the highlights is Circe, by Madeline Miller, whose Song of Achilles won the Orange Prize in 2012 and is one of their top ten in literary fiction.  In paperback, there will be The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes, House of Names by Colm Tóibín and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.  For the Immortal, in hardback, is the ‘triumphant finale’ of Emily Hauser’s Golden Apple trilogy.

More popular works include the latest from Lindsey Davis, Robert Fabbri, Adrian Goldsworthy, Conn Iggulden, Harry Sidebottom, Ben Kane, Ian Ross, Anthony Riches and Simon Scarrow, who all seem to sell very well.   Lesser known, but more intriguing, is Alessandro Barbero’s The Athenian Women: A Novel, set in 411BC, the time of Lysistrata, with oligarchs oppressing the democrats (which is claimed to be very contemporary).

Adrian Goldsworthy is also highlighted for Hadrian’s Wall: Rome and the Limits of Empire, in the highly illustrated Landmark series.  Mary Beard has one of the two books based on the new BBC Civilisations series, describing ancient representations of the human body and the interface between art and religion.  We must also include Edith Hall, whose Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life is described as a self-help book.  Troy is also topical, which makes Naoise Mac Sweeney’s Troy: Myth, City, Icon particularly timely.

Non-fiction paperbacks include several acclaimed works from 2017: Paul Cartledge’s Democracy, Guy de la Bédoyère on the Praetorian Guard, Bijan Omrani’s Caesar’s Footprints: Journeys to Roman Gaul, and Catharine Nixey’s polemic on the Christian destruction of the Classical world.

There are a good number of new scholarly histories for the general reader:  Josiah Osgood’s Rome and the Making of a World State, 150 BCE - 20 CE, Robin Waterfield’s Creators, Conquerors and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece, Jeremy McInerney’s Greece in the Ancient World (illustrated), Angelos ChaniotisAge of Conquests: The Greek World from Alexander to Hadrian (336 BC – AD 138), Philip Matyszak’s The Greeks: Lost Civilisations  (all about Greeks abroad from India to Spain),  Peter RhodesPericlean Athens, and Richard BillowsBefore and After Alexander: The Legend and Legacy of Alexander the Great.

More specialist works come from Walter Scheidel, who has edited The Science of Roman History: Biology, Climate and the Future of the Past, on how the latest scientific advances have changed our understanding, Robin Osborne with The Transformation of Athens: Painted Pottery and the Creation of Classical Greece, based on the Princeton Martin Classical Lectures, and Judith Swaddling with An Etruscan Affair: The Impact of early Etruscan discoveries on European culture.

Then there is Iain Ferris with Cave Canem: Animals in Roman Civilisation, David Weston Marshall with Ancient Skies: Constellation Mythology of the Greeks, Jeremy Mynott with Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words, Carolyn Roncaglia with Northern Italy in the Roman World: From the Bronze Age to Late Antiquity, Simon Elliott with Septimius Severus in Scotland: The Northern Campaigns of the First Hammer of the Scots, and Roger White and Mike Hodder’s Clash of Cultures?: The Romano-British Period in the West Midlands.

Among reception works we note Ian Jenkins and colleagues’ Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece, the catalogue of the British Museum exhibition running from 26 April to 29 July, and Edgar Vincent’s A. E. Housman: Hero of the Hidden Life, about his poetry and academic life, aided by 81 newly discovered letters.

New texts and translations include two translations from Pamela Mensch: Plutarch’s The Age of Caesar: Five Roman Lives, and Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers.    The latest Oxford Classical Text is Antiphon and Andocides: Speeches (Antiphontis et Andocidis Orationes) edited by Mervin Dilts and David Murphy.  The latest Loeb Classics include EnniusFragments, edited by Sander Goldberg and Gesine Manuwald, Galen’s Hygiene edited by Ian Johnston, and Volume X of their new Livy.    New Oxford World Classics include two from Aristotle: The Art of Rhetoric (translated by Robin Waterfield) and On the Soul and Other Psychological works (translated by Fred D. Miller, Jr.), as well as Anthony Verity’s version of Homer’s Odyssey, which must compete with those of Emily Wilson and Peter Green.    Virgil’s Aeneid also appears in a new version from poet David Ferry.    AeschylusLibation Bearers, edited and translated by Andrew Lyon Brown, is the latest in the Aris & Phillips Classical Texts series (now part of Liverpool University Press).

For those with short attention spans, Matthew Nicholls has edited 30-Second Ancient Greece: The 50 Most Important Achievements of a Timeless Civilization, each Explained in Half a Minute (300 words and one image).  Cath Senker has a juvenile version: Ancient Greece in 30 Seconds: 30 Fascinating Topics for Kid Classicists Explained in Half a Minute.  Similarly, there is Charles PhillipsThe Ancient World in Minutes.

Among children’s books we note, for ages 7-9, Museum Mystery Squad and the case of the Roman Riddle by Mike Nicholson (illustrated by Mike Phillips) and a new Asterix and the Chariot Race by Jean-Yves Ferri (illustrated by Didier Conrad and René Goscinny).  For ages 9-12, we note the latest from Rick Riordan: The Dark Prophecy and The Burning Maze in the Trials of Apollo series, the latest from Caroline Lawrence: Return to Rome in the Roman Quests series, and a new time-travel from Ben Hubbard: Roman Britain and Londinium.

Philip Hooker is the Hon. Treasurer of the Classical Association, and writes regularly for the CA Blog on Classics in the Media.            


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Cymru Wales Classics Hub INSET Day at Lampeter (December 2017)

by Matthew Cobb

On the penultimate Saturday (16th) before Christmas, when many schools and sixth forms were finishing up for the (calendar) year, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David hosted a teacher training day for Classicists. This event was part of a series of INSET days organised by the Cymru Wales Classics Hub, the first of which was hosted by Swansea University, and the second by Cardiff University. This third INSET day, organised by Dr Matthew Adam Cobb, was held on Lampeter Campus.



A range of workshops were run by Classicists and Ancient Historians from the Faculty of Humanities, including Dr Cobb, Dr Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen, Dr Fiona Mitchell, Dr Ruth Parkes and Dr Kyle Erickson. Closely allied to the OCR Classical Studies syllabus, these workshops covered themes as diverse as ‘heroic masculinity in art’ to the ‘portrayal of the Julio-Claudian emperors’. The sessions were designed to explore creative and interactive ways of engaging with pupils/students – a particular focus of the sessions run by Dr Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen and Dr Kyle Erickson – as well as means of getting them to think in a more nuanced and critical way about the source material.

A number of teachers and aspirant teachers from across the UK attended the event. All present were keen, engaged and had very constructive experiences (as can be judged from the very positive feedback). Thanks to the kind support of the Classical Association, we were able to offer the attendees a free lunch, and teas and coffees, as well as a modest travel reimbursement. 

The fourth in the series of CWCH INSET days is expected to run later in 2018.  

Dr Matthew Cobb is a Lecturer in Classics at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, whose research interest lies in the cultural and economic interaction between the Mediterranean and Indian spheres.