A Reading student on the island of Chios

(By Naomi Miller, third-year undergraduate in the Department of Classics)

Those who live on the island of Chios will tell you that is the island where Homer was born, lived, and composed the legendary epics. Whilst this in itself may be highly debated among the Classical field, it is easy to be blown away by the landscape – sitting in the hills, overlooking the Aegean Sea, you can easily feel the magic and inspiration that could have inspired such great works.

I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time in Chios over the Summer and had plenty of opportunities to see the island for myself. If you get the opportunity to visit it, there are several sites to visit (for both the Homer and non-Homer fans!):

The south of Chios is the only area of the world in which mastic is produced. Surrounded by the fields that farm these trees are many picturesque medieval villages. Pyrgi is one of them, known famously as the painted village. Almost every house in the village is covered in carved with geometric designs, and it is a beautiful place to enjoy a cold coffee and spend an afternoon wandering around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another site worth visiting is perhaps the largest archaeological site in Chios, part of it believed to be a Mycenaean settlement. Interestingly, the Temple of Athena is argued by some academics to be similar to that of a temple described in Iliad, perhaps further adding to the idea that Homer actually lived on Chios and was inspired by what he saw there. Certainly, the views from the top of the settlement could inspire any poet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, the site of Daskalopetra, otherwise known as Teacher’s Rock, the rumoured site where Homer sat and composed the Iliad and Odyssey. Although it is now believed to be a temple dedicated to Cybele, it is definitely still a cult site for those who adore the works of Homer. Over the years it has played host to many readings of the epic poems, and dramas in Ancient Greek still are performed in the summer. And if this isn’t enough to interest you, then the Homer Taverna next to the site does wonderful mezze dishes!

I feel very privileged to have had the chance to explore Chios, meet the incredibly hospitable people, and bask in the Homeric world. Whilst I was there I not only was able to further my own learning and understanding for my own research and dissertation, but also learn a great deal about what Homer means to the modern Chians, and experience Greek xenia for myself.

 

(All photos by the author.)

Reading Classics doctoral student takes part in the Casa della Regina Carolina Excavation Project at Pompeii

(Written by Jessie Feito, PhD student in the Department of Classics, UoR)

In June of 2019, I was fortunate to participate in the Casa della Regina Carolina Excavation Project at Pompeii, a joint enterprise between Cornell University and the University of Reading. The project aims to combine the results obtained from modern technological techniques and excavation practices with data from much earlier excavations in order to investigate domestic material culture and historical change.

Modern excavations of the elite residence, now referred to as the Casa della Regina Carolina (VIII.3.14), began with a small team in the summer of 2018, and were greatly expanded in 2019. The 2019 season focused on trenches in the garden area, and, rather than excavation, I was primarily involved in the archaeobotany.

Archaeobotany refers the study of plant remains preserved in the archaeological record, often by processes including carbonisatioin, mineralisation, or, more commonly in wetter environs, waterlogging. In studying plant remains, archaeobotanists are able to shed light on many aspects of ancient life, including (but not limited to) diet, agricultural practices, past environments and environmental change.

In order to obtain seeds, or ‘macroremains,’ archaeobotanists employ a technique called flotation. During flotation, a soil sample is submerged in water and gently agitated. This allows the plant remains, which are less dense, to float to the surface, while the heavier material such as rocks and pottery, sink to the bottom. The floating material- or ‘light fraction’- is skimmed off the topped and dried, so that it can later be examined under a microscope. The heavier material is often sorted on site.

The samples from the 2019 season have the potential to provide insight into the landscape of the ancient garden, as well as into any activities that may have taken place in such a setting. Previous archaeobotanical work in gardens at Pompeii have yielded carbonised plant remains that have been interpreted as representing the burning of plants as ritual offerings and sacrifices (see Robinson 2002). It will be interesting to see what the results of the archaeobotanical analysis are able to say about the landscape of the garden of the Casa della Regina Carolina, as well as about the uses of the space and how these compare with other garden contexts.

The following photos give a sense of the meticulous procedures involved in archaeobotanical work; they were all taken by Danielle Vander Horst, MA student at Cornell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flotation: the flots (plant remains that floated) may be seen hanging in the background.

 

Flotation in progress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorting the ‘heavy fraction’ (the material that sank)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flotation equipment in its natural setting, a Pompeii street!

A report from the International Congress of Egyptologists 2019

(Written by research associate of Reading Classics, Dr Hana Navratilova.)

The International Congress of Egyptologists 2019 took place in Cairo, where it returned after nearly 20 years. It is a regular occurrence of every four years. This time the meetings took place in one of Cairo’s historic hotels, the Mena House, a place of wartime meetings of the Allied leaders in the 1940s – and with a direct view of the pyramids. However, the programme was both attentive to historical roots, reflected in the conference venue surroundings, and very outward- and forward looking, and as it encompassed several hundred papers of scholars from all over the world, concerned with all historical periods of Egypt between early dynastic to late Antiquity and a rich variety of methodologies. Graeco-Roman Egypt was also represented, as was history of Egyptology and Oriental Studies. One might have wished for even more interdisciplinary papers showcasing the character of modern studies of ancient Egypt, but, truth be said, a full week of intense papers could not have been much extended.

As one of the session chairs, I had the opportunity to appreciate the diversity and depth of ongoing research projects. The afternoon text and languages session on Monday, 4th of November offered a rich outline of ongoing work in Egyptological philology, linguistics, text editing and text materiality. The trends included diversity of approaches, methodological openness and contextualisation. We also discussed the teaching of Greek and Latin versus teaching of ancient Egyptian!

 

 

 

 

Research of Ure Museum interns acclaimed

Every year the Ure Museum welcomes and benefits from the work of several interns from around the world, other UK universities and even Reading. This week two of our interns from Summer 2019 were celebrated for their work in the Ure. At the 2019 UROP showcase last night Ruth Lloyd, a third-year student in Classics, was awarded Best Poster in the Heritage and Creativity theme, for her work on the biography of Annie Dunman Hunt Ure (1893-1976) on a paid internship through the University of Reading’s UROP scheme. Ruth’s poster moreover was one of two singled out for inclusion in a BCUR (British Conference of Undergraduate Research) event — Posters in Parliament — which brings together undergraduate students from universities across the UK to exhibit their research in Westminster. For her research Ruth worked with Ure staff and archives, University archives and conducted oral history with Ure’s family. Some of her research has already been incorporated into Annie’s Box, an interactive museum outreach project funded by The Friends of the University of Reading. We are delighted that through Ruth’s work our museum’s co-founder Annie Ure will finally have her day in Parliament!

Meanwhile a report of Kutsi Atcicek’s internship has been published in the latest volume of Imperial College’s Imperial Engineer. Kutsi, now in his third year of a course in Materials Science with Nuclear Engineering at Imperial, came to Reading through a grant from RSMA (Royal School of Mines Association) to pursue his interest in ancient materials. Working with Professor Amy Smith & James Lloyd, one of our PhD students who has just completed his viva, Kutsi employed various analytical techniques to research the Ure’s collection of miniature votive vessels found at Sparta’s ‘Achilleion’.

This term’s research seminars in the Department of Classics

Unless otherwise specified, all seminars are from 4 pm on Wednesdays and take place in Edith Morley 175.

Light refreshments afterwards in G40.

All welcome!

 

(No seminar in weeks 1 and 2)

Oct. 16th – Prof. Eleanor Dickey, University of Reading: ‘Latin loanwords in Greek.’

Oct. 23rd – Prof. Sam Lieu, President of the International Union of Academies and Bye Fellow of Robinson College Cambridge: ‘The Battle of Aigospotamoi, 405 BCE – Historiography versus Topography.’

Oct. 29th – Dr Ben Gray, Birkbeck: ‘Ancient Greek citizenship beyond the assembly: from the Classical to the Hellenistic polis.’  (Please note: in addition to being on Tuesday, this seminar will start at the unusual time of 5 pm and will be in Edith Morley 125)

(No seminar in week 6)

Nov. 13th – Dr Emma Nicholson, University of Exeter: ‘Polybius on Rome and Macedonia: changing places on the Hellenic-barbarian scale.’

(No seminar on Nov. 20th because of Ure Lecture on Nov. 22nd)

Nov. 27th – Prof. Matthew Wright, University of Exeter: ‘How long did the lost plays of Greek tragedy survive?’

Dec. 4th – Dr Jennifer Cromwell, Manchester Metropolitan University: ‘The use of indigenous languages in conquest societies: the case of Coptic in early Islamic Egypt.’

(No seminar in week 11)

A new T&L blog post on teaching Ancient Sport

Sport was far from being mere entertainment in ancient Greece.  At the major Greek festivals – the Olympic Games among them – it was performed in honour of the gods, in sacred space and among religious ritual and ceremony.  It was a crucial way for city-states to demonstrate their excellence in a climate of controlled and sanctioned rivalry against the backdrop of near-constant warfare.  And the athlete’s body was at the heart of artistic, aesthetic, philosophical and scientific discourse.

A module on sport, therefore, takes students to the essence of ancient life on both the practical and the symbolic level.  Professor Barbara Goff, however, also used her module on this theme to create some innovative assessment types and to allow students to channel what they learned through a diverse range of activities and outputs.  Many of the students’ projects within the module now have a place within our outreach and widening participation activities.

Barbara has written a blog about the module on the University of Reading’s ‘T&L Exchange’, and you can find the piece here.

Athens Study Trip 2019

I could not have hoped for a more fulfilling way to round off my Classics degree at Reading than participating in a study trip to Greece – one could almost call it a Classics student’s ‘pilgrimage’. I first visited Athens over a decade ago when my interests in the ancient world were just beginning and I remember being awed by its incredible landscape and architecture. I was thrilled therefore to finally have the opportunity to return to the city and appreciate its sites from a more informed perspective, as well as experience other places that were completely new to me. The whole expedition was enhanced greatly by the company of an enthusiastic cohort of fellow students and the ever-illuminating insights of Professor Amy Smith and her assistant James Lloyd.

On disembarking at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport, we were immediately struck by the glorious Athenian sunshine, which continued to blaze down on us throughout our stay. We then boarded a characterful, vibrantly purple coach that conveyed us to the British School at Athens (BSA), with the local driver offering us his essential tips on Modern Greek along the way. Having unpacked, we soon set off on our first excursion: Lykavittos hill (closely situated to the BSA), from the summit of which we experienced the most spectacular views of the city and whetted our cultural appetites for all that lay ahead. We also worked up appetites of a more gastronomic nature from all the walking, winding up the day by sharing a meal together in true Greek fashion at a local restaurant, getting to know each other better and sampling a wide range of traditional dishes – many of which were savoured again later in the week!

Each day’s schedule was tightly packed with visits to ancient sites and museums, and I could not possibly do everything justice in a single blog post. Yet I shall at least mention a few of my personal highlights. Firstly, no trip to Athens would be complete without journeying up to the famed Acropolis. It was fantastic to explore not only the iconic buildings on its upper surface, but also both the north slope, featuring some important caves and sanctuaries, and the sites to the south: after writing my final-year dissertation on Sophocles, I could hardly leave without paying homage to the Theatre of Dionysos, and James Lloyd even treated us here to an impromptu performance of an ancient Greek song. Another of my favourite attractions was the Temple of Hephaistos, beautifully situated in the Agora and amazingly well preserved. Further sites visited were the Kerameikos, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Roman Forum and Hadrian’s Library.

Of the museums, I was especially excited to visit the Acropolis Museum which was still being built during my previous trip. It certainly did not fail to impress. Its transparent walls and ideal location enabled us to look directly across at the Acropolis itself while admiring the displays, and so more easily envision everything in authentic context. One of the museum archaeologists, Dr Fiorentina Frangopoulou, helped us to understand the importance of the museum to the modern Greeks. In addition to the splendid array of statues and artefacts, I was particularly charmed by the imaginative lego reconstruction of the Acropolis on the second floor! The National Archeological Museum was also full of fascinating objects, including the famous ‘Mask of Agamemnon’ discovered by Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae. Among my personal favourites were a Cycladic harper figurine lost in song, an ancient piggy bank and a vase depicting a musical goose! In addition, I enjoyed the smaller yet equally absorbing Cycladic and Numismatic Museums.

We were fortunate to spend one of our days in Corinth, which included the highlight of the whole trip for me: visiting Acrocorinth, an enormous rock towering above the ancient city, rivalling even the Athenian Acropolis in its magnitude. Although most of the ruins at the top date from later, medieval times, the views it offers of the surrounding mountains, farmland and sea are simply breathtaking, giving the modern traveller a sense of how Greece would have appeared to its ancient inhabitants. Beautiful wildflowers, bees, butterflies and birdsong added magic to the landscape. On descending, we received excellent tours both of ancient Corinth and of its museum, from Drs Christopher Pfaff and Ioulia Tzonou of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Dr Tzonou even gave us a hands-on experience of artefacts, including a stone foot dedicated to Asklepios, the god of healing, and some lead curse tablets, which thankfully cast no calamities upon our trip! While journeying back to Athens, we had the chance to stop off at the site of the Isthmian games and also spotted the historic islands of Salamis and Aegina from the coach.

In addition to scheduled group outings, we had some free time to spend on whatever stirred our own individual interests. I particularly appreciated the further stunning panoramas available from Philopappou Hill and the Areopagus (which I made sure to ascend via the steeper, ancient steps!), and it was also enjoyable just to wander round and take in the atmosphere of some of Athens’ more touristy areas such as Plaka, with its pretty winding streets and rows of shops. Above all, I loved being surrounded by Greek lettering wherever I went: I had great fun trying to decipher signs and inscriptions.

As a lover of the animal world, I could not conclude without mentioning the thirteen hoopoes I spotted during our stay (one of my favourite birds and very apt in terms of Greek mythology). We also fell in love with the numerous tortoises we found chilling out amid the ancient ruins, as well as the free-roaming dogs, cats and kittens which did their very best to distract us from our primary mission!

I cannot thank the Classics Department enough for giving me this wonderful opportunity at the end of my undergraduate journey, as well as the BSA for hosting us. I would certainly encourage other students to embark on future study trips (…though do be prepared to walk … a lot!).

Katherine Evans

Classics at UoR Doctoral Research Conference 2019

Classics was well represented yesterday at UoR’s annual Doctoral Research Conference, held on 19 June, in which Nathalie Choubineh (upper right) and Luca Ottonello (bottom left) competed. This annual event, open to all doctoral researchers and staff from across the University, showcases the diversity of doctoral research undertaken at the University of Reading. Nathalie, who has passed her viva, subject to minor corrections, in April of this year, presented her research poster on Kretike, an aspect of ancient Greek dance that featured in her PhD thesis, written under the supervision of Profs. Barbara Goff and Amy Smith. Luca, who is a part-time PhD candidate, competed in the research image competition, with his digital reconstruction of the Temple of Bel in the ancient city of Palmyra. Palmyra is a case study for his PhD thesis that he is writing under the supervision of Prof. Amy Smith and Dr. Ian Ewart (School of Construction Management and Engineering). As well as meeting new people who shared their interests, both of them found the conference a welcome opportunity to think about ways in which to communicate their research to broader audiences. The Classics Department is proud to now display Nathalie’s poster in its hallway in the Edith Morley building, while Luca’s photograph is displayed with some of his 3D prints of Palmyrene architecture in the Ure Museum.

Launch of a new modern Greek novel

(Posted on behalf of Dr Dimitra Tzanidaki-Kreps)

On Sunday 26 May in Greek Flocafe in Piccadilly Circus Dr Dimitra Tzanidaki-Kreps spearheaded the book launch of “In the madman’s mirror” by author Konstantinos Alsinos. The book is a well-written imaginative novel whose protagonist, a nameless young sailor, son of a Greek refugee, fresh from his latest journey, stops at the city’s local cafe and finds himself looking in a mirror opposite. There he will be approached by a partially cross-eyed madman who is holding a mirror in order not to look at himself but behind him at whoever follows him. It will be this fantastical encounter that will prompt three further equally surreal encounters with the Chronos, the Devil and the God, all personified by three old men who despite any external appearances they seem to be one and the same entity as if they are sides of one and the same coin. In a kind of a dancing kaleidoscopic philosophical meditation each of these encounters take place in varied topography ranging from a cathedral to a brothel, a railway station and an opera to the sea, a forest, a cave (with explicit reference to the platonic cave of shadows) and a whitewashed Greek chapel. Each of these encounters will bring the young man face to face with key questions regarding God, devil, man, soul, love, life, Eros, art, freedom. Even though the novel spans 281 pages, the actual narration time is just one day starting and ending at sunset. We are informed early on that the young man loves to look at the sunset and it is often at such times that these key existential questions tend to surface with the sea and his pen being his two sources of consolation. At the end of the novel the young man would be metamorphosed to a much wiser human being, a lot more in peace with himself transcending seeming contradictions, dichotomies and falsehoods to arrive at a more holistic organic sense of self and the cosmos in unison with the madman who in the first place became the catalyst for this transformative life journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photos: John Kolikis)

 

Reading Classicist interviewed by the Panoply team

Why is ancient pottery important?  What can it tell us?

What is it like to be a museum curator?

Who is the Painter of the Woolly Satyrs?

Find out the answers to these questions, and much more, by reading the interview with Professor Amy Smith, conducted by Sonya Nevin and Steve Simons of the Panoply Vase Animation project.

Panoply brings Greek vases to life by animating their figures and creating surrounding stories, informed by a deep knowledge of ancient mythology and life.  Some of their first animations were of vase-paintings from the Ure Museum’s own collection.  You can find out more about the project here.