Interaction in Imperial Greek Literature Workshop

This September, the University of Reading hosted a workshop, which showcased postgraduate research on the theme of interaction in imperial Greek literature. The workshop resulted from informal discussions at the Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature (AMPAL) 2015, where over two intensive days of presentations, only a single panel of three speakers was dedicated to imperial Greek literature. Identifying a desire to bring those working in this field together, Claire Jackson (Cambridge) and I came up with the idea for a one-day workshop. One advantage of this was that we were able to include researchers working on many different authors and texts in a single programme. While many of us regularly meet others working on our own author/s, we are usually less aware of postgraduates who work on other imperial texts. It was great to meet others who do so, hear their contributions, and make connections between authors, texts, and wider themes. Interest in the workshop was widespread, and the good turnout of Reading students, both undergraduates and postgraduates, was particularly heartening. Over three sessions, we were treated to papers on Plutarch, Lucian, Aelius Aristides, the novels, pseudo-Appian, and a wide variety of other literary sources, like papyri and inscriptions.


The first session explored intertextuality in two imperial Greek authors. Chrysanthos Chrysanthou’s (Heidelberg) paper suggested a possible allusion, hitherto unnoticed, in the prologue of Plutarch’s Demosthenes to Plato’s Theaetetus. This allusion to Plato’s dialogue, in which the life of the philosopher is juxtaposed with the life of the orator, is well placed at the very beginning of these Plutarchan Lives, since they deal precisely with men who oscillate between philosophy and oratory. The reference may guide readers, actively encouraging them to consider the philosophical value of studying rhetoric. Another author very well-acquainted with rhetoric and its implications, Aelius Aristides, was the subject of the next paper. Francesca Modini (King’s College London) examined his oration To the Rhodians. In it, the author/speaker compares himself in his mission of persuading the Rhodians to restore civil concord to the archaic lyric poet Terpander, who famously resolved a civil war in Sparta with his music. Francesca demonstrated, however, that the allusions go beyond the surface level of explicit references like this. She pointed out that it is a whole series of often subtle allusions to earlier authors (of both poetry and prose) and mythical or historical events that enrich the reader’s experience.


In the second session, two Nicks (Nick Wilshere and Nicolò d’Alconzo) shed light on different aspects of works by Lucian. Nick Wilshere (Nottingham)gave a close reading of Lucian’s short piece, Hercules, in which the Greek narrator, travelling in Celtic lands, encounters a painting of Herakles or ‘Ogmios’, which he has difficulty interpreting. A local Celtic ‘philosopher’ comes to his assistance, and the two men compete to display their cultural education (paideia) by quoting Homer. Nick analysed the delicate interplay between the two; how each character uses the particular lines he quotes, embedding them in a new context. Nicolò (Exeter) journeyed from Lucian to the Greek novels, pointing out that various features of Lucian’s dialogue, the Amores, have counterparts in the novels. For example, both the Amores and Xenophon of Ephesus include similar voyages from east to west. Other elements common to each include the appearance of temple attendants as characters, settings in ‘Platonic’ gardens (like in the Phaedrus), and the device of describing or interpreting art.


The two papers of the final session each dealt in different ways with the literary tradition, its reception, and those who utilised it for their own ends. Chris Mallan (Oxford) dealt with Pseudo-Appian’s Parthica, a text previously neglected by scholars, dismissed as a product of the Byzantine period. Yet references to a projected Parthica in Appian’s own work, and similarities between this text and Plutarch’s Antony suggest, Chris argued, that the author of the Parthica was more probably familiar with Appian’s work, and wrote in the second century A.D. This author may have appropriated Appian’s name for legitimacy, which raises questions regarding literary imitation and imposture at the time. Dan Jolowicz’s (Cambridge) paper challenged the widespread assumption that Greeks in the imperial period were not interested in reading – or enjoying – Latin literature. He drew attention to some Greek inscriptions that seem to refer to Greek poets composing in Latin, papyri with texts (like Virgil) designed for Greeks wishing to learn Latin, and references in the literature to Greeks reading Latin works.


Our own colleague Ian Rutherford gave the very entertaining keynote address, which examined interaction between Greece and Egypt. In particular, he focussed on a passage from Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana, in which Apollonius and some followers visit the cataracts at the source of the Nile. Noting that it is impossible not only to take but even to imagine the road to the source itself, Philostratus evokes a poem by Pindar on the subject of the divinity who guards the Nile. Ian’s talk prompted much discussion on Philostratus’ account of the visit to Egypt, the reference to Pindar, and Greek perceptions of Egypt and Ethiopia.

Following the keynote address, a group discussion brought together some of the themes that emerged throughout the day. Topics that arose included the status of earlier literature in the imperial period and the effect of imperial allusions to it (i.e. Which earlier Greek texts were widely read? How familiar would an audience be with works referenced implicitly or explicitly in imperial texts?), the long-standing relationship between philosophy and rhetoric, and levels of difficulty and/or nuance in texts (which could potentially separate educated from uneducated or Greek from non-Greek). Questions relating to performance and identity, and the expression of shared identity were also explored.

Personally, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the workshop was being able to engage with so many different texts, many of which I had encountered only cursorily or not at all. The range of authors, works, and genres represented at the workshop demonstrates just how rich the field of imperial Greek literature is. It is clear that there is still much to consider in this very fruitful area. I hope that future events like this will continue to provide opportunities to disseminate such invaluable research.

The organisers gratefully acknowledge the generosity and support of the Graduate School and the Classics department at the University of Reading, the Jowett Copyright Trust, and the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, without which this workshop would not have been possible.

In order to reach other researchers working in imperial Greek literature, share ideas, and advertise upcoming events, participants decided that a network should be created. This network, SIGIL (Studies in Greek Imperial Literature) is aimed at postgraduates and early-career researchers, but anyone interested in the field is most welcome to join.


Twitter: SigilReading


Photos courtesy of Joe Watson.

Clytemnestra in your living room? Greek Tragedy on the Small Screen

It’s not often that the ancient Greek adulteress and murderer graces the cover of the Radio Times – still less often does she wear a costume that combines Minoan art with Doctor Who.   But Diana Rigg’s 1979 performance as Clytemnestra was just one of dozens of extraordinary TV events enjoyed by audiences in Britain between 1958 and 1990.  During these years, British TV channels regularly screened productions of Greek tragedy, beaming the ancient stories of war, revenge, and heroism directly into the home.  In spring term 2017 we have the unique opportunity to watch three films of Greek tragedy that were first shown on the small screen.


Our films are carefully chosen to pursue the theme of the Trojan War and its aftermath, which is also the theme this year of our Part 2 core module in ‘Ancient Drama’.  We follow the story from the sacrifice of A1gamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia, which permits him to lead the Greeks to victory in the war, through the return of Agamemnon to face his vengeful wife, and finally into the next, doomed generation, where another daughter, Electra, waits to take her revenge in turn.  We have managed to obtain the coveted ‘F’ rating for all these films, since they all have central female roles, and one was also directed by a woman.


Our first screening is Iphigenia at Aulis, the 1990 production directed by Don Taylor.  This was Taylor’s last drama for the BBC and also, apparently, the last Greek tragedy shown on British television. Taylor’s translations of the Iphigenia at Aulis and other plays by Euripides continue to be popular.  The film was shot by multiple cameras in continuous action, in a studio rather than on location, so there were challenges for the actors and for the technical crew.  The performance by Fiona Shaw as Clytemnestra, the mother who must see her daughter die, was much acclaimed; one critic said that ‘You do not often get a performance of this size on TV’.


Our second play is Agamemnon, the first play of the 1979 trilogy The Serpent Son, a translation of Aeschylus’s Oresteia.  Diana Rigg stars as Clytemnestra, but in this play the queen does not suffer loss – instead she turns the tables on her husband.  Agamemnon returns to Greece as the victorious general, having destroyed the city of Troy, but he must now pay the price for the sacrifice of his daughter.  Clytemnestra has waited at home a long time.  The stellar cast of the trilogy included Helen Mirren, Anton Lesser, Claire Bloom, and Billie Whitelaw, and the production also sparked interest because of its striking design and costumes, which channelled ancient myths through a sci-fi sensibility – the designer, Barbara Kidd, had worked on Doctor Who.  The production used the resources of TV in other innovative ways, too, as we shall see.


Our final film, Electra, was first shown on ITV in 1962, in Modern Greek without subtitles.  The film is of the production by Dimitris Rondiris and Peiraïkon Theatron, which had toured much of the world since its premiere in 1959.  The stage production was adapted for television by Joan Kemp-Welch, one of the first women directors to work in television in the 1950s.  She thought that the film would be a hit on TV, despite the language barrier, because it was a production that seized the emotions, rather than appealing only to the intellect.  Rondiris himself said that ‘The audience will cry, as our audiences all over Europe have cried. They have not understood a word, but they have cried’.

Come and join us for this unique series.  All the films are shown in the Minghella Cinema at 7 pm.  You can buy tickets for all three at a special reduced price.


Wednesday January 25th: Iphigenia at Aulis

Wednesday February 1st: Agamemnon

Wednesday February 8th: Electra


Tickets start at £5.  Reduced rates for concessions, RFT members, and for the series as a whole.  Please see  or contact


Thanks to our colleagues at Reading Film Theatre, the Department of Film, Theatre and Television, and the University Arts Committee 2 3

Revolutions and Classics

Revolutions and Classics, hosted by The Classical Reception Studies Network and the Legacy of Greek Political Thought Network with the support of the UCL Department of Greek and Latin and the Department of Classics at the University of Reading, was held at UCL on the 22nd of July 2016. Inspired by recent trends in classical reception research, particularly on the political significances of antiquity for subsequent cultures and societies, this one day workshop explored the manner in which classical texts and artefacts are deployed in modern societies undergoing radical change. The event brought together seven speakers from a range of academic disciplines, including Classics, French, and History, which resulted in resulted in a fruitful variety of theoretical and interdisciplinary perspectives. Participants included a healthy mix of established international scholars in Classical reception and postgraduate students from the US and UK. Papers analysed various revolutions from 17th century to the present day in various geographical contexts, including England, France, Mexico, and Greece. A portion of the day was also devoted to discussion of teaching across classical reception, classics, and politics. Two sessions, one featuring early-career researchers, and the second more seasoned scholars, featured five further papers addressing a range of important teaching issues, from incorporating classical reception within a wider context of liberal arts pedagogy to covering sensitive subjects in today’s classroom.


This one day-event thus combined important discussions of pedagogical matters with a timely research interest in the intersection between Classics and politics. One participant wrote the following of the experience: ‘I was there to hear most of the papers, and was impressed by their quality, variety, and overall coherence.  I learned a good deal, in the course of the day, about classical aspects of the English, American, French and Mexican Revolutions, as well as about a 20th-century revolutionary movement. The talks on teaching provided a good moving picture of experiments with the curriculum.’ Another participant commended the ‘intellectual and friendly atmosphere’ that the workshop had created. Some participants live tweeted the event, which can be seen at

The legacy of ancient Greek politics, from Antigone to Xenophon (OUP Blog)

“This piece first appeared on the OUPblog April 14th 2016”.

What do the pamphlets of the English Civil War, imperial theorists of the eighteenth century, Nazi schoolteachers, and a left-wing American artist have in common? Correct! They all see themselves as in dialogue with classical antiquity, drawing on the political thought of ancient Greek writers. Nor are they alone in this; the idea that Western thought is a series of “footnotes to Plato,” as Alfred Whitehead suggested in 1929, is a memorable formulation of the extensive role of ancient Greece within modernity. Further reflection, however, will show that the West does not have an unbroken connection with ancient Greece, as knowledge of both language and culture declined in the medieval period – even the great Renaissance scholars sometimes struggled to master their ancient Greek grammar and syntax. Once the West does recover a relationship to ancient Greece, is its own role confined to writing “footnotes” under the transcendent authority of Plato? Perhaps we can reconstruct more varied forms of intellectual engagement.

One thing to remember is that the political thought of ancient Greek was not itself monolithic. The democratic experiment of classical Athens, the idealistic militarism of Sparta, the innovative imperialism of Alexander – such plurality of political forms gave rise to a wealth of commentary that ranged across the ideological spectrum. Moreover, texts that are not only political but have other identities too, like Athenian history or tragedy, also involve sustained reflection on the organisation of society and the workings of power. So the political writings of ancient Greece are not confined to Plato, or to Plato and Aristotle, and they offer a range of political positions.

Conversely, Western thought does not simply accept the authority of Greek texts, despite the huge cultural clout that the classical world undoubtedly wielded during much of European history. Instead, we can see later writers using the classical past as a partner in dialogue, to be variously embraced, rejected, modified, and sometimes transformed out of all recognition. For instance, recent research has shown how Xenophon has been understood as forerunner of Romantic exploration, American militarism, and Nazi ideology. From the opposite perspective, an appeal to the classical past has often shaped and altered the discourses of modernity, calling its basic assumptions into question. The study of this complex kind of engagement is currently undertaken by scholars in classical reception and The Legacy of Greek Political Thought Network enables classicists, historians, and political theorists to learn from each other how the classical past has been debated, interrogated, and contested in post-classical political writings.

The Network is interested particularly in studying the political work of ancient Greek writers other than Plato and Aristotle, and we also want to move away from debates about democracy to investigate how ancient writers have been deployed to pursue many other arguments. Topics studied recently range from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, taking in republicanism, colonialism, pedagogy, Aesop and Antigone. Pamphlets from the English Civil War include reflections on Sparta as ideal democracy, which challenge our current understanding of Spartan politics and imperial theorists of both Britain and France focus on Athens as paradigm of imperial power and decline, with considerably less interest in the city’s democratic identity. German pedagogues in the 1930s drew on Xenophon for characterisations of political leadership that they applied to the autocratic politics and culture developing in their own society, while Aesop provided a way of figuring radical politics for Hugo Gellert, an artist in 1930s New York. New readings of Antigone, via political philosophy as well as drama, enable further consideration of the relations between classical reception and political thought. The current political context presents challenges both relatively familiar and wholly surprising, but we can expect a dialogue with antiquity to continue.



Revolutions and Classics workshop

‘Revolutions and Classics’, a one-day workshop at University College London, Friday July 22nd 2016.

Researchers in classical reception are increasingly intrigued by the political significances of antiquity for subsequent cultures and societies the field has been energised by the recent publication of Classics and Communism (2013) and Greek and Roman Classics in the British Struggle for Social Reform (2015).

’Revolutions and Classics’ examines the manner in which classical texts and artefacts have been deployed in societies undergoing rapid and radical social change. This one-day workshop aims to foster interdisciplinary discussion of intersections between classics and revolutions; substantial time will also be given to discussion of teaching across classical reception, classics, and politics.

The workshop is hosted by The Classical Reception Studies Network and the Legacy of Greek Political Thought Network, with the support of the Department of Greek and Latin at UCL, and the Department of Classics at the University of Reading. In line with the aims of the Classical Receptions Studies Network, the day is designed to be especially useful for doctoral researchers and early career academics.

Confirmed speakers include Rosa Andújar (UCL), Carol Atack (Warwick), Emma Cole (Bristol), Nicholas Cole (Oxford), Susan Deacy (Roehampton), Benjamin Gray (Edinburgh), Adam Lecznar (Bristol), Jo Paul (Open University), Sanja Petrovic and Rosa Mucignat (Kings College London), and Luke Richardson (University College London).

There is no charge to attend, but registration is required; Interested participants should register via Eventbrite:

Should you have any questions, please contact the organisers: Barbara Goff, University of Reading ( and Rosa Andújar, UCL (

The organisers are very grateful to the A. G. Leventis Fund at UCL for their generous support, as well as the UCL Institute for Advanced Studies and CUCD.

IAS leventis foundation

Learning Latin the Ancient Way – Reading research in the Guardian

Learning Latin the Ancient Way, Reading Classics professor Eleanor Dickey’s latest book published this week by Cambridge University Press, has been reviewed in the Guardian. The review can be seen at The book explores how Greek-speaking students in the Roman empire learned Latin, using the fragments of their Latin textbooks preserved on papyri from Egypt and in medieval manuscripts. In some ways these ancient Latin learners had an experience strikingly similar to that of modern students: they used grammars, dictionaries, and commentaries; they read Cicero’s Catilinarian orations and Virgil’s Aeneid; they memorized vocabulary; they looked up the hard words and wrote translations into their Latin texts.

Prof. Dickey's most recent book: Learning Latin the Ancient Way (Cambridge, 2016)

Prof. Dickey’s most recent book: Learning Latin the Ancient Way (Cambridge, 2016)

But in other ways the ancient Latin learners had a very different experience from that of their modern counterparts. Some of these differences come from the fact that ancient learners came to Latin knowing ancient Greek rather than English. So they struggled to learn the Roman alphabet, but they had no problems with the distinction between nominative and accusative cases. Other differences come from ancient educational conventions: ancient beginners started off with bilingual texts, easy Latin accompanied by a running translation. Of course the students could not translate the Latin for themselves as a modern learner might do, since a translation was provided; instead they memorized the Latin, rather the way a student studying French today might memorize a dialogue about ordering croissants in a café in Paris.

Indeed the texts read by ancient beginners have much more in common with material read by modern French learners than with that read by modern Latin learners. Ancient students studied short dialogues and narratives about daily life: buying clothes, buying food, having lunch, borrowing money, and visiting sick friends. Of course, ancient daily life was not quite like modern daily life, so the dialogues also cover going to the public baths, winning court cases, making excuses, getting into fights, taking oaths in temples, and coming home drunk after a Roman orgy. Just like their modern counterparts, these dialogues were written to teach students about culture as well as language; therefore they offer us priceless insight into life in the Roman empire as Romans saw it.

Learning Latin the Ancient Way provides extracts from all types of ancient Latin-learning texts: bilingual dialogues, alphabets, grammars, dictionaries, annotated copies of Sallust, word-lists to Virgil, prose composition exercises, Aesop’s fables, stories about the Trojan war, letters of congratulation for sending to successful legacy hunters, an explanation of the Roman law on manumission, etc. Portions originally written in Greek have normally been translated into English, but the Latin remains in Latin; this means that modern students can experience and use these texts as their ancient counterparts would have done (or ignore the English and treat the passages like any other translation exercise). A few passages lack word division and punctuation, to make it clear what reading was really like in antiquity.

Professor Dickey hopes that her book will be used by modern Latin teachers and students (it is suitable for learners who have already done at least one year of Latin) and that it will enable modern learners to enjoy the ancient Latin-learning materials, which are now able to be used once more for their original purpose.

Copies can be purchased from Cambridge University Press (to whom Professor Dickey is very grateful for pricing the book at an affordable £18, a sharp contrast to most of her previous books):

Classics Summer Schools

By Rachael Hopley, Finalist, BA Classics

Being a classics student you are really spoilt for choice when it comes to summer schools. There are opportunities to brush up on your ancient language skills through the various JACT summer schools (Bryanston, Durham and Wells) or others such as at University of Swansea, Kings College London, University College Cork, or if you just fancy a bit of Homer, the Homer summer school at University College London. If you would like to immerse yourself in the classical world, JACT offers a Classical Civilisation and Ancient History summer school at Repton or you could apply to attend the undergraduate summer schools at the British School at either Athens or Rome, spending 2-3 weeks abroad in the hands of experts. I had the privilege of attending the JACT Greek summer school at Bryanston and, thanks to the Department’s Wardman bursary, the British School at Rome undergraduate summer school in the summer of 2015.

Bryanston, as the Greek summer school has become known, is an intense course. There were three hours of lessons a day (and as much work in between!), an afternoon seminar, evening lecture and opportunities to participate in plays and music as well as excursions on days off. It may not seem like a jolly way to spend the holidays but the small class sizes and frequent grammar tests worked wonders for my ancient Greek. Also, I was able to appreciate far more elements of the language, with some of my favourite seminars and lectures being David Raeburn’s readings (in translation and then in Greek) and Philomen Probert’s lecture on the debate of Greek pronunciation. Every year they also put on a production of a comedy (in translation) and tragedy (in Greek). A little shy, I was able to take a non-speaking role in the tragedy, which was a roaring success. As it was in Greek, you got a feel for how musical the performance of ancient plays would have been, with the chorus chanting to the beat of a drum. Bryanston’s comedies are always experimental and you can see how someone can play with ancient productions to pitch them to a modern audience (and see a few cameos played by renowned lecturers, which is always fun).

The British School at Rome undergraduate summer school was an immeasurably enjoyable and rewarding experience. Every day we explored a new theme (leisure and entertainment, death and burial, etc) through the sites and museums of Rome. We had the incredible guides of Robert Coates-Stephens, the Cary fellow at the school, and Ed Bispham, lecturer in Ancient History at Brasenose College, Oxford. In addition, the British School was able to obtain privileged access into sites normally not accessible to the general public. Highlights for me include going inside the Mausoleum of Augustus and into the substructure and top floors of the Colosseum. Having been focused strongly on just literature during my degree, I was able to better understand the use of archaeology in the study of ancient history while still using texts to bring sites to life.

These experiences were invaluable and I am extremely grateful to the Classics Department for the generous Wardman bursary which allowed me to go to the British School at Rome.

Reading Ancient Schoolroom

The Reading Ancient Schoolroom welcomed more than 100 participants to campus on 27th and 28th January. Groups from Farnborough Hill School, Leweston School, St Gabriels School, and Langley Academy, as well as numerous families and individuals, learned how to act like Roman children. Participants also read Homer from papyrus scrolls, wrote with styluses on wax-coated tablets, learned how to do mathematical calculations on an abacus and Roman counting board, wrote with reed pens and ink on ostraca, studied Latin from a textbook used by ancient Greek speakers to learn Latin, learned the Greek alphabet the way a Roman would have learned it, and recited poetry from memory. There were also opportunities to handle objects in the Ure Museum.

Participants ranged in age from 4 to 18, and all reported having a great time. Volunteers, who included numerous first-year undergraduates as well as graduate students and staff, also had terrific fun; this is good as no-one is paid for work on the schoolroom. So we are EXTREMELY grateful to all our hard-working volunteers!

More detail on the event, and more photographs, can be seen at 15

Reading Ancient Schoolroom returns on 27th and 28th January

Our wildly popular ‘Experiencing Ancient Education’ event, run last year as part of the Being Human festival, returns this year as a stand-alone event on 27th and 28th January. Staff and students are busy trimming pens and studying poetry in preparation for welcoming several hundred local and not-so-local participants to this historically accurate re-enactment of an ancient classroom. Participants will immerse themselves in antiquity, not only dressing as Romans and using papyri, wax tablets, and ostraca to write on, but also acting like Roman children and doing the type of exercises that they would have done. There are still a few places; if you would like to come, contact

For more information, see


Schoolroom in action 3