Reading’s Latin Inscriptions: New Book by Prof. Peter Kruschwitz

We are delighted to announce the publication of a new book by Prof. Peter Kruschwitz with Reading’s very own Two Rivers Press:

WotWThe book contains an anthology of 48 Latin inscriptions that are on display in Berkshire’s county town of Reading (as well as an extra four that have disappeared some time ago!) – covering some 1,800 years of Latin in use as a language of authority, of the church, of business, of learning, and – of course – as a language to honour the dead.

The book, showcasing the very finest examples of a body of some 200 inscribed Latin texts altogether from the Reading area, is the result of several years of fieldwork (about which Prof. Kruschwitz has occasionally blogged on his blog ‘The Petrified Muse’) – and if you wish to follow his walking routes, there is even a handy map that shows you the location of the various pieces that are covered in the book on Google Maps!

The book, beautifully designed and illustrated, is available from the publisher, Inpress Books, Waterstones, and – soon –  Amazon.

For anyone in and around Reading: Prof. Kruschwitz will be signing copies of his book at Reading’s branch of Waterstones next Saturday (12 September, 3-4pm) as part of Reading’s activities during the 2015 Heritage Open Days (further information can be found here).

Materialising Poetry

A one day workshop to be held on Tuesday 8th September 2015 at the Department of Classics, University of Reading

Organisers: Prof. Peter Kruschwitz  and Dr Rachel Mairs

Outline

Recent years have seen increasing levels of interest in the material dimension(s) of poetry. Just as there appears to be defining spatial and societal contexts for poems, whose study is essential for a thorough appreciation of a poem’s meaning(s), its materiality is increasingly understood as a defining, perhaps even vital, feature of verbal art. The investigation of textual materiality (or, in fact, materialities) thus becomes an important step towards a more adequate and complex understanding of poetic artifice.

From the sounds and images that begin to take shape in a writer’s head to the impact that poetry has on the human brain, from the choice of writing material and the deliberate, careful design of a poem’s layout to the multidimensional sensual stimulus that comes with an encounter of poetry: during its life-cycle, poetry undergoes multiple material transformations. In fact, it seems as though each and every material transformation, often occurring in conjunction with a change of ‘ownership’, has its own, often significant impact on the nature of the artefact itself.

This international and interdisciplinary workshop will, in an informal and communicative setting, explore the materialities of poetry as well as the poets’ playful and intellectual interactions with this dimension. While the main focus will lie on the verbal artistry of the ancient Mediterranean (broadly conceived), specialist contributions will also elucidate creative processes, craftsmanship, and the cognitive science that underpin the ways in which poetry materialises.

Participants will include –

Discussions will start at 10.00 am and finish by 4.15 pm, and lunch will be provided. The workshop will take place in room G25 of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HumSS) Building [click here for a campus map].

Booking

There is no booking fee, but as space is limited, and in order to help the organisers arrange catering, it would be helpful if those intending to come could contact Prof. Peter Kruschwitz at p.kruschwitz [at] reading.ac.uk by 1 September at the very latest.

Funding Success: Prof. Kruschwitz Obtains Prestigious British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship

We are delighted to announce that Professor Peter Kruschwitz was successful in his application for a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship for the duration of the academic year 2014-5.

Prof. Kruschwitz will spend his fellowship on a project ‘Poetry of the People. Poetry for the People’, designed to develop a more holistic approach to Roman poetry and song culture, using the body of Roman verse inscriptions, commonly known as the Carmina Latina Epigraphica, as its paradigm.

Based on analyses of the intellectual and social contexts of the Carmina Latina Epigraphica, using both internal and external evidence, this project will establish, assess, and interpret the formal aesthetics and communicative processes of Roman subliterary poetry, which in turn will be contextualised in Greco-Roman literary history as well as the history of ideas.

Updates on progress and discoveries will be posted on Prof. Kruschwitz’s Reading Latin – Latin Reading blog in the near future.

Classics Department’s ‘Night at the Oscars’

Addressing assembled staff and students at the Undergraduate Research Showcase event on Wednesday 20th November, the Vice-Chancellor likened the event to the Oscars ceremony … and, well, to continue the metaphor, Classics came away holding a golden statuette!

Josh Kerr and Emma Aston toasting his poster on the Thessalian cavalry in ancient warfare.

Josh Kerr and Emma Aston toasting his poster on the Thessalian cavalry in ancient warfare.

At the event, every student who undertook a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Placement) in 2013 presented a poster on his/her research.  Posters were grouped by category, and in the group labelled ‘The Past’, antiquity was strongly represented in the form of Classics Department students Abi cousins, Josh Kerr and Will Burks.  Between them, their three projects covered a wide and fascinating range of ancient life and culture, showcasing the flexibility of the discipline.  Will’s project involved collaboration with University Teaching Fellow Dr Matthew Nicholls on the ongoing development of the latter’s digital reconstruction of ancient Rome.  Josh’s poster presented one aspect of his joint research with Dr Emma Aston on the role of the famous Thessalian horse in ancient society, and reflected his particular interest in military history and ambition to continue on to postgraduate study.  Abi Cousins had, with Professor Peter Kruschwitz, produced a ground-breaking study of speech-impediments in ancient culture, a neglected aspect of the ancient world with far-reaching implications for our understanding of language and communication.  What all three had in common was the process of painstaking reconstruction: reconstruction of lost buildings, reconstruction of beliefs and of ways of life now imbued with that hair-raising mixture of strangeness and familiarity which makes the ancient world so unceasingly fascinating to all who work on it.

Abi Cousins with her two pieces of shiny stationery

Abi Cousins with her two pieces of shiny stationery

For those of us who managed to tear ourselves away from ‘The Past’ (and it’s never easy), the other categories of research on display also provided interesting viewing, ranging from environmental science to cognitive processes in primary-school children.  Deciding which projects should be judged best in their categories can’t have been easy, and the hard work of all participants was recognised in the presentation of certificates and VC handshakes.  But when it came to the presentation of the awards, it was hard not to wait with baited breath.  And Classics gained an amazing double prize: Abi Cousins received not only the award for the best project in her category, but also the prize for best project overall.

Actually, there was no statuette … but she did receive golden envelopes (a classic HE equivalent, and very appropriate to these straitened times).  Not to mention, to use Homer’s phrase, a hefty dose of κλέος ἄφθιτον (‘undying glory’)!

Emma Aston

Hope and Despair in Roman Britain

The Yorkshire Museum in York houses a most impressive collection of Roman inscriptions from York and the immediate vicinity. On occasion of a trip to Yorkshire in August 2013, I was finally able to see for myself a particularly noteworthy item of their collection, an item that has fascinated me for quite some time: the tombstone of a girl named Corellia Optata.

Inscription of Corellia Optata

Inscription for Corellia Optata

The stone, arguably dating to the second half of the first century A. D., more plausibly somewhat later in date, is heavily damaged. At the top, a sculpture is lost altogether (as is a letter ‘D’ on the left-hand side, which would have corresponded with the letter ‘M’ on the right). In its present state, the lower part of a (presumably female) figure’s legs survives, standing in the middle, resting on the frame that contains the actual inscription.

The Latin text, full of abbreviations, ligatures, and spelling oddities, reads as follows:

[D(is)] M(anibus).
Corellia Optata an(norum) XIII.
Secreti Manes, qui regna
Acherusia Ditis incoli-
tis, quos parua petunt post
            5
lumina uite exiguus cinis
et simulacrum, corpo<r>is um-
bra: insontis gnate geni-
tor spe captus iniqua
supremum hunc nate
                        10
miserandus defleo finem.
Q(uintus)
Core(llius) Fortis pat(er) f(aciendum) c(urauit).

(Carmina Latina Epigraphica 395)

 In translation:

To the divine Manes.
Corellia Optata, aged 13.
You reclusive Manes, who inhabit the Acherusian realm of Hades, whom the little pile of ashes and the spirit do seek after but a short span of life, the body’s shade: I, the begetter of an innocent daughter, trapped by wrongful hope, wretched, wail this, my daughter’s ultimate destiny.
Quintus Corellius Fortis, the father, had this made.

The central part of this inscription (lines 2–11 in the Latin) forms a poem comprising five dactylic hexametres:

Secreti Manes, qui regna Acherusia Ditis
incolitis, quos parua petunt post lumina uite
exiguus cinis et simulacrum, corpo<r>is umbra:
insontis gnate genitor spe captus iniqua
supremum hunc nate
miserandus defleo finem.            5

Inscribed poems, very common in other parts of the Roman world, appear to have been exceptionally rare in Roman Britain: a mere two dozen or so have survived to the present day. In that respect, a poem of five perfectly preserved lines is rather spectacular.

The poem, dedicated to the secreti Manes, those reclusive, hard-to-grasp spirits of the Roman underworld, seems topical at first: a girl dies young, and a parent expresses his grief, complaining about the injustice of the premature death. Yet this father, Q. Corellius Fortis, at least superficially familiar with the literary classics of his day and age, went beyond that: and the way in which he did this is precisely what makes this poem so remarkable.

Corellius was a brave man, certainly by name: Fortis is not only the father’s name, but also a Latin adjective denoting the quality of ‘brave’. Perhaps he earned this nickname in a military career? He and the (altogether nameless, absent) mother of the child clearly desired a child, for they gave the daughter the name Optata, ‘Desired’, ‘Hoped-For’.

The brave man was fooled, however, a soldier trapped (captus) by spes iniqua, a hope that brought undeserved disappointment: the verbal allusion of spes (‘hope’) to the name of the daughter, Optata, could hardly be more obvious. A similarly inspired word play can be seen in the placement of the word finis (‘destiny’, more literally: ‘end’) at what is indeed the very end of the poem.

Corellius may have been fortis, but he was not ashamed to express his sorrow, his lament, and, in fact, his bitter disappointment, and to record it for eternity. Following the expressive alliteration parua petunt post – the ‘spitting’ Ps barely conceal the author’s contempt –, Corellius stresses the daughter’s innocence, using the loaded term insons. This not only implies the absence of guilt, but also utter harmlessness. This increases the contrast between the innocent victim of premature death – the daughter – and those who now, undeservedly, get to enjoy the presence of Optata’s physical and immaterial remains: the Manes in their reclusive abode, the dark realm of Hades.

Yet, the poem also leaves little doubt over who is the real victim: Corellius Fortis, the genitor (‘begetter’), a wretch (miserandus) first trapped by deceitful hope, then robbed by the untimely demise.

Funerary inscriptions, whether prose or poetry, deal with commonplaces, necessitated by the events and the need to offer consolation for those left behind, and many a time they resort to truisms, banalities, and ideology. Corellius Fortis was forced to face the same fate as many parents in the ancient world, the loss of his child at a relatively early age. His poetic attempt to come to terms with this stands out not only because of the (relative) rarity of inscribed poems in the environment of Roman Britain: it stands out because of the amount of skill and thought that have gone into this highly individual, personal, and touching little poem, expressing hope, despair, and grief with a gripping immediacy.

Peter Kruschwitz

The (Corrupting) Appeal of Latin

Prof. Peter Kruschwitz is a Latin scholar. One of his current projects covers the Latin inscriptions of Reading.

Reading’s Phoenix College, situated on Christchurch Road, recently put up a new sign at their entrance which drew my attention to their Latin motto:

Motto of Phoenix College, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Motto of Phoenix College, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Ad astra per aspira.

At first, it seemed to me as though this was a mere mistake, a corruption of the well-known Latin motto Per aspera ad astra, ‘through hardship to the stars’ (or its alternative version per ardua ad astra, as used by the Royal Air Force).

RAF headstone, Reading Old Cemetery. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

RAF headstone, Reading Old Cemetery. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Some further investigation into this rather curious motto, however, took me to the college’s webpages, where one finds the following statement:

“Ad Astra Per Aspira” in Latin means to aspire for the stars. Our school endeavours to help students reach up to their potential.

In other words, the college has adopted (and created?) the motto on purpose.

Now, there cannot be much dispute over the question as to whether or not the motto is in correct Latin: it is not. It is also rather obvious how this mistake will have occurred: the Latin for ‘hardship’ (lit. ‘hard things’), aspera, in its English pronunciation sounds just about close enough to aspira – so why not go all the way and change the spelling altogether, to produce the aspirational (if ungrammatical) claim?

Why then, one must ask, use a Latin motto, if one is not actually competent in that language? The answer is simple: Latin in a modern setting is a prestige language: ‘to aspire for the stars’ is a perfectly good motto, but stating the same thing in Latin lends the motto a whiff of dated venerability that can only come from a language that the majority of readers do not really understand. Moreover, it puts the school on par with other local schools that have Latin motti, such as the nearby Abbey School:

Motto of the Abbey School, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

In aedificationem corporis Christi.

‘For the edifying of the body of Christ.’

Phoenix College, however, is not the only place that displays a faulty Latin inscription in Reading. There are at least two more examples, both rather prominent. First, the statue of Lord Rufus Isaacs at Eldon Square. It displays the honorand’s coat of arms on its pedestal:

Statue of Sir Rufus Isaacs, Eldon Square, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

The motto scroll reads as follows:

Motto of Sir Rufus Isaacs. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Motto of Sir Rufus Isaacs. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Aut nunquam tentes aut persicei.

This meaningless text is a corruption of the Latin motto aut nunquam tentes aut perfice (‘either do not attempt at all, or complete it to perfection’), and one can be reasonably certain that the sculptor, when the statue was produced some eighty years ago, misread the phrase perfice! in an early 20th century handwriting and replaced the f with an s and the exclamation mark with an –i.

Secondly, equally venerable, there is a beautiful stained glass window in the Lady Chapel of Reading Minster of St Mary the Virgin. The arms on display here are those of the Yates family, who is also otherwise represented in this church. The motto reads:

Arms of the Yates Family, Reading Minster. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Arms of the Yates Family, Reading Minster. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Per rege et patria.

This is an obvious corruption of the Latin for ‘For King and Country’, which should of course read pro rege et patria.

It may not be much of a consolation to any of the concerned, but mistakes in Latin inscriptions have a long tradition: the hundreds of thousands inscriptions that survive from Roman antiquity, written at a time when Latin was still in active, everyday use, are in fact full of mistakes, many of which deserving of the famous treatment that Brian receives from the centurion in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. One may smirk at the fact that even the Romans could not get their own language right in writing. But these ‘mistakes’ now help scholars of the Latin language to develop a rather better understanding of variation and change in Latin, trends that eventually led to the emergence of Romance languages.

It is always easy and tempting to mock those who make mistakes. But in actual fact, even the mistakes – such as that in the motto of Phoenix College – may be indicative of something, and in this particular case, of the desire to express something beautiful.

Peter Kruschwitz

Per ardua ad astra (Through hard work to the stars, that is…)

 

Prof. Peter Kruschwitz receives Gold Star Award from Kara Swift, RUSU VP Academic Affairs.

Prof. Peter Kruschwitz receives Gold Star Award from Kara Swift, RUSU VP Academic Affairs.

I was thrilled to win the coveted Gold Star Award 2012-3 – an award made by Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU), based on student nominations of lecturers that have made a significant difference to their studies at Reading. With only one such award per year per Faculty, this was a rather overwhelming experience, and I could not be more pleased that my work appears to have made a difference. Most of all, however, I was ever so delighted to learn what my students had highlighted in their comments: the strong academic culture of the Classics Department, and the support we all are always ready give to each and every individual student.

This gives me the opportunity briefly to reflect on one of my most recent administrative pleasures:

A couple of months ago, the department underwent Periodic Review. Periodic Review is a compulsory, regular quality assurance exercise for all departments at the University of Reading, and the remit of the panel is to endorse the continuation of all taught programmes in the department, provided that they were to be found of sufficient merit and quality. Moreover, the members of the panel, consisting of external subject specialists as well as colleagues from the University of Reading outside our subject area, are asked to identify both good practice and areas for improvement in our provision.

To be honest, Periodic Review is not everyone’s most favourite exercise, considering the amount of documentation and preparation that is required. The Department of Classics, however, took its usual constructive view: we talk about the development and improvement of our taught provision all the time anyway, so why not use this as an opportunity to reflect on this central part of our role somewhat more generally?

We have now received the panel’s report, and I am delighted to say that the report was nothing but glowing.

We were found to be an engaging, welcoming, and friendly community, where both staff and students convey an impression of enthusiasm, dedication, and pride in the department. The panel felt that our mechanisms for maintenance and enhancement of Teaching and Learning were exemplary, and they commend us on our collegiate academic community, in which the development of our students is seen as a cherished goal, based on our engagement in high quality research.

The panel was particularly impressed with our research culture, which includes staff-student collaborative research projects and student attendance at research seminars. This is also reflected in our strong culture of exploration and innovation in teaching, for example in our second- and third-year modules that allow our students to design their own research projects, that encourage enquiry-based learning, and allow for inclusive teaching and learning through a diverse, yet challenging range of assessments.

Finally, the panel noted a high level of student engagement in gathering feedback to enhance the quality of the Department’s academic provision, achieved through informal channels, such as a strong open-door culture and regular non-teaching contact between staff and students (if only these truly delightful aspects of our jobs could be reflected in the government-imposed datasets…), and through our more formal Staff-Student Liaison Committee.

Can we improve further? Yes, we can – and yes, we will. Based on the feedback of our review panel, our students’ constructive criticisms through all channels, formal and informal, we are currently looking into areas where we all feel we could do even better, and I hope we will be able to give an update on progress in these areas soon.

Peter Kruschwitz

Gordon Lecture on 21 February 2013

The Department of Classics is delighted to issue an invitation to a special lecture and celebration at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, on Thursday 21st February 2013, beginning 4:30 pm. We have established this lecture in celebration of the generous bequest to the Ure Museum of a collection of 75 Carthaginian artefacts and a Roman lamp, in memory of Prof. J.E. Gordon. We are delighted to present Prof. Peter Kruschwitz, Head of the Department of Classics, who will deliver a brief lecture on ‘A Reading lamp’.

Prof. James Edward Gordon (1913–1998), a pioneering materials scientist and biomechanical engineer, served as Professor of Materials Engineering at the University of Reading. His long held interest in the ancient world led to interdisciplinary collaborations, especially with the late Dr John Landels, and their establishment of a joint degree in Classics and Engineering. While that degree is no longer available, Prof. Gordon is well remembered on the campus, not least in the excellent Gordon Theatre, and now with this lecture, which we hope will be continued in the future.

Prof. Gordon’s Carthaginian artefacts were catalogued by University of Reading students, Charley Chamberlain and Alice Honey, in 2011, and conserved and packaged by museum interns, Amy Brown (Canada) and Monica Spaziani (Italy) in 2012. While this remarkable collection forms part of the Ure Museum’s (stored) teaching collection, we will have it on display temporarily for this event. Prof. Gordon’s lamp, studied in 2012 by Hannah Fisher (Christie’s Institute of Education), while a museum intern, is also on temporary display in the Ure Museum, thanks to the efforts of Cara Sheldrake (University of Exeter), herself a former Reading undergraduate. These and the museum’s other displays will be visitable before and throughout the event, so that visitors may view them at their leisure.

The event will commence with drinks from 4:30pm. We would be extremely grateful if visitors could indicate their intention to attend to Guja Bandini at ure@reading.ac.uk or 0118 378 6990 at their earliest convenience.

Reading Classicists elected Fellows of the Royal Historical Society

Dr Annalisa Marzano and Prof. Peter Kruschwitz were elected Fellows of the Royal Historical Society in December 2011.

The Royal Historical Society is ‘the foremost body for those engaged professionally in the study of the past,’ as the Society’s website states. Those elected to the rank of Fellow must have made ‘an original contribution to historical scholarship in the form of significant published work’.

For further information see the wepages of the Royal Historical Society.