Animals in the Classical world – New Book by Reading Doctoral Researcher

Congratulations to our doctoral researcher Alastair Harden on the publication of his book Animals in the Classical world: ethical perspectives from Greek and Roman texts.

Harden, AnimalsThe sourcebook is a collection of nearly 200 specially-translated excerpts from Classical authors from Homer to Plutarch. It  aims to contextualize modern animal rights debates within the civilizations of Greece and Rome, and to provide an introduction to the uses of animal imagery in Classical literature with the ultimate goal of understanding the place of the non-human animal in the moral and ethical parameters of the ancient world.

Topics such as warfare, science, farming, vegetarianism and public entertainment join the more traditionally-philosophical corners of this growing area of Classical studies, and passages are included from authors of all genres of Classical literature including poets, novelists and historians.

The book suggests that we can learn as much about ancient ethical parameters from a Homeric simile, a passage of Sophocles or a throwaway comment from Thucydides as we can from the nuanced language of philosophical discourse, if we look in the right places.

The book joins the Animal Ethic series published by Palgrave Macmillan (www.palgrave.com/philosophy/animal_ethics.asp) in conjunction with the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, which recently founded the new print Journal of Animal Ethics. The photograph on the cover was taken in the Ure Museum.

Dr Matthew Nicholls on BBC 4

Catharine Edwards and Matthew Nicholls. - Photo Brian J. Ritchie / Hotsauce.

Catharine Edwards and Matthew Nicholls. – Photo Brian J. Ritchie / Hotsauce.

Dr Matthew Nicholls has been involved in three TV projects this year, helping to bring Roman history to a wide audience. The most recent, a three-part series on Roman imperial women, will air from May 29th on BBC 4, presented by Catharine Edwards.

The series looks at the colourful careers of the women behind the throne in ancient Rome, and its subtitle, ‘Mothers, Murderers and Mistresses’, hints at some of the stories it will tell. Dr Nicholls was asked to contribute to the first episode on the Julio-Claudian women, which was filmed in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He was then asked back for episode 3 to talk about the turbulent lives and careers of the Severan women, all of whom were, confusingly, called Julia (Julia Maesa; Julia Avita Mamaea; Julia Domna, charismatic wife of the African emperor Septimius Severus; and Julia Soaemias Bassiana, mother of Elagabalus who, even by the high standards set by earlier emperors, was outstandingly depraved and incompetent).

Between them these women offer fascinating insights into the turbulent world of imperial dynastic politics, showing the very different ways in which imperial wives and mothers negotiated the impossible powerful-yet-powerless roles they inhabited, and how our (male) historical sources tended to portray them. Dr Nicholls also helped contribute to the maps for the documentary.

Earlier in the year Dr Nicholls also appeared in Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s documentary on the religious history of Rome, flying out for a day to film in an eerily emptied Capitoline Museum. He also used his digital reconstruction skills to create a series of reconstructions of Roman sites in Scotland for another BBC documentary, Rome’s Final Frontier. Along with colleagues in the Department of Classics he enjoys these opportunities to communicate his research work to public audiences, and is always glad to respond to enquiries.