Classics

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‘Lucretius and the Jesuits’ – a seminar by Yasmin Haskell (Bristol)

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‘The Poems of Catullus from Manuscript to Print, and Back’ – a seminar by Daniel Kiss (Barcelona)

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‘Advanced Imaging Techniques for Exploring Ancient Text-Objects and their Life Histories’ – a seminar by Kathryn Piquette (Reading)

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‘Classics and Classification’ – a seminar by Charlotte Roueche (KCL).

The Seventh Annual Percy Ure Lecture will take place on Friday 17th of November, 5pm, in the Henley Business School (G15).

Our distinguished speaker this year is Professor Charlotte Roueché of King’s College London, who will speak on the topic of ‘Classics and Classification’.

The Annual Ure lecture, established in 2011 on occasion of our department’s centenary celebrations, is one of the annual highlights in the life of our department, bringing together academics, students, alumni, and friends of Classics at Reading.

We would be delighted to welcome you on this occasion.

If you intend to come, please confirm this to me at p.kruschwitz@reading.ac.uk, so we can keep an eye on numbers: attendance is free and open to all, but space is limited.

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‘Studying Egyptian Graffiti’ – a seminar by Hana Navratilova (Reading)

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‘Landscapes of Sound and Ancient Greek Vase-Painting’ – a seminar by Dimitrios Yatromanolakis (Johns Hopkins)

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‘Baptism By Blood: Early Christian martyrdom and the Problem of Unbaptism – A Reappraisal’ – a seminar by Mark Laynesmith (Reading)

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By Dr Matthew Nicholls, Department of Classics, University of Reading

A heated conversation arose on social media on Wednesday surrounding the question of the racial diversity of Roman Britain, or the Roman empire more generally.

The tweet from Alt Right commentator Paul Jospeh Watson, that kicked off the debate

There is plenty of evidence that the Roman empire was relatively diverse, as might be expected from an empire that encouraged trade and mobility across a territory that extended from Hadrian’s Wall to north Africa, the Rhine, and the Euphrates (and which, less positively, enslaved and moved conquered populations around by force).

Rome itself was a melting pot of people from all over the Mediterranean and beyond (satirical poets moan about it, and we have the evidence of tombstones). Outside Italy the Roman army in particular acted as medium for change and movement in several ways.

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Can we mend broken hearts?

Professor Peter Kruschwitz is Professor of Classics Mending broken heartsat Reading and a specialist in Latin Language and Literature.

The fence around the University of Reading’s Humanities and Social Science (HumSS) Building is currently decorated with images and captions illustrating Reading’s desire to be ‘asking big questions.’ One of the captions, attributed to Dr Sam Boateng from the School of Biological Sciences, asks: ‘Can we mend broken hearts?’

The caption, a playful curtsy to Reading’s leadership in cardiovascular research, reminded me of a passage attributed to the Latin poet Lygdamus, a love-poet of the first century B. C., who wrote in his Elegies 2.1-6:

Qui primus caram iuueni carumque puellae
eripuit iuuenem, ferreus ille fuit.
durus et ille fuit, qui tantum ferre dolorem,
uiuere et erepta coniuge qui potuit.
non ego firmus in hoc, non haec patientia nostro
ingenio: frangit fortia corda dolor.

‘He who first robbed a young man of his love, and a girl of her beloved, that person was made of iron. Hard, too, was he who could bear such pain, and who could live, with the partner snatched away. I am not strong in that respect, nor is there such endurance in my mind: pain makes brave hearts break.’

The image of heartbrokenness – ancient, yet familiar – begins to intrigue: how can a heart be broken, how can it get broken? Is it just the lack of resilience to emotional strain, one’s weakness, as Lygdamus suggests?

A possible answer can be found in even earlier Latin literature, in an author of the third and second centuries B. C. As far as one can tell from the fragmentary transmission of Latin literature, it may in fact have been the comic playwright Titus Maccius Plautus, who first employed it in his comedy Cistellaria (‘Casket Comedy’). In this play, Plautus has a lovesick young man called Alcesimarchus say (Cistellaria 221–2):

‘maritumis moribus mecum experitur: ita meum frangit amantem animum.’

‘He handles me the way the (stormy) sea would do: thus he breaks my lovesick heart.’

Plautus exploits the imagery of a ship exposed to the heavy sea, battered by the waves, lacking direction, and ultimately crushed to pieces by the forces of nature to describe the battles, external and internal, that Alcesimarchus has to face in his quest for fulfilled love.

From here it is only a small step to the image’s predominant use outside the realm of Latin poetry: here, animum frangere is frequently used particularly as an image denoting the ‘crushing of someone’s spirit’ (rather than heart itself – the Latin term covers both facets).

Yet, in Latin writing it does not always have to be debilitating trauma that may result in the proverbial ‘broken heart’. Quintilian, Rome’s first professor of Latin, when discussing the best way in which to design the epilogue to a courtroom speech, suggests in his Institutio Oratoria (11.3.170):

‘si misericordia commouendos, flexum uocis et flebilem suauitatem, qua praecipue franguntur animi quaeque est maxime naturalis: nam etiam orbos uiduasque uideas in ipsis funeribus canoro quodam modo proclamantis.’

‘If they (sc. the judges) are to be moved by pity, (sc. employ) an inflexion of the voice and a whiney sweetness, by which hearts are broken first and foremost, yet which is most natural: for you see parents bereft of their children, and you see widows, at the very funerals, lamenting in that peculiar song-like voice.’

Even this very small selection of Latin usages of the image of the broken heart does show: pain, worries, sorrow (and ultimately: death) are deeply connected to it – and the idea of suffering and even of death due to a broken heart (figuratively, not literally speaking) is not alien to the medical profession.

What is interesting to a linguistic scholar, of course, is how a verbal image that started its life as a poetic metaphor can be appropriated by the language of science – a language that often (albeit incorrectly) is deemed objective and descriptive.

The image of the broken heart that Dr Boateng uses in his big question is by no means an exception in that respect. Instead, it even adds another facet to it: the allusion to the image does not restore a literal facet of the phrase ‘broken heart’ that did not exist in its figurative use – hearts, unless subject to substantial physical force, do not literally break into pieces, like a clay vessel if dropped. Instead, it combines the pre-existing image with that of a broken piece of machinery (an engine, perhaps), thus expanding the metaphoric use rather than restricting it.

Dr Boateng asks a big question: ‘Can we mend broken hearts?’ – and I very much hope he can (or that he will be able to do that one day in the very near future). An even bigger question than this could be: ‘Should we mend broken hearts?’ One must not be cynical when it comes to deeply unsettling matters; yet, the answer to this question, whether for the scientific or the poetic use of the phrase, will have to remain a philosophical one.

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Professor Peter Kruschwitz, from the Department of Classics at the University of Reading, is a Latin scholar with a long-established specialism in Latin inscriptions. One of his current projects aims to collect, edit, translate, and explain the Latin inscriptions, ancient, mediaeval, and modern, from Reading. The Latin term monumentum, from which the English ‘monument’ is derived, is related to the verb monere, ‘to remind’. Monuments are thus tangible, visible manifestations of human memory. Often monuments are inscribed, to aid the memory of those who want to remember, and that of future generations, as to why a certain monument was erected – be it specific to a person, an event, or gnomic, i. e. in the form of some general wisdom. Monuments and inscriptions form a unit that cannot be dissolved, and it is the conjunction of the two that makes for a particularly powerful tool. But what if the language of the inscription cannot be understood by (most or at least some) of the public that it addresses? What happens if neglect allows the monument itself to decay? One could argue that in those cases memory will fade with the monument itself, and neglect will turn into ignorance. The Latin inscriptions from Reading, whether ancient, mediaeval, or modern, provide numerous telling examples for this view. Times are a-changin’Inscription on HSBC building

Vis unita fortior.

Meaning:

“A force united is stronger.”

Why exactly is this on display in Reading’s Broad Street? Older residents of Reading may remember that the building was not always that of HSBC, but was once the location of the Midland Bank. This bank was acquired by HSBC in 1992, and it was rebranded in 1999. The crest, with its freemasonic elements, and the Latin motto was that of the Midland Bank, originally founded in 1836.

It is beautifully ironic in a way that the Latin inscription and the crest alone survive, with a Latin motto that in hindsight seems to suggest that, even for banks, only joining forces is hope for survival.

Voices muffled and vanishing

After just twenty years, it has become difficult to understand the relationship between the Midland Bank motto and its current location. It may also be difficult or in fact impossible for many passers-by to grasp the meaning of the text, even though Latin mottos are, in fact, still frequent in Britain.

Inscription for Edward Dalby

But what if the inscription is closer to 300 years old, substantially longer, yet exclusively written in Latin, and it is not even on display in a prominent spot? The answer should be obvious, and it is depressingly easy to illustrate the point with an example. The following stone now lies in the graveyard of Saint Laurence, just north of the church building. This is the monument of Edward Dalby, once upon a time the Recorder of Reading. It reads thus:

 

Spe resurgendi

Hic prope depositi sunt cineres Edwardi Dalby,

ar(miger) qui obiit 30 Martii, Anno D(omi)ni 1672,

aetatis 56.

Et Franciscae uxoris ejus, filiae superstitis et her(e)dis

Caroli Holloway, ar(miger), servientis ad legem:

Haec obiit 17 Augusti, anno D(omi)ni 1717,

aetatis 90.

Et Elizabethae, filiae eorundem, quae obiit

8 Februarii, anno D(omi)ni 1686, aetatis 23.

“In the hope of resurrection, here are deposited the ashes of Edward Dalby, armiger, who died 30th of March, A.D. 1672, aged 56. Also of Frances, his wife, surviving daughter and heir of Charles Holloway, serjeant-at-law: she died on 17th of August, A.D. 1717, aged 90. Also of Elizabeth, their daughter, who died on 8th of February, A.D. 1686, aged 23.”

The stone, embellished with a significant coat of arms at its top, now exposed to weather, filth, and vegetation, records the life of one of Reading’s foremost dignitaries at the time as well as those of his family: Edward Dalby of the Inner Temple. Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, described him as a man ‘of eminent loyalty and as wise a man as I have known of his rank’. He married Frances, daughter of Charles Holloway, also a lawyer. Dalby became Recorder (or High Steward) of Reading in 1669, replacing Daniel Blagrave, who had to flee the country for his involvement in regicide (as one of the signatories of King Charles I’s death warrant). Their daughter died young. Their son John, not mentioned in this text, continued the legacy of the Dalby family after his father’s death. Only a small street, Dalby Close in Hurst, Wokingham, still preserves the family’s name today.

A small step towards regaining collective memory?

There are well over 100 Latin inscriptions, from ancient to modern, in Reading – some of them well-known to everyone (like the one on the pedestal of the statue of Queen Victoria on Blagrave Street), others rather more cryptic and hidden away. Many of them have fascinating stories to tell, and they all add to the jigsaw puzzle that is the history of Reading. For the Latinist, they are also invaluable documents to understand the spread, role, and legacy of Latin in modern times. It is high time to collect these texts and to make them available to the public, in translation and with appropriate amounts of documentation, so that fading memory, in conjunction with a language barrier, will not soon turn into complete and utter oblivion.

http://www.reading.ac.uk/classics

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