Reading students launch new Classics-themed radio show

Undergraduate Penelope Faithfull describes how she and fellow-student George Upfield are using radio to bring the ancient world to a wider audience within the University.

Salvete (Or shall we say chairete?)!
Over the Christmas Holidays, I thought it would be fun to do a Classics themed radio show on the University’s radio station, Junction11. The show, called Viva!, aims to help promote Classics (hence the title) – and to prove that, although the inhabitants of the ancient world are no longer around, they’re still just as fun and fascinating! Whilst trying to cater for a wide range of song and musical tastes, a diverse range of features and topics each week are included with a Classics theme. Special features include: songs with a Classics reference, recent Classics related news items for discussion and also a Classics ‘word of the week’ spot. I am really trying to encourage audience participation by discussing topics or questions from listeners. I would very much like to have a guest spot for lecturers to come on the show to talk about their research, to describe how they were introduced to Classics, to choose a song, and there may also be a surprise question for them each week…! So if any lecturers would be happy to come on the show, then please get in touch through the email below.
If anyone has any questions they want answered, or would like to hear more about the show, please don’t hesitate to get in contact at
Welcome to ‘Viva!’ hosted by Penelope Faithfull and co-host George Upfield. Tune in on Thursdays between 10-11 am on Junction11 to hear more; the link for the show is here:
We hope you enjoy listening!
Penelope Faithfull.

Latin mottos and a pioneering astrophysicist

When I ventured up to the observatory at Mt. Stromlo, a veritable jewel in the crown of the Australian National University (where I’m currently a Visiting Researcher) little did I expect to find anything written about the University of Reading in the visitor’s display. The walnut desk of Pioneer Director of the Solar Observatory, Walter Geoffrey Duffield, however, encouraged closer inspection, especially as it reminded me of our mock-up of the desk of Professor Percy Ure, our Pioneer Professor of Classics at University of Reading, in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology. And amazingly, Professor Duffield was tempted to Canberra to take up that directorial role from none other than University College, Reading, as it was then called, where he had served from 1913-1923 as Professor of Physics. After the observatory tour, as I climbed higher up the mountain, I discovered the great man’s grave, where he is buried also with Doris, his wife, and Joan, his daughter, who survived ’til the ripe old age of 104, just a few years ago. The simple wooden cross, with its Latin inscription, Per ardua ad astra, ‘Through struggle to the stars’, however, clearly refers to him and his work. After all, he & his family are the only modern persons buried on that mountain: unlike his daughter he died at an early age, in 1929.

Later that evening, while seated in St. John’s (Anglican) Church, Reid, just around the corner from the Australian War Memorial, my eyes began to wander & set themselves upon a distinctive plaque also with a Latin motto. And amazingly it commemorates the same W.G. Duffield, yet with a different and yet more appropriate Latin motto, Arduus ad solem. I say ‘more appropriate’ because he was in fact a solar scientist and a solar observatory director, thus spent his short life ’striving towards the sun’. I discussed it with Canon Paul Black, now Rector of that church, who had indeed buried Joan Duffield on the mountain a few years back, although the plaque was placed in the church long before his time, in 1954.

A small amount of research later, however, it became clear to me how and why these mottoes were chosen to honour Duffield. Per ardua ad astra is the motto of the Royal and Commonwealth Air Forces, thus a reflection of his time in service in the Air Force. Arduus ad solem is the motto of none other than Victoria University of Manchester, formerly Owens College and now part of the University of Manchester, where Duffield earned his PhD. The sun is emblazoned on that University’s shield and Duffield certainly took its message into his heart.

Professor Amy C. Smith

Professor Amy Smith gives prestigious Trendall Lecture

C.W Götzloff, Antiquities by a Balcony Overlooking the Gulf of Naples, 1826

This term Professor Amy C. Smith is one of 18 international scholars (and 3 Classicists) selected as to be a Visiting Research Fellow at the Humanities Research Centre of the Australian National University (ANU), in that nation’s capital, Canberra.This week, however, she has been invited to Melbourne to deliver the prestigious Trendall Lecture, at the A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Latrobe University. She will deliver her lecture, entitled ‘1766 and All That! Winckelmann and the Study of Greek Vases’, in the State Library of Victoria at 6:30 pm on Thursday, 16 November.

The Trendall Centre is named for Professor A.D. (Dale) Trendall (1909-1995), around whose library, archives & collections it is built. A classical historian and archaeologist, with particular expertise in the Greek art of South Italy, Prof. Trendall amassed perhaps the finest library of Classical Archaeology in the Southern hemisphere. After a long and distinguished career as Professor of Greek and Chair of Archaeology at University of Sydney, then Master of University House at ANU, in 1960 he retired to Latrobe University (in Melbourne), where he worked as Resident Fellow for many years, continuing his groundbreaking work on the attribution of tens of thousands of vases made by Greeks in South Italy, and maintaining warm working relationships with international scholars including Annie Ure, Curator of Classics@Reading’s Ure Collection until her death in 1976. Professor Smith is the Ure Museum’s current Curator.

The Trendall Lecture is one of two annual lectures honouring and named for this influential scholar. The second, sponsored by the Australian Academy of the Humanities, of which Trendall was a Foundation Fellow, is delivered in conjunction with the conference of the Australasian Society of Classical Studies.

Reading Ancient Schoolroom 2017

Photo: Alex Wickenden

This year’s edition of the Reading Ancient Schoolroom ran for two weeks and welcomed several hundred schoolchildren to campus. Led by a team of specially-trained volunteers, some of them Reading students and others coming from as far away as Edinburgh to participate, the children experienced first hand what life was like in a Roman school. This year there was a focus on Roman mathematics (pictured above: maths teacher Dom O’Reilly with children from Dolphin School), but children also practiced reading from papyri, writing on ostraca and tablets, using quill pens, memorizing poetry, and studying Latin and Greek the way ancient children would have studied them. They also had the opportunity to sample Roman food made by our magnificent Roman cook, Reading undergraduate Charlotte Edwards, and special object handling sessions in the Ure Museum. For more information (and lots more pictures) see Schoolroom director Professor Eleanor Dickey was interviewed about the event on UKEd chat; you can listen to the interview at

Prof. Pollmann appointed Distinguished Visiting Fellow of Green College

Professor Karla Pollmann (Classics), Head of the School of Humanities has been appointed as Distinguished Visiting Fellow of Green College, University of British Columbia, Canada, in recognition of her outstanding record of intellectual accomplishments. Green College ( is a prestigious interdisciplinary Graduate College that fosters the principle of “ideas and friendship”.

Professor Pollmann has been linked for the last two decades to this College where she taught interdisciplinary master classes on Augustine’s Confessions and on Ancient and Modern Cultural Theories, and did research in fields as diverse as ancient and early Christian epic, patristics in the Americas, and innovative possibilities to design an interdisciplinary graduate programme. During her appointment as Distinguished Visiting Fellow she hopes to pursue this latter idea in more concrete detail, in order to give an innovative profile to the potential of the Humanities at the University of Reading.

Classics Research Seminars – Summer Term 2017

We are delighted to announce our research seminar programme for Summer Term 2017:

May 10: Double event on Greco-Roman Egypt:

  • Prof. Patricia Rosenmeyer (Wisconsin), ‘Coded Inscriptions on the Memnon Colossus in Egyptian Thebes’
  • Dr. Kyriakos Savvopoulos  (Oxford), ‘From Isis Lochias to St. Mark the Evangelist: Archaeological evidence from the submerged area of Akra Lochias (Great Harbour) in Alexandria’

May 17: Prof. Karen Bassi (UCSC), ‘Domesticating Death: Living in the House of Hades’

Both events will start at 4pm and take place in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology (Edith Morley Building [formerly HumSS] G38).

In addition to that, we will host our annual MA and PhD colloquia this term.

All welcome!

New Book: The Baptized Muse

Karla Pollmann, The Baptized Muse (Oxford University Press, 2017)

ISBN 978-0-19-872648-7

This book focuses on early Christian poets, mainly from the 4th to the 6th centuries and writing in Latin, whose works have so far been too often dismissed as epigonal. The book chooses a fresh approach by highlighting the intertextual and exegetical means by which early Christian poets achieved a culturally competitive and highly influential standard in writing poetry directed specifically at an educated (would-be) Christian audience for their edification and education. This book will not only fill a considerable gap in our knowledge of the history of European literature, mentality and thought, but will also enable a better understanding of later literary artefacts in this tradition, from Beowulf to Milton’s Paradise Lost. Thus, in a general sense, this book contributes to the recently emerged interdisciplinary interest in looking at aspects of religion as cultural phenomena, and at the interrelationship of theology and literature.

With the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire increasing numbers of educated people converted to this new belief. As Christianity did not have its own educational institutions the issue of how to harmonize pagan education and Christian convictions became increasingly pressing. Especially classical poetry, the staple diet of pagan education, was considered to be morally corrupting (because of its deceitful mythological content) and damaging for the salvation of the soul (because of the false gods it advocated). But Christianity recoiled from an unqualified anti-intellectual attitude, while at the same time the experiment of creating an idiosyncratic form of genuinely Christian poetry failed (the sole exception being the poet Commodianus). This book argues that, instead, Christian poets made creative use of the classical literary tradition, and – in addition to blending it with Judaeo-Christian biblical exegesis – exploited poetry’s special ability of enhancing communicative effectiveness and impact through aesthetic means in order to disseminate the Christian faith. The book seeks to explore these strategies through a close analysis of a wide range of Christian, and for comparison partly also pagan, writers mainly from the fourth to sixth centuries. The book reveals that early Christianity was not a hermetically sealed uniform body, but displays a rich spectrum of possibilities in dealing with the past and a willingness to engage with and adapt the surrounding culture(s), thereby developing diverse and changing responses to historical challenges. By demonstrating throughout that authority is a key in understanding the long denigrated and misunderstood early Christian poets, this book reaches the ground-breaking conclusion that early Christian poetry is an art form that gains its justification by adding cultural authority to Christianity.

KARLA POLLMANN is currently Professor of Classics and Head of the School of Humanities at the University of Reading. She has also been appointed as Adjunct Professor of Theology at the University of Århus, Denmark, and Professor Extraordinary of Classics at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She is internationally recognized for her monographs on late antique poetry, on Augustine’s hermeneutics, and a commentary, with introduction and text, on Statius, Thebaid 12. She was Principal Investigator of a major international and interdisciplinary project on the reception of Augustine through the ages, generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust, whose main result is the three-volume Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine (OUP 2013). She is currently Co-Investigator of an Innovative Training Network sponsored by the EU, entitled “The History of Human Freedom and Dignity in Western Civilization” ( She is an internationally renowned speaker and her engagements include the deliveries of the 11th Augustine Lectures in Malta in 2007 under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Malta, the 4th Fliedner Lectures on Science and Faith in Madrid in 2013, and the 4th Dutch Annual Lecture in Patristics, at the Dutch Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 2014.

Prof. Pollmann re-appointed Extraordinary Professor at Stellenbosch

Prof. Karla Pollmann

Karla Pollmann, Head of the School of Humanities and Professor of Classics, has been re-appointed as Extraordinary Professor at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

This appointment gives recognition of Professor Pollmann’s proven specialized expertise in Classics and Early Christian Studies, and her eminence in her profession and field of study.

It also implies Professor Pollmann to be involved in the academic programmes of the Stellenbosch Department of Ancient Studies.

Many congratulations!

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.

Reading Classicist publishes a book in Dutch


Professor Eleanor Dickey’s book ‘Stories of Daily Life in the Roman World’ has been published — in Dutch! This book focusses on a subset of the ancient Latin-learning materials she published in ‘Learning Latin the Ancient Way’, the ancient dialogues about daily life in Rome, and provides translations and introductions for people who are interested not in learning Latin, but in Roman culture. It is illustrated with dozens of drawings of objects referred to in the texts; these were enormously fun to produce and gave real focus to all her trips to museums and ancient sites over a period of several years.

Although very fond of the Dutch language, she actually wrote the book in English, and it will be published in English by Cambridge University Press, eventually. (Probably 2018 or so, given the speed at which Cambridge works: the final version of the book was handed in in April 2016 and has been in a queue ever since.) But meanwhile an enterprising Dutch Classicist, Vincent Hunink, got in touch and asked about opportunities to do a book on the dialogues for a Dutch audience. So she sent him a draft of the book, and he translated the dialogues themselves from the original Latin and Greek, while Arian Verheij, a Dutch translator, translated the portions originally composed in English. Eleanor believes that the result looks absolutely splendid in electronic form, though she has not yet seen an actual copy of the book.

For more information see