A Reading student on the island of Chios

(By Naomi Miller, third-year undergraduate in the Department of Classics)

Those who live on the island of Chios will tell you that is the island where Homer was born, lived, and composed the legendary epics. Whilst this in itself may be highly debated among the Classical field, it is easy to be blown away by the landscape – sitting in the hills, overlooking the Aegean Sea, you can easily feel the magic and inspiration that could have inspired such great works.

I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time in Chios over the Summer and had plenty of opportunities to see the island for myself. If you get the opportunity to visit it, there are several sites to visit (for both the Homer and non-Homer fans!):

The south of Chios is the only area of the world in which mastic is produced. Surrounded by the fields that farm these trees are many picturesque medieval villages. Pyrgi is one of them, known famously as the painted village. Almost every house in the village is covered in carved with geometric designs, and it is a beautiful place to enjoy a cold coffee and spend an afternoon wandering around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another site worth visiting is perhaps the largest archaeological site in Chios, part of it believed to be a Mycenaean settlement. Interestingly, the Temple of Athena is argued by some academics to be similar to that of a temple described in Iliad, perhaps further adding to the idea that Homer actually lived on Chios and was inspired by what he saw there. Certainly, the views from the top of the settlement could inspire any poet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, the site of Daskalopetra, otherwise known as Teacher’s Rock, the rumoured site where Homer sat and composed the Iliad and Odyssey. Although it is now believed to be a temple dedicated to Cybele, it is definitely still a cult site for those who adore the works of Homer. Over the years it has played host to many readings of the epic poems, and dramas in Ancient Greek still are performed in the summer. And if this isn’t enough to interest you, then the Homer Taverna next to the site does wonderful mezze dishes!

I feel very privileged to have had the chance to explore Chios, meet the incredibly hospitable people, and bask in the Homeric world. Whilst I was there I not only was able to further my own learning and understanding for my own research and dissertation, but also learn a great deal about what Homer means to the modern Chians, and experience Greek xenia for myself.

 

(All photos by the author.)

Reading Classics doctoral student takes part in the Casa della Regina Carolina Excavation Project at Pompeii

(Written by Jessie Feito, PhD student in the Department of Classics, UoR)

In June of 2019, I was fortunate to participate in the Casa della Regina Carolina Excavation Project at Pompeii, a joint enterprise between Cornell University and the University of Reading. The project aims to combine the results obtained from modern technological techniques and excavation practices with data from much earlier excavations in order to investigate domestic material culture and historical change.

Modern excavations of the elite residence, now referred to as the Casa della Regina Carolina (VIII.3.14), began with a small team in the summer of 2018, and were greatly expanded in 2019. The 2019 season focused on trenches in the garden area, and, rather than excavation, I was primarily involved in the archaeobotany.

Archaeobotany refers the study of plant remains preserved in the archaeological record, often by processes including carbonisatioin, mineralisation, or, more commonly in wetter environs, waterlogging. In studying plant remains, archaeobotanists are able to shed light on many aspects of ancient life, including (but not limited to) diet, agricultural practices, past environments and environmental change.

In order to obtain seeds, or ‘macroremains,’ archaeobotanists employ a technique called flotation. During flotation, a soil sample is submerged in water and gently agitated. This allows the plant remains, which are less dense, to float to the surface, while the heavier material such as rocks and pottery, sink to the bottom. The floating material- or ‘light fraction’- is skimmed off the topped and dried, so that it can later be examined under a microscope. The heavier material is often sorted on site.

The samples from the 2019 season have the potential to provide insight into the landscape of the ancient garden, as well as into any activities that may have taken place in such a setting. Previous archaeobotanical work in gardens at Pompeii have yielded carbonised plant remains that have been interpreted as representing the burning of plants as ritual offerings and sacrifices (see Robinson 2002). It will be interesting to see what the results of the archaeobotanical analysis are able to say about the landscape of the garden of the Casa della Regina Carolina, as well as about the uses of the space and how these compare with other garden contexts.

The following photos give a sense of the meticulous procedures involved in archaeobotanical work; they were all taken by Danielle Vander Horst, MA student at Cornell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flotation: the flots (plant remains that floated) may be seen hanging in the background.

 

Flotation in progress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorting the ‘heavy fraction’ (the material that sank)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flotation equipment in its natural setting, a Pompeii street!

A report from the International Congress of Egyptologists 2019

(Written by research associate of Reading Classics, Dr Hana Navratilova.)

The International Congress of Egyptologists 2019 took place in Cairo, where it returned after nearly 20 years. It is a regular occurrence of every four years. This time the meetings took place in one of Cairo’s historic hotels, the Mena House, a place of wartime meetings of the Allied leaders in the 1940s – and with a direct view of the pyramids. However, the programme was both attentive to historical roots, reflected in the conference venue surroundings, and very outward- and forward looking, and as it encompassed several hundred papers of scholars from all over the world, concerned with all historical periods of Egypt between early dynastic to late Antiquity and a rich variety of methodologies. Graeco-Roman Egypt was also represented, as was history of Egyptology and Oriental Studies. One might have wished for even more interdisciplinary papers showcasing the character of modern studies of ancient Egypt, but, truth be said, a full week of intense papers could not have been much extended.

As one of the session chairs, I had the opportunity to appreciate the diversity and depth of ongoing research projects. The afternoon text and languages session on Monday, 4th of November offered a rich outline of ongoing work in Egyptological philology, linguistics, text editing and text materiality. The trends included diversity of approaches, methodological openness and contextualisation. We also discussed the teaching of Greek and Latin versus teaching of ancient Egyptian!

 

 

 

 

This term’s research seminars in the Department of Classics

Unless otherwise specified, all seminars are from 4 pm on Wednesdays and take place in Edith Morley 175.

Light refreshments afterwards in G40.

All welcome!

 

(No seminar in weeks 1 and 2)

Oct. 16th – Prof. Eleanor Dickey, University of Reading: ‘Latin loanwords in Greek.’

Oct. 23rd – Prof. Sam Lieu, President of the International Union of Academies and Bye Fellow of Robinson College Cambridge: ‘The Battle of Aigospotamoi, 405 BCE – Historiography versus Topography.’

Oct. 29th – Dr Ben Gray, Birkbeck: ‘Ancient Greek citizenship beyond the assembly: from the Classical to the Hellenistic polis.’  (Please note: in addition to being on Tuesday, this seminar will start at the unusual time of 5 pm and will be in Edith Morley 125)

(No seminar in week 6)

Nov. 13th – Dr Emma Nicholson, University of Exeter: ‘Polybius on Rome and Macedonia: changing places on the Hellenic-barbarian scale.’

(No seminar on Nov. 20th because of Ure Lecture on Nov. 22nd)

Nov. 27th – Prof. Matthew Wright, University of Exeter: ‘How long did the lost plays of Greek tragedy survive?’

Dec. 4th – Dr Jennifer Cromwell, Manchester Metropolitan University: ‘The use of indigenous languages in conquest societies: the case of Coptic in early Islamic Egypt.’

(No seminar in week 11)

A new T&L blog post on teaching Ancient Sport

Sport was far from being mere entertainment in ancient Greece.  At the major Greek festivals – the Olympic Games among them – it was performed in honour of the gods, in sacred space and among religious ritual and ceremony.  It was a crucial way for city-states to demonstrate their excellence in a climate of controlled and sanctioned rivalry against the backdrop of near-constant warfare.  And the athlete’s body was at the heart of artistic, aesthetic, philosophical and scientific discourse.

A module on sport, therefore, takes students to the essence of ancient life on both the practical and the symbolic level.  Professor Barbara Goff, however, also used her module on this theme to create some innovative assessment types and to allow students to channel what they learned through a diverse range of activities and outputs.  Many of the students’ projects within the module now have a place within our outreach and widening participation activities.

Barbara has written a blog about the module on the University of Reading’s ‘T&L Exchange’, and you can find the piece here.

Launch of a new modern Greek novel

(Posted on behalf of Dr Dimitra Tzanidaki-Kreps)

On Sunday 26 May in Greek Flocafe in Piccadilly Circus Dr Dimitra Tzanidaki-Kreps spearheaded the book launch of “In the madman’s mirror” by author Konstantinos Alsinos. The book is a well-written imaginative novel whose protagonist, a nameless young sailor, son of a Greek refugee, fresh from his latest journey, stops at the city’s local cafe and finds himself looking in a mirror opposite. There he will be approached by a partially cross-eyed madman who is holding a mirror in order not to look at himself but behind him at whoever follows him. It will be this fantastical encounter that will prompt three further equally surreal encounters with the Chronos, the Devil and the God, all personified by three old men who despite any external appearances they seem to be one and the same entity as if they are sides of one and the same coin. In a kind of a dancing kaleidoscopic philosophical meditation each of these encounters take place in varied topography ranging from a cathedral to a brothel, a railway station and an opera to the sea, a forest, a cave (with explicit reference to the platonic cave of shadows) and a whitewashed Greek chapel. Each of these encounters will bring the young man face to face with key questions regarding God, devil, man, soul, love, life, Eros, art, freedom. Even though the novel spans 281 pages, the actual narration time is just one day starting and ending at sunset. We are informed early on that the young man loves to look at the sunset and it is often at such times that these key existential questions tend to surface with the sea and his pen being his two sources of consolation. At the end of the novel the young man would be metamorphosed to a much wiser human being, a lot more in peace with himself transcending seeming contradictions, dichotomies and falsehoods to arrive at a more holistic organic sense of self and the cosmos in unison with the madman who in the first place became the catalyst for this transformative life journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photos: John Kolikis)

 

Reading Classicist interviewed by the Panoply team

Why is ancient pottery important?  What can it tell us?

What is it like to be a museum curator?

Who is the Painter of the Woolly Satyrs?

Find out the answers to these questions, and much more, by reading the interview with Professor Amy Smith, conducted by Sonya Nevin and Steve Simons of the Panoply Vase Animation project.

Panoply brings Greek vases to life by animating their figures and creating surrounding stories, informed by a deep knowledge of ancient mythology and life.  Some of their first animations were of vase-paintings from the Ure Museum’s own collection.  You can find out more about the project here.

 

Ancient Egypt and New Technology: The Present and Future of Computer Visualization, Virtual Reality and Other Digital Humanities in Egyptology, Indiana University, Bloomington, 29-30 March, 2019

(Posted on behalf of Dr Hana Navratilova, Research Associate at Reading Classics.)

Moviegoers and gamers have been used to stunning visualisations of an ancient Egyptian landscape already for some time. And some of these visualisations have been based on a surprising amount of archaeological and historical data, such as in the popular Assassin’s Creed Origins. However, even apart from impressive educational potential, there is much that digital humanities can offer. The meeting ‘Ancient Egypt and New Technology’ held at the Indiana University’s Bloomington campus and organised by Dr Steve Vinson, aimed at harnessing the possibilities of digital technology to help and enhance research work in the humanities, particularly in Egyptology, alongside an instructive and impactful outreach.

The meeting constituted of two intense days of talks and discussions. We have revisited digital dictionaries as well as 3D and virtual reality reconstructions, which Reading readers will be familiar with from University of Reading’s very own Virtual Rome.  Diverse models of digital research infrastructures were compared – from relational databases to large collections with potential use of the AI to support interactive resources search in large datasets – such as a planned complete list of Egyptian artefacts in the museums and collections across the world.

As in medical sciences, Egyptology too could benefit from digital technology bringing quantity of data to our fingertips – in a hope that this would promote a high quality research. As Mark Depauw of the Trismegistos project noted, Egyptology has been rather good at producing diverse ‘silos’ of knowledge. It will help to promote a richer knowledge-making, if we can connect these ‘silos’.

Immersive VR experiences attracted attention, but there was a good level of critical assessment of respective pros and cons of various approaches. The discussions were productive and touched upon issues of sustainability, long-term archiving, accessibility and linking of the various silos of data that Egyptology and other humanities are generating. A call for transparency was made, as well as for an ethical approach to acknowledging not only the origin of data but also the process of selection and interpretation, as noted by Willeke Wendrich. Generally, there was a balanced appreciation of new technologies as useful tools, but without naïve enchantment. Visualisations of the ancient world, repositioning of artefacts in their space and time, modelling of related artefacts spread across the world and integration of archival legacy with recent results will benefit scholarship, education and popularisation.

Publishing news from Reading Classics students!

We have recently learned of wonderful publishing successes by one of our recent alumni, and by a current doctoral student.

Charles Stewart, who completed his BA in Ancient History in summer 2018, has had an article accepted by the Journal of Roman Studies.  The article is based on part of his undergraduate dissertation, which won one of the Department’s prizes for the best dissertation in 2017-18.  Entitled ‘Fractional arithmetic in the Tabula Alimentaria of Veleia’, the article posits a new way of understanding practical arithmetic was conducted in the Roman world of the second century AD, and in so doing resolves an apparent anomaly that has long plagued scholarly reconstructions of Trajanic alimentary schemes.  It will come out in the next issue of JRS, published in the autumn.  Charles is now a Research Associate of the Department, and is considering postgraduate study.

Rosie Mack is writing her PhD thesis on the depiction of horses on ancient Thessalian coins, under the supervision of Drs. Emma Aston and Rachel Mairs.  Her article, ‘Numismatic evidence (or not) for the aphippodroma horse race at Larisa’, has been accepted for publication in the numismatics journal Koinon.  Like Charles’, it takes on a long-standing misunderstanding of ancient material, in this case a series of Larisaian coins which have traditionally been taken as evidence for a certain equestrian contest at a Thessalian festival.  Rosie shows that, in fact, the coins depict an aspect of horse-training and so shed light on practical horsemanship in northern Greece as well as on the numismatic strategies of the polis of Larisa.

We are delighted by these publishing successes of our students: many congratulations to both Charles and Rosie!   

Charles Stewart (and Auguste Rodin!)

 

Rosie Mack at Delphi

Classics Department International Reading of Homer’s Iliad – By Bunny Waring (MA City of Rome)

On Friday 22nd March 2019 the Classics Department led the University of Reading’s participation in the European Festival of Latin and Greek.  This global event encourages academic communities to introduce and seduce public audiences with passage readings of ancient literary works. This year’s choice was Homer’s Iliad, an ancient Greek tale spanning many books of legendary battles, bravery and beloveds. After much thought, it was decided that Book Six would be suitably enticing and informative. In this Book Homer describes the honour and bereavement of war, detailing the pride of the soldier Hector and the grief of his wife. Book 6 provides detailed scenes of war, brotherhood and an importantly detailed portrayal of the ancient custom of guest-friendship. Book 6 also provides dialogues between lower ranking soldiers, such as the friends Glaucus and Sarpedon. These Trojan allies give short conversational speeches to each other through which Homer highlights the complexities of military relationships, the compelling nature of heroism, and the grim reality of war. As the battle commences, low ranked soldiers are killed by higher ranking soldiers, who in turn are killed by the leading characters Hector and Achilles. The narrative provided by this wide range of characters, emotive circumstances and moral conflicts produces the epic battle, which is still remembered through Homer’s work in the present day.

At 1pm, with Book 6 in hand, professors, undergraduates, postgraduates, curators and volunteers from the University and the town marched into the open air quad and surrounded on three sides by the Edith Morley building, they gathered on the green stage of this temporary theatre. PhD Researcher James Lloyd opened the event with a musical rendition of an ancient Greek song, thought to have been used thousands of years ago to begin such recitals. Subsequently, Head of Department Dr Emma Aston read, in ancient Greek, lines 1-11 recalling a fierce battle the led against the Trojans by Ajax. Each passage was then narrated by attendees who described the torment of Hector, Andromache and Paris in English, Italian, Chinese and German. The event was uplifting for all those taking part, with many onlookers stopping to observe. James Lloyd of Classics said: “the event was well attended and enjoyed by all. It was particularly good to hear the variety of different languages spoken during the reading, which is testimony to the thriving international community present in the Department of Classics”.

The reading of Homer’s Iliad was a success and a credit to those who organised it. The event was short, precise and rekindled a passion for the storytellers of old whilst introducing the works to those unfamiliar with the tales. If you missed the event, fear not. The video of the recital is on YouTube and can be viewed here.

Photo credits: James Lloyd, Amy Smith & Bunny Waring.