Towards a more inclusive Classics – update on the June workshop

[Update: a nice external writeup of this event has now been published by ‘Mixed up in Classics’ at]

(Posted on behalf of Professor Barbara Goff)

Well, the event exceeded all our expectations.  150 participants registered, including about 30 students and 30 school teachers, and also including colleagues from New Zealand, China, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France, Austria, Spain, Greece and Belgium.  It was a remarkable meeting, and my co-organiser and I are so pleased we went the online route – without that, we would never have met so many inspiring classicists.

The Zoom format was a bit daunting at first to manage, but we had excellent technical support from Reading’s very own Dr James Lloyd, and our confidence did grow over the two days.  We adopted a new format for this workshop which we can highly recommend.  Speakers’ materials were precirculated online, and then speakers’ actual presentations were very short – only 5 minutes.  Subsequent to that, questions were posted in the chat and moderated by one of the hosts, after which the workshop went into breakout rooms of about 7 people each, for smaller group discussions.

The chat was astonishingly rich, as people did not only post questions but also numerous suggestions for each other, with links and recommendations of books and websites.  All the chat was saved so it can form part of our final report to the Council of University Classics Departments (CUCD) who will publish it in their Bulletin.  I loved reading all the exchanges, although it was hard work to winnow them when it was my turn to moderate and feed pertinent questions to speakers.  I also loved being in the breakout rooms, where I met a huge range of people interested both in the ancient world and in how to promote new ideas about its diversity.

All the papers were stimulating and many dove-tailed with each other in very rewarding ways.  Highlights of discussion included: how to decolonise the teaching of classics in schools as well as at universities; what role reception studies can play in reconceptualising our relations to the ancient world; how to factor a greater range of texts into teaching in order to understand the diversity of antiquity; how the move of teaching online has enhanced some opportunities, and encouraged people to rethink resources; whether we can rethink Classics without rethinking other aspects of the university and higher education generally; and whether we should consider renaming our discipline.  This was all in addition to more specific discussion generated by the variety of papers.  We closed with a panel that included a teacher, two students, and two academics from South America, who debated specific suggestions towards more inclusive teaching, which will also form part of our report.

Work is now afoot to convene a steering committee who will make the workshop an annual event.  Meanwhile, one of our participants has come up with an ‘Inclusive Unseens’ project, which is crowdsourcing new passages for the Latin GCSE unseen.  Teachers and academics are collaborating to provide passages from a greater variety of places, cultures and social classes across the Roman world. 

It is great to know that there is so much energy for the project of making our discipline more welcoming and better suited to our multicultural world.  If you would like to be part of a new Working Group which links the Department of Classics at Reading with the Department of Archaeology, to investigate the inclusivity of our courses and scholarship, please do get in touch.

Towards a more inclusive Classics

Last autumn – it seems a long time ago! – I was very honoured to be invited to speak on ‘Classics and Race’ at an event hosted by St Andrews.  The organisers were aware of my research on Classics in West Africa, and I was pleased to be able to share that, plus I spoke about books that had recently inspired me, like Superior: the return of race science and Afropean: notes from Black Europe.












Afropean reminds readers of the persistent presence of people of African descent within a European continent that people sometimes think of as ‘white’. Superior starts with a visit to the British Museum, where the neoclassical architecture shows us that ‘Britain framed itself as the heir to the great civilizations of Egypt, Greece, the Middle East, and Rome’.  This cultural power and entitlement expressed itself in many ways, including the domination of non-white people throughout the world.  The legacies of this hierarchical attitude beset us still today.












Both these books invite reflections from classicists who are keen to site our discipline firmly in the twenty-first century, and to foreground a history that need not be one only of exclusion. Although these books address questions of race (even while they query the term), other recent work in Classics has shown how the marginalised populations of women and the working class have laboured to build meaningful relationships with the art, literature and history of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  This is an important reminder about what our discipline can be and do, at a time when numerous communities across the world are protesting the fallout from centuries of racism.













The move to ‘decolonise’ Classics take place in a context when disciplines like History, Art History, and Mediaeval Studies have all had similar developments.  All of these disciplines want to rethink their history and make themselves welcoming to more diverse populations of students and scholars.   The ‘Classics and Race’ workshop was part of this, as was the ‘Decolonising Classics’ workshop organised at Reading by Katherine Harloe and Rachel Mairs, in 2018.













All these intellectual currents came together at St Andrews, and I was delighted when Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis suggested that she and I collaborate to organise a seminar series on inclusive Classics at the Institute of Classical Studies.  Alexia has long been involved in outreach events that promote diversity within Classics, and has a special interest in how material culture can be used in such contexts.

Events quickly overtook us and we found ourselves organising a big one-day workshop instead of a seminar series; our call for papers produced 12 contributions that range widely over topics like how to teach the ancient Persians, how to teach Latin to students with dyslexia, how to make the Parthenon Marbles accessible to blind students, and how to negotiate a career in Classics as a person of colour.  When Covid-19 struck, we realised we had been even more overtaken by events.  We wondered whether to cancel or postpone, but decided the issues were too urgent.  So we agreed to take the event online, and spread it out over two afternoons, so as not to have too much ‘Zoom fatigue’.

The wonderful thing that has now happened is that instead of getting 30 scholars and students from the UK in a room at the Institute in London, we have 106 participants from 11 countries.  Needless to say, we are terrified, but wildly excited too. It is a sign that these discussions are timely and are what people want to engage with.  We are very much looking forward to intense and fruitful conversations, and we must cross our fingers that the new technology can keep up with the ancient discipline.  Have a look at our programme here.

And please feel free to get in touch for further information.

Professor Barbara Goff (

Call for Papers: Rome’s Forgotten Poetry

Rome’s forgotten poetry:

Poetic production between community-based art, folklore, and avant-garde entertainment


Panel in the 13th Celtic Conference in Classics, Lyon 15-18 July 2020


Poetry was an omnipresent element of cultural practice of the Roman world. The corpus of ‘published’ (literary) poetry that survives until the present day, to a very large extent, was the product of individuals who, as members of Rome’s ruling classes or their protégés, would find a medium for personal expression and declaration of feelings and beliefs in their poetic compositions, a way to demonstrate artistic skills and aspirations, a ticket to the limelight, etc. Persius’ first satire, for example, is abundant in references to this role of literature in the 1st c. AD: the satirist finds in his little book the way to express his innermost thoughts (1.120), whereas the majority of poets publish their work in the hope of public attention (1.26-77). 

Not all of the poetic activity of the Romans was made public, however. Poetry was written also casually and shared among friends, either expressing affection or wittiness, as Cicero (Fam. 12.16) tells us about one of his friends. And although the surviving remnants of published evidence is more easily accessible to us, poetic activity was documented more conspicuously in everyday life in the Roman world. For one, messages conveyed in verses inscribed in the walls of Pompeii testify to this, whereas verse inscriptions are visible and tangible reminders of poetic compositions that belonged to the people outside the educated elite and beyond the city of Rome.

Beyond its production, poetic activity was also apparent in recitations and manifold performances that are not necessarily best described as examples of dramatic or performing genres. In a notorious passage, Livy (7.2.1-8) explores the development of what one might loosely describe as forms of scenic entertainment in its various manifestations before the paradigmatic shift associated with Livius Andronicus. However, performances of this type with casual verse composition and exchanges between actors have survived until much later, with the participation and active as well as passive involvement of people regardless their social class. Petronius (Sat. 90) reports such a poetic recitation without the expected results, whereas Persius again in his first satire gives examples of poetic recitations that provoke his criticism (1.15-23, 88-90). All these examples elevate Latin poetry from compositions that were merely produced for publication, recitations and performances with specific settings, and artistic products associated with an educated upper class, to a predominantly cultural activity which was inclusive, with the engagement of people that we do not need to understand as historically or socially determined communities.

Disentangling the widespread, shared cultural practice  from dogmatically imposed social and spatial constraints, we propose to examine the poetry of ‘the people’ in its own right, while including its social dynamics, with a view to how poetry as a cultural activity interacted with society, which role(s) it played to its heterogeneous audiences, and how the Romans construed poetry by perpetually interacting with it. Thus, we will look into the poetics of these compositions and enquire into the extent to which people complied to traditional norms and genres. From a different angle, it is also possible to investigate this evidence and examples as parts or variables of ‘popular culture’, exploiting the framework that has been developed recently by Horsfall (2003), Toner (2009), and Grig (2017). Finally, research on literary developments and poetic compositions as cultural activities will contribute to a better understanding of the Roman poetic landscape, as well as of the Roman literary culture (Fantham 1996). Overall, we believe that this approach is designed to bridge the gap between composition and activity in our studying of Roman poetry, considering literary production across social, ethnic, and linguistic groups.

Within this context, we would like to invite proposals for a panel in the 13th Celtic Conference in Classics (Lyon, 15-18 July 2020). Proposals can address themes and answer questions related, but not limited, to:


  • Evidence for documented but not survived poetic activity and its reception in the historical, social, and literary context.
  • Poetic compositions shared within communities and networks without any intention to be published can be examples of this.
  • Poetic compositions publicly displayed (e.g. inscriptions), but not published.
  • Testimonia of oral composition.


  • Poetics of the poetry of the people: stylization; metres and canons; compliance with or divergence from the traditional forms?
  • Themes in the poetry of the people: love, death, wittiness, satire.
  • Short poetic compositions that cannot be defined in terms of genre.

Poetry as cultural activity

  • Forms and contexts of poetic recitations and performing acts in their historical and literary contexts; the evidence for mime.
  • Literary production that is deliberately associated with or disassociated from social classes and its implications. Poetic composition beyond the city of Rome.
  • Poetic production and/against consumption; different compositions in private/public spheres of cultural activities; was the consumed poetry the same or correspondent to the poetry they composed and/or published?
  • Poetry of the people and interaction with the historical, social, and political contexts. E.g. Suetonius (Ner. 39.1) reports the short compositions against Nero that people circulated or posted.


Confirmed speakers:

Yelena Baraz (Princeton University)

Hans Bork (Stanford University)

Maria Jennifer Falcone (University of Pavia)

Jan Kwapisz (University of Warsaw)

Marie Ledentu (Université Lyon III – Jean Moulin)

Luke Roman (Memorial University)

Christoph Schubert (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität)


Please, send your abstracts (300 words) to either of or both the organisers: Dr Andreas Gavrielatos ( and Professor Peter Kruschwitz ( by the 28th February 2020. We aim to complete the selection of papers by the Ides of March.

Due to some secured funding, a limited amount of money will be used to support participants towards travel expenses and/or registration fees. Priority will be given to those without a permanent post, independent researchers, scholars from under-represented groups, etc.

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.