Spring Term 2024 Reading Classics Research Seminars

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for Spring Term 2024, which will boost our Wednesday afternoons with constructive and stimulating lectures and discussions on various aspects of Classics research!

Our seminar series will explore a variety of topics and periods of Classical studies. Seminars will be livestreamed on MS Teams – links to follow. Attendance is free and open to all! Below you can find a list of all titles.

 

7 February

Fiachra Mac Góráin, UCL, Gender euphoria: La Cerda on Virgil’s Camilla, Joining link https://bit.ly/49iVvYr 

21 February

Maeve McHugh, Birmingham, Finding the Ancient Farmer in Fables and Bones, Joining link https://bit.ly/3UrXIN6

14 March – Percy Ure Lecture* (17:00, Van Emden Lecture Theatre)

Irene Lemos, Oxford, Title TBC

 

All (unless otherwise labelled) starting at 16:00 in Edith Morley G25

For more information contact e.m.m.aston@reading.ac.uk

*The Ure Lecture will be in-person only

Celebrating Seferis with our own Dr. Dimitra Tzanidaki

The famous 20th century Greek poet, George Seferis, was celebrated at the Hellenic Residence in London on Monday the 27th November. The occasion was the 60th anniversary of Seferis’ being awarded the Nobel Prize for poetry, and was held under the auspices of the Greek Ambassador, Mr Yannis Tsaousis, in the presence of the Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic, Mr Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The setting at the Ambassador’s residence was very fitting, as Seferis lived and served there as Greek ambassador to the UK from 1957-1961.

The Greek Embassy in London has now launched an exhibition, “George Seferis: the man, the poet, the diplomat,” which will be on permanent display in the ‘Seferis Office’ and open to the public at the Hellenic Residence with a plethora of objects, works and documents relating to Seferis’ life, poetry and diplomatic career. The exhibition builds upon an initiative by the President of the Hellenic Republic, Ms Katerina Sakellaropoulou, which led to the donation of 32 objects from the Anna London & Nikos Paisis collection to the Greek Embassy. 

Professor Roderick Beaton, ex Korais chair at King’s College London, was among the distinguished guests and has now been honoured by having the reading room next to the ‘Seferis Office’ named after him for his lifelong contributions to Modern Greek Studies and his love of Greece.

Our own Dr Dimitra Tzanidaki-Kreps was grateful to be invited to this prestigious event. For the last 24 years Dimitra has taught Seferis, among many other Modern Greek authors, as part of her “My Mother’s sin and other stories” module for Reading’s Classics undergraduates. Dimitra sent us this reel https://www.facebook.com/reel/2020083211681431 with photos from the evening and with one of Seferis’ well known short poems «Just a little more» set to music by the Greek legendary composer Mikis Theodorakis:

Just a little more

and we will see the almonds in bloom.

Just a little more

and we will see the marbles glitter,

glitter in the sun

and the waves of the sea.

Just a little more,

so we can rise a little higher.

New book, ‘Scribal Culture in Ancient Egypt’, now available

A new book titled Scribal Culture in Ancient Egypt, written by Niv Allon and Reading University’s own Hana Navratilova, has recently been published by Cambridge University Press.

This book, which is part of the series Elements in Ancient Eqypt in Context, seeks to characterize the scribal culture in ancient Egypt. The book draws upon texts, material objects, and archaeological evidence, and aims to build on current discussions in literacy, as well as literary and social history.

The book is free to download for a limited time, so we encourage everyone to have look!

 

Further details are available via the Cambridge University Press website here.

Classics students visit Athens

On Saturday 28th October we set off on our odyssey to Athens. After a good night’s sleep from a full day of travelling, we dove straight into the agenda for Day One, which consisted of walking around the Kerameikos site, as well as the Agora, along with their respective museums. After a very short excursion at the Epigraphic Museum, we finished off our first day wandering around the National Archaeological Museum, home to some unique artefacts.

To kick off Day Two we made our way over to the main attraction, the Akropolis, a jewel of Athenian architecture. Once we made it to the top, the view of Athens was absolutely incredible, so obviously many photos were taken. An aspect of Greek theatre came into perspective as we stopped off at the Theatre of Dionysus on the way down, one of the numerous sites on the slopes of the Akropolis. Then after some lunch and shopping, we were shown around the Akropolis Museum, before heading back to the BSA to be treated to a lecture of “Redressing Aphrodite on Lord Hamilton’s Meidias hydra” by our very own, Prof. Amy Smith.

On the morning of Day Three in the Greek capital we walked around the Panathenaic stadium and were even lucky enough to see a vast collection of all of the Olympic torches to date, which was a memorable experience. That afternoon we leapt forward in history and visited the Byzantine and Christian Museum, and it was absolutely fascinating to learn about the impact that Christianity had on the development of the ancient world. For example, the ideology of the gods was completely reshaped and many of the myths and stories lost their influence on people in the ancient world. It is now so interesting to see the various aspects of antiquity that still exist in modern religion today.

In the midst of the trip there was an optional hike up Mount Lycabettus on the morning of Day Four, to obtain, as with the Akropolis, an outstanding view of Athens. This was just an early morning walk for anyone who fancied it and was certainly a great way to start the day.

After that we explored Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Forum and the Tower of Winds in the morning and then in the afternoon, we visited the Numismatic and Cycladic Museums. Being able to view a grand variety of ancient coins was just incredible. The detail depicted on the coins was outstanding, from images that referenced famous battles, deities, animals, historical figures to myths and scenes from epic poems. Some favourites included coins bearing: the chariot of the goddess Nike being pulled by four horses and the reunion between Odysseus and his dog Argus from Homer’s Odyssey was another fan favourite.

Moving away from all of the coins, our final site in Athens was the Cycladic Museum, where we explored various pieces of art from the ancient world, with Dr Rebecca Levitan from Kings College London, who turned our focus on the marble Cycladic figurines. These miniature figures mostly resembled women and there were very few that depicted men, with the design being very minimalistic and only showing a few select features, such as the nose, arms and breasts.

For our final day we exited the Athenian bubble, making our way over to Nafplio, and stopping at Mycenae to see the tomb of Agamemnon on the way. Our final museum stop was the archaeological museum, home to some fascinating artefacts such as pots, masks, armour and weapons.

Aside from all of the historical sites and museums we also had a lot of free time to explore the Greek culture along with its exciting cuisine, and although we had a busy schedule, we even managed to squeeze in a visit to the beach.

A week in Greece to be remembered. Many thanks to all involved in the organisation of this amazing trip.

 

Written by Henry Tandy 

Black Classicists in America: From ostracism to scholarship

To celebrate Black History month and as part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion, UoR Classics Department is delighted to announce a new installation in the department hallway and resource room (EM40), on the ground floor of the Edith Morley Building at University of Reading. This exhibition celebrates the important role of black Americans in the field of Classics and provides a unique opportunity to reflect upon the purpose of higher education and its place in the struggle for equality and human enrichments.
 
The study of Greek and Latin was the curricular foundation of education for many centuries, both in the United States and abroad. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, people of African descent, hungry for the ‘bread of knowledge’ as Frederick Douglass put it, wanted to learn Greek and Latin. Many institutions responded to the need; Howard University played a key role and from its inceptions offered a range of classes that enabled black American students to study ancient languages.
 
The black American men and women featured in this installation taught Greek and Latin at the college or university level and made ground-breaking achievements in education. Their academic accomplishments bolstered a new tradition of black intellectualism and resulted in greater opportunities for future generations of black Americans.
This photographic installation was prepared by Marc Ives and the Classics Department, St Gabriel’s School, Newbury, based on a collection of material curated by Michele Valerie Ronnick, Distinguished Professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Its production costs were underwritten by the James Loeb Classical Library Foundation at Harvard University.
This special exhibition is on display 18 October–15 December 2023.

Butser Ancient Farm

As we get stuck into another busy term of 21st century university life, the week we spent as Roman school teachers on an ancient farm in Hampshire feels literal worlds away. But what a wonderful world it was…

L-R: Althea (Oxford Masters student), Aster (Reading undergraduate), Nadin (Reading Masters graduate, Co-runs the Ancient Schoolroom), Prof. Eleanor Dickey (Runs the Ancient Schoolroom), Daniela (Ancient Schoolroom trustee, lecturer at Naples), Jacinta (Reading undergraduate)

From the moment we arrived at Butser Ancient Farm, Aster and I were immersed in a new (or rather very old) way of life. From ancient breeds of four-horned sheep, to Roman-style cleaning equipment, it was as though we had stepped through a portal into a calmer, more peaceful world. After a quick look around, we were soon stuck into our chores, and I discovered that a traditional broomstick is surprisingly effective tool for ridding a school room of dust and cobwebs.

As dark descended, we called it a night and adjourned to the Anglo-Saxon period for dinner. Eleanor made us a delicious fried fish recipe from ancient Roman recipe-writer, Apicius. It was meant to be the tail of a large female tuna caught near Byzantium, but that proved difficult to source, so Lidl salmon fillets had to make do! Apicius recommended eating it with white wine vinegar, so we did, and it worked remarkably well!

After preparing a garlicy, cheesy paste (moretum) and olive relish for lunch the next day, we all went to our respective time periods to sleep – in my case an iron age round house. I don’t think any of us slept well that first night, due to nerves, excitement, and the unfamiliar surroundings, but my chosen hay bale was still remarkably comfortable.

After breakfast the next morning we got ourselves costumed, then waited expectantly for our first students to arrive. We didn’t have to wait long as, just after opening time, two girls in ribbons and yellow tunics bounced in with an exuberant, ‘salve magistra!’ and the Ancient Schoolroom was officially under way.

After that the days sped by as we all settled into a relaxing and fulfilling routine. The teaching was full on, but so much fun, and it was wonderful to see how engrossed the children (and some adults) became in the activities. The school room began to feel like a second home with an air of safety and serenity that I really hope, at least some, real ancient Roman schools had. I have some lovely memories: a girl and her grandmother sprawled on the floor happily matching Phaedrus’s fables with their respective morals; a group of children crowded around Charles, eagerly learning compound interest; adults leaving us with their charges while they went to get coffee, as their unexpectedly studious children didn’t want to stop learning; recognising the same children coming back on different days because they felt they hadn’t learnt enough the first time; children sitting contentedly at Aster’s feet, writing and drawing with ink for the first time; parents thanking us for allowing their children to express their knowledge and enthusiasm about Roman mythology; and, my favourite memory of all, a tiny 6-year-old boy sitting patiently on a bench waiting for ‘the lady’ (aka Professor Eleanor Dickey) to teach him more maths.

Of course, even teachers have to eat sometimes, and food played an important part in our time at Butser. Lunch was always a welcome affair of Roman or Celtic style bread, served with moretum, olive relish and sometimes even butter and honey!

Our Roman dinners were as delicious as they were diverse, ranging from a ‘simple’ meal of porridge cooked in a genuine porridge pot and served with freshly foraged blackberries, to a fish soup made with fresh mussels and a whole sea bass, expertly prepared by Nadin. And those were just the meals we prepared for ourselves! One evening we had the great privilege of dining with Sally Grainger, author of Cooking Apicius, and her husband Dr Christopher Grocock. We demolished a beautiful loaf of bread; tasted about seven different types of garum (I particularly liked the swordfish one); indulged in a rich stew full of chicken, sausage, and pork belly; and got to observe Sally making goat’s cheese and honey cakes, which were even tastier than they looked.

As well as teaching, cooking, and eating, our week at Butser seemed to help all of us learn and grow in other ways. Aster discovered a natural talent for reed-pen making and tried a whole host of unusual foods for the first time; I turned out to be very good at lighting and tending fires, and embraced my new role as ‘fire woman’; and we all learnt and taught how to make corn dollies at a festival of Lughnasadh hosted by the farm, where we also listened to stories, drank mead, and danced to fiddle music.

By the end of the week we had all got quite used to sleeping on hay bales and constantly smelling of smoke, but we never took for granted the ability to explore and forage in the countryside, or the late-night bonding around a roaring fire, or the magic of gazing into an unpolluted night sky at the shining moon and twinkling stars.

I cherish my memories of the Ancient Schoolroom’s first time at Butser, and I look forward to making many more in the summers to come!

Written by Jacinta Hunter

Autumn Term 2023 Reading Classics Research Seminars

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for Autumn Term 2023, which will boost our Wednesday afternoons with constructive and stimulating lectures and discussions on various aspects of Classics research!

In this series of lectures, starting on 4 October, we welcome a diverse group of speakers from both the UK and abroad in our Departmental seminars. Our Autumn seminar series will explore a variety of topics and periods of Classical studies. All seminars will be livestreamed on MS Teams; tune in every Wednesday at 4pm (unless otherwise stated)! Attendance is free and open to all! Below you can find a poster with all titles.

Full list of titles

4 October

Maya Muratov, Adelphi, With strings attached: Articulated figures in antiquity

11 October

Najee Olya, William & Mary, Re-visiting portrayals of Africans in ancient Greek art: Recurring problems and new questions

16 October – Gordon Lecture (17:00)

Véronique Dasen, Fribourg, Play or cheat?: Games in Greek and Roman antiquity

25 October

Anne Alwis, Kent, Model Ascetics?: Exemplarity in Theodoret of Cyrrhus’ Religious History, joining link bit.ly/3tmY5wL 

8 November

Lea Rees, Oxford, A landscape biography of Dahshur: Chronological, functional and social transformations, joining link bit.ly/48FjuS3

15 November

Summer Court, Reading, Playing at (demi-)god: Hercules’ club, mould-blown glass, and sensory experience

Andy Fox, Reading, The death grove at the heart of Seneca’s Thyestes, joining link: bit.ly/3tx1MjP

22 November – Locus Ludi Public Talk (18:00 EM 125)

Tim Penn, Oxford, More than just fun and games: Why study board games in Roman society?

Two New Modules Consider the Ancient World beyond the Myth of Whiteness

By now, many classicists have begun to recognise and to think about how the study of ancient Greece and Rome has contributed to promoting and upholding structures of white supremacy and other forms of racism. Part of the discipline of Classics’ role in supporting white supremacy has been in the elevation of ancient Greece and ancient Rome above other ancient societies, as something distinctly glorious and worthy of study. By lumping the diverse societies of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds together, a myth of a White, Western civilisation took shape, allowing those invested in such a myth to draw a straight line between, for example, fifth-century BCE Athens and the twentieth-century United States of America. Such narratives also serve to exclude societies constructed as non-White or non-European from the myth of civilisation. However, challenging such narratives remains controversial. A recent episode of ‘Horrible Histories’ was accused of reinventing history when it highlighted the fact that people with dark skin have been present in Britain since prehistory and that African soldiers in the Roman army were stationed in Britain. Such controversies serve to show that there remains an urgent need for a conversation on the assumed whiteness of the ancient world.

For several decades now, academics at the University of Reading’s Classics Department have been working to unpick this side of the discipline, thinking about how Classics has been used to promote ideologies of racism and colonialism, how those subject to racist and colonialist uses of the Classics have formulated their own responses to and resisted such uses, and how the legacies of ancient Greece and ancient Rome have been felt beyond the so-called West. Relatedly, Classicists at Reading have been turning to the idea of interconnected Global Antiquities, in order to decentre ancient Greece and Rome from perspectives on the ancient world. In 2023, two new undergraduate modules bring the research of staff in this area to the undergraduate syllabus, contributing an already diverse and boundary-pushing offering of modules.

In the Spring Term of 2023, Dr Sam Agbamu introduced a third-year module on ‘Race and Ethnicity in the Ancient Greek and Roman Worlds’. Taking students from the earliest texts of the Greco-Roman literary canon right up to contemporary Classical Reception, the module focuses on how ideas of race and ethnicity took root in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds and how such ideas continue to shape the worlds we live in today. One of the aims of the module is to challenge the biological reality of race, by showing just how changeable conceptions of race in the ancient world were. As well as looking at how race was thought about in antiquity, students also study how authors, artists, and scholars racialised as ‘non-white’ have encountered the constructed whiteness of classical antiquity. The module encourages students to draw on their own experiences and perceptions of race and ethnicity in order to formulate personal responses to the texts and material studied. Part of this involves creative elements of coursework, in which students can respond to module material in a medium of their choosing, whether that be a piece of visual art, creative writing, or a film. The module is running again in the 2023/2024 academic year, and will be updated to take into account the rapidly developing scholarship in the field, as well as the changing global context in which the module situates itself.

In Spring 2024 Professor Rachel Mairs will be teaching a new second-year module on Ancient Ethiopia: The Aksumite Kingdom.  This module looks at the city of Aksum, in modern Ethiopia, and its empire in the third and fourth centuries CE.  Spectacular monuments remain at Aksum today: tall stelae used to mark the graves of kings, stone inscriptions, the ruins of palaces.  All of these speak to the Aksumite kingdom’s sense of its own power and place in the world.  Aksum is mentioned in a small number of ancient Greek and Roman historical sources, but this module takes a different angle by focussing on Aksumite accounts of their own history: whether inscriptions from the period of the empire itself, or later Ethiopian and Eritrean written and oral histories which give the memory of Aksum a special place in local identities in the northern Horn of Africa.

 

Written by Sam Agbamu and Rachel Mairs

Prof. Eleanor Dickey speaks to pupils at Garth Hill College

We were thrilled to see the opening session of this years’ Garth Hill College Military History Society being led by University of Reading’s Professor Eleanor Dickey. 

The session was designed specifically for the society, and saw pupils learning how people living in Vindolanda, near Hadrian’s wall, wrote letters to each other. Pupils were able to use replica tools to write out their own letter, which they could then take home.

It was great to hear how much the students enjoyed the session, and we thank Garth Hill College and of course Professor Dickey for hosting.

You can read the full bulletin from Garth Hill College here.

 

Tragedy Queered: A conference to explore the impact of Graeco-Roman tragedy on queer culture (6-7 July 2023)

Greek and Roman tragedy has served as a platform to explore and discuss central issues regarding politics, identities, and societal issues, ranging from feminism, race, fascism, and communism to abortion, generational tensions, and national identity. LGBTQI+ issues of identities, desires and politics have also found a useful tool in ancient tragedy as a channel for exploration, discussion, and vindication. Tragedy has been queer, queered, and queering for many a decade now.

The international and interdisciplinary conference Tragedy Queered, which took place at the University of Reading on the 6th and 7th of July 2023, precisely explored the dialogue, relationships and cross-fertilisations between Graeco-Roman tragedy and queer culture. The conference developed substantial and consistent insights into a phenomenon that has remained almost untouched in scholarship. All fifteen speakers, from provenances as diverse as L’Aquila, London, Santa Barbara, Philadelphia, Oxford, and New York, and ranging in academic positions from postgraduate students to full professors, explored and analysed the use of ancient tragedy in queer culture in a vast array of media, including novels, drag, theatrical stagings, poetry, dance, film, multi-media performance, and biography. The papers, headed by the keynote speech on Judith Butler, Freud, and the house of Oedipus by Professor Orrells (KCL), exhibited a diverse plethora of queer-tragic receptions and dialogues. Among other issues, they explored the importance of the tragic character and plots of Helen and Philoctetes regarding the loss and struggles of AIDS in novels and drag, queer love and loss in dance and multimedia performance, how Athena is a good or bad example for trans experience, the tragic in pre-Stonewall poetic writing and the translation, tragic structures, plots and characters in film and theatre, and what can queer theory bring to ancient tragic texts and performances.

The conference and its speakers managed to do far more than I expected as organiser. It was able to establish points of departure for many aspects in the study of the relationship between tragedy and queer culture and also of the tragic and the queer; it was able to pay attention to queer culture before and after the Stonewall Riots, the historiographical starting-point for queer liberation; it was able to attest to queer lives, queer history and queer theory and the interweaved presence of tragedy in them; and finally, and perhaps most importantly, it was able to further consolidate and multiply a community of queer scholars, students, artists and people, past, present, and future. Keep your eyes peeled for the volume that will result from the conference, so you can see with you own eyes what Tragedy Queered was able to reveal, explore and unite on two summery tragic-queer days in Reading.

Special thanks to the Tragedy Queered sponsors: Institute of Classical Studies (SAS, UoL); The Department of Classics (UoR); Dean for Diversity and Inclusion (UoR); Research Dean for Heritage & Creativity (UoR). I am very grateful to Matthew Knight for his excellent and indispensable work in designing the poster, programme, and name tags and to Josh Ison for his essential help in guaranteeing that the conference ran smoothly and enjoyably. Thanks also to colleagues in the department for their support and encouragement.

 

Written by Dr. Oliver Baldwin