Reading Classics at Rome: A review of the first post-covid study trip

Our undergraduate student, Kieran Evans, shares their experience from the first departmental study trip to Rome after the pandemic—in April 2022—along with a series of exciting and wonderful pictures of Rome! Thank you to everyone who participated to this trip, and particularly to Profs Amy Smith and Matthew Nicholls who organised it and led the tour!   

It started with a 2:15am meetup at the Sports Park building on campus to catch a coach for Heathrow. We left extra early just to make sure we had enough time for any delays or queues caused by COVID-19 restrictions at the airport. Despite being early hours of the morning, everyone was raring to go to Rome, bags packed, and the anticipation of getting to the airport was at a high. We just had to get through security then a rather long wait for the flight at 7am.  

The arrival into Rome, after the flight and coach journey, was only the start of the day in the ‘Eternal city’. We checked into our hotel in the afternoon, to get set for the first trek of the trip. Matthew Nicholls, our tour lead who came over from Oxford University, but in his role as Visiting Professor at University of Reading, walked us through some parts of the southern part of the city, checking out Roman building remains, seeing what remained of the concrete. One major theme of the trip was the material left behind in buildings, mostly the concrete that the marble would have covered up. From the first tour we saw how the massive structures, like the Porticus Aemilia, a long series of arched warehouses for food storage, or acting as a naval dockyard. They were impressive to look at, considering the size and how long they’ve been around, but like many Roman buildings the concrete lost the marble exterior, looted for other construction, or turned into lime. That same afternoon we came across one of the best views of the trip. From the top of the Aventine Hill, you could see across the city with St. Peter’s Basilica to the north peeking above the buildings before it. It became somewhat a preview of what to expect for the coming days, just spectacular. 

On day Two we visited monuments fitting the theme ‘Landscape of Victory’. Amy and Matthew had organised entering the Mausoleum of Augustus, very recently opened to the public. Such a grand monument which held the first imperial dynasty, was left in a state of ruin for years and recently restored for visitors to re-enter. Walking through the crypt we saw how the material again was laid bare, and how the diamond patterns bricks were organised into in the concrete. Some marble—the only marble left—greeted us at the entrance telling of how this place held the ashes of Augustus and his family. The building was remarkable to walk through. Like at all sites on the trip, Matthew and Amy told us everything there was to know, the way it looked when constructed, a wedding cake style of tiers of earth and trees planted on top and the history following. Somewhat surprising to hear was that, when the top tier collapsed, it filled the interior to create a new ground level above the original entrance and a space for a bull fighting arena. 16th-century entertainment turned it into a stage for the sport, then a theatre in the 20th century. It’s restored and the grand entrance is the only way in now, not the archway some 30 feet above it. 

My personal highlight of the trip was later in the day on visiting another monument, the Pantheon. Despite looking majestic from the front with the granite columns and inscription to Agrippa, it took a second to realise what I was looking at when we approached it from the south, only seeing the circular, brick building. Of course, when I finally recognised it, I got a little giddy. About an hour and a half before entering we had a lunch break and some of us found a restaurant on the piazza of the Pantheon. It was somewhat surreal sitting there eating proper Italian pizza and looking at the entrance of this building less than a hundred metres to my left.  

 

The group that went on the trip were great, insofar as everyone got on so well with each other, making meals out easier and so much more fun. Especially the final evening we all had in Rome, dining at Il Matto and drinking plenty of red wine with the excellent food. Amy and Matthew organised an amazing series of tours across the 6 days we were there. I cannot think of how that trip could have been better… maybe if we had another day there?

Musings of an Admissions Tutor and Outreach Officer and the reawakening after the pandemic

Our Departmental Admissions Tutor and Outreach Officer, Mrs Jackie Baines, shares her experience on arranging and running Open Days during and after the pandemic. You can read below her account on the various events and innovative methods undertaken in such a challenging period.

When taking on the role of departmental Admissions Tutor in 2016, and more recently Outreach Officer, little did I know of the enormity of the challenges which lay ahead.  We were about to be faced with the double blow of a fall in the number of 18-year-olds and then a global pandemic. Undergraduate numbers had remained relatively stable up to that point but now we were going to have to work much harder to recruit similar numbers of undergraduates in subsequent years.

The greatest of the challenges came with Covid-19.  Having run most of the 2019/20 recruitment cycle in-person—except for one Visit Day—we were obliged to complete the whole of the 2020/21 cycle online.  How, I wondered, were we to ‘sell’ our department and the Classics department student experience when nobody was in the building on campus.  It focussed my attention on showing our very best attributes in the online environment, with a small numbers of colleagues, current students and alumni.  At first, online presentations and using MS Teams were so very unfamiliar.  MS Teams Live also increased the difficulties.  We were not able to see our applicants, they were simply able to ask us questions in the chat function.  We rose to the challenge, knowing that we needed to portray our own personalities, our desire to support our students, our variety of modules, the wide-ranging scope of our research, to give a platform to our articulate, knowledgeable students and to show off the Ure Museum and even handle objects when we were not in the building.  We learnt to be ourselves in front of the camera and to cope in the online environment, even if sometimes sharing slides was a tricky hurdle.  It worked.  Our student numbers were good and we met our targets.  Our new students arrived in Reading and coped with an online Welcome Week and very little face-to-face teaching during the year.

Gradually we have now returned to in-person admissions processes.  We started with some very small-scale Open Days in July and then Open days with more visitors in October.  Our Visit Days were in person, but one Virtual Visit Day has been retained, allowing those unable to get the campus to have the opportunity to ‘visit’.  It has been wonderful to be back in person, to have the conversations which are impossible to replicate online.

Outreach too was thrust into the online world during worst of the pandemic.  The return to welcoming schools back into the department was an emotional experience.  I ran an alumni teachers’ event, linked to the Troy exhibition in the Ure Museum, in November. Three of our alumni, Niki Karapanagioti, Alex Winch and Jonny Herman, brought school groups.  Not only was it so gratifying to see children back in the building learning about the ancient world, but it was also very heart-warming to see our alumni renew their bonds with the department. Future teacher alumni events are in the planning.

We also enjoyed a Classics for All day on May 19th. Classics for all is the UK based charity which promotes the teaching of classical subjects in state schools. We have been overwhelmed by the interest and the thirst for events such as these.  Ninety Year 8 and 9 pupils signed up to come with their teachers and participate in a wide range of sessions, including learning about Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Roman maths and Ancient Greek language. This was a much larger scale event than on previous occasions. It was an event with wide ranging impact, involving sessions for the teachers where we could promote the teaching of classical civilisation and the ancient languages in schools, particularly for those whose schools are in areas of social deprivation. It gave some of our PGT and PGR students the opportunity to teach on the day and our current students the chance to act as student ambassadors. Above all we hope to have inspired the school pupils themselves and encouraged them to aspire to be our students, widening their horizons and giving them a glimpse of the delights of the ancient world.

Jackie Baines, Lecturer in Classics and Departmental Admissions Tutor and Outreach Officer

Summer Term 2022 Reading Classics Research Seminar Series

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for Summer Term 2022, 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 27 April, we welcome a diverse group of speakers from both the UK and abroad in our Departmental seminars, which 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! Attendance is free and open to all! To attend please follow this link: bit.ly/3K8h5lg! Below you can find a poster with all titles and a QR code leading to the attendance link!

For more information, please contact hod-classics@reading.ac.uk.

Full list of titles

27 April

Marion Meyer, Institut für Klassische Archäologie, Universität Wien, ‘Worshiping Athena in Athens: the Panathenaia, the peplos for the goddess, and Some Open Questions’.

4th May

Bernardo Ballesteros Petrella, Corpus Christi College Oxford, ‘Comparing early Greek, Babylonian and Sanskrit epic: the overburdened earth motif’.

11th May 2-5pm, a symposium on ‘Rome: city and country’, in honour of Professor Annalisa Marzano. NB this is an all-afternoon event.

18th May

Carol Dougherty, Wellesley College, ‘ “I’m a strange new kind of in-between thing aren’t I?”: Antigone and the Question of the Foreigner’.

25th May

no seminar

1st June

Michelle Zerba, Louisiana State University, ‘Eleusis at the Intersection of Antiquity and Modernity: The Mysteria, Altered Consciousness, and the Neuroscience of Transformational Experience’.

International Women’s Day 2022 in Reading Classics

Reading Classics celebrate the International Women’s Day 2022 with an exploration of the variety of female presence in ancient texts and their receptions as well as in authorship around mythical stories. Professor Barbara Goff, whose research has thoroughly examined the role of women in ancient Drama and beyond, in different contexts, historical circumstances, and societies, has recently delivered a public lecture at the Belfast Hellenic Society on three contemporary women writers engaging with ancient tradition. Keep reading for her account of the ways in which women rediscover their place in the long and ever-changing course of literature.

In early March I went on a plane for the first time since 2019 and flew to Belfast, where I was hosted by the Belfast Hellenic Society.  I am indebted to the Society, and especially Maureen Alden, for their wonderful hospitality.  It was fitting that I gave my public lecture in the Canada Room and Council Chamber, in the imposing Lanyon Building, because it is adorned with a big mural of women from the University, titled ‘Out of the Shadows’. My talk was on three of the recent novels by women writers that channel, and challenge, the Homeric tradition: Madeline Miller’s Circe (2018), Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls (2018) and Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships (2019).  Although these are very different from one another, they all experiment with the idea of a ‘new song’, a version of the well-known epic story that is made different because told by a woman or women, and from a female perspective.

The Council Chamber at Queen’s University Belfast, Lanyon Building

 

Classicists will know that the idea of a new song sung by women is not straightforward.  The chorus of Euripides’ Medea claims that for women to sing, the whole world has to be turned upside down:

Upwards flow the streams of holy rivers

and justice and everything is turned backwards.

The plans of men are tricky, and oaths

to gods no longer hold firm.

Speech will change to hold my life in good repute.

Honour will come to the female race;

The muses of old singers will cease to hymn

my faithlessness.

For not to our mind

did he grant the divine music of the lyre

Apollo, the leader of songs; then I would have sung a song

in answer to the race of men.

Now women can sing, say the chorus; but as we know, they are men, in costume.  And we don’t really know what the new content of a women’s song would be; just before this song, Medea says, in perhaps somewhat misogynistic vein:

In addition we were born

women, most helpless for noble things

but of all sufferings the most clever artificers.

 

The new novels, I suggested in my talk, do not make things very much simpler.

The first-person narrator of Circe makes it very easy for readers to question her telling of her own story; she regularly tells us that she leaves things out and changes the story as she goes.  The ending of the novel – spoiler alert! – throws into doubt the precise identity of the narrator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In A Thousand Ships, the Muse Calliope engages in a long-running battle with ‘the poet’ (he’s unnamed, but he is blind…) over exactly what song he will sing.  So, when the novel relays all the stories of the women caught up in the Trojan War, is that the song of the poet, or of Calliope, or is it something else entirely?  Calliope herself seems a bit confused, because although she wants to memorialise all the women of the war, she gets fed up when the poet wants to sing about Helen.

 

 

 

 

 

In Silence of the Girls, Briseis is the first-person narrator, but the novel sets up a long-running contest between her ‘song’ and the epic songs that celebrate men’s victories and sufferings.  Thus she remembers a song that Achilles sang before his death:

The words seemed to have got trapped inside my brain, an infestation rather than a song, and I resented it. Yes, the death of young men in battle is a tragedy…worthy of any number of laments – but theirs is not the worst fate.  I looked at Andromache, who’d have to live the rest of her amputated life as a slave, and I thought: We need a new song.

 

But even having sung that new song, Briseis is unsure that it will work.  At the very end of the novel, she concludes that future audiences will not want to hear her side of the story; they won’t want to hear ‘about the massacres of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls’ and instead will want to listen to something much less challenging.  When the novel concludes ‘now my own story can begin’ it is ironic at least, because these are the last words of the novel.

So rewriting the Homeric tradition from the female viewpoint is not necessarily a straightforward enterprise, but the critical and popular reception of these novels shows that it is a highly resonant undertaking that has won over huge audiences.  My audience in the Canada Room was inspired to do more reading, which is always encouraging  – the poet Michael Longley, whom I met at the event,  said he would rush back to reread the Medea.  As classicists we can relish new works, as well as celebrating the ways in which the ancient texts provoke responses – among men as well as women!

‘Out of the Shadows’, Michelle Rogers, b. 1966.  This work over three panels hangs in the Council Chamber at Queen’s. The 25 women depicted represent female staff, students and alumni of Queen’s, and was commissioned by the Queen’s Gender Initiative which works to improve the profile and position of women within the University.

European Festival of Latin and Greek Returns in Reading Classics

The European Festival of Latin and Greek returns in Reading Classics after two years of pandemic, and we gathered the most exciting info about it in a Q&A covering all you need to know!  Enthusiasts of Classical Literature are more than welcome to participate! Find out below what the European Festival of Latin and Greek is and how you can sign up! 

What is it?

An international (not just European!) event when people celebrate the ancient world by getting together in a public place to read aloud a text from Ancient Greece or Rome.

Are they mad?                 

No, they are just really enthusiastic!

How does the Department come into this?          

The Department is going to participate in the Festival again, as we did pre-Covid; we are going to meet in the Edith Morley Quad, at 1pm on Wednesday March 23rd , to read Sophocles Oedipus the King!

Oedipus the King? That’s the one about mums and dads, yes?    

And about human striving and its limits – about our understanding of our own identity – about plague and recovery, blindness and insight, life and death!  People have been fascinated by this play for centuries, and always find something important in it.

Have you done this before?         

Yes, the Department participated in the 2019 Festival in 2019 when colleagues gathered in Edith Morley Quad to read book 6 of the Iliad in various languages. You can have a taste at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=na3odYx9CXU! In the pictures, you can see us reading Homer Iliad 6 in 2019, along with the Chinese translation that one of us used.

OK, I’m convinced.  But do I have to speak Greek?            

No, the whole point is that people can read in whatever language they like.  Across the world, the Festival is celebrated in Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, Mandarin, Afrikaans, English, French – you get the picture.  And, we don’t have to read the whole thing, just the juicy bits. 

Where do I sign?             

Try https://forms.office.com/r/Bq84DfPb3z to sign up: https://festival-latingrec.eu/english-2/ for more information.  And feel free to email Barbara Goff at hod-classics@reading.ac.uk to tell her how keen you are.  

Food archaeology at Reading Classics

At the Ure Museum we’ve been celebrating Heritage Open Days for a long time: our events usually included opening the museum on a Saturday and hosting activities for adults and families, but during the pandemic we had to go virtual. Thus, in 2020, we launched a much-successful series of short videos created by our staff and our colleagues at the Department of Classics on ‘9 lives of the Ure’s mummified cat’s head’. You can watch the videos here. You can read more about it in one of our previous blogs.  

Our approach received great feedback and thus, we decided to hold our 2021 HOD Events virtually once again. In addition, our museum was just reopening in September with a much-anticipated joint exhibit with the British Museum, and we preferred those two events not to clash. If you missed our British Museum Spotlight Loan or if you wish to visit it again, please follow the link for an online version of it: https://collections.reading.ac.uk/ure-museum/https-collections-reading-ac-uk-ure-museum-troy/

This year’s HOD theme was “edible England” and reminded us of the importance of food – well more than food itself, of the habit of eating and drinking together – in antiquity. Through a series of videos by our members of staff who have examined the relevant area of research from various points of view, we explored ancient diet, depictions of food in our collections, how people used to share food with gods (sacrifices and libations) and their communities (banquets), how important food was in funerary contexts, and even created cook-along videos to eat like an ancient Egyptian, Greek or Roman. All videos are available on our YouTube channel and website https://collections.reading.ac.uk/ure-museum/home/whats-on/hod-2021-eat-pray-love-in-antiquity-at-the-ure-museum/

Poster of the event, provided by Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga 

Although museums and galleries have noticed certain virtual fatigue in the last months of lockdown, people were becoming more and more anxious to visit the real places and interact face to face, and thus, we can happily claim that our virtual HOD was a success! We had 412 views on our YouTube channel and our webpage visits increased a 84%; most of our audience came from the UK, but also from USA, Singapore, Australia and Europe!

It’s amazing how food – a topic that engages most of our senses – can be addressed from afar: by evoking the smells of burnt meat in a sacrifice, the delicious fragrances of baked pastelis, panis focaccias and cakes, the strength and energy provided by Spartan dishes, the beautiful representations of Egyptian food and Greek fish plates, all accompanied by sweet Greek wine. Let’s toast for more opportunities to come together.

The event was organised and held by the team of the Ure Museum under the guidance of the Curator, Prof. Amy Smith, and the Education Officer, Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga.

In fact, this year’s HOD topic was a great match for our Department’s long and strong record of research on the field of food archaeology. We are delighted to have been the academic home for various projects, among which an outstanding position is occupied by the work of Dr Jessie Feito, whose doctoral thesis focussed on the relevant area of expertise. Dr Feito was recently awarded her PhD by the Department of Classics at the University of Reading under the supervision of Prof. Annalisa Marzano, and she has been accepted as a postdoctoral fellow in…

Dr Feito has kindly provided us with a short introduction and summary of current research trends in food archaeology. We are truly thankful to her for sharing her knowledge, and we wish her all the best in the new and exciting steps of her career.

Recent decades have seen a notable increase in interest in the archaeology of food. Food was, and is, more than just a means of achieving the necessary caloric intake for survival; it had social and political significance in antiquity and was highly important culturally and economically. Food is at once a necessity to all, while also being unique to particular peoples and populations, shaped by preferences and cultural practices. This makes the study of food an exceptionally interesting and versatile research topic.

PhD students at the field. Picture retrieved from https://www.reading.ac.uk/classics/phd/department-life-for-phd-students. Dr Jessie Feito is at the front. 

Scholars of the ancient world have explored food and dining habits in a variety of ways. Ancient literature describes food and dining events with texts such as Petronius’ Satyricon, for example, satirising lavish Roman dinner parties, and Apicius’ De re coquinaria providing a glimpse into recipes used in antiquity. Archaeological evidence also offers significant insight into dietary practices. This can be in the form of structural remains of kitchens and dining rooms, such as those famously preserved at Pompeii, or in artistic representations of food and dining in frescoes as well as in mosaics. Ceramics and vessels associated with food preparation and consumption can reveal how meals were cooked and eaten, while the remains of transport containers such as amphora, can shed light on the production and transport of important commodities such as wine, olive oil, and garum. Archaeologists also study the remains of the foodstuffs themselves: zooarchaeology, or the study of animal bones, can be used to explore the consumption of animal products and archaeobotany focuses on the plant remains.

My research utilises the latter, examining plant remains in order to explore food production and consumption in two parts of the Roman world: Italy and the Near East. In using regional case studies, I am able to explore the ways that the Roman Empire impacted diet and agricultural practices in regions of different historical, socio-cultural, political, economic, and even environmental contexts.

The potential for archaeological evidence to shed light on food in the ancient world is vast, and, despite the significant advances that have been made, there is certainly room for our understanding to be improved with further research—this only serves to makes the archaeology of food more exciting! We now know that while dietary practices and preferences varied across the ancient world, just as they do today, the importance of food was universal.

Library Exhibition Highlights Scholars of Colour

Author: Bunny Waring
Date: 14th May 2021.

Prof. Katherine Harloe has been selected to take part in an exhibition displayed in Trinity College’s Library. This project, College Fellow Katherine Ibbett, aims to highlight the work of jurists and scholars of colour from the UK and beyond. The scholars highlighted were voted for by Trinity’s community and centred around those whose work they want to introduce to broader audiences. They include:

  • Professor of international law Dapo Akande
  • Classical scholar Katherine Harloe
  • Poet and literary critic Tsitsi Ell Jaji
  • Physical chemist Carla Pérez-Martínez
  • French scholar Debarati Sanyal
  • Mathematician Pranav Singh
  • Barrister Alexandra Wilson.
  • And more!

 

 

The portraits were taken by Ben Peter Catchpole who has been working remotely with the subjects via Zoom, enabling a ‘fuzzily informal‘ feel that ‘suggest the real warmth of each encounter‘.

In a recent blog post on Trinity College’s website Organiser Katherine Ibbett says:This exhibition signals a firm commitment to diversity in representation at Trinity – in the pictures we show in public areas, in our reading lists, and in the decisions we make about the future of our academic community. Some of our subjects already have a Trinity connection, and we plan to invite others to spend time here at some point in the future.’

With Photographer Ben Peter Catchpole adding: ‘This project was certainly different to anything I’ve done before. Firstly it was during what has been a difficult time for all of us. To photograph someone, often miles away, in various places around the world without even holding a camera, felt like such a challenge. It isn’t necessarily an original idea to take photos remotely, but I had to decide on the best methods while retaining consistency. It was a pleasure photographing every one of them. Shining a light on diversity within academia is very important, so I’m delighted to participate in the project.’

The photographs will be on display in the Lawns Pavilion Reading Room, before moving to the main library upon its reopening. The portraits are also available on Ben Peter Catchpole’s website.

Professor Timothy Duff elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society

Reading Classics is delighted to announce that our Professor of Greek, Timothy Duff, has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.  Professor Duff is one of the foremost scholars of ancient historiography, and is internationally renowned for his work on Plutarch.  His election as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society sees him join a diverse and distinguished group of academics  who have made “an original contribution to historical scholarship” (as the Society’s website states – https://royalhistsoc.org/membership/fellows/), including two other members of the Reading Classics Department, Professors Peter Kruschwitz and Annalisa Marzano, both elected in 2011.

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

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!