Professor Smith visits the Antipodes

During August 2022 Professor Amy Smith served as R.D. Milns Visiting Professor at University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia. Since Australia’s seasons are the opposite of ours, August is a great time of year to find hives of academic energy in antipodean Universities. Queensland’s early Spring feels like a comfortable Reading Summer: Amy’s hosts did a good job of getting her to meet the local flora & fauna and enjoy the watersports!

Classics at Queensland is part of a larger School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, just as we at Reading join with historians and philosophers in a School of Humanities. At Queensland, however, these postgraduates have an open plan work area that includes a kitchen and is surrounded by their teachers’ offices, one of which Amy was allocated during her short stay. And just as we have our Ure Museum, UQ Classics benefits from its own museum, named in honour of Prof. R.D. (Bob) Milns. On her first few days, therefore, Prof. Smith explored the Museum’s immense collection of fragments and spoke to the students—UQ’s Classical Society—about ‘Disiecta Membra or How to find value in fragmentary pots’.

Many of these pots were—unsuprisingly—late black figure Attic (Athenian) fragments, which fed into Prof. Smith’s presentation to UQ’s ancient history research seminar, on ‘The search for ancient Greek women at the feast’. The R.D. Milns Museum and perpetual endowment fund, which funded Amy’s visit, were created in large part with support from the Friends of Antiquity, a group of alumni, scholars and other teachers, who meet at UQ on a monthly basis to hear from local and international speakers. A highlight of Amy’s visit therefore was her public talk to the Friends of Antiquity, on Festival ware for Athenian women’. This and her ancient history seminar talk relate to research she’s preparing with Katerina Volioti (Roehampton) for a book to be published by University of Wisconsin. At her last public lecture, for something completely different, however, Prof. Smith spoke on ‘Hercules: dancing queen’, bringing together her research interests in Herakles, myth, & dance.

On her way to Queensland, Amy took time out of her NZ holiday to catch up with colleagues & collections in Auckland and Christchurch. The University of Canterbury in Christchurch has restored its James Logie Memorial Collection of antiquities, much of which was broken in their 2011 earthquake and redisplayed in the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities in UC’s Arts Centre, just around the corner of the Canterbury Museum and on the same block that the (jn)famous Wizard of New Zealand could be found during her visit.

Winthrop Hall, University of Western Australia, flanked by statues of Sokrates & Diotima

After her travels to Western Australia, Amy found herself on the doorstep of University of Western Australia (UWA) in Perth where, as in Reading, Classics and Ancient History is ensconced in the School of Humanities. She was kindly welcomed to their Friday seminar, with excellent presentations of current work from two of their postgraduate students, while Emeritus Professor John Melville-Jones, a numismatist, regaled her with stories about ‘referential’ style of the University’s Hackett Buildings, graced even with busts of Sokrates and Diotima. And the next week Reading and UWA postgraduates come together in a conference and exhibition on Monsters: From ancient to modern. Stay tuned for the upcoming release of the Monsters video tour and the online exhibition!

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’.

LGBT History Month: queer presences, kisses and storms

Dr Oliver Baldwin is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Classics, currently researching internationally for his project Queer Tragedy”. He has kindly provided us with an account of his research trip in various European countries below.

LGBT history month began and ended with me doing precisely LGBT history by roaming European archives for my project Queer Tragedy, a performance history of LGBTQI+ stagings and versions of Greco-Roman tragedy, from 1969, the year of the Stonewall riots in New York, to its fiftieth anniversary in 2019. The objective is to analyse an array of gay Bacchaes, lesbian Oedipuses and trans Medeas that have taken place in several countries at several historical junctures.  I use the verb doing because LGBT history involves precisely labour, action and involvement in mapping a constellation that has been darkened, ignored, shunned or dismissed. In archives (gradually specialised but always imperfect) one must construct queer history, reconstruct queer lives and deconstruct normative prejudice. Queer (hi)stories often appear in the periphery of the focus, as blurred images, as distorted echoes, as reflections of phobias, or, contrarily, as direct addresses, looking one straight in the eye claiming: I am here and I am queer. Consequently, the doing in queer history is also a process of being visited by voices and presences, of being haunted, driving you further into the (re/de)construction. The doing of LGBTQI+ history is the work of historians hand in hand with queer (hi)stories.

My European archival doing began in Paris. Queer Tragedy’s archive is a complicated one to construct: often institutions do not have a queer tag in their catalogues for a given performance; many of these performances have taken place in theatres of the off (off) circuit and are therefore unlikely to appear in mainstream (or even in specialised) media; queer issues in these plays are often coded, veiled or even rejected by their own creators. All these issues I faced in France, but at the centre of my labour was the ever-present dictation and conditioning of heteronormativity. This not only influenced the reticence of some theatre makers to have their work described as (fully or partially) LGBTQI+ when I contacted them—a queer play may label a theatre maker as “just queer” and therefore potentially limit their future prospects. It also influenced the very queer portrayals on stage. By chance—an inescapable component of archival work, however rigorous one strives to be—the plays I came across while in France portrayed trans people as essential characters. One may, on the surface, see this as a positive sign. But on closer inspection (and this is my impression), it is rather the opposite. Firstly, none of these trans characters were performed by trans people, but by either cis women or cis men. Secondly, these trans characters are constructed on the normative (and transphobic) understanding of trans people as portents, as beings transiting through maleness and femaleness, as extreme androgyny personified, but never as fully man or woman. One only has to dig into our social (and personal) memories to understand this has been (and continues to be) the norm.

Let me briefly explain with an example. In the staging by Pierre Notte of Stephane Guerin’s Kalashnikov (2013), a disenchanted retelling of Oedipus, we find a character called Le Trans (always referred to as she/her). This character appears as both guide and challenger of the Oedipus-character, mostly on the margins of the action, as if an informed onlooker, an ironic commentator on bourgeois reality. Le Trans stands as a fusion of two ancient personages of mixed identities: the Sphinx, at once woman and lion, and Tiresias, the blind seer who has experienced being both man and woman. In the play, Le Trans is thus a character of special knowledge, mystery and insight precisely for her (allegedly) gender-marginal identity as man-woman, but never fully woman, as the use of transphobic slurs in the play testify–one of which, travesti (a term often used transphobically framing trans people as cross-dressers), is ever-present in describing many other trans characters I have come across. Le Trans, and other trans characters, appear in these plays as sexual/gender portents, as other with para-human insight, as the queerest carrier of knowledge; but never fully woman. The almost impossibility for many in French and Western society of calling a trans-woman a woman and treat her as one is blatant in the cases I have researched so far. Beware of good intentions bearing gifts.

Queer themes in versions of Greco-Roman tragedy do not only reveal the prejudices, phobias and conceptual impossibilities of heteronormativity; they also reveal the resistance, strength and endurance of their queer creators. This is most clearly the case in the performance I researched while in Brussels, the next step after Paris: Jan Ritsema’s Philoktetes-Variations (1994), used different versions of the Philoktetes story to tell (among other issues) of the battle its main actor, Ron Vawter (Philoktetes), was waging against AIDS. The story of the Greek commander abandoned by the Troy-bound Greeks because of his gangrenous snake-bite wound only to then be reclaimed for self-serving interests resounded at a time when AIDS had been ravaging the lives of many gay men for over a decade—men who had also been relinquished, forgotten and repudiated by families and communities. The cries of pain Sophocles wrote to be howled by Philoktetes were now being performed by an internationally-recognised gay actor with HIV, whose nakedness on stage revealed his own Kaposi sarcoma, the wounds caused by snake-like AIDS on the bodies of many. This was central to the whole production and is echoed in the struggles the production team had to face when ensuring the well-being of Ron Vawter: on tour, hotels with a bath and a connected room for a nurse were arranged and contracts specified the potential suspension or the cancellation of the production due to Vawter’s health. AIDS was made even more present by a screening of the film Philadelphia, in which Vawter starred, telling the story of HIV-positive Andrew Becket (played by Tom Hanks), and his legal battle against his employers for discrimination. The screening took place at the same theatre where Philoktetes was being performed, and its revenue was destined for several Belgian AIDS charities. It is difficult to describe how disheartening it is to go through the documents explaining the deterioration of Ron Vawter that contrast with his own adamant intention of making the production happen. Although I knew it was coming, I could not contain myself from shedding more than a tear when reading the note by Kaaitheatre informing the team that Ron Vawter died on his return to New York to prepare the American tour of Philoktetes-Variations. Archival haunting is real and extremely heart-wrenching at times.

 

Philotetes-Variations. Kaaitheater. Maarten Vanden Abeele (photographer)

But the queer-tragic stage is also a place for hope as well as of endurance. In Orestes in Mosul (2019), theatre director Milo Rau’s global-collective Oresteia in Gent (where I went to next), the bloody and horrendous family story of the Atreids is told through scenes from the plays (including the Iphigenia story and different versions of Orestes’ matricide), mixing live performances at NTGent and recordings of the production in Mosul (Iraq), alongside reflections, memories and testimonies of the production process and the personal and acting experiences of the Moslawi and European casts. At one point Risto Kübar (playing Orestes) from Estonia and Duraid Abbas Ghaieb (playing Pylades) of Iraqi heritage, tell the audience how they both escaped their homes to find queer refuge in theatre. After this, they both kiss passionately, signifying their union, endurance and hope in the future. They (actors and characters) will kiss twice more, once in the tower from where DAESH executed gay men in Mosul, just after Orestes and Pylades have been put to trial by the chorus. As they kiss, they defiantly and lovingly embrace, resisting the insistent attempts to separate them by the chorus (whose actors had been unsure of the scene during rehearsals). The kiss, in joining the actors’ stories, the loving bond of Orestes and Pylades and the deadly connotations of its location, stood as an act of defiance in building a queer future in which every Orestes and every Pylades can kiss and embrace without their integrity being threatened, echoing Pylades’ line in Euripides’ Orestes: ‘I will take care of you’.

Orestes in Mosul is the play that closes the Queer Tragedy project chronologically, as the receiver of the echoes, hauntings, endurance, celebration, love, hopes and promises of its predecessors, symbolically opened in this performance history by another kiss, that between Dionysus and Pentheus in Richard Schechner’s Dionysus in 69 in New York in 1968. The end of the project appears at the beginning of my LGBTQI+ archival doing, and its beginning towards the end in a few months’ time. But there is never a linear way of doing history, particularly LGBT history, however linear it may later appear in books. I write to you from my hotel room in Berlin, where I arrived after a 9-hour odyssey through the Netherlands and Germany catching three trains and one replacement bus. A good but long victory over storm Eunice. Now in Berlin I find myself jumping chronologically, dramatically and queerly to another kiss, that between Dionysus and Pentheus in Grüber’s Die Bakchen (1974). This ‘highly homoerotic ceremonial’, as a critic described it, will lead me on to other destinations and queer tragedies as I hope it will lead you on to celebrate, vindicate and share LGBT histories beyond this month too. Queer tragic kiss to you all.

Dr Oliver Baldwin (BA/UoR). Queer Tragedy project

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.

Reading Classics Spring Term Seminar Series 2022

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for SpringTerm 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 26 January, 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/33Ym1ty! Below you can find a poster with all titles and a QR code leading to the attendance link! 

For our first Reading Classics Spring Term Seminar, we are delighted to welcome Ergün Läfli, Professor of Classical Archaeology at the Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir, who will speak on ‘Ancient lamps from southern Turkey’. All welcome thisWednesday 26th January 2022 at 4pm! 

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

Full list of titles

26 January 

Ergün Läfli (Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir), Ancient lamps from southern Turkey

2 February 

Marco Fantuzzi (Roehampton), Realism becomes Electra (and Euripides) 

9 February

Ioannis Mitsios (Athens), Boreads and Oreithyia or not? Re-examining figures P, Q and R from the west pediment of the Parthenon

23 February 

Çiğdem Maner (Koç), Adaptation, Subsistence and Political Geography in Southeastern Konya from the 3rd to the 1st Millenium BC

2 March

Hana Navratilova (Reading/Oxford), New graffiti season at Dahshur, Egypt, 2021: mapping ancient appraisals of the pyramid complex of Senwosret III

9 March

Hella Eckhardt (Reading), Bridge over troubled water – new approaches to Roman river finds

16 March

Maria Mili (Glasgow), Divine things: Greek gods and objects

 

We look forward to welcoming you at Reading Classics Research Seminars once again! 

 

Celebrating Egyptian Month in Reading

Authors: Dr Hana Navratilova and Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga

Date: December 2021

The Department of Classics at the University of Reading celebrated the Egyptian Month with research and teaching activities as well as with the interactive event — Live Forever! Welcome to the Underworld — held as part of the Being Human Festival!  

In October 2021, Dr Hana Navratilova spent several weeks working with the Egyptian Expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, at the site of Dahshur in Egypt. At the same time Dr Navratilova continued teaching and serving as our Department’s Director of Academic Tutoring from her desert location, which had surprisingly good internet speed. The site of Dahshur is located south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and belongs to a large group of pyramid fields, i.e. necropoleis dominated by Old and Middle Kingdom pyramid complexes (3rd and 2nd millennium BCE).

Photo: A sunset in the desert (credit: Hana Navratilova)

The Metropolitan Museum international team works together with the Ministry of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt and research teams specialising at the pyramid precinct of Senwosret III, which has a very long history, starting well before this Middle Kingdom sovereign and continuing until the Roman period. The Greco-Roman history of the site involves a large cemetery: the pyramid of Senwosret III was a place of royal burials, veneration, and admiration by generations of visitors. Its lifecycle turned a new page, however, when Ramesses II decided to use it as a quarry, and we are all excitingly waiting for further archaeological research on that aspect of its history to complement our understanding of the ways in which such an ancient site changed over time!

Photo: ongoing excavation in the demolition zone of the pyramid complex at the site of Dahshur in Egypt. Please note that Covid protection measures have been applied at the excavation area and in housing of the teams. Facemasks are now part of archaeological everyday life as are lateral flow tests!  (Photo credit: Hana Navratilova)

Dr Navratilova’s area of expertise focusses on the New Kingdom material, so-called visitors’ graffiti, while further research interests revolve around the pyramid biography. Monuments in Egypt have almost always a long history, which requires that we study their use, re-use, and reappropriation across time. This perspective on pyramids helps also in our interpretation of long lives of other Egyptian monuments, including temples. The temples at Abydos, for example, have long been in the focus of religious history and pilgrimage study by Prof. Ian Rutherford.

Photo: earlier drawing of a graffito (credit: Hana Navratilova)

The excavation work at Dahshur is still ongoing and we are truly excited to see what the archaeological spade will bring to light!  You can read more about the site of Dahshur at https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dapc/hd_dapc.htm

 

In addition, the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology and the Department of Classics at the University of Reading hosted the interactive event ‘Live forever: welcome to the Underworld’ on the evening of 19 November 2021 thanks to a generous grant awarded by the Being Human Festival Hub (https://beinghumanfestival.org/events/live-forever-welcome-underworld).

This year’s theme was “renewal”, so we decided to recreate the ancient Egyptian and Greek underworlds. It was no paradox: far from being a terrifying experience, this was a life-affirming event, in which staff and students acted as guides to the Egyptian and Greek ways to eternity. The corridors and lecture rooms of the department were converted into different branches of the afterlife: our mortal guests were allowed to enter Elysium to discuss life and death with heroes of the Classical world, and then were tested by the tribunal of Osiris and the Egyptian gods, where their heart was balanced against the feather of Maat, the goddess of justice. If their life was found to be good, their name was to be remembered forever! In tune with remembrance as the theme of November, we hope to have shown how ancient cultures coped with the challenge of death and loss, which seemed suitable after a world-wide pandemic.

Live forever: welcome to the Underworld not only disseminated a topic extensively researched in the Department of Classics and the Ure Museum to a wider audience, but it also helped to create a sense of camaraderie among undergraduates and academics, especially after two years of lockdown. The event encouraged students to develop their own teaching resources when engaging our audiences: they created stand-up routines, devised new trails for the museum, learnt to play ancient games, etc.

Jenny, one of our students, said: “I am very grateful for the amazing opportunity to teach how to play Senet, an ancient Egyptian board game to our visitors. This was a very popular part of the event which saw children and parents competitively playing the game as well as asking questions about the Egyptian afterlife. Even one girl came up with the idea that the pieces could represent the need for all parts of your ba, or soul, to reach the afterlife to be together in eternal life”.

Harry designed museum trails on Ancient Egyptian and Greek funerary practices and much more: “What I liked most about the festival was the variety of stuff that was happening, meaning there was something for almost everyone who was interested in Ancient History. For those fascinated with drama, two plays were taking place in which students and professors alike dressed up as Ancient fictional characters such as gods and heroes in a re-enactment of the Underworld – one play was about the Egyptian afterlife, and the other about the Greek. Those with a liking for music in Antiquity were likely happy to hear Dr James Lloyd playing the aulos during the festival.”

You can get a taste of how the ancient Greek aulos sounds in this short video with Dr James Lloyd in the Reading Classics corridor: https://twitter.com/i/status/1461791868262440963.

Being Human Festival provided us with a perfect opportunity to recreate ancient Egypt and Greece, to offer an immersive experience to the local community and to show that, no matter how many millennia have gone by, antiquity remains relevant to understand how we cope with loss, time, the human, and the divine.

 

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Bring in the Artists

Discerning visitors to the Classics@Reading and the Ure Museum will have seen more and more art gracing our department’s home since the pioneering Head of Departmentship of Prof. Emma Aston, who persuaded the University Arts Collection to lend us some of the late Eric Stanford’s stone sculptures — Protesilaus and a Head of Helen of Troy — and excellent facsimiles of Minnie Hardman’s beautiful drawings of ancient sculptures.  At the same time a private donor lent us Stanford’s Memnon who also graces our department hallway in the Edith Morley building on the Whiteknights campus. Stanford’s Helen sparked our interest in Troy which led to the current British Museum Spotlight Loan.*

In 2022 we will welcome another internationally recognised artist to the Ure Museum. Through Meeting Point, an Arts&Heritage scheme funded by Arts Council England that brings artists to small museums to bring their collections to new audiences, we have now commissioned Chisato Minamimura, a Deaf performance artist originally from Japan, to create an artwork that responds to the Ure Museum’s collection. Chisato, who has taught, created, and performed internationally, including at Paralympic Opening Ceremonies, approaches choreography from her unique perspective as a Deaf artist, creating what she calls ‘visual sound/music’. Just before lockdown in 2020 the Ure Museum was chosen as one of six museums and heritage sites to work in partnership with artists as part of the Meeting Point programme. Chisato’s explorations with dance and sound chime perfectly with our recent research on music, dance, and sensory archaeology. We are very excited that this opportunity has brought us together with Chisato and we eagerly anticipate her exploration of our collections, to celebrate the Ure Museum’s 100th anniversary, coincidentally in the bicentenary of the Greek War of Independence. 

You can read more about the commission on the university press release at https://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/releases/PR861332.aspx. There you can find the statement made by the Curator of the Ure Museum, Professor Amy Smith, along with a note from Chisato.

We look forward to this collaboration and its exciting outcomes! 

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*Troy: Beauty and Heroism will remain on display in the Ure Museum until 12 December so please rush in if you hadn’t had a chance already (even in tonight’s Being Human museum late ‘Live Forever: Welcome to the Underworld’.   duly will have noticed n international performance artist is set to work with the University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology to design a piece of contemporary art inspired by the Museum’s unique collection.

Photo credit: photographer Mark Pickthall