Classics at UoR Doctoral Research Conference 2019

Classics was well represented yesterday at UoR’s annual Doctoral Research Conference, held on 19 June, in which Nathalie Choubineh (upper right) and Luca Ottonello (bottom left) competed. This annual event, open to all doctoral researchers and staff from across the University, showcases the diversity of doctoral research undertaken at the University of Reading. Nathalie, who has passed her viva, subject to minor corrections, in April of this year, presented her research poster on Kretike, an aspect of ancient Greek dance that featured in her PhD thesis, written under the supervision of Profs. Barbara Goff and Amy Smith. Luca, who is a part-time PhD candidate, competed in the research image competition, with his digital reconstruction of the Temple of Bel in the ancient city of Palmyra. Palmyra is a case study for his PhD thesis that he is writing under the supervision of Prof. Amy Smith and Dr. Ian Ewart (School of Construction Management and Engineering). As well as meeting new people who shared their interests, both of them found the conference a welcome opportunity to think about ways in which to communicate their research to broader audiences. The Classics Department is proud to now display Nathalie’s poster in its hallway in the Edith Morley building, while Luca’s photograph is displayed with some of his 3D prints of Palmyrene architecture in the Ure Museum.

Visiting researcher in the Ure Museum

On a visit to UoR Classics Department’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology in May 2018, Claudia Gamma, a PhD student at University of Lausanne (Switzerland), made some exciting discoveries. Archaeology often means having to work with fragments. Although (almost) whole pots definitely have their charm, tiny fragments provide some of the most exciting and rewarding challenges. During her short visit to the Ure Museum to study Boeotian classical pottery, Claudia investigated the fragments in storage alongside the displayed artefacts & found several dispersed fragments that joined eachother to reconstruct parts of whole pots. She even added some tiny fragments to an almost whole pot decorated with the black floral style of the classical period. She has made so many discoveries, in fact, that Claudia has decided to come back to visit us later this month to finish her work on our Boeotian vases that will contribute to her PhD thesis. We look forward to welcoming her back.

Winckelmann and Curiosity in the 18th-century Gentleman’s Library (Christ Church, Oxford)

On the glorious sunny evening of 29th June 2018, the Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, welcomed Reading staff, interested scholars and other supporters to a champagne launch of Winckelmann and Curiosity in the 18th-century Gentleman’s Library, which explores the interaction and influence of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1758), the pioneer historian, art historian and archaeologist, on the occasion of the double anniversaries of his birth and death. (https://www.winckelmann-gesellschaft.com/en/winckelmann_anniversaries_20172018).


The event also served as a finale to a very successful one-day workshop on Ideals and Nations: New perspectives on the European reception of Winckelmann’s aesthetics, organised by Dr Fiona Gatty and Lucy Russell, under the auspices of the Department of Modern Languages, Oxford University. (This was the last of our triplet of workshops on the theme Under the Greek Sky: Taste and the Reception of Classical art from Winckelmann to the present, of which Spreading good taste: Winckelmann and the objects of disseminationin Reading on 15 September 2017—was the second). On this auspicious occasion Professor Alex Potts from University of Michigan, formerly Professor of the History of Art & Architecture at University, served as one of the workshops’ keynote speakers and proposed a toast to Winckelmann.

This exhibition is a collaboration between UoR Classics’ Ure Museum and Christ Church, co-curated by Reading’s Dr Katherine Harloe and Prof Amy Smith (Curator of the Ure Museum) and Christ Church’s Cristina Neagu (Keeper of Collections). The exhibition of vases, coins, gems (and casts thereof) and even a piece of painted Pompeian plaster kindly lent by the Reading Museum Service, is displayed in Christ Church’s recently restored upper library, which IS in fact the very embodiment of the collecting curiosity that Winckelmann influenced with his enthusiasm for the study of artefacts alongside texts. The library, completed in 1772, boasts large Venetian windows at either end, fittings that date mostly from the 1750s and plasterwork replicating some of the musical instruments once contained in the library.  

The exhibition is accompanied by a 134-page book, edited by Drs Harloe & Neagu & Prof Smith, with essays and a handlist of the objects on display, available from either Christ Church or the University of Reading for £10. We are grateful to the Friends of the University of Reading for funds in support of this publication.

The Ure Museum staff have planned a series of outreach activities in connection with the exhibition, starting with an activity for children and their carers: The Grand Tour: How Classical art went viral in England at Christ Church on Mondays—30th July, 6th and 13th August, from 11am to 1230 pm, in Christ Church Library (OX1 4EJ). Please contact ure.education@reading.ac.uk if you are interested in participating. Details of this and other related activities can be found on the ‘Winckelmania’ research blog—https://research.reading.ac.uk/winckelmania/.

Reading Classics hosts MOISA’s 11th international conference

This weekend, 20-22 July 2018, the International Society for the Study of Greek and Roman Music and its Cultural Heritage, a.k.a. MOISA, held its 11th international conference at UoR’s Museum of English Rural Life, organised by UoR Classics’ Professor Ian Rutherford and James Lloyd, working with Donatella Restani (University of Bologna). The three-day conference, themed Music and Materiality, began with a keynote speech from Rupert Till (University of Huddersfield) on ‘An introduction to Archaeoacoustics’. Another highlight was a Saturday night concert at Christ Church, Reading, with performances from Barnaby Brown on a reconstruction aulos (reeded pipe) and Steph Connor on a reconstruction barbitos (a.k.a. ‘Lydian lyre’) and vocals.

The research topics of papers by 27 scholars—representing academic institutions from Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, UK, and USA—ranged from the instruments themselves (auloi and percussion), archaeological evidence of music in Rome, Apulia and Attica, to exciting new approaches and finds. Particularly touching was Prof. Stelios Psaroudakes’ dedication of his paper to the memory of Dr John Gray Landels, his PhD supervisor during his own studies at University of Reading. Dr Landels was instrumental in UoR Classics’ acquisition and study of antiquities relevant to the study of music in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, such as the Reading Aulos.

The event culminated with a visit to the Ure Museum, where visitors viewed a special exhibition of these antiquities and others on loan from the University’s Special Collections as well as the British Museum: Music and Materiality, curated by James Lloyd (on display from May-July 2018) and a hands-on ‘How to make an aulos reed’ activity, led by Callum Rogers. Warning: it takes a high skill level both to make the reeds and play the auloi!

Longing for what we have lost

Portrait of J.J. Winckelmann by A. von Maron (1768)

Today marks the 250th anniversary of the untimely death of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a pioneering scholar of antiquity and arbiter of taste in 18th-century Europe. As part of the Winckelmann anniversaries 2017-2018 (we celebrated the 300th anniversary of Winckelmann’s birth 9 December 2017) we are pleased to launch a special online exhibition curated by Connell Greene, currently a third year student in our BA in Classical Studies: Longing for what we have lost: An influential explorer’s pursuit of classical antiquity. This exhibition considers how, since his death, Winckelmann’s life and scholarship have continued to fascinate artists, writers and thinkers, and thus elevate his significance within European cultural history in general and LGBTQ history in particular. Connell worked on this exhibit as part of his UROP, under the supervision of Dr Katherine Harloe and Prof. Amy C. Smith.

On our Winckelmann research project web pages you can also explore upcoming events and our other exhibitions, From Italy to Britain. Winckelmann and the spread of neoclassical taste and Winckelmann and Curiosity in the 18th-century gentleman’s library. These latter exhibitions, which explore Winckelmann’s influence on the reception of the taste for classics in Europe, are the fruit of collaborations between the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology and partners at UoR and beyond. The latter exhibit, hosted by Christ Church Library, Oxford, and curated by our Dr Katherine Harloe and Prof. Amy Smith, together with Dr Cristina Neagu (Christ Church), will be launched 29 June 2018 and displayed until 26 October 2018. It is launched simultaneously with a workshop, organised by the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford, in collaboration with Christ Church, Ideals and Nations: New perspectives on the European reception of Winckelmann’s aesthetics. This is the third and last of a trilogy of workshops we have organised on the theme, Under the Greek Sky: Taste and the Reception of Classical art from Winckelmann to the present, with colleagues at London (KCL and Warburg) as well as Reading and Oxford.

Our collaboration with Christ Church is particularly appropriate, since it recalls the University of Reading’s origins as an extension college—University Extension College, Reading—founded by Christ Church in 1892.

The Classical in 20th-century British Sculpture

Observant visitors to our Classics Department hallway in the Edith Morley building may have noticed a certain upscaling of our appearance in 2018. Pursuant to our collaboration with University Arts Collections (UAC) on our exhibit, From Italy to Britain: Winckelmann and the spread of neoclassical taste in Autumn 2017, which included four academic drawings of Classical sculptures made by Minnie Jane Hardman during her time as a student at the Royal Academy, Dr Naomi Lebens, UAC Curator enabled us to display facsimiles of six of Hardman’s drawings in the Classics hallway since the beginning of 2018. We have now added to these drawings several sculptures that the celebrated sculptor Eric Stanford carved in 1990, when was working in UoR’s art studios at Bulmershe on a major commission for Reading, namely the Spanish Civil War Memorial, now in Reading’s Forbury Gardens.

A clear connection between the two sculptures from the University Art Collections—Torso of Protesilaos, made of Bath stone, and Helen of Troy, made of Clipsham stone—is that they represent protagonists from Homer’s Iliad, so the Department of Classics was delighted to discover and display them. The Torso of Protesilaos, opposite Edith Morley room G34, depicts the Greek hero amid swirling waves that evoke the Trojan shore from which Protesilaos marched, despite the oracular warning of his impending death. When we suggested to Stanford that the waves might also recall the fire into which his widow Laodameia chased a brazen figure of her deceased husband, he was charmed by the thought that had, however, never occurred to him.

We have placed the head of Helen of Troy in the entrance to the Ure Museum (http://www.reading.ac.uk/Ure/), where she is in conversation with our statue of Aphrodite from Cyrene, on loan from the British Museum since the Ure’s redesign in 2005. The distorted perspective and exaggerated forms of Stanford’s carving overturn traditional archetypes of female beauty associated with Helen of Troy’s ‘face that launch’d a thousand ships’ (according to Christopher Marlowe). Helen’s elopement with Paris of Troy, despite being married to the King of Sparta, gave cause to the Trojan War and thus influenced much European art and literature. Helen’s prominent brow, large nose and wide-set eyes are features more common to non-European artistic traditions, such as African sculpture. Stanford here combines those traditions with Classics, under the clear influence of cubism.

Clio Art Ltd. has lent us a third Clasically-themed Stanford statue, also made in 1990, of Portland stone, namely Memnon. This son of the dawn-goddess, Eos, stands in the rigid posture of some Archaic Greek statues, with one leg slightly advanced. Yet his form recalls ancient sculpture as it so often reaches us: fractured, incomplete, and part buried. Stanford has depicted him with legs firmly engulfed in the plinth below, arms absent, as if broken off, and missing the top half of his head. Enough remains for us to recognise the helmeted warrior, facing sideways, stylised with a prominent lock of hair.

To launch the display of these three sculptures, the Department of Classics hosted a workshop, entitled The Classical in 20th-century British Sculpture in the Ure Museum on 17 Aril 2018, with presentations from artists, art historians and Classicists, old and new friends of Eric Stanford (http://www.reading.ac.uk/Ure/info/Classicsin20thCentury.php). A particular highlight of the day was a conversation with the sculptor himself and his wife, Helen Stanford, via skype, from their home. We look forward to presenting these talks via YouTube in the near future.

 

Reading Ancient Schoolroom 2017

Photo: Alex Wickenden

This year’s edition of the Reading Ancient Schoolroom ran for two weeks and welcomed several hundred schoolchildren to campus. Led by a team of specially-trained volunteers, some of them Reading students and others coming from as far away as Edinburgh to participate, the children experienced first hand what life was like in a Roman school. This year there was a focus on Roman mathematics (pictured above: maths teacher Dom O’Reilly with children from Dolphin School), but children also practiced reading from papyri, writing on ostraca and tablets, using quill pens, memorizing poetry, and studying Latin and Greek the way ancient children would have studied them. They also had the opportunity to sample Roman food made by our magnificent Roman cook, Reading undergraduate Charlotte Edwards, and special object handling sessions in the Ure Museum. For more information (and lots more pictures) see https://readingancientschoolroom.com/2017-schoolroom/. Schoolroom director Professor Eleanor Dickey was interviewed about the event on UKEd chat; you can listen to the interview at https://ukedchat.com/2017/07/17/ukedpodcast-episode-12/.

Prof. Pollmann appointed Distinguished Visiting Fellow of Green College

Professor Karla Pollmann (Classics), Head of the School of Humanities has been appointed as Distinguished Visiting Fellow of Green College, University of British Columbia, Canada, in recognition of her outstanding record of intellectual accomplishments. Green College (https://www.greencollege.ubc.ca/) is a prestigious interdisciplinary Graduate College that fosters the principle of “ideas and friendship”.

Professor Pollmann has been linked for the last two decades to this College where she taught interdisciplinary master classes on Augustine’s Confessions and on Ancient and Modern Cultural Theories, and did research in fields as diverse as ancient and early Christian epic, patristics in the Americas, and innovative possibilities to design an interdisciplinary graduate programme. During her appointment as Distinguished Visiting Fellow she hopes to pursue this latter idea in more concrete detail, in order to give an innovative profile to the potential of the Humanities at the University of Reading.

Classics Research Seminars – Summer Term 2017

We are delighted to announce our research seminar programme for Summer Term 2017:

May 10: Double event on Greco-Roman Egypt:

  • Prof. Patricia Rosenmeyer (Wisconsin), ‘Coded Inscriptions on the Memnon Colossus in Egyptian Thebes’
  • Dr. Kyriakos Savvopoulos  (Oxford), ‘From Isis Lochias to St. Mark the Evangelist: Archaeological evidence from the submerged area of Akra Lochias (Great Harbour) in Alexandria’

May 17: Prof. Karen Bassi (UCSC), ‘Domesticating Death: Living in the House of Hades’

Both events will start at 4pm and take place in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology (Edith Morley Building [formerly HumSS] G38).

In addition to that, we will host our annual MA and PhD colloquia this term.

All welcome!

New Book: The Baptized Muse

Karla Pollmann, The Baptized Muse (Oxford University Press, 2017)

ISBN 978-0-19-872648-7

https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-baptized-muse-9780198726487?cc=gb&lang=en&

This book focuses on early Christian poets, mainly from the 4th to the 6th centuries and writing in Latin, whose works have so far been too often dismissed as epigonal. The book chooses a fresh approach by highlighting the intertextual and exegetical means by which early Christian poets achieved a culturally competitive and highly influential standard in writing poetry directed specifically at an educated (would-be) Christian audience for their edification and education. This book will not only fill a considerable gap in our knowledge of the history of European literature, mentality and thought, but will also enable a better understanding of later literary artefacts in this tradition, from Beowulf to Milton’s Paradise Lost. Thus, in a general sense, this book contributes to the recently emerged interdisciplinary interest in looking at aspects of religion as cultural phenomena, and at the interrelationship of theology and literature.

With the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire increasing numbers of educated people converted to this new belief. As Christianity did not have its own educational institutions the issue of how to harmonize pagan education and Christian convictions became increasingly pressing. Especially classical poetry, the staple diet of pagan education, was considered to be morally corrupting (because of its deceitful mythological content) and damaging for the salvation of the soul (because of the false gods it advocated). But Christianity recoiled from an unqualified anti-intellectual attitude, while at the same time the experiment of creating an idiosyncratic form of genuinely Christian poetry failed (the sole exception being the poet Commodianus). This book argues that, instead, Christian poets made creative use of the classical literary tradition, and – in addition to blending it with Judaeo-Christian biblical exegesis – exploited poetry’s special ability of enhancing communicative effectiveness and impact through aesthetic means in order to disseminate the Christian faith. The book seeks to explore these strategies through a close analysis of a wide range of Christian, and for comparison partly also pagan, writers mainly from the fourth to sixth centuries. The book reveals that early Christianity was not a hermetically sealed uniform body, but displays a rich spectrum of possibilities in dealing with the past and a willingness to engage with and adapt the surrounding culture(s), thereby developing diverse and changing responses to historical challenges. By demonstrating throughout that authority is a key in understanding the long denigrated and misunderstood early Christian poets, this book reaches the ground-breaking conclusion that early Christian poetry is an art form that gains its justification by adding cultural authority to Christianity.

KARLA POLLMANN is currently Professor of Classics and Head of the School of Humanities at the University of Reading. She has also been appointed as Adjunct Professor of Theology at the University of Århus, Denmark, and Professor Extraordinary of Classics at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She is internationally recognized for her monographs on late antique poetry, on Augustine’s hermeneutics, and a commentary, with introduction and text, on Statius, Thebaid 12. She was Principal Investigator of a major international and interdisciplinary project on the reception of Augustine through the ages, generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust, whose main result is the three-volume Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine (OUP 2013). She is currently Co-Investigator of an Innovative Training Network sponsored by the EU, entitled “The History of Human Freedom and Dignity in Western Civilization” (itn-humanfreedom.eu). She is an internationally renowned speaker and her engagements include the deliveries of the 11th Augustine Lectures in Malta in 2007 under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Malta, the 4th Fliedner Lectures on Science and Faith in Madrid in 2013, and the 4th Dutch Annual Lecture in Patristics, at the Dutch Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 2014.