Postgraduate Colloquium 2023

On the 25th and 26th of May 2023, the Department of Classics at the University of Reading held its annual postgraduate colloquium. The colloquium is a chance for Masters and PhD students to share an aspect of their research with colleagues from the department in the form of a brief presentation. Students were able to present their research in a friendly and positive environment, with space for respectful and informative discussion. This year saw a fantastic mix of thought-provoking topics being presented from all corners of the classical world, triggering lots of interesting questions from the audience.

After the two day event, some of the students and staff from the department visited Park House for a well-earned celebratory drink. Here they are enjoying the sunshine!

Thank you to all of our staff and students from the department who took part in the colloquium, both those presenting and those sitting in the audience. We hope for an equally successful colloquium in 2024!

Two months in Paris

When the Greek department of the Sorbonne University invited me to spend a term in Paris as visiting professor, my first instinct was to refuse. Owing to having been assaulted and insulted in equal measure there in my younger days I’d vowed never to set foot in France again – in fact I’d made that vow twice, having imprudently given France a second chance once before. But then again, can one really turn down an offer from the Sorbonne? The chance to teach some of the world’s top students, and to do it in French? Working with top scholars, using some of the world’s best libraries? So in the end I nervously accepted.

Stained glass panel in the Musée de Cluny

I needn’t have worried; perhaps France has changed, or maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten older and less attractive, but in two months there I was not attacked once. In fact, everyone was lovely to me (even the supervisor of the apartment building – previously I had never even heard of a nice super), and I had a great time. The library was amazing, and the students were terrific. A group of them worked together with me to make an edition and translation of an unpublished text: deciphering something that probably hadn’t been read in centuries, comparing the manuscripts to work out how they are related and which readings are more likely to be original, making an apparatus criticus, translating the text, tracking down quotations and historical references to figure out when and where it was first written, etc. Of course this process couldn’t be fully finished in two months, particularly as a sharp-eyed student found more manuscripts of our text just before I left Paris, but that means that we’re still working on it remotely, which is also fun. I can’t tell you quite what the text is, because we still don’t entirely know, but part of it consists of letters between a (probably fictional) fifteenth-century university student and his family. The family accuses the student of wasting time and money, and he assures them that he is studying very hard and never ever goes to parties, except for the ones that all the students attend …

I also gave lectures summarising my forthcoming book on Latin loanwords in ancient Greek. The book itself put a bit of a damper on my Paris visit, because the second proofs arrived while I was there. They were better than the first proofs, which had blighted my existence from September to January, but still problematic enough to put strict limits on the amount of sightseeing I could do during the four weeks for which I had them. However, when I managed to stop thinking about the problems in the proofs turning the book into French lectures was great fun. One lecture on which Latin words the Greeks chose to borrow and why, one on when and where they borrowed Latin words, one on what happened to the ancient loanwords in Byzantine and modern Greek, and one on what the evidence is for all this, how borrowing worked, and why the relationship between English and French is uncannily similar to that between Latin and Greek … I was in clover.

Nevertheless, in some respects teaching in Paris has given me an enhanced appreciation of Reading. Paris seems to be constantly full of demonstrations, protests, and occasionally riots; the main issue of contention while I was there was that people did not want the retirement age to be raised from 62 to 64, but there were also protests about many other issues, some completely beyond my comprehension. The French seem to take to the streets at the level of concern that would cause a British person to sign an online petition. And the Sorbonne is so afraid of being invaded and looted by protesters that every time there is the slightest danger, the whole university closes down and all classes are held on Zoom. One day when no big demonstrations were planned the Sorbonne nevertheless closed because there were about three students standing in front of one entrance to the main building and ‘blocking’ it with a little pile of wheelie bins and e-scooters. The door could have been unblocked in under 10 minutes by one not very strong individual, or we could just have used the other doors, but no – the whole university shut down, even departments in completely separate buildings. I found it very entertaining, though the amusement clearly wears off when one deals with this kind of thing on a regular basis.

Even when the university is open, teaching at the Sorbonne is not without difficulty. All classes are hybrid, but the IT is unreliable. You start off a class and then have to stop after 5 minutes because the online audience can’t see the slides, or because they can’t hear, or because the technician that you booked for an hour beforehand to solve these issues has finally showed up only after the start of the class. Then the technician takes a quarter of an hour of class time trying and failing to make the IT work, so not only do you have to abandon the online audience, but by the time he leaves everyone in the room has forgotten what happened in the first 5 minutes and you have to start over.

So despite how much fun Paris was, it’s also nice to be back here – and I am so glad that Reading decided against hybrid teaching!

L-R: Alessandro Garcea, Frederique Biville, Eleanor Dickey, Philomen Probert

Written by Professor Eleanor Dickey

Summer Term 2023 Reading Classics Research Seminars

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

In this series of lectures, starting on 3 May, we welcome a diverse group of speakers from both the UK and abroad in our Departmental seminars. Our Spring seminar series will explore a variety of topics and periods of Classical studies. All seminars will be livestreamed on MS Teams; tune in every Wednesday at 4pm! Attendance is free and open to all! To attend please follow this link: bit.ly/3Lyq4R4! Below you can find a poster with all titles.

Full list of titles

3 May

Erica Bexley, Durham, Looking for Octavia: history and reception

10 May

Alba Boscà Cuquerella, Salamanca/Bristol, How to apologise if you are a woman: some remarks on the use of gnomai by Euripidean female characters

17 May

Joe Watson, Warwick, Ciris’ progress: genre, metapoetry and philosophic ascent in the Ciris 

24 May

Diana Rodríguez Pérez, Oxford, Ancient repairs on Athenian pottery: preliminary thoughts – and a cup

31 May

Julie Doroszewska, Warsaw, Thinking of thinking: conceptual metaphors of cognition in the Plutarchian corpus

 

AHRC to fund expansion of Reading Ancient Schoolroom

The department has received a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to fund Nadin Marsovszki to work for a year expanding the Reading Ancient Schoolroom. The ancient schoolroom (www.readingancientschoolroom.com) is a re-enactment of a school from Roman Egypt in AD 301; Reading students and volunteers from a wide area teach local schoolchildren some of the literacy, mathematical, and linguistic skills that ancient children would have learned at school, using the original technologies (wax tablets, papyrus rolls, reed pens, inkwells, counting boards) and authentic exercises, while dressed as Romans, in a room with views of the Nile.

Nadin teaching in the ancient schoolroom in 2017 (Photo: Alex Wickenden)

For the past eight years the ancient schoolroom has been a rare event, normally held on campus just a few days each year. Although there is often demand for more of it (both children and volunteers not only learn a lot but also find it great fun), expansion has not really been practical because of the time constraints of its director, Professor Eleanor Dickey. Eleanor did much of the research underpinning the ancient schoolroom and originally started the event as a way to share that research with the public, but the pressures of her ongoing research and teaching limit the time she can spend on this activity. There is also a limit to the amount of time for which Edith Morley G40 can be taken away from the undergraduate students whose study space it normally is.

These restrictions will be lifted by the AHRC award, which will allow Nadin to take over running the schoolroom and bring it to schools instead of expecting them to travel to the university campus. Nadin is the ideal person to undertake this role and is a Reading Classics success story. A Hungarian by birth, she arrived at Reading in 2016 to start an undergraduate degree in Museum and Classical Studies. In her first term she took the ‘Texts, Readers and Writers’ module and met Eleanor, who immediately spotted her potential. Although Nadin started her course with limited English that initially prevented her from doing really well academically, she was obviously enthusiastic, hard-working and intelligent. With support and mentoring from various members of the department (not only Eleanor but also Amy Smith and Peter Kruschwitz), she rapidly blossomed into an academic star, eventually gaining a Distinction in the MA in Classics. She started teaching in the ancient schoolroom in 2017 and has continued to be involved ever since, as literature teacher, pottery teacher, maths teacher, and most recently Latin teacher.

Nadin’s strengths extend outside the university: while doing her MA she worked as a teacher at a school specialising in children with special educational needs. The teaching experience she gained in this role will be of great use to her in running the ancient schoolroom. But perhaps even more important is the passion she acquired for improving the experience and attainment that autistic children have in school, which led her to focus her MA dissertation on the potential usefulness of ancient educational techniques for autistic pupils today. So in addition to expanding the ancient schoolroom as a resource for all children, Nadin will be using the findings of her dissertation to produce adapted versions of it for autistic pupils.

Spring Term 2023 Reading Classics Research Seminars

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

In this series of lectures, starting on 18 January, we welcome a diverse group of speakers from both the UK and abroad in our Departmental seminars. Our Spring seminar series will explore a variety of topics and periods of Classical studies. All seminars will be livestreamed on MS Teams; tune in every Wednesday at 4pm! Attendance is free and open to all! To attend please follow this link: bit.ly/3VaUN86! Below you can find a poster with all titles.

Full list of titles

18 January

Luigi Prada, Uppsala, The tale of the Egyptian crocodile-bird, or why Herodotus is not a liar

25 January

Rosalind Thomas, Oxford, 12TH ANNUAL PERCY URE LECTURE, ‘Polycrates assigns a mother’: Greek Tyranny in proverb, collective memory and the local ‘polis histories’

Booking required: bit.ly/3v4GgQB

1 February

Diana Rodriguez-Perez, Oxford, Ancient repairs on Athenian pottery: Preliminary thoughts – and a cup

8 February

Giulia Biffis, Reading, Lycophron and lyric poetry

22 February

Erica Bexley, Durham, Comedy in Seneca’s Thyestes (with an epiloque of Shakespeare)

1 March

Joe Watson, Warwick, Ciris’ Progress: Genre, metapoetry and philosophic ascent in the Ciris

8 March

Arietta Papaconstantinou, Reading, Objects, gender and credit in late antique Egypt

15 March

Anne Alwis, Kent, Model ascetics? Exemplarity in Theodoret of Cyrrhus’ Religious History

 

Connecting Classics to its Wider Context

Figure 1: Huijiao (Photo taken from https://baike.baidu.com/pic/%E6%85%A7%E7%9A%8E/2626692).

We were excited to hear that the Centre of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong has just published an English translation of Shi Huijiao’s The Biographies of Eminent Monks, edited by our PhD student, Edward A S Ross. Tianshu Yang (Jiechuang Institute of Buddhist Studies) was the translator. We asked Edward to share details of this exciting project with us. He reports as follows:

The Biographies of Eminent Monks is a compilation of the lives of over 500 Buddhist figures from 67 CE to 519 CE. This 14-chapter volume became the widely accepted basis for Chinese Buddhist, historical biography literature from the 6thcentury onwards. Extending from China’s first interactions with Buddhism to the Liang Dynasty (502-557 CE), the text of the Biographies of Eminent Monks discusses Buddhist figures well known during the time of Shi Huijiao (慧皎) (497-554 CE), the compiler and author (Figure 1).

Since it does not discuss the Mediterranean world, the relevance of this text to Classics might seem slight, yet there are interesting connections to the west buried in the life stories of these monastics. Since Edward studies ancient Central Asia, he was particularly interested in the monastic figures who came from and visited the so-called “Western Regions.” 47 of the 532 figures mentioned in the text hold ethnic or geographical origins to the west of East Asia, be that Central or South Asia (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2: Estimated places of origin for all 306 biographies with given locations. Points with white borders represent those with connections to the Western Regions (Image created by Edward A S Ross using mapping data from Google Maps (2020))

Shi Huijiao. The Biographies of Eminent Monks. Tianshu Yang, translator. Edward A. S. Ross, editor. Hong Kong: Centre of Buddhist Studies, University of Hong Kong, 2022.

Some come from as far west as Parthia, a region in Central Asia well known in the Mediterranean world. This reminds us how deeply connected different parts of the ancient world were to their wider global context. Whether through trade, war, or religious pilgrimage, people from the Mediterranean and Asian worlds did indeed interact. This is why it is important for those studying ancient history to broaden their source bases to garner a deeper understanding of the nuances of cultural interactions in the ancient world.

From the outset, the goal for this translation project has been to produce an open-access volume of Shi Huijiao’s The Biographies of Eminent Monks, so that these poignant stories and crucial aspects of Chinese Buddhist history are widely available to the English-speaking public, practitioners, and academics. The full ebook is available at https://www.academia.edu/90233933/Shi_HuiJiao_The_Biographies_of_Eminent_Monks_%E9%AB%98%E5%83%A7%E5%82%B3.

 

Congratulations to Alex Winch, winner of Outstanding New Teacher award

Last Thursday we were delighted to entertain some alumni who had come to take part in a careers event.  Every year we invite alumni to come and talk about their careers to our Part 2 students, giving ideas about what paths are possible.  As well as museum and teaching careers, these alumni spoke about the police, archaeology, and clinical trials.

Two of our alumni, Alex and Jon, comprise the Classics Department at Henley College, and Alex has recently won the Classical Association’s award for Outstanding New Teacher (https://classicalassociation.org/classical-association-teaching-awards/).  We could not be more proud!

Alex (right) with two fellow winners

Reading Classics welcomes Dr Sam Agbamu

Next week on October 19th we welcome a special speaker to our regular research seminar series.  Of course all our speakers are special, but Dr Sam Agbamu, who is currently at Royal Holloway, is about to join the staff of the Classics Department at Reading, in January 2023.  We are hoping that lots of students and staff will come to the seminar and welcome him!

Sam did his PhD at King’s College London, researching modern Italy’s use of the history of Roman imperialism in Africa, during its own imperial endeavours on the continent in the nineteenth and twentieth century.  Sam’s current research project, which he will pursue at Reading as part of his Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, is on the afterlives of the neo-Latin epic, the Africa, by the fourteenth century humanist Petrarch.  This poem recounts the history of the Second Punic War, and Sam is studying its role in transmitting ancient ideas about the continent of Africa into the early modern and modern era.  Sam’s other interests include anti-racist and anti-colonial approaches to the literatures and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, and their receptions.  In spring term he will teach on our Part 2 module ‘Roman History: the rise and fall of the Republic’, and a new module on ‘“Race” in the Ancient Greek and Roman Worlds’.  Students are encouraged to sign up for the new module if they would like to, as there are still places on it.

Petrarch by Justus of Ghent (public domain)

Petrarch by Justus of Ghent (public domain)

 

 

Autumn Term 2022 Reading Classics Research Seminars

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for Autumn 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 5 October, we welcome a diverse group of speakers from both the UK and abroad in our Departmental seminars. Our Autumn seminar series, ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi, 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/3BYG7Td! Below you can find a poster with all titles.

 

Full list of titles

5 October

Robert Wisniewski, Warsaw/Reading, ‘Four sermons, some relics, a bishop and a curse: Constructing the cult of saints in late antique Hippo’

12 October

Jo Quinn, Oxford, ‘North African monumental architecture in the Hellenistic period within the frame of regionalism’

19 October

Sam Agbamu, Royal Holloway, ‘Petrarch’s Carthage: Between ‘race’ and religion’

26 October

Elena Giusti, Warwick, ‘Rome’s imagined Africa’

9 November

Jacke Phillips, SOAS/Cambridge, ‘Connecting ancient Egypt, Bubia and Ethiopia and even beyond’

16 November

Timothy Penn, Oxford, ‘The boardgames of Roman and post-Roman North Africa: A regional perspective on personal leisure in the past’

23 November

Elena Chepel, Vienna, ‘Dramatic competitions in Ptolemaic Egypt: New papyrus programme for the royal festival of Theadelpheia’

 

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!