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.

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! 

 

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! 

Follow Reading Classics on social media for the latest blogs and news:

Facebook: @UoRClassics

Twitter: @UniRdg_Classics

Instagram: @classicsuor

YouTube: UnivRdgClassics

*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

Black History Month in Reading Classics

Author: Prof. Barbara Goff 

Date: 18 October 2021 

Reading Classics celebrate Black History Month with a visit from Shivaike Shah, co-creator and producer of the first global majority Medea produced by students at the University of Oxford, in 2018. This interactive event will be delivered online via MS Teams on 27th October at 2pm. Do join us in this talk to discuss the aims, challenges and successes of such an adaptation of one of the most famous Classical Greek tragedies. To register your interest to attend, please write to us at hod-classics@reading.ac.uk or visit our Facebook event page: https://fb.me/e/27eXLAIL2.

Please keep an eye on our social media and the event page as we shall circulate a joining link there closer to the date. You can also find more information about the event on our Facebook event page and social media. 

All welcome! 

In the run-up to this exciting event, here are some resources to get you thinking about some related issues.

  • Listen to our former colleague Professor Katherine Harloe on Detoxifying the Classics. Why are white nationalists and the far right so fond of Ancient Greece and Rome? Katherine looks at the ways in which the classical world is both used to lend respectability to the politics of hate, and distorted to give the false impression that it was an all-white space. Katherine was Professor of Classics at the University of Reading until the 1st October 2021, when she left to become Director of the Institute of Classical Studies in London. Go Katherine!
     
  • Listen to the many fascinating lockdown talks on the Everyday Orientalism site. This site, cofounded by our colleague Professor Rachel Mairs, seeks to offer a platform through which students, academics, and citizens can reflect on how history and power shape the way in which human societies define themselves through the “Other”.  Talks and other posts often focus on classical antiquity, ancient Egypt, and the ancient Near East, as well as looking at how those societies have been interpreted and reinterpreted by modern Western culture.
     
  • Check into the podcasts by Khameleon Classics, the team who will be talking about the all-BAME Medea later on this month. Podcast no.4 is by our colleague Professor Barbara Goff, talking about classics in the British colonies of West Africa.

In addition, on 25th October, Prof. Goff will be part of an interview with Femi Osofisan about his new production of Medaye, an adaptation of Medea.  The interview will also include Prof. Olakunbi Olasope of the Department of Classics at the University of Ibadan, who has visited Reading Classics a few times and given seminars on the reception of Greek and Roman theatre in West African drama. The interview will be available via the Archive for Performances of Greek and Roman Drama in November. Stay tuned for a link to listen to this exciting interview! 

Shivake Shah’s presentation, which will be delivered online on Wednesday 27th October at 2pm, comes as a culmination in the long devotion of Reading Classics in contributing to research approaches revolving around decolonisation, inclusivity, and diversity in Classics. To find out more about Medaye, its preparation, production, performance, and social engagement, you can read the following blog on Femi Osofisan’s Medaye in Ibadan by Olakunbi Olasope: https://classicalreception.org/african-blog-takeover-9/ .

A recent testament for our contribution to research and public engagement in plurality and diversity in Classics is the Inclusive Classics Initiative, led by Professor Barbara Goff (University of Reading) and Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis (University of St Andrews). Over two days the workshop covered a range of subjects: barriers to inclusivity, current projects and approaches aimed at making Classics more inclusive, and priorities for future work. Bringing together multiple perspectives within the discipline, including Classics in higher education and secondary schools, the workshop provided space for discussion about marginalised groups, both during antiquity and as experienced in the subject today. Among other topics, the final panel of the workshop was a conversation among Professor Kunbi Olasope, Dr Idowu Alade, and Dr Monica Aneni from the University of Ibadan, whose discussion focussed on recent increase in Classics admissions in the university in Nigeria as well as on the significance of Classical education in pursuing a variety of careers. Read more about their latest online, international workshop ‘Towards a More Inclusive Classics II’ in our blog post about it at t.ly/8YLj.  

To find out more on the long-standing commitment of Reading Classics in promoting inclusivity, diversity, and decolonisation in Classics, visit https://www.reading.ac.uk/classics/

We look forward to seeing you all in this exciting BHM event on 27th October 2021.  

Follow Reading Classics on social media for the latest news on Reading Classics and our events: 

Twitter: @UniRdg_Classics

Facebook: @UoRClassics 

Instagram: @classicsuor

YouTube: UnivRdgClassics 

 

Reading Classics Autumn Term Research Seminars 2021

We are pleased to announce the launch of our regular Reading Classics Seminar Series for Autumn Term 2021, which will boost our Wednesday afternoons with constructive and stimulating lectures and discussions on various aspects of Classics research!

This series of lectures, starting on 29th September, run alongside the Ure Museum seminars ‘Troy in 21st Century’ in alternate weeks. In this accessible and inclusive environment—with some talks online and others in person—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.  

For our first Reading Classics Seminar, we are delighted to welcome Professor Sheila Murnaghan from University of Pennsylvania, who will speak on ‘Her own troubles: women writers and the Iliad’. Tune in on Wednesday 29th 2021 at 4pm. The lecture will be delivered online in MS Teams. To register your interest in attending please email Professor Amy C Smith, at HoD-Classics@reading.ac.uk.

You can find a full list of titles below.  

29 September

Sheila Murnaghan (University of Pennsylvania) Her own troubles: Women writers and the Iliad 

13 October (in person)

Emma Aston (University of Reading) The Aggressive Thessaly Reconsidered 

17 November

Judith Mossman (Coventry University) Tragedy in Plutarch 

1 December

Çigdem Maner (Koç University) Adaptation, subsistence, and political geography in South-Easter Konya from 3rd to 1st millennium BC

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

 

WHAT’s IT LIKE? Episode 6: Ms. Roberta Dainotto – A PhD Researcher Specialising in Ancient Greek Philology.

Interviewee: Ms. Roberta Dainotto. Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 16th July 2021

Welcome to the Classic Department’s series What’s it Like? During these episodes staff, volunteers and students who specialise in all fields of Classics, Archaeology and Museums, will share with you the realities of their jobs. What to be a Linguist? Museum Curator? Archaeologist? Lecturer? Well Travelled Researcher? A Barrier-Breaker? Have No Idea? Then read on!

This week: Ms. Roberta Dainotto.

A PhD Researcher Specialising in Ancient Greek Philology.

 

Name: Ms. Roberta Dainotto
Area of Specialism: Classics.
Topics of Interest: Ancient Greek Rhetoric.
Job Title: PhD student in Classics, specializing in ancient Greek Philology.
Job Responsibilities: I am finalising my PhD studies and this is my current -and only- occupation! This means that I am trying to finally put together a few years in what I wish it will be a good output (fingers crossed). In the meantime, I am also trying to face new challenges and open up new possibilities, since doing just one assignment for months is quite weary some days. Moreover, I aim to prepare the ground for my future steps. Recently, I have succeeded in a selection to a pre-doctoral fellowship at the Harvard University’s Centre of Hellenic Studies (CHS), which will allow me to work simultaneously on a new project for the next year. I am extremely glad of this appointment which will allow me to approach a different subject under the supervision of a new team of professors – a priceless opportunity to consolidate my field of study.

Introduction 

 I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Classics at the University of Crete. I have earned BA and MA degrees in Classics at the University of Catania, which is where I come from. I decided to move to another country because I wanted to approach my subject of study from a different perspective, to enhance my knowledge and skills with the guide of Professors from different backgrounds to mine. The desire of facing new challenges has always lead me to achieve the highest scores, and with the same intention, during my doctorate, I have spent a couple of semesters abroad, respectively at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Reading. I would say that these were the best choices for me, both for my study and my personal growth.

What is your daily life really like?

I actually spend most of my days sitting in front of my laptop, working. This answer may sound banal and monotonous to those who do not do research or deal with more dynamic subjects than ancient texts -although in recent times remote working seems to be the constant for everyone! My life is filled with continuous appointments and deadlines that I try to respect by organising and managing my time in detail. In Greece, we generally do not pursue teaching activities during doctoral research, so much of my daily work often focuses on the same set of activities for long periods. During ‘normal periods’ however, I combine my research routine with seminars and lectures in various fields. I really like to attend these because they help me to look at things from different perspectives and most of the time they give me food for thought for my work or other disparate subjects that I would like to scrutinise further. I dedicate a great amount of time to the University. I like being there as I have immediate access to the library and I can share some pleasant conversations with other colleagues of mine to attenuate the anxiety of writing.

In contrast, under pandemic restrictions, I have stayed home every day, using my desk as my workspace, with lots of folders scattered all around the room. In the long term, such a timetable can be demanding. For this reason, I try to vary my days – alternating my study with long walks in the open or exploring my local area, restoring myself and recharging my batteries or dedicating myself to my friends and family, the best balance to start afresh!

What is the best part of your job?

There are so many things I could mention to answer this question. I will try to list them but I am already pretty sure I will forget something. I have always loved the idea of doing research and dedicating my time to my greatest hobby, which is the study of the ancient world. I think I am blessed with the great opportunity I am benefitting from, and I feel that I am doing what I was meant to. I started studying ancient Greek and Latin back in High School, and after many years, I am still fascinated by learning aspects of the Greek culture, which is so relatable to modern times – in the long run, that has shaped me. Thus, I would say that the first positive aspect of doing research is to explore further a subject you are already interested in. The pressure is high and constant in academia, but the task is stimulating and varied, and this is an excellent incentive, especially considering that PhD research requires a lot of time alone, dedicated to your study. Working on something you are really interested in compensates for all the endless nights and busy days.

One more reason for liking the study of the ancient Greek society is that it highlights the ideals which have founded the basis of western culture, such as democracy, ideals of equality, criticism, justice, acceptance or scrutiny of the other, going beyond unambiguous interpretations and offering plural ways to read an event. Indeed, the awesome thing about studying the past, is its feasibility against modern concerns, providing a great contribution to the modern way of thinking. Overall, Classics teaches you to be boundless in thoughts and respectful of others – two of the best qualities for a human being.

I have been, and still am, so lucky to be in contact with people who have open minds. I would say that this is doubtlessly another aspect to include, namely the chance to continuously enlarge your academic network, meeting many encouraging people who unreservedly give more than you ask for. I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of scholars and fellows during the conferences I have attended, the days spent at University or periods spent in offices other than mine, which have definitely changed my approach to my study and have helped me growing up as a student and as an individual.

The last aspect I think worth noting is the chance to travel a lot. The lack of a set routine, allows more flexibility in plans. Particularly, in my department, PhD students are not asked to work on anything but their specific dissertation so everyone can organise their time as conveniently as possible. Moreover, the participation in conferences or activities far from my department or the need to consult other libraries where some exclusive documents are hosted, results in the encouragement of mobility.

Why do you think your specialism is important?

I have always believed that any individual should spend a bit of their time learning about past cultures. This comes from the strong belief that understanding ancient societies (and more widely, other societies) helps greatly to develop an awareness of what we are surrounded by in contemporary times. Understanding other people’s reactions to specific concerns, serves as an example to our own and can offer solutions. Particularly, my field of study is extremely useful for this. I study the dicastic trials and how the methods of argument employed by individual speakers interfaced, evaluating the ways in which storytelling contributed to the shaping of each case. The importance of competing stories in Athenian courtroom practice, is directly relevant to the idiosyncrasies of Athenian cultural practices and helps to understand the society and its members, by transcending the limits of purely factual and legal questions. I focus specific attention on issues of citizenship, inheritance trials, liturgies and the perception of the self. The broadness of these topics ensures a detailed investigation on themes which are very close to the contemporary us, and it is fascinating to understand what has changed between the ancient ways of thinking and what still remains today.

If you didn’t have the job you do, what else could you apply your skills to?

If I had not had the chance to start a PhD, I rather think I would have become a teacher or, maybe, a publisher. Since I was a child my greatest desire was to write books, especially for use in schools. I had always loved the processes behind publishing, experiencing it as I grew up via my parents working in that field. This is one of the reasons for my choosing Philology as a topic. At some point, I had also wondered about studying either chemistry or engineering. I was very enthusiastic about the idea of producing and contributing to a tactile subject (if I may use this definition), through a more practical approach. In any case, I think that an analytical and critical spirit is also strongly required in the sphere of classical studies – the ingredients of these sciences and humanities are common, although differently applied, and I do not regret my choice!

Did you always want to be what you are today?

This is the toughest question of the form. I still wonder what I am today! A PhD is not an especially defining commitment in your career. You feel part of the University but you are no more a proper ‘student’ than you are a full member of the staff! It is such a liquid position! Overall, this is twofold. On the one side, it gives you all the possibilities at hand, an exciting platform of opportunities on which to build. On the other, the lack of definition and concerns for the future are worrying. This means that throughout the years you alternate stages of comfort and discouragement. But this is part of the game, so in the end you learn to live with this feeling.

However, to answer the question, I would say yes – I have always loved doing research, and I still feel the same enthusiasm as my first day as an undergraduate student.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

I would like to withdraw what I said before. This is the most challenging question! I have really no idea of what is next. I am full of dreams but I need to stay focused on the immediate achievements. Within 5 years I hope my doctoral thesis will be published,  then I could focus on other aspects which really interest me. I hope I would have a position in one of my top universities as a postdoc or a lecturer (may I include the University of Reading, too?!). I assume these would be my next achievements, however, I know how difficult these are to procure, so I try to remain confident but with my feet on the ground. Whatever will happens as long as I am happy, then its convenient. Moreover, I have many other personal goals that I wish to pursue, but I would rather not say them out loud for superstition’s sake!

What 3 tips would you give to someone who wants to follow a similar path?

  • Work hard to gain your goals. It does not matter how long your path takes, how difficult the road would be. All efforts are worthy of the energy spent in the end!
  • Do not think that a success lasts forever. Of course, a good result carries joy and satisfaction, but the fact that you have reached it should incentivise you to go further!
  • Focus on the big picture. Do not be discouraged if something goes wrong and you have not been able to achieve what you have aimed for in one month. Take all opportunities you can, meet as many people possible, do not close your door to extra activities and stay open to academic life and chances. All these things are part of your Ph.D – Do not limit yourself.

A Final Note

I have spent only a short period at the University of Reading- which was meant to last longer, but the pandemic forced the city’s closure. Nevertheless, those months were significant to me. I have experienced many things, from the volunteering activities with the Ancient Schoolroom, to participating in some enlightening seminars. I met the members of a remarkable department and long chats with Professors and colleagues have helped me to produce considerable pieces of my thesis, developing some theories which are now under peer review for publication. I feel lucky to have been part of this great department, and I wish this experience could be followed with other opportunities in future.

A part of the work I have done during my studies at the University of Reading is now published in an article which you can read here and I have recently been awarded a fellowship in Hellenic Studies! 

WHAT’s IT LIKE? Episode 5: Prof. Amy Smith –- A Specialist in Art History, Ancient Greek Ceramics & Classical Antiquities.

Interviewee: Prof. Amy Smith. Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 18th June 2021

Welcome to the Classic Department’s series What’s it Like? During these episodes staff, volunteers and students who specialise in all fields of Classics, Archaeology and Museums, will share with you the realities of their jobs. What to be a Linguist? Museum Curator? Archaeologist? Lecturer? Well Travelled Researcher? A Barrier-Breaker? Have No Idea? Then read on!

This week: Prof. Amy Smith

A Specialist in Art History, Ancient Greek Ceramics & Classical Antiquities.

 

 

Name: Prof. Amy Smith.
Area of Specialism: I am a classical archaeologist, with a particular interest in: ancient Greek ceramics; ancient iconography; digital classics; ancient religion & politics; museology; reception of Classical antiquities.
Topics of Interest: All of the above, plus female goddesses (esp. Athena, Aphrodite), heroes (esp. Herakles); red-figure painters (esp. the Pan Painter); sensory archaeology (esp. music); materiality.
Job Title: Professor of Classical Archaeology; Joint Head of the Department of Classics; Curator of the Ure Museum.
Job Responsibilities:

Professor of Classical Archaeology: Teach and research Classical archaeology & related subjects (e.g. ancient Greek language, Greek history); encourage, recruit (i.e. find funding for) & supervise postdocs (currently Signe Barfoed, on a Norwegian Research Council Grant) & PhD students. I get a two new PhD students next year, namely Summer Courts, working on ‘The Archaeology of Hidden Identity’ & Caitlin Laurence, working on ‘Statistical and Digital analysis of 6th-4th c. BC Attic pottery found in Anatolia’; engage with the worldwide community of scholars incl. external examining undergrads (currently at KCL) & postgrads (currently external examiner to Leeds PhD); serving on advisory boards & committees (e.g. editorial board for New Classicists & Claros); outreach to schools & other national audiences); & much else!

Joint Head of Department: I share this job with Barbara Goff (which is a godsend) because both of us have other big administrative jobs that we can’t really get rid of—she’s Departmental Director of Teaching & Learning; I’m Curator of the Ure; we divided it along lines that fit with those roles. So while she does the student-facing things I do the outreach & research, incl. postgraduates for the most part. That entails amongst other things organising and hosting our department’s online research seminars, which we’re now (with the speakers’ permission) beginning to share on our Department’s YouTube account. This term I’ve been working with marketing partners on devising a new department website: fun finding pictures & stories but challenging like so many such projects that come from ‘above’ because fitting into the dreaded ‘template’ stifles our creativity.

Curator of the Ure Museum: Of all of my jobs this is the one that is most variable from day to day, week to week, year to year. I’ve been doing it for nearly 21 years now, during which time we’ve had major analogue and digital projects, like redesigning the Ure’s learning environment (i.e. restyling the place) in 2004-5, creating our own bespoke database (https://uremuseum.org/cgi-bin/ure/uredb.cgi), redesigning (twice) & maintaining our museum website, temporary exhibitions, e.g. our upcoming Spotlight Loan from the British Museum: ‘Troy: Beauty and Heroism’ (21 September-12 December 2021; already twice postponed!). Normal day-to-day stuff includes answering scholarly requests about visiting, studying & using our artefacts & archives for research; representing the Ure Museum at network meetings, conferences, etc.; supervising & supporting but not line-managing two part-time members of staff—Jayne Holly (Assistant Curator) & Claudina Romero Mayorga (Education Officer)—and with them recruiting & supervising (& seeking funding for) interns, volunteers, & other helpers; chivvying members of the department staff to help us out from time to time; seeking small and large pots of money to do pretty much everything; and running our own research activities including seminars etc. We have no internal funding, except for staff, & no external funding unless we go out & find it, so everything is on a shoestring, which means we’re very good at putting interns & volunteers to good use (e.g. on our Museum in a box projects & a forthcoming lesson in a box on democracy with Study Higher).

Introduction

I was born in Libya & my dad took credit for my becoming an archaeologist because he took my mum to Leptis Magna when she was pregnant. I think it more likely that my childhood in London inspired me: museums were free, we lived near them, & I ducked into them when it was raining! My English teacher in preparatory school loved the painter J.M.W. Turner so she developed my art historical interests, while my history teacher in secondary school told us all about Minoan civilisations! Shortly after that, I visited Corfu, which I still remember as my favourite childhood holiday (I was already a Gerald Durrell fan). Archaeology finally won out in university when I was lucky enough to be taught Greek mythology by a bronze age archaeologist (Jerry Rutter at Dartmouth). Before I pursued postgraduate studies at Yale, I took a detour into publishing & after a few years as Assistant Editor of the American Journal of Archaeology (a brilliant opportunity, and fun to live in Boston) I realised that I enjoyed the content of the articles slightly more than fiddling with the layout, proofreading etc. At Yale I got to work with Curator Susan Matheson at the Yale Art Gallery & was torn whether to pursue a university or museum career. So when Reading interviewed me in the Ure Museum I jumped at the chance to combine both.

I am very lucky to have a job doing lots of things I love: teaching, helping younger people develop skills, both in the classroom & in the museum, research & much else. Being an archaeologist I am genuinely interdisciplinary: (1) I like how a combination of sources—material culture, ancient texts, scientific analysis, etc.—help us piece it all together; (2) I don’t have to restrict myself to one time period, culture group, or place, because of course cultures have always bumped shoulders with each other and (3) the more I study antiquity the more I realise the importance of intellectual history, that is, understanding how and why our society has inherited perspectives gained from other cultures & societies that have responded to the ‘Classics’ since antiquity

What is your daily life really like?

Working from home during lockdown gives me more of a pattern than I used to have, but either way, I tend to wake up early, take a swim or a run or both, eat a big breakfast (I keep chickens!) and then settle down to my laptop, reading, answering and/or deleting the tonnes of emails I receive. This is all interspersed with meetings & classes in term time, checking my schedule for upcoming deadlines for grant applications, presentations or papers I’ve promised to give, references I need to write, teaching sessions to prepare and the associated marking. Summer term, which is never-ending in times of COVID19, is dominated by marking. If the sun is shining, I might try to take a midday break in the garden or take a walk/cycle ride to an errand, just to get me out of the house. For research, (that I prefer to do in a library), I try to block off time either a whole day or at least a whole afternoon to let me get in the right mindset, but there’s never enough time for research, especially during term time. If I’m doing research or writing at home sometimes a quiet evening might give me the chance to focus without noticing the time passing. I’m a big multitasker so I might cook at the same time (I’m a firm believer in slow cooking, including sourdough bread). Now that we’re allowed into the Oxford libraries again I’m booking as much time as I can—including weekends—to research there.

The Museum work is interspersed throughout my Professor work and often indistinguishable from it, visavis research. A lot of people both within & beyond the University treat me like I’m either Curator or Professor or Head of Department or even web editor, i.e. like I’ve only got one job! Since the first lockdown, I’ve had had weekly meetings with my Ure colleagues so that we can touch base with each other on our many initiatives & what the various interns/volunteers are doing with/for us. In many ways, my curatorial work is my most important ‘teaching’. I’m very proud of the huge number of assistant curators, interns & volunteers we’ve had in the Ure over the years: some have gone on to get their MAs or PhDs & become successful curators or other museum professionals, teachers, lecturers, researchers, editors, filmmakers. I’m just as proud of the others who have developed skills from time spent in museums & academia, such as event planning and marketing.

What is the best part of your job?

The best thing about my job is that no two days or weeks or years are the same: I have worked in lots of different & very wonderful places, with amazing & interesting people.  I have flexibility with my schedule, although—especially nowadays—our work is never done (and this is the worst part). Like most academics, I do maybe an average of 1.5 x more hours than my employers think.

Why do you think your specialism is important?

My work is important for 3 big reasons.
(1) Teaching, (i.e. helping young people learn about their world & how they might contribute to it), is an essential thing & a great privilege.
(2) We need to learn from the past! Archaeology helps us fill in the gaps provided by the biased texts, giving us perhaps a more honest glimpse at real people. To be fair, as an art historical archaeologist I tend to look at the stuff that richer people used, yet it still helps everyone to understand how it has been used, seen & understood by humble people too.
(3) Helping audiences young and old, academic & general to engage with museum content is a brilliant way to bring together teaching, learning about the past, & developing peoples’ interpretative confidence. Anyone can have a good and inspiring interpretation of an artefact that contributes to our understanding of (pre)history. In these three ways, I think I can, and do, make a difference.

 If you didn’t have your current job, what else could you apply your skills to?

If you’ve read this far you’ll know that I’ve dabbled in editorial & museum work; I was taught my proofreading skills when I worked as a paralegal intern! So I’m sure I could apply myself to all of those tasks, ‘tho my best friend in high school & I dreamed of opening a bakery, & I sometimes think that I might enjoy running a pub or café on the river.

Did you always want to be what you are today?

No, only since I watched Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark). Actually, that film gave me the excuse to study ‘Classical Archaeology’ as an undergraduate, but throughout that degree, my MA, MPhil & PhD, I just thought I’d push it as far as I could (& as long as I could get funding for my studies—see below). Imagine my surprise when I actually got a job (at Tufts University) & started to think I might actually become a Classical Archaeologist!

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

I hope to be a Professor, still at Reading (perfectly situated between London & Oxford, with excellent access to airports), but perhaps not Joint Head of Department anymore. I hope that I’d have had the chance to visit China (I was scheduled to go there in March 2020!) & to take up my Visiting Professorship at University of Queensland (postponed since Autumn 2020) & much more in terms of travel to collections, conferences, etc. If universities go belly up then I’d like to be sailing around the world.

 What 3 tips would you give to someone who wants to follow a similar path?

Don’t pursue academia unless you’re doing it for the knowledge & fun; that is, don’t just do it for the career/job because that might not ever happen. So keep your eyes opened for other opportunities & don’t be afraid to jump out of your comfort zone. The best advice (which I’d like to pass on) was from a friend of a friend in the finance office at Boston University. She said ‘don’t bother with a PhD unless you get a fellowship’. The logic, that if you don’t rise to the top of the pile (of students) at that stage then it will be hard for you to rise to the top later in your career, is unfortunately true. That said, whatever you choose to do, put your all into it, make it work, and have fun: your own enjoyment will enthuse others & make everyone (including yourself) enjoy it that much more.

What to know more?

Head over to the Ure Museum for our new exhibition on Troy or read about the fascinating foot vase at the top of this article here.