As we get stuck into another busy term of 21st century university life, the week we spent as Roman school teachers on an ancient farm in Hampshire feels literal worlds away. But what a wonderful world it was…
From the moment we arrived at Butser Ancient Farm, Aster and I were immersed in a new (or rather very old) way of life. From ancient breeds of four-horned sheep, to Roman-style cleaning equipment, it was as though we had stepped through a portal into a calmer, more peaceful world. After a quick look around, we were soon stuck into our chores, and I discovered that a traditional broomstick is surprisingly effective tool for ridding a school room of dust and cobwebs.
As dark descended, we called it a night and adjourned to the Anglo-Saxon period for dinner. Eleanor made us a delicious fried fish recipe from ancient Roman recipe-writer, Apicius. It was meant to be the tail of a large female tuna caught near Byzantium, but that proved difficult to source, so Lidl salmon fillets had to make do! Apicius recommended eating it with white wine vinegar, so we did, and it worked remarkably well!
After preparing a garlicy, cheesy paste (moretum) and olive relish for lunch the next day, we all went to our respective time periods to sleep – in my case an iron age round house. I don’t think any of us slept well that first night, due to nerves, excitement, and the unfamiliar surroundings, but my chosen hay bale was still remarkably comfortable.
After breakfast the next morning we got ourselves costumed, then waited expectantly for our first students to arrive. We didn’t have to wait long as, just after opening time, two girls in ribbons and yellow tunics bounced in with an exuberant, ‘salve magistra!’ and the Ancient Schoolroom was officially under way.
After that the days sped by as we all settled into a relaxing and fulfilling routine. The teaching was full on, but so much fun, and it was wonderful to see how engrossed the children (and some adults) became in the activities. The school room began to feel like a second home with an air of safety and serenity that I really hope, at least some, real ancient Roman schools had. I have some lovely memories: a girl and her grandmother sprawled on the floor happily matching Phaedrus’s fables with their respective morals; a group of children crowded around Charles, eagerly learning compound interest; adults leaving us with their charges while they went to get coffee, as their unexpectedly studious children didn’t want to stop learning; recognising the same children coming back on different days because they felt they hadn’t learnt enough the first time; children sitting contentedly at Aster’s feet, writing and drawing with ink for the first time; parents thanking us for allowing their children to express their knowledge and enthusiasm about Roman mythology; and, my favourite memory of all, a tiny 6-year-old boy sitting patiently on a bench waiting for ‘the lady’ (aka Professor Eleanor Dickey) to teach him more maths.
Of course, even teachers have to eat sometimes, and food played an important part in our time at Butser. Lunch was always a welcome affair of Roman or Celtic style bread, served with moretum, olive relish and sometimes even butter and honey!
Our Roman dinners were as delicious as they were diverse, ranging from a ‘simple’ meal of porridge cooked in a genuine porridge pot and served with freshly foraged blackberries, to a fish soup made with fresh mussels and a whole sea bass, expertly prepared by Nadin. And those were just the meals we prepared for ourselves! One evening we had the great privilege of dining with Sally Grainger, author of Cooking Apicius, and her husband Dr Christopher Grocock. We demolished a beautiful loaf of bread; tasted about seven different types of garum (I particularly liked the swordfish one); indulged in a rich stew full of chicken, sausage, and pork belly; and got to observe Sally making goat’s cheese and honey cakes, which were even tastier than they looked.
As well as teaching, cooking, and eating, our week at Butser seemed to help all of us learn and grow in other ways. Aster discovered a natural talent for reed-pen making and tried a whole host of unusual foods for the first time; I turned out to be very good at lighting and tending fires, and embraced my new role as ‘fire woman’; and we all learnt and taught how to make corn dollies at a festival of Lughnasadh hosted by the farm, where we also listened to stories, drank mead, and danced to fiddle music.
By the end of the week we had all got quite used to sleeping on hay bales and constantly smelling of smoke, but we never took for granted the ability to explore and forage in the countryside, or the late-night bonding around a roaring fire, or the magic of gazing into an unpolluted night sky at the shining moon and twinkling stars.
I cherish my memories of the Ancient Schoolroom’s first time at Butser, and I look forward to making many more in the summers to come!
Written by Jacinta Hunter
We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for Autumn 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 4 October, we welcome a diverse group of speakers from both the UK and abroad in our Departmental seminars. Our Autumn 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 (unless otherwise stated)! Attendance is free and open to all! Below you can find a poster with all titles.
Full list of titles
Maya Muratov, Adelphi, With strings attached: Articulated figures in antiquity
Najee Olya, William & Mary, Re-visiting portrayals of Africans in ancient Greek art: Recurring problems and new questions
16 October – Gordon Lecture (17:00)
Véronique Dasen, Fribourg, Play or cheat?: Games in Greek and Roman antiquity
Anne Alwis, Kent, Model Ascetics?: Exemplarity in Theodoret of Cyrrhus’ Religious History, joining link bit.ly/3tmY5wL
Lea Rees, Oxford, A landscape biography of Dahshur: Chronological, functional and social transformations, joining link bit.ly/48FjuS3
Summer Court, Reading, Playing at (demi-)god: Hercules’ club, mould-blown glass, and sensory experience
22 November – Locus Ludi Public Talk (18:00 EM 125)
Tim Penn, Oxford, More than just fun and games: Why study board games in Roman society?
Greek and Roman tragedy has served as a platform to explore and discuss central issues regarding politics, identities, and societal issues, ranging from feminism, race, fascism, and communism to abortion, generational tensions, and national identity. LGBTQI+ issues of identities, desires and politics have also found a useful tool in ancient tragedy as a channel for exploration, discussion, and vindication. Tragedy has been queer, queered, and queering for many a decade now.
The international and interdisciplinary conference Tragedy Queered, which took place at the University of Reading on the 6th and 7th of July 2023, precisely explored the dialogue, relationships and cross-fertilisations between Graeco-Roman tragedy and queer culture. The conference developed substantial and consistent insights into a phenomenon that has remained almost untouched in scholarship. All fifteen speakers, from provenances as diverse as L’Aquila, London, Santa Barbara, Philadelphia, Oxford, and New York, and ranging in academic positions from postgraduate students to full professors, explored and analysed the use of ancient tragedy in queer culture in a vast array of media, including novels, drag, theatrical stagings, poetry, dance, film, multi-media performance, and biography. The papers, headed by the keynote speech on Judith Butler, Freud, and the house of Oedipus by Professor Orrells (KCL), exhibited a diverse plethora of queer-tragic receptions and dialogues. Among other issues, they explored the importance of the tragic character and plots of Helen and Philoctetes regarding the loss and struggles of AIDS in novels and drag, queer love and loss in dance and multimedia performance, how Athena is a good or bad example for trans experience, the tragic in pre-Stonewall poetic writing and the translation, tragic structures, plots and characters in film and theatre, and what can queer theory bring to ancient tragic texts and performances.
The conference and its speakers managed to do far more than I expected as organiser. It was able to establish points of departure for many aspects in the study of the relationship between tragedy and queer culture and also of the tragic and the queer; it was able to pay attention to queer culture before and after the Stonewall Riots, the historiographical starting-point for queer liberation; it was able to attest to queer lives, queer history and queer theory and the interweaved presence of tragedy in them; and finally, and perhaps most importantly, it was able to further consolidate and multiply a community of queer scholars, students, artists and people, past, present, and future. Keep your eyes peeled for the volume that will result from the conference, so you can see with you own eyes what Tragedy Queered was able to reveal, explore and unite on two summery tragic-queer days in Reading.
Special thanks to the Tragedy Queered sponsors: Institute of Classical Studies (SAS, UoL); The Department of Classics (UoR); Dean for Diversity and Inclusion (UoR); Research Dean for Heritage & Creativity (UoR). I am very grateful to Matthew Knight for his excellent and indispensable work in designing the poster, programme, and name tags and to Josh Ison for his essential help in guaranteeing that the conference ran smoothly and enjoyably. Thanks also to colleagues in the department for their support and encouragement.
Written by Dr. Oliver Baldwin
Butser Ancient Farm has invited the Reading Ancient Schoolroom to offer a Romano-British rendition of the Reading Ancient Schoolroom from the 1st to the 7th of August.
Run by Professor Eleanor Dickey and Research Associate Nadin Marsovszki, the Reading Ancient Schoolroom enables modern students to discover first-hand what the ancient world was really like, by attending a re-created ancient school. The Reading Ancient Schoolroom takes place in a replica of an ancient school, in which all participants wear Roman costumes and use replica ancient writing materials. Students practise the type of exercises that were commonly done in ancient schools and do so in a setting that uses the ancient rather than modern educational convention.
Notably, this marks the first occasion in which the Ancient Schoolroom will transport participants to Roman Britain, as its previous iterations were centred on ancient Egypt. As a result, adjustments have been made, such as transitioning from papyri to wooden tablets and adapting exercises accordingly. For instance, the reading exercise now revolves around Vergil’s Aeneid, instead of Homer’s Iliad. Moreover, several novel activities have been introduced, including a Vindolanda alphabet writing task, a Roman acting class, and progymnasmata exercises.
Butser Ancient Farm is an open-air experimental archaeology museum and active research center, encompassing various historical periods from the Stone Age to the Saxons. Among its attractions are a Stone Age farm, a Bronze Age roundhouse, a Celtic village, a Roman villa, and Saxon halls. This unique setting is ideally suited to enhance the immersive learning experience we aim to provide.
For further details about Butser Ancient Farm, please visit www.butserancientfarm.co.uk. Additionally, we encourage you to explore our revamped website, where you can find more information about the Reading Ancient Schoolroom, at www.readingancientschoolroom.com.
We hope to see you at Butser!
Written by Samuel Agbamu
Rome is a city steeped in the history of empire. Few tourists will fail to visit any number of the imposing remains of the Rome of the Caesars, be it the Colosseum, Pantheon, or the Forum. Yet the imperial history of Rome did not end with the putative fall of the Western Roman Empire, whenever we might date that, nor with Charles V’s sack of Rome in 1527, nor even with the incorporation of Rome into the Kingdom of Italy in 1870. Of the major European imperial powers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Italy stands out as perhaps the least discussed, either inside or outside Italy, and one of the least understood. Because of its easy association with the Fascist regime, which held power from 1922 to 1943, and the invasion of Ethiopia launched by Mussolini in 1935, the legacy of modern Italian imperialism is frequently subsumed into the question of Fascism. Yet Italy pursued an imperial agenda almost at the same time as being unified as a nation in the 1860s, and the legacies of its colonial endeavours persisted long after the death of Mussolini, and continue to be felt in many ways today. Furthermore, Fascism is well known for adopting, adapting, and inventing ideas drawn from ancient Rome, from the so-called ‘Roman salute’ to the symbol of the Fasces itself. Yet modern Italian imperialism, prior to Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922, had a long history of posing itself as ancient Rome’s successor, returning to regions that had once been part of the Roman empire.
It was with such considerations in mind that Elena Giusti (University of Warwick) and I organised a three-day conference in Rome in June 2023. When we began to put the event together, we did not know that we would be having these discussions in a country run by Georgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party. Fratelli d’Italia are the heir to Mussolini’s Fascist party, and were swept into power partly on the basis of virulent anti-migration policies. Many of the migrants who are targeted by Meloni’s xenophobic rhetoric and policies depart for Italy from the coast of North Africa, especially Libya, a former colony of Italy. Similarly, many of the migrants originate from Italy’s former east African colonies. Italy’s right-wing, anti-immigration governments have been especially vociferous in their hostility towards those crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe’s southern shores, despite the fact that Italian imperial ideology once promoted the notion that the North African coastline was Italy’s ‘Fourth Shore’, and that Libya was, in fact, a part of Italy. Such ongoing ramifications of Italy’s past imperial claims, many of which were based on selective readings of North African ancient history, made the urgency of this conference acutely felt.
The conference was hosted at the Museo delle Civiltà in Rome, in collaboration with Rosa Anna di Lella and Gaia Delpino, cultural anthropologists working at the museum. Set within the imposing EUR district of Rome, the ultimate architectonic expression of Fascism’s self-representation, the museum holds the collections of the former Museo Coloniale, inaugurated by Mussolini in 1923. Recently, the museum has been working to contextualise and expose the hidden histories of its collections, culminating with the current exhibition, Museo delle Opacità. In this context, to host the conference in the heart of an area built in Fascism’s image, but in an institution working hard to address the legacies of colonialism and Fascism from within, offered a particular poignancy to the event’s proceedings.
Over the three days of the conference, we heard from not only classicists, ancient historians, archaeologists, but also scholars of Italian history and literature, as well as North African and East African history. Papers addressed such themes as Italian archaeologists’ promotion of colonialism in the Aegean and North Africa, the legacies of intellectuals who had used ancient history to support or resist imperial ideologies, ancient history in the Fascist Italian classroom, and new methodological and theoretical perspectives on Italian imperial history. The final day involved workshops organised by the museum on their colonial collections, while the conference was closed by Angelica Pesarini with a keynote on teaching Italian colonialism in the university classroom.
The conference confirmed that the relationship between Classics and colonialism in Italian contexts remains an important and still underdeveloped field of research. This remains the case despite a recent profusion of publications, including forthcoming monographs from Sergio Brillante and myself. There especially remains much work to be done on this topic from an avowedly anti-/decolonial perspective . Elena Giusti and I plan to publish an edited volume with De Gruyter including contributions from the conference.
More information about the conference, including the full programme and paper abstracts can be found here.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Institute of Classical Studies, the Past and Present Society, the University of Warwick Connecting Cultures funding scheme, and the Museo delle Civiltà in Rome.
To celebrate the work of our esteemed friend, colleague and Co-head of Department, Prof. Barbara Goff, we have planned a one-day conference in her honour, on the cusp of her retirement, Friday 22nd September 2023. We have assembled an international cadre of her colleagues, collaborators, (former) students and other associates to discuss the diverse range of inclusive and innovative Classical studies on which she herself has contributed so greatly to scholarship in our and related academic fields. The conference’s four themes, which engage with aspects of her teaching and scholarship are the following:
- Drama, Theory, History
- A Sporting Life
- Broad(er) Classics
- Re-roo/uting Classics
We are delighted to announce that we will be joined also by Dr Stella Keramida from University of Reading’s Department of Film, Theatre, and Television, who with her students is preparing a performance of (some of) Trojan Women.
Everyone is invited to join us — whether in person or online — to celebrate Prof. Goff on this august occasion, but please sign up here. Please do not hesitate to contact email@example.com for further details or if you have any questions.
Amy Smith, Dania Kamini and Oliver Baldwin
The following blog has been written by Jackie Baines, who organised a workshop on ‘Developments in Ancient Language Pedagogy’ held in the Department on Friday 19th May 2023. We would like to thank Jackie and all those involved for running such a successful event!
On the 19th May I ran an international blended workshop on the topic of advances in ancient language pedagogy. The workshop came about as part of my research leave which, as a teaching intensive lecturer, has given me the opportunity to look at ways in which I might refresh my pedagogical ideas and practices. I am indebted to Edward Ross who assisted me with many aspects of the organisation of this event. The rationale for the workshop and the choice of talks and speakers came about as a result of experiences and observations over a number of years teaching Latin here at the University of Reading, which include the following:
Choice of Textbooks
For many years we used Jones and Sidwell Reading Latin as the main textbook with all its quirks and difficulties for complete beginners. After looking at the suitability of many possible alternatives we subsequently moved to using Taylor’s Latin to GCSE which is very much more approachable in its presentation of grammar and its layout for 21st century students but has many drawbacks for moving on with speed and full understanding, to higher levels of Latin.
Teaching Spoken Latin
This academic year (2022 – 2023) I am grateful to my colleague Professor Eleanor Dickey who organised weekly sessions of spoken Latin for colleagues, run by teachers from Oxford Latinitas. It was a revelation in a number of ways, principally, that there are definite advantages to learning to use a language, now considered ‘dead’ by many, as languages are normally used – that is to speak. Latin was indeed taught orally until relatively recently, so why aren’t we doing more of it? A subsidiary lesson for me was being returned to the position of student, at times most alarming and stressful when using a language I know well, but in a totally unfamiliar way. I have set up a student focus group using Ørberg’s Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. I am impressed by the speed of vocabulary acquisition and grammatical understanding gained by reading and speaking using only (mostly!) Latin.
Online learning in the post-pandemic world
The pandemic has made us realise the possibilities of online tools for additional learning support. The rise of AI, in particular Chat GPT is opening up a myriad of opportunities and unnerving problems, both for teachers and for the students themselves who need to have enough understanding to use such tools appropriately. Edward A.S. Ross has recently published an article discussing this further here. Edward and I are delighted to be able to announce that since the workshop we have been awarded Teaching and Learning Enhancement Projects funding by the University of Reading to investigate and trial ChatGPT as a conversational language study tool by codifying and standardising methods for using conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) models in ancient language classes.
In the workshop we were treated to six stimulating and thought-provoking talks, listed below with abstracts available here. Speakers reflected on past practices and perceptions of ancient languages and how they have been taught along with learning how the emergence of new technologies and their use can be used to enhance our teaching. Thanks to all speakers for their contributions.
Emergent pedagogies in classical languages teaching in UK schools: Steven Hunt (University of Cambridge)
Using Simple Grammar Videos to Flip the Classroom: Antonia Ruppel (Institute of Indology and Tibetology, LMU Munich)
Digital software as a pedagogical aid in teaching ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs: Maiken Mosleth King (University of Bristol)
A New Frontier: AI and Ancient Language Pedagogy: Edward A. S. Ross (University of Reading)
Living Latin in the Classroom: benefits and challenges of communicative approaches: Mair E. Lloyd (Open University and University of Cambridge)
Written by Jackie Baines
Professor Eleanor Dickey’s new book on Latin words in ancient Greek is being published by Cambridge University Press on June 15th. Colleagues interviewed her about this momentous (for her, at least) event and learned some surprising facts.
Q: How long is your book?
A: Over 700 pages.
Q: Goodness, why did you do a silly thing like that? You could have split it in thirds and gotten credit for three books!
A: You’re right, I admit it – but a dictionary isn’t easy to split up. Plus it’s not only a dictionary, but also a study of which words were borrowed and when and where and why. So when I thought about dividing it into multiple volumes, I had hideous visions of readers ending up with just one of those volumes and having the research questions but not the answers, or the answers without the questions. Or either without the references. When I was writing this book I spent a lot of time with a study of Latin loanwords published over a century ago by someone who split his work into two parts. He put the list of references in the first part, which has totally disappeared; as far as I can tell no scholar in my lifetime has ever found it. So no-one can understand what the abbreviations in the second part mean, and no-one can trace the sources. Therefore the second part is still cited, rather grudgingly, by people who would much prefer to cite its sources. I realise that this is one way to improve your citation index, but still I wouldn’t want anyone to feel about me the way people feel about that man. So I squeezed this book all into one massive volume to make sure that anyone who got hold of it would get the whole thing.
Q: Ah, I see. Your book is a service to scholarship, and that’s why it’s so big that no-one can afford to buy it – how much is it selling for, anyway?
A: I would prefer not to answer that question, if you don’t mind.
Q: Sorry. Maybe tell us some fun facts from your book?
A: The modern Greek word for ‘lettuce’ comes from the Latin word for ‘bitter’. Very appropriate, I think.
Q: Where does modern Greek come into it? I thought this was a book about ancient Greek?
A: It is about ancient Greek, but for each word borrowed, I look at how long that word survived, and about a quarter of the ancient Latin loanwords survive all the way into modern Greek. The modern Greek words for ‘sausage’ and ‘belt’ and ‘bird’ and ‘yellow’ are also from Latin.
Q: Good heavens, why were they borrowing words like that? Didn’t the Classical Greeks have words for those things?
A: Yes, they did, but those words got replaced by Latin borrowings, because during the Roman empire Greek speakers thought Latin was really cool as a way to express some kinds of ideas. Not everything, just certain things. Like today, for many English speakers, French has cachet for naming items of food and clothing, but not for football terminology. For the Greeks, Latin also had cachet for food and clothing, but not for boating or farming terminology. Most cultures seem to feel that foreign words are cool for food and clothing, in fact.
Q: Yes, like coq au vin and haute couture. What other topics caused the Greeks to reach for Latin words?
A: They loved borrowing words for titles of officials in the imperial bureaucracy; you just couldn’t be properly bureaucratic without a Latin title. This was a bit of a problem in late antiquity, when the Latin-speaking half of the empire basically disappeared and the Greek speakers who needed Latin titles were cut off from the Latin speakers who would normally produce them.
Q: But couldn’t they just go on using their old Latin titles?
A: Not always, because you know what bureaucratic types are like. They love reorganising things, and they want everyone to see that they’ve reorganised things, so they need to find new titles to make people notice.
Q: I see. So what did they do?
A: They made up their own Latin titles by putting together Latin words. For example, the Romans had a set of titles starting with a meaning ‘from’, like a secretis ‘from secrets’, that is, the person in charge of secrets. So the Greeks made the title a brevis ‘from letters’.
Q: How do you know they didn’t take that from the Romans? Even if we don’t have it in Latin, surely that could just be an accident of survival?
A: Brevis belongs to the third declension, and a takes the ablative, so a Roman could never say a brevis; it would have to be a brevibus.
Q: Oh yes, of course. I knew that. Er, what’s your favourite Latin loanword?
A: Aditeusantes, aorist participle of aditeuo, which means ‘having entered into an inheritance’.
Q: That looks awfully Greek; are you sure that’s a Latin loanword? What Latin word do you think it comes from?
A: It comes from adeo ‘enter’, but you’d never know that to look at it. The Greeks knew, though, because they wrote aditeusantes in Latin letters.
Q: Wow. Where can we find out more?
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!