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.
We look forward to this collaboration and its exciting outcomes!
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*Troy: Beauty and Heroism will remain on display in the Ure Museum until 12 December so please rush in if you hadn’t had a chance already (even in tonight’s Being Human museum late ‘Live Forever: Welcome to the Underworld’. duly will have noticed n international performance artist is set to work with the University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology to design a piece of contemporary art inspired by the Museum’s unique collection.
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.
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
Judith Mossman (Coventry University)Tragedy in Plutarch
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!
Addressing assembled staff and students at the Undergraduate Research Showcase event on Wednesday 20th November, the Vice-Chancellor likened the event to the Oscars ceremony … and, well, to continue the metaphor, Classics came away holding a golden statuette!
Josh Kerr and Emma Aston toasting his poster on the Thessalian cavalry in ancient warfare.
At the event, every student who undertook a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Placement) in 2013 presented a poster on his/her research. Posters were grouped by category, and in the group labelled ‘The Past’, antiquity was strongly represented in the form of Classics Department students Abi cousins, Josh Kerr and Will Burks. Between them, their three projects covered a wide and fascinating range of ancient life and culture, showcasing the flexibility of the discipline. Will’s project involved collaboration with University Teaching Fellow Dr Matthew Nicholls on the ongoing development of the latter’s digital reconstruction of ancient Rome. Josh’s poster presented one aspect of his joint research with Dr Emma Aston on the role of the famous Thessalian horse in ancient society, and reflected his particular interest in military history and ambition to continue on to postgraduate study. Abi Cousins had, with Professor Peter Kruschwitz, produced a ground-breaking study of speech-impediments in ancient culture, a neglected aspect of the ancient world with far-reaching implications for our understanding of language and communication. What all three had in common was the process of painstaking reconstruction: reconstruction of lost buildings, reconstruction of beliefs and of ways of life now imbued with that hair-raising mixture of strangeness and familiarity which makes the ancient world so unceasingly fascinating to all who work on it.
Abi Cousins with her two pieces of shiny stationery
For those of us who managed to tear ourselves away from ‘The Past’ (and it’s never easy), the other categories of research on display also provided interesting viewing, ranging from environmental science to cognitive processes in primary-school children. Deciding which projects should be judged best in their categories can’t have been easy, and the hard work of all participants was recognised in the presentation of certificates and VC handshakes. But when it came to the presentation of the awards, it was hard not to wait with baited breath. And Classics gained an amazing double prize: Abi Cousins received not only the award for the best project in her category, but also the prize for best project overall.
Actually, there was no statuette … but she did receive golden envelopes (a classic HE equivalent, and very appropriate to these straitened times). Not to mention, to use Homer’s phrase, a hefty dose of κλέος ἄφθιτον (‘undying glory’)!
Archaeologists, Classicist and … Homeric hero. Photo courtesy of Margriet Haagsma.
If you thought an encounter with the best of the Achaians was beyond the scope of modern mortals, think again: go to Farsala, in northern Greece, and you can bump into him on your way to the zacharoplasteío (cake-shop). The town in Thessaly, roughly on the site of ancient Pharsalos, has recently erected an imposing bronze statue of Achilles, their most famous son. It’s easy to forget, when reading Homer, that Achilles came from Thessaly, but the people of Farsala are clearly in no danger of letting it slip their minds! When questioned, Farsalians said firmly that no, an adjacent statue of Patroklos was not on the cards; but Achilles should at least get his mother’s company, as a statue of the sea-nymph Thetis is planned when funds allow.
Farsala was the location of a recent conference on the region which brought together local archaeologists and historians as well as a small number of international specialists on ancient Thessaly, including Dr Emma Aston of RUCD, shown above (at right) in the company of Achilles and some colleagues from the Canadian team who excavated the important south-Thessalian site of Kástro Kallithéas (probably ancient Peuma). The event was organised jointly by the local Archaeological Service and by the Municipality of Farsala. As well as academic papers on a range of Pharsalian topics, the conference included a visit to the ancient acropolis of Pharsalos, still in the process of being excavated, whose fortifications display an impressive range of Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Byzantine masonry, testifying to centuries of occupation and embellishment. It is also worth noting that southern Thessaly contains some of the loveliest scenery in Greece, wooded hills rising out of the famous horse-bearing plains.
View looking north from the acropolis over the gentle hills of Phthiotis. Spot the bee-hives! Photo: Emma Aston.
View of modern Farsala from the acropolis of ancient Pharsalos. Photo: Emma Aston.
The fortifications of ancient Pharsalos: the large blocks at the bottom are Archaic; the smaller stonework at the top is in fact Byzantine. Photo: Emma Aston.
The conference as a whole, and the passion of the local participants, really brought home the extent to which the myths and folktales of ancient Thessaly (Achilles and his family, centaurs, Lapiths, Jason, Asklepios) remain a vibrant part of the local community and its self-perception. It also demonstrated that no conference should be allowed to proceed without tsípouro, a northern Greek liquor of great potency whose stimulating effect upon academic discourse and intellectual engagement cannot easily be overstated.
The Mary White Prize for Best Article in Phoenix for 2012 has been presented to Dr Emma Aston, University of Reading, for her article “Friends in High Places: The Stereotype of Dangerous Thessalian Hospitality in the Later Classical Period” in Phoenix volume 66.3-4, 247-271.
Dr Aston’s “Friends in High Places: The Stereotype of Dangerous Thessalian Hospitality in the Later Classical Period” was a unanimous choice for the inaugural Mary White Prize.
There were a number of original and thought-provoking papers, but Aston’s contribution stood out for the quality and development of its argument, its sensitive reading of primary texts, and its engagement with a variety of scholarly debates.
Aston’s conclusions were thorough and convincing, and the judges believed her success in situating her study of a specific stereotype within the larger context of self-representation in classical Greek culture deserved particular recognition.
We are delighted to see the publication of Dr Emma Aston’s monograph ‘Mixanthrôpoi’. Emma’s book examines an under-explored aspect of Greek religion: gods and goddesses depicted in half-human, half-animal form.
Many of the beings discussed – Cheiron, Pan, Acheloos, the Sirens and others – will be familiar from the narratives of Greek mythology, in which fabulous anatomies abound. However, they have never previously been studied together from a religious perspective, as recipients of cult and as members of the ancient pantheon. This book is the first major treatment of the use of part-animal – mixanthropic – form in the representation and visual imagination of Greek gods and goddesses, and of its significance with regard to divine character and function. What did it mean to depict deities in a form so strongly associated in the ancient imagination with monstrous adversaries? How did iconography, myth and ritual interact in particular sites of worship?
Drawing together literary and visual material, this study establishes the themes dominant in the worship of divine mixanthropes, and argues that, so far from being insignificant curiosities, they make possible a greater understanding of the fabric of ancient religious practice, in particular the tense and challenging relationship between divinity and visual representation.