What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? – Education in the Making.

Interviewees: Prof. Peter Kruschwitz, Dr. María Limón & Prof Xavier Espluga. Interviewer: Bunny Waring

Date: 30th April 2021.

Today the Classics Department of Reading is delighted to announce the release of a special video called What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? In this video Prof. Peter Kruschwitz (University of Vienna), Prof. Xavier Espluga (University of Barcelona) and Dr. María Limón (University of Seville) discuss the lettered world of ancient Rome and how ancient peoples interacted with the world around them. The video was filmed, directed and edited by James Rattee (https://vimeo.com/jamesrattee/videos) and includes digital footage from Prof. Matthew Nicholls’ Virtual Rome model.

Today we invited Peter, María and Xavier to discuss with us the motivations and methods of making this video and what is next for this interesting project on ancient inscriptions.

INTERVIEW

Bunny Waring (BW): Good Morning All. Thank you for joining us this morning to talk about your collaborative piece What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? The Classics Department are very excited to share this work and we wondered if you could explain a little bit about your motivations for this project?

Thank you so much for this – it’s great for us to be back for a little while, albeit virtually. All three of us share the same passion: our enthusiasm for Roman inscriptions, especially inscriptions composed in verse. To us, those inscriptions are not just stones or pieces of metal that happen to have some poetry inscribed on them. They are carriers of art. They are visible, tangible manifestations of a universal artistic practice of Roman times, spanning the empire across time and space, with thousands of examples surviving to the present day.

This art was produced by individuals from all runs of life, and it was produced in the city of Rome just as much as it can be found at Hadrian’s Wall, the shores of the Black Sea, or in the Roman settlement of North Africa. We can relate to these individuals very easily because they’re not just some remote elite: they are people with everyday occupations, everyday hopes and worries, everyday problems. Like (most of) us – the other 99%, so to speak, far away from the palaces and lives of the elite. What is more, these individuals inhabited the very spaces, geographically and socially, that we still inhabit today, along with all their challenges.

It’s neighbourhood poetry, it’s communal art. And it gives us the most direct, emotionally moving, and instructive access to the world(s) of ancient Rome.

Of course, we know how we ourselves, especially in an academic context, interact and engage with Roman inscribed material remains. But how did they do it? We were curious to find out! And then we got very lucky: the British Academy gave María the opportunity to get our joint research going, first through its visiting fellowship scheme, then through additional funding for this video. We are so grateful for their support, and we hope that this video will both repay them for their trust in our research and appeal and communicate to wide audiences just what incredible, valuable material we study in our desire better to understand the Roman world and its diverse cultures.

BW: How exciting to work on such an interesting topic! So I’m eager to know: why did you choose this particular inscription?

We wanted to make a number of strong, important points. About the way in which we perceive, in which we encounter the Roman world. About the way the ancient world is presented to us in museums, archives, exhibitions, and books. And we want to do so while racing a wide audience because what we have to say and offer is relevant to so many different audiences.

 

We want to enthuse new generations with our passion for Roman history, for poetry, for epigraphy. We want to give teachers the opportunity to expand the canon of teaching through the inclusion of poetry that students can easily relate to. We want to invite museums, collections, and policymakers to rethink their approach to the way in which these incredibly exciting, talking objects from the ancient world are displayed. What better way to achieve this than to choose a text that expresses, in such beautiful words, the grief of pet owners – whose faithful companion had died. We feel we all can relate to that, and we feel that this text alone opens up so many new ways of thinking about the Roman world and the people who “were” the Romans, than the ever-same repertoire of classical authors.

BW: There must be a lot of interesting stories out there?

There are several thousand inscribed poems surviving from across the Roman world. You find anything, from obscene graffiti on the walls of Pompeii, to epitaphs on funerary monuments, 110-lines long and erected in the desert of Roman North Africa. You find beautiful, outrageous, hilarious, thought-provoking pieces, but, of course, also the banal and uninspired. How else could it be: writing short(ish) poems was a shared pastime across the ancient world, and the pieces are just as varied as their authors – men, women, children. If you would like to see further examples, you may explore them in an easily accessible format here and here. The material truly is a hidden treasure waiting for its discovery.

BW: What was it like recording this piece? Would you recommend the process to others?

Haha, oh dear! Well… none of us are natural-born entertainers. We all were terrified and at first, we hated to see our faces and hear our recorded voices. But James Rattee, the producer and creative mind behind our video, did an incredible job to make us feel at ease, to make us look smart (within the limitations that we were painfully aware of), and make the video appealing to such a wide range of audiences. We hope that putting this video out there will make it available for generations to come – for pupils, teachers, academics, cultural managers, policy makers: it should entertain and be useful at the same time! It’s genuinely a piece of art.

 

BW: Well we all certainly agree with that, here in Classics at Reading University! Excellent work! Finally then, what is in store next for your project?

We want to do more. We want to reach out to schools, to those who design curricula, design teaching in schools and at university, to show them the potential and possibilities. And we want to transform the way in which inscriptions are presented and utilised in museums – there is so much potential wasted.

We are making first steps. But there’s much more work to be done. So, if you are interested, please do get in touch with us, and we will explore the potential for collaboration with you! And as we are still thinking about reaching larger audiences and improving educational materials we would be deeply grateful if viewers, students and teachers, from all over the world would send us their feedback, even in an informal way. And by all means do feel free to send us any kind of questions regarding how Roman communicate their feelings, emotions, fears, and concerns through their inscriptions.

 

Summer Seminar Series 2021

Author: Amy Smith & Bunny Waring. Edits: Bunny Waring.
Date: 26th April 2021.

Come one, come all! After a short break, the Classics Department is ready to entertain and educate you all with a new series of free, online seminars.
Join us weekly on Wednesdays at 4pm for our Summer Seminar Series which focuses on the theme ‘Making Classics Better’. In this accessible and inclusive online environment, we welcome a stellar group of speakers from as close as Roehampton and as far as Melbourne to address issues that hamper inclusivity in Classics and/or explore means of promoting diversity in the study of antiquity more broadly.

This theme relates to the work of many of our colleagues and follows on from a successful series of workshops on Inclusive Classics co-organised by our Joint-Head of Department, Prof. Barbara Goff (see out 2020 blog post: http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/classics-at-reading/page/3/.

Below is the full programme and you can join us—for free—by clicking on our events page: https://www.facebook.com/UoRClassics/events/

28 April: What makes classical myth an ideal topic for autistic children? – Susan Deacy (Roehampton)

5 May: Covid+Collapse – Louise Hitchcock (Melbourne)

12 May: Collaboration in UK Classics Education: Reflecting on Ambitions and Realities – Arlene Holmes-Henderson (KCL)

19 May: Disability Studies and the Classical Body: The Forgotten Other – Ellen Adams (KCL)

26 May: Subverting the Classics? White Feminism and Reception Studies – Holly Ranger (SAS)

2 June: TBA – Patrice Rankine (Richmond)

From Banquets to Sappho: Current Research & Recent Publications (2021.2).

Author: Bunny Waring
Date: 21st March 2021

Amidst adapting to e-learning, preparing lectures and caring for students, staff here at the Classics Department have been busy. A key element of academic life is never resting on your laurels. Each lecturer has their own research passions and are constantly writing blogs, papers, books and articles about what they have discovered and why it matters. Here are some of the latest releases from Prof. Rachel Mairs, Prof. Annalisa Marzano, Prof. Katherine Harlowe and Prof. Barbara Goff!

Mairs, Rachel (Ed.) 2021. The Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek World. Routledge.
This volume provides a thorough conspectus of the field of Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek studies, mixing theoretical and historical surveys with critical and thought-provoking case studies in archaeology, history, literature and art.

The chapters from this international group of experts showcase innovative methodologies, such as archaeological GIS, as well as providing accessible explanations of specialist techniques such as die studies of coins, and important theoretical perspectives, including postcolonial approaches to the Greeks in India. Chapters cover the region’s archaeology, written and numismatic sources, and a history of scholarship of the subject, as well as culture, identity and interactions with neighbouring empires, including India and China.

The Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek World is the go-to reference work on the field, and fulfils a serious need for an accessible, but also thorough and critically-informed, volume on the Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek kingdoms. It provides an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the Hellenistic East.

For E and Hard copies click here:
The Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek World

 

 

Bowman, Alan K., Crowther, Charles V., Hornblower, Simon., Mairs, Rachel and Savvopoulos Kyriakos (Eds.) 2020. Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions Part I: Greek, Bilingual, and Trilingual Inscriptions from Egypt. Volume 1. Alexandria and the Delta (Nos. 1–206). Oxford University Press. 

This is the first of three volumes of a Corpus publication of the Greek, bilingual and trilingual inscriptions of Ptolemaic Egypt covering the period between Alexander’s conquest in 332 BC and the fall of Alexandria to the Romans in 30 BC. The Corpus offers scholarly editions, with translations, full descriptions and supporting commentaries, of more than 650 inscribed documents, of which 206, from Alexandria and the region of the Nile Delta, fall within this first volume. The inscriptions in the Corpus range in scope and significance from major public monuments such as the trilingual Rosetta Stone to private dedicatory plaques and funerary notices. They reflect almost every aspect of public and private life in Hellenistic Egypt: civic, royal and priestly decrees, letters and petitions, royal and private dedications to kings and deities, as well as pilgrimage notices, hymns and epigrams. The inscriptions in the Corpus are drawn from the entire Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, from Alexandria and the Egyptian Delta, through the Fayum, along the Nile Valley, to Upper Egypt, and across the Eastern and Western Deserts. The Corpus supersedes older publications and other partial collections organised by a specific region or theme and offers for the first time a full picture of the Greek and multilingual epigraphic landscape of the Ptolemaic period. It will be an indispensable resource for new and continuing research into the history, society and culture of Ptolemaic Egypt and the wider Hellenistic world.

For hard copies and more information:
Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions

 

 

Marzano, Annalisa. 2021. Caesar’s triumphal banquet of 46 BC: A Hypothesis on its Political Significance on the Basis of a Recent Epigraphic Discovery from Pompeii in: politica antica 10: 99-107.

An inscription recently discovered in Pompeii reports how many individuals were accommodated on sets of three dining couches in a public banquet. This information allows us to reconsider the number of people feasted during Caesar’s famous public banquet of 46 BC, suggesting that the number of individuals was very close to the number of people on the corn dole list. Caesar revised this list shortly after the celebrations of 46 BC, drastically reducing the number of recipients; therefore the public banquet of 46 BC may have had a strong political dimension connected to the revision of the corn dole list Caesar was planning.

To read more click here:
Caesar’s Famous Banquet

 

 

Finglass, P.J., Kelly, A. (Eds.) 2021. The Cambridge Companion to Sappho. Cambridge University Press. With chapters by Harloe, K, Goff, B.

No ancient poet has a wider following today than Sappho; her status as the most famous woman poet from Greco-Roman antiquity, and as one of the most prominent lesbian voices in history, has ensured a continuing fascination with her work down the centuries. The Cambridge Companion to Sappho provides an up-to-date survey of this remarkable, inspiring, and mysterious Greek writer, whose poetic corpus has been significantly expanded in recent years thanks to the discovery of new papyrus sources. Containing an introduction, prologue and thirty-three chapters, the book examines Sappho’s historical, social, and literary contexts, the nature of her poetic achievement, the transmission, loss, and rediscovery of her poetry, and the reception of that poetry in cultures far removed from ancient Greece, including Latin America, India, China, and Japan. All Greek is translated, making the volume accessible to everyone interested in one of the most significant creative artists of all time.

See a full list of chapters and papers here:
The Cambridge Companion to Sappho.

Reading’s Latin Inscriptions: New Book by Prof. Peter Kruschwitz

We are delighted to announce the publication of a new book by Prof. Peter Kruschwitz with Reading’s very own Two Rivers Press:

WotWThe book contains an anthology of 48 Latin inscriptions that are on display in Berkshire’s county town of Reading (as well as an extra four that have disappeared some time ago!) – covering some 1,800 years of Latin in use as a language of authority, of the church, of business, of learning, and – of course – as a language to honour the dead.

The book, showcasing the very finest examples of a body of some 200 inscribed Latin texts altogether from the Reading area, is the result of several years of fieldwork (about which Prof. Kruschwitz has occasionally blogged on his blog ‘The Petrified Muse’) – and if you wish to follow his walking routes, there is even a handy map that shows you the location of the various pieces that are covered in the book on Google Maps!

The book, beautifully designed and illustrated, is available from the publisher, Inpress Books, Waterstones, and – soon –  Amazon.

For anyone in and around Reading: Prof. Kruschwitz will be signing copies of his book at Reading’s branch of Waterstones next Saturday (12 September, 3-4pm) as part of Reading’s activities during the 2015 Heritage Open Days (further information can be found here).

Materialising Poetry

A one day workshop to be held on Tuesday 8th September 2015 at the Department of Classics, University of Reading

Organisers: Prof. Peter Kruschwitz  and Dr Rachel Mairs

Outline

Recent years have seen increasing levels of interest in the material dimension(s) of poetry. Just as there appears to be defining spatial and societal contexts for poems, whose study is essential for a thorough appreciation of a poem’s meaning(s), its materiality is increasingly understood as a defining, perhaps even vital, feature of verbal art. The investigation of textual materiality (or, in fact, materialities) thus becomes an important step towards a more adequate and complex understanding of poetic artifice.

From the sounds and images that begin to take shape in a writer’s head to the impact that poetry has on the human brain, from the choice of writing material and the deliberate, careful design of a poem’s layout to the multidimensional sensual stimulus that comes with an encounter of poetry: during its life-cycle, poetry undergoes multiple material transformations. In fact, it seems as though each and every material transformation, often occurring in conjunction with a change of ‘ownership’, has its own, often significant impact on the nature of the artefact itself.

This international and interdisciplinary workshop will, in an informal and communicative setting, explore the materialities of poetry as well as the poets’ playful and intellectual interactions with this dimension. While the main focus will lie on the verbal artistry of the ancient Mediterranean (broadly conceived), specialist contributions will also elucidate creative processes, craftsmanship, and the cognitive science that underpin the ways in which poetry materialises.

Participants will include –

Discussions will start at 10.00 am and finish by 4.15 pm, and lunch will be provided. The workshop will take place in room G25 of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HumSS) Building [click here for a campus map].

Booking

There is no booking fee, but as space is limited, and in order to help the organisers arrange catering, it would be helpful if those intending to come could contact Prof. Peter Kruschwitz at p.kruschwitz [at] reading.ac.uk by 1 September at the very latest.

Hope and Despair in Roman Britain

The Yorkshire Museum in York houses a most impressive collection of Roman inscriptions from York and the immediate vicinity. On occasion of a trip to Yorkshire in August 2013, I was finally able to see for myself a particularly noteworthy item of their collection, an item that has fascinated me for quite some time: the tombstone of a girl named Corellia Optata.

Inscription of Corellia Optata

Inscription for Corellia Optata

The stone, arguably dating to the second half of the first century A. D., more plausibly somewhat later in date, is heavily damaged. At the top, a sculpture is lost altogether (as is a letter ‘D’ on the left-hand side, which would have corresponded with the letter ‘M’ on the right). In its present state, the lower part of a (presumably female) figure’s legs survives, standing in the middle, resting on the frame that contains the actual inscription.

The Latin text, full of abbreviations, ligatures, and spelling oddities, reads as follows:

[D(is)] M(anibus).
Corellia Optata an(norum) XIII.
Secreti Manes, qui regna
Acherusia Ditis incoli-
tis, quos parua petunt post
            5
lumina uite exiguus cinis
et simulacrum, corpo<r>is um-
bra: insontis gnate geni-
tor spe captus iniqua
supremum hunc nate
                        10
miserandus defleo finem.
Q(uintus)
Core(llius) Fortis pat(er) f(aciendum) c(urauit).

(Carmina Latina Epigraphica 395)

 In translation:

To the divine Manes.
Corellia Optata, aged 13.
You reclusive Manes, who inhabit the Acherusian realm of Hades, whom the little pile of ashes and the spirit do seek after but a short span of life, the body’s shade: I, the begetter of an innocent daughter, trapped by wrongful hope, wretched, wail this, my daughter’s ultimate destiny.
Quintus Corellius Fortis, the father, had this made.

The central part of this inscription (lines 2–11 in the Latin) forms a poem comprising five dactylic hexametres:

Secreti Manes, qui regna Acherusia Ditis
incolitis, quos parua petunt post lumina uite
exiguus cinis et simulacrum, corpo<r>is umbra:
insontis gnate genitor spe captus iniqua
supremum hunc nate
miserandus defleo finem.            5

Inscribed poems, very common in other parts of the Roman world, appear to have been exceptionally rare in Roman Britain: a mere two dozen or so have survived to the present day. In that respect, a poem of five perfectly preserved lines is rather spectacular.

The poem, dedicated to the secreti Manes, those reclusive, hard-to-grasp spirits of the Roman underworld, seems topical at first: a girl dies young, and a parent expresses his grief, complaining about the injustice of the premature death. Yet this father, Q. Corellius Fortis, at least superficially familiar with the literary classics of his day and age, went beyond that: and the way in which he did this is precisely what makes this poem so remarkable.

Corellius was a brave man, certainly by name: Fortis is not only the father’s name, but also a Latin adjective denoting the quality of ‘brave’. Perhaps he earned this nickname in a military career? He and the (altogether nameless, absent) mother of the child clearly desired a child, for they gave the daughter the name Optata, ‘Desired’, ‘Hoped-For’.

The brave man was fooled, however, a soldier trapped (captus) by spes iniqua, a hope that brought undeserved disappointment: the verbal allusion of spes (‘hope’) to the name of the daughter, Optata, could hardly be more obvious. A similarly inspired word play can be seen in the placement of the word finis (‘destiny’, more literally: ‘end’) at what is indeed the very end of the poem.

Corellius may have been fortis, but he was not ashamed to express his sorrow, his lament, and, in fact, his bitter disappointment, and to record it for eternity. Following the expressive alliteration parua petunt post – the ‘spitting’ Ps barely conceal the author’s contempt –, Corellius stresses the daughter’s innocence, using the loaded term insons. This not only implies the absence of guilt, but also utter harmlessness. This increases the contrast between the innocent victim of premature death – the daughter – and those who now, undeservedly, get to enjoy the presence of Optata’s physical and immaterial remains: the Manes in their reclusive abode, the dark realm of Hades.

Yet, the poem also leaves little doubt over who is the real victim: Corellius Fortis, the genitor (‘begetter’), a wretch (miserandus) first trapped by deceitful hope, then robbed by the untimely demise.

Funerary inscriptions, whether prose or poetry, deal with commonplaces, necessitated by the events and the need to offer consolation for those left behind, and many a time they resort to truisms, banalities, and ideology. Corellius Fortis was forced to face the same fate as many parents in the ancient world, the loss of his child at a relatively early age. His poetic attempt to come to terms with this stands out not only because of the (relative) rarity of inscribed poems in the environment of Roman Britain: it stands out because of the amount of skill and thought that have gone into this highly individual, personal, and touching little poem, expressing hope, despair, and grief with a gripping immediacy.

Peter Kruschwitz