NEO: The Classics Students’ Journal – Call for papers

The Classics students’ journal NEO, founded in 2016, is now calling for papers for its second issue. For further information and guidance on the submission process, click here.

The 2017 issue of the journal (which can be downloaded here) includes a piece by former Open University Classical Studies student Ian Ramskill, whose paper ‘Horace Odes 3.14: a pragmatic and welcome acceptance of the early Pax Augusta’ started life back in 2014 as a prizewinning essay for the John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay Prize. This is a competition which is open to all OU Classical Studies undergraduates. Look out for more details soon!

Rumours of our demise …

An article appeared in Thursday’s Guardian (March 22) about proposed curriculum and staffing cuts at the Open University: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/mar/21/open-university-plans-major-cuts-to-number-of-staff-and-courses

There is an implication here that Classical Studies as a discipline is at risk or is being cut.

Despite what is said here, you can rest assured that there are NO plans whatsoever to axe Classical Studies at the OU.  Our student numbers remain buoyant and we are recruiting to all modules and qualifications as normal.  As part of a university-wide review of curriculum there is, indeed, a plan to remove A275 Reading Classical Greek following its 2019/20 presentation, i.e. a year earlier than was initially planned.  But while this is regrettable, it’s hardly something that the department was expecting to be front page news.

The VC has already publically rebutted the Guardian claims about Classical Studies and has reaffirmed his continued commitment to the discipline. So for now in the department, it is business as usual.

The Landscape Garden: Britain’s Greatest Eighteenth-century Export?

OU PhD student John Harrison reports on a conference held at the British School at Rome, Tuesday, 6th March 2018.

BSR_advertisement for conference

Last year I had the pleasure of attending the Hortus Inclusus meeting at the British School at Rome (BSR). It was two fascinating days and featured a diverse and talented international cast of speakers. The ancient Roman content was for me particularly interesting and it sparked the thought that a meeting on the topic of the Eighteenth-century English Landscape garden, so heavily influenced by ancient Rome, would be a worthy follow-up event. Last Tuesday (6th March) that idea came to fruition in the form of a one-day meeting at the BSR titled ‘The Landscape Garden: Britain’s Greatest Eighteenth-century Export?’.

I have previously commented on my good fortune in acquiring speakers for past meetings and I was delighted that we managed to secure an outstanding group of individuals to speak at this event, including the excellent Professor Diana Spencer to lead a discussion on the central conceit of the day – was the Landscape Garden indeed Britain’s greatest eighteenth-century export? More on this issue later.

photograph of powerpoint slide

A week of bad weather in Italy and further afield presented travel challenges for delegates and speakers alike. In the hours before the meeting there was a flurry of ‘I might be a bit late’ text and email messages, but by mid-morning we had a growing audience and speakers ready to deliver. First-up, to set the scene, was the excellent Dr Laura Mayer who had kindly acceded to my request to deliver in slightly less than one-hour a keynote lecture on the English landscape garden from William Kent to Humphrey Repton, via Capability Brown. Laura delivered the perfect scene setter with “‘Original & Indisputably English’: The Landscape Gardens of the Eighteenth Century”, no mean feat given the unenviable task she had agreed to.

With the scene so beautifully set I had the easiest task of the day with the presentation of my PhD research on the eighteenth-century landscape garden at Stourhead. This was the first outing for my critical review of authorial intention theories of Stourhead and my shift to focus on visitor reception. I was a little anxious at the reception of my ideas and research findings, so chose an understated title for my presentation: ‘Roman influences on Georgian Stourhead’. A robust question and answer session followed the presentation, which was very useful preparation for my forthcoming PhD viva.

Professor Christopher Smith talking from a lecturn

Our final speaker before lunch was Dr Clare Hornsby who presented her recent research on the topic of ‘Gardens at La Trappe: neo-classical display in the London suburbs’. Clare explained that this is ‘work-in-progress’, but it was clear from the content of her fabulous presentation that she has already achieved a good deal. The building she has painstakingly researched and described sounded truly magnificent and the account she gave of her research was so vivid it was almost like being in the various archives with her.

We commenced the post-lunch session with a consideration of art and literature’s impact on the English landscape garden. We were honoured to have well-known expert Michael Liversidge take us through a broad sweep of the influence of painting in his ‘Painting and Planting: art, aesthetics and landscaping in Georgian England’ presentation. Michael skilfully covered the better-known links between gardens and fine art, but very helpfully revealed what for me were a number of new links and perspectives.

Our final speaker was Dr Paul Gwynne, who is Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, at the American University of Rome. This was another presentation I was very keen to hear, having had my appetite whetted by Luke Roman’s presentation at the Hortus Inclusus event. Paul’s ‘The Italian Renaissance Villa and Garden: an overlooked source. Some observations and suggestions’, is also work-in-progress, but was hugely informative and thought provoking. It inspired me to revisit the topographical poets I read as part of my Stourhead research.

A day of informed and thorough lectures led us neatly into the panel discussion. I think we came to this mindful that the landscape garden had considerable competition for the title greatest 18th-century export. Nevertheless, given that by the end of the 18th-century ‘English gardens’ could be found in Sweden 🇸🇪, Germany 🇩🇪, Poland 🇵🇱, Russia 🇷🇺, and even France 🇫🇷, and Italy 🇮🇹, it was certainly amongst the most important artistic exports. With this weighty issue partially dealt with we retired to the reception area of the BSR for further reflection over drinks and snacks.

In closing I’d like to thank the speakers for their wonderful presentations and the delegates for their keenness to participate. The success of the day owes so much to the BSR staff who gave so generously of their time. I would particularly like to thank Tom True, Alice Marsh and Christine Martin whose advice, support and participation helped make the day such a joy.

John E Harrison

12th March 2018

johncpc@btinternet.com

 

 

POSTPONED: ACE event, 12 March

We’re sorry to announce that our planned ACE (Advocating Classics Education) live-streamed event has been postponed, due to ongoing industrial action by the Universities and Colleges Union. Watch this space for details of a rescheduled event! Please direct any queries to Joanna.Paul@open.ac.uk or Virginia.Campbell@open.ac.uk.

Programme for our ACE event, 12 March

As we announced in our last blog post, our event with the Advocating Classical Education project is just around the corner. We’re now very excited to reveal the programme for the afternoon! If you’re interested in attending the event through our live-streaming platform, see our previous post for contact details for an initial registration of interest. More details about what to expect from each session, and how to join in on the day, will be available soon – watch this space!

2pm            Introduction and welcome

2.15pm      The World of Greek Drama (Jan Haywood, Christine Plastow)

2.40pm       In Conversation with Mary Beard

3.15pm       Classical Studies Question Time (Mary Beard, Edith Hall, Elton Barker)

3.45pm       The Votives Project (E-J Graham, Jessica Hughes)

4.10pm       Keeping in Touch with Classical Studies at the OU

4.30pm       Teachers’ Q&A (Arlene Holmes-Henderson, Stephen Dobson, Virginia Campbell,          Stephen Dobson)

Salmacis and Hermaphroditus – Paula James reports

Since retiring from the Open University in 2015, Paula James has been immersed in her ongoing research into classical mythology. Amongst other things, she has been working on an article about the myth of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book 4. We recorded a short audio with Paula about the myth, to share on this blog. You can also access the full text of her article draft by clicking on the link below. The article hasn’t yet found a permanent home in a journal, but Paula told us that she doesn’t want it to sink without a trace like poor Salmacis did!  We’re very pleased to share it on the blog, and invite readers to send on any feedback or ideas to Paula at the address on her Open University webpage.

Audio: Paula James talks about the myth of Salmacis

Article link (PDF): Paula_James_Salmacis_article

screenshot of OU podcast channel - audio about Salmacis

 

 

Save the date for our live-streamed ACE event!

The Classical Studies department at the Open University is pleased to announce our upcoming ACE event on the 12th of March 2018, 2-5 pm. This event is unique in the ACE programme for being live-streamed and open to any school groups or teachers, across the UK, to attend remotely.

As part of the AHRC-funded project, Advocating Classical Education, this public partnership event will feature a range of talks and activities promoting the study of Classical Civilisation. We are lucky to have Professor Mary Beard, undoubtedly the best-known Classicist in the country, joining us: Professor Beard will speak on the importance of Classical Studies in her life and career, and will also participate in a Classics-themed ‘Question Time’. The event will include talks and interactive sessions from Open University academics on their own research, guidance for teachers on introducing Classical Civilisation to the curriculum, and an introduction to the wide range of open access resources provided by the OU. Full programme details will be published very shortly.

The entire event will be live-streamed, and will include interactive features enabling our online audience to participate remotely – asking questions, joining in quizzes, and adding your comments to proceedings. Schools or teachers interested in participating in the event online should contact one of the event organisers, Virginia Campbell (virginia.campbell@open.ac.uk) for more information.

Ovid’s cure for pimples (and other adventures in ‘Practical Classics’)

Alison Daniels is an OU student working towards the Q85 BA in Classical Studies. This autumn, she was awarded the ‘highly commended’ prize for her submission to the John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay competition: an essay entitled ‘Practical Classics: Reflections on the attempted recreation of the ancient Roman skincare and cosmetic products described by Ovid in his Medicamina Faciei Femineae’. Alison attempted to recreate some of the lotions and potions that Ovid recommended to his Roman readers. It’s safe to say that this is the first student essay to arrive in the OU Classical Studies mailbox complete with pots of cosmetic samples!

In this blog post, she tells us a bit more about the process of researching and writing the essay, and her plans for future work in the field of Classical Studies.

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Hello Alison, congratulations on your prize! Please could you introduce yourself to our blog readers, and tell us about your OU learning journey so far?

This is my second degree with the OU. The first was an Open Honours degree which ended up as a weird mixture of cognitive psychology and Romans. I just chose what interested me. My love for the Romans was rekindled by the sight of James Purefoy’s backside in HBO’s Rome on TV. It’s not the greatest reason for studying, is it? This time I’m taking another honours degree in Classical Studies. Last year I had to exert some discipline to learn all those Latin endings and declensions for A276. I’m now taking A330 looking at Greek and Roman Myth. I can’t quite get my head round the Greeks, they seem to have quite an alien mind set to me.

I’d love to go on and take a PhD part time by distance learning, but funding it would be an issue. Building on A330, I’m fascinated by how Roman cults functioned as businesses, so that would be my subject.  How cults competed, attracted new members and got the money to operate, how they entered a new market, how you spread the message about your “new” god, why people would join a new cult and what it offered, how they sought out high profile converts, the economics and business aspects of creating and buying votives – that kind of thing.

Other than that, I’ve always had way too much curiosity and a bad habit of going, “What if…”

You chose to write your Kassman essay about Ovid’s Medicamina Faciei Femineae. Can you give us some background to this text? How much of it survives, and what is it about?

What remains of the Medicamina is just a fragment of about 100 lines long. The first half is Ovid’s usual poetics, but the second half changes quite abruptly to a series of five recipes for skincare and cosmetic products. At first sight, it didn’t seem to fit with the bits of Ovid I’d encountered on the module [A276]]. It was as if, say, Hamlet broke off in the middle of “To be or not to be” to give you his recipe for Danish Pastries.

Why you decide to recreate the recipes, rather than just read about them? And what did you expect to find out when you started your research?

When I started my research, I thought I’d find that lots of people had recreated Ovid’s recipes. It seemed such an obvious approach, but although there were lots of references to the recipes, no what seemed to have actually tried them out. Even where people had written books on Roman cosmetics, they didn’t seem to have made them, so I decided I’d give it a go as my topic for the Kassman essay prize.

How many recipes did you recreate? What were the main challenges you encountered? 

I chose to recreate four recipes out of the five. The one I omitted involved nitre, which I thought at the time I’d have to make by following a medieval process. Since it involved digging a metre cubed pit and filling it with alternate layers of lime and chicken poo, I passed on that.

There were two main challenges. I soon discovered why no one appeared to have recreated Ovid’s recipes before! The first was the translations themselves, which varied enormously and unexpectedly. Take lines 78-80. Mahoney (Perseus.tufts.edu) renders them as:

“Two ounces next of gum, and thural seed,
That for the gracious gods does incense breed,
And let a double share of honey last succeed”.

This differs significantly from the prose translation offered by May in the Loeb,

“There should also be added two ounces of gum and Tuscan spelt, and nine times as much honey.” (www.sacred-texts.com/cla/ovid/lboo/lboo62.htm).

So I didn’t really know whether to go with nine times as much honey or 4 ounces as the double share. Scale it up to fifty lines and it becomes even less consistent. In the end I opted for the Loeb translation throughout, cross-referencing as needed.

The second challenge was rounding up the materials and trying to identify what species of plant or type of material Ovid actually meant. He was writing before scientific taxonomy and many of the translations seemed give priority to metre over product formulation. In one recipe he specifies windy beans, but even with research into ancient Roman recipes, it wasn’t clear which variety was meant. Add in that commercial plant breeding and agriculture has changed the physical qualities of many species over time and I couldn’t be sure that Ovid’s opium poppy petals bore much resemblance to the ones from my neighbour’s garden, or that the modern ingredients wouldn’t result in a less efficacious product.

I had to make some educated guesses and substitutions, so I used Scottish barley that a local farmer let me have rather than Libyan barley and my iris bulbs came from the garden centre rather than Illyria. Similarly, I used a high powered blender to grind and mix my ingredients since I had no access to strong-armed slaves or a donkey powered mill.

Can you give us a taster of one of the recipes – perhaps your favourite one?

Although Ovid’s fennel seed complexion cream smelt fabulous, I found his spot and pimple cream most interesting. At first, I thought it was maybe a later addition to the poem as the quantity of ingredients seemed pretty industrial, coming in at just over 4Kg.

At Ovid’s stated dose the batch contains six months’ worth of daily treatment. In fact, Ovid’s suggestion of ½ Roman ounce, or 14.35g per treatment, is 29 times higher than a recommended full face dose of a modern acne treatment. At that rate, Ovid’s recipe provides almost six years of twice daily treatments. I thought Ovid was obliquely suggesting that those with spots should cake themselves in a thick layer of disguising cream for several years until the skin problems have passed.

Ingredients for Ovid's pimple cure

Ingredients for Ovid’s spot and pimple cure and the end result

Ovid's cure for pimples

 

When I tested the recipe, I found it resulted in a dark, flecked mixture. It didn’t absorb into the skin, but sits on it until removed. Rubbing resulted in the honey component spreading into the skin, leaving dry farinaceous matter on top. It is exceptionally drying on the skin, but not sticky. If Ovid’s suggested dose of an ounce were applied to the face, it would doubtless slide off. The wearer would not be able to apply this product then appear in public, but would have to stay secluded. Ovid often seemed to use a known allergen in this preparation. Lupin commonly causes skin rashes and breathing difficulties in around 1-2% of the population.

You mention in the essay that some of your neighbours helped with sourcing the ingredients – what did they think when you told them about your project?!

Luckily for me, I live in quite a charmingly eccentric little village, where people are always helping each other out. My job writing for magazines and editing means my neighbours are quite used to me doing strange things, like walking over hot coals or trying twenty ice cream flavours in one afternoon for a food review! They didn’t have a problem with letting me take some lupin seeds or stealing all the petals from their poppies once I had explained.

And finally, what would you count as your most important or surprising discovery?

Even though the project was pretty poor science and not very rigorous as classical research, I think it had value. It gave me an idea of the difficulties of primary research without proper funding, equipment and access to materials and secondary research. It was also fun to do and interesting to explore.

In terms of the cosmetic formulae themselves, I came to the conclusion that Ovid gives us a series of cosmetics where each has the opposite effect to that promised. A cheek stain that gives the wearer the appearance of bruises rather than a healthy glow; a spot cream that needs to be layered on so thickly the wearer’s entire visage is obscured and the user must avoid others; a cream that promises radiance but soon leaves the skin dull and grey and a brightening cream which blisters the skin.

While this may have been Ovid’s subtle comment on the futility of artificial beauty products, my own conclusion was that the recipes were, in effect, a series of practical jokes. By simply translating Ovid’s words and failing to fully comprehend the sly implications of his recipes, I felt we may have missed out on a more practical aspect of Ovid’s humour.

 

Kassman essay prize 2017 – winner announced!

In Classical Studies we have an annual essay competition. The John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay prize is an annual award based on the income from a donation given by the late Alec Kassman in memory of his son. Alec was an Arts Faculty Staff Tutor in the London Region and a contributor to Classical Studies modules. The purpose of the prize is to develop and foster study of classical antiquity in the Open University.

We’re delighted to announce that this year’s winner is Ben Cassell.

Originally from North London, and now living in Wales, Ben has recently graduated with First Class Honours in Classical Studies after studying full time over three years at the Open University. Ben has now begun studying the MA in Classical Studies with the OU. He has previously been awarded the Sir Julian-Hodge Prize in 2014/15, the prize sponsored by Ede and Ravenscroft in 2016, and he was also the runner up for the J.S. Kassman Essay Prize last year.

Ben tells us: ‘I have always had a keen interest in ancient and medieval history, being something cultivated in my childhood, but was drawn to studying Classics after reading Euripides and Aristophanes as well as Michael Scott’s Delphi and Olympia: Spatial politics and pan-hellenism, a work that revolutionized my appreciation of Classics as a field of study.’

Ben’s winning essay examined the monuments and iconography of fifth-century BCE Athens, exploring how they played a vital role in shaping Athenian identity in this period. The essay offered an analysis of the context and ideology of various iconographic schemes, such as the paintings in the Stoa Poikile and the metopes and friezes in the Hephaisteion (both in the Athenian agora), highlighting how monumental iconography in Athens was not simply a product of ethnic identity, but an essential medium for its enactment through memorisation.

The annual competition is open to all current OU undergraduates, with a notification date usually at the end of June, with submission at the end of September. This year’s winner is keen to continue developing his interests in memory studies, inspired by prominent figures in the field such as Jan Assmann and Claude Calame. Ben says, ‘My ambition is to work within the field of Classical Studies professionally … [looking at] the role of memory as a mechanism for cultivating identity, especially as relating to art, iconography and ritually consumed space.’

Many congratulations to Ben from everyone here at OU Classical Studies.

Introducing….Christine Plastow, Lecturer in Classical Studies

Christine Plastow

I’m really happy to be joining Classical Studies at the Open University, in my first post since finishing my PhD. I’d like to thank publicly all of my colleagues for already having made me feel so welcome! Having discovered Classics by accident when I was persuaded to sign up for a Classical Civilisation A level instead of one in History, I began my Classics career in earnest as an undergraduate at Royal Holloway, University of London in English Literature and Classical Studies. While there, I began work on the Athenian forensic speeches in a dissertation on legal language and rhetoric in [Demosthenes] 59 Against Neaira; the forensic speeches would come to be my primary research focus. I then moved to the University of Bristol, where I gained a Masters in Classics and Ancient History and continued my interest in forensic rhetoric with a dissertation on invective in the courts. Finally, I ended up at University College London to study for my PhD under the supervision of Professor Chris Carey. This project, entitled ‘Athenian Homicide Law in Context’, explored the distinctive nature of homicide in Athenian law and culture, and the ways in which the legal system set homicide apart from other crimes. My primary focus was exploring how this distinctiveness played out in rhetoric, by examining several prominent features of forensic speeches on homicide: Athenian ideology, religious pollution, relevance, and the twin issues of motivation and intent. The project illustrated that although the Athenians would regularly speak about homicide in a way that implied it was always subject to especially solemn and rigorous treatment, in practice speeches in trials for homicide or where homicide was a secondary issue were just as commonly exploited for personal and political gain as any other. A secondary goal of the project was to explore the courtroom context of delivery and the effects this may have had on rhetoric; I noted several significant differences between homicide rhetoric delivered in the homicide courts and that delivered in the popular courts. I am currently in the process of turning my thesis into a book, provisionally titled Homicide in the Attic Orators: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Context.

The next research project that I’m looking to undertake grows out of the secondary conclusions from my thesis. I’m interested in how space and place played various roles in Athenian oratory – of all genres, not just forensic. In this project, I’ll be following two major strands of enquiry. Firstly, I’ll look at how the physical space of delivery could affect the rhetoric used in a speech, by way of both visual impact and ideology. In the case of the homicide courts, the visual and ideological markers of religious solemnity – the location of all of the homicide courts at religious sites, the proximity of shrines to the Areopagus, the performance of distinctive sacrifices and the swearing of particularly weighty oaths – must have made the religious danger of homicide causing pollution particularly clear to those present at the trial, and therefore may have decreased the need for or effectiveness of pollution rhetoric. This might partly explain the apparent dearth of references to pollution in the forensic speeches for homicide. I’ll examine how this pattern extends across the courts, the assembly, and locations for public funerals, by looking at the physical features of the delivery spaces, as well as the psychological associations that they would have for those present. My second strand of enquiry looks at how spaces and places are constructed, invoked, and used rhetorically in the speeches, particularly in addressing issues of identity and ideology. The very existence of places – in my framework, locations with a particular meaning to a particular individual or group – implies identity, both for the place and for the people for whom it is meaningful. Spaces – locations defined more physically – often have effects on individuals’ behaviours and identities. Both spaces and places can invoke strong ideological associations, an effect that was no different in Athens. Thus, these themes could be deployed in rhetoric to particular effect in front of Athenian audiences. I am currently preparing a chapter on an initial case study for this project, entitled ‘Space, Place, and Identity in Antiphon 5’.

Besides my primary research interests, I’m particularly keen on 20th and 21st century receptions of Greek drama. While at UCL, I helped to organise a series of events called Conversations with Iphigenia, which presented discussions between the playwrights of the Gate Theatre Notting Hill’s Iphigenia Quartet, other theatre practitioners, and academics from Classics, Theatre Studies, and Translation Studies. A transcript of the roundtable discussions from these events will appear in the OU’s Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception Studies journal in 2018. I also work regularly with the London-based By Jove Theatre Company, where I am their research and education co-ordinator and blog editor. By Jove focus on new writing, particularly women’s writing, that presents old stories for a new audience, and has staged new versions of Greek tragedies, Shakespeare plays, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice over the last 5 years. For more on the company, or to read the blog, see www.byjovetheatre.org. I’m also really interested in applications of feminist theory and translation studies to Classics.

When I’m not doing research, teaching is my passion. Though I enjoy teaching all aspects of Classics – particularly themes on Classical Athenian history, society, and culture, as well as Greek law – I’m an especially keen teacher of Ancient Greek. My favourite classes are students of Greek who are coming to the language as undergraduates or later, as I myself never had an opportunity to study ancient languages at school, and only started study as an undergraduate. Such courses tend to be fast-paced and high intensity, and thus require a lot of dedication and persistence – from the teacher as well as the student! Nevertheless, some of my most rewarding teaching experiences have been in Greek classes, where students have finally grasped a difficult grammatical concept after a long struggle. I think there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in learning Greek, not only because of its extensive and poetic vocabulary and far more precise grammar than in English, but also because translating a complicated passage often feels like trying to break a code – with the same sense of achievement (and access to hidden information!) when you’re done.

I’m really looking forward to my next two years at the Open University, and I hope to meet many new faces along the way! If you’d like to find out more about me, follow me through the next couple of years, or just say hi, you can find me on Twitter @chrissieplastow or on my personal website and blog at christineplastow.com.