Note of a trip to the Circus Maximus in May 2019, by Marilyn Booth

Marilyn Booth completed her MA in Classical Studies with the OU in September 2018. Her dissertation focused on the sensory experience of everyday Romans in the home, working environment and public spaces. Her interest continues and this report enabled her to consider likely sensory experiences of one such relatively undervalued public space, the Circus Maximus.

I visited the Circus Maximus in late May 2019, two days after the opening of a new virtual/augmented reality exhibition (The Circo Maximo experience) in the site’s archaeological area. While much of the site remains unexcavated and open to the public as a free space, I had been aware that I could visit the archaeological area, which has largely been excavated and revealed in the last fifteen years (Buonfigio, 2015).  As Figure 1 below shows, there are 8 information points dotted around the site at which visitors direct their headsets in order to initiate a dedicated virtual reality presentation of the site.

Figure 1: Panoramic views of Circo Maximo Experience site

Figure 1: Panoramic views of Circo Maximo Experience site

Some 40 minutes’ worth of such information is  provided, centred around 8 broad themes:

  • The Valley and the origins of the Circus
  • The Circus from Julius Caesar to Trajan
  • The Circus in the Imperial Age
  • The Cavea
  • The Arch of Titus
  • The Shops of the Circus (tabernae)
  • The Circus in the medieval age and in modern times
  • “A day at the Circus”

There is also an opportunity to experience a panoramic viewpoint from the top of the medieval Torre della Moletta. As such, the overall experience provides a relatively comprehensive introduction to the life of the Circus for visitors, giving a real sense of the site’s evolution over time, as well as providing a useful introduction to the role of religion and the site’s potential significance in archaic Rome. It also provides a unique sensory experience in its own right, adding new elements to any potential sensory analysis of the site.

Experiencing the space

The area covered by the visit represents a relatively small portion of the south eastern (Porta Capena) end of the Circus site, as shown in Figure 2, with sections of the cavea and tabernae open to view.  The area corresponds to the curved end of the stadium, which also housed a triumphal arch dedicated to the Emperor Titus.

Figure 2: Google Map of the Circus Maximus showing the archaeological area visited

Figure 2: Google Map of the Circus Maximus showing the archaeological area visited

The visit took place between 10 and 11.30 am on an unseasonably cool May morning.  Temperatures were in the early 20 degrees Celsius, with both sunny and overcast skies witnessed during that time period.  The sun was almost directly overhead for much of the visit duration and would remain so for the majority of the day. In the site’s early iterations, there would have been no respite from the elements. While the current site contains none of the shelter that would have been available to users in later iterations, it was obvious that there was little respite from the overhead sun at many points in the day for both spectators and those involved directly in the action in the middle of the Circus space.  While on an obviously much smaller scale, a recent visit to Shakespeare’s Globe for a summer afternoon performance showed that even roofed enclosures do not provide complete shelter from the midday sun.

The reconstructed course

The virtual reality presentation certainly brought the site to life, and from a sensory perspective bring both the colour and size, as well as the spectacularly opulent nature of the site into sharp focus.  Visually, this is a stunning and evocative realization of the site.  Aurally, sounds including the roar of the excited crowds, the galloping horses and grinding machinery are also evoked.  Less easy to replicate are potential smells, and taste elements, although forcing the viewer to sit down while a virtual race occurs (presumably to avoid complete disorientation and dizziness) was a useful device.  Equally, the ability to touch the various extant construction materials, and interact with surfaces including elements of the cavea and tabernae, enriched the experience.  Those surfaces ranged from the rough brickwork of the tabernae, to original roadways and passages, to the smooth and cool marble remains of the Arch of Titus which were scattered across the site.

Once “inside” the virtual reconstruction, rich golds and reds marked the starting gates, and the viewer is even given a viewpoint from the spectacularly lavish emperor’s box at one point.  Unsurprisingly, the view from both here and the judges’ box / Temple of Sol opposite were clearer and less constricted than many people within the stands would have experienced.

Figure 3: Reconstruction of the Carceres or starting gates at the straight end of the course (Virtual views taken from Circo Maximo’s Instagram account and website)

Figure 3: Reconstruction of the Carceres or starting gates at the straight end of the course (Virtual views taken from Circo Maximo’s Instagram account and website)

The demonstration effectively showed how the course evolved from an ad hoc space used in the archaic period, with elements such as the early shrine to Consus eventually being incorporated into the splendidly opulent Euripus or spina in the middle of the racetrack area. While citizens would undoubtedly have been exposed to grandeur at other iconic sites, including forums and temples, clearly there would have been a sharp and highly visual contrast with the lack of splendour in the majority of non-elite homes: the insulae buildings dotted across the city.    However, as the presentation tracked the development of the  course over time, it became clear that questions could be asked about just how clear views were for spectators, with the amount of material housed on the Euripus increasing over time, creating a crowded and distracted space that could only have obstructed the view for many audience members. The obelisk visible in the virtual image in Figure 4 below is now located in a square beside the Lateran Palace, and personal photographs show that it does, in fact, split the view of the site for the viewer.

Figure 4: reconstructed Euripus views

Figure 4: reconstructed Euripus views

Words associated with “dust” are quite common in ancient descriptions of the site, and that dusty element was recreated as racing quadrigae thundered past, conjuring up clouds of dust.   The virtual element also vividly brought home the Circus’ key role in iconic historical events, including its position as the starting point for the fire of AD 64.

Figure 5: The AD 64 fire consumes part of the cavea and a triumphal arch

Figure 5: The AD 64 fire consumes part of the cavea and a triumphal arch

Tabernae

 The tabernae, such as that depicted in Figure 7, evoked the type of construction used in the Markets of Trajan, perhaps not unexpected given Trajan may have been the last emperor to develop the site.  As such, his architects and building teams may have used similar techniques and materials, albeit on a different scale. While there are relatively limited tabernae remains at the Circus, they were surprisingly complete in some instances.   I was able to physically stand up upright in one of the “shops” and stretch my hands out without reaching either side wall, a contrast to the experience of a researcher who had previously told me that they were unable to stand fully upright in one of the shops above the insula dell’ara coeli.  At 1.55m tall, I am relatively short by both modern and Roman standards, so this may or may not have much significance.  However, it showed that some people at least would have had a relatively comfortable experience while in the work or leisure environment that these small shops represent.  However, it is also clear that that comfort would have been somewhat compromised at various intervals during a day’s activity at the Circus: during particularly crowded moments, for example during arrival to or departure from the site, these would still have been constrictive spaces for people working within them as crowds congregated in the relatively narrow corridors and streets around the outside of the building, cutting off light and space in which to move.

During races, workers and customers would likely have heard what was going on in/at the racetrack and performance space behind the back wall of the relevant taberna, but been relatively isolated from the action, only looking out at a windowless corridor (Figure 8) or road around the circus which would likely have been packed with people.  As can be seen from Figure 8 below, even the relative height of the vaulted ceiling of the walkway would have provided little respite from an otherwise restrictive space.  Evidence apparently suggested that shops, cafes (Figure 6), fullonicae and even latrines were dotted around the perimeter of the site in these purpose built spaces, resulting in a richly layered smellscape (Forichon, 2019) experienced by the workforce, and by spectators as they entered and left the perimeter of the site.

Figure 6: Circo Maximo’s own reconstruction of a poppea / café

Figure 6: Circo Maximo’s own reconstruction of a poppea / café

Figure 7: Photos of extant tabernae spaces

Figure 7: Photos of extant tabernae spaces

Figure 8: a covered walkway at the edge of the tabernae area

Figure 8: a covered walkway at the edge of the tabernae area

Latrines

I did not see the latrines which co-existed with the shops of the tabernae area, although their presence would surely have been felt by visitors in such a confined space.  I was struck by their likely co-existence with the shops, and reminded of visits to concerts in purpose built modern stadia and concert venues (London’s Wembley Arena, Belfast’s King’s Hall and Dublin’s Point Depot) where, by the end of the night on any given event, toilets became blocked, slippery, smelly and generally unsavoury spaces.  Assuming each of the Circus’s 150-250,000 visitors made at least one latrine trip on a day’s visit to the site, the chances are that these latrines must have also become blocked and equally pungent relatively quickly.  Associated smells may have been limited by the proximity of purpose-built fullonicae, which could have disposed of liquid urine quite quickly and effectively.  Equally, though this type of facility would have created their own distinctive sensory environments for both workers and onlookers.

The Arch of Titus

Figure 9: detail of the virtual reconstruction of the Arch of Titus

Figure 9: detail of the virtual reconstruction of the Arch of Titus

The Arch is a key feature of one of the InfoPoint stops, and is reconstructed in much detail, suggesting that it was at least as impressive as its namesake in the Roman Forum.  However, that reconstruction has been decidedly whitewashed, as shown in Figure 9 above.  While still impressive, it remains difficult to assess whether the arch had a similar colour scheme to other monuments in the imperial era.  Surprisingly, much purported original material was available to view in a relatively compromised external position, as shown in Figure 10 below.  The material on view undoubtedly attests to both the size and quality of the structure. This material was somewhat weathered, but still impressive – it struck me as I was walking around modern Rome that perhaps its closest modern equivalent in terms of visual impact is the Vittoriano which is often dazzling to the eye when struck directly by sunlight. I have since seen almost new Carrara marble in London’s Spencer House visitor attraction and it quite literally gleams even in small quantities, again suggesting that the arch could have had a noticeable visual impact.

Figure 10: marble fragments of the Arch of Titus dot the site

Figure 10: marble fragments of the Arch of Titus dot the site

Conclusion

Visiting the archaeological site certainly brought the detail in 21st Century excavation reports to life.  Those reports actually seem to have downplayed the scale of the extant evidence.  While a comparatively small area of the site has certainly been uncovered, it is nevertheless quite an extensive space.  Interacting with the remains, both real and virtual, enabled a number of conclusions on the site’s likely sensory environment.  The virtual/augmented reality elements of the new visitor experience added a further sensory experience which could itself be productively explored in future research.   Many questions certainly remain on the site and its usage, but this visit represented a useful first step in assessing how the sensory experiences within the Circus Maximus could be productively explored in a sustained research project.

Herodotus Helpline

In this blog post, Dr Jan Haywood reflects on the first series of the newly instituted Herodotus Helpline – an online seminar series freely available to all.

Over the last few months, I have been working with Tom Harrison at St Andrews University on a weekly seminar series entitled Herodotus Helpline. The idea came about at the beginning of lockdown – as a way for colleagues to come together and share research ideas, but also to foster the sense of a scholarly community at what was a very difficult time for all! While the title of the series might suggest a narrow focus on Herodotean studies, our hope was that the figure of Herodotus would be read by all as a symbol of omnivorous intellectual discovery, thus attracting those with research interests in the wider Greek world, Near East, Egypt, etc.

Image by Karin Eremia. Please visit her website at www.karineremia.com

The series has since run every Wednesday, at 6pm GMT, and has attracted a huge variety of participants from across the globe (typically 40-60 individuals attend each week). So we have had people calling in from New Zealand, Ghana, South Africa, Brazil, Israel, USA, as well as across different parts of Europe (notably Italy, Greece and the UK). Topics have ranged from exploring individual chapters of Herodotus’ Histories to much broader assessments that encompass his understanding of the rule of law and the reception of his Histories in modern English-language poetry. All presentations have been followed by group discussion, which, as all attendees are encouraged in the strongest terms, should be purposeful, open and constructive.

I’m delighted to add that many of these presentations were also recorded, and are freely accessible on our YouTube channel. As you will see, all recordings have been accessed many times already (one more than 650 times!).

As we break for the summer recess, the first edition of the series has now come to a close. But rest assured: we have lined up a full suite of seminars, workshops, lectures and other events for the 2020-2021 academic year. There are also plans for publications taking shape – and talk is even afoot about a limited range of Herodotus Helpline merchandise!

Herodotus Helpline is and will always be for everyone. It is open to all.

MA in Classical Studies – scholarships for teachers

We are delighted to be able to offer two fully-funded scholarships for teachers wishing to study our MA in Classical Studies. These scholarships, generously funded by the A.G. Leventis Foundation, will be awarded to UK schoolteachers who intend to introduce or develop the provision of Classical Civilisation in the curriculum of the school where they work.

The Open University’s MA in Classical Studies:

The MA in Classical Studies at the Open University focuses on the question ‘How do we know what we know about the ancient world?’ It is designed both to introduce you to key concepts and themes in Classical Studies and to allow you to explore some of these in more depth. Over the course of the two modules that make up the qualification, it gradually builds up your knowledge and the skills you need to explore ancient visual and written material, while also training you to become an independent researcher. This is the ideal qualification for anyone who wants to know more about the ancient world and the ways in which we can approach it as researchers. It also offers an excellent starting-point for those wishing to teach classical subjects in secondary school. It is a two-year qualification requiring approximately 16 hours of study time a week, which means that it can be completed alongside employment, and it is taught entirely online. No specific prior knowledge is assumed, and there is no requirement to have studied Latin or Ancient Greek, but an undergraduate degree in a cognate discipline is recommended as a basis. By consultation other arrangements can sometimes be made if you do not hold a degree in such a discipline. This usually involves preparatory reading. Further information about the MA is available on the OU website, and on our departmental website.

The Leventis scholarships cover full fees for the MA, and come with a small bursary designed to help recipients acquire and develop resources for teaching Classical Studies or related subjects in their school.

Developing Classical Studies in Schools:

Applicants may be interested in the panel discussion at the Open University’s Advocating Classics Education event in 2019, in which representatives of the ACE project, Classics for All, and a teacher with recent experience of developing Classical Studies provision in a state secondary school shared their experiences and offered guidance and advice. The full discussion is available online here.

How to apply:

To apply for the scholarship, please complete the application form (available at the following link: MA-scholarship-application-form-2020) and send it to FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk. With the form you should also send:

  • a separate curriculum vitae (CV) of no more than two pages;
  • a copy of your latest degree certificate;
  • a transcript of your degree that makes clear the level of your academic achievement;
  • the name of an academic referee who would be prepared to support your application if you are shortlisted (this should be someone who has taught you or worked with you);
  • a statement from your headteacher indicating that they are willing to support your plans to develop Classical Civilisation.

The application form includes a section for a personal statement. You should use this section to outline you teaching experience to date and to provide a clear indication of the way in which you propose to develop the provision of Classical Civilisation in their school. The successful applicant will be selected on the basis of this statement, and on academic excellence in their studies to date.

The scholarships will not be awarded to students receiving full funding from other funding bodies. It is not necessary to register for the MA degree before making this application.

The Open University promotes diversity in education and we welcome applications from all sections of the community. If it would help to have the application in an alternative format please contact FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk.

The deadline for applications is 4pm on Wednesday 10th June and we intend to inform all applicants of the outcome by early July.

Informal enquiries can be made to Joanna Paul (joanna.paul@open.ac.uk).

Kassman Essay Prize – More Prizes Available

Following the earlier reminder about the annual John Stephen Kassman memorial essay prize, we’re pleased to announce that this year additional prizes will be available. The winning essay will receive a £100 prize, the first runner-up £50, and the second runner-up £25. Remember the competition is completely optional, but if you’re looking for a way to keep up your studies and skills over the summer, you may be interested in entering.  The details for entry are as follows:

An annual prize is awarded for the best essay in a competition, open to all current Open University undergraduate students. It is likely to be of particular interest to students on A229, A276, A275, A330 and A340. The essay, of not more than 3000 words, should be on any topic related to Greek and Roman Antiquity.

Submission dates for the next prize are as follows:

·         the closing date for notice of intention to enter the competition is 30 June 2020, and

·         the deadline for submission of essays is 30 September 2020.

For further details, rules and regulations for the competition, see below.

—-

Information and Regulations for Entrants

1. The prize will be 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 London Region of the Open University and a contributor to Classical Studies courses. The purpose of the prize, which will be awarded for the best essay in an annual competition, is to develop and foster study of Classical Antiquity in the Open University. The award will take the form of a book-token (or other academic related goods) to the approximate value of £100. 

2. The competition is open to all current OU Undergraduates and Associate students (i.e. current at the date of notice to enter the competition – see below 4) Candidates may compete in more than one year if they wish, but no candidate may submit an essay more than once on the same topic.

3. Details covering presentation of essay:

i) The essay may be on any topic related to Greek and Roman Antiquity; this regulation may be interpreted liberally – including e.g. comparative study, provided that a substantial part of the essay deals with a Greek or Roman aspect of the topic. The right is reserved to refuse proposals deemed unsuitable.

ii) The essay should be an original piece of work, written for the purpose of the competition, and should not replicate material submitted by candidates for previous assessment (TMAs and EMAs) at the OU or elsewhere.

iii) A word-limit of 3000 words, including notes, should be observed (if appropriate to the essay subject, a limited amount of additional illustrated and/or diagrammatic material may be included). A bibliography should be appended, together with a statement that the essay is the candidate’s own unaided work.

iv) Essays may be typed or hand-written, but must be double-spaced and written on only one side of the paper. In order to preserve anonymity for judges, the candidate’s name and address should not be written on the essay itself but enclosed on a separate cover-sheet to be included with the essay.

v) Essays will be returned after the competition provided that an SAE is included with the essay.

4. Notice to enter the competition should be sent, together with the proposed essay title, by 30th June 2020 to the Assistant (Academic Support), Department of Classical Studies, FASS, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA; or via email FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk

The deadline for receipt of essays will be 30th September 2020. This timing is intended to give competitors an opportunity to work on their essays after the 2020 academic session. The decision of the judges, which will be final, will be announced to all competitors as soon as possible after the closing date.

5. The administration and adjudication of the competition will be by a Committee appointed by the Department of Classical Studies. The committee reserves the right not to award the prize in any given year if there is no essay of an acceptable standard.

6. Guidelines for competitors. The following criteria will be observed by the judges:

i) Quality of the Essay as a piece of English prose

ii) Appreciation of the issues involved in the selected topic

iii) Quality of thought displayed in setting out and addressing such issues

iv) Sensitivity to the historical ambience of the topic, and its significance within that setting

v) Capacity for independent critical analysis

vi) Imaginative choice of topic.

Online teaching help kit for Classics colleagues

In the current health crisis, Classics colleagues all over the world are being asked to rapidly switch to online teaching. There is already a great deal of help out there, and we don’t want to replicate that, but the following is a list of resources that the Open University and FutureLearn has that might be useful to you. NB: some of the Classical material is pretty old – we’re hoping it still has paedagogical value nonetheless; this list was put together in a hurry so please excuse any formatting errors.

General guidance and help with distance learning:

OU advice page on taking your teaching online

Free course: Take Your Teaching Online

Advice on how to be an online student

Online Classical resources you can use in your teaching:

LANGUAGE LEARNING:

Introducing Greek and Latin: short course with various materials

Introducing Ancient Greekshort unit on the alphabet, pronunciation, using letters to form words and using words to form simple sentences.

Greek Vocabulary Tester: OU/Eton collaboration based on Reading Greek 

Reading Classical Greekinteractive quizzes based on Reading Greek

Introducing Classical Latin: short unit on basic vocabulary, basic principles of Latin word order and sentence structure

Interactive Latinquiz on Latin noun, verb and adjective endings

Getting started on Classical Latin: free online course with beginners’ materials

The development of the Latin language: discussion of how Latin developed into modern Romance languages

Continuing Classical Latin: short online course

GREECE:

Plato on Tradition and Belief: free online course with usable structured content

Iliad and Odyssey: animated videos

Aeschylus’ Persians: short animated summary

Aristophanes’ Lysistrata: short animated summary

Oedipus: The message in the myth: online text

Encountering a Greek Vase: video

Introduction to Antigone: video

Greek Theatre: podcast

Greek Comedy: podcasts and videos

Acropolis and Parthenon: podcast

Herodotus: various materials

Greek Myth and Dr Who: article

Icarus Myth: free online course with various materials

Introduction to the Iliad: short online course with various materials

 

ROME:

Myth at the heart of the Roman Empire: podcast

Introduction to Virgil’s Aeneid: free online course with various materials

Buildings of ancient Rome: podcast

Mosaics at Brading Villa: videos

Hadrian: The Roamin’ Emperor: online game

Learning from human remains: an Etruscan skeleton: podcast

Power and People in Ancient Rome (a study of the arena, baths etc.): podcast

Roman funerary monuments: podcast

Hadrian’s Rome: free course with lots of materials

Ovid and Holkham Hall: podcast

Graffiti in Pompeii: video

Thugga: Romano-African City: free course with various materials

 

BOTH/OTHER:

Introducing the Classical World: free course with lots of material on sourcework

Exploring the classical world through the texts of Homer, Catullus, Horace, and Juvenal: podcast

Health and Wellbeing in the Ancient World: short course

The Graeco-Roman city of Paestum: podcast

Myth in the Greek and Roman Worlds: the Temple of Diana at Nemi: podcast

The Library of Alexandria: short online course with usable material

The Body in Antiquity: short online course with usable material

Reception: Pygmalion meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer: podcast

 

CLASSICS CONFIDENTIAL: 150 free videos of interviews with leading scholars on a variety of Classics topics

(including Greek drama, ancient food, medicine and dress, reception of ancient myth and literature, Roman Egypt, Greek democracy, ancient philosophy, Winckelmann, Greek vases, Sparta, Pompeii, gardens and lots more!)

 

Audio discussions on Ancient Religion on the Baron Thyssen Centre webpage

 

Reception of Classical Texts Project: 


material on the reception of Greek drama and poetry, mainly in English, from c. 1970 to 2005; searchable database of performances of Greek plays, with comments on staging, translations, adaptations; critical essays focusing on the use of modern sources and a selection of project publications.

 

_

“Ovid’s Salmacis”: a new article by Dr Paula James

Congratulations to Dr Paula James on the publication of her article on “Ovid’s Salmacis: a Literary and Sexual Hybrid”!

Regular readers of this blog may remember our earlier post about Ovid’s Salmacis, which included an audio extract and downloadable PDF of Paula’s article draft (which she generously shared while it was still ‘work in progress’). The final version of the article has now appeared in The Journal of Greco-Roman Studies Vol. 58-3. You can read the abstract at the bottom of this page, and visit our earlier blog post, to listen again to the Salmacis audio. 

Abstract: This article engages with the ambiguities surrounding the identity of the naiad Salmacis in Book Four of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the final story in a set of three told by the daughters of Minyas. Alcithoe is the narrator. The Salmacis myth is possibly one of the most slippery stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses; to adapt the title of Georgia Nugent’s ground breaking article of 1989, Ovid is producing a text which is not one just as Hermaphroditus embodies ‘the sex which is not one.’ The naiad, Salmacis, is by her very nature an adaptable amphibian and an ideal medium to blur boundaries in gender physicality, as well as in behaviour. Like the son of Venus and Mercury she so passionately covets, Salmacis is visualised as a creature with hermaphroditic characteristics in advance of the bizarre coupling that produces a being of indeterminate sex.

The ambiguous nature of the water nymph who causes the final transformation of the boy is hardly highlighted although she too is a hybrid both behaviourally and elementally. Salmacis’ identity as girlish nymph and watery being, as a natural victim and a resourceful rapist, as a combination of feminine passivity and aggressive masculinity is realised through vivid direct description and highly associative imagery.

Building upon previous scholarly interpretations of the episode of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, I shall argue that although Ovid confines Salmacis to shape shifting in the figurative sense (by his use of multiple metaphors) his similes are carefully chosen to align her with other fluid females in Ovid’s literary landscape who invariably suffer sexual assault and the risk of transformation or disintegration. However, Salmacis’ bodily dissolution follows her pro-active and predatory sexuality.

This article draws together previous approaches to Ovid’s Salmacis narrative, but introduces new perspectives upon the characterisation of the lustful naiad. I argue that Salmacis is both behaviourally and physically a fudged gender, a proto-hermaphrodite ultimately punished for her mimicry of masculine traits. This is deliberate as the figurative techniques are primarily designed to transport the reader to other victims in Ovid’s mythical landscape and to familiar erotic encounters in Greek and Roman literature. Drawing upon cinematic terminology, the moving images of the present day, we could say that the over-wrought similes she and the beautiful boy attract ‘scramble the pixels’ in visual terms.

Ovid’s version of events subverts the Halicarnassus inscription which was positive about the nature of the Salmacis pool and the relationship between its denizen and the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. My approach does assume that Ovid’s contemporary readership was not only educated but also revisited the text in order for these overall connections to gain their full force. The fleeting images, confusing in their immediate context, function like a cinematic montage as they evoke the fate of females who suffer bodily annihilation in the epic poem before and after the Salmacis episode.

[Key words]: Actaeon, Diana, Ovid, ecphrasis, femininity, fluidity, gender, masculinity, Hermaphrodite/us, Mercury, Philomela, naiad, metaphor, Peleus, Procne, Salmacis, simile, Tereus, Thetis, Venus

 

Kassman Essay Prize

An annual prize is awarded for the best essay in a competition, open to all current Open University undergraduate students. It is likely to be of particular interest to students on A229, A276, A275, A330 and A340. The essay, of not more than 3000 words, should be on any topic related to Greek and Roman Antiquity.

Submission dates for the next prize are as follows:

·         the closing date for notice of intention to enter the competition is 30 June 2020, and

·         the deadline for submission of essays is 30 September 2020.

For further details, rules and regulations for the competition, see below.

—-

Information and Regulations for Entrants

1. The prize will be 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 London Region of the Open University and a contributor to Classical Studies courses. The purpose of the prize, which will be awarded for the best essay in an annual competition, is to develop and foster study of Classical Antiquity in the Open University. The award will take the form of a book-token (or other academic related goods) to the approximate value of £100. 

2. The competition is open to all current OU Undergraduates and Associate students (i.e. current at the date of notice to enter the competition – see below 4) Candidates may compete in more than one year if they wish, but no candidate may submit an essay more than once on the same topic.

3. Details covering presentation of essay:

i) The essay may be on any topic related to Greek and Roman Antiquity; this regulation may be interpreted liberally – including e.g. comparative study, provided that a substantial part of the essay deals with a Greek or Roman aspect of the topic. The right is reserved to refuse proposals deemed unsuitable.

ii) The essay should be an original piece of work, written for the purpose of the competition, and should not replicate material submitted by candidates for previous assessment (TMAs and EMAs) at the OU or elsewhere.

iii) A word-limit of 3000 words, including notes, should be observed (if appropriate to the essay subject, a limited amount of additional illustrated and/or diagrammatic material may be included). A bibliography should be appended, together with a statement that the essay is the candidate’s own unaided work.

iv) Essays may be typed or hand-written, but must be double-spaced and written on only one side of the paper. In order to preserve anonymity for judges, the candidate’s name and address should not be written on the essay itself but enclosed on a separate cover-sheet to be included with the essay.

v) Essays will be returned after the competition provided that an SAE is included with the essay.

4. Notice to enter the competition should be sent, together with the proposed essay title, by 30th June 2020 to the Assistant (Academic Support), Department of Classical Studies, FASS, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA; or via email FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk

The deadline for receipt of essays will be 30th September 2020. This timing is intended to give competitors an opportunity to work on their essays after the 2020 academic session. The decision of the judges, which will be final, will be announced to all competitors as soon as possible after the closing date.

5. The administration and adjudication of the competition will be by a Committee appointed by the Department of Classical Studies. The committee reserves the right not to award the prize in any given year if there is no essay of an acceptable standard.

6. Guidelines for competitors. The following criteria will be observed by the judges:

i) Quality of the Essay as a piece of English prose

ii) Appreciation of the issues involved in the selected topic

iii) Quality of thought displayed in setting out and addressing such issues

iv) Sensitivity to the historical ambience of the topic, and its significance within that setting

v) Capacity for independent critical analysis

vi) Imaginative choice of topic.

A Classical Studies Talk at HMP Stafford

In this blog post, one of our Classical Studies PhD students, Kim Pratt, shares her recent experience of visiting a prison to give a talk to OU and other students.

On 13 November 2019 I took part in the latest round of the OU Research Events in Prisons. The scheme has been running since April 2018 in two prisons in The West Midlands – HMP Oakwood (near Wolverhampton) and HMP Stafford – and is open to both staff and PhD students at The Open University.

There was one other speaker with me on the day: Jess, a third and final year full-time PhD student in inclusive research and citizen science with the Institute of Educational Technology at the OU. As the talks were scheduled to start at 1.30 we arranged to meet Dr Shaun McMann, the manager of the Students in Secure Environments Team (SiSE), at 1pm to give time to get through security which, of course, is very tight. We weren’t allowed to take in any electrical appliances, memory sticks or mobile phones, all of which had to be left either in small lockers or in the office at the entrance. Even our PowerPoint presentations had to be emailed to Shaun in advance for him to send directly to the prison in time for our arrival. Our chaperone for the day was the sessional education contact, Liz Holland, who escorted us through many locked doors and gates across various outdoor quads to the education block and the room where we were to give our presentations. Here we met the attendees, including one named DJ, who was studying for a Classical Studies degree. He is at Stage 2 in a six-year part-time degree and had just started learning Ancient Greek, having already taken a module in Latin.

I was the first speaker and even though I had practised quite a few times, I admit, I did feel rather nervous when I began. The presentations are about 30-45 minutes long followed by a Q&A session but up until that time I had only given one three-minute lightning talk in January 2019, and although that was at an international conference with a large audience, the length of this presentation seemed rather daunting. However, everyone was very attentive and seemed to be enjoying the talk and I gradually became more relaxed. I felt particularly at ease when it came to the Q&A session at the end when I got to really engage with my audience. This really surprised me as it is a part I usually dread in case I can’t answer or indeed even understand what is being asked.

The title of my talk was ‘Why Classics?’ but because I have realised in the past that, surprisingly, quite a lot of people don’t really know what the subject is, I began with a brief explanation of ‘What is Classics?’. I then gave a few ‘fun facts’ about how we encounter the classical world in some way every day. When I started writing my, talk I got in touch with Emma Bridges for advice as she is now the Public Engagement Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies. She very kindly sent me a copy of a talk she had done recently to help with any ideas. She also suggested I include a bit about my own experience of how I came to be studying Classical Studies. This very helpful piece of advice was reiterated by my supervisors, Jo Paul and Peg Katritzky, at my next supervisor meeting. I explained how my first experience of studying Classics was in my (brilliant) primary school at the age of seven but that I didn’t get to pursue it further until I started my degree with the OU – many, many, years later. I ended this section with a brief description of my thesis which examines the ‘otherness’ of monsters. In this research I will be questioning what it is, other than appearance, that makes them monsters; I compare their actions with the heroes and gods, concentrating on an in-depth study of the Cyclops, Polyphemus, and Frankenstein’s ‘creature’.

It was clear, both on the day and from feedback that Shaun has received since, that both talks went down very well and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the day – I know I certainly did! The audience’s questions were intelligent and numerous and clearly showed they had been listening intently. I even had quite a few people come up and talk to me about it during the coffee break including one person who told me that he had always loved the story of Polyphemus and often used to tell it a long time ago when he was teaching but that I had now made him question his idea of Odysseus as the conquering hero! I thought this was a great response as not only is that the essence of my thesis but also because a main theme of my talk was how Classical Studies makes you think.

Jess’s research uses creative research methods to engage adults with learning difficulties in citizen science with the aim of identifying their capacity to engage, and the levels of support needed to engage this community, in a field they were previously excluded from. It turned out that a few of the attendees described themselves as having learning difficulties so her presentation had particular resonance with them.

There is a thriving OU community at both prisons, but the events are also open to non-OU students and are popular with both, usually attracting about fifteen to twenty attendees. At the session I went to, there were fifteen, six of whom were not yet studying although some were planning on starting in February 2020 and one who had already got a degree in Classics ‘a long time ago’. Anyone who is studying is registered for a six-year part-time degree and, in the group who attended at Stafford, there were three at Stage 1 (first/second year), four at Stage 2 (third/fourth year) and one at Stage 3 (fifth/sixth year). The students were studying a range of subjects: Business Studies, Social Science, International Studies, Creative Writing, Arts and Humanities, Science, and of course Classical Studies. So, in both academic terms and personality they were a very diverse and committed group.

All too soon, we were saying goodbye, and Liz was taking us back through all the locked doors and gates to the front office and locker room where we collected our belongings. The whole thing was an amazing and rewarding experience which I plan to repeat, hopefully more than once, during the next five years of my PhD – and I thoroughly recommend others to do the same!

Kassman Essay Prize 2019 – winner announced!

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 prize is open to all current Open University undergraduates, who are invited to submit a 3,000 word essay on any aspect of Greek and Roman antiquity. 

We’re delighted to announce that the winner of the John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay prize is Sandy Buckel, who wrote an essay entitled “Investigating Constantine the Great: Can Material Evidence Help?”

We asked Sandy to tell us a bit about her OU study journey so far, and her plans for the future:

“I am 71 and live with my husband in Croatia, on the north Adriatic coast just opposite Venice. We farm our own field of olives and make our own olive oil. I have no intention of stopping learning (or working) in retirement and so the OU has been a real blessing to me. I started with the intention of doing a general humanities degree – the standard year 1 modules followed by A207: From Enlightenment to Romanticism, and A226: Exploring art and visual culture. Then I did A340: The Roman Empire, and it changed my life (well, a slight exaggeration perhaps, but it certainly had an impact). I loved it so much that I then went back a year, ditched A207 (although I am still glad I did it) and did A229: Exploring the classical world, so that I could aim at a Classical Studies degree. I am now doing A330: Myth in the Greek and Roman Worlds, and hope to graduate next summer. If all goes well I intend to take a Latin course next year and then try for an MA.

I have been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling all over the world, including the Middle East in the 1980s, where I was able to visit places such as Byblos, Palmyra, Jerash, Madaba, Petra, and many others, and enjoy them in a way which is no longer possible. This may be why A340 had such an impact on me. (Oh, and I live just off the Via Flavia, and the Pula amphitheatre is just down the road!)

My essay came about through the study of Constantine which occupies the last part of A340. Whist reading Timothy D. Barnes’ book Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire I was struck by his comment that non-literary evidence was inarticulate, and would always be inferior to literary evidence when exploring Constantine’s personal beliefs (2011, p.17). Even with my limited experience I have seen that this is all too often the scholar’s view, and I do think it rather unfair. So I set out to investigate one material source: the Arch of Constantine in Rome, and see whether it gave a better (and more unbiased) picture of Constantine than our main primary literary sources. I didn’t succeed completely, but I certainly learnt a lot. And it was great to be able to pick my own topic!”

Many congratulations to Sandy from all of us in the Department of Classical Studies!

 

Doctor Toga on Radio 1 – by Ursula Rothe

What to do when you get an email out of the blue from a BBC radio producer asking if you’re willing to be interviewed about the toga on a Radio 1 programme focusing on toga parties? You say yes, of course! I mean, you know it’s going to be silly, and you know you’re not going to be able to get much useful detail across. But on the other hand, everyone thinks they know what a toga looked like, when they rarely do: this was a golden opportunity for me as a Roman dress historian to challenge the misunderstanding surrounding Roman dress, and especially togas, and that to a large audience. After all, challenging misinformation and misconceptions about Roman dress is also the aim of my new website, Doctor Toga (www.drtoga.org ), a one-stop clinic for people from theatrical societies, re-enactment groups and the media to get expert advice on Roman dress for costumes.

The interview took place over the phone on Tuesday afternoon, and it involved Scott Mills and Chris Stark firing questions at me whilst also engaging in banter with each other. The line wasn’t brilliant, and it was not always easy, given the lack of visual cues, to know when to stop or start talking, but I think the result is pretty good nonetheless. It was clear they were trying to shock me with laddish innuendo at various stages, but Classical Studies scholars are not easy to offend – least of all Australian ones! I’m particularly pleased they left in my plug for my new website, although they did cut me talking about my upcoming book on the toga. Also, I was disappointed not to be able to tell them when they asked me when knickers were invented. (I must look that up.) But you can’t have it all!

It was interesting how much fun they made, at the beginning, of the idea that there might be someone who is an expert on the toga. Although perhaps somewhat confronting, it is always a healthy experience to be reminded of just how obscure the niche you inhabit is for some people. Let’s hope this kind of interview goes some way to convincing people that the classical world is still very much with us, and that it is a useful thing that there are people out there who spend their lives trying to understand it better. At the very least, let’s hope it will lead to a few more toga-like togas on the party circuit this freshers’ season!

You can find a link to the interview here (minutes 7.27-14.23): https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07p676x