We are pleased to announce a rescheduled date for our livestreamed Classical Studies event for schools, hosted by the Open University and the Advocating Classics Education project. This event will be held on 1st April from 1pm-4pm.
We invite you to join us for a live and interactive online broadcast in which you can learn more about Greek drama, listen to an interview with Professor Edith Hall about her recent book Aristotle’s Way and the relevance of Aristotelian philosophy in the modern world, and join in a discussion of ancient religion and votive objects. There will also be a Q&A session for teachers interested in developing the provision of classical civilisation in their schools.
If you would like to get involved, please find our more here, or email us for full information (Jan.Haywood@open.ac.uk or Christine.Plastow@open.ac.uk).
“Entering my fifth year of studying Classics with the Open University has, for me, found an appropriate celebration in my having been published for the first time. This is something I consider an important personal achievement, that I know would never have been possible without my time at the University.
In relative terms I recognize my coming to Classics late. This is not to say that I ever had a disinterest in antiquity, rather it was the medieval period that always held my most fervent attention. Yet come to Classics I did, as many of us can claim I’m sure, through Homer, Euripides and Plato, and my decision to study Classics with the Open University was born out of a genuine desire to know the contexts and audiences that produced and consumed these great literary works. I studied for the BA in Classical Studies full time, with two modules in tandem, and moved straight into the MA in October 2017. I’ve done this while running my own business, and though of course both life and study have produced challenges, the time I have thus far spent studying Classics with the Open University has been the most genuinely rewarding of my life. I have made friends I know I will keep for life, and developed a genuine passion for academia.
Over this time, I have developed a keen interest in the application of Memory Studies to ancient contexts, in order to study aspects of social history, identity and power relations. I am fascinated by the methods and actions that facilitated the identities and self-perceptions that made up the cultures of Classical antiquity, and the role of memory is central to all my research. This also, naturally, includes an interest in the manner in which time itself was both constructed and experienced by differing cultural groups in antiquity. Major inspiration for me has come from the works of Aleida and Jan Assmann, especially in in their illustrating the applicability of Memory Studies to the study of ancient contexts, whilst Archaic and Classical Athens have become the focus of my research. It is on this subject that I decided to compose an entry into the Kassman Memorial Essay Prize run by the Open University in 2017, looking at the mnemonic potential exhibited in the Periklean building programme. This in turn underwent drastic expansion, including the consideration of spatial relationships and phenomenological experience, to become the first draft of my now published article last September.
The article was itself motivated by what I perceive as being an underdeveloped approach to the socio-cultural context of Athens: an analysis of the modes, means and arenas of cultural remembering, the essential mechanism for cultivating group identities, in this period. The process of writing was itself a genuine learning curve, with the first round of peer reviews being both exhilarating and imposing. I also enjoyed maintaining a working relationship with the editorial staff over the course of what became several months. Being published marks a truly significant turning point for me both as a person and a Classicist, and has solidified a theoretical direction for my future research. Indeed, for me any study of antiquity is now framed by memory. After completing my MA with the Open University I aim to complete my PhD thesis on the mnemonic trajectories afforded by Athenian ritual and space, and my proposal is presently under consideration.
While I may have come late to field, my future is in Classics. My time with the Open University has cultivated what was an interest into a passion, a lifestyle even, and my intention is use my MA and future PhD qualifications in pursuing a career in academia. My future research will include an examination of the role of Theseus in the cultural memory and temporality of Classical Athens, including his overt presence in the ritualistic landscape. I shall be discussing the general content of the research that became my article at University of the City of London’s Lyceum event in March, and the article itself can be found at http://helenskestudije.me/ojs/index.php/jhs/issue/view/2
I would like to thank all the members of the Department of Classics at the Open University for generating course material, events and an atmosphere that has truly engendered my love of Classics, and also, every one of my past and present tutors, without whose support this small achievement of mine would not have been possible.”
Paul Jackson – one of our recent Open University PhD graduates – writes from Provence with exciting news of his forthcoming translations of Alexandre Dumas’ work. Thanks for keeping in touch, Paul!
For the best part of five years I was juggling my day job as head of classics, a second master’s degree in teaching and learning in which I was investigating active learning in the Latin classroom, and a PhD on the theology of the Epicureans under the supervision of Dr Naoko Yamagata and Professor Sophie-Grace Chappell. With the master’s degree completed, my thesis was then examined by Professor Tim Whitmarsh and Dr Carolyn Price on 21 May 2015 and was passed without any corrections. The day after I handed in my notice at work, and when the term ended I followed my heart and took myself off to Provence, and there have been ever since.
Here I have been teaching literature, stuff like Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and I am also an associate member of Le Centre Transdisciplinaire d’Épistémologie de la Littérature et des Arts vivants at the Université Nice-Sofia-Antipolis. Alongside this I have been publishing parts of my thesis, travel diaries, and translations of French poetry, and in 2018 a little collection of some of my own pastoral poetry was launched over here in Valbonne. However throughout all of this I have been engaged in a much bigger project, a project that first occurred to me during my PhD.
The project, I suppose, is one of classical reception, and more specifically the reception of the classical world in French literature, in particular in the works of that great feuilletoniste Alexandre Dumas, père. Now I have been an aficionado of his since reading his stories of high adventure like Captain Pamphile and The Corsican Brothers as a child, but especially so when, as a classics scholar, I learnt of his historical writings and his novels set in antiquity, works which have yet to be rendered into English despite the enduring popularity of the author beyond the borders of France, being one of the most widely read of French authors whose books have been translated into many languages and adapted for film, television, theatre, and opera on numerous occasions.
So it is then that I am engaged in producing a new series of English editions of these works through Noumena Press, in the hope of revealing a perhaps hitherto unknown side of Dumas to the English-speaking world, a perhaps more erudite side, and of showcasing the enormous range and sheer genius of Alexandre Dumas, père, who wrote some 650 books and 100,000 pages but who is of course associated more with those swashbuckling Napoleonic epics like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers than anything else.
The first of these editions will be published this year in 2019, namely Isaac Laquedem: A Tale of the Wandering Jew. This sweeping, sprawling epic remains largely unknown beyond the borders of France, and curiously so, because the author himself, having spent over two decades on it, claimed that this, not The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, was his magnum opus, and he truly thought that it would one day be recognised as a classic alongside the likes of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid! And it was indeed a hugely ambitious, and it must also be said controversial, undertaking, for in it Dumas attempts to tell, through the eyes of his Wandering Jew, the whole history of the world! It is then an epic on the grandest of scales, with Odyssean voyages and Virgilean descents down into the Underworld thrown in there and with huge philosophical and theological questions being posed throughout. It is deeply rooted in antiquity and the author draws from an unusually large pool of sources even for him, from Apuleius’ Golden Ass, Pausanias’ Description of Greece, Herodotus’ Histories, Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, and Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana, for instance. I should perhaps also add that, unlike The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, both of which Dumas’ chief collaborator Auguste Maquet had a big hand in, it can be safely said that Isaac Laquedem represents Dumas unassisted, for the manuscript, all in Dumas’ own handwriting, was later presented by his son to the town of his birth, Villers-Cotterêts. Isaac Laquedem, this historical work set in antiquity, is then perhaps a better example of the ‘real’ Dumas than those other two.
Further information about this edition and indeed the series will be published on my website, http://paultmjackson.com, as well as on my social media pages, links to which can also be found on the website.
I hope that you enjoy discovering the classical Dumas as much as I have!
We’re delighted to introduce this guest post from Tim Ayre, a current student on our Classical Studies MA. Tim teaches Classical Civilisation and English at a secondary school in Dorset, and is a recipient of the MA scholarships that we have been able to offer to teachers looking to introduce or enhance the provision of Classical Studies in their schools. This is one aspect of our role as a partner in the Advocating Classics Education project – watch this space for news of our 2019 ACE event, which we will be publicising very soon. In this post, Tim explains how his work on the MA has helped him to develop his skills as a Classical Civilisation teacher.
I began teaching A Level Classical Civilisation five years ago, almost by accident. On interview for my current role as an English teacher in a large upper school in Dorset, I was asked whether I’d be willing to teach A Level Classical Civilisation as well. My knowledge of the ancient world was limited at best, but having fallen in love with the school I replied that I’d be more than happy to teach what was then a completely unknown subject to me. Since that moment, I’ve had to get to grips with a wide range of authors, texts and topics, from Homer and Virgil to Aristophanes, the Persian Wars, the poems of Sappho and more. Although I have worked hard to gain a respectable level of knowledge, I always felt something was missing. As a ‘non-specialist’ I think I’ve always felt as if I have been pretending or faking it in some way. The MA in Classical Studies has enabled me to make this transition from non-specialist to someone who has, or will have, a recognised qualification in the subject, and I will always be grateful to the Open University for such a rare opportunity.Continue reading →
During the first two weeks of September I took part in the Institute in Ancient Itineraries, an international collaborative research project funded by the Getty Foundation and led by King’s College London. The main aim of the project is to develop a digital proof of concept to facilitate the study of Art History in general, and the art of the Ancient Mediterranean in particular. This prototype will draw strongly on the concept of object itineraries, the journeys that objects take through space and time, including their interactions with people and organisations.
Project participants came from all over the world and had a wide range of academic backgrounds, specialising in areas such as Art History, Archaeology, and Computer Science. Everyone had some Digital Humanities experience, which included spatial analysis, data modelling and 3D visualisation. At the start of the two weeks, we divided ourselves into three groups – Geographies, Provenance and Visualisation – based on our previous skills and experiences. However, these terms turned out to be more problematic than anticipated, with considerable overlap between the three groups.
I was part of the Geographies group with four other participants. We fairly quickly renamed our group to Space, as we felt that this term encompassed more than the notion of Geographies. Spaces we discussed included those in the physical world, imaginary spaces, museum/gallery spaces, and the spaces depicted in artworks, as well as the conceptual space of intellectual networks. We then discussed ways of bringing these spaces together digitally to provide an effective representation of the ‘itinerary’ of an art object.
We wrote our ideas on post-it notes, then grouped them into themes.
Many of our discussions centred on the idea that there is a huge amount of Ancient Art related data online already, which is held by different institutions and represented using different standards and formats. What we hoped to do was to develop a specification for how this data could be connected, along with documentation about how it could be used, written clearly enough as to be understandable by people with varying levels of technical experience. We felt that finding a way to bring existing material together might be more sustainable in the long-term than building something completely new.
Ryan Horne presents our ideas to the group
The Provenance group created a mock-up image of an online resource to find provenance details of art objects (incorporating information about related people, places, dates and materials), and had thought about renaming their group to Context. The Visualisation group had discussed different methods and meanings of representation, including appealing to senses other than sight; as such, they considered renaming their group to Representation. All three groups, therefore, realised early on the limits of the terms that defined them, and sought to develop ideas relating to a much broader context. Additionally, all groups discussed the idea of how best to digitally represent uncertainty about any of the information associated with an object and the reasons why particular interpretations have been suggested.
The question of uncertainty keeps cropping up at #ancientitineraries. We really need a #digitalhumanities group / conference / workshop on getting us all talking the same way about uncertainty / creating an ontology of the unknown.
Our group discussions were informed by excursions to the Soane Museum, Leighton House and the British Museum. During the second week, we formed four new groups, which each selected three well-documented items from these collections and discussed the information that is known about them, as well as how this information should be represented. My group decided to base our choices on the theme of whether the object had been taken from the place where it was created – our three objects incorporated:
In addition to each object’s relationship with the place where it is currently situated, we also discussed the places and people depicted, the objects’ itineraries through space and time, and the people involved.
Visiting London’s Roman Amphitheatre
As well as discussions among ourselves, over the course of the two weeks we heard talks from staff at King’s Digital Lab, the National Galleries in London and Washington, and the Institute of Classical Studies. These introduced us to existing projects in a similar subject area and issues they had faced, which often related to technology and sustainability, as well as access, usability, and the representation of complex ideas within the restrictions imposed by metadata and cataloguing systems.
We ended the two weeks with the seed of an idea to bring together the findings from all three groups, which will possibly take the form of an interactive online publication. This will be developed further at the next Institute in April 2019 to produce a specification for our proof of concept, to be built by King’s Digital Lab. In the meantime, we are in the process of producing a set of white papers that outline the issues identified by each of the Geographies/Space, Provenance/Context and Visualisation/Representation groups.
As well as having this incredible opportunity to take part in an international research project, I came away from the first Institute having made new friends, and with new ideas about how to approach my PhD topic. I would like to thank King’s College London and the Getty Foundation for their support and funding and am looking forward to seeing what the next Institute brings.
On the 6th October 2018, several members of the department, current and former PhD students, and a handful of MA Classical Studies students attended a conference hosted by the Roman Society at Senate House in London. The theme for the day was Sensory Experience in Rome’s Northern Provinces and here, fresh from submitting their dissertations for A864, OU Classical Studies MA students Colin Gough and Kirstie Morey share their multisensory impressions of the day.
The one question that unites students, academics and anyone interested in Classical Studies is ‘what was it like in classical times?’ At the Senate House conference last Saturday we had the opportunity to experience some of the sensations of a Roman. What does the Roman ketchup that is garum, made from putrefying fish, smell like? To this modern, westernised nose – not pleasant, and it would have taken real courage to use it as an edible additive. Yet it was so popular in Roman times that there was mass production. Did Roman men wear perfume? Thomas Derrick (Leicester) not only gave a presentation on the multisensory approach to the impact of Roman settlements in the north but, during lunch demonstrated his (real) passion for Roman scents and perfumes. There is nothing like pouring olive oils with rosemary and pepper, scaping off the excess with a strigil to get the authentic Roman post-bathing experience, even though I spent the rest of the afternoon smelling like focaccia. Patty Baker (Kent) not only gave an interesting presentation on archaeological data to explore retrieving indigenous conceptions of flora but introduced the concept of experimental archaeology in recreating floral crowns from mosaic images in Britannia. These were passed around to give the sensory feel of manufacture and wearing resulting in some new profile pictures on social media. We were treated to a fabulous talk by the author Caroline Lawrence who, with a range of ‘props’ not only gave an insight into how she uses the sensorium to develop her books but gave us a hands-on experience of some of the sights, sounds, smells and feels of the Roman world.
This brings me onto an important point, the value to Classical Studies of experientialism, that is, personally experiencing a location, environment or object. Naturally, our experiences will not be the same as an individual or group in classical times but it does give an opportunity to consider sociological changes and responses and, indeed, help formulate questions to be addressed. But it goes further. It opened my understanding of the different applications of Classical Studies. This was underpinned by the excellent talk by Mike Bishop. Twitter users may know him as @perlineamvalli. He has walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall over fifteen times and has produced two-minute soundtracks at each milecastle prompting the discussion of how the soundscape has changed (Editor’s note: you can listen to them here!). This approach not only focusses the mind on the establishing a temporal frame but allows reconstruction of a likely soundscape in Roman times. Nicky Garland (Newcastle) suggested physiological responses not available from empirical evidence that can be gained by a personally experienced, multisensory approach to the partially re-constructed Commanding Officers House at South Shields. Sophie Jackson (MOLA) gave an interesting presentation on the modern history of the Bloomberg Mithraeum and how consultants, design teams and scholars approached interpreting the archaeology to translate the atmosphere and ritual into a sensory experience for the 21st Century audience.
Unfortunately, because of space constraints, I have not named all the presenters or the subjects tackled (for more see Caroline’s own blog). However, to finish, I have two abiding memories. The enthusiasm of all who presented and the generosity they have in sharing their experience and knowledge. Using our imagination, new methodologies can be developed giving a greater insight into the past and engaging students of the future and the wider public. It has never been a better time to study classical times and sensory studies can be at the centre of all disciplines. Along with OU postgrad and WiP days, I think everyone should experience conferences – if nothing else it makes you appreciate how good we all are and how approachable and helpful other people can be.
As an A864 OU Master’s student, October 1st was a significant date for me. The culmination of two years of hard work and my dissertation was finally submitted. But I had mixed feelings: I was extremely proud of both what I had written, and of how far I had come. I was incredibly relieved to know that it was in and that I had managed to finish it on time and within word limits. But, I was also very sad. Studying for my Masters had been such a journey and had become such a big part of my life, I simply didn’t want it to end. So, I booked myself onto a Roman Society workshop that I’d had my eye on since reading about it on Twitter, and on Saturday last, ventured to the Senate House for the Sensory Experience in Rome’s Northern Provinces workshop. I was nervous at first as I didn’t think I’d know anybody and I wasn’t sure how ‘interactive’ I would be expected to be at a workshop. But, a couple of familiar faces appeared in the room and we were off. It was great.
Having been introduced to the idea of sensory studies in A864, the concepts were easy enough to follow. And the speakers were very engaging and interesting. Some papers were quite theoretical, like Thomas Derrick (Leicester) and Andrew Gardner (UCL); and some were very much more practical. We wore, felt and smelled our way through various coronas, courtesy of Patty Baker (Kent) and heard our way through the milecastles along Hadrian’s Wall, thanks to Mike Bishop. We oiled and ‘strigilled’ ourselves during lunch with ‘authentic’ Roman perfumes and we chewed on mastic chewing gum.
The highlights for me were Stuart McKie’s (Durham) talk on curse tablets and the connection between them and votive offerings and author Caroline Lawrence’s explanation of how she tries to evoke every sensual experience for the readers of her Roman Mysteries series of children’s books. I wish she had been available for my kids’ birthday parties – she was brilliant! While Sophie Jackson from MOLA was talking about the history of the London Mithraeum, she showed us a newspaper photograph showing the thousands of people who queued daily in the 1950s to see the original ruins. A lady in the audience shared with us her memories of being in that queue and how it inspired her to become an archaeologist. That was the icing on the cake.
I am told that this conference may not have been typical and that others aren’t usually so ‘touchy feely’ but, while that may have been the case, the fact that the theme was so interesting, and the speakers were so engaging was secondary to my enjoyment of just being there. It made me realise that my academic journey is not over and that there is plenty more to be involved with, to listen to and, maybe even one day, to contribute to.
By Colin Gough (@saddad52) and Kirstie Morey (@K33Morey)
Last summer, we ran a blog post that included some suggestions from colleagues in Classical Studies for classically-themed ‘days out’ in the UK; this year, we thought we’d catch up with a few colleagues on their ‘classical’ adventures over the summer vacation. So, as the nights begin to draw in, we look back at some of our recent encounters with the classical world through archaeological sites, theatre, films, and more. We’d love to hear about your recent classical encounters too … why not tweet us over at @OU_Classics?
I’ve meant to visit Tuscany for years, and finally made it this summer. If you haven’t visited, do! First, I was digging on the Albagino Sacred Lake Project. Beautiful location for an excavation, despite the mosquitoes!
The Albagino Sacred Lake Project
Aside from trowelling clay, my role was to make a phenomenological survey of the site. Why were people in the middle of the first millenium BCE leaving bronze figurines in the countryside? We recorded the sights, sounds, temperatures, birds and beasts in and around Albagino. Our working hypothesis is that people travelling between Prato and Marzabotto may have passed through Albagino, taking advantage of the fresh water and ample provisions there.
After the dig I made a whistle-stop tour of Tuscany. My first, and favourite, stopping place was Volterra … where I found this chap:
Replica of an Etruscan votive figurine
Votives aside, Volterra was one of the significant settlements of Etruria, and is well worth a visit. Enjoy the archaeological museum, Palazzo Priori and wandering the town’s medieval streets. From there I went to Vetulonia (3rd– 2nd century BCE), which has another lovely archaeological museum and the best basalt street I’ve seen outside Rome!
Most of what we know about the Etruscans is from their tombs. Each place has its own character, suggesting localised beliefs and practices. I visited Volterra, Vetulonia, Populonia, Chiusi, Tarquinia, Orvieto and Cerveteri, and can recommend them all. I found the house tombs at Crocofisso del Tufa (Orvieto) and Cerveteri the most resonant. Going inside any of these tombs feels like walking into someone’s house – and they’re homely! Oh, and Tarquinia has amazing painted tombs, such as the Tomb of Hunting and Fishing (Tomba della Caccia e della Pesca).
The Tomb of Hunting and Fishing
I confess: I’m not much of a theatre-goer, even though I love (and research) Greek tragedy. I much prefer cinema, perhaps because it comes with less class baggage. But this trip to see a staging of Sophocles’s Electra at the end of August was going to be different, since the play was being performed outside in a semi-circular theatrical space (thus appealing to my classical sensibilities) in the forest that overlooks Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki.
In a word: Wow. This adaptation by the National Theatre of Greece (under the direction of Thanos Papakonstantinos) was something else! At one level, it appeared quite traditional: the play wasn’t located in a contemporary setting; the costumes were simple, bordering on the stylised; it used music throughout; the chorus sung *and* danced; the text wasn’t excised or adapted in any way (other than it being the modern Greek translation). But it was like nothing else I had seen. As you’ll see from the photographs, the stage was stark in its simplicity, an effect that was further amplified by the simple, almost abstract costuming of all the actors. Not only did this help focus attention on the gestures, movement and interactions of the actors; it also helped to defamiliarise the action and detach it from any particular setting, whether classical or modern. This is something, I think, that Greek tragedy generally manages to do: that is, to speak to audiences not bound by space or time. But one costume did possibly have a contemporary resonance: the clothing of the chorus seemed to me to be a pristine white version of the clothing worn by the handmaids in renowned TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.
Electra reachers out to her sister Chrysothemis
Controlled and in control, this was a chorus of and for our time, gaining power through their collective action. A *spoiler alert* #metoo movement. Unlike every other chorus I’ve ever seen, this chorus sung and chanted in metre throughout in unison. They also moved as one, like polished mannequins, often with minimal gesture of forefinger touching the thumb, like a Greek orthodox Christ blessing his congregation. Then, as the play hurtles towards its terrifying climax (the matricide; the forever deferred murder of Aegisthus), they transform, as Electra’s hatred and bitterness finally comes to affect and infect them. They transform, indeed, into those terrifying presences who are notably (notoriously) absent from Sophocles’s play. As this performance made real what is only ever hinted at in the text, the chorus take up Electra’s murderous, blood-curdling calls for her brother to strike down her mother, for vengeance to strike down Aegisthus, by transforming into screaming, writhing Erinyes (the Furies). This wasn’t so much a tragedy as a full-on horror show. It was, quite simply, thrilling and has stayed with me, goading me to think and to respond, ever since.
Electra and the Chorus
Towards the end of the summer break I went to see an incredible new film by Zhao Ting entitled The Rider. The film tells the story of a hippophile named Brady, who recently suffered a major head injury after his horse fell on him while he was bronc riding at a rodeo event. As the film begins, we follow Brady’s troubled road to recovery, and remain on tenterhooks throughout, wondering whether or not he will choose to ride again. Although the film bears no obvious resemblances to any specific source text from the ancient world, I found myself continually transported to the literature of classical antiquity; for instance, in one of several stunning sequences, Brady is shown wrangling a particularly stubborn horse, aptly named Apollo. The scene captures powerfully the profound trust between horse and human protagonist, who communicate with each other silently through a series of dance-like movements.
Brady comforts Apollo in The Rider
This kind of special devotion to and care for one’s horse is deeply ingrained in ancient Greek culture; one only need think of Alexander the Great’s famous steed Bucephalus who purportedly served the Macedonian King in several battles, or indeed the Trojan hero Achilles and his immortal horses, Balius and Xanthus, who, in Book 17 of the Iliad, weep at the sight of mutilated Patroclus. Watching the film, I was also reminded of the fourth century BCE Athenian writer Xenophon and his equestrian treatises, namely the Peri Hippikes (‘On Horsemanship’) and Hipparchicus (‘The Cavalry Commander’). In the former of these two works especially, Xenophon includes precisely the kind of exacting details on how to achieve the ‘best of himself and his horse in riding’ that is so vividly depicted throughout the film’s delicate, long takes of Brady and his beloved Apollo. So, a film that is not about equines in antiquity, but nonetheless one that lends itself to contemplation on the values of horsemanship that were deeply ingrained in the classical world.
Alexander and Bucephalus, detail from a Roman floor mosaic, Pompeii
This summer I continued my travels around the sacred sites of Campania, this time exploring the regions of Cilento and Vallo di Diano. It was a wonderful trip, and now – back in England as the autumn leaves turn gold and brown – my mind keeps returning to one place in particular: the Early Christian baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte, which is located just a few hundred metres from the Charterhouse (‘Certosa’) of San Martino in Padula. I’m sharing some video footage that I took at the site, which is thought to have been built on top of an earlier Roman site, perhaps a nymphaeum. In this short sequence, you can see the spring water which the sixth-century writer Cassiodorus described as “a marvellous fountain, full and fresh, and of such transparent clearness that when you look through it you think you are looking through air alone” (Variae 8.33). The camera then moves into the interior of the building, towards the huge ‘font’ in which those receiving baptism may have been fully immersed. You’ll get a brief glimpse of some fragmentary frescoes of Saints, which have been dated to the tenth century, and which may originally have surrounded an image of Jesus. I love the way that the water casts its dappled reflections on the ceiling – and I can’t wait to visit this ‘marvellous fountain’ again in the winter.
This blogpost by Elton Barker was originally posted on the blog Sententiae Antiquae, and republished here with minor alterations.
As some of you on the Twitterverse may have seen, all this month @OU_Classics has been celebrating the books that members of the department have published over the past few years. This has been a great way to find out what colleagues spend their “spare” time on, as well as to enjoy how the books look and to speculate on the choice of image—that arboreal skeletal hand gripping E-J’s book Death Embodied, for example, or the implied dialogue between Aristotle and Homer in Jan’s Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War.
When my own book on debate in Homer, historiography and tragedy was tweeted, I was reminded of a couple of things about the title: specifically why I had chosen to treat those genres in that order (wouldn’t historiography have been better discussed after tragedy?), and my then students’ game, when Google was just becoming a thing, of typing “Entering the Agon” into the search box and returning the result “Do you mean Enter the Dragon?”. But it also got me thinking about my choice of cover …
With the possible exception of writing acknowledgements, I find choosing a cover image for a book arguably the most pleasurable, and most difficult, of the final tasks that needs accomplishing before I can happily pack off my manuscript on its merry way to the press. Even if we are told otherwise (in the famous axiom not to judge a book by its cover), how a book looks can play a decisive role in its purchase; after the subject matter and author, it’s the one thing that may determine whether I buy book a book or not. If I look on my bookshelves, for example, the dust jackets that stand out for me are: the famous image (from the so-called François vase) of Ajax carrying the dead body of Achilles that emblazons Greg Nagy’s 1979 classic The Best of the Achaeans (and Michael Lynn-George’s equally ground-breaking Homeric criticism Epos: Word, Narrative and the Iliad); the contemplative Regarding Penelopeby Nancy Felson; the highly wrought, yet seductive, Medea of James Clauss and Sarah Iles Johnston; the satirical depiction of famous classicists playing characters from Aristophanes (!) on Martin Revermann’s Comic Business; and the striking pose of Gertrude Eysoldt captured in the role of Electra that advertises Simon Goldhill’s Who Needs Greek?. The arresting contemporary nature of this image (though the photograph dates back to 1903) hints at Goldhill’s thesis of the continuing legacy of Victorian attitudes to, and contests over, the Classics that shape and inform our own implicated relationship with the subject.
As these examples suggest, aesthetic looks isn’t the only desideratum when it comes to choosing a book cover. For sure we want something that looks good; but it’s equally, if not more, important for that image to say something about the book itself (a picture is worth a thousand words, right?), though perhaps not in an obvious or straightforward way. Let me explore this issue by reflecting on my own choice of three covers that I’ve had the pleasure to be able to choose.
The image I chose for my first book—Entering the Agon: Dissent and authority in Homer, Historiography and Tragedy (Oxford, 2009)—is in many ways very traditional. It’s the famous image (on the black-figure amphora by Exekias) of Achilles and Ajax playing dice. But it’s an image that worked for me not only because of its beauty—though hats off here to the team at OUP who extended the pot’s gleaming background (which sets off the black figures) to cover the entirety of the book’s cover in a fiery golden afterglow. This image also spoke to my book’s subject matter: namely, the idea of contest (agōn) and its representation in ancient Greek literature. In truth, I had a hard time finding an image that worked for me. I wanted some kind of ancient Greek artistic representation; perhaps because it was my first book (the “book of the thesis”), I felt it needed to be unambiguously classical. It should have been easy, right, to find an image from the whole corpus of ancient Greek ceramics, right? Wrong. I could find none of the scenes of debate in epic, history and tragedy, which were the core focus of my argument, that had been illustrated, not even—as one may have expected—the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon that starts off the Iliad with such a bang. There is a fresco, highly fragmented, from Pompeii’s House of the Dioscuri (on exhibition at the National Archaeological museum in Naples), which shows Achilles going for his sword; and of course there are later Renaissance paintings depicting the quarrel (such as Giovanni Battista Gaulli’s baroque rendering). But I could find none from the world of ancient Greek ceramics or friezes—perhaps because, as Robin Osborne pointed out to me, Greek artists simply were less interested in illustrating literary stories than in creating their own. (It is striking that the wall paintings from Pompeii *do* look like illustrations of early Greek literary narratives, including the moment Euripides’s Medea ponders killing her children.) What Exekias’s scene of gaming heroes gave me was a hint not only of the formalisation of contest, but also of the prominence of Achilles (who in my argument institutionalises contest in the arena of debate) and, moreover, of his pairing with Ajax (whose story in Sophocles’s tragedy formed one of my chapters).
The second book I needed to choose an image for presented a rather different challenge. This was for an edited volume entitled: New Worlds out of Old Texts: Revisiting Ancient Space and Place (Oxford, 2016). The book derived from an interdisciplinary project that I had led called Hestia, which investigated representations of space and place in Herodotus, as well as the spatial construction underpinning his Histories. At the heart of the book was a discussion of the different disciplinary approaches that we undertook, spread over three chapters (which I co-authored with different team members), exploring: digital annotation and mapping (with Leif Isaksen and Jessica Ogden), geographical spatial theory (with Stefan Bouzarvoski), and philological close reading (with Chris Pelling). Our resulting book included other contributors working in this space (pardon the pun), who had presented at our conference in Oxford, and who, like our team, represented an array of disciplines—not only Classical Studies, but also archaeology, digital humanities, and the history of thought. The image I wanted, then, needed to respect these different disciplinary approaches while at the same time hinting at ways in which they might be combined and intertwined (for interdisciplinary research). And, of course, it needed to be in some way spatial, to suggest the complexity of trying to represent and unpick spatial entities and relations. A web-designer friend (a shout-out here to Richard Rowley of Agile Collective) put me on to London-based artist Emma McNally, whose work attempts to “portray essence not as substance… but rather as the result of a process of reciprocal determination, where individual lines, markings, and trajectories are brought to significance through their interrelations with those around them” (https://www.flickr.com/people/emmamcnally/). After getting her approval (she was very happy for us to use her work provided that she got a copy of our book: gold armour for bronze, as Homer would say!), I chose her scratches, traces, spaces. This work on graphite (“a medium that lends itself perfectly to [a] sort of rhythmic making and unmaking. It is a material for palimpsest”: ibid) seemed to me to perfectly capture the spatial palimpsests that many of us were striving to reveal and more closely examine in our texts, while also being provocatively new and overtly relational. Emma later informed me that the very same artwork was used by Ridley Scott as a navigation map in his latest Alienprequel Convenant. If it’s good enough for Ridley…!
All this brings me to the last image—the one that Joel had invited me to write about in the first place… Our book, Homer’s Thebes, sets out to argue that the Iliad and Odyssey (mis)represent heroes and themes from the Theban tradition to set out and realise the unique superiority of these texts in performance. In arguing this, we are attempting to view the Homeric poems in a new light, by emphasizing a non-hierarchical model of “reading” them and the Epic Cycle together within the framework of oral-formulaic poetics and artistic rivalry. With this in mind, we wanted an image that suggested Homer in some way (epic poetry, heroes, etc.) but that wasn’t a straightforward classical take on that. From a very early stage I was convinced that a cubist painting of some kind would work, with that central idea of taking something familiar (for us, reading Homer; for Homer’s audience, the Troy story and the siege of Thebes) and, by viewing it from different perspectives, producing a radically different picture (a Troy story that emphasises internal conflict among the Achaeans, for instance). For me, cubist works echo the type of violent reception and adaptation that our book is about. But here we ran into a significant problem that meets anyone looking to reuse a contemporary image, whether that is a museum photograph of an ancient artefact or a modern painting in a gallery’s collection: copyright. For all the cubist paintings that I could find that seemed to dialogue with our approach, the answer kept coming back from our publishers that we couldn’t use them because of the copyright and/or the costs involved. Out went The Thebaid by Wyndham Lewis, along with his Composition; we fared no better with Barbara Hepworth’s Two Heroes; we couldn’t even use Le Poèteby Picasso, even though I had sourced it from Wikipedia.
Just as I was beginning to despair, and I thought that we would have to give up on this idea of a cubist-style makeover for our Homer, I had the inspiration to look for works by modern Greek artists. I knew that ever since the twentieth century, Greek writers and painters alike have been grappling with the problem of their country’s complicated (and often times suffocating) classical legacy. And thus I had the fortune to come across the work of Nikos Engonopoulos. He’s the painter most famous in Greece for revisiting classical themes in a distinct modern style (tending towards surrealism). Having found a number of post-classical images that I thought that we could use, I contacted the person responsible for his website and who owns the copyright to his works, his daughter Errietti Engonopoulou. Like Emma, Errietti could not have been more accommodating, and immediately allowed us to use a high-resolution image of the image that we decided on.
I present to you Engonopoulou’s 1939 oil on canvas The poet and the muse. We hope that you like it as much as we do.
We are delighted to be able to offer two fully-funded scholarships for our MA in Classical Studies:
One scholarship will be awarded through an open competition, on the basis of the academic excellence of the applicant.
One scholarship, generously funded by the A.G. Leventis Foundation, will be awarded to a UK schoolteacher who intends 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 scholarship covers full fees for the MA.
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, if you are applying for the Leventis scholarship.
The application form includes a section for a personal statement.
Applicants for the Leventis scholarship should use this section to outline their teaching experience to date and to provide a clear indication of the way in which they 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.
Applicants for the open competition scholarship should use the personal statement to give an account of their prior experience of studying the ancient world, and to explain why they want to study for the MA in Classical Studies at the OU.
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 Monday 2nd July and we intend to inform all applicants of the outcome in mid-July.
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 A219, 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 2018, and
the deadline for submission of essays is 30 September 2018.
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 2018 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 2018. This timing is intended to give competitors an opportunity to work on their essays after the 2018 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