Author Archives: Jessica Hughes

Celebrating a new article by MA student Ben Cassell

We’re delighted to share this post by one of our current MA students – Ben Cassell – who has just published his first article on The Monumental Configuration of Athenian Temporality: Space, Identity and Mnemonic Trajectories of the Periklean Building Programme (full text available online, open access). In this post, Ben writes about his study journey with the Open University, and his particular interest in the academic field of Memory Studies. Congratulations on the publication of your article, Ben! 

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Ben Cassell writes…

“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.”

 

A letter from Provence – Alexandre Dumas and the Classics

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!

All the best for now,

Paul.

‘Institute in Ancient Itineraries’ – a report by Sarah Middle

Sarah Middle is a PhD student in the Department of Classical Studies. She tweets at @digitalshrew

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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.

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

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.

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:

  1. An object that remains in situ (for this we visited the London Amphitheatre)
  2. An object that has been taken from its place of creation (Ephesian Artemis at the Soane Museum)
  3. An object that has been taken and then returned (Leighton’s painting of Clytie)

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

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.

By Sarah Middle

The John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay Prize in Classical Studies

boy writing on a wax tablet, as shown on a Greek vase

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.

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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

v) Capacity for independent critical analysis

vi) Imaginative choice of topic.

 

Postgraduate Work in Progress Day 2018 (#OUCSWiP) – a report by Paula Granados Garcia

Paula Granados Open UniversityWhen I received an email from Christine Plastow asking for help to organise this year’s Work in Progress Day at the department, I didn’t hesitate for a second! My experience presenting in last year’s WiP Day was so rewarding that I was sure I wanted to get more involved with this year’s event. Fortunately, I wasn´t wrong. As a co-organiser of this year’s conference as well as one of the presenters, I think I speak on behalf of all the attendees when I say that the WIP day celebrated on Wednesday 9th May by the OU Classical Studies department was especially stimulating and unique! We had the pleasure to count on three very different but at the same time complementary panels that demonstrated how varied and rich is the research carried out at the department.

 
Christine Plastow introduces the day.

The day began with a very nice cup of coffee, where all the attendees had time to catch up with the latest news and updates and meet some new faces. Senior OU lecturer Emma-Jayne Graham recently shared with me how great it was to meet and have a chat with so many enthusiastic students and colleagues. Indeed, in my case it was really nice to meet fellow students who started their PhDs at the same time as me and see how things are progressively developing.

After the nice welcome, the seminar began. Christine and myself wanted to have a dynamic and approachable conference where everybody could have a chance to speak and feel welcome to share their views; as Christine said, ‘all of us are doing some work in progress and all of us are researchers no matter the stage’. We thought that it would be nice to break the ice with a group discussion on the joys and perils of post-graduate Classical Studies and how to move forward in academia. In my own experience, it is really difficult to find the chance to listen to what comes next after finishing a Classics MA or a PhD. So, it was very beneficial to have a nice conversation in a friendly environment where everybody could share their hopes and fears about postgraduate research. Even more interesting was to hear the experiences of Christine Plastow and Jan Haywood. Both of them are early career researchers that have recently become part of the OU family and commented on how they got into the Classical world almost by chance, to later make it their profession.


Jan Haywood describes the first open discussion session.

This nice discussion led towards the first panel of the morning and perhaps the most ‘traditionally classic’ session regarding Classical Studies and Classical Reception. I am very proud myself to have chaired such a stimulating couple of presentations. First Elizabeth Webb, who also contributed to last year’s WIP, gave a fascinating talk titled: ‘Collective and individual emotion: Thucydides’ presentation of emotions in the History of the Peloponnesian War’. Following Elizabeth, Claire Greenhalgh provoked the reflection of all attendants with her presentation: “Rape in the depiction of female slavery in HBO’s Rome and Starz’s Spartacus”. Both papers raised very interesting thoughts regarding the depiction of emotions not just in Greek text but also in other visual media such as sculpture. This discussion fitted nicely with the latter debate on how current perceptions of visual violence and especially sexual violence against women have changed.


Liz Webb summarises her paper on Thucydides and emotion.

After lunch, the seminar continued with the staff spotlight panel chaired by Christine Plastow. Again, as a student, it is not very common to be able to attend presentations regarding the research curriculum of your institution and even less common to do so in conjunction with the presentations of postgraduates. Because of this, it was especially inspiring to listen to the ongoing research of the department staff. Elton Barker kicked off the session with his introduction on ‘Homer´s Thebes’. Joanna Paul followed with a brilliant presentation on her work on the receptions of Pompeii under the title ‘In search of the lost city: ongoing explorations of Pompeii and its contemporary reception’. The session continued with the Roman experts of the department including Ursula Rothe´s fabulous exposition on ‘The toga in the Roman culture’ and Emma-Jayne Graham’s presentation about ‘The thingliness of Roman religion’. Finally, Christine Plastow attracted the audience´s attention by speaking about ‘Space, place and identity in the Athenian forensic oratory’.

The final session of the day was thematically oriented towards Digital Humanities and Digital Classics. It highlighted the active role that the Open University has recently taken in collaborating with Digital Humanities projects. Sarah Middle opened the panel speaking about her work on “Linked ancient world data and user research: methods, frameworks and challenges”. It was followed by my own presentation on one of the sections of my PhD research, the development of a Linked Open Database of coins from the Iberian Peninsula. The closing paper for this session was delivered by Francesca Benatti, OU Research Fellow in Digital Humanities. In her presentation, Francesca highlighted the supportive role that the OU Digital Humanities group has developed with so many resources and opportunities for training available for postgrad students. I found it really interesting to hear about the many DH projects in which the OU collaborates including Pelagios, Hestia, Classics Confidential, The Reading Experience Database, and Open Arts Archive. These three presentations showed how useful digital resources can be when applied to humanities research and especially classics. Most of the attendees demonstrated their interest in the digital world and showed how engaged they were by asking really thought-provoking questions regarding Linked Open Data and the dissemination of digital research.

Francesca Benatti presents on digital tools, resources and projects.

In my subsequent conversations with the delegates, all of them highlighted the high standard of all the presentations and how much they enjoyed the friendly environment and the possibility to share their views and thoughts. I think that one of the most remarkable features of this year’s WiP Day is how the students´ current work was nicely intermingled with the staff research agendas and all of that framed by a warm conversation on how to develop a career in Classics. I would also like to acknowledge here the brilliant work of OU lecturer Jessica Hughes who recorded and tweeted small voxpops of some of the attendees speaking either about their collaboration in the event or their current work in progress. These short recordings were a step forward with regard to the visibility of the session. As Sian Beavers remarked at last year’s WiP Day, perhaps in the future we will be able to record the seminar and make it available for those who can´t attend in person. I am aware that Sian wanted to be there this year but couldn’t make it for personal reasons, we missed you!

Perhaps, most of all, this day was an opportunity for interesting discussion and for students and staff to get to know each other a little better and keep building a stronger community within the department and the OU in general. I want to express my eternal gratitude to Christine Plastow for making everything so easy and to all of the speakers and attendees for making such a fantastic day where everybody had a voice. It has been a wonderful and very enriching experience for me and I hope to see you all again at next year’s WiP Day.

by Paula Granados Garcia

A new publication – Material Approaches to Roman Magic

It’s almost exactly two years since we published a blog post introducing Adam Parker, who was then at the beginning of his PhD on Roman magic. Time flies, and Adam is now in his third year of part-time study. We’re delighted to share news of a recent publication entitled ‘Material Approaches to Roman Magic: Occult Objects and Supernatural Substances’, which Adam co-edited with another (recently graduated) OU PhD, Stuart McKie. 

Adam writes:

“My research is on the archaeology of magic in Roman Britain. It’s a material-led study which is looking at a broad range of different object types from this province in order to establish chronological, spatial, material, and contextual relationships from within this large data-set and it has the ultimate goal of trying to understand what magic was in this period and what function it served for those who used it. Stuart McKie’s PhD (2017) was on The Social Significance of Curse Tablets in the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire.  He is now a Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Manchester. We both share a strong belief that material culture analysis has the capacity to revolutionise our understanding of Roman magical practices and that this publication will help to draw the subject into the paths of 21st Century theoretical models, archaeological practices, and analytical techniques.

The core of this book comes from a panel held at the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (TRAC) 2015 entitled “Charmed I’m Sure: Roman Magic – Old Theory, New Approaches” . One of the most exciting features of that panel was the coming together of university academics, postgraduate students, professional archaeologists and museum curators in the pooling of ideas and approaches to Roman magic. The volume has maintained that variety and energy, with papers from five of the original contributors plus further articles from authors working in the same wide range of professions. Our aim with this collection of papers is to further develop some of the ideas presented at TRAC 2015, particularly the focus on materiality and embodied experience of magic in the Roman world. At the core of this volume is the contention that fine-grained artefact analysis has great potential to offer new ways to understand ancient magic practices.”

You can order the book via the Oxbow website, and read a summary and the table of contents below.

Congratulations, Adam and Stuart!

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This second volume in the new TRAC Themes in Roman Archaeology series seeks to push the research agendas of materiality and lived experience further into the study of Roman magic, a field that has, until recently, lacked object-focused analysis. Building on the pioneering studies in Boschung and Bremmer’s (2015) Materiality of Magic, the editors of the present volume have collected contributions that showcase the value of richly-detailed, context-specific explorations of the magical practices of the Roman world. By concentrating primarily on the Imperial period and the western provinces, the various contributions demonstrate very clearly the exceptional range of influences and possibilities open to individuals who sought to use magical rituals to affect their lives in these specific contexts – something that would have been largely impossible in earlier periods of antiquity. Contributions are presented from a range of museum professionals, commercial archaeologists, university academics and postgraduate students, making a compelling case for strengthening lines of communication between these related areas of expertise.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Materials, Approaches, Substances, and Objects
Stuart McKie and Adam Parker
 
2. The Medium Matters: Materiality and Metaphor in Some Latin Curse Tablets
Celia Sánchez Natalías
 
3. Phallic Magic: A Cross Cultural Approach to Roman Phallic Small Finds
Alissa Whitmore
 
4. Little Bottles of Power: Roman Glass Unguentaria in Magic, Ritual, and Poisoning
Thomas Derrick
 
5. Victory of Good over Evil? Amuletic Animal Images on Roman Engraved Gems
Idit Sagiv
 
6. ‘The Bells! The Bells!’ Approaching Tintinnabula in Roman Britain and Beyond
Adam Parker
 
7. Rubbing and Rolling, Burning and Burying: The Magical Use of Amber in Roman London
Glynn Davis
 
8. Linking Magic and Medicine in Early Roman Britain: The ‘Doctor’s’ Burial, Stanway, Camulodunum
Nicky Garland
 
9. The Archaeology of Ritual in the Domestic Sphere: Case Studies from Karanis and Pompeii
Andrew Wilburn
 
10. The Legs, Hands, Head and Arms Race: The Human Body as a Magical Weapon in the Roman World
Stuart McKie
 
11. Amulets, the Body and Personal Agency
Véronique Dasen

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

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

BSR_advertisement for conference

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

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

photograph of powerpoint slide

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

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

Professor Christopher Smith talking from a lecturn

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

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

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

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

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

John E Harrison

12th March 2018

johncpc@btinternet.com

 

 

Salmacis and Hermaphroditus – Paula James reports

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

Audio: Paula James talks about the myth of Salmacis

Article link (PDF): Paula_James_Salmacis_article

screenshot of OU podcast channel - audio about Salmacis

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients for Ovid's pimple cure

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

Ovid's cure for pimples

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Introducing….Christine Plastow, Lecturer in Classical Studies

Christine Plastow

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

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

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

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

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