Author Archives: Jessica Hughes

John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay Prize 2021

An annual prize is awarded for the best essay in a competition, open to all current Open University undergraduate students. It is likely to be of particular interest to students on A229, A276, 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 2021, and 

·         the deadline for submission of essays is 30 September 2021.

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

—-

Information and Regulations for Entrants

1. The prize is an annual award based on the income from a donation given by the late Alec Kassman in memory of his son. Alec was an Arts Faculty Staff Tutor in London Region of the Open University and a contributor to Classical Studies courses. The purpose of the prize, which is awarded for the best essay in an annual competition, is to develop and foster study of Classical Antiquity in the Open University. The award takes 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 should be submitted as an attached file e.mailed to FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk. 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.

4. Notice to enter the competition should be sent, together with the proposed essay title, by 30th June 2021 via email to FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk

The deadline for receipt of essays is 30th September 2021. This timing is intended to give competitors an opportunity to work on their essays after the 2021 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.

Another Letter from Paul Jackson in Provence

Two years ago we published a ‘Letter from Provence‘, sent by our recent PhD graduate, Paul Jackson. Since then, Paul has been busy  working on his Alexandre Dumas translations (and much more), and it’s a pleasure to receive this second letter updating us on his progress. We love keeping in touch with our graduates, and would welcome other letters like this from our OU Classical Studies alumni. You can email us on FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk

Greetings, or should I say salut, from over here in Provence again, from Pont-du-Loup to be precise, which was apparently once one of Queen Victoria’s favourite haunts! Given the travel restrictions, I find myself working my way through Depardieu’s filmography and Pagnol’s bibliography as well as hunting down Romanesque chapels and local cheeses and wines, all of which are as numerous as the chickens, pheasants, quails, pigeons, tortoises, cats, and rabbits our garden seems to be accumulating, wannabee Cincinnatus I seem to be. Well, I haven’t completely dedicated myself to the plough yet, trying to maintain the philosophy of Émile Zola – and Pliny the Elder before him – “Nulla dies sine linea”, whether that be reading or writing, difficult as that is in these uniquely trying times…

Still collecting recipes and writing poems and penning travel diaries and delving into the legends of Roland, as well as recently providing consultancy for the development of a rather wonderful Italian pedagogical tool, Alatin, work on my Classical Dumas Series is also progressing, with Isaac Laquedem: A Tale of the Wandering Jew finally due for publication later this year, the first part of which was teased as an eBook last Christmas (https://gum.co/aGlOA). Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from speaking on the project at last year’s Classical Association Annual Conference in Swansea as planned, but the paper I was to read, The Other Dumas: Alexandre Dumas and the Classics, was subsequently published in Classics for All’s online Ad Familiares journal (https://classicsforall.org.uk/reading-room/ad-familiares/alexandre-dumas-and-classics), and hot off the press, coming next in the series will be Acte of Corinth, The Convert of Saint Paul: A Tale of Greece and Rome, with several other exciting ones to come thereafter!

Again, further details and updates can as always be found on my website, https://paultmjackson.com

Valete,

Paul.

Podcasting Thucydides

Thucydides Mosaic from Jerash, Jordan, Roman, 3rd century CE at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

OU PhD student Liz Webb recently had the opportunity to record a podcast episode with James Renshaw, who teaches Classics at Godolphin and Latymer School and runs their weekly Ancient World Breakfast Club for both the school and community. The conversation centred on Liz’s PhD research on ‘Audience Sensory Experience in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.

Click on this link or on the image above to listen to the podcast episode.

Liz’s research utilises theory from phenomenology, sensory archaeology and literary sensory theory to develop a framework for understanding how Thucydides deploys sensory hierarchies, time, space, emotion and movement in his narrative. The objective of illuminating this aspect of his work is to consider how his historiographical technique draws on sensory experience to underline the points at which Thucydides requires the audience to exercise its judgement, which contributes to our understanding of early ancient historiography.

You can follow Liz on Twitter at @WebbEA02. James’ Twitter handle is @jajrenshaw, and the Godolphin and Latymer School can be found at @gandlschool and @gandlclassics

Thank you to Liz and James for sharing this conversation!

Image on this page: Thucydides Mosaic from Jerash, Jordan, Roman, 3rd century CE. Now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

 

The Battle for Latin: Reports from the front line of research into Latin teaching

This article was originally published over on the brand new ‘FASS Centre for Scholarship and Innovation’ blog. Visit that blog and follow @OU_FASSTEST on Twitter to find out more about how the Centre supports the critical, scholarly evaluation of approaches to teaching and learning in the Arts and Social Sciences.

Hiding behind any respectable project that seeks to improve the student experience is always an element of nerdiness – an obsessive love of stats and number-crunching – as well as a curtain-twitching urge to take a peek into the lives of others. What precisely do teachers and students get up to in their classrooms? How does it all go so right for students – and sometimes so wrong?

Well, that’s our experience anyway. We are James Robson (Professor of Classical Studies at the OU) and Dr Mair Lloyd (Associate Lecturer and former OU PhD student) and our story starts about seven years ago when we met up for the first time over multiple cups of tea, nursing the shared ambition of carrying out a bold project that hadn’t been attempted for a generation: a nuts-and-bolts survey of beginners’ Latin and Greek teaching in Classics departments across the UK. We carried out this survey in 2014 and as the data poured in and we feasted greedily on the diet of bar charts and pivot tables we were creating, one statistic kept jumping out at us: nearly one in four students who began studying Latin at university (23%) didn’t complete their module. Why was that? And how come the pass rates at different universities varied so greatly?

Image: Mair and James drinking tea in contrasting settings

Image: Mair and James drinking tea in contrasting settings

That is how The Battle for Latin was born, a project dedicated to examining the factors driving student success, failure and withdrawal amongst beginners’ Latin students. More in hope than expectation, we put together a bid for the British Academy small grants scheme, drawing on James’ long experience of classical language teaching at the Open University and Mair’s expertise in Modern Foreign Language and Latin pedagogy. Importantly for the bid, we were able to cite the statistically-rich research that we had already published. And crucially, too, we had a burning question that, to us at least, seemed so vital to answer: why were so many aspiring Latinists in UK universities unable to stay the distance?

A few months later, we learnt that our bid had been successful and when our spontaneous whooping and partying eventually subsided, we set to work. As stats fiends, one thing we felt we needed was more targeted, up-to-date data, so we ran a new survey of UK Latin instructors, who between them kindly furnished us with data on 30 different Latin modules covering 888 students nationwide. As our graph below shows, the variation in completion rates was striking once again. Remarkably, too, we also learnt that, while a greater number of students were completing and passing our own Latin module at the OU, this was not a picture reflected across the sector: nationwide the completion rate for beginners’ Latin modules was stuck at 76%.

Image: One of Mair’s and James’ signature graphs: Beginners’ Latin modules in UK universities listed by anonymized alphanumeric code, showing percentages of those starting the module who passed, failed and withdrew.

Image: One of Mair’s and James’ signature graphs: Beginners’ Latin modules in UK universities listed by anonymized alphanumeric code, showing percentages of those starting the module who passed, failed and withdrew.

So, what were the factors driving student success, withdrawal and failure? Our data allowed us to rule out elements such as module duration, credit value and even student contact hours to a large extent (the exception being a handful of particularly intensive modules which included five or more hours’ classroom time each week). Nor did the choice of textbook or assessment strategy appear to be determinative (although we did note a possible benefit of including substantial elements of assessed coursework). Ultimately, whatever hypothesis we investigated there always seemed to be modules that bucked the trend. Clearly, staring at the stats was only going to get us so far.

Fortunately, our project also built in human contact: a series of whole-class observations, interviews with instructors and students, and even an online student survey to allow us to understand better the obstacles to student success. We learnt a lot from our activities, not least the need to ask a small number of very focused questions if you hope to finish the interview on time! But we were also delighted to discover the warmth, dedication and reflectiveness not only of Latin instructors, but also of the students they teach, who were generous with their time and hugely thoughtful and thought-provoking in their responses to our questions.

So, is there a magic bullet for improving student success on beginners’ Latin modules? Well, maybe not, but our research nevertheless provides some useful trends and pointers, we hope. Plus, our forthcoming paper also distils some of the top tips that Latin students would pass on to new starters – all the more useful, we hope, for being direct quotations in the students’ own voices. If we have an overarching conclusion, however, it is perhaps that the magic lies somewhere in the dynamic interactions between the teacher, students, textbook, teaching methods and class as a whole. Of course, these are factors that are challenging to quantify and pin down – but this merely convinces restless enthusiasts like us that another research project is needed to scrutinize these more closely.

A paper with further details will be published shortly, we will post a link here when the article is live.

For further details please contact James and Mair:

James Robson, Professor of Classical Studies

Dr Mair Lloyd (Associate Lecturer and former OU PhD student)

2020 Classical Studies MA Essay Prize

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2020 Open University Classical Studies MA Essay Prize is Susan Marks, who submitted an essay entitled “The influence of Rome on Louis XIV’s triumphal arch at Porte Saint-Martin, Paris”.

We invited Susan to tell us a bit about her OU study journey:

“My first introduction to the OU was when, with the support of my employers, I achieved a Professional Diploma in Management. Some fifteen years later I took early retirement and this presented the opportunity to return to the OU. I decided to do a short course, Y180 Making Sense of the Arts, which I really enjoyed. This rapidly led to me enrolling for a BA Open degree with honours which I achieved in 2018.

I chose as my first optional module U214: Worlds of English, which was fascinating, but after completing A219: Exploring the Classical World, I found my real interest lay in Classical Studies. I went on to do A330: Myth in the Greek and Roman Worlds and A340: The Roman Empire, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I did Latin at ‘O’ Level many, many, years ago and I remember learning about Ancient Greece at primary school. The interest in these subjects that my teachers sparked has never really left me. I am currently about to start A864, the second year of the Classical Studies MA, and am contemplating the topic of my dissertation.

The subject of the essay for this competition was something I had been wanting to research for some time. I visited Paris a couple of years ago and travelled on one of the open-top sightseeing buses. I had been to Paris before but had not seen the city at that level. We passed a number of triumphal arches and I was struck by the Roman terms used in the inscriptions, in particular the titles that the person it honoured held such as consul, praefectus and aedilis. The essay competition gave me the impetus to explore one of these arches in detail and I found that not only the inscription but also the iconography used was aimed at closely aligning the French king, Louis XIV, with Imperial Rome and its emperors.

Classical Studies is such a wide-ranging subject there is something new to learn every day and so many paths to tread. I am not sure where I go after A864, but I think it would be impossible for me to give up studying now.”

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

Porte Saint-Martin

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

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

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

Figure 1: Panoramic views of Circo Maximo Experience site

Figure 1: Panoramic views of Circo Maximo Experience site

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

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

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

Experiencing the space

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

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

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

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

The reconstructed course

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 4: reconstructed Euripus views

Figure 4: reconstructed Euripus views

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

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

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

Tabernae

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

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

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

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

Figure 7: Photos of extant tabernae spaces

Figure 7: Photos of extant tabernae spaces

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

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

Latrines

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

The Arch of Titus

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Kassman Essay Prize – More Prizes Available

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

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

Submission dates for the next prize are as follows:

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

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

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

—-

Information and Regulations for Entrants

1. The prize will be an annual award based on the income from a donation given by the late Alec Kassman in memory of his son. Alec was an Arts Faculty Staff Tutor in London Region of the Open University and a contributor to Classical Studies courses. The purpose of the prize, which will be awarded for the best essay in an annual competition, is to develop and foster study of Classical Antiquity in the Open University. The award will take the form of a book-token (or other academic related goods) to the approximate value of £100. 

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

3. Details covering presentation of essay:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ii) Appreciation of the issues involved in the selected topic

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

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

v) Capacity for independent critical analysis

vi) Imaginative choice of topic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kassman Essay Prize 2019 – winner announced!

The John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay prize is an annual award based on the income from a donation given by the late Alec Kassman in memory of his son. Alec was an Arts Faculty Staff Tutor in the London Region and a contributor to Classical Studies modules. The prize is open to all current Open University undergraduates, who are invited to submit a 3,000 word essay on any aspect of Greek and Roman antiquity. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

OU Classics at 50: a view from the hill country – by Judith George

Judith George was appointed as a Classics tutor in 1973, teaching Classics courses steadily thereafter till the present, with A229: Exploring the Classical World. She became an Assistant Staff Tutor in Arts in 1975, Senior Counsellor in 1978, and Deputy Scottish Director in 1984. As well as teaching on OU Classics courses, acting as critical reader for a number, and writing Learning Guide 4 (Creating your own TMA) for A295: Homer, Poetry and Society, she took her Doctorate at Edinburgh University (part-time of course, as a typical OU single parent mum), with practical support from the OU’s Regional Academic Services, and from David Sewart in particular, a Director of that unit who was himself a classicist. The PhD was on the subject of Venantius Fortunatus, a sixth-century Italian poet who established himself in the developing courts of Merovingian Gaul, and proceeded to embed Latin literature and culture in that culturally aspirational society – Romanitas was the watchword of both secular and religious authorities (George, 1992).

Her time in the Scottish Directorate came at the exciting period of expansion of open and distant learning on all sides. She was heavily involved in many innovations for the country as a whole, including the piloting of new technologies for the support of OU students, and for education, business and industry in general, and the development of community education, Open Learning projects, a new Scottish Prison Scheme, and the creation of the University of the Highlands and Islands. She also acted as an international educational consultant, to disseminate OU experience and expertise in Scandinavia and in Europe. In all these activities, continuing as a Classics tutor and academic, and taking OU courses herself, was an essential element in keeping a vivid awareness of the experience of being a learner, which contributed to her developmental work and action research. She has published widely on Late Antiquity and educational topics. She was awarded a personal Chair in Educational Research and Development in 2001, an Honorary Fellowship in the University of the Highlands and Islands, and in 2004 an OBE in recognition of her services to higher and lifelong learning.

Transformation is the motif running through my experience as a classicist within the OU – personal, social, cultural, institutional. On the personal front, having read Greats at Oxford, it was naturally out of the question for me to teach in the Classics Department of the ancient university to which my husband was appointed – husbands and wives could not work together.  The only work forthcoming was a teaching post in the Moral Philosophy Department – a post which, as Saki has it, was of ‘nomadic but punctual disposition’, consisting usually of my being phoned late on a Sunday evening in late September to be told that I was required to give classes on some aspect of Moral Philosophy from the following morning onwards. The pay was less than that of the departmental cleaners, and exam marking was onerous and unpaid. This did mean that my husband’s colleagues felt that they could now broach conversational topics with me on issues other than domestic trivia; but what was very frustrating was their total disinterest in what was actually happening in learning for their students. You could discuss their finances or their sex lives more readily than what was happening for their students. An apparently enthusiastic student, for example, kept on submitting work which I felt was seriously below her capacity. I eventually found out by chance that she had diabetes, was struggling to adjust her insulin levels, and had assumed that I was aware but just not willing to give help. The Head of Department, when I raised the matter, seemed quite shocked that I should be so intrusive and intimated that such interest in students, and especially in the circumstances of a student’s learning, was totally improper.

Appointment to the OU was a revelation. I had colleagues who were passionately interested in students’ learning; the focus of the Foundation courses was on creating a level baseline for students coming from unimaginably diverse backgrounds, so that they then had the capacity and the skills to move on to higher level courses. We spent our time devising support systems, ways of giving advice and guidance, strategies for compensating for life circumstances – it was wonderful. I remember vividly the first month of the first Classics course I taught, being contacted by a student on the Scottish Borders, who apologised profusely for his work being late, but explained that the lambing had started early this year. Such passion for Classics, interwoven with the classical shepherd’s calendar, had a vivid reality and weight rarely found in the conveyor-belt teenagers of privilege. So teaching Classics in the OU was a transformation to an institute where students not only mattered, they were the be-all-and-end-all of our professional work; and where studying Classics was a matter of passionate commitment.

I had always wanted to do a PhD, but had been unable to up to that point. Occasional translation work for the Professor of the History of Fine Art at Manchester had got me hooked on the question of what people hung on to and why as the so-called Dark Ages rolled over them. So I enrolled to do my doctoral work at Edinburgh, with the warm support of Regional Academic Services, on Venantius Fortunatus and his part in the transmission of Romanitas in sixth-century Gaul. Teaching for the OU had moved me substantially away from the narrowly compartmentalised traditions of Classics to the interdisciplinary approach of Ferguson (see Lorna Hardwick’s blog), and teaching A100 had also highlighted the vivid impact of poetry on people new to its world. All this fed into my approach to Fortunatus, in a field, the then-called Dark Ages, at a time when there was little interest and even less current scholarship, creating the space to expand and experiment with approaches. So Classics in the OU gave me the chance to move to doctoral level, and also the scholarly framework within which to innovate and be creative.

And being a Classicist member of the Scottish directorate enabled a distinctive OU contribution to the continued existence and vitality of scholarship in Late Classical Antiquity in Scotland.  In the mid-80s, these departments were on the brink of extinction. A couple of friends and I created EMERGE (the Early Medieval Europe Research Group), which brought together Insular and European scholars from across Scotland at least twice a term, for a convivial and supportive supper in the OU’s splendid Edinburgh centre, followed by an excellent paper, usually from an internationally recognised scholar. This raised morale, fostered interdisciplinary thinking, strengthened people to resist erosion and cuts, and encouraged younger students.

Being a ‘country member’ of the Classics Department and involved as a critical reader was also a great privilege. Apart from the fascination of crafting learning material across various media, it kept me in touch with a range of scholarly disciplines and gave me colleagues who have become lifelong friends. And it also gave me the chance to experiment with reflective learning. I designed Learning Guide Four of A295: Homer, Poetry and Society, to talk students through the process of choosing a topic which had one foot in Homer and the other in any topic of interest to them, formulating a question and answering it. This was a loosely formulated remit, deliberately so to give them the chance to be experimental and creative – so the Learning Guide talked them through the process of reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses as learners, on choosing appropriate formats of question, and then constructing a solid and sound argument. The results were fascinating.  We inevitably had a solid cluster on women’s role in the poems and the society, but also ones which were totally unpredictable.  A surgeon produced a vividly illustrated assessment of the wounds described in the Iliad, demonstrating that the accounts reflected a sound practical knowledge of the impact on human anatomy of a spear striking from this angle or an arrow penetrating from that. Quite gruesome, but quite clearly these descriptions were not purple passages. We had thoughts on birds in Homer from someone in Shetland, and many other idiosyncratic but valid topics. So working through Block 5 of A229 (Exploring the classical world: End-of-module assessment preparation) with my current students these past weeks has being revisiting that territory with pride that this has become embedded in our Classical teaching!

Classics has always also reflected the wider culture of society, and there has been transformation here too. In the first year of teaching students on the Isle of Lewis, I had fundamentalist Wee Free Presbyterian students who were enthusiastic, but totally paralysed by being expected to look at and even discuss representations of nude figures, especially female ones. And there was the audio conference call, drawing eight or so students across Scotland together for a discussion of Euripides. All was going smoothly, until I heard a strong intake of breath on one of the lines, and a stressed voice launched into the charge that we were discussing FAKE TEXTS – everyone knew that the Greeks were fine, upstanding folk, but this play was filthy and debased, so it could not be a true Greek text. That tutorial took quite a bit of handling! But times have changed. Naomi Mitchison, the author, receiving an Honorary OU Doctorate at a ceremony in Glasgow, spoke of the OU having lit candles in every little community the length and breadth of the Highlands and Islands, which illuminated and transformed them. She was right – the OU, and Classics playing above its weight, has broken barriers and brought people together in understanding and acceptance. Or has it? Inga Mantle, another OU classicist, is producing Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae in June this year. She has been banned from her usual venue by a church minister outraged by a frisky new translation, no longer clad in the decent obscurity of a learned language or more bland English!

So, a very Happy 50th anniversary to this remarkable institution, in which we have all been so lucky and privileged to be caught up.

 

Bibliography

George, J.W. (1992), Venantius Fortunatus: a poet in Merovingian Gaul (Clarendon Press, Oxford).