Category Archives: Publications

My First Foray into the World of Publishing

by Kim Pratt (OU Classical Studies PhD student)

In September 2022 I presented a paper at a Conference on ‘Monsters’ at Reading University, held jointly by Limina Journal and ARC Centre for the History of Emotions at UWA (University of Western Australia) and the Classics Department at the University of Reading, UK. This went well and I was subsequently invited to submit it for a special Conference edition of the Limina Journal which was both unexpected and very exciting. I had based my paper on Chapter One of my thesis, ‘Monsters as the Other: A “Defence” of Polyphemos from Homer’s Odyssey to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’. This chapter covers Homer’s Odyssey and challenges the supposed binaries between the ‘monster’ Polyphemos and the ‘hero’ Odysseus. To submit the paper for publishing some revisions needed to be made including an unexpected and tedious exercise of changing everything to the required Chicago referencing style. This style was unfamiliar to me and took a little while to get used to.

One of my supervisors, Peg Katritzky suggested this would be a good time to choose an author name and to register for an ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) as they can both help in the attribution of work. We decided it would be a good idea to include my maiden name (Emmerson), as this would help to distinguish it from other Kim Pratts. So, I became Kim Emmerson Pratt and duly sent off my article in October 2022. At the beginning of December my article was sent back asking for some revisions which, as I told my supervisors was ‘a little deflating to say the least’. I had thought it would just go straight to peer review, the thought of which was already nerve-racking, and some of the editors’ comments seemed rather abrupt and harsh at first. Luckily, my supervisors reassured me it was all quite normal and that the editor was just making sure I had an article more geared to the requirements of the special edition before being submitted for peer review. Indeed, when I asked the editor for clarification on some of the revisions, she couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly, which is how our communication continued throughout the whole publishing process. At the beginning of May I was told my article had been accepted on condition of minor changes based on the reports of two reviewers. When I read the reports, they could not have been more different. While Reviewer One was obviously not a fan, Reviewer Two was very much in favour and luckily the editors agreed with Reviewer Two’s suggestions. Having received good feedback from both Reviewer Two and the editors it was much easier to deal with the very negative comments from Reviewer One and this time I didn’t feel at all disheartened.

 The journal had also decided to incorporate a creative writing section on the same theme of monsters. As I have been interested in creative writing since I was a little girl, I decided to submit a poem on the same subject entitled ‘Polyphemos’ Lament’ which I sent off in January 2023. This too was accepted, which was amazing, and I was not asked to revise anything on this until the copyediting stage in September. They just suggested I add an introductory couple of sentences and link it with my article. This was so exciting as I had almost given up of thinking I might one day have a creative piece published and certainly didn’t think it would be while I was still working away on my academic work.

I believe creative writing helps me to see connections and avenues of research where I may not otherwise have done so. When I read the Odyssey I felt sorry for Polyphemos and couldn’t stand Odysseus – I also felt the same about the Creature and Victor in Frankenstein and saw a connection between the two works. This idea grew as I read other works involving Polyphemos such as Theocritus’ Idylls 6 and 11 and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I feel that it was my creative side that immediately rearranged the tales of the Cyclops to make one linear story rather than viewing them in chronological order of authorship. Seen that way Polyphemos’ experience is very similar to that of Shelley’s Creature – both begin life as benevolent beings who become malevolent by the treatment and rejection they receive from others because of their monstrous appearance. If I had been writing a fictional piece about Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein, I could just have said she read the ancient works which inspired her in her writing. Of course this cannot happen in academic writing. Although these limitations can be frustrating it led me to search for evidence of a link between the two characters – and I found one! Hidden away in correspondence between Leigh Hunt and Mary Shelley was a little comment in parenthesis in Mary’s letter to Hunt saying, ‘I have written a defence in favour of Polypheme, have I not?’ This became the basis for my thesis and in time my academic work on the ancient works enabled me to write my poem.

On 3 January 2024, I was finally informed that the journal had gone live. The process was long and tedious at times, but it was certainly worth it – I am now a published author in both academic and creative writing! It was such an exciting experience which has really boosted my confidence and gone a little way to dispel that imposter syndrome that constantly lurks at the back of my mind. The numerous revisions and condensing a whole overlong chapter into a shorter article have also helped with the writing of my thesis by focussing on the important details. Also, having one poem published makes me feel there is no reason why it should be my last and my creative writing career may have only just begun!

Please click here for Kim’s profile page, and here for the special edition of Limina.

Aristophanes: Lysistrata – new book by James Robson

This month sees the publication of Aristophanes: Lysistrata by James Robson, Professor of Classical Studies at the Open University. 
Lysistrata is a comedy from Classical Athens about a fictional sex strike staged by the women of Greece which brings about the end of a bitter war.

In this post, James recalls his first encounter with the play and contemplates the play’s enduring appeal.

Photograph of James Robson wearing glasses and blue shirt, with books and a classical figurine in the background.My first encounter with Aristophanes’ Lysistrata was as a first-year undergraduate as part of a Greek and Roman Drama module, and I can safely say it was love at first sight.  We studied tragedy for the first semester, and as exciting and profound as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides’ plays were for me at the time, I found myself impatiently waiting for Christmas to be over when all the secrets of Greek comedy would finally be revealed to me. The twinkle in my lecturer’s eye whenever he said the name ‘Aristophanes’ was intriguing enough, but it was the rumours I heard from fellow students about Aristophanes’ anarchic, sassy, quick-fire plays with their countless willy, bum and fart jokes that threatened to send me over the edge.  Greek Comedy sounded mind-blowing and my mind could hardly wait to be blown.

Book cover showing female dancer in classical gown behind title 'Aristophanes: Lysistrata'Reality hit hard, however, when we finally got to the plays themselves.  Greek comedies were like nothing I had ever encountered before, it’s true, but that actually made them tough to read.  Plots didn’t always progress logically, and Aristophanes’ stylistic switches and linguistic exuberance could often be difficult to make sense of.  Most disappointingly of all – the fantastic willy gags aside – the jokes were often challenging to appreciate, designed as they were for a particular audience, in a particular time and place, and therefore referencing people, events, conventions and objects that were often unfamiliar to me.  I desperately wanted to ‘get’ Greek Comedy, but was struggling to find an Aristophanic play to fall in love with.  That is, until I found Lysistrata.

So, what is it that made my heart beat faster when I first read this play?  You could say that I’ve been working on that question ever since, and that writing this book has finally allowed me to figure out the answer.

To help me explain, it’s worth outlining the context in which Lysistrata was written.  It was first staged in 411 BCE during what was perhaps classical Athens’ darkest hour.  The city had recently lost thousands of men in the disastrous Sicilian Expedition and was now at serious risk of losing the Peloponnesian War which it had been fighting against Sparta for 20 years. With Lysistrata, Aristophanes presents his audience with a wonderful fantasy of how peace could be attained by the women of Greece staging a sex strike and thereby forcing the men to reconcile their differences and bring the fighting to an end.  In his play, Aristophanes freely acknowledges the rough time Athens was having (as mentioned above, comedy as a genre is deeply concerned with the here and now of life in the city of Athens, so this stark reality could hardly be avoided).  But importantly, the plot enables him to explore the effects of war from a viewpoint that his predominantly male audience might rarely have considered, namely that of the city’s womenfolk.  This makes the play fresh, innovative and arguably more contemporary-feeling for a modern audience inclined to see a non-traditional viewpoint as refreshing.  Indeed, Lysistrata was very possibly the first Greek comedy to feature an ordinary, citizen woman as its central character.  At this stage in his career Aristophanes was clearly a mature and accomplished playwright who felt confident with experimentation.

The challenging historical backdrop to the play helps us to understand other features of the play that made it more accessible to me as an undergraduate.  The intense turmoil in Athens in 411 BCE led to a toxic political situation, which later that year would result in a bloody coup.  Wisely, then, Aristophanes dials down the kind of contemporary political jokes and the topical allusions which modern readers struggle with, and instead we get a whole bunch of first-rate willy gags that have stood the test of time.  As I just mentioned, too, he also experiments with the genre of comedy: Lysistrata’s characters are more psychologically convincing than the more changeable creations of his earlier plays, their language is more uniform, and the plot – as fantastic and silly as it is at times – nevertheless has its own logical flow.  In short, the play’s universal themes – sex, war, gender, protest – its characters, its language and its humour are simply all more comprehensible to a non-specialist than those of other comedies by Aristophanes.  And this, I think, is what helped not just the undergraduate version of me fall in love with Lysistrata, but why the play has been so influential in modern times, too. As I outline in the book, Lysistrata has been widely read and performed in English-speaking countries over the last 150 years – perhaps more widely than all the rest of Aristophanes’ plays put together – and has even inspired feature films (Spike Lee’s 2015 Chi-raq is a recent example).  In short, Lysistrata has proven to be a deeply seductive play – not just for me, but for many others, too.  And writing this book has not only allowed me to explore the nature of its allure, but also to share its seductive secrets with others.

Aristophanes: Lysistrata by James Robson is published by Bloomsbury.

Read more about James’ teaching and research at the Open University here.


Monarchs, Courtiers and Technocrats – Q&A with Dr Martin Dearne

Photo of Dr Martin DearneDr Martin Dearne has been an Associate Lecturer with The Open University for twenty years, and has taught on many of our Classical Studies modules (AA309, A209, A251, A330, A219, A229, A105, A151, A112). He is the author of six books, the most recent of which is an archaeological study of Elsyng Palace in the London Borough of Enfield. In this blog post, Martin tells us more about Monarchs, Courtiers and Technocrats; Elsyng Palace, Enfield: Place and People: The Documentary and Archaeological Evidence for a Fifteenth to Seventeenth Century Courtier’s House and Tudor and Stuart Royal Palace; and for the Lives of its Owners and House

Book cover of 'Monarchs, Courtiers and Technocrats'. The cover is blue with white writing and has a reconstruction drawing of Elsyng Palace in a panel below the titleHello Martin, and congratulations on your new book! Please could you start by introducing our readers to Enfield and its history?  

Enfield today is a London borough – at the top centre of Greater London just south of the M25 – made up of two or three distinct Medieval villages in the Lea Valley that expanded into towns and eventually got swallowed up in the urban sprawl of the capital. Enfield itself was the most northerly of them, from the Norman conquest on quite a small market town in what was then rural Middlesex, but dominated by the nearby royal hunting forest of Enfield Chase. It still has a market square opposite where a manor house used to stand, but as the town grew in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it became best known for the industries that grew up east of the original town along the River Lea (the largest tributary of the River Thames) such as that making Lee-Enfield rifles.

Your first book on Enfield (First Stop North of Londinium: The Archaeology of Roman Enfield and its Roadline Settlement) dealt with the ancient history of the town. How did you come to write that book? And what did you discover about Enfield’s Roman past?

Book cover of 'First Stop North of Londinium'. The cover is deep red with orange writing, and shows two ceramic vessels below the title.

I was born in the borough and the first archaeological dig I ever went on was with the local archaeological society on a Roman site here. After many years at Sheffield University when I moved back to Enfield I got involved in that society which was active at the time in excavating a Roman settlement that lay on Ermine Street – the main Roman road north out of Londinium which ran ultimately to York and beyond – but a little at a time in people’s back gardens. Nobody had tried to take all these little pieces of a jigsaw and put them together and the book grew out of the process of doing that. The result was a picture of the first roadside settlement along the road once you left Roman London, a settlement that combined farming with providing for travellers, probably had a mansio (official ‘hotel’) and lay in a wider landscape that may have included a tannery site and a large estate farm.

This new book moves the story forward by looking at a later period of Enfield’s history, and at a particular site – the royal palace of Elsyng. How did you come to that topic?

Yes, that’s right. While I was working on the first book I was asked to direct new excavations on the site of this Tudor and Stuart palace. Some very impressive remains of it had been excavated in the 1960s, but nothing had been done on the site for about 40 years and, as it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, English Heritage required a professional archaeologist to lead the local team who wanted to uncover more of it. And that fairly rapidly became an annual excavation taking in student training, community open days and even a TV documentary. But, as the team (which includes two other current or former OU Associate Lecturers) uncovered more and more of the palace, it became more and more important to publish what we had found and link it to the people who had once lived here. Surprisingly royal palaces like this are in fact a very under explored part of the national story and Elsyng was also the most important element in putting Enfield on the map over about 300 years. So once I finished the book on Roman Enfield I decided that I would try and research its history as well as publish the archaeological work I had led.

Can you introduce us to some of the historical figures you study in the book? Maybe you can tell us which figure interested you the most?

I could tell you about a variety of people who I look at, from an Earl of Worcester in the Wars of the Roses who was called ‘the Butcher of England’ to Elizabeth I who lived at Elsyng at times when she was a girl. But one I got particularly interested in was John Carleton. Before it was a royal palace, Elsyng was held by Sir Thomas Lovell – one of the technocrats who ran early Tudor government. He was very rich, had vast estates all over the country, many governmental positions and was constantly being visited here by Henry VII and VIII. But it was Carleton, his own ‘Receiver General’, who ran Lovell’s private affairs and then organised his lavish funeral when he died in 1524 and had to disentangle his complex financial affairs as his executor. And it is through Carleton’s accounts books with their detailed pay records and tradesmen’s bills that we get an insight into how Elsyng functioned as a ‘courtier’s palace’ with a staff of about a hundred. He is the sort of figure who stands just outside the spotlight of history, but without whom those in the spotlight couldn’t have functioned.

How did you go about researching the book? Was it archival research, archaeological fieldwork, or both?

The site of the furnace of the boiling house at Elsyng. Whole sides of meat were boiled in a large vat set over the furnace.

It was very much both. I reassessed the 1960s excavations and synthesised the 16 years of those I had up to that point directed myself, which in some ways was the easy part. The more difficult was writing the history of the site and the people who lived there because it meant getting into late Medieval and early Modern studies which I didn’t have a background in. Fortunately I had colleagues from the excavations, one of whom took on photographing hundreds of documents in the National Archives and elsewhere and another of whom taught himself to read and transcribe them – because often they were written in things like Tudor secretary hand which at first glance is as hard to read to the uninitiated as cursive Latin. Even then though it meant trawling through and cross referencing vast numbers of printed ‘calendars’ (summary publications) of documents. In fact it is only the fact that so many of these can now be read on line that made this side of the research possible.

Did you find many links between the Roman and later periods of Enfield’s history? 

To borrow a phrase, it’s about location, location, location. The Roman settlement in Enfield was here because it was a convenient distance out from Roman London for travellers to break a journey. In the same way the palace was near enough Medieval and Tudor London to easily reach it, but far enough away to escape its plague outbreaks and develop a prestigious house in a large estate. Then where exactly the palace was sited was in part determined by the survival of Ermine Street; in the 1430s, when it was first built, Roman roads like Ermine Street were still the backbone of the road network in Britain.

Which is your own favourite historical spot in the town of Enfield – and why?

Well, it would have to be the site of Elsyng palace, but one specific spot on the site. At that point you can see over 1,600 years of Enfield history in one go. Look in one direction and there is a modern road that follows the line of Ermine Street to an eighteenth century bridge over a brook that stands where a Roman bridge or ford once did. Turn round and across the modern park it edges you can still trace the approach road to the palace that ran off of it. And turn half way back and look uphill and there stands the early seventeenth century Forty Hall, the country home of a Lord Mayor of London (the excavations I have directed around and inside which look dangerously like turning into another publication !)

Thank you Martin, and congratulations again on this new book!

Monarchs, Courtiers and Technocrats is available to buy via the website of Enfield Archaeological Society:


Q & A with Dr Gina May

This week we chatted with OU Classicist Gina May about her new book A Student’s Guide to Online Learning published by the Open University Press, which is due to go on sale on 12 August.

Hello Gina! Before we start talking about your book, could you introduce yourself to our readers? How did you get into Classics?

I have been an associate lecturer with the Open University since 2009 and have taught modules at stages 1, 2 and 3 as well as at postgraduate level.  Over the years I have also contributed to module content and TMA questions for a variety of Classical Studies modules – it is my dream job!  At the same time as teaching for the OU, I also taught in the Classical Studies department at the University of Kent for 10 years but left there 3 years ago to allow time to write and develop my own courses which I teach online as an independent educator.  I also do work as a consultant for universities and schools developing online teaching strategies and training staff to teach online.

I first discovered a love of Classics at school because our drama teacher had us reading Greek tragedies and our French teacher had us reading Racine’s versions of the same Greek tragedies, but in French.  I also did Latin at school which I loved but did not do any other ancient languages until I went to university as a mature student.  Although I had a long gap before starting a degree, I kept reading in the meantime and when my children were in their teens, I did a BA and PhD degree in Classical Studies and loved every single minute!  I am a lifelong learner and look enviously at OU modules wishing I could do them all.

What is your daily routine like, in your job as an OU associate lecturer in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences?

As associate lecturers we work from home and so I spend most of my days in a summer house at the end of my garden which is great!  I teach on 5 modules including A863 and A864 which are the first and second years of the Classical Studies MA.  My work includes writing and delivering tutorials, marking TMAs, talking to students via email and on the phone, as well as other general tasks such as monitoring and moderating forums.  There is a great feel of camaraderie between the members of the department and although ALs do not go onto the physical campus very often, we still feel very much a part of what goes on and have a great rapport with the central academics.

We are all excited about reading your new book A Student’s Guide to Online Learning!  How did you come to write the book?

The book came about because during the pandemic there was such a large shift towards online teaching for both universities and schools.  This made me realise that actually, the OU have been doing this really well for years so were well ahead of the game in terms of teaching.  However, there was nothing on the market that looked closely at the skills needed for learning online.  I started by talking to current and former students asking them what they wished they had known before they started and to tell me about some of the problems they encountered or were encountering along the way.  This, combined with the experience of teaching thousands of students both face to face and online, helped to decide on the content.

Who did you write it for? Is your target readership mainly OU students? Who else do you think will benefit from reading the book?

As an AL I had my own students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in mind a lot of the time, but the content works equally well for any student of an online course whether that is as part of a degree or for work as part of continuing professional development.  A lot of the issues are the same such as developing the right persona, conversing with tutors and peers and demonstrating employability skills.   The use of social media as a tool for learning and networking is something that is new to many students so this is also covered.

Could you give us a sneak preview of the contents? How is the book structured (and was it difficult to decide how to structure it?)

The chapter headings are: Online Identity and Personas; Learning Online Environments; Accessing Learning and Peer Support; Recognising Strengths and Overcoming Difficulties and Disabilities; Academic Integrity and Employability; Researching Online; Digital Technologies for Online Learning; Using Social Media for Learning Online and Trouble Shooting, Staying Safe Online.

To decide on the structure, I thought about the order in which a student might need to know how to do things and went from there.  The book can be used by starting from the beginning and working through to the end but works equally well for just dipping in and out of.  Each chapter has advice and practical exercises together with quotes from students who have experience of dealing with the particular issue being talked about.

Which chapter was hardest to write, and why?

The hardest chapter to write was ‘Trouble Shooting’.  Current and former students sent me lots of examples of things that had happened to them and how they had resolved the issues.  I then had to combine these together with my own experience as a tutor and online student into a format that worked well.  I wanted to provide clear advice that would be both helpful and reassuring.

Which is your favourite chapter, and why?

I have two favourite chapters.  The first is ‘Recognising Strengths and Overcoming Difficulties and Disabilities’.  This is because students tend to focus on the negative, the things that they have done ‘wrong’, cannot do because of a difficulty or disability, or do not know how to do.  I wanted to turn this completely on its head and look at how to discover what you can do well, how this is being done and how to enhance it going forward.  The chapter also deals with practical issues such as how to use assistive technologies such as screen readers and voice activated software.  For me, the important thing about this chapter is that it empowers all students.

My other favourite is ‘Researching Online’ simply because I love research.  In this chapter I show how to narrow and deepen a search to avoid falling down rabbit holes that might well provide hours of pleasant reading but that may not actually be very useful.  I look at using library catalogues and other data bases as well as what does not form academic content and so should be avoided.

The book is written together with Tim Bentley – could you tell us a bit about this collaborative writing process?

My co-author (and husband) is now a paramedic and paramedic educator but is a former learning technologist who developed and implemented online learning platforms at two large UK universities.   Using this expertise, he contributed towards the explanation of how technologies work and can be best used in order to learn online, and what to do when things go wrong.  Content includes everything from making sure that your internet connection is secure to how to use the tools in FB and Twitter to enhance learning and to become part of the wider learning community in your discipline.

What is your next project after this book?

I am currently working on a number of projects.

The first is a companion book to A Student’s Guide to Online Learning which is aimed at those who teach online.  It looks at the practical skills of online and blended teaching as well as how to write or convert material to do so.  This combines my experience of many years teaching online with the wealth of experience that current and former students, and colleagues, continue to share with me.

My other current projects include:

  • A book which takes all the vocabulary used for GCSE, AS and A Level Latin and sets out all the tenses of the verbs and the cases of the nouns in full. This is almost finished and will be on Amazon by the end of the summer.  I have not quite decided on a final title for this so any suggestions would be gratefully received!
  • Academic Practice for Classical and Archaeological Studies which looks at the specific study skills needed in Classical Studies and includes content on using data bases, archaeological reports, coins and standing culture as well as ancient texts. I also look at how to use online dictionaries as a non-linguist and how to work with fragmentary evidence when writing essays and dissertations.   As well as all this, the book includes study skills such as critical reading, referencing, structuring written work, constructing an argument and much more.
  • A novel for Falcon Books Publishing which is about a little girl who gets lost in the crowds at Epidaurus and grows up in the temple there. I was so inspired by the way that Pat Barker wrote Silence of the Girls and The Women of Troy that I thought I would have a go myself!

I am on twitter @DrGinaMay and have a website: which has details of all the courses that I teach as an Independent Course Provider outside of my work with the OU.

Congratulations, Gina – we can’t wait to read the book! 


“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


Book launch event in honour of John K. Davies

This Monday saw the festive gathering of UK and international colleagues at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, University of Liverpool. This event heralded the publication of a book I recently co-edited with Dr. Zosia Archibald in honour of the Ancient Historian John K. Davies (Emeritus Rathbone Professor of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology at the University of Liverpool), The Power of Individual and Community in Ancient Athens and Beyond.

The event was officially launched by the current Rathbone chair, Professor Lin Foxhall, who reflected on the major influence that John had made at the beginning of her own career. Following this, Dame Janet Beer, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, addressed all those present, congratulating John on his significant achievements in the field, and thanking him for the important contributions that he made to the institutional environment at the University of Liverpool.

Dame Janet Beer addresses John and all those gathered

Following this, John spoke for some twenty minutes on growing up in Cardiff, his early encounters with the ancient world (for example, at the old Corbridge museum at Hadrian’s Wall when he was 15 years old), and his various undertakings since his retirement in 2003. Indeed, John has remained an active member of the scholarly community, delivering the opening or closing address at a number of major conferences, as well as taking up myriad fellowships and residencies in various European institutions. John ended his reflections by issuing a warm encouragement to all those in the field that have ‘so stimulating a challenge’ in front of them.

John K. Davies delivering his speech of thanks

Following lengthy applause for John, all involved proceeded to the Leggate Lecture Theatre, where we were treated to a very special guest lecture by the Wykeham Professor of Ancient History at Oxford University, Nino Luraghi, who spoke on ‘The Peloponnesian Peace: Thucydides and the Ideology of the Peace of Nikias’. Professor Luraghi delivered a highly engaging paper that took in many passages from Thucydides’ History, several of the comic playwright Aristophanes’ plays, as well as certain edifying passages from the Life of Aristeides, written by the first-second century CE biographer Plutarch. The evening closed with a series of more informal celebrations, including a drinks reception.

Guests gather to celebrate John’s career at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, University of Liverpool

But things did not end there, however; on the following day, John, Zosia and I reconvened to discuss in more depth John’s intellectual approach as an historian of the ancient world, Zosia and John’s shared research interests in Hellenistic economies, and our thoughts on the future direction of the discipline. A special video recording of our discussion will soon be made available on the website Classics Confidential.

In sum, this event was a marvellous celebration of a scholar who has inspired countless students, and who as a researcher has continued to play a leading role in the field for more than four decades.

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! 


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

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 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!


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

Celebrating student success

Congratulations to former Open University Classical Studies student Ian Ramskill, who has had his work published in the first ever edition of NEO: The Classics Students’ Journal. Ian’s piece is entitled ‘Horace Odes 3.14: a pragmatic and welcome acceptance of the early Pax Augusta.’ His paper started life back in 2014 as a prizewinning essay for the John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay Prize, a competition which is open to all OU Classical Studies undergraduates. You can read Ian’s work, along with the other contributions to NEO, here; and if you’d like to know more about his student experience at the OU, take a look at the blog post he wrote just before he started his final year of study.

The deadline for this year’s Kassman Prize is 29th September 2017. More details about how current OU undergraduates may enter are available on the Classical Studies website here.

New publications on the ancient body

The first half of 2017 has seen the publication of several new books by members of the Ancient Body cluster in the department of Classical Studies, so we thought we’d share with you some further details.

Eleanor Betts (ed) (2017) Senses of the Empire: Multisensory Approaches to Roman Culture (Routledge).

This new edited volume addresses the growing field of sensory approaches to Roman material culture. Extending beyond the presentations from the November 2013 conference held at The Open University Regional Centre in Camden (London), this volume discusses the value of integrating sensory perspectives into existing archaeological, historical and literary analyses of the ancient world. Amongst the chapters you will find important new explorations of theoretical and methodological approaches to ancient sensory studies, as well as specific case studies on urban sensescapes, Roman funerals, entertainment venues, the smells of the military fort of Vindolanda, the sounds of the tuba, touching and tasting in animal sacrifice, the visual and tactile aspects of signet rings and votive dedications, and the motion of pantomime performances. Several contributors are members of the Classical Studies department: Eleanor Betts, Emma-Jayne Graham and Valerie Hope. From the cover:

“The Roman empire afforded a kaleidoscope of sensations. Through a series of multisensory case studies centred on people, places, buildings and artefacts, and on specific aspects of human behaviour, this volume develops ground-breaking methods and approaches for sensory studies in Roman archaeology and ancient history. Authors explore questions such as: what it felt like, and symbolised, to be showered with saffron at the amphitheatre; why the shape of a dancer’s body made him immediately recognisable as a social outcast; how the dramatic gestures, loud noises and unforgettable smells of a funeral would have different meanings for members of the family and for bystanders; and why feeling the weight of a signet ring on his finger contributed to a man’s sense of identity. A multisensory approach is taken throughout, with each chapter exploring at least two of the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The contributors’ individual approaches vary, reflecting the possibilities and the wide application of sensory studies to the ancient world. Underlying all chapters is a conviction that taking a multisensory approach enriches our understanding of the Roman empire, but also an awareness of the methodological problems encountered when reconstructing past experiences.”

For more see the Routledge website 

 Jessica Hughes, (2017). Votive Body Parts in Greek and Roman Religion (Cambridge University Press).

This major new monograph began life as part of a Leverhulme-funded project titled Changing Beliefs of the Human Body based at the University of Cambridge (2005-2009). By exploring a range of different forms of anatomical votive, across the ancient Mediterranean and parts of Europe, the book ‘aims to track how and why the anatomical votive cult developed and spread in classical antiquity, and to shed light on some of the varied meanings that these objects held for their ancient users and viewers’ (p. 3). By bringing votive body parts into a conversation with other visual and literary sources from the classical world, it emphasises their importance for a wide range of topics in classics, as well as demonstrating how votives intersect with modern theories and perceptions concerning the body. From the cover:

“This book examines a type of object that was widespread and very popular in classical antiquity – votive offerings in the shape of parts of the human body. It collects examples from four principal areas and time periods: Classical Greece, pre-Roman Italy, Roman Gaul and Roman Asia Minor. It uses a compare-and-contrast methodology to highlight differences between these sets of votives, exploring the implications for our understandings of how beliefs about the body changed across classical antiquity. The book also looks at how far these ancient beliefs overlap with, or differ from, modern ideas about the body and its physical and conceptual boundaries. Central themes of the book include illness and healing, bodily fragmentation, human-animal hybridity, transmission and reception of traditions, and the mechanics of personal transformation in religious rituals.”

For more see the Cambridge University Press website.

Jane Draycott and Emma-Jayne Graham (eds) (2017). Bodies of Evidence: Ancient Anatomical Votives Past, Present and Future (Routledge).

Continuing the anatomical votive theme, the origins of this edited volume lie in a conference held at the British School at Rome in June 2012. Contributors to the book explore not only the roles that anatomical votive offerings played in ancient religious and healing contexts but also the roles their subsequent collection and study continue to play in shaping ideas about the human body today. Chapters include examinations of confession stelae, swaddled babies, hair, eyes, wombs, feet, and open torsos, as well as topics such as fragmentation and disability, museum collections and new chronological and theoretical assessments. Emma-Jayne Graham and Jessica Hughes, from the Classical Studies department, are both contributors. From the cover:

“Dedicating objects to the divine was a central component of both Greek and Roman religion. Some of the most conspicuous offerings were shaped like parts of the internal or external human body: so-called ‘anatomical votives’. These archaeological artefacts capture the modern imagination, recalling vividly the physical and fragile bodies of the past whilst posing interpretative challenges in the present. This volume scrutinises this distinctive dedicatory phenomenon, bringing together for the first time a range of methodologically diverse approaches which challenge traditional assumptions and simple categorisations. The chapters presented here ask new questions about what constitutes an anatomical votive, how they were used and manipulated in cultural, cultic and curative contexts and the complex role of anatomical votives in negotiations between humans and gods, the body and its disparate parts, divine and medical healing, ancient assemblages and modern collections and collectors. In seeking to re-contextualise and re-conceptualise anatomical votives this volume uniquely juxtaposes the medical with the religious, the social with the conceptual, the idea of the body in fragments with the body whole and the museum with the sanctuary, crossing the boundaries between studies of ancient religion, medicine, the body and the reception of antiquity.”

For more see the Routledge website.

Happy reading!