Visit of author Ben Kane Monday September 28th 2015
Ben Kane is a critically acclaimed author – he has written many novels set within the Roman Empire at critical moments in its history; the slave revolt of Spartacus, the Hannibalic wars and the rise to power of Julius Caesar. His latest book, Eagles of War, centres on the disastrous campaign of Publius Varus in Germany in AD 9 which led to the complete annihilation of three legions in the wilds of the Teutoburg forest.
Ben addressed all those studying Latin and Classical Civilisation in Form Four and the Remove. He is a Roman army obsessive who has walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall in full legionary kit! Ben talked with enthusiasm and not a little knowledge about cohorts, centuries, auxiliaries and camps. He arrived dressed as a soldier of the early Republic and proceeded to entertain and inform in equal measure. Ben’s delivery was excellent and the scholars really appreciated his visit.
Classical Association Thursday October 1st 2015
Dr Dunstan Lowe, University of Kent: Monsters in Augustan Culture
Dr Dunstan Lowe from the University of Kent gave a fascinating talk about ancient views on monsters and deformity. He took us all out of our comfort zone, citing some rarely consulted ancient sources in conjunction with 1970s freak show posters from America! His insights on the dual portrayal of Polyphemus in ancient artwork struck a particular chord with sixth form students and staff alike
Cheltenham Literary Festival: The Classics Department and scholars from Form 5 and the 6th Form spent a lot of time either in Montpelier Gardens or in the Town Hall.
Tom Holland Wednesday October 8th: Dynasty – the Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar
We shall have to read DYNASTY to have Tom Holland’s answers, but his talk introduced us to several of the great questions which will always hang over the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Right at the start of Tiberius’ reign, Agrippa Postumus, the only surviving grandson of Augustus was killed; news reached Tiberius on his return to Rome and he seemed to be utterly dumbfounded by the messenger’s report that his instructions had been carried out. Holland believes that this fact has to point to Livia – Tiberius’ mother who may perhaps have had a hand in several premature deceases which eventually led to Tiberius’ accession. The other usual suspects are rounded up – but Augustus is exonerated, though some believe he feared that ‘supporters’ might elevate this inadequate young man to the throne as their puppet and consequently gave an order, to be deferred till news of his own death was published.
Holland’s overriding thesis is that Caligula and Nero, usually denigrated as lunatics and megalomaniacs were actually very sane indeed. They knew what they wanted and how they planned to achieve it. The ancient sources tell of Caligula making his horse a senator; perhaps he was threatening only to do so to illustrate the subservience of that body and its lack of any meaningful role. Nero paraded across the bay of Naples on a long pontoon bridge – a spectacle hugely enjoyed by the people who witnessed it. His performance in musical and racing competitions shows a sense of his realising just what the people wanted.
At the outset, Holland discussed briefly the nature of the main sources; both Tacitus and Suetonius, whom he characterises by their similarities to a couple of modern daily newspapers, lived some while after the events which they recount. They had lived through challenging times, and Tacitus in particular may well have been working through some issues that he had faced during his career. The position of Tacitus himself is another story, though it must have a bearing on his account of the
Dynasty. Like all really interesting questions, most of these issues will not ever admit of a definitive solution
Oliver Taplin October 6th Sophocles: Live and Loud
This was simply a wonderful hour spent in the company of one of the world’s foremost experts in Greek Tragedy. Professor Taplin, formerly Tutor in Classics at Magdalene College, Oxford, spoke eloquently about the sustained relevance of ancient drama for the modern world. Reflecting upon the number of plays that have revisited the Classical world recently (the Oresteia at the Globe and the Almeida, Hecuba at Stratford, Medea at the National), Professor Taplin spoke powerfully about Sophocles’ insistence on the fragility of human happiness and the ways in which truth can collide with ignorance with terrible consequences.
Mary Beard Thursday October 8th Rewriting History
Professor Mary Beard of Newnham College, Cambridge has a new history of Rome, SPQR, published on October 20th. Ancient Rome matters. Its history of empire, conquest, cruelty and excess is something against which we still judge ourselves. Its myths and stories – from Romulus and Remus to the Rape of Lucretia – still strike a chord with us. And its debates about citizenship, security and the rights of the individual still influence our own debates on civil liberty today. SPQR is a new look at Roman history from one of the world’s foremost classicists. It explores not only how Rome grew from an insignificant village in central Italy to a power that controlled territory from Spain to Syria, but also how the Romans thought about themselves and their achievements, and why they are still important to us. Covering 1,000 years of history, and casting fresh light on the basics of Roman culture from slavery to running water, as well as exploring democracy, migration, religious controversy, social mobility and exploitation in the larger context of the empire, this promises to be a definitive history of ancient Rome.
Harry Mount’s Odyssey Sunday October 11th
The Form 5 Gratinists greatly enjoyed Harry Mount’s talk on his journeys across the Mediterranean, following in the footsteps of Odysseus. Informative and reflective, amusing and challenging, Harry Mount proved to be a wonderful raconteur.