September 29th Classical Association

Dr Amie Smith, University of Reading: 5th century Athens: Sculpture and Politics.

Dr Smith’s talk was an interesting introduction to some of the most impressive monuments of democratic Athens, not least the Parthenon. Dr Smith was keen to emphasise the close link between the Persian invasions and the function of much of the sculpture that either stood alone in the Agora or which decorated Athens’ temples. The Tyrannicides, for example, not only commemorate Harmodius and Aristogeiton as democratic freedom-fighters but also serve as a stern warning to those who might have entertained treasonous thoughts in the early 470s BC following the collapse of Xerxes’ invasion. The metopes that decorate the exterior of the Parthenon are an allegorical celebration of the defeat of Persia: through the narration of myth such as the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs, the victory of the forces of civilisation over those of barbarism and disorder are commemorated.

Cheltenham Literary Festival: Saturday October 8th to Tuesday October 11th

As usual there was an impressively Classical hue to the Literature Festival and, as usual, we attended several lectures in the company of many of our scholars.

Mary Beard: SPQR, A new History of Rome

The first Cheltenham Literature Festival Classics talk saw a good number of Sixth Form Classics Department students head to the Town Hall main stage. We found this large auditorium packed full to the brim and Mary Beard spoke with her usual eloquence and insight about her book SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. She suggested that SPQR was the sort of book she had been keen to write for some time, and now felt she had sufficient experience and worldly wisdom to produce, without worrying what other scholars would make of her personal views. Interviewed by Stig Abell, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, she discussed the meaning of Roman citizenship and the benefits it brought to those who held it. She also made the strong case for why some understanding of Rome and its history and culture is important for an educated understanding of British, European and Western society as we know it. People from all over the expanding Roman Empire were incorporated within, and assimilated to, Roman values and ways of life by the widespread bestowal of citizenship and she suggested that there were things to learn by politicians today to cope with the increasing migration of populations into Europe. When asked whom she would invite round for dinner from Roman history, her answer was a surprising no-one for social value and entertainment but Marcus Tullius Cicero (the 1st Century BC orator and statesman) for someone whom she held in high regard! This was an energetic and learned discussion, involving a distinguished academic, who is also probably now the most well-known Classicist in our country. (DRE)

Daisy Dunn on Catullus

On Monday 10th October, we took a group of Lower Sixth Latinists down to the Cheltenham Literature Festival to listen to Daisy Dunn speak on the subject of Catullus’ life, about which she has recently published a book. The talk discussed what aspects of the poet’s life we can infer from his poetry and the writings of his contemporaries, aided by dramatic readings of some of his more famous poems. Daisy gave some insightful comments about Catullus’ life and the pupils found the talk accessible and engaging, which is especially impressive as they had only been introduced to his poetry the week before. Daisy’s enthusiasm for the subject clearly carried across to them and they all commented on her obvious interest in the subject: an excellent lecture enjoyed by all. (GA)

Caroline Alexander on The Iliad

In the first of two talks on Homer’s Iliad, Caroline Alexander, classicist and bestselling author, discussed her own recently published translation of the epic poem: a mammoth project which she has been working on for five years. She explained her method when translating this classic work, describing how she has focused on encapsulating the rhythm and feel of the Greek text in her translation, thus communicating Homer’s poetic style in the English.

In the second session, Georgina Godwin chaired a discussion with Caroline Alexander and Denis James, a serving soldier. Between them, they made some fascinating observations when comparing Homer’s epic version of the battlefield with the realities of war, such as by equating divine intervention in the Iliad to the idea of chance when in combat in the real (and modern) world. During this discussion, they also emphasised the tragedy and human suffering that accompanies warfare, including the impact on those not actively fighting in the battle themselves. One of the most striking moments to take away from these two talks was when Caroline Alexander made it clear that, first and foremost, the Iliad is a tale about war and its horrendous consequences – something which seems to its readers so blindingly obvious that we can sometimes forget it. (FES)

Cambridge Ancient Greek Play Thursday October 13th

The 2016 Cambridge Greek Play was a double bill of Sophocles’ ANTIGONE and Aristophanes’ LYSISTRATA. We took all those in the Upper 6th studying Classical Civilisation (they are studying Greek Tragedy) and all of our scholars who are studying Ancient Greek from Form 5 and above. It was a terrific day out: Cambridge in the autumnal sun is a beautiful place – we managed to meet up with some Old Decanians in the Eagle for lunch: Steve Whitford who is studying Classics at King’s College when he is not singing (!), Bella Stuart-Bourne, also studying Classics at Murray-Edwards and Rebecca Daltrey who is reading English at Murray-Edwards. The Antigone provoked a great deal of argument amongst our 6th formers as they are familiar with the play. The acting was of a good quality throughout whilst the Chorus was very effective. The Lysistrata was a bawdy romp from beginning to end.

Review from Varsity Online:

Take two plays, not forgetting to include three suicides and a sex strike, wait 2,500 years, add some freshly composed music, several roles of barbed wire, and as many pink feathers as possible, then throw in Donald Trump and Boris Johnson tap dancing, and what do you get? The Cambridge Greek Play, of course!

Every three years Cambridge classicists and thespians take part in a Greek play in the original language, and the 2016 production certainly does not disappoint. Particularly impressive was that the same actors played both the tragedy Antigone, in which Creon orders Antigone’s execution and accidentally causes the suicides of his son and wife, as well as the raucous comedy Lysistrata, in which Lysistrata persuades the women of Athens and Sparta to take part in a sex strike, forcing their husbands to stop the war. So for example Orlando Gibbs, speaking in wonderfully natural Greek, sobbed over the bodies of his wife and son in a emotional interpretation of the part of Creon, and then 20 minutes later as the Spartan messenger, replete with fake tan, blond wig and strong American accent, proclaimed ‘nobody has more respect for women that me’, before rubbing light sabers with the Athenian Magistrate, a.k.a a certain foreign secretary, also sporting a blond wig and played with great gusto by Zak Ghazi-Torbati. It was hard to tell whether the pair were getting more cheers or boos, but there was certainly plenty of noise from the audience.

November 24th Classical Association

Dr Nick Lowe Royal Holloway College: What Makes a Greek Tragedy?

Almost 80 students and their teachers crammed into the Prince Michael Hall for a wonderful lecture in which Dr Lowe disabused his audience of a number of assumptions about how one should approach a Greek tragedy – he discredited the cherished idea of the tragic hero whose flawed moral character precipitates disaster and, in doing so, he restored to its original Aristotelian meaning, the item of vocabulary that has so vexed scholars over the centuries: hamartia – simply a mistake or an error of judgement caused through ignorance. It was good to see colleagues and their charges from both the English and Modern Languages departments, testimony to the continuing importance of Greek Tragedy in our cultural lives.

November 29th Form 5 Latin and Greek Scholars’ Symposium

This was a wonderful evening in which the Form 5 Latin and Greek scholars were treated to a Greek-style meal, expertly prepared by the canteen staff. It was then straight to the department and four presentations on aspects of the Classical world that don’t reach examination boards and their prescriptions. JMA spoke about an iconic Roman statue, the Augustus of Prima Porta, DRE chose his three most important Athenian politicians (Solon, Pisistratus and Cleisthenes), FES discussed the attitudes of the ancients towards animals and GA entertained us with a talk on ancient medicine.