Select Page

The Institute of Classical Studies

Sharing and promoting research in Classics.

Researching Neo-Latin poetry at the ICS

ICS Research Associate Dr. Caroline Spearing shares with us her journey through teaching and researching Classics, and talks about her research into Neo-Latin poetry.


My path to Research Associateship at the ICS has been a long and meandering one. After graduating from Oxford with a BA in Classics more years ago than I am prepared to admit, I spent a couple of years half-heartedly working towards a DPhil in ethnographical writing of the Second Sophistic, with a particular focus on pachyderms, under the endlessly patient tutelage of Ewen Bowie. Financial exigencies drew me into the murky world of A level resit teaching, where, in those far-off innocent days, completely unqualified and inexperienced graduate students were unleashed on the casualties of the British education system in return for rather less than today’s minimum wage. Over the course of a year, I was roundly assured that the Nile was in Britain, asked whether Octavian was ‘top geezer’ in Rome before Augustus came along, and had a student removed from my care when passers-by unaccountably objected to his promenading down the Cornmarket stark naked.

Teaching, I decided, was my passion and my vocation. A fortuitous set of circumstances led to a maternity cover at Abingdon School, where the headmaster declared on my last day, with finely-judged ambiguity, that ‘no one who has been taught by Miss Butler [as I then was] will ever forget the experience.’ I then joined Winchester College as one of a very few female members of staff and the only one under thirty. While the boys bombarded me with cheap innuendo and obscene graffiti, the redoubtable and exacting Stephen Anderson – now Rodewald Lector at New College, Oxford – succeeded in turning me into a plausibly competent classroom practitioner capable of explaining the difference between the gerund and the gerundive without turning a hair and equipped with an impressive repertoire of classics-related jokes.[1]

After eight years, I moved to St Paul’s School as Head of Classics. Here I became accustomed to deflecting intrusive questioning about my personal life by claiming that my lawyer boyfriend – now my husband – ran a whelk stall in the East End, a policy that spectacularly backfired when the High Master’s Secretary attempted to engage him in small talk about the wet fish trade. After six years among the flower of metropolitan youth I decided that it was time for a foray into senior management, and became deputy head of a co-educational school in South-East London. Five years of spreadsheets, lesson observations, detentions, and meetings which felt like detentions, the whole interrupted only by maternity leave, left me in need of a break from an education system which felt increasingly like a treadmill.

My inclination was to spend the foreseeable future baking cupcakes, but Stephen Anderson and the late and greatly missed James Morwood persuaded me to go to see their friend Roland Mayer with a view to studying for an MA in Classics at King’s College London. After an hour of Roland’s urbane charm I was quite happily filling in an application form and, to my relief, was accepted onto the course. A particular draw for me was the opportunity to study Neo-Latin poetry, on a module taught by Victoria Moul and Gesine Manuwald: after all my years teaching canonical classical texts in minute linguistic detail, I thought it would be rather exciting to see how those texts had inspired Latin literature in very different times and places.

Abraham Cowley 1618-1667 (after William Faithorne 1616-1691)

Nor was I wrong. A few weeks into the course we were asked to prepare ‘Violet’ and ‘Water-Lily’ from Abraham Cowley’s Plantarum Libri Sex (1668). I was less than immediately enthusiastic about a text which appeared to be a didactic work on botany. But these expectations were almost instantly overturned. ‘Violet’ is a Horatian ode, in grandiose Sapphics, which references some of Horace’s most elevated political panegyric in order to celebrate the pharmacological powers of a tiny flower. ‘Water-Lily’, by contrast, is Cowley’s attempt at an Ovidian metamorphosis, the story, in elegiac couplets, of a minor goddess who falls in love with Hercules and enjoys a single night with him before he departs on his mission to rid the world of monsters. Tormented by jealous grief, she weeps inconsolably until Juno takes pity and turns her into a water-lily, floating on a pool of her own tears. In a final twist, the flower explains that the antaphrodisiac powers of her root are designed to prevent other women from suffering a similar fate. When Victoria told us that this 7,000-line work had received very little scholarly attention, and was ripe for a PhD, I felt the hand of History on my shoulder.

Charles I and Henrietta Maria, with Charles, Prince of Wales and Princess Mary. Anthony van Dyck 1599-1641 (1633)

I was awarded my PhD in September 2017, and know that I am extremely fortunate to feel no less passionate about the Plantarum than I did at the outset. Abraham Cowley (1618-1667) was an immensely successful English poet whose work is very little read today, but which deserves far wider study; he was also a rather less successful spy, working for Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, during the English Civil War. The Plantarum is his longest surviving work in English or Latin, the product of the early Restoration, when the poet, failing to secure an appointment in the brave new world of Charles II’s court, made a very public retirement to the countryside. Often described as a didactic poem, it instead resists classification: among its more remarkable features are a debate between plants as to the purpose of menstruation; a contest between fruit trees of the Old and New Worlds; and a long narrative of the Civil War and Restoration. My thesis aimed to set the work in its Restoration context, looking above all at the ways in which themes and tropes from classical poetry are reworked so as to engage with the social and political issues of mid-seventeenth-century England.

As a Research Associate at the ICS, I am enjoying the opportunity to work up my PhD thesis for publication and to get stuck into a new project, the anthologies of Latin poetry produced by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge to mark major state occasions during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. First of all I want to look at poetry celebrating the marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese Catholic princess forced to accept her bridegroom’s pregnant mistress as her lady-in-waiting. Last but not least, the hic haec hoc joke still gets an annual airing in my undergraduate Latin language class.

[1] Three, of which the hic haec hoc joke is a total corker.

Free access to ICS publications

Dr. Liz Potter, ICS Publications Manager, shares news of a short-term offer inviting readers to access recent issues of the Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies (BICS) for free.

This week the ICS is pleased to offer free access to recent issues of BICS for a limited period from Monday 9th April (marking the closing day of the UK Classical Association conference), and ending on Friday 13th April.

For this period, we are making available the first of our commissioned themed issues:


  • BICS 60-1 (’Roman History: Six Studies for Fergus Millar’) is edited and introduced by Nicholas Purcell. There are articles by Hannah M. Cotton-Paltiel, Avner Ecker, and Dov Gera; T. P. Wiseman; Claudia Moatti; Stéphane Benoist; Ted Kaizer; and Simon Corcoran.
  • BICS 60-2 (‘Varronian Moments’) is edited by Valentina Arena and Fiachra Mac Góráin , and contains pieces by the editors; Giorgio Piras; Grant A. Nelsestuen; Duncan MacRae; Elisabetta Todisco; R. M. A. Marshall; Daniel Hadas; Daniel Vallat; and Wolfgang D. C. de Melo. The issue also has a general index and an index locorum.

While visiting the BICS site, classicists and archaeologists can also refer to our virtual issues on Mycenaean Studies; on Greek law and law courts; and on ancient philosophy — all of this material is free to access at all times. In addition, the BICS Mycenaean Seminar, and some recent BICS Supplements, are available on an Open Access basis on Humanities Digital Library.


Further information about our commissioning cycle for BICS themed issues is available here; all enquiries are very welcome and should be addressed to

Publication exchanges at the ICS library

Library Assistant Christopher Ashill shares some inside information on the way in which the ICS Library/Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies works in partnership with other libraries around the world to augment its collection.

Publication exchanges have always been an important way of acquiring periodicals and books for the Library’s collection. For instance, approximately 67% of the Library’s current periodical titles come by exchange (462 out of a total of 694 titles). Additionally, the Library is privileged to receive monographic publications from over 150 exchange partners. The total value of publications (periodicals and monographs) received by the Library on exchange amounted to £24,690 in 2017.

The Library’s exchange partners currently include libraries, museums, universities, professional associations and individual scholars in 50 countries worldwide, including organisations such as the Classical Society of Japan (Kyoto), the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Warsaw), and the Instituto de Filología Clásica at the Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina.[1]

In exchange for receiving periodicals and some monographs for the collection, the Library reciprocates by sending the printed copy of the Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies and/or publications of the Roman Society and Hellenic Society.

Many of the exchange partnerships have been enjoyed for several decades, but the Library is also pleased to foster new exchange relationships of mutual benefit. As a result, the exchange programme serves to foster a spirit of goodwill and friendly co-operation with the Library’s exchange partners worldwide.

Editor’s note: The library is currently running a fundraising campaign, further details of which can be found in this post.


[1] A full list of the countries where we have exchange partners is as follows: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the USA.

Servi Publici: Everybody’s Slaves

Dr. Franco Luciani (Newcastle University) is Marie-Sklodowska-Curie Fellow on the research project ‘Servi Publici: Everybody’s Slaves’ (SPES). From April to September 2017 he was a Visiting Fellow at the ICS. Franco told us more about the project and the work he carried out during his stay here.

The SPES project sets out to provide a full-scale reconsideration of the position of public slaves in the Roman society through a multidisciplinary and comparative study. Slavery played a central role in the economy and society of Rome: slaves performed all kinds of manual labour and domestic services, and some of them even had highly skilled professions. Besides private slaves, owned by private masters, and imperial slaves, who were property of the emperors, there also existed the so-called ‘public slaves’ (servi publici): these were non-free individuals, not owned by a private person, but by a community. Their masters (domini) were the Roman people as a whole (populus Romanus), in the case of Rome, or the entire citizen body of a municipality (municipes) or a colony (coloni), whether in Italy or in the provinces. Therefore, public slaves in Rome were under the authority of the Roman Senate, whilst in other cities they were under that of the local council.

A number of literary and epigraphic sources from the Republican period and the first three centuries of the Empire show that public slaves in Rome were mostly employed as attendants to priests, and magistrates. Servi publici also worked as custodians of public buildings, such as archives, temples, basilicas, and libraries. From Augustus to Claudius, a familia publica aquaria, comprised of 240 public slaves, was used for the maintenance of the water conduits. Other servi publici carried out generic public works (opera publica).

Silver cup from Boscoreale, also known as ‘Tiberius cup’ (end of the Tiberian age): a public slave is placing a victory crown over Tiberius’ head.

The epigraphic evidence from Italy and the provinces attests that during the Empire public slaves were employed in the cities for very similar tasks as the ones described for Rome. They were in fact commonly employed as attendants of magistrates. On the contrary, their involvement within the religious sphere as attendants of priests and aeditui is scarcely attested. Many inscriptions from different parts of the Empire show servi publici acting in the administration of the cities as treasurers (arcarii), transactors (actores), and archivists (tabularii). Other epigraphic sources suggest that public slaves could be employed in the management of markets (macella) and granaries as horrearii. Some servi publici were probably also involved in the Trajan’s ‘welfare’ program of alimenta. Finally, in some cities of the Empire servi publici were entrusted with the task of maintaining the public baths, as well as of producing lead-pipes and bricks.

The purpose of my research stay at the Institute of Classical Studies was to acquire the necessary skills for and lay the foundation of the online database for the project. The database will gather every relevant piece of information for the study of the public slaves and freedmen in Rome and in the municipalities of the Empire in a clearly organised way. Following the model of the online edition of Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania (IRT), each epigraphic text will conform to the EpiDoc and EFES guidelines. As a Visiting Fellow at the ICS I conducted a crucial part of the SPES project under the mentorship of Dr Gabriel Bodard. In order to gain the necessary knowledge to build the EpiDoc schema-based database, I attended an EpiDoc training during the first week of my Fellowship (April 3-7, 2017). Then, I organised many textual (literary, legal, and epigraphic) sources relevant for the study of public slaves and freedmen in Rome and in the municipalities of the Empire in a database conformed to the EpiDoc guidelines.

During my Visiting Fellowship, I also used the very useful and rich library of the ICS, which allowed me to complete the rough drafts of two articles for edited books, to write an article for a journal, and five chapters for a handbook and to prepare a poster for the 15th International Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy. I also prepared the book proposal of my monograph, which will be the main outcome of the SPES research project. In addition I enjoyed the dynamic and stimulating cultural life of the Institute by attending the Ancient History Summer Seminar Series 2017, the Director’s seminar Series, and the Digital Classicists Series. I myself delivered a seminar within the Director’s seminar Series, in order to present an ongoing aspect of my research project: this event gave me the opportunity to receive helpful feedback and comments from advanced students and colleagues.

My collaboration with the ICS continues also now that the secondment has finished: I have received an ICS Conference Grant for the organisation of the forthcoming event entitled ‘Being Everybody’s Slaves. Public Slavery in Ancient and Modern World’. The conference, which will take place at Newcastle University on March 22nd-24th 2018, will bring some of the most prominent experts of ancient and modern slavery to discuss central methodological issues and focus on the interpretation of the concept of ‘public’ slavery. Its remit goes well beyond Roman public slavery as it encourages the collaboration between experts working on different historical periods. The conference aims to provide a methodologically up-to-date discussion of the nature of the phenomenon, introducing for the first time a theoretical and comparative approach encompassing public slavery in the Roman period as well as some early modern and modern manifestations of it.

I am planning to come back to the ICS very soon!

by Franco Luciani


The conference which Franco mentions is part of the ‘Servi Publici: Everybody’s Slaves (SPES)’ project, which is based at Newcastle University, and has received funding from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (H2020-MSCA-IF-2015) under grant agreement No 704716.


Information about the ICS Visiting Fellowships scheme is available here.

Celebrating the ICS Mycenaean seminar

ICS Publications Manager Dr. Liz Potter shares news of recent publications connected to the long-running Mycenaean Seminar.

At the ICS we’ve recently been celebrating the long history of the Mycenaean Seminar. We’ve made a virtual issue of The Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies (BICS) available via our journal homepage: this provides free access to papers on Mycenaean topics which have appeared in the journal from the 1950s to the 2000s. And in a new development, we’ve also rejuvenated the publication of The BICS Mycenaean Seminar, making it a separate annual publication on the Humanities Digital Library. This is an Open Access publishing platform developed by the School of Advanced Study: all material is free to download. Three of the nine Institutes of the School currently have Open Access publications on the platform: ourselves, the Institute of Historical Research and the Institute of Advanced Legal Study.

The BICS Mycenaean Seminar

The Mycenaean Seminar series has been convened by the Institute of Classical Studies since the 1950s. It’s still going strong: the seminar series for 2017-18 is half way through its cycle, and the next lecture is on 21 February, and is sponsored by the Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP).

In its early stages, the seminars focused largely on the exciting new research enabled by the decipherment of Linear B. The series now covers Aegean Prehistory in general, and is well attended by subject specialists from across the world.

The summaries of the seminars have been published as part of BICS since 1963. Put end to end, the summaries provide a rich resource for Aegean Prehistory, and often provide the only citable instance of new research projects, until full archaeological publication becomes possible.

Starting with the 2015-16 series, the Mycenaean summaries are being published separately online. They retain their original character and their close connection with BICS, and become far more widely available as Open Access publications via the Humanities Digital Library. Click these links to read The BICS Mycenaean Seminar 2015-16 and The BICS Mycenaean Seminar 2016-17.

Virtual Issue on Mycenaean Studies

Our Virtual Issue on Mycenaean Studies on the BICS website is introduced by Andrew Shapland, Chair of the Mycenaean Studies Advisory Committee. All items in the virtual issue are free to access for everyone.

Among other things, the issue contains a complete list of all the Mycenaean Seminars which have been run at the ICS since 1954. There are articles by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick from the 1950s, which showcase research on Linear B. There are also more recent papers on a range of themes in Mycenaean and Minoan studies, by J. T. Killen, Nicoletta Momigliano, Peter Warren, Sp. Iakovidis, A. Dakouri-Hild, Susan Sherratt and Cynthia W. Shelmerdine. A final paper by John Bennet provides a useful retrospective, looking back at ‘60+ years of ‘reading’ the Aegean Late Bronze Age’.

There are also links via the virtual issue to all papers given at the Mycenaean Seminar which were subsequently written up in BICS; these are available in their entirety to BICS subscribers.

We hope these publications will prove accessible and useful for all.

by Liz Potter

Researching Hades at the ICS

Dr. Diana Burton, (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand) shares her thoughts on her time as Visiting Fellow at the ICS.

Last year I had the pleasure of being a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies for three months, to further my research on Hades.

I first became acquainted with the Institute when I was a doctoral student at UCL. At that time, the Library was still housed in Gordon Square, and was a rabbit warren of tall narrow stacks with the occasional desk tucked into odd corners.  Those who worked in it at that time will remember with both fondness and frustration the old catalogue system, which consisted of slips of paper pasted into huge guard-books. I had never worked in any library quite like it, and I loved it from the moment I first set foot in it.

Detail from an Attic red-figure amphora (c. 470 BCE) depicting Hades (Louvre Museum). Image credit Wikimedia Commons.

I still love it. The current space has, shall we say, a bit less character than the old one (that’s a good thing, particularly in the case of the catalogue), but it’s a lovely place to work, and houses a wonderful collection, with pretty much everything I want on its shelves (I feel a mild sense of triumph in actually identifying an item they don’t have, since it almost never happens). And, as Robert Fowler notes in an earlier post, the librarians are wonderful!  My research on Hades encompasses all aspects of the god down to the fourth century BC, and it took me literally from one end of the Library to the other, from the texts and commentaries near the entrance, detouring into the inscriptions, thence to the art and archeology sections in the main room, and into Greek religion down near the far end. My plan for this leave was to focus on Attic vase-painting, but I was sidetracked into the relationship between Zeus and Hades in Greek tragedy, and from that to the role and function of Zeus Chthonios (about whom we know very little) and his relationship to Hades/Plouton. There is an interesting and, on the face of it, unexpected affinity between Hades, the lord of the dead, and Zeus, the lord of pretty much everything else. In tragedy, this link is often focused around justice and retribution; the Erinyes act as the binding agent between the two gods, since they ‘belong’ to Hades, but their role as affiliates them with Zeus, and it is not always clear which of the two is setting them in motion.

One of the pleasures of working in the Library is the smorgasboard of seminars and lectures, and the opportunity to encounter friends and colleagues. As well as chance encounters among the periodicals, I gave a talk in the ICS Lunchtime Seminars during my last week in London (a slightly hectic week in which I delivered three papers in three cities in three days). As always at the Institute, I learnt a great deal from everyone who was present; I slightly regret that it was my last week, and I didn’t have time to follow up the suggestions offered. I’m now back in Wellington, pestering the interloan service and regretting the temporary closure of the floor of the library here which I use most often. I will certainly be back.

by Diana Burton

Details of the ICS Visiting Fellows scheme for scholars based at universities in the UK and abroad are available here.

The campaign for HARL

This week we invited Professor Robert Fowler to share news of the ongoing campaign to raise funds for the Hellenic and Roman Library (HARL).

HARL is the Hellenic and Roman Library: the part of the Institute Library contributed by the Hellenic and Roman Societies. Those two organisations had already built up superb libraries since their foundation in 1879 and 1910 respectively, but when they joined with the University of London in 1953 in the new Institute of Classical Studies, the result was a truly world-leading collection. And it gets better all the time. There are now over 150,000 volumes including an important Rare Books section, and 22,000 bound volumes of periodicals. We subscribe to some 700 titles, and add 3000 new books every year. That these are all available on open shelves is one of the most attractive features of the Library. Increasingly, physical holdings are supplemented by electronic and digitised resources. Add the wonderful librarians, and you have the perfect library experience.

It’s the result of sustained effort for well over a century. There were times when it could have turned out quite differently. Certainly when the Hellenic Society decided to purchase its single bookcase in 1880, it could hardly have foreseen where it would all lead. One clever stratagem adopted by both Societies was to exploit the success and prestige of their two journals, Journal of Hellenic Studies (JHS) and Journal of Roman Studies (JRS), both of which receive many books gratis from publishers anxious to have their books reviewed in such prominent places. Normally in our game, reviewers get to keep the book: it’s the only tangible compensation for their labour. Uniquely, JHS and JRS and Britannia ask reviewers to return the book after writing the review for deposit in the Library. It is a mark of the standing of the journals, and the Library, that scholars have always been willing to do that. Thus the Library acquires a handsome stock of free books every year. Another ploy is to exchange copies of the journals for copies of other journals published by similar, non-profit organisations.

When the Combined Library – HARL plus the University – was created, the University was able to provide journals and reference works, as well as books and other materials. A coordinated effort began to address gaps in the collection, finding the best editions of classical authors, and filling the breaks in periodical series, including those due to the war years. Holdings in archaeology, history, epigraphy and papyrology were strengthened. A joint management structure ensured that the acquisitions policy was kept up to date and fit for purpose, and that the right books were purchased every year. Wise advice from generations of committee members and librarians has produced the riches that readers now find everywhere within easy reach.

The Societies have recently signed a new 25-year agreement with the University, which is a sign of the firm commitment of all parties to the maintenance of this splendid partnership. The costs have been rising, though, and the Societies are now facing annual deficits to keep up their end. By the end of the agreement, if not before, they will have exhausted their reserves. So we have launched a Campaign, with the aim not only of preserving the status quo, but of enhancing and improving the facilities for readers, including remote users. In working towards these objectives, we enjoy the unstinting support of Greg Woolf, the Institute Director, and all his staff. Together we want to make the Library a global information hub for what’s happening in Classic and Ancient History, and a portal to resources of all kinds. We also want to find more funds to assist users, especially students, to travel to the Library and explore its wealth first-hand. Wonderful though digital resources are, nothing quite replaces the experience of browsing the shelves.

You can find out about the many ways you can contribute to the Campaign by visiting HARL’s website here. Apart from donations, large or small, you can also attend events, introduce friends, and spread the word for us on social media. Please help us to preserve and enhance the future of a great Library.

by Robert Fowler

The first Dorothy Tarrant Lecture

Dorothy Tarrant, by Elliott & Fry (3 March 1949). Source: National Portrait Gallery

On Wednesday 24th January 2018, the ICS hosted the first Dorothy Tarrant Lecture, which was delivered by Prof. Anthony Corbeill (University of Virginia), 2017-18 Dorothy Tarrant Fellow at the Institute. This newly-inaugurated visiting fellowship for scholars from outside the UK was set up to commemorate the contribution of a pioneering figure in UK Classics; the holders (of whom there are two this academic year, with Prof. Joshua Katz of Princeton joining us later in 2018) spend a minimum of six weeks conducting their research at the Institute and deliver the named lecture.

Dorothy Tarrant (1885-1973), was the first woman to be appointed as Professor of Greek in the UK – in 1936 she became head of department and Professor at Bedford College, part of the University of London. Much of her scholarship focused on Plato, with her best known work being her 1928 publication, The Hippias Major Attributed to Plato; she was also president of the Hellenic Society from 1953-1956. Along with other leading women classicists Tarrant has recently been the focus of an initiative by the Women’s Classical Committee (UK) to increase the visibility of women scholars on Wikipedia. This new fellowship named in Tarrant’s honour also comes at a particularly fitting time, as 2018 marks 150 years since women were first admitted to sit exams by the University of London; the University is marking this anniversary with a whole series of events connected to its Leading Women campaign celebrating the contribution of women to the University.

Anthony Corbeill, 2017-18 Dorothy Tarrant Fellow at the ICS

Prof. Corbeill’s lecture, entitled ‘Earthquakes, Etruscan Priests, and Roman Politics in the Age of Cicero’, gave an insight into his current research as he prepares, with Andrew Riggsby (University of Texas at Austin) a new commentary on Cicero’s De Haruspicum Responsis, a text which offers a unique insight into the process of interpreting a prodigium (‘prodigy’ or ‘omen’) at Rome – in this case, the earth tremors which were heard near Rome in 56 BCE.