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The Institute of Classical Studies

Sharing and promoting research in Classics.

The goddess and damned wrath

Professor Joshua Katz (Princeton) is one of this year’s Dorothy Tarrant Visiting Fellows at the ICS. Here he shares an insight into his research into the language of Archaic Greek poetry from a comparative/historical linguistic perspective.

On sabbatical from my home institution, I am spending April and May at the Institute of Classical Studies, where the award of a Dorothy Tarrant Fellowship has made it possible for me to think about the language of Archaic Greek poetry surrounded by thousands of books and in the company of friends and colleagues old and new. I’d given a couple of talks at the ICS in past years but never before used the library. What a gem the place is—though on good days, of which there are increasingly many as early spring heads into summer, the leafy sunshine of Russell Square can exert an irresistible appeal. I am going to miss the view of the back of the British Museum from my office (if you have not made it to the exhibition ‘Charmed Lives in Greece: Chika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor’, go now!), the ability of the librarians to find within minutes a book that had unaccountably (and, let me stress, most unusually) been shelved in an entirely different room from where it was supposed to be, and the good humor of Greg Woolf, Valerie James, and so many others.

My recent publications have largely been devoted to the language of Archaic Greek poetry. In particular, I am interested in bringing linguistic and literary work together by demonstrating to literary scholars how an understanding of the deep linguistic background of Homer and Hesiod can be of more than narrow interest while at the same time pointing out to linguists that there is a wide world out there beyond the asterisk. In a paper titled ‘Toward an Indo-European Commentary on Hesiod’, soon to appear in a series published by Hempen Verlag, I offer a sample of what a specifically linguistic commentary on the first two verses of the Works & Days might look like: a commentary that examines an eighth- or seventh-century BCE poem from the perspective of Proto-Indo-European, the ancestor of languages from Greek to Latin to Sanskrit to Russian to Welsh to English that was spoken, probably on the Pontic-Caspian steppe, around 6000 or 5500 years ago. Comparative philologists, who have as one of their tasks to use established linguistic tools to reconstruct this proto-language, can be comically methodical, in a snail-like way, and one may wonder just how long it will take me to get to verse 10, not to say 100, not to say 828. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that in my Tarrant Lecture, ‘The Goddess and Damned Wrath: How a Linguist Reads the Iliad’, held at the ICS on 8 May, I talked about the first, second, third, and sixth words of the poem that is conventionally considered the start of Western literature, thereby instantiating my not wholly tongue-in-cheek answer to the question, ‘So, how does a Linguist Read the Iliad?’: ‘Slowly!’


Illustration from John Flaxman’s (1755-1826) Iliad (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

My talk extended some ideas about the start of the Iliad that I first presented in a pair of papers published in 2013, ‘Gods and Vowels’ (revised version in press) and ‘The Hymnic Long Alpha: Μούσαϛ ἀείδω and Related Incipits in Archaic Greek Poetry’, as well as giving a taste of a third one that is coming out shortly, ‘Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά and the Form of the Homeric Word for “Goddess”’. My goal was to give a new appreciation of what the beginning of the Iliad does and does not mean, to say something about where it comes from in pre-Greek terms and how it was received (and, as it were, mis-received), and to make a novel proposal about how it was first performed nearly three thousand years ago. More specifically, I hope to have shown the following four things about Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆοϛ | οὐλομένην ‘Of the baneful/damned wrath of Achilles son of Peleus sing, o goddess’.

(1) From the Indo-European perspective, all four of our most archaic hexametric poems — the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Theogony, and the Works & Days — have in their first verse a word that goes back to the Proto-Indo-European root *men- ‘think, engage in mental activity’ or its derivative *mneh2- ‘keep in mind’: forms of Μοῦσα ‘Muse’ in the Odyssey and in the two works of Hesiod, μῆνιν ‘wrath’ (etymologically something like ‘bad-mindedness’) in the Iliad. Indeed, this root underlies the very first syllable of three of them. Furthermore, three of the four are followed by a form of *h2weid- ‘sing’, as in ἀείδειν ‘to sing’ and ἀοιδή ‘song’, and three of the four main Homeric Hymns, as well as a number of the shorter ones, both begin and end with forms of *men-/mneh2- and/or *h2weid- (e.g., the Hymn to Apollo, which opens with μνήσομαι ‘let me remember’ [from *mneh2-] and finishes with the common hymnic closer μνήσομ’ ἀοιδῆϛ ‘I shall remember a song’). The two main roles of the Muse-inspired bard in an oral culture are to be the memory of the people (the Muses’ mother is Μνημοσύνη ‘Memory’, likewise from *mneh2-) and to sing of that memory. We are thus able to reconstruct the collocation *men- + *h2weid- as a pre-Greek poetic incipit, an idea whose implications for such matters as genre will need to be worked out carefully.

(2) The alternative opening to the Iliad associated with the Athenian book collector Apellicon of Teos (d. 84 BCE) goes like this: Μούσαϛ ἀείδω καὶ Ἀπόλλωνα κλυτότοξον ‘Of the Muses I sing, and Apollo of the famed bow’. As we now understand, the first two words of the so-called ‘Old Iliad’, which bring us to the caesura, are etymologically equivalent to Μῆνιν ἄειδε.

Achilles and Agamemnon: Roman mosaic from Pompeii (Naples National Archaeological Museum). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

(3) The etymologically unexpected long initial vowel in ἀείδω (vis-à-vis ἄειδε, with a short one) is an instance of a hitherto unnoticed phenomenon by which the bard calls his audience to attention by elongating the most resonant of the Greek vowels: the ‘hymnic long alpha’, as I call it. Once we have noted that the goddess at the start of the Iliad is the Muse and that it requires adding the word θεά to establish metrical and semantic as well as etymological equivalence between Μούσαϛ ἀείδω and Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, then we may suggest that the likewise difficult-to-explain long alpha in θεά, found here and throughout Homer, is likewise an instance of this same phenomenon. If this is correct, we have evidence not only for a detail of Archaic performance but also for the influence of that oral performance practice on written text.

(4) Finally, the enjambed first word of the second verse, οὐλομένην, supposedly a middle participle of ὄλλυμαι ‘perish’, agrees grammatically and forms a ring with the first word of the first verse, μῆνιν. It is semantically problematic: the ‘active’ translation ‘baneful, murderous’ is difficult to justify since the verb is in the middle voice; on the other hand, the ‘mediopassive’ translation ‘damned, doomed’ don’t make much sense as a description of Achilles’ wrath. A common solution is that the meaning ‘damned’ has been transferred from the optative of wish ὄλοιτο ‘may he perish!’ Mine is very different: the familiar feminine accusative singular aorist middle participle of οὐλόμενοϛ was not originally a participle at all but has replaced οὐλομενήν (note the different accent), the Arcado-Cypriot feminine accusative singular form of the otherwise unknown adjective οὐλομενήϛ ‘destructive-minded’, a compound of οὖλοϛ ‘destructive’ and μένοϛ ‘force, passion’ (cf. εὐμενήϛ ‘well-minded, kindly’ and δυσμενήϛ ‘ill-minded, hostile’) whose second member goes back in Proto-Indo-European to none other than the root *men-. In other words, μῆνιν … οὐλομένην is a hidden figura etymologica ‘destructive-minded bad-mindedness’.

The next word of the Iliad is the relative pronoun ἥ. I doubt that there is anything of broad interest to say about it. But the poem has 15,693 verses, and I invite others to join me in uncovering its linguistic gems.

by Joshua Katz

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.

by Caroline Spearing

[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.

by Christopher Ashill

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.