The Institute of Classical Studies
Sharing and promoting research in Classics.
Dr. Liz Gloyn reports on her on-going partnership with visual artist Howard Hardiman to retell Greek myth in BSL.
One thing that classicists know is the power of myth. So many of our students and the general public first encounter and come to love the classics through the stories of Greece and Rome; the continued popularity of retellings of myth, both classics like those of Robert Graves and the D’Aulaires and more contemporary versions like Stephen Fry’s recent Mythos and Troy, speak to the strength that myth still has, both in terms of cultural capital and narrative force. But what if these stories aren’t accessible to you?
While the Greek myths have been translated into multiple languages, as far as I am aware there are so far no attempts to make them accessible in British Sign Language. According to the British Deaf Association, 151,000 people in the UK use BSL, and 87,000 of them are Deaf; for many, BSL will be their first or preferred language. I have been working in partnership with Howard Hardiman to create video pieces of performance poetry in BSL which tell stories based on classical myth, and thus make these stories accessible to an audience which uses BSL. Our work also seeks to highlight that we can only ever know classical myths in translation, by reanimating the narrative through the physicality of a silent language.
Our previous collaboration produced two videos, one capturing the transformation of Harmonia and Cadmus into serpents [http://howardhardiman.com/harmonia/] and the other offering a long-form retelling of the Callisto myth [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=535pc6qWhn0&t]. The experience of working together in preparing these videos and working with the Deaf actors who performed them helped us learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t; for instance, the Callisto piece was far too long, while the focus of the Harmonia/Cadmus piece on a single element of the myth, spoken by Harmonia, had much better pacing and energy. We also wanted to give the language used a suitably archaic tone, which led to some fascinating discussions; the sign for ‘king’ uses the shape of a modern crown, which was totally inappropriate for archaic Greece, so we needed to come up with a way of communicating ‘king’ using the flexibility and responsiveness of BSL.
Our approach for these pieces had been to create an English working script and then consult with the Deaf actors about the text to turn it into a BSL script. We decided this wasn’t the best way to approach the issue, and instead wanted to produce both a working English script and a roughed-out BSL script, performed by Howard, as a basis for creating a more polished performance piece. The ICS Public Engagement Grant supported the development of this working script for a short monologue spoken by the Minotaur in the Labyrinth at some point before meeting Theseus; the result is available at [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YGYHB4hwuM&feature=youtu.be]. Our academic collaboration for this piece focused on the nature of thread and spinning in the ancient world, which became the dominant imagery for exploring the story and the nature of the labyrinth and myth itself. We also worked on developing a visual lexicon for the Minotaur story itself, invoking the wonderful vase painting of Pasiphae breastfeeding the Minotaur on her knee (Paris BnF inv. no. 1066), which fed into both the story and the BSL used to express it.
Our next step will be to work with a Deaf artist to create a formal performance piece, although the COVID-19 pandemic and our personal circumstances mean that will have to happen a little further in the future than we had hoped. We hope to continue collaborating to create a good video library of stories from classical Greek myth, and to explore ways of sharing these with the BSL-using community in the future.
Dr Patty Baker writes about her ICS-funded project to recreate a Roman garden with the Trust for Thanet Archaeology at Quex Park
In February 2020, I was invited to consult with the Trust for Thanet Archaeology about reconstructing a Roman garden because of my research interests in this area. Thanet Archaeological Trust is an educational organization that holds numerous events throughout the year that focus on teaching local schools and the wider public about the archaeology of the region. Many of the visitors and volunteers are keen gardeners, and the trustees want to build on this connection. The project also allows for the garden to become a living exhibition that will change with the seasons, providing future opportunities for visitors and volunteers to see and work on it. The space will also be used for outreach demonstrations and talks.
The Trust is located at the Antoinette Centre, a building with a drive and a rectangular garden located inside Quex Park, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent. Their garden is enclosed on three sides, making it an ideal spot to re-create an ancient peristyle garden.
Roman gardens found in the Bay of Naples were often located at the back of the house and surrounded by walls and covered walkways. Thanet’s is enclosed on three sides by a fence and the exterior walls of two different buildings. The fourth, shorter side is open and allows for easy public access from the drive. Since the garden area is long, we decided to develop only the back area closest to the building’s entrance.
We started the garden construction at the end of March 2020, but were unable to continue with it until the end of May, when the Covid-19 lockdown eased. From June through August, we worked on it three days a week. Volunteers consisted of Trust members, people who live close to the area, and University of Kent students, all listed at the end of this blog.
We are grateful for the Public Engagement fund from the ICS because it enabled us to purchase materials necessary for the construction of a water feature, flower beds, and a pergola that is intended to mimic a Roman peristyle. It enabled us to create an outdoor space that will act as an outdoor teaching and demonstration area, which is proving important because of the limitations placed on public building usage due to Covid-19.
Constructing the Garden
To re-create the Trust’s Roman garden, I based the plan on ancient gardens found in Pompeii and Herculaneum, archaeobotanical remains of seeds, fruits and pollens found in them and Roman fresco paintings of gardens. Although we stuck with the general plan, we altered it slightly as we worked on it.
We included four raised rectangular flower beds in the garden. These ran parallel to the long sides of the encloser, with two placed at the far end and two at the entry. In between the beds, we built a shallow, square water feature, which had a deeper central section to hold a water reed (Arundo donax). The shallow part of the bed was lined with imbrices and tegula from Roman roof tiles that were unearthed at the Trust’s excavation at Abbey Farm Roman Villa, Minster, Kent. The site has been recorded and published, and the tiles were “taking up space”, and this project provided an opportunity to repurpose them. We planted papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) plants between the tiles in the shallow end.
The flower beds were constructed out of wood and were planted with boxwood (buxus) and flowers that grow locally in Kent. We worked with indigenous plants from the region because we questioned what the Romans might have chosen if they settled in different areas of the empire. Although we based the design on gardens found in the Italian peninsula, the plants were based on those that would likely fare better in the British climate. These included a wild iris (Iris foetidissima), sage (Salvia verbenaca), acanthus (Acanthus mollis), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and lavender (Lavandula angustafolia), all of which were growing in the Trust’s garden.
The walkways between the beds were also laid with the Roman tile from Abbey Farm. Since the Romans used spolia in their buildings, we decided that reusing the rooftiles would imitate this practice and would be a significant talking point for visitors. In fact, the volunteers were excited to use them.
At the back end of the garden, we constructed an apsidal border made of box hedge (buxus), behind which we planted a centrally placed grape vine with two fig (Ficus carica) trees on either side of it. We also constructed a small edging border out imbrices. Flat roof tiles were also used to make a circular feature in front of the apse, where an imitation altar and/or incense burner will eventually be placed, as a nod to the religious function of the Roman gardens.
The long fence acted as the back wall to the pergola and was painted black. Long semi-circular poles were attached to the modern concrete fence partitions and painted a Moroccan red, the closest colour we could find to Pompeian red paint. These poles extended a foot or so above the fence and were joined together with crisscrossed willow fence edging to imitate Roman fencing depicted in garden frescos. Round, rustic looking posts were used to imitate front columns and were placed about two feet in front of the semi-circular poles. These were painted white and were attached to the fence with angled wooden slates. A jasmine (Jasminum officinale) plant, already growing along the fence, was retrained to spread along the top of the wooden slats, as a covering for the peristyle walkway.
The front entrance to the garden was bordered with a box hedge. Posts, about three feet high were also placed at the entrance to mimic the continuation of a peristyle colonnade. These were painted white and red in keeping with many Pompeian garden columns.
As the garden is intended for public outreach, we also included wheelchair access, which runs along the side opposite of the pergola and next to the Trust’s building. Posts were also placed along the outside of this entranceway to denote the edge of the garden, and to give the visitor a feeling that they were wandering around the outer edges of the garden similar to how a Roman might have experienced them.
The experimental archaeology was important because it forced us to question how the Romans would have designed their gardens. Although the archaeological remains can help us answer some of our concerns, we often found ourselves asking questions that are not always obvious until something is attempted to be recreated. We questioned the sourcing of plants and materials, the multiple uses of Roman gardens, and how they were experienced.
Two of the questions we returned to often were how did the Romans choose their plants and where did they find them? We speculated that most would have been selected from the local region and were replanted (or seeded) into the household gardens.
The second issue we had to address was that of authenticity. Although it would be a useful experiment to recreate all aspects of the Roman garden with ancient tools and materials, such an undertaking would have been expensive and time consuming. We used an electric drill to construct the pergola, flowerbeds, and water feature. The water feature was lined with pond lining and weed barriers were placed under the walkways and planted features. We also used modern paints, which contain chemical ingredients unknown to the Romans. However, we thought it best to admit to visitors where we had relied on modern conveniences and saw this as a talking point to consider modern and ancient means of construction, decoration and plant cultivation.
Experiencing the garden
The archaeological remains of Roman gardens in the Bay of Naples give us an idea of the sights, sounds, smells, and textures the Romans would have encountered that they thought were beneficial to them. In comparison, environmental psychologists today are finding that both mental and physical health improves when patients encounter green spaces. Aside from the numerous academic questions raised, working in the garden came with its own rewards for our mental and physical wellbeing.
The physical activity and the sensory encounters we had in the garden also made us appreciate not only what it would have been like to be in a household garden in the ancient world, but why they were thought to contribute to benefit the Roman’s health. It is located in a protected area that was regularly warm and sunny in the morning. As the day progressed, it would often get hot, resembling a Mediterranean climate, often making us feel soporific and relaxed. Since the garden is set in a quiet location of the park, it is possible to hear the sounds of birds and the wind through the trees, both of which were calming. Overall, the work was a welcome relief from the uncertainties caused by Covid-19.
In closing, the Trust welcomes anyone interested in visiting the garden or using the space for talks and demonstrations. Further information can be found at http://www.trustforthanetarchaeoygy.org.uk
Dr. Patty Baker, Formerly of the University of Kent, founder of Pax in Natura www.paxinnature.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Ges Moody Director of the Trust for Thanet Archaeology (TAT)
Diana Holmes (TAT)
Linda Byway (TAT)
Liz North (Local Volunteer)
Clare Lanburn (Local Volunteer)
Karl Goodwin (Kent)
Abi Spanner (Durham University)
Martha Carter (Kent)
Kelsey Bennet (Kent)
Ali Hinjosa (Kent)
Maddy Scrabeck (Kent)
Charity Hebert (Kent)
Dr. Todd Mei (www.Philosophy2U.com, Formerly of Kent)
Earlier this summer the ICS hosted a two-day online workshop, ‘Towards a more inclusive Classics’, organised by Prof. Barbara Goff (Reading) and Dr. Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis (St. Andrews). The organisers have since written reports about the event on their own institutional websites: you can access Dr. Petsalis-Diomidis’ piece here, and you can read what Prof. Goff has to say about it here. Meanwhile there is also a reflection on the workshop on the Mixed Up In Classics blog, written by an attendee – you can find this post here.
The primary role that my colleagues and I serve at ICS Digital, as set out in the digital strategy document, is to “provide a point of contact and support for national infrastructure for digital research and teaching in the study of the ancient world, as part of the research promotion and facilitation role of the Institute and the School.” As well as conducting our own research and teaching, our priorities include to “support individual research projects as appropriate, encourage good practice in digital classics across the discipline,” and “align digital research and teaching with the library and publications activities of the Institute.”
ICS Digital (and our colleagues elsewhere in SAS and the University of London) are not a development lab or a Web-hosting service with the capacity to serve as a repository for digital projects and resources that need sustainable archiving and maintenance. The projects we support directly—such as the EpiDoc digital epigraphy community (and EFES publication platform), the Pelagios Network of linked places, SNAP:DRGN person-data standards, Prosopography of the Byzantine World / Connecting Late Antiquities—are through participation in editorial boards, providing a venue for collaboration and community building, or institutional imprimatur. We run or host workshops, working groups and online seminars, contribute to funding applications and new projects, and welcome visiting fellows or academic visitors to the ICS to consult and work on their project plans.
ICS Publications also contribute to the production and dissemination of open access academic content, which is essential in all scholarship, but especially so in digital research, principally through the publication of open access versions of several BICS Supplements, in collaboration with University of London Press. We are also actively exploring the area of “born-digital” supplements, namely digital corpora or other resources with functionality (such as search function, interactive display or dynamic content) that would not be possible on paper or an online PDF copy of a book.
The most important digital classics resources that the ICS have a commitment to support and host are:
- Blog.stoa.org – The Stoa Blog for Digital Classics was set up by Ross Scaife at the University of Kentucky in 2003; in 2005 it also became the official blog of the Digital Classicist. For the decade or so since Dr Scaife’s death in 2008, a few of his friends and colleagues have endeavoured to keep the blog active and online, posting announcements (conferences, jobs, calls for papers, publications), and also encouraging its use as a forum for discussion. It has been the home of a few position papers, pre-press drafts, and at least two articles whose authors decided not to seek traditional publication, and that are therefore cited as published here. An editorial board now further develops this side of the Stoa blog, as a recognised venue for short-form and less-formal publications in and around digital classics and adjacent areas of interest, including digital humanities, cultural heritage, archaeology and world history. In addition to reporting particularly relevant announcements and tables of contents, we especially encourage the posting of opinion pieces, short discussions, reviews, pre-press papers or abstracts, draft presentations for comment, reports, and other original academic or para-academic content.
- Digital Classicist Wiki – The ICS now hosts the Digital Classicist Wiki, a community-edited database of information, questions and commentary on projects, tools, methods and other resources relating to the digital or quantitative study of the ancient world. The site includes nearly 3000 pages edited by 250 registered users, and receives frequent, if irregular, contributions as well as an organized monthly editing sprint, when editors gather to improve the coverage of specific themes. Since the site moved to its new home at the ICS in 2020, a larger editorial board has been convened, with a brief to manage engagement and strategy for the Wiki. Currently Hannah Hungerford, a masters student at KCL, is undertaking a placement funded by the Roman Society, to work on improving the connections between the DC Wiki and library catalogues and review venues, helping to set up links in both directions.
- Current Epigraphy – The Current Epigraphy news and events blog (ISSN 1754-0909) posts announcements, news, publications, reports and reviews relating to the study of Greek and Roman inscriptions, and related topics from the ancient world (including beyond the Mediterranean). In addition to a focus on epigraphy, four of the five lead editors of the site are active developers in the EpiDoc community, and so the blog is especially well-served with digital epigraphy, digital humanities, and TEI XML news and content.
These sites are all venues for publication and discussion, and resources for discovering tools, projects and methods in Digital (and conventional) Classics. We always welcome collaboration and proposals for future projects, or suggestions for items to post or review on either of the blogs or in the Wiki.
Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, in 2020 we have been able to make two special awards for public engagement projects which share research in Classics (broadly defined) with wider publics. The field of entries was exceptionally strong, and the members of the judging panel were impressed by the quality of all applications and the commitment which applicants showed to sharing their work beyond academia.
We are delighted to announce that the winners were as follows:
* Dr. Ersin Hussein (Swansea University) for ‘Egypt and Its Neighbours’, a partnership with Swansea’s Egypt Centre (in collaboration with Collections Access Manager Dr. Ken Griffin) engaging local communities with issues relating to cultural identity and diversity.
* Dr. Sally Waite and Dr. Susanna Phillippo (Newcastle University) for ‘Greece Recreated’, which builds on collaborations in the North East of England involving museums, schools, and the English Heritage property Belsay Hall.
The winning projects will each receive £1100 to spend on the future development of their public engagement activities.
The judging panel consisted of Dr. Emma Bridges (Institute of Classical Studies), Dr. Emma Cole (University of Bristol), Dr. April Pudsey (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Dr. Henry Stead (University of St. Andrews).
The ICS will host an online awards event on Thursday 10th September at 4.30pm, when the winners will share more details about their projects. The event is free to attend and all are welcome, but booking is essential: for full details and to reserve a space please visit this page.
Dr. Andriana Domouzi shares her experience of putting together a theatre project which was supported by one of the ICS’s small grants for public engagement.
On the 9th November 2019, theatre company Cyborphic produced a fully reconstructed version of Euripides’ fragmentary tragedy Melanippe Wise in a Staged Reading at the Hope Theatre in Angel, London. The project, which consisted of the Staged Reading and a workshop series that led to it, was – to my knowledge – the first attempt at a theatrical reconstruction of this Euripidean lost play worldwide. The new play is based on my doctoral research and was written by playwright Dr Christos Callow Jr, who is also a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Derby. The series of workshops ‘Lost Greek Tragedy: Staging the Fragmented & the Fantastic’ that we led at the Cockpit theatre in Marylebone on the 26th and 27th October 2019 were the first public engagement activities we had organised around the Melanippe Wise project, aiming to familiarise non-specialists with the classical research around fragmentary Greek tragedies and the creative process that can be followed to reconstruct such plays, using Melanippe Wise as a case study. The workshops and the Staged Reading were partially funded by the Institute of Classical Studies’ public engagement grant.
I had originally reconstructed the plot of Melanippe Wise along with that of Melanippe Captive – the other lost Euripidean tragedy based on the relatively unknown and complex Thessalian myth of Melanippe – for my PhD (a commentary with introduction on the fragments and testimonies for both Melanippe tragedies) at Royal Holloway, University of London (completed in 2018; an expanded version is forthcoming with De Gruyter). After founding the theatre company Cyborphic in late 2017, we started working on the new play based on my academic reconstruction of Melanippe Wise. Meanwhile I also organised in June 2018 the academic workshop ‘Reconstructing & Adapting Fragmentary Ancient Greek Tragedy: Methodologies & Challenges for Classicists and Theatre Practitioners’, which highlighted the various methodologies for adapting or reconstructing a fragmentary tragedy; this event was a milestone in my own research on Classical Performance Reception and my approach to reconstructing Melanippe Wise for the stage. Upon completion of my doctorate, I had presented Christos with a detailed structure of the reconstructed tragedy and the main events of each epeisodion, having placed the surviving fragments in the various epeisodia and stasima; our goal was to integrate the translated fragments within the new play. Christos, who had studied acting in Athens and had lectured on Classical Greek Theatre at the University of Leeds, was very familiar with the qualities and attitudes of Euripidean characters; after he completed the first draft in late 2018, we worked on revising several aspects of the play from January to October 2019, mostly focusing on those areas of the plot that the fragments and testimonies leave relatively dubious.
The public engagement workshops in late October 2019 were well-attended and participants were from different backgrounds: secondary school Drama and English teachers, cultural advisors, directors, actors, playwrights and other professionals and students interested in ancient Greek myth and drama; most did not have prior knowledge of fragmentary Greek tragedy and attended the workshops eager to gain access to specialist knowledge around a niche area of Greek tragedy, an additional motive for them being the previously unexplored material of Melanippe Wise. The workshops focused on two strands of enquiry; the first was the reconstruction, research and dramaturgical decisions while the second was the adaptation methodologies and subsequent performance of a reconstructed character, focusing on Christos’ adapted monologue of Melanippe’s mother Hippo as dea ex machina. In our version, Hippo appears on the mechane as a talking horse and the practical component of the workshop was decisive in providing a platform for experimenting with alternative methods of performing the talking animal in a Greek tragedy context – processes that were developed further during the rehearsals for the Staged Reading. Following the two non-specialist workshops, we led a final invite-only intensive text-based workshop; the goal was to explore the depiction of women and aspects of gender, agency and consent in Melanippe Wise and to discuss them thoroughly with colleagues and fellow artists; this helped to re-examine how certain pieces of dialogue were worded, e.g. scenes where rational Melanippe finds herself in conflict with a group of privileged irrational men (such as the chorus).
During the rehearsals at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden Town, we had the opportunity to include the invaluable contribution of virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Thodoris Ziarkas. I had commissioned Thodoris to perform the traditional Northern Greek bagpipe (askaulos/gaida) during the stasima, accompanying the chorus at the Staged Reading; the reason behind the choice of a Greek bagpipe as the Staged Reading’s musical instrument had clearly to do with the primeval effect of its sound, an echo of a piercing howling from the past. Thodoris joined us at the rehearsals having brought two bagpipes; before that, we had only told him the basic plotline. Responding to the unravelling of the plot, he improvised with the bagpipes and started using them to create soundscapes that would resemble the crying sound of Melanippe’s twin baby boys Aeolus and Boeotus, especially when they are about to be thrown into the fire – as instructed by the relentless Hellen, the ancestor of all Greeks and Melanippe’s grandfather.
Melanippe was performed by Cyborphic’s Associate Artist, actress and playwright Bee Scott, with whom we have collaborated on several projects, including our TALOS III: Science Fiction Theatre Festival of London. The Staged Reading was directed by Justin Murray, who is experienced with directing ancient Greek dramas, including with his own company Catharsis. Orla Sanders had the parts of Hippo and the Nurse, Alex Andreou played Melanippe’s grandfather Hellen and Robin King was Melanippe’s father Aeolus, King of Aeolis; Harold Addo performed the Shepherd. The Chorus was jointly performed by Orla Sanders and Harold Addo. Bee performed a Melanippe bursting with both youthfulness and maturity of thought; Orla performed a powerful dea ex machina, the prophesising talking horse Hippo via physical theatre; Alex’s Hellen was a merciless and fearsome father of all Greeks; Robin recreated a most Euripidean King Aeolus, struggling with guilt and indecisiveness, and placing too much trust on his father; Harold portrayed a truly puzzled Shepherd as well as a conformist male chorus together with Orla. There was genuine enthusiasm from the artists; Bee has written on the play and her role in her blog and Alex shared on his Twitter account his reaction on performing the reconstructed character of Hellen: ‘‘I’m in this. … I get to create a Euripides role. And that doesn’t happen often, let me tell you. Come, see and hear a little piece of history.’’
After this first presentation of the play, we received constructive feedback from both general non-specialist audience and peers from academia and the theatre industry; we had invited classicists and theatre practitioners to share their thoughts. It has been heart-warming to receive positive reviews from peers; By Jove Theatre Company wrote: ‘‘Congratulations to Andriana Domouzi and Christos Callow Jr on a fantastic reading of Melanippe Wise, very inspiring work! Fantastic story of female wisdom triumphing over male hypocrisy and mob ignorance.’’ Apart from social media targeted ads, we had also advertised the event at the relevant international mailing lists; through these channels, several colleagues and artists outside of the UK had reached out (both before and after the event) to express their interest, requesting to be kept updated regarding the full production and the subsequent publication of the play. The event was fully booked well in advance and we had received requests to operate a waiting list – which we did and could happily offer a few last-minute cancelled tickets to people from the list. We are delighted that our Staged Reading gained such attention and that my research contributed to theatre audiences discovering an unconventional and remarkable lost tragedy of Euripides.
A full documentation of the reconstruction and the creative process for the creation of our Melanippe Wise will be given in a chapter I am co-authoring with Christos; this will be published in 2021 in the collective volume Tragedy Resurrected that I am currently editing (De Gruyter; series: Trends in Classics~Pathways of Reception 5). We are also making further plans for a full run of the play.
We are very grateful to the ICS, whose public engagement grant contributed to paying our creatives: Greek bagpipe specialist Thodoris Ziarkas, award-winning illustrating duo Sinjin Li who designed a bespoke poster, and photographer Matei Răducanu; the grant also covered part of our travelling and printing expenses as well as social media ads. The workshops and the Staged Reading were further funded by the University of Derby’s College of Arts, Humanities & Education Research Fund.
by Andriana Domouzi (@andrianadmz)
Image credits Matei Răducanu
Poster design & graphics: Sinjin Li
Under normal circumstances, the ICS hosts visitors from all over the world, although the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has interrupted this element of our activities. In this post Academic Visitor Nikoline Sauer (Aarhus University) shares her experience of visiting London pre- and post-lockdown.
This spring, I spent three months as an Academic Visitor at the Institute of Classical Studies (March 1 – May 31). The research stay was part of my PhD studies at the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions at Aarhus University, Denmark, where I investigate the Archaic period in Rome (c. 6th century BCE) through a case study of the Forum of Caesar. As I am now in the third and final year of my studies, I have reached the writing phase of project, and needed an outstanding library in Classical Studies. The purpose of my stay at the ICS was therefore to make use of the world-class library while also experiencing a new research environment.
During the first few weeks of my stay at the Senate House, located in the fashionable Bloomsbury neighbourhood, everything proceeded as planned. I went to the library, attended seminars, and ate my lunch at the British Museum across the street from the institute. In my second week there, I gave a talk as part of the ICS Fellows’ Seminar series, entitled “Rome Was Not Built in a Day: The Urban Development of Rome in the Archaic period (620–480 BCE)”. The talk was well attended and the comments very useful. But on March 20, the ICS was forced to close by the COVID-19 pandemic.
I spend the rest of my stay in London in relative isolation (though accompanied by my boyfriend) in our apartment on Broadway Market in southern Hackney. What was supposed to be a research stay became instead a writing retreat. The lockdown gave me time to finish up the first two articles of my article-based dissertation, as well as completing a rough draft of the third article and several other minor projects.
My dissertation is about Archaic Rome. The Archaic period is conventionally known as the short interval between the end of the Iron Age and the beginning of the Republican period. It was a time of major changes in Rome, as the city began to stand out among the other Etruscan and Latial cities in central Italy, by dint of its monumental public buildings and rapid population growth. The later literary tradition, such as Livy’s Ab urbe condita (written 27–9 BCE), played a crucial role in the commemoration of Archaic Rome, profoundly influencing the modern interpretation of archaeological data. The dissertation aims to study Archaic Rome through a solely archaeological approach, combining traditional archaeological findings with state-of-the-art scientific methods, in order to circumvent the skewed image of the period produced by ancient literature. The subject is investigated through four interlinked articles, which will be published independently.
My PhD project is also part of The Caesar’s Forum Project, which excavates in the Forum of Caesar in the centre of Rome. The forum was founded by Gaius Julius Caesar (100–44 BCE) in the Late Republican period, creating a precedent for the subsequent four Imperial Forums. The ongoing project aims to provide new insights into the site and its long-term development by studying the previously unexcavated third of the site. The Forum of Caesar is an especially rich archaeological site, and previous excavations have revealed some of the best-preserved remains from the Archaic period. The site is, therefore, the point of departure for several of the articles in my dissertation.
I very much hope that I can revisit the ICS at a later time, especially since my stay there was cut short by the worldwide lockdown. Still, I managed to make the most of my stay in London, turning it into an intensive writing retreat, with plenty of time to think about Archaic Rome on my walks along Regent’s Canal.
by Nikoline Sauer
ICS Director Prof. Greg Woolf shares some thoughts on the Institute’s ongoing work in the era of physical distancing.
Fans of Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels might remember his idea of entire civilizations, at an advanced point in their development, choosing to ‘sublime’. The Sublimed abandoned their physical and material existence to inhabit remote dimensions from which they might occasionally intervene, in a disembodied way, in the universe they had left behind.
The ICS itself relinquished its physical form on 20th March 2020 when Senate House was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Physically we are scattered from Ireland and Scotland to Scandinavia and Canada, with a cluster of bodies in and around London. Virtually, however, we are everywhere and nowhere. But like Banks’ Sublimed we are still very much involved.
Our abrupt removal to cyberspace has made us reflect on what the Institute can and cannot do, from our new utopia, in the classical sense of “no-space”. This is the first sudden change in our operations in quite a while. Like most institutions – especially in Higher Education and particularly in the UK – our role has developed incrementally over the two generations of our existence. Since its creation in 1953 by the Hellenic and Roman Societies in concert with the University of London, the Institute has altered as its three parents have evolved. Over the same time both the nature of Classics and of British universities has quietly been transformed. When we were founded, less than 5% of the UK population went to university. Today the figure is over 50%. Classical subjects are now taught in more British universities than ever before. Classical studies today is itself far more capacious than it was in the 1950s, socially, intellectually and pedagogically. In its current manifestation our subject remains highly successful, whether measured by the number of school leavers who want to study it, or by the quality and impact of our research on the wider public. But classical studies is not the same as it was, and that is a good thing. As we interrogate our disciplinary entanglement with the politics of class, imperialism and race, classical studies will change even more in the future, perhaps even finding a new name and identity for itself in the process. The ICS will change along with this.
Right now the ICS is a part of a School of Advanced Study, founded in 1995. We have a national mission, funded currently by Research England, to serve the entire UK research community in classics and (with our sister institutes) in the humanities more widely. Perhaps Utopia is not a bad place from which to do that? The rents are cheaper here, and as a Sublimed Entity we are equally close to everyone. These last few months we have carried on many of the things we did before. Grants for conferences and public engagement activities continue to be disbursed. Our publications are more widely read than ever, and more of them than ever before are now available through Open Access.
Necessity has shown us the potential of technologies that already existed. Our librarians now carry out searches of our specialist databases on behalf of remote readers. They have also been providing directions to the many materials available for free in digital form. All the SAS libraries have been discovering new ways to serve readers at a distance. Those of us who teach have become used to doing so over all sorts of technologies. The training courses we are currently running – on line of course – were oversubscribed to nearly 500 %. We are exploring new ways to hold workshops on line, beginning with one entitled Towards a more Inclusive Classics. I recently chaired a PhD viva in which the candidate, examiners and supervisors were distributed across four countries.
Next term most of our seminar series will take place online. This will be odd at first, but already some advantages are apparent. We will be inviting more speakers from overseas. Sound quality should be better – we really should have been using microphones already to make our seminars more accessible. Almost none of our seminars were recorded or livestreamed (The Digital Classicist showed us the way). Now most will be, so that those who need or wish to can listen to them later. We are becoming asynchronous as well as utopian. Events – once a tightly time-tabled series of face to face meetings in one or another nook or cranny of Senate House – will become a cloud of potential attractions. Attending will be more like sampling Netflix than committing to a weekly routine.
The Sublimed in Iain M. Banks’ novels had made a one-way journey. Once gone, they stayed gone. Our Utopia will be temporary, although we do not yet know exactly when we shall come back to earth, or under which constraints we shall be when we return. My guess is that some new habits will be hard to break. Committees, which often consumed much of the day for non-London members, are now much easier to attend virtually especially for those with busy home-lives and/or hectic work schedules. Perhaps more readers too will get used to mailing requests for PDFs and other materials rather than trekking in to Bloomsbury. The viewing figures for the Digital Classicist show us we can reach much larger audiences if we livestream and record seminars. Perhaps a little bit of Utopia is here to stay.
But we are not ready to give up entirely on a physical home. Many of the collections in our Library are stubbornly physical. Journal runs that go back decades, yellowing epigraphic corpora, the masses of glossy exhibition catalogues and excavation reports will all demand that readers attend in person. Classicists are fundamentally a textual community and as long as enough of our texts are physically located somewhere, we will need to visit them. The same is even more true of the material traces of the past which play a greater and greater part in our teaching, learning and research.
And besides we still have a physical need to be together. My colleague Barry Smith, who directs the Institute of Philosophy, is fond of saying that we are not ‘socially distancing’ but rather ‘physically distancing’. He is right, of course, and in some ways we are currently being very social. The number of people I interact with each week through one medium or another remains high. These meetings do much more than exchange information and make collective decisions. In local and national meetings (see how difficult it is to shake pre-utopian expressions?) I watch colleagues laugh, express frustration, give each other encouragement and reassurance, share anxieties and generally care for each other. Even virtually we are continuing the social grooming that we normally do in and around committees, exam boards, and seminars. Humans can no more gather without doing this, than we can walk into a room without immediately noting who is present, who is talking to whom, and who are keeping apart. Our ancestors did all this in different settings. But we are not fully acclimatised to our new disembodied environment. Our social faculties are inhibited by the difficulties of picking up on the subtleties of body-language. In larger meetings in particular it is now more difficult to read the room, to notice when people lean in, or lean back, to spot the microgestures of agreement and dissent, of collusion and distancing. No-space is still an imperfect social space. It has proved difficult to have a meeting of minds when our bodies are so far apart.
Before COVID, the ICS was a place of serendipity. Researchers in London on other business, would often take the chance for a few hours or even a few days at the ICS, catching a seminar or looking something up in the library. Conversations over coffee piggy-backed on chance encounters between colleagues. Students might meet casually with experts in their fields, authors with editors, former colleagues would reconnect. Sometimes this led to collaborations, more often we just tried out ideas on each other, asked advice, and did that social grooming that all communities need once in a while.
It has turned out to be more difficult than I had imagined to bump into colleagues accidentally on the internet, or to collar just one person for a few minutes after a meeting. At our last Advisory Council we were discussing the ICS seminars, how to make them more accessible and how to involve more people. The question of networking came up. Seminars are valued, at least in part, as meeting places, occasions when we come together, when new members are introduced into the group, when e-mail pals make closer connections face to face. It seems paradoxical that at time when our communication as a virtual community is literally managed mostly through actual networks, we are noticing more than ever the limits of the virtual and the downsides of the Sublime. It has been interesting spending some time in Utopia, but it has made me realise more clearly the value of our non-virtual existence. I am looking forward to coming back to earth.
by Greg Woolf
Making Roman Crowns: Lessons from Roman Floral Design: Building Sustainable Floristry Today (Part II)
Dr. Patty Baker (University of Kent) shares an update on the progress of her ICS-funded public-facing project exploring Roman floral design.
Surviving images from the Greco-Roman world often portray deities, women, men, and emperors wearing crowns made of laurel, olive branches, grape vines, and flowers. Garlands consisting of greenery, fruit, and flowers are depicted adorning temples and altars, as well as acting as frames around scenes on mosaics and fresco paintings. Ancient writers also discussed the significance of crowns and garlands for different occasions, including births, weddings, dinner parties, military honours, religious festivals, headache remedies, and funerals (e.g. Athenaeus Deip. 14. 629e; Aulus Gellius 5. 6; Hor. Carm. 3.25.20, 4.8.3; Pliny HN 16. 4; 21. 8; 21. 28-29). Combined, the sources indicate that the Greeks, and particularly the Romans, had a great appreciation for adorning themselves and their structures with natural elements.
The flowers and greenery they used in their crowns and garlands held symbolic meanings. For example, laurel and olive represented victory, and the goddess Ceres was celebrated with wheat. Even today, crowns and garlands are used for weddings, holidays, and music festivals. Yet, unlike Roman designs that were completely biodegradable and held together with linen, papyrus, or palm fibres, modern flower crowns and garlands are joined with wire and tape, which are polluting. Many florists are developing sustainable methods to help the global business become environmentally sound. To assist in this movement, I believe that much can be learnt from the history of floral design.
In November 2019, I wrote my first blogpost related to the generous funding I received to teach Roman floral design to the Canterbury Flower Club, florists, and flower growers. At that time, I held a trial event with interested friends. In January and February, I led the two funded workshops. The first was to a group of ten participants that included florists, growers, and interested students. The second was to a group of twenty members of the Canterbury Flower Club. I began both events with a PowerPoint presentation that covered topics on the imagery of crowns and garlands, descriptions of their functions as mentioned in the ancient literature, and the archaeological evidence for the greenery and flowers that were commonly used in the ornaments. Following this, I gave a short demonstration explaining my interpretation of how the crowns were made. Unfortunately, the ancient writers did not describe the techniques used for making them. Virgil indicated that the flowers were woven together but said nothing further (Aen. 5. 556; Georg 3. 21). Pliny the Elder said that rose petals were sewn together for the festival of the Salii, a celebration in honour of the god Mars (HN 21. 8).
In comparison to the literature, ancient images give us a somewhat better idea of how the crowns were woven, and I used these to develop my experimental archaeological techniques. A handful of images from fresco paintings in Pompeii and mosaics from North Africa and Desenzano, Lake Garda, Italy, depict cupids sitting below either a wooden frame or a pole with long strands of flowers hanging from them. The cupids are shown pulling a flower strand towards them and appear to be weaving other flowers into the strand. Since all of the images I have found are similar, this suggests that this was the common method used for crown and garland construction. Unfortunately, the images are not clear enough to determine precisely how the flowers were woven into their base. To ascertain how this might have been done, I explored other methods used for making crowns today, and the one comparable technique that seems likely is from the South Pacific and Hawaiian Islands. In these places, flowers are tied to braided bases made of palm fibres. Having undertaken this research, I was keen to share my interpretation about the possible methods used in Roman crown construction with floral design experts to receive feedback on my ideas, and to see if others had thoughts on alternative techniques.
For the recreation, I braided three strands of raffia together for the base. Raffia is a palm fibre that originates from Madagascar and was the closest material I could find to simulate other types of palm fibres that were available to the Romans. I left long strands at both ends so that the crown could be tied to the head without crushing flowers against the head. To make the braided base, I found it useful to tie the top end to a kitchen cabinet handle or the back of a chair in order to create the tension needed to weave the strands together tightly. This also simulated the wooden frame shown in the Roman images. I then tied one strand of raffia to the top end of the base, based on the Polynesian technique, which is used to tie the flowers and foliage into the base of the crown.
For the workshops, I made the bases of the crowns for the participants to save on time. Similar to the images of the cupids, we all wove the materials onto the base from the top working our way down to the bottom. The materials were only placed on one side of the base, so that the crown would rest against the head comfortably without the flowers being crushed.
The flowers and greenery were added in the following manner. The first flower was placed at the top of the base and the extra strand of raffia was wrapped two or three times around its stem to hold it in place. The stems were kept about an inch in length. The second was placed slightly below and to the left of the central flower. Again the strand of raffia was wrapped two or three times around the stem. The third flower was placed slightly below the second and to the right of the middle flower. After the stem was wrapped, a knot was placed in the strand to secure the flowers further. These three steps were repeated to the end, leaving strands unadorned at the bottom so that the two ends could be tied together, as mentioned above. Most of the participants found the technique tedious at first especially since they were familiar with wire and tape. However, once they became comfortable with it, they wove faster and created beautiful crowns.
All but one person tried the method I demonstrated, and they introduced me to a technique that was excellent for weaving garlands. In Roman art, garlands appear to have flowers and greenery on all sides. Rather than using one strand to wrap the flower stems to the base, I was taught to use two strands of raffia to weave them in place. When the flowers and greenery were placed on the base, the ties were criss-crossed over the stems. The base was turned over and flowers were added to the opposite side. Each time the base was turned over the flowers were placed slightly below those that were already tied onto the base. Every so often a knot was tied to secure the flowers. The result was just as full as those seen on Roman images.
The greenery we used was olive, ivy, and eucalyptus nicholii. The latter looks somewhat similar to myrtle, which was also common in ancient crowns. The flowers were white mini carnations and purple lisianthus, both look somewhat similar to wild roses, also popular with the Romans. Gypsophila was added as a filler flower.
These crowns have a few added bonuses in comparison to those that are made of tape and wire. First, they are fully compostable. Second, they last longer, particularly if the raffia is moist. Third, if crowns are needed for a couple of days, these can be sprayed with water and placed in refrigeration when they are not worn. Finally, they dry well for anyone wishing to keep them for an extended period of time. In fact, it seems as if the Romans did keep their crowns, or at least those awarded to them, because it was mentioned in the Twelve Tables that if someone was granted a crown in their lifetime, it could be placed on their heads for their funeral procession (Cicero De Leg 2. 24; Pliny HN 21. 5).
The events were successful. Not only was I able to bring the subject of classics to the public, but, importantly, teaching through experimental archaeology allowed me to introduce a sustainable practice to a business looking for change. Another significant point is that it showed the relevance of history and archaeology to modern environmental issues.
by Patty Baker
(All image credits Patty Baker.)
Dr. Liz Potter, ICS Publications Manager, reports on an initiative to make the Institute’s publications freely accessible online.
In the UK and EU, there are a range of initiatives currently aiming to make research widely and freely accessible to all. Publishing on an ‘Open Access’ (OA) basis makes research outputs free at the point of use, and thus aims to maximise their impact. OA publication is concerned to make research more easily accessible and reusable for as wide a range of audiences as possible—for research, for innovation, for teaching, and to support public engagement.
In line with these initiatives, the ICS is starting to make its publications available on an Open Access basis. The Institute’s activities have included publication since its early days: the Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies (BICS) was first published in 1954; and the Bulletin’s associated Supplements have been published on an occasional basis since 1955. For our Open Access work, we are starting with our recent Supplements.
We are publishing these Supplements via the Humanities Digital Library. This is the Open Access publishing platform for the University of London Press. Six of the research institutes which make up the University’s School of Advanced Study have Open Access publications on the platform: ourselves, the Institute of Historical Research, the Institute of Advanced Legal Study, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, the Institute of English Studies, and the Institute of Latin American Studies. The Institute thus benefits from its connections with the wider University by being part of this platform, cross-referencing its publications with those of other Institutes, for example.
BICS Supplements available Open Access
To date, we have made available the following titles. They are all free to access as PDF versions online, published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. There are also links on the site to purchase the title in book form for those who wish.
Eros and the Polis (BICS Supplement 119)
The articles in this edited volume take a historicizing approach to the conventions and expectations or erôs in the archaic and classical polis. Focusing on the poetic genres, they pursue issues including: the connection between homosexual erôs and politics; sexual practices that fell outside societal norms; the roles of sôphrosynê (self-control) and akrasia (incontinence) in erotic relationships; and the connection between erôs and other socially important emotions such as charis, philia, and storgê.
Creating Ethnicities and Identities in the Roman World (BICS Supplement 120)
This volume explores how practices of ethnic categorization formed part of Roman strategies of control across their expanding empire. It also considers how people living in particular places internalized these identities and developed their own sense of belonging to an ethnic community.
Persuasive Language in Cicero’s Pro Milone (BICS Supplement 121)
This innovative approach to Cicero’s persuasive language applies ideas from modern linguistics to one of his most important speeches. The reading of Pro Milone which emerges not only contributes to our understanding of late republican discourse, but also suggests a new methodology for using the study of language and style to illuminate literary/historical aspects of texts.
The Digital Classicist 2013 (BICS Supplement 122)
This wide-ranging volume showcases exemplary applications of digital scholarship to the ancient world and critically examines the many challenges and opportunities afforded by such research. As such it is a contribution to the development of scholarship both in the fields of classical antiquity and in Digital Humanities more broadly.
Profession and Performance (BICS Supplement 123)
This volume brings together six papers relating to oratory, orators, and oratorical delivery in the public fora of classical Greece and Rome. They range from the Athenian courts and Assembly to Cicero’s Rome, from the ‘Second Sophistic’ to the late Roman Empire. A final paper reflects on the continuing relevance of rhetoric in the modern, highly professionalized practice of the law in England.
Marathon: 2,500 Years (BICS Supplement 124)
This volume includes twenty-one papers originally presented at a colloquium in the Peloponnese in 2010 to mark the 2,500th anniversary of the battle of Marathon. It is a celebration of Marathon and its reception from classical antiquity to the present era.
Our aim is to publish more of our recent backlist on this platform in the coming months. Watch this space!
The BICS Mycenaean Studies
As I’ve previously reported on this blog, the abstracts from the ICS Mycenaean Seminar are also now published online on Humanities Digital Library. The seminar has been convened by the Institute since the 1950s, and summaries of the seminars have been published as part of BICS since 1963. Starting with the 2015-16 series, the Mycenaean summaries are now published separately online, and become far more widely available as Open Access publications. Click these links to read The BICS Mycenaean Seminar 2015-16 and The BICS Mycenaean Seminar 2016-17; the summaries of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 year are coming soon!
by Liz Potter