Prof. Helen Lovatt, Prof. Patrick Finglass and Dr Jonathan Prag

In Term 2 and 3 of the academic year 2017-2018, we had three excellent lectures at Exeter College. We were particularly pleased to see that these were well-attended by Exeter College students, who asked our speakers extremely insightful questions.

On 10th January, Prof. Helen Lovatt (Nottingham) gave a lecture entitled Argonauts: Myth and Reception’. This lecture explored the many different versions of the myth in ancient and modern re-tellings, from poetry to film to children’s books.

The myth of Jason and the Argonauts has been told and retold since its very beginnings. It was already a well known story before the Odyssey. But when does a myth cease to function as  myth and become crystallised by its most famous versions? For the tale of the Argonauts, the versions of Apollonius and Euripides’ Medea are crucial. This paper explores the interface between myth and reception in the Argonautic tradition by looking at a number of case studies: Charles Kingsley and the Orphic Argonautica, Robert Graves and his Greek Myths, and the influence of the 1963 Harryhausen movie ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ on recent children’s literature.

Prof. Lovatt’s lecture was generously supported by the Hellenic Society.

At the end of term 2, Prof. Patrick Finglass (Bristol) gave us a lecture on ‘A new papyrus of Sophocles’. This was a fascinating glimpse into how scholars go about supplying missing information from fragmentary papyri, based on tiny visual and contextual clues. It also showed how little we know about many lost Greek tragedies. In his abstract, he wrote:

Sophocles fr. 583, from his Tereus, is one of the most moving passages of extant Greek tragedy; delivered by Procne, it explores the sorrow of marriage as seen from a woman’s perspective. The publication in June 2016 of an ancient papyrus manuscript from the early second century, P.Oxy. 5292, which overlaps with this quotation, is therefore a major event in Sophoclean scholarship. The papyrus allows us to locate Procne’s speech within the play, to infer how much she knows about her sister’s fate when she speaks the lines, and to see how Sophocles prepared for the dramatic meeting between the two sisters. This paper demonstrates how the papyrus transforms our knowledge of this fragmentary drama, and sets the play alongside others that feature unhappily married women, bringing out relevant similarities and differences, and thereby assisting our understanding of the presentation of women in Greek tragedy.

Dr Jonathan Prag’s lecture on the 2nd May was made possible by the support of the Roman Society. It was entitled, Rams and Warships: bronze rostra from the final battle of the First Punic War’. This was a hugely engaging lecture, which showed the huge importance of these underwater finds for our understanding of Roman military history. In his abstract, he said:

This paper will present the spectacular finds from the underwater survey being undertaken off western Sicily by the Soprintendenza del Mare of Sicily. Principal among these is the very rare find of 12 bronze rams from warships which sank during the final battle of the First Punic War between Rome and Carthage, in 241 BC. At least 8 of the rams are inscribed (7 Latin, 1 Punic) and the rams and their inscriptions not only provide new information on warships and institutions in the period, but also create significant problems for our current understanding of naval warfare at this date.

Many thanks to all our speakers this year, and to our hosts at Exeter College.

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