Prof. James Robson, Dr Kathryn Tempest and Máirín O’Hagan

The first half of the 2018-2019 academic year has seen three fantastic lectures by our speakers Prof. James Robson (Open), Dr Kathryn Tempest (Roehampton) and Máirín O’Hagan (Barefaced Greek).

In September, James Robson gave a lecture on Beauty, Sexuality and Desire in Classical Athens. This covered a huge range of material from Athens, including vase paintings and comedy. We particularly enjoyed Prof. Robson’s analysis of bridal costumes, and how far these overlapped with the typical clothing of hetairi. Prof. Robson was once an undergraduate student at Exeter, and we were very pleased to welcome him back!

At the end of last term, Dr Kathryn Tempest gave a fascinating paper on fake letters in antiquity – particularly those (in both Latin and Greek) attributed to Marcus Junius Brutus. Were these forgeries, fakes, imaginary or rhetorical exercises? Who wrote them and why? This was material that most of the audience had never seen before, and we had many questions for Dr Tempest on the identity of the mysterious ‘Mithradates’ who claimed to have written them.

We started off the second half of the year with a film screening and Q&A from Máirín O’Hagan of Barefaced Greek Productions. We were very pleased to get the chance to watch the films and hear about some of the behind-the-scenes work that went into them. We also got some hints about the next three films which will be coming out soon! You can watch all the Barefaced Greek films online for free on their website. Get in touch with the producers if you find them helpful.

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.

Prof. Rebecca Langlands and Dr Emma Cole

In Term 1 of 2017-18, we moved our CA talks down to Exeter College. We are very grateful to Exeter College for hosting these events, and we would particularly like to thank Mike Beer for all his help and hard work promoting the lectures! We have been very fortunate this term to have heard two fascinating lectures on very different themes. Both talks inspired lively discussion from the audience, and we hope they have inspired lots of you to join us for more lectures in the New Year.

On Thursday 28 September, Prof. Rebecca Langlands (University of Exeter) spoke on ‘No-Win Situations: Roman Heroes and Military Ethics’. This research derives from Prof. Langlands’s latest research project on how Romans understood and received stories about their history.

The heroic, blood-soaked tales of their ancestors intoxicated the youth of ancient Rome, revealing moral truths and inflaming them with desire for virtue. This lecture will argue that such exemplary stories were also used to dramatise ethical dilemmas and encourage Romans to reflect on fundamental moral issues – indeed, they can still serve this purpose today. Roman exempla tend to show people of great courage, virtue and tenacity who face very tough decisions about the best way to respond. We will see how a particularly distressing military situation – the desperate suffering of the besieged city – provided for the ancient Romans a wealth of ethical material inviting us to reflect on what we should value most highly in our lives.

On Wednesday 6 December, Dr Emma Cole (University of Bristol) spoke on Greek Tragedy and the Australian Psyche’. This work drew on productions of adapted Greek tragedies in Australian theatre, which Dr Cole has worked on both during her PhD and now during her most recent project.

The reception of Greek tragedy in Australia largely mimicked its reception in England until the mid-twentieth century. The establishment of state theatre companies and the New Wave Theatre movement in the second half of the twentieth century, however, resulted in a series of more localised engagements, and today Australian classical performance receptions are frequently more playful and experimental than their British counterparts. Adaptations now trump translations, and radical reinventions which use the classics as a springboard for entirely new plays are more common than either. Recent productions, for example, have involved Euripides’ prize-winning Bacchae set in a urinal, a chorus of Trojan women murdered, a gender-bending Antigone, and an Iphigenia at Aulis written in a form devoid of named characters and staged without an Iphigenia present on stage at all. In this lecture I discuss a series of these receptions and both suggest and problematise ways that these engagements reflect the Australian psyche. I argue that today’s ‘gloves-off’ attitude towards the classics is tied to Australia’s complex colonial history and involves an intense localising of Greek tragedy to explore issues of national identity. The plays under discussion indicate that Australian productions of Greek tragedy are an overlooked part of contemporary classical performance reception, and that the classics today are being reclaimed and refashioned to explore pressing socio-political issues in twenty-first-century Australia.


New Chair of CA Southwest

We are pleased to welcome Dr Katherine McDonald as the new Chair of CA Southwest. Katherine joined the University of Exeter in September 2016 as a Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History. She is a Classicist and linguist working mainly on the languages of pre-Roman and early Roman Italy, with a particular interest in ancient multilingualism.

Katherine is very excited to take on this new opportunity to promote Classics in the region, and looks forward to meeting lots of you soon!


Dr Charlotte Tupman: ‘Don’t make me code!’ Shaping the future of digital Classics research

Tonight, we are celebrating the end of the 2016-2017 academic year (and the beginning of exams) with our last CA lecture of the year.

Dr Charlotte Tupman  is a Research Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Exeter whose previous work includes working in collaboration with other Classicists to create systems to encode and publish ancient inscriptions and papyri. She has also supported digital projects in many other fields across the university. Tonight, she will be giving a lecture entitled, ‘”Don’t make me code!” Shaping the future of digital Classics research’. Dr Tupman is an international leader in Digital Classics, and we are very fortunate to have her at the University of Exeter.

We are also celebrating the end of Prof. Lynette Mitchell’s time as Chair of the CA Southwest, and we would all like to thank her very much for her dedicated service to the branch.