This Day in Ancient History: ante diem xiii kalendas quinctilias

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem xiii kalendas quinctilias

  • 240 B.C. — Eratosthenes calculates the circumference of the earth (I have no idea what the source for this is)
  • rites at the Temple of Minerva on the Aventine
  • ca. 165 (?) — martyrdom of Protase
  • 325 A.D. — Hosius announces the Nicene Creed during the First Council of Nicaea

Greek in the Park

Some press coverage of Lorna Robinson’s latest project:

IT’S not every day you get the chance to learn ancient Greek.

Now Dr Lorna Robinson is giving people in Oxford the opportunity to pick up the secrets of the language in parks across East Oxford.

For the next nine weeks, the director of the educational charity The Iris Project will be running the series of free lessons for adults and families, to introduce the language of the ancient Greeks.

The sessions started at the weekend in South Park and will run every Saturday in the park at 2pm. Meet at the entrance next to the playground.

About 20 people are expected this Saturday.

As with the Latin in the Park series, Ancient Greek in the Park will involve a series of free hour-long weekly sessions.

Latin in the Park was set up to help promote access to classics among adults, and has been running since April 2008.

Dr Robinson, from Risinghurst, who also ran the Latin in the Park sessions, has also worked with state schools in Oxford to promote Latin teaching.

She said: “The Latin in the Park series has been a success, so we thought we would try something similar with Ancient Greek.

“A lot of people find the prospect of learning Latin or Greek quite daunting but we wanted to show people that anyone has a chance of picking them up.

“I did a PhD in Classics straight after I left university and I want to try to widen the opportunity for people to access the languages because they are now mostly taught in private schools.

“Latin and Greek are still an excellent basis for learning other languages and I do not want to see them die out. We are also trying to introduce people to aspects of Greek and Roman culture.

“Classics is often viewed as an elite area of study only accessible to the very educated.

“The intention is to encourage people from all walks of life and backgrounds to have a go at picking up a bit of Latin and now ancient Greek over lunch in a relaxed setting.”

The Iris Project promotes access to classics in state schools and urban areas and its patrons include Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, and Baroness Warnock.

The place of classics in a British education has declined in recent years.

Boris Johnson is a high-profile promoter of the classics and says every schoolchild should have the opportunity to learn Latin.

via Get out and learn Greek in city’s parks | Oxford Mail.

More info on Greek in the Park, Latin in the Park, Iris Magazine, etc. at the Iris Project …

Roman Villa from Berkeley?

University of Bristol Arms
Image by Dave ® via Flickr

No … not the one in California (although I’m sure someone will misread this and use it as additional ‘proof’ that the Romans reached the Americas) … I think this must be the one in Gloucestershire, which is interesting because it doesn’t appear to have been a Roman settlement …

AN IMPERIAL Roman villa complex could sit underneath the town of Berkeley, archaeologists believe.

In the final hours of their four-week dig students from the University of Bristol found several Roman items, igniting theories that a Roman villa could have been underneath their trench in the garden of the Edward Jenner Museum.

Their aim this year was to find evidence of an Anglo-Saxon religious community, dating back to around the 9th to 10th century.

The team, led by TV archaeologists and lecturers at the university Dr Stuart Prior and Prof Mark Horton, did find many items that suggested the site dated back to Saxon times.

However last Friday, hours before they started to re-fill the trench, they found a large quantity of Roman wall plaster. The day before they had found some Roman roof tiles and Roman coins, all around three post-holes in the ground, also believed to date back to Roman times.

“In the closing moments of the dig we found the best evidence yet that a Roman villa lay under Berkeley, probably under the church,” said Prof Horton, a presenter on BBC series Coast.

“We are lucky that on this site the soil is clay because it preserves things beautifully so we have had some finds in very good condition.”

The Roman villa is likely to date back to around 3rd to 4th century and Berkeley could even be the site of an imperial settlement of Romans from Gloucester.

“This is a really exciting find,” said Dr Prior. “We will come back next year to Berkeley because there is definitely more Roman finds waiting to be discovered.”

The dig, which is organised every year for students on archaeology and anthropology courses in Bristol, uncovered some major historical finds including a mint condition Anglo-Saxon belt strap end with the face of a dragon and a covered over road leading to St Mary’s Church.

It is now thought, almost certainly, that an Anglo-Saxon minster – a walled religious community – lived in mainly by high status women existed in Berkeley. It is the first to be excavated in the country.

Bring back Latin!

Wallsend station is probably the only station ...
Image via Wikipedia

A call from Harry Mount in the Telegraph:

There’s an excellent new report out today by Politeia (which, as any fule know, is the ancient Greek for citizenship).

The gist of it is that Latin should be taught in state primary schools. Quite right, I think, and for the reasons they say – it improves your English and your foreign languages – but also because it’s such a beautiful language, at the root of all western European literature.

Also, it’s the last subject that is still taught in a rigorous, old-fashioned way. For half a millennium, until around 1960, classics formed the heart of the curriculum (which, the same fule will know, means “a race” in Latin, from curro, -ere – I run) in British schools.

The subject has withered away since then but, like some long-forgotten, super-civilised province left behind after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the surviving outposts of Latin teaching still follow the ancient rules.

I teach Latin to some friends’ children – private and state-educated – and it’s amazing the stuff they learn from Latin that they should learn from their English lessons but don’t: subjects, objects, verbs, tenses, conditional clauses, subjunctives. Teach a child the genitive, and they’ll never get the grocer’s apostrophe wrong again. No wonder that my colleague Toby Young is keen to have Latin taught at his proposed new school in Ealing.

The complex intellectual scaffolding of teaching and learning has been removed from other subjects; Latin puts it back in.

There are some excellent comments at the Telegraph too …

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem xvi kalendas quinctilias

Otto Jahn Otto Jahn. Stich von August Weger na...

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem xvi kalendas quinctilias

  • 212 A.D. — martyrdom of Ferreolus and Ferrutio
  • 1716 — Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad is published
  • 1813 — birth of Otto Jahn (archaeologist and philologist)
  • 1937 — birth of Erich Segal (Classicist, known to Classicists for his work on ancient comedy; known to the rest of the world as the author of Love Story)

Fun from Yahoo Answers

Tram in Athens, Greece
Image via Wikipedia

A piece on the horrible answers folks get from Yahoo Answers includes this little excerpt:

Daniel was fortunate that Matt’s answer was serious. Some responders purposely gave misleading answers. When Kyla asked, “What was the Delian League?”, one responder, phrasing his response in academic prose, told her it was the distance from the Acropolis to a popular Athenian delicatessen.

… and here I thought it was the latest ‘pankrashun’ MMA association …

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem xvii kalendas quinctilias

Martyre de saint Vit et de saint Modeste (Mart...

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem xvii kalendas quinctilias

  • Quinquatrus minusculae (day 3 of a five-day festival honouring the birthday (maybe) of Minerva )
  • Quando stercus delatus fas (“When the ‘trash’ is taken out”) and the Temple of Vesta is closed to the public
  • 302 A.D. — martyrdom of Hesychius
  • 303 A.D. — martyrdom of Vitus (and companions)

When Dido Went Aeneas-ing?

Aeneas tells Dido the misfortunes of the Troja...
Image via Wikipedia

A correspondent notes a discussion on the London Review of Books site (and their Facebook page) about the origins of a line which goes:

“When Dido went Aeneas-ing”?

… and how it continues. I’ve asked the diligent wombats on the Project Wombat list and have read some good speculation, but it just occurred to me that this might be some sort of Classics department parody of ‘Frog went a courtin’ … Has anyone heard the Dido line before and/or can comment on its origins?

UPDATE (a couple days later): Nina Gilbert responded on the Project Wombat list (perhaps this will help tweak someone’s memory):

Not an answer, but maybe a clue?

It’s not in my dissertation, which was (mostly) about Elizabethan madrigal texts. But it does fit the style of English glees and catches from around the turn of the 18th century. English schoolboys would have studied Virgil. Later, as men going to sing in taverns, they would craft bawdy or pastoral verses about classical characters as well as assorted nymphs and shepherds.

Hope this helps,

Nina Gilbert (D.M.A. 1985: “Arcadian Pastoral Characters in Post-Elizabethan Music,” including the directory “Who’s Who in Arcadia”)

The Aegean @ the Archaeology Channel

Official description:

This documentary highlights the Aegean coastal region of Anatolia in today’s southwestern Turkey. Densely settled in Classical times, this region featured some of the most important cities in the ancient world of the eastern Mediterranean. Among these are Ephesus, famous for the Library of Celsus and the Temple of Hadrian; Pergamon, a very large city whose library rivaled that of Alexandria; Miletus, one of the oldest ancient cities of the region; and Helicarnassus, with its Mausoleum,one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Currently on the main page; if you visit later, you might have to poke around the site a bit.

Another Bulgarian Bust … Coins This Time

I’m always curious what happens to the artifacts ‘after’ …

A young Bulgarian in possession of 130 ancient coins was stopped on the Greece-Turkey border, police in the north-eastern Greek city of Komotini announced today.

Intercepted at the border crossing in the town of Kastanies yesterday, the man – whose identity has not been revealed, had over 100 coins dating to the ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras, which he claimed he had found in the Turkish countryside using special detection equipment, Dimitris Hotzidis, head of customs in Kastanies, told Greek news agency ANA.

The coins have been transferred to archaeological authorities in Komotini, and the Bulgarian has been passed on to prosecutors in the nearby city of Orestiada.

According to police in Komotini, cited by international media, theft and trafficking of archaeological artefacts has been on the rise in the last couple of months, particularly between Greece and Bulgaria.

via Bulgarian Caught with 130 Ancient Coins on Greece-Turkey Border | Balkan Travellers.

Citanda: The Punder Years

Here’s another one for your rss reader … the ‘Word Lizard’ has an interesting little blog on puns, usually with some historical connection … the most recent post, e.g., includes the phrase ‘Curculio vespertilio’ ; you’ll have to visit for the context (put your groaning pads on first):

The Art of Ancient Greek Theater @ the Getty

From a Getty Press release:

The Art of Ancient Greek Theater, on view at the Getty Villa from August 26, 2010 – January 3, 2011, is the first exhibition in the United States in over fifty years to focus on the artistic representation of theatrical performance in ancient Greece. Assembling international loans of antiquities from many museums and private collections, the exhibition illustrates the ways in which dramatic performance was depicted in the visual arts of ancient Greece between the fifth and the first centuries B.C. The exhibition is being presented in conjunction with the Getty Villa’s annual outdoor theater performance, Sophocles’ Elektra.

“Ancient art and theater share a strong and enduring connection–one that is inspired by mythology and the social, cultural, and political realities of life in ancient Greece and Rome,” says David Bomford, acting director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “With this exhibition and our annual production in the outdoor theater, we are delighted to bring ancient theater alive at the Getty Villa and invite our visitors to join us and discover how those themes found in ancient times persist today.”

The Art of Ancient Greek Theater spans centuries of artistic production throughout the cities of the Mediterranean. The exhibition showcases magnificent Athenian and South Italian vases as well as significant marble reliefs and numerous terracotta masks and figurines drawn from major collections in Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Themes of the Exhibition

Elaborate costumes, complex choreography, scenic architecture, and the mask—which continues to be an icon for tragedy and comedy—are vividly depicted in the visual arts of ancient Greece.

An introductory section introduces visitors to the architectural and physical environment of ancient Greek theater. The importance of drama to the civic and religious life in the ancient Greek world is reinforced by a large mural map, locating about one hundred ancient theaters in the Mediterranean. The map is complemented by marble sculptures of actors and poets as well as a model of the Theater of Dionysos in Athens, the home of the festival of the Great Dionysia, where the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were originally performed.

The exhibition is organized in three general themes. The first theme is devoted to the historical context of ancient Greek performance. Springing from the worship of Dionysos, theatrical performance developed out of the god’s religious rites and festivals. Objects on view depict actors, costumes, masks, choruses and chorusmen, with Dionysos the god of theater as motivator and benefactor.

The second theme focuses on tragedy and the satyr plays and will present comparative installations of vase-paintings inspired by ancient performances of Athens’ renowned tragedies: Aeschylus’ Oresteia; Euripides’ Medea, Herakles, Children of Herakles, Andromache and Iphigenia in Aulis; and Sophocles’ Oedipus. Objects representing satyr play will be anchored by the exceptional loan of the great Pronomos Vase from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples.

The third theme of the exhibition features comedy. Depictions of comic parodies and farces, where gods and centaurs share the stage with plotting slaves and thieves, and genre vase-painting represents costumed and masked actors in scenes on ancient stages, include some of the most vivid painting from the ancient world.

“We hope that our visitors will come away with a rich understanding not only of the context of ancient Greek theatrical performance but of the many ways artists interpreted the choruses and plays they witnessed. These vase-paintings, reliefs and figurines are often the only evidence we have for many aspects of ancient drama.

Significantly, the heightened visual style and attention to details such as costumes and choreography result in portrayals of ancient actors, poets, and musicians that give us an immediate sense of their performance on stage,” says Mary Louise Hart, associate curator of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, who curated the exhibition.


During the run of The Art of Ancient Greek Theater, the Getty Museum will present Sophocles’ Elektra directed by Carey Perloff, artistic director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, with a new translation commissioned from Timberlake Wertenbaker. Elektra will be performed in the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, September 9 through October 2, 2010. In addition, the Villa Theater Lab will present Understanding a Satyr Play: The Trackers on November 19 and 20, 2010.

Publication and Related Events

The exhibition will be accompanied by a companion volume co-authored by Mary Louise Hart; Michael Walton, Professor Emeritus of Drama at the University of Hull, United Kingdom; François Lissarrague, Professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales Centre Louis Gernet, Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris; Martine Denoyelle, École des hautes études en sciences sociales Centre Louis Gernet, Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art; and H. Alan Shapiro, W.H. Collins Vickers Professor of Archaeology at Johns Hopkins University.

Time Team Finds a Roman Villa!

Time Team logo
Image via Wikipedia

But we have to wait a while for the television program:

A GLIMPSE of life under the Romans has been unearthed by TV star Tony Robinson and his Time Team archaeologists in the village of Castor.

Filming in the historic grounds of St Kyneburgha Church for the BBC show, to be broadcast next spring, the team made great strides in uncovering the mysterious past of the site.

Guided by previous excavations carried out by 19th century archaeologist Edmund Artis, who is buried at the church, Mr Robinson and his team were delighted to discover the remains of what could be a plush Roman villa dating back to the second or third century.

The team has been digging since Tuesday but the biggest discovery happened yesterday lunchtime, when a mosaic floor was discovered beneath some 17th century graves.

The finding certainly pleased Mr Robinson, who said: “I was initially surprised at how little we were finding, given the history of the site, but it was just a case of digging a little deeper.

“The mosaic does seem to back up previous suggestions that there was a grand Roman building or set of buildings.

“The problem with Castor is that a lot of its history is a bit foggy and nobody knows the complete picture, but we’re hoping we will be able to contribute to a greater understanding about its past.”

Among the discoveries made were several walls which suggest that the area was used as a private complex by a wealthy Roman citizen, complete with Roman baths near Peterborough Road.

Time Team archaeologist Phil Harding was working on unearthing the mosaic flooring in the graveyard and said there was evidence previous gravediggers could not find their way through.

He said: “We’ve been finding a lot of bones in the trench and it seems like gravediggers were finding it impossible to dig past the mosaic and so were just burying people three feet deep.”

Current church gravedigger David Reed said he was pleased that the dig had been successful. He said: “It’s nice to see so much history in this area being brought out into the open.”

via Time Team dig up Roman villa at Castor | Peterborough Today.

Pondering the Wine Dark Sea

The incipit of a review of Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass … looks interesting:

This tale begins with a Liberal leader and his innovative exploration of the colour blue. Not Nick Clegg and the Tories, but William Gladstone and his concern about Homer’s use of colour in The Iliad and The Odyssey. Gladstone was the first prominent intellectual to notice something awry with the Greek poet’s sense of colour. Homer never described the sky as blue. In fact, Homer barely used colour terms at all and when he did they were just peculiar. The sea was “wine-looking”. Oxen were also “wine-looking”. And, to Gladstone, the sea and oxen were never of the same colour. His explanation was that the Ancient Greeks had not developed a colour sense, and instead saw the world in terms of black and white with only a dash of red.

Guy Deutscher’s interest in the Homeric eye is less about evolution or optics than it is linguistic. Can we see something for which we have no word? Yes. The Greeks were able to distinguish shades of blue just as vividly as we can now, despite lacking a specific vocabulary for them. Yet, writes Deutscher, even though Gladstone was wrong about the Greeks’ sense of perception, his hunch about the emergence of colour words was “so sharp and far-sighted that much of what he wrote . . . can hardly be bettered today”.

It turned out that it wasn’t just the Ancient Greeks who never said the sky was blue. None of the ancient languages had a proper word for blue. What we now call blue was once subsumed by older words for black or for green. (In fact, this is why in Japan green lights are actually a bluer shade of green than in the rest of the world. The word used for the green of traffic lights is ao, which used to mean “green and blue” but now means blue. Rather than change the word, they changed the colour.)

… I’m trying to recall ‘wine looking’ oxen … I’m also wondering about that phrase “black and white with only a dash of red” … kind of sounds like ‘300’.

*Sir* Fergus Millar

Brand device of the University of Oxford, inco...
Image via Wikipedia

The incipit of  the BBC’s coverage of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list:

A retired Oxford professor of ancient history is to be awarded a Knighthood in the Birthday Honours List for services to Scholarship.

Fergus Millar, 74, was Camden Professor of Ancient History Emeritus, Oxford University until he retired in 2002.

He received the Kenyon Medal for Classics from the British Academy in 2005.

Professor Millar is credited as being among the most influential ancient historians of the 20th Century.

He is an authority in the field of ancient Roman and Greek history.

His accolades include honorary doctorates from Oxford and Helsinki and elected memberships in foreign academies.

Professor Millar said: “I was surprised, it’s late in life but I’m pleased, it’s recognition of the subject that I do.”

Iran’s Salt Men Saved!

Salt man's head, Iran Bastan Museum
Image via Wikipedia

On the periphery of our purview, sort of, semi- …

The ancient Iranian “salt men” have been saved from decomposition.

“The salt men are currently kept in special showcases under controlled conditions at the Zolfaqari Museum,” the Zanjan Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Department (ZCHTHD) director said in a press conference on Wednesday.

“Without hesitation, I can say that the salt men kept here are in better condition than the one at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran,” Amir Elahi stated.

Three showcases, each at a cost of 250,000,000 rials (about $25,000), have been specially designed for the salt men, he explained.

The showcases have been equipped with devices, which enable experts to monitor conditions inside and keep them under full control, Elahi added.

All six salt men, known as Iranian mummies, were discovered at the Chehrabad Salt Mine in the Hamzehlu region near Zanjan over the past 13 years.

In February 2009, a number of Iranian media reported that four of the salt men kept at the Zolfaqari Museum, were in a critical condition due to loose plexiglass cases that had been designed for storing these mummies.

The media explained that the cases were not hermetically sealed and changes in air temperature and pressure had created cracks in them, allowing bacteria and insects to enter and do damage to the mummies.

Studies on the Fourth Salt Man indicate that the body is 2000 years old and that he was 15 or 16 years old at the time of his death.

It is still not clear when the other salt men lived, but archaeologists estimate that the First Salt Man, kept at the National Museum of Iran, lived about 1700 years ago and died sometime between the ages of 35 and 40.

The Sixth Salt Man was left in-situ due to the dearth of equipment in Iran necessary for its preservation.

We’ve mentioned Iran’s salt men before, and Adrienne Mayor’s interesting idea that they may have been the inspiration for satyrs … (the image from Wikipedia there is not one of the salt men from the article, I don’t think).

CONF: APGRD Conference: ‘Choruses: Ancient and Modern’

The Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama ( is delighted to announce the Annual Conference 2010

Choruses: Ancient and Modern (13-14 September 2010)

University of Oxford

For more information and to register for the conference please contact Naomi Setchell, APGRD Archivist/Administrator (naomi.setchell AT The registration fee is £25. Several student bursaries are available.

The standard view of the ancient chorus as an encumbrance in the modern western world, where the individual rather than the collective is prized, needs serious scrutiny. Not only does this overlook much dramatic theory and practice since the eighteenth century, it also ignores the monarchical contexts in which this intrinsically neo-classical view was developed. At the conference an international and interdisciplinary group of speakers (classicists, theatre historians, anthropologists, musicologists, philosophers as well as contemporary practitioners) will examine the various contexts in the modern world in which ancient choruses have been consciously imitated, shunned and on occasions dangerously travestied in the modern world. The conference will therefore consider not only the aesthetics of the chorus but also the ways in which choruses have interacted (ritually, broadly socially and explicitly politically) with audiences in both antiquity and the modern world.

Confirmed speakers include:

Karen Ahlquist (George Washington) ‘Chorus and Community’

Joshua Billings (Oxford) ‘An Alien Body? Choral questions around 1800′

Claudia Bosse (theatre director) will lead a practical workshop

Laurence Dreyfus (Oxford) ‘Sunken in the “Mystical Abyss”: The ‘choral’ orchestra in Wagner’s Music Dramas’

Zachary Dunbar (Central School of Speech and Drama) ‘The Politics of the Musical Chorus Line’

Simon Goldhill (Cambridge) ‘Choral Lyric(s)’

Erika Fischer-Lichte (Freie-Universität, Berlin) ‘From Reinhardt to Riefenstahl’

Albert Henrichs (Harvard) ‘Chorality and Modern Interpretations: Nietzsche, Benjamin and Burkert’

Sheila Murnaghan (UPenn) ‘The choral plot of Greek tragedy’

Martin Revermann (Toronto) ‘Brechtian Choralities’

Ian Rutherford (Reading) ‘Chorus, Song, Anthropology’

Roger Savage (Edinburgh) ‘Purists and Polymorphs: the Operatic Chorus in Rameau and Gluck’

CONF: Codex Gregorianus workshop/Projet Volterra colloquium 3 (9-10 July 2010)

Seen on Classicists (please send any responses to the people/institution mentioned in the post, not to rogueclassicism!)

Projet Volterra II: Law and the End of Empire
( )

Colloquium 3: The Imprint of Roman law in Lombard and Carolingian Italy / Public Workshop on The Codex Gregorianus
9-10 July 2010

Rooms 1.01-1.02, 23 Gordon Square, History Department, University College London ( )

*Open to all – free of charge*


Friday 9 July

Session 1
11.00: Welcome and opening remarks (Benet Salway)
11.30: Dr Peter Sarris, "A conflict of laws in seventh-century Italy? Grimoald, Justinian, and the afterlife of the colonate"

12.45-14.00: buffet lunch

Session 2
14.00: Dr Simon Corcoran, "The Byzantines in the South: code and charter in imperial southern Italy"
15.15: Prof. Michael Crawford, "Monte Cassino and Roman law: the evidence of Paul the Deacon"

15.40: tea break

Session 3
16.00: Prof. Luca Loschiavo, "L’Editto di Rotari. Fra consuetudini ancestrali germaniche e tradizioni romanistiche: vecchi problemi e nuove discussioni"
17.15: Dr Magnus Ryan, [on Lombard and Roman law - title to be confirmed]

18.30: drinks reception