Dalhousie’s Pythian Games

From a Dalhousie University press release:

If your Friday evening featured apocalyptic ramblings, verbose philosophers and an MC-ing Roman legionary, chances are you were at the Pythian Games.

Not the original Pythian Games – those were an Ancient Greek festival celebrating athleticism and artistic prowess, and they were millennia ago, so you’re a little late to get in on that action. Dalhousie’s Department of Classics, however, has resurrected the Pythian Games as an annual showcase where students of all majors can show off their Greek grammar, recite a favourite poem or otherwise indulge their dramatic side. And on March 16, indulge they did, togas a-flapping and tongues planted in cheek.

The Games were hosted by a Roman legionary who, rumour has it, strongly resembled assistant professor Jack Mitchell. “I’m only a humble legionary,” he introduced himself. “I’ve come here to see whether Apollo still breathes!”

The ancient soldier’s troubled soul was set at ease by the evening’s 17 performers, whose offerings ranged from skits to original translations to dramatic readings.

Standouts including Mr. James Campbell-Prager’s Gilbert and Sullivan send-up “I’ve Got a Little List,” a sung inventory of characters “whose loss would be a distinct gain to society at large” (textbook publishers, “idiot guest lecturers,” Helvetica hipsters, and people who eat chips in the library were all named and shamed); Cat Migliore and Sarah Black’s comedy sketch “An Ancient Squabble”, in which a Greek and Roman soldier bickered in oddly Cockney accents; Emily Varto’s Ever-Victorious Second-Year Greek Class performing their original work “The Dicaeopolidea” (subtitle, “a journey in Greeklish”); and Dominic Lacasse’s concluding Ancient Greek performance from The Book of Revelation (the audience, suitably chastened by Mr. Lacasse’s warning of dire days to come, quietly crept out to hide behind the reception’s chip bowls).
Cultural foundations

“I think [the Pythian Games are] a good chance to show what you’ve worked on… it’s a nice arena to do that,” says Zoe Vatter, secretary of the Classics Society and originator of the role of the woebegone farmer Dicaeopolis in “The Dicaeopolida.” Ms. Vatter has a passion for the Classics that goes way back.

“I have always been obsessed with the Greek gods ever since I was a child,” she says. “Classics kind of ties everything together… it’s a very versatile degree because the foundations of the world, I guess, are in Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece.”

Ms. Vatter was also kind enough to explain the mysterious “Dicaeopolida.” “[Dicaeopolis] was a character in our Ancient Greek textbook. Anybody who’s taken Ancient Greek would get the irony.”

The inside jokes and community spirit that characterized the Pythian Games is also one of the attractions of Dalhousie’s classics department generally. “I know all the professors and they all know me,” says Ms. Vatter. “Everybody who is very involved in the department was at the Pythian Games.” Best of all, this year’s games raised the bar: “Last year was a little crowded. It was nice to have a bigger space… there was a ton more people this year.”

While the contest winners haven’t been announced yet, prizes up to $250 await some lucky Sappho or Orpheus. And if you missed it this time around, keep an eye open (and a lyre tuned) for next year’s third annual Pythian Games.

… can’t believe no one has posted anything on youtube …

M.D. Usher Talks Arab Spring

Interesting talk coming up … via Seven Days:

University of Vermont classics professor M.D. Usher has a way of getting caught up in regime-change protests. During a conference in Cairo last month, he was hustled out of Tahrir Square, a site that struck him as “a kind of Occupy Wall Street space.” A year ago, in the middle of a monthlong teaching stint at the University of Malawi, he witnessed the campus erupting in blockades and overturned cars in reaction to the African country’s latest ruler.

“Without exaggeration, I can say that I saw it first,” Usher declares of the latter instance.

He’ll be showing slides from both experiences at a talk he’s giving at UVM this coming Tuesday evening. Entitled “Agamemnon in Africa, Ulysses in Ulaanbaatar: Classics Gone Global,” the talk is one of this year’s two public Dean’s Lectures — a series awarded to accomplished faculty with a knack for communicating their academic research to students and general audiences.

Why is a classics prof talking about the likes of the Arab Spring? Usher believes emerging democracies such as those in Egypt and Malawi could learn much from Greek literature, particularly Aeschylus’ triad of tragedies known as the Oresteia.

Aeschylus wrote Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides in 458 BC, when “small Athens had just defeated great Persia,” Usher explains. It was the height of Athens’ experiment with democracy, and new ideas of justice and governing were on the rise. Set mostly in a mythical era, the trilogy concerns the case of Orestes, who murders his mother because she murdered his father. Orestes is ultimately tried by a jury of Athenian citizens, who spare him the death sentence. Reason and democratic processes prevail over the old order’s endless cycle of revenge killings.

Usher isn’t the only classical scholar to deem the Oresteia relevant to ongoing struggles to establish democratic states. His talk will address the work of British classicist George Thomson, who developed the first Marxist interpretations of Greek literature. As Usher will show, Thomson’s late-1930s translation of the Aeschylus trilogy inspired filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1970 documentary Notes Toward an African Orestes, filmed in newly postcolonial Africa.

Though Usher will also comment on Greek epic poetry’s fundamental orality and his own encounter with a still-living oral epic tradition in Mongolia, the bulk of his talk will cast the tragedies as touchstones for political struggles around the world.

“The tendency is to see Western literature as insular and imperialist,” Usher observes. “But if you actually look at these texts with fresh eyes, they do speak to emerging democracies. The Greeks invented democracy, more or less, and if democracy is going to be the new paradigm, you need to look back at Greek literature.”

Hellenistic/Roman Cemetery from Thessaloniki

Tip o’ the pileus to Diana Wright for sending in this brief item from Athens News:

Part of an ancient cemetery dating from the Hellenistic and Roman eras was uncovered in Thessaloniki during excavations for the construction of a new metro station.

A total of 75 tombs, 45 of which have already been examined, were unearthed in an area of 500m2 at the site of the Dimokratia station.

Most of the tombs are box shaped, one is circular and others have tiled roofs. A large number of altars used for funerary ceremonies were also found, as well as many funerary offerings dated between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.

… and it just occurred to me … I wonder if the frequent references to antiquities smuggling arrests in Thessaloniki are connected to the metro construction …

CFP: Revenge and Gender from Classical to Early Modern Literature

Seen on the Classicists list:


Female Fury and the Masculine Spirit of Vengeance:
Revenge and Gender from Classical to Early Modern Literature


Professor Alison Findlay
Professor Edith Hall

5-6 September 2012, University of Bristol, UK

Revenge is often thought of as a quintessentially masculine activity, set in a martial world of blood feuds and patriarchal codes of honour. However, the quest for vengeance can also be portrayed as intensifying passionate feelings traditionally thought of as feminine. In such instances revenge does not confirm a man’s heroic valour, but is a potentially emasculating force, dangerous to his reason, self-mastery, and gender identity. Such alternative ways of viewing revenge are also relevant when the avenger is a woman. To what extent is revenge deemed to be natural or unnatural to a woman, and what is its effect upon her psyche and perceived gender? Does the same impulse which effeminizes a man make a woman dangerously masculine? And how should we view the indirect ways that women influence retribution, such as through mourning, cursing, or goading? Are these an important means of female agency, or do they suggest women’s exclusion from active revenge, reinforcing traditional gender roles? Are certain acts of violence interpreted differently if the perpetrator is a man or woman, father or mother, son or daughter?

This conference aims to explore these questions, reevaluating the complex and varied ways that gender impacts the performance and interpretation of revenge. Proposed papers may take up any intersection of revenge and gender in texts from Classical to early modern literature, and can focus on individual texts and periods or take an interdisciplinary or cross-temporal approach. Topics may include, but are not limited to: the ways in which revenge bolsters, threatens or transfigures an individual’s gender identity and/or role within the family; how individual acts of vengeance reinforce or undermine homosocial or female bonds; personifications of revenge; how the relationship between gender and revenge are reconfigured in a text’s translation, reception, and reinterpretation over time; the ethical, cultural and social implications for the ways in which revenge is gendered.

We invite proposals (250 words) for papers addressing these questions. Submissions from postgraduate students, and early career researchers are welcomed. Pre-formed panel proposals will also be considered. Abstracts may be in Word, WordPerfect, or RTF formats with the following information and in this order: a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, d) title of abstract, e) body of abstract. Please send your proposals or any queries to Lesel Dawson: lesel.dawson AT bristol.ac.uk

Deadline for proposals: 31 May, 2012.

CONF: Stesichorus Conference 2012

Seen on the Classicists list:

A two day international conference on the archaic Greek poet Stesichorus will be held on June 29th

and 30th 2012, in the Kendrew Building in St John’s College, Oxford.

Stesichorus was regarded by ancient critics as one of the greatest poetic talents between Homer
and tragedy. His works were almost completely lost in late antiquity, but over the last sixty years
many have been rediscovered on papyrus. No new fragments have appeared for over twenty years
now, so it seems a good moment to assess the nature of Stesichorus’ literary achievement and his
legacy to later poets. As far as we know, this is the first conference devoted to his oeuvre.

The programme for this conference is as follows:

Friday 29th June

9.00-9.30 Welcome
9.30-10.30 Prof. Ewen Bowie Stesichorus and Athens
10.30-11.00 Tea/Coffee
11.00-12.00 Dr Adrian Kelly Stesichorus’ Homer
12.00-13.00 Prof Chris Carey Stesichorus and the Epic Cycle

13.00-14.30 Lunch

14.30-15.30 Dr Maria Xanthou Stesichorus’ women: genealogy, beauty, and heroic
15.30-16.30 Dr Patrick Finglass Stesichorus, master of narrative
16.30-17.00 Tea/Coffee
17.00-18.00 Dr Dirk Obbink Stesichorus on and off the pots

Evening Dinner

Saturday 30th June

9.30-10.30 Prof Martin West Epic, lyric, and lyric epic
10.30-11.00 Tea/Coffee
11.00-12.00 Prof Richard Hunter Sweet Stesichorus: Theocritus and the Helen revisited
12.00-13.00 Prof Ian Rutherford Stesichorus’ Rhadine

13.00-14.30 Lunch

14.30-15.30 Prof Ettore Cingano The indirect tradition of Stesichorus
15.30-16.30 Dr Gerson Schade Stesichorus’ readers: from Simonides to Anne Carson
16.30-17.00 Tea/Coffee
17.00-18.00 Dr Malcolm Davies Stesichorus and folk-tale

18.00-18.30 Final discussion; close

The conference is generously sponsored by the Oxford Faculty of Classics, by the Craven
Committee, and by St John’s College. The conference fee is £3 for one day, £6 for both days, and
includes tea and coffee. Lunch and dinner are available at St John’s, at a cost; likewise
accommodation, subject to availability. Please get in touch with one of the organisers to book a
place and for further details.

Patrick Finglass, Nottingham
patrick.finglass AT nottingham.ac.uk

Adrian Kelly, Oxford
adrian.kelly AT balliol.ox.ac.uk

CJ Online Review: Hunt, War, Peace and Alliance in Demosthenes’ Athens

Posted with permission:

CJ-Online ~ 2012.03.09

Peter Hunt, War, Peace and Alliance in Demosthenes’ Athens. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xiii + 317. £63.00/$104.00. ISBN 978-0-521-83551-0.

Reviewed by Edward Harris, University of Durham

This book is a study of Athenian foreign policy based mainly on the Assembly speeches of Demosthenes and other orators. Chapter 2 (“Economics”) argues against the view of Finley and others that the profit motive was one of the main reasons why Athens went to war. Hunt observes that speakers in the Assembly almost never argue that the Athenians should attack an enemy to gain booty or territory. On the contrary, military expeditions were expensive, and the gains of victory hardly ever outweighed the costs. Hunt rejects the view of de Ste. Croix that the need for imported grain made the Athenians imperialistic but accepts the ancient view that the poor were more in favor of war than the rich (pace Badian) until the Theoric Fund provided a substitute for pay in the armed forces. Hunt fails to note, however, that Eubulus used the Theoric Fund to build an arsenal and dockyards for the fleet (Aeschin. 3.25; Din. 1.96) and neglects Demosthenes’ praise of the fund in the Fourth Philippic (37–9).

Chapter 3 (“Militarism”) argues that the Athenians admired military virtues and celebrated victories in war (like most nations) but were no more militaristic than other ancient states. Though the funeral orations often exaggerate Athenian success in war and thus encouraged aggression, realistic calculations about military resources often influenced decisions about whether to go to war or make peace. Chapter 4 (“Unequal treatment of states”) examines to what extent the Athenians took ethnicity, religion, and political regime into account in foreign relations. Hunt argues that these factors may have played a role in specific cases (for example, the occasional appeals to Panhellenism), but that the Athenians tended to place more emphasis on a state’s actions than on its status. Hunt underestimates, however, the power of Athenian hostility to tyranny (see, for example, Dem. 23.141–3 and the Philippics).

Chapter 5 (“Household Metaphors”) explores how orators often deploy metaphors based on relationships within the household to encourage Athenians to fight. These include accusing those who oppose war of acting like slaves (109–17) or women (117–23) and exhortations to match the virtues and achievements of one’s ancestors (123–32). Chapter 6 (“Defense and attack”) comes to the unsurprising conclusion that the Athenians and other Greeks often justify going to war as an act of self-defense. Chapter 7 (“Calculations of Interest”) starts with a brief discussion of the Realist School of International Relations. Hunt finds many arguments in Assembly speeches based on self-interest though often interspersed with appeals to help victims of injustice. He also observes that both Demosthenes and speakers in Thucydides invoke the “balance of power.” This does not tell us anything new.

Chapter 9 (“Legalism”) argues that the Greeks observed a set of inter-state norms that one can call “international law,” a theme that has been studied in greater depth by others such as Giovannini, whose work is missing from Hunt’s bibliography. Athenian law is not Hunt’s strong suit: on pp. 221 and 227 he contradicts himself about the contents of the Judicial Oath, has not read recent work about the concept of epieikeia, consistently mistranslates dikastês as “juror,” wrongly believes that Athenian law relied largely on self-help, that the courts took public service into account when reaching a verdict about guilt (see Dike 9 [2006] 157–81 and passages like Aeschin. 3.195; Din. 1.14; Dem. 21.143–7; Dem. 24.133–6;[Dem.] 59.116) and that the aim of the legal system was only to continue a dispute in a different setting. Pace Hunt the “consensus” mentioned at p. 235, n. 128 does not exist. Chapter 10 (“Peace”) takes up some of the same themes of Chapter 3 and finds that the Athenians were neither pacifists nor warmongers.

His general conclusion is that debates in the Assembly were based on rational considerations of national interest. While some scholars view the Athenians as primitive, Hunt (rightly in my opinion) sees many similarities with contemporary ideas about international relations. Yet if the Athenians were so rational, why did they lose so many wars in the fourth century BCE? Like Ober, Hunt is more interested in rhetoric than in events. Readers who want to know why the Athenians picked the wrong side in the Corinthian War and the Third Sacred War, were humiliated in the Social War, and trounced at Chaeronea will have to look elsewhere.

In a bibliography of 25 pages (283–308) I counted only thirty works written in languages other than English, some of the more notable omissions being Paulsen on Dem. 19, and Aeschin. 3 (more reliable than MacDowell on historical issues) and Nouhaud on the orators’ use of historical examples.

CONF: HOMO PATIENS: Approaches to the patient in the ancient world

Seen on the Classicists list:

HOMO PATIENS: Approaches to the patient in the ancient world
29.06.2012-01.07.2012, Institut für Klassische Philologie, Humboldt-
Universität zu Berlin

This meeting brings together a variety of scholars in the field of
classical studies, medicine and history of medicine to discuss the figure
of the ‘patient’ in ancient medicine. In particular, the conference aims
at shifting the focus from the ancient doctors’ authoritative discourses
about their profession, knowledge, theories and practices to reconstruct,
to whatever extent this is possible, the role, position and experience of
the patient.

Keynote speakers: Prof. Manfred Horstmanshoff (Internationales Kolleg
Morphomata, University of Cologne, DE), Prof. Helen King (Open
University, UK), Prof. Susan Mattern (University of Georgia, USA), and
Prof. John M. Wilkins (University of Exeter, UK).

Further information and registration form can be found on the conference
website, http://www.classicsmedicine.org/Aktuelles/homo-patiens/

The conference is free; please register by emailing your registration form
to Stefanie Jahnke (stefanie.jahnke.1 AT staff.hu-berlin.de) no later than
May 31, 2012.
Some travel bursaries might be available for students. Please contact the
Chiara Thumiger (Chiara.Thumiger AT hu-berlin.de)
Georgia Petridou(Georgia.Petridou AT hu-berlin.de)

Alexander von Humboldt Professorship of Classics and History of Science
‘Medicine of the Mind – Philosophy of the body’. Discourses of Health and
Well Being in the Ancient World.