CONF: Laughter in the Library

Seen on Classicists (please send any responses to the folks mentioned in the quoted text, not to rogueclassicism!):

Laughter in the Library: a colloquium on Old Comedy for Penny Bulloch

Ioannou Classics Centre, Oxford

Saturday 5th June 2010

10.30 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.

To mark the retirement of Penny Bulloch and her contribution as Fellow Librarian at Balliol College,

Oxford, and earlier in Cambridge, and as a mainstay of all things Aristophanic and Old Comic in

the Classics Faculty of Oxford University, there will be a day of papers on Old Comedy in her

honour by friends, colleagues, and former students.


Edith Hall (RHUL): “The Aesopic in Old Comedy”

Angus Bowie (Queen’s, Oxford): narratology of space in Old Comedy (title TBC)

Matthew Wright (Exeter University): “Pea Soup and Old Jokes”

Peter Brown (Trinity, Oxford): Walter Braunfels’ opera Die Vögel (title TBC)

Matthew Leigh (St Anne’s, Oxford): topic TBC

All are welcome and there will be no fee for attendance, though for the purposes of planning it

would be very much appreciated if you could let the organizers know that you plan to come by

Friday 21st May. Tea and coffee will be served, and a small reception held afterwards. There will

also be an optional buffet lunch at a cost of £6. Please let the organizers know if you would like

lunch, by the same date, and make cheques payable to Dr. R.W. Cowan.

Any enquiries may be addresses to Bob Cowan (bob.cowan AT or Adrian Kelly

(adrian.kelly AT

Trinity College’s Classics Threatened

From the Tripod:

Trinity College’s Classics Department is in danger of being dissolved and replaced as an interdisciplinary program.

This process involves numerous steps, the first of which is the notification of Department Chair and Associate Professor of Classics Dr. Martha Risser by the Educational Policy Committee (EPC).

The EPC consists of various members of the Trinity Faculty, including the Dean of the Faculty, who serves as the chair but does not vote. There also are six elected tenured members of the faculty on the EPC, who must have been at Trinity for at least five years. These six members serve three-year, staggered terms on the EPC, and none of the members may serve consecutive terms.

There is at least one, but no more than three, representatives from the following departments: the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities/arts. The EPC also cannot have more than one member from any one department.

Now that the EPC has delivered a notification of its thoughts to Risser, a series of rigid steps will follow. Risser will first have to present a statement to the EPC, which she says “will vote on whether or not to bring a motion to the faculty, requesting permission to conduct an inquiry into the possibility of discontinuing the Classics Department and organizing an interdisciplinary program in its place.”

If the committee decides to bring a motion to the faculty, they will do so and wait for the faculty to vote. If the motion is approved, the EPC will conduct an inquiry and decide whether or not it is necessary to discontinue the Classics department. If they decide in the affirmative, they will allow the faculty to vote on the motion. If that motion is also passed than the ultimate decision lies with President James F. Jones, Jr.

“The questions concerning the role of a traditional classics department have been around for a great many years,” said Jones, “Several different solutions have been tried: from the Five-College Consortium model in Massachusetts to the IT classics network in the South sponsored by the Mellon Foundation. We here are trying to think of ways to increase the role of classics by extending traditional language (Greek and Latin) and literature offerings to classics studies. Some may wish for days of yesteryear where, at Trinity and elsewhere, Latin and Greek were required. But those days are never going to return, however much we might pine for them. The Dean is trying to think, with senior faculty here, of ways to extend our offerings rather than to have to justify tiny-enrolled courses for a very few.”

Jones also was sure to point out that his opinion was just one of many.

“I should state my own prejudices. I was a student at a military academy in the South where, if one were in the upper form, one had to read all the way through Ovid, Cicero, Livy, and Virgil. If I live long enough, I hope to end my career where I first started it: teaching Caesar, Cicero, Ovid, and Virgil in the morning and coaching soccer in the afternoon.”

The Classics Department was recently looked at by external reviewers who came to Trinity last spring and argued against the replacing of the department with a program. According to Risser, they recommended both of the vacant tenure-track positions be returned to the Classics Department and filled as soon as possible.

Risser also noted that the only NESCAC school without a Classics Department is Bates, where an interdisciplinary program is anchored by three tenured professors who specialize in Greek and Roman literature.

“Some have expressed concern about enrollments,” said Risser, “While it is true that some of our classes (e.g. Advanced Greek) are consistently small, others (e.g. Mythology, Ancient Warfare, Ancient Athletics) are large. Our average enrollments are equivalent to those of other departments.”

When asked about her own thoughts on the possible changes to the Classics Department, Risser expressed her uncertainty of the future.

“I really do not know what will happen, but I hope Classics will always be valued at Trinity. Classics has a long tradition of being an interdisciplinary field in which we examine the societies, cultures, values, laws, arts and ideas that form the core of the world in which we live. Through studying the ancient Greeks and Romans, our students become acquainted with the cultures that are at the very foundation of Modern Western and Middle Eastern civilizations, and gain understanding of the rich classical tradition that is still present in our lives today.”

A group in support of keeping the Classics Department has been created on Facebook by Trinity alumnus James Sickinger ’86, who majored in Classics while at the College. According to the Web site, the group is “intended to serve as a focal point for fostering support for the Classics Department at Trinity College, which is threatened with elimination. It will serve as a forum to provide information and foster communication.” At the time of press, the group had 340 members.

via College’s Classics Department Faces Possible Changes in Future – News.

Facebook seems to be blocked where I am right now; I’ll post the site later or, if some intrepid soul has access, please post it in the comments.

Gladiating Through University

show fight in Carnuntum: thraex vs.
Image via Wikipedia

From the Local:

Twenty students from the University of Regensburg plan to live and train in the style of Roman gladiators from 79 AD and stage a battle for scientific research this summer, the project’s Bavarian organisers said on Monday.

“We know hardly anything about the gladiators,” historian Josef Löffl said. “There are a lot of myths and clichés attached.”

Löffl and his colleagues plan to find out this August whether they can make modern young men into authentic gladiators following the Roman example.

The student warriors, who are all studying various disciplines at the university, won’t be eating pizza, hamburgers or steaks during their training. Instead they’ll have berries and white beans on their plates as the ancient Roman doctor Galen recommended in his texts.

They will also learn to fight wearing bronze helmets that weigh almost five kilogrammes at a camp that won’t allow girlfriends, showers, or washing machines.

“For me it’s a welcome change from sitting in front of the computer,” said athletic archaeology student Martin Schreiner.

He and the other gladiators are already training together four days a week. Following the summer training camp the group plans to perform at the former Roman army camp Carnuntum in Austria.

“We assume that those involved will weather the experiment quite well,” Löffl said.

Regensburg was once an important Roman stronghold along the Danube River, and historians at the university have conducted similar experiments in the past. In 2004 students built a Roman galley along the banks of the river, while others lived like legionnaires in the Alps.

This year’s project has been funded by €200,000 from businessman Hans Schaller, whose hobby is recreating historic events and participating as the character “Schallus Brutalus Maximus.”

via University students to live like ancient Roman gladiators – The Local.

Dr Loffl seems fond of putting grad students through these reenacment exercises

More coverage:

Guernsey as Roman Trading Post

The incipit of an item at the BBC:

A series of finds in 1980s completely changed the perception of the effect the Romans had on Guernsey.

Tanya Walls, La Société Guernesiaise archaeology secretary, said before the finds it had been thought they had little influence.

However, when evidence of settlements, trade and industry came to light it told a different story.

The island became a centre for trade, most obviously shown by the wreck of a Roman trading ship found off Guernsey.

Before the Romans, Guernsey had been well-known as a trading point for wine in the Iron Age as ships made their way north from Bordeaux.

The Romans capitalised on this settling in St Peter Port following their occupation of Gaul (modern day France).

In the 1980s a site was discovered at La Paladerie, in St Peter Port, where Roman artefacts and the remains of buildings were uncovered.

Amongst the items found on the site were locally produced Iron Age pottery alongside the finer type produced in Europe by the Romans and also remains of the household gods found in every Roman home before the empire’s conversion to Christianity.

A few years before this the Asterix, a Gallo-Roman trading vessel, was found in the mouth of the harbour and these two finds combined to show how Guernsey was used as a trading post.

Tanya explained that it is thought the Romans settled in Guernsey shortly after they conquered what is now France, but before they reached England, sometime in the first century BC, and: “Their influence would have been strong for around 300 years.”

Tiles from a Roman building were used in the construction of Castel Church

The idea that there was a Roman settlement in St Peter Port was furthered when the Town Market building was redeveloped in 2000 and a further series of settlements were found.


via BBC – Guernsey the Roman Empire’s trading post.

We mentioned the plans for the Asterix a few months ago …

Egalitarian Mycenean Burials?

Most of a very interesting item from the Independent:

A team of archaeologists have unearthed five chamber tombs at Ayia Sotira, a cemetery in the Nemea Valley in Greece, just a few hours walk from the ancient city of Mycenae. The tombs date from 1350 – 1200 BC, the era in which Mycenae thrived as a major centre of Greek civilization.

They contain the remains of 21 individuals who probably came from Tsoungiza, an agricultural settlement close to the ancient city. Despite the significant human remains, however, the team have found no evidence of elite burials, prompting speculation that Tsoungiza may have been an egalitarian society without leaders.

The team excavated the five tombs between 2006 and 2008, containing the skeletal remains of 21 individuals, including what appears to be an extended family made up of two men, one woman and two young children. Detailed analysis of the remains will be difficult to carry out as they are generally poorly preserved. The team have been advised by scientists that DNA analysis will not be possible, but it is hoped that analysis will reveal further information about the diet of the individuals.

The team also discovered pieces of obsidian and flint debris in the tombs, and believe that these tools would have been used to cut up bodies as part of ‘secondary burial’ procedures – a funerary practice that was not uncommon in the ancient world. Professor Angus Smith, of Brock University in Canada, is one of the directors of the excavation project. He explained:

“You bury somebody, then you wait for that person to decompose, then you go back into the tomb or grave and you collect the bones after all the flesh has decomposed”.

Professor Smith suggested that there were practical reasons to bury bodies in this way, in that the bodies would take up less space. But there may also have been ritualistic reasons. In Tomb 4 the team found a small pit that contained the secondary burials of two adult men. Both of their skulls were “displayed at a higher level than the rest of the skeleton,” said Professor Smith, suggesting that the men were “carefully placed in this pit”.

The team were surprised to find a lack of burial goods in the tombs. The Mycenaean civilization is known for its rich elite burials, but the goods found at Ayia Sotira were modest. They included alabaster pots, bowls, jugs, faïence and glass beads, and a female Psi figurine (one of three styles typical of Mycenae). After water-sieving the remains, they also found stone micro beads that were no bigger than a millimetre in size. One tomb contained 462 of these beads stowed in a side-chamber, and are thought to be the remains of a necklace.

There were no findings of the gold or silver artefacts expected in an elite burial, although they did find fragments of a conical rhyton – a two-hole vessel that can be used for libation rituals and is often associated with elite burials.

Professor Smith described the tomb complex as having a “distinctly different character to those around Mycenae. The wealthy and very wealthy tombs are missing”.

One explanation could be that the elite tombs were looted, either in ancient times or more recently. When the team arrived at Ayia Sotira, they found ‘probe holes’ that had been dug into the ground by looters searching for airways.

Another possibility is that the elite tombs at Ayia Sotira just haven’t been discovered yet.

A third possibility is that these people lived in a classless society – that despite being close to a rich city, the people of this settlement, for whatever reason, had no elites.

“It does seem to be a community of agriculturalists who don’t seem to have a clear leader or clear elite mixed in amongst them,” said Professor Smith. “Were they governed by the palace at Mycenae which sort of oversaw them? Or were they removed enough that they had their own system of politics and government but one that didn’t produce clear elites?”

via Mycenaean tombs discovered might be evidence of classless society | The Independent.

Interesting questions … it will be interesting to see where this all ends up going …