Nihil Novi When It Comes to Christmas Shopping for Kids?

… from a Royal Holloway press release (with a somewhat misleading/disappointing headline):

As Christmas fast approaches and you are drawing up a shopping list of seasonal gifts, you may not realise that many of the choices you will make will be influenced by the ancient Greeks.

“We still revert to centuries-old gender stereotypes when deciding what to buy,” said Dr Richard Hawley from the Classics Department at Royal Holloway.

Indeed, many examples of this will be seen this Christmas, with dolls and princess outfits for girls and action figures and mini tool kits for the boys.

“In classical Greece and Rome girls had their own clay dolls, with tiny gold rings on their fingers, not that different from today’s Barbie. These prepared girls for their role as passive objects of male desire, wearing clothes and jewellery that signified their family’s wealth.

“For the boys, there were ancient action figures – the souvenirs that could be bought from the Roman arena in the shape of popular gladiators, the WWF celebrities of their day. These were the role models who growing boys looked up to”, Dr Hawley added.

Citing gift catalogues that often divide presents into ‘his’ and ‘hers’ sections, Dr Hawley argues that our sense of gender equality seems to fade away during the holiday season.

“When it comes to Christmas and the marketing of gifts, particularly for children, we seem to revert back to the ‘old’ times”, he said. “What people may not realise, though, is how far back these traditions really go!”

… I think I’ve got my next topic for a Pinterest board …

Lunch With Robin Lane Fox

Interesting charity effort from the Financial Times:

The Financial Times has sold lunch with Oxford classicist Robin Lane Fox as part of its 2012 Seasonal Appeal.

The online auction for the lunch, which the listing describes as a “unique opportunity,” lasted for ten days and attracted four bidders, who managed to rack up a grand total of £910.

Fox, who is a Fellow in Classics at New College, has written a weekly column for the Financial Times since 1970. He is master of the College’s main garden, as well as eight other College gardens. Known by some for his often controversial views, he infuriated many of his readers by describing this summer’s Olympic opening ceremony as ‘piffle’.

According to Wilfrid Jones, a second year musician at New, Fox is a “well known figure” in the College. “Classicists refer to him as fiercely intelligent,” he said. “My Dad, an obsessive gardener, is always asking if I’ve met him yet so I’m sure the person who won the bid will find him fascinating.”

Speaking to The Oxford Student, Fox himself commented on the charity auction, saying: “The lunch is entirely for charity and is an idea of the FT’s, now three years old. About 25 columnists are auctioned off and all proceeds go to the charity of the year. Obviously readers bid mainly to help a good cause.

“I have no idea what my winner will like to talk about, but gardening will surely be part of it. The charitable aspect is crucial – bids do not exactly set a fee which I can now charge for having College lunch.”

Holly Hewlett, one of Fox’s third-year students, has some words of advice for the winner of the auction: “Robin would HATE to live in Archaic Sparta – we had a tutorial about this!. So I’d advise when the meal is brought over to comment on how preferable the food is to Sparta’s favourite dish, black broth. That should encourage a very animated discussion.

“If the winner has done their research, they will know that Robin adores Alexander the Great. DO NOT insult him, or Pericles, or Solon (two Athenians – do your homework). The winner might call it ‘being provocative’ or ‘controversial’; he’d just call you ‘wrong’.

Hewlett continued: “Essentially, the winner can expect to find a great lunch companion in Robin and I guarantee the conversation to be as fascinating as it is entertaining.”

Alongside the gardening and traditional scholarship for which he is most known, Fox also acted as a consultant to film director Oliver Stone during the making of the 2004 film ‘Alexander’, an epic based on the life of Alexander the Great.

In a behind-the-scenes documentary produced by the BBC, Fox reflects on his experiences on set in Morocco, saying: “I hate the heat, I hate deserts. I love green fields, I like gentle rain, I love my garden, I love my horse and I love my University.”

According to the eBay listing, the charity lunch will be held “at a mutually agreeable time in early 2013.” All proceeds will go to The Global Fund for Children, a US-based non-profit organisation which aims to “transform the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children.”

Classical Words of the Day


This Day in Ancient History:

ante diem xiii kalendas januarias

  • Saturnalia continues (day 4) – major, popular festival in honour of Saturn with banquets, the wearing of soft caps (pilei), and general good cheer. Shops and schools were closed, gambling was legally permitted, gifts were exchanged and masters might even wait on their servants. Obviously this festival is often seen as a precursor to our modern-day Christmas celebrations.
  • 69 A.D. — supporters of the Flavians capture Rome; murder of the emperor-for-a-little-while Vitellius