The revenge of the killer dictionary: the story of Liddell, Scott, and a disgruntled octopus

This blog post was originally posted on Gorffennol.

Most of us use dictionaries on a regular basis and take their existence utterly for granted. We expect a dictionary to give us usable definitions and translation(s) of a word so we can read, write, and speak in other languages. That this dictionary was created by other humans, with a social background, political agenda, emotions, and restrictions (such as health and finances) in their lives which may have had an impact on their translations, doesn’t generally enter our thoughts. But researching the history of dictionaries is absolutely fascinating, and reveals that the process is a much more subjective one than you might think.

I’m currently researching the most renowned Greek-English dictionary of them all (and with Greek I mean ancient Greek): the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon (or LSJ in short). Everyone who studies ancient Greek will at one point in their lives pick up a copy of the LSJ (or turn to it online at http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/), and introducing the massive lexicon to my Beginning Greek students each year is always a great moment in the module, with students eagerly taking turns to look up words. I would like to tell you the story about how it all began.

(more…)

School pupil visit to our Department in March 2017

On the 16th March, we had our annual Classics Schools’ day. Pupils from four local schools attended the day and took part in workshops and talks by our academic staff as well as an object handling session at the Egypt centre. Pupils from Castle School in Pembrokeshire reflect on their experience:

Swansea University

We arrived at Swansea at about 10:30 at the large, phenomenal university. We were a bit late due to traffic and parking problems but that didn’t matter much! On the way to the entrance I couldn’t help but notice the big buildings and the green garden areas. Beautiful. The inside was equally as nice and after getting lost we found our way to the first talk. Sadly we had missed a bit because we were late.

When we got there (a bit late because it takes an hour to get there and there were some traffic and parking problems) we saw lots of people, so it must be a big university.

Classics in Wales

The first talk was taken by Dr. Evelien Bracke. It was about the Romans and some Roman artefacts in Wales. It was very interesting. She talked about some Roman Artwork and buildings in Swansea that were inspired by Roman architecture. The students mentioned many museums in Swansea that held proof that the Romans did play a big role in British society. In fact we had just recently visited Caerleon where there is a theatre and some cool Roman baths. It’s amazing there.

 

(more…)

Epicurean Legacy

Written by Jack Brooker
2nd Year Ancient History Student at Swansea University
Published: February 2017

I chose to write about Epicurus because I think he is important. The world we live in has recently become, undeniably, highly politicised. I see the teachings of Epicurus, generally ignored as the basis for a moral code, as a solid foundation for friendly interaction between people. Perhaps if his philosophy was studied more closely, we would be further from the war of attrition between a myriad of inflexible groups, in which we currently find ourselves.

Epicurean Legacy

When we, the general public, hear the words ‘ancient philosophy’ our thoughts are generally drawn to Aristotle and Plato, the great beardy philosophers of the Greek Classical Period. Perhaps the more well-read amongst us will think of, gods forbid, the Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius (whose morose Meditations have plagued the world of Hellenistic Philosophy with dreariness for far too long).

But the Hellenistic world, fortunately, produced far more than just Stoicism; nor were the Stoics the only school of philosophy to influence modern thought. Indeed, one could argue that modern thought has been influenced more by the chief opponents of the Stoics, and the subjects of this piece: the Epicureans.

Born on Samos in 341 BCE, Epicurus founded his philosophical school – the Garden – outside the walls of Athens in 306. There he lived amongst his friends and fellow members of the school (with Epicurus considering the former the more important qualification) and constructed his philosophy, based upon the attainment of pleasure through the removal of both physical and mental pain. He died there in 270, leaving his school and home to his disciples.

Epicureanism thereafter spread rapidly through the classical world, eventually becoming a major philosophy within the Roman Empire. Gaius Cassius Longinus, the tyrannicide, was an Epicurean (though seemingly in breach of the Epicurean principle of not getting involved in politics). The Roman philosopher Lucretius, writing in the 1st Century BCE, penned the definitive distillation of Epicurus’ philosophy in Latin, De Rerum Natura (‘On the Nature of Things’). Both Cicero and Seneca discussed Epicureanism in their works, and the charred papyrus scrolls discovered in the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum are a treasure trove of Epicurean works, including the works of Philodemus.

A series of Stoic emperors and the rise of Christianity, coupled with the general reluctance of Epicureans to engage in public life, led to the decline of the philosophy in latter half and aftermath of the Roman Empire, with its only echo to be found in the monastic communities of the Christian monks (environments which, I suspect, were much less joy-oriented). However, the ideas of the Epicureans would be rediscovered in the early Renaissance, and went on to become the cornerstone of modern thought.

Epicurean atomism, the theory that everything in the universe consists of invisible atoms of a fixed shape, size and weight, would be developed by 16th and 17th Century scholars to develop the heliocentric solar system model of Copernicus into something defensible, and by Renaissance alchemists to develop the theories that would eventually become the science of chemistry.

Epicurean philosophies have also informed some of the greatest historical social thinkers: Epicurus’ view that supernatural entities (like gods) are unable to have any direct influence in the natural world informed the metaphysical views of Kant and Hume, Epicurean ideas about natural law and justice informed the social contract theories of Hobbes and Rousseau, and the principle of maximising pleasure and reducing pain was a driving idea for the founders of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Epicurus’ ideal of living a contented life even informed the walking, talking controversy that was Karl Marx.

The works of Epicurus and his successors have had an immeasurable impact upon the social and scientific thought of the modern world. Their slip back into obscurity, in an age where ever increasing numbers of people report being unhappy or discontent with daily life, cannot be allowed to stand. So, whilst Aristotle and Plato are all well and good, I would argue that we all need to inject a little Epicureanism into the mix. And, yes, I suppose we can study the Stoics too…

For a more comprehensive discussion of Epicurean philosophy and its influence on modern thinking, see Catherine Wilson’s Epicureanism: A Very Short Introduction, in the popular Oxford Very Short Introduction series.

A comprehensive collection of works by Epicurean philosophers can be found in The Epicurean Philosophers, edited by John Gaskin and published by Everyman.

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1: Bust of Epicurus, Roman, 3rd/2nd C. BCE

Charon doesn’t have a great job, but he Styx with it – the representation of Charon in O’Connor’s graphic novel ‘Hades’

Note: For the module ‘Classics in Popular Culture’ (CLC315), students were asked to write blog posts on Classical Reception in the TV series Plebs or Once Upon a Time, and on the comics Asterix or George O’Connor’s Olympians. Some of the best blogs are featured on our departmental blog site.

I’ve always been a fan of comic books and graphic novels and was surprised to find that someone had created a  series about the Greek gods. Finding out that the target audience of the Olympians was young children I was worried that I would not be able to fully enjoy them; how wrong I was! After reading Zeus I decided to read Hades as I view Hades as the most underrated Greek god. I call him a Greek god instead of an Olympian because just as O’Connor says in his author’s note that ‘He cheated. Hades is not an Olympian.’ That being said I had expectations before sitting down to read Hades of a quite morbid and dark visual novel and my expectations were fully met by O’Connor.

 At its core the Hades novel’s primary purpose is to teach its reader about how Hades came to be married to Persephone. But any piece of work writing about death and the underworld contains deeper meanings. O’Connor chooses to describe the journey into the underworld as if it were you yourself embarking on the journey. This not only allows him to fit as much information about the underworld as possible in a short period of time, but also allows him to touch on much more existential meanings

The Hardworking Ferryman

The ferryman Charon is one of the staples of the Underworld in the ancient world. He did not have to be included in this visual novel as O’Connor’s focus is primarily on the Olympians. However O’Connor has him appear in 8 panels throughout Hades with most of these appearing at the start of the visual novel. We can say that by including Charon at the start of Hades, O’Connor bases the structure of this graphic novel on the journey a dead person would take as they enter the underworld. Charon also acts as O’Connor’s ‘tour guide’ as he ferries the soul past all the noticeable criminals in the underworld allowing O’Connor to describe them to his reader.

Sullivan sums up Charon’s depiction in Greek literature as ‘the busy, impatient ferryman, anxious to get the shades aboard’.[1] It is important to look at the depiction of Charon in Greek literature as O’Connor himself revealed he used Hesiod’s Theogony as a model for his Zeus. Euripides mentions Charon in his Alcestis as Alcestis says ‘the ferryman of the dead, Charon, has his hand on the quant and calls to me now: “Why delay? Hurry! You’re holding me up”.[2] This is further evidence of O’Connor taking his model of Charon from Greek literature, much in the same way he modelled Zeus on his representation in the Theogony. O’Connor has clearly gone to great lengths to create an authentic depiction of his characters, even minor ones such as Charon.

Charon as the grim reaper: O’Connor’s hybrid ferryman

  

Figure 1: Charon and Hermes Psychopomp, Athenian red-figure lekythos C5th B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art

Figure 2: Detail from Athenian red-figure white-ground clay vase circa 450-400 BC. Munich, Antikensammlungen 2777. © Antikensammlungen, Munich

Looking at these two images we can see that O’Connor’s inspiration for his Charon was not just limited to literary descriptions as there were many vases depicting Charon. Sullivan speaks about this saying that Charon was ‘glorified in Greek art’ often depicted with Hermes guiding the soul of the dead.[3] This means that O’Connor had many ancient literary and visual depictions of Charon as a base model. But we can see a break from the ancient visual depiction of Charon as when looking at his clothing in O’Connor’s Hades we see a very dark and cloaked old man. The vases above show Charon as wearing a tunic that barely covers his body whilst also looking more approachable to the dead person he is ferrying across. What O’Connor has clearly done here is move away from the Charon of the ancient world. Instead he creates a hybrid of the modern interpretation of the Grim Reaper with the dark cloak and the animal skull on the front of his boat. Neither of these elements is present on the Greek vases.

Importance of the Coin

The coin to pay the ferryman is a very prominent concept that is found in many literary works. The most notable of these are Book 6 of Virgil’s Aeneid, and the story of Cupid and Psyche from Apuleius’ Metamorphoses.[4][5] Stevens speaks of the custom of putting a coin in a deceased person’s mouth as being found in Greek and Latin literature from 5th Century BC to 2nd Century AD.[6] At first glance it is just a simple coin but Stevens writes that ‘the low value of the coin is a symbol of the poverty of death’.[7] What this can also mean is that no matter how rich or poor you are when you die, it is the same low amount of money that lets you pass on.

Coinciding with this, when looking at the picture to the right, O’Connor writes that ‘hopefully a loved one placed a coin in your mouth’. This at first glance can mean that you physically cannot put the coin in your mouth when you’re dead, which is true. However it has much more weight behind it in a modern view, as you are made to think about your own family and loved ones. They are the ones who decide what happens to you when you die, such as what coffin you have and whether you are buried or cremated.

What I personally take from this comic is that when we die we are all worth the same value, except to your family and loved ones who will mourn your loss. This is emphasised by the comic itself as Hades no longer wants to be alone in the underworld.

Written by Adam Smith

[1] Sullivan, F. A (1950) ‘Charon, the Ferryman of the Dead’, Classical Journal, 46.1, 12.

[2] Euripides Alcestis 252-63.

[3] Sullivan, F. A (1950) ‘Charon, the Ferryman of the Dead’, Classical Journal, 46.1. p.12.

[4] Virgil Aeneid 6.299-317.

[5] Apuleius Metamorphoses, 6.18.

[6] Stevens, S.T. (1991) ‘Charon’s Obol and Other Coins in Ancient Funerary Practice’, Phoenix, 45.3, 215.

[7] Stevens, S.T. (1991) ‘Charon’s Obol and Other Coins in Ancient Funerary Practice’, Phoenix, 45.3, 219-220.

The devil you thought you knew: Hades in Once Upon a Time

Note: For the module ‘Classics in Popular Culture’ (CLC315), students were asked to write blog posts on Classical Reception in the TV series Plebs or Once Upon a Time, and on the comics Asterix or George O’Connor’s Olympians. Some of the best blogs are featured on our departmental blog site.

Greek mythology has a tendency to be misrepresented, as apparently ‘many of its heroes transfer very badly to the screen…even Homer proves surprisingly intractable as Hollywood material’.[1] Deviations of the original myths thus abound[2]. There is one figure however, who has (literally) been demonised over the centuries to the point that he is often associated with the Judeo-Christian devil and his area of influence with notions of hell. This figure is, of course, Hades.

  [3]   [4]

See the difference?

Hades, as the Greeks knew him, was the brother of Zeus and Poseidon, and ruled over the Underworld, the realm of the dead. I could list multiple instances in popular culture where Hades is portrayed in a devilish light, but instead I will limit myself to a few episodes of the fantasy series Once Upon a Time (OUAT), in which several fairy-tale characters go to the Underworld to bring back Captain Hook, and find themselves opposed by Hades. This depiction of Hades is based on that of the Disney children’s film Hercules.

[5] [6] [7]

The first episode of interest is ‘The Brothers Jones’, which shows Hades making a deal with Captain Hook’s brother Liam, to allow the ship they are on to sink and the crew to die, in exchange for the lives of Liam and his brother. This does not reflect the actual myths and beliefs about Hades held by the Greeks, as there are no myths involving him orchestrating events that lead to the deaths of humans. The only myth where he makes any sort of deal with a human is when Orpheus asks Hades to allow him to take his wife Eurydice back to the land of the living. This request backfires but only because Orpheus himself broke the terms of the agreement by looking behind him. In any event, Hades would have lost nothing if Orpheus had not looked back, as everyone went to him when they died. The OUAT version of Hades, however, appears to want the souls of mortals and he is angered whenever people attempt to escape the Underworld (to the point of beating Hook bloody in an earlier episode). It is even stated by Hook that Hades prevents people from going to a better place: “Hades has the game rigged so no one can leave. My brother’s proof of that. Never did a bad thing in his life”. To compound this seemingly diabolic image, when Hades reveals his non-human nature (picture 4 above), Liam reacts by crying out “You’re a demon!” to which Hades responds “Technically I’m a god, but a lot of people make that mistake”. Hades does make a good antagonist in this episode, as when Hook escapes Hades’ prison and Liam stands up for him, Hades attempts to throw them both into a fiery pit that is said to lead to a place worse than the Underworld (a really subtle allusion to hell).

 

But there is some justification in ancient literature for such depictions of Hades. In the Iliad, Hades is referred to as ‘of all gods most hated by men’[8] and ‘loathsome’[9]. There is also his portrayal in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, when the author recounts his abduction of Proserpina (Persephone) thus: ‘Proserpina desperately cried for her mother and friends…poor innocent girl! Her abductor was off in his chariot, urging the horses forward’[10]. While these do make Hades appear malevolent, they are to be expected, given the innate human fear of death, as he was feared to the extent that even mentioning his name was avoided. But, many other gods tormented humans and abducted or forced themselves on women, and far more frequently than Hades did!

A more sympathetic version of Hades does appear in the episode immediately after ‘The Brothers Jones’, ‘Our Decay’, in which we witness the first meeting of Hades and Zelena/The Wicked Witch. In this episode, Hades and Zelena bond over their shared dislike for their siblings, in Hades’ case for his brother Zeus. Hades declares that “[Zeus] got everything he ever wanted…while I’m trapped ruling the Underworld…Love, happiness, joy, they’ve all been taken from me”. He goes on to state that he plans to overthrow his brother someday, and wants Zelena’s help to do it. This depicts Hades as someone who became what he is due to feelings of being treated unfairly by his family, resulting in him lashing out at the rest of the world. This bond with Zelena blossoms into romance, showing not only that Hades is capable of love, but also that he is someone capable of being loved. This is a sentiment echoed in a poem from the Late 1800’s, As Persephone tells us “I knew no terror while the God o’ershadowed me…My mother came too late to seek me. She had power to raise life from out Death’s grasp, but from the arms of Love she might not take me, nor undo Love’s past for all her strength’.[11] This poem, while not a classical work, does show that the idea of someone loving Hades is not a recent development. As for him loving someone, Ovid tells us that the abduction of Persephone was motived by love, albeit love brought on by a mischievous Cupid: ‘no sooner espied than he loved her and swept her away’[12]. Hades is presented more accurately in ‘Our Decay’ than in most depictions. It even points out that he is not demonic when, in response to the Wicked Witch asking if ‘the Devil’ is flirting with her, Hades responds, “I’m not the Devil. People are always conflating us”. This is itself a critique of most of his depictions.

 

In conclusion, this version of Hades is multifaceted, and not entirely inaccurate. While it does perpetuate the image of Hades as a malevolent figure, it does have some classical basis, and depicts him as having some positive characteristics as well. All of which forms a rather interesting character and a successful villain.

Written by Charlie Wade

 

[1] Nisbet. G., (2006), Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture, Exeter: Bristol Phoenix Press, 18

[2] See also: C. Martindale, & Thomas, R (eds.) (2003) Classics and the Uses of Reception, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers

[3] Statue of Hades and Cerberus, Archaeological Museum of Crete. Image sourced from ancient.eu

[4] Image of Hades in Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief (2010 film). Image sourced from riordan.wikia.com/wiki/Hades

[5] Modern illustration sourced from www.greekmythology.com

[6] Image sourced from disneywikia.com/wiki/Hades

[7] Image of Hades sourced from buddytv.com: 12 Emotional and Unsettling Moments from the 100th Episode of ‘Once Upon a Time’

[8] Homer, Iliad; trans. M. Hammond (1987), London: Penguin Books, 137

[9] Homer, Iliad; trans. M. Hammond (1987), London: Penguin Books, 127

[10] Ovid, Metamorphoses; trans. D. Raeburn (2004), London: Penguin Books, 193

[11] Morris. L., (1879) The Epic of Hades, London: C. Kegan Paul & Co, 166-168

[12] Ovid, Metamorphoses; trans. D. Raeburn (2004), London: Penguin Books, 193

Manner Maketh The Man: Displays of Masculinity in Plebs

Note: For the module ‘Classics in Popular Culture’ (CLC315), students were asked to write blog posts on Classical Reception in the TV series Plebs or Once Upon a Time, and on the comics Asterix or George O’Connor’s Olympians. Some of the best blogs are featured on our departmental blog site.

Plebs is a 2013 ITV2 sitcom, created by Tom Basden and Sam Leifer.  It centers on Marcus (Tom Rosenthal), his roommate and best friend Stylax (Joel Fry), and their slave Grumio (Ryan Sampson) and their misadventures in Ancient Rome. The show is a clever mix of Ancient Rome and the 21st century, trying to show audiences that “over the course of 2000 years, people haven’t changed.”[1]

Of course, the creators acknowledge that the show is not always historically accurate, with episodes focusing on Grumio’s never-ending quest to try all the food at the market with the help of a friend’s gold credit card, or a group of rowdy Thracians introducing our protagonists to “Bananae”.  Because of the show’s interaction with modern themes, a viewer with only casual knowledge of Ancient Roman society might assume that much of the interpersonal relationships and personalities of the characters are strictly based on the 21st century. On the contrary, Plebs uses classic theater archetypes and gender norms as well as modern character influences to analyze the way we view masculinity today.

Masculinity

In the second episode of series 1, Cynthia, Marcus’ crush, introduces Cassius, a gladiator and her new boyfriend.[2]  Marcus has already run into Cassius, as it happens, at the Roman Baths, and was intimidated by Cassius’ masculinity.  Later, at work with Stylax, he calls Cassius’ manhood “fearsome, like a boa constrictor,” whereas he had just gotten out of the plunge pool, looking less than daunting.[3]  Marcus, our main protagonist, is less than traditionally masculine, falling more in line with the “adulescens, the youthful romantic hero,” in Ancient Roman comedy.[4]  In Plautan comedy, the “more farcical the comedy gets […], the sillier the young lover is shown to be.”[5]  While Plebs is not exclusively a farce, it does lend itself to farcical situations.  Early in the series, Marcus’ actions are often motivated by his attraction to Cynthia, leading to comic situations like trying to sneak Grumio into an orgy in a paper thin disguise. But unlike his ancient counterpart Marcus does not always get the girl, in part because he lacks the self-confidence to see himself as a viable option for the women he fancies.

The episode The Gladiator also features an unexpected example of a man with softer characteristics. Cassius, the titular Gladiator, is introduced as representing everything the stereotypical alpha-man should.  Brash, tough, and muscular, he is even employed in one of the manliest occupations you could have in Ancient Rome. However, throughout the episode, he is slowly revealed to be surprisingly sensitive. He is kind and friendly to Cynthia’s friends, acts very caring to her, and he is heartbroken to the point of apathy when she dumps him. Cassius’ presence offers an interesting antithesis to Marcus in this episode. While Marcus’ sensitivity and unmanly characteristics make him self-doubting and ultimately keep him from winning Cynthia’s love, Cassius embraces these aspects of himself, making him much more confident in his masculinity, and therefore more successful with the girl.

It is Cassius’ acceptance of all aspects of his masculinity which makes him more than just a one-off romantic foil to Marcus. He becomes an example of what Marcus could be, someone who represents the modern notion that it is okay for men to want herbal tea or to feel emotional after a break-up. Modern masculinity has started to reject the traditional, macho definition of manliness, making the (on the surface) barbaric gladiator perhaps the most progressive character in the episode. Unfortunately for Cassius, Marcus is not ready to accept these aspects of his character, making Cassius’ death in combat perhaps symbolic of Marcus’ belief that the sensitive man is not ready to survive in society.

Hyper masculinity and The Beast

The opposite then, of Marcus and Cassius’ masculinity, is the hyper masculine, seen in Plebs in the form of The Beast, a gladiator that Landlord hires to help Marcus stack Cassius’ next fight against him.

The Beast doesn’t have an apparent stock character equivalent, but his character can perhaps be linked to another monstrous character from ancient times, the Minotaur. Though Greek in origin, the Minotaur has several apparent parallels to The Beast that Cassius must face.  Both lack a human face, and both appear larger than life and threatening to our heroes. The Beast, like the Minotaur, is also shrouded in mystery, to heighten his fearful reputation and almost inhuman nature. When Marcus asks whether The Beast is actually a beast or not, the Landlord even responds “I’d say he’s of mixed heritage.”[6]

All of these factors make The Beast decidedly disagreeable to the audience, which is not surprising, as we often view this kind of toxic hyper-masculinity as unappealing or even dangerous. While ostensibly the Beast would be seen as the peak of manliness, we instead see him as a grotesque monster.  He epitomizes the type of toxic masculinity that we, as a society, have tried to begin moving away from, as we become more accepting of varied representations of maleness in society.  If we accept that Cassius’ death is due to Marcus’ insecurity in his own masculinity, then the Beast is the tool with which it is done, the idea of the hyper-masculine man.

Ancient and new

Plebs is, at its heart, a show about “taking three 21st-century lads, with all the hang-ups and foibles that entails, and hurling them into history.”[7]  The show achieves this with ease, cleverly twisting elements of 21st century comedy and Ancient Roman archetypes.  It also does one of the things comedy does best, masking social critique in humor, delivering important themes alongside laughs.  “The Gladiator” suggests we reassess what it means to be masculine by deconstructing the established character archetypes. Indeed, at their most basic descriptions, these stock characters “cannot stand up to serious criticism, nor is it intended that they should.”[8]  They’re meant to be analyzed and critiqued, to hold up a mirror to our real life.  Plebs does an excellent job of critiquing the 21st century through its unique combination of the ancient and the new.

Written by Kelley Bennett

 

[1] Basden, Tom. “Plebs: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Colosseum …” Independent. March 25, 2013. Accessed October 24, 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/comedy/features/plebs-a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-the-colosseum-8547754.html.

[2] Basden, Tom, and Sam Leifer, writers. “The Gladiator.” In Plebs. ITV2. March 25, 2013.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Segal, Erich. Oxford Readings in Menander, Plautus, and Terence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. pg. 276.

[5] McCarthy, Kathleen. Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000, 117.

[6] Basden, Tom, and Sam Leifer, writers. “The Gladiator.” In Plebs. ITV2. March 25, 2013.

[7] Holland, Luke. Plebs: ‘Ancient Rome Allows Us to Bring in Gladiators and Orgies’. The Guardian. September 20, 2014. Accessed October 27, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2014/sep/20/plebs-roman-comedy-tom-rosenthal.

[8] Marples, Morris. Plautus. Greece & Rome 8, no. 22 (1938): 4.

The motto of University College Swansea and the Welsh spirit

The tradition for UK universities to have a motto goes back to the sixteenth century at least, when Oxford started using Dominus illuminatio mea, the Latin opening words of Psalm 27 (‘the Lord is my light’) as official motto. Cambridge followed suit and created the Latin phrase Hinc lucem et pocula clara (‘from here, light and sacred draughts’). In the eighteenth century, St Andrews looked towards Homer’s Iliad 6.208 for inspiration for its ancient Greek motto Aein aristeuein, ‘ever to excel’. Glasgow adopted as its motto a line from the Latin Gospel of John, Via veritas vita (‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’), while Aberdeen applied Initium sapientiae timor domini (‘the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord’), found in Psalm 111.

Pedagogy and politics

A quick glance at the five oldest universities in the UK reveals that mottos, rather than being just about pedagogy, were designed to present a clear message to the outside world regarding the values of individual institutions, particularly relating to religion and politics. Oxford, Glasgow, and Aberdeen explicitly connected learning with Christian belief, while St Andrews applied a Classical agonistic attitude to learning. Access to and control of the study of Classics and the Church of England were, however, largely monopolised by the upper class; these mottos therefore also reveal a political agenda. Cambridge, indeed, rebelled by inventing its motto, yet by retaining the use of Latin simultaneously acknowledged its place in the conventional tradition.

Whatever the origins of the mottos, what is clear is that Latin was considered the lingua franca – St Andrew’s choice to use Greek was the exception rather than the norm, yet also looked back at Classical antiquity. Indeed, both in the UK as abroad, Latin is still the predominant language used for university mottos. No explanation is given for this, but it clearly reflects the status of Latin as the language of learning in the Middle Ages when universities were first being founded, and the tradition has since flourished. In general, the Bible and Classical Latin literature are the most widespread sources; invented mottos with a focus on learning are also common.

Latin… or Welsh?

When University College Swansea was founded in 1920, the Welsh motto Gweddw crefft heb ei dawn, traditionally translated as ‘technical skill is bereft without culture’, was adopted. An article in the South Wales Daily Post of the 15th June 1921 by John Rees (secretary of the Education Board of South Wales Manufacturers), currently housed in the Richard Burton Archives, however, states that ‘it has been suggested, and it must be admitted with considerable force, that if Wales is to take her place in the comity of intellectual nations and their universities, the motto should be expressed in Latin, the common language of understanding of all scholars throughout the world’.

While Latin mottos may have been the norm in England, however, this comment ignored the fact that Swansea was following the norm set by other Welsh universities. Indeed, when the first Welsh university, St David’s College in Lampeter, was founded in 1822, Welsh was chosen as language of its motto: Gair Duw goreu dysg (‘the word of god is the best teacher’). Aberystwyth followed with Nid byd, byd heb wybodaeth (‘a world without wisdom is no world at all’) in 1872, Cardiff with Gwirionedd undod a chytgord (‘truth, unity, and harmony’) in 1883, and Bangor with Gorau dawn deall (‘the best gift is knowledge’) in 1884.

John Rees, in his article about the Swansea motto, goes on to argue that ‘the University College is a Welsh one, and if its motto in Welsh better inspires the highest Welsh spirit, surely let it be so’. This Welsh spirit is indeed clearly emphasized through the consistent use of Welsh rather than Latin by all Welsh higher education institutions. Swansea would have stood out if it had elected a Latin motto, and might have compromised its position among the Welsh universities. The Swansea motto indeed derives from the Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales, a collection of Medieval Welsh literature published in 1801-1807, placing Swansea firmly in the ‘native’ Welsh literary tradition, deliberately rejecting the Classical tradition of Greece and Rome. (Interestingly, the motto of the Vivians who owned Singleton Abbey before it was sold to the University was Latin – vive revicturus, ‘live so you may live again’ – and you can still see salve (‘hello!) when you enter the Abbey building, see my blog post on the subject. Wales was indeed constantly re-defining itself through engagement with ancient Greek and Roman cultural heritage, whether rejecting or emulating it.)

While, on the surface, the Welsh mottos referred to learning and religion similarly to those of other UK institutions, their varying emphasis reveals different values: while St David’s College Lampeter focused on the connection between religion and learning similar to Oxford, the focus of the other universities was on the necessity of learning for personal and global development. There are no biblical or Classical references, which represents a rather strong departure from the conservative norm established by English and indeed Scottish universities. Swansea’s motto thus served as a political and national identifier, acknowledging its place among the other Welsh universities in their native Welsh heritage, and indeed consolidating the unity of Welsh institutions as opposed to the rest of Great Britain.

United universities of Wales

This is similar to other minority groups within larger countries. In Spain, for example, all university mottos are in Latin apart from that of the Universidad del País Vasco, which is in Basque. In South Africa, Latin also still dominates mottos: the only one in Afrikaans belongs to the North-West University. In New Zealand, the only motto which is Maori instead of Latin is the motto of Waikato, which translates as ‘for the people’. It is thus clear that university mottos are marketing messages, delivering a political and often religious or moral code identifying a university in relation to the established tradition. The language of the motto is part and parcel of this message: the use of Latin or, increasingly, English as global lingua franca establishes a university within a traditional, sometimes Christian/Classical, and often conservative framework. The use of a minority language sets a university apart as ‘for the people’. As the examples above demonstrate, however, Wales is the only nation where this approach was – and is – taken in such a unified manner.

Swansea’s motto

Swansea, however, did stand out from the other universities through its motto, not through the language, but through its message. The Swansea University website translates Gweddw crefft heb ei dawn as ‘technical skill/craft is bereft without culture’. The English translation of this motto was immediately contested, not only by the abovementioned John Rees, but also by a then student of the university, Llynfi Davies, who, in an article in the South Wales Daily Post of the 14th June 1921, argued that the translation ought to be ‘destitute is craft without her natural gift’.

In the official university translation, indeed, ‘culture’ seems an unlikely translation for dawn, which is traditionally translated as ‘gift’ (as in Bangor’s motto) or ‘talent’. According to Rees, dawn is ‘not translatable in words into any language, its own included, but it is into music, painting, the arts generally, and into the inspiration of all work, metallurgical, economic, or any other; and it is thus inspiration that tells on the highest levels’.

Swansea’s motto might thus be interpreted as ‘bereft is skill without inspiration’ (gweddw meaning ‘bereft’, which maintains the Welsh word order). Unlike the other Welsh universities, learning was not made a matter controlled by god (Lampeter), the world (Aberystwyth), or the university as charitably dispensing learning (Bangor), nor based on concepts of camaraderie (Cardiff). Swansea’s motto thus places responsibility for learning firmly in the learner’s hands and argues – whether that was the original intention or not – that intellectual capacity must be complemented by inspiration in order to be successful in learning. In this way, it is both firmly placed in the Welsh ideological tradition, yet unique in its focus on the learner’s muse.

Dr Evelien Bracke – Senior Lecturer in Classics

graduate Michael Hayward on his experience teaching ancient Greek at secondary school

Upon graduating from Swansea University I was fortunate to find employment in a local school in my area. At this school they provide an enrichment for students every Friday fifth period – this is when teachers get the opportunity to teach children a topic that is not on the curriculum. I had definitely made my passion and enthusiasm for ancient Greek clear, as within a week I was approached to run an ancient Greek enrichment course – I jumped at the opportunity to do this. I sorely missed teaching ancient Greek through the Literacy through Classics module while I was at Swansea.

I was very daunted at first, as there was strong competition on the enrichment list: animations, create your own garage band, fun with felt, Bake Off and many more! To my amazement and joy, 30 pupils turned up to the first class – yes, ancient Greek is going mainstream!

I had mixed emotions teaching a class of 30 students without the same support as I did when undertaking the module, but I endeavoured to share my love for ancient Greek. I could tell the students were apprehensive about what they were actually going to do, but when I explained we were going to write in ancient Greek there was a loud roar of joy – of course there was scepticism, but that washed away quickly. I was very pleased to have such an enthusiastic bunch, who knew a lot about ancient Greece, and were willing to delve further into the language aspect. Even my TA was eager to learn the language – and has now become a very competent Greek beginner.

Teaching ancient Greek has been a joy: it has become quite popular, with students keen to show off their new found Greek knowledge. It has been inspiring to see them become so fascinated with the language and even where our language has come from. I have tried to make the classes interactive, so we have studied a statue, played verb drama, and even have made swords and shields. Swords and shields was definitely interesting: it was a great challenge in a teaching role, which has provided me with great markers to where ideas have worked and not worked. It has also shown me the creativity of Years 5-8: they’re definitely imaginative. I’ve not seen a bow and arrow made out of cardboard before.

One game I have introduced seems to have proved popular, and is great for helping the students learn the alphabet. My TA and I will think of the most bizarre passage to write on the board, and the students then race to transliterate the passage, and shout the buzzword before anyone else. Yes, they do win a prize if they shout the buzzword first – but I believe they do wish to transliterate the passage. I mean, we’ve had dragons destroying school, teachers crying and unicorns! This enrichment has allowed me to continue my fondness of teaching the ancient Greek language and has made me happy to see so many willing students. Ancient Greek is getting out there – it’s cool! I even received a handmade Christmas card from a student with everything written in Greek and pictures of tridents and lightning bolts – how wonderful is that!

Michael Hayward, graduate student

Departmental nomination for Swansea University Research and Innovation Awards

Congratulations to Dr Evelien Bracke, Senior Lecturer in our Department, who has been nominated for this year’s Research and Innovation awards organised by Swansea University, in the category of Public Engagement.

Evelien has been nominated for her work on ‘Literacy through Classics: between pupil and policy’. For information about her Literacy through Classics project, see www.literacythroughclassics.weebly.com and www.cymruwalesclassicshub.weebly.com.

The list of nominations can be found here.

pic1

Our Department has had previous success at these institutional awards. In 2015, Dr Nigel Pollard was the winning nominee in the category of Law and Public Policy: http://www.swansea.ac.uk/riah/news/archive/2014-2015/celebratingresearchimpactswanseauniversityimpactawards2015.php and Evelien also got nominated for Public Engagement.

Classics at Swansea University between copper business and tinplate worker: Ceri Richards’ Rape of Europa

Blog post by Dr Evelien Bracke, Senior Lecturer in Classics, on CLC315 (Classics in Popular Culture).

For my new third-year module, Classics in Popular Culture (CLC315), I decided to take students on a walk through the Singleton Campus, to get them thinking about the ways in which Classics have been appropriated to convey messages about status and ideology in their immediate context.

The walk was a short and straightforward one, along the mall from Singleton Abbey to Fulton House. I have previously blogged about the use of Classics (particularly Latin) in Singleton Abbey. This building, now part of the university, was once the home of the Vivian family who made their fortune from the copper-smelting business.

The contrast with Fulton House, which forms the end of the mall on the other side, could not be starker: juxtaposing the Abbey’s neoclassical abundance, Fulton House earned its Grade II listed status on the basis of its post-war modernist style, designed by architect Percy Thomas. (The students gave Fulton an average of 0/10 for looks.) The building was named after John Fulton, VC of the University of Wales, who had studied Classics at Balliol.

Singleton Abbey
Singleton Abbey
Fulton House
Fulton House

Because of its austere modernism, I had never gone looking for Classical influences in Fulton House – until we had an Open Day in the refectory last summer, and, while I was talking to a prospective student, my gaze suddenly fell upon the large painting of the rape of Europa on the wall. I had never paid attention to it before, even though it has been hiding in plain view since I arrived at Swansea.

Ceri Richards' Rape of Europa
Ceri Richards’ Rape of Europa

The artist is Ceri Richards, born in Dunvant (part of Swansea) in 1903. I can’t but love the way in which his use of Classics contrasts with the wealthy Vivians in the Abbey. Raised in a working class family as the son of a tinplate worker, he was nevertheless brought up surrounded by culture: his mother came from a family of craftsmen, and his father wrote poetry and directed the local choir.

It was in 1921, when Richards went to study at the Swansea College of Art, that he became immersed in Classics while drawing classical casts. A week’s study at Gregynog Hall in mid Wales, the centre for excellence in the arts established by the Davies sisters, must have further sparked his interest (I will write about the Davies sisters in a future blog post).

The theme that intrigued him the most, to the point of obsession, in the years 1945-‘49, was the rape of the Sabine women, a well-known story from Roman foundation myth (‘rape’ here signifies ‘abduction’ by the way).

14422 17173

14421 v0_master

As Livy (Ab Urbe Condita 1.9) narrates, Romulus (Remus’s brother and founder of Rome), unable to find wives for his male followers, tricked the neighbouring Sabines into attending a festival, at which the women were abducted while the men were busy fighting. It is a well-known artistic topos, which has been depicted countless times in art throughout the centuries. To find it in Richards’ repertoire is thus, to a certain extent, not that unusual.

Richards’ wife, Frances, however, says his immediate inspiration came from the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, a poem by fellow Swansea artist Dylan Thomas whom Richards admired greatly. The first two verses give a flavour of the content:

 

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees

Is my destroyer.

And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose

My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

 

The force that drives the water through the rocks

Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams

Turns mine to wax.

And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins

How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

 

Dylan Thomas’s harrowing poem laments the destructive action of time on nature and mankind. Similarly, as J.R. Webster argues, Richards’ depiction of the Sabine women represented a ‘violent consummation of his wartime preoccupations with birth and death’. The connections between the story of the Sabines and Dylan Thomas might at first seem tenuous: while Thomas’s poem concerns violence enacted by time onto all mankind, Richards focused rather on violence done to women by men. It is unnecessary, however, to look for any logical connection: both pieces reflect on violence through an emotional response and mood rather than logic. Richards thus amalgamated Welsh and Classical influences into one strong image.

In 1964, Richards was invited to create a painting on a similar theme, the rape of Europa, for the Hotel Europa. Thus he embarked on a series of paintings on that theme, one of which now adorns the Fulton Refectory.

richards-ceri-1903-1971-united-theme-europa-1659341-500-500-1659341 d209a9cc-8095-4d90-8e3c-1e67147268bf_g

While the Sabine story derives from Roman myth, the story of Europa was ancient Greek in origin: the god Zeus has fallen in love with Europa and had transformed himself into a bull in order to get close to her. Ovid narrates (Metamorphoses 2.833ff.):

 

And gradually she lost her fear, and he

Offered his breast for her virgin caresses,

His horns for her to wind with chains of flowers

Until the princess dared to mount his back

Her pet bull’s back, unwitting whom she rode.

Then—slowly, slowly down the broad, dry beach—

First in the shallow waves the great god set

His spurious hooves, then sauntered further out

’til in the open sea he bore his prize

Fear filled her heart as, gazing back, she saw

The fast receding sands. Her right hand grasped

A horn, the other lent upon his back

Her fluttering tunic floated in the breeze.

 

Ultimately, Zeus made Europa queen of Crete, and her name became used for the continent of Europe.

While many post-Classical depictions retain the Ovidian image of Europa holding on to the horn of the bull, Richards’ has her swung back, similarly to the Sabines, held by her waist by the bull/Zeus.

An interesting innovation is that, in each of the paintings, Zeus is in fact taking off a bull-shaped mask, suggesting he had somehow disguised himself rather than transformed, which renders him more human, somehow less capable of divine transformation. One of my students first likened him to a centaur, and it is not unreasonable to discern a centaur-like aspect in his representation. Indeed, the connection between male and horse/bull – present in both rape of the Sabines and rape of Europa – may represent the animalistic aggression by war and time, contrasted starkly with the innocent women, whose accentuated female forms accord with nature. Already in antiquity, both centaurs and (of course) Zeus were depicted as lascivious beyond the norm, violating innocent mortals. Zeus’s representation as part animal, part anthropomorphic, emphasizes the worrying impact of mankind’s animalistic nature on his surroundings.

Ceri Richards’ painting can be interpreted at two levels. First there is Richards’ own use of violent Classical myth in order to cope with and express his feelings about WWII, during which he taught at the Cardiff School of Art. The concept of mankind’s animalistic aggression clearly resonated with him, perhaps – if read through Dylan Thomas’ poem – as random acts against which there is no defense.

A second level of interpretation, however, concerns the context in which the panel was placed (it has apparently been in Fulton House from the moment the building was put to use). The obvious reason is that this was a celebrated Welsh, local artist, whose work deserved displaying. Interestingly, however, the painting also adds an element of Classical heritage to a building which is otherwise devoid of it, thereby connecting Fulton House with the Abbey.

Ideologically, however, the Rape of Europa contains a contradiction: those who decided to display it in Fulton House – perhaps in honour of Fulton’s own study of Classics – did so to lend an air of eminence and status to the building. Richards’ own application of Classics, by contrast, derived from his working-class background, depicting the horrors of war rather than status. In this capacity, the painting by the tinplate worker’s son forms a stark contrast with the Latin mottos adorning the coal-funded Abbey, and invites the viewer to question the links between education, class, and ideology.

At this point in time, moreover, this image takes on a whole new meaning which no one would have anticipated: in Brexit times, the placement of the rape of Europa in a Welsh context suddenly asks poignant and urgent questions regarding identity and ideology. Who might we cast as Zeus now, who as Europa? We were only able to touch upon layers of Classical reception on our walk, so we’ll look forward to discussing these in our next lectures.

Brexit and the Mytilenean debate

Britain has been rocked by the  results of the referendum on the 23rd of June this year where the majority vote decided that the UK would leave the European Union. Since the decision to leave was announced there has been an uprising of regret in the UK, with hashtags such as #bregret and #brexshit trending, and an online petition that calls for another referendum that has (at the time of writing this) over three million signatures.

I have also seen people on social media stating that calling for another referendum on this decision is fundamentally undemocratic, that the majority has voted and Brexit was the definitive choice of the nation which cannot be changed.

This may well be so but the fundamentals of democracy have long being deliberated. As a student of Classics and Ancient  History for over four years I feel that a literally ancient debate could be considered again. I am referring to  The Mytilenian Debate.

Mytilene was a city on the island of Lesbos which had attempted unsuccessfully to shake off Athenian hegemony during the Peloponnesian War. Afterwards the Athenian Assembly had to vote on what they were going to do in reprise. Book Three of Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War describes how one side of the debate called for the total destruction of Mytilene and its people, while the other called for only the ring leaders to be killed. On one day the vote FOR decimating Mytilene won and a ship was immediately sent to destroy the city. The NEXT day they voted again, this time the majority voted AGAINST the destruction and a second ship was sent out post haste to stop the first!

This decision rocked the Athenian populace. What did it mean for their society that they could make such a brutal and rash decision because they had concerns for their borders and the effect it would have on their economy in difficult times? That question arose in much of their literature and shadows of it can be seen in Euripides’ Trojan Women, a play that is often re-preformed in modern times when things are politically unstable.

I realise that Western democracy is now unrecognisable from its origins in Ancient Athens and that for many people it means many different things, but we can all agree that the citizens of a nation have the right to vote on matters on the state. However, that also means that the people also have the right to vote AGAIN with a different perspective if they call for it. Last year Scotland voted to remain part of the UK and Nicola Sturgeon is considering calling a second referendum believing  that as a majority of Scotland voted to remain in the EU it is in their best interests to hold one. Is that fundamentally undemocratic? In 1975 there was a referendum to vote whether the UK should be ‘In’ or ‘Out’ of the EU. At that time the voters chose to vote ‘In’.  So does this mean this second  referendum is ‘fundamentally undemocratic’? Or if as many people who voted ‘Out’  seem to be expressing regret as the consequences of the Brexit becomes apparent and as some of the promises of the Leave campaigners are renounced, would it be undemocratic to have a second referendum? If the result is the same then it will truly be the choice of the people but if it changes then it would be fundamentally undemocratic for us to ignore that.

As a nation we have sent out the first ship. If we are lucky we might be able to send the second.

 

Written by Caitlin Harris, MA student in Ancient Narrative Literature

css.php