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.

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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).

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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

History of Ancient Technology and Engineering – projects

This module explores the material world of Greece and Rome. The design, construction or production of the structures and objects with which the ancients furnished their world is the subject of study. As part of the assessment, students can create their own project. Here are some recent examples:

 

Blog articles by department staff

Jo Berry has written a blog article about the ancient Roman city of Pompeii that was buried due to the eruption of Mount Versuvius in AD 79. It is titled Eight things you (probably) didn’t know about Pompeii (2015) and features on the BBC History website, which can be found here.

Evelien Bracke has also written several blog articles that are listed below:

  • The story of Liddell and Scott, who published the Greek-English Lexicon in 1843. The revenge of the killer dictionary: the story of Liddell, Scott, and a disgruntled octopus can be found on the Gorffennol website of the University here.
  • The development of Classics in Wales and South West Wales in particular. Uniting Ram and Dragon: Classics in Wales is located here and Developing Classics in Wales can be accessed here.
  • Numerous blog posts on a variety of topics the Secretary’s blog section of the South West Wales Classical Association website. The site is located here.

Classics in Wales

In February this year, Evelien Bracke organised the first Teaching Classics in Wales conference. You can find a storify of the day here: https://storify.com/nimuevelien/cymru-wales-classics-hub-first-annual-conference.

She has also written two blog posts for the Classical Association on Classics in Wales:

http://classicalassociation.org/Blog/?p=932

and

http://classicalassociation.org/Blog/?p=1106

The report she wrote for the Welsh Government on Latin in Wales can be found here.

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