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:
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.
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, 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.
This is a guest blog post by Dr Evelien Bracke, who is currently working on the reception of Classics in Wales.
A month ago, I went along to the reopening of the Glynn Vivian gallery, Swansea’s main art gallery, which had been closed for a £6 million refurbishment since October 2011. It was a lovely event and I felt like a child in a sweet shop exploring the collection.
The gallery was the brain child of Richard Glynn Vivian (1835-1910), who bequeathed his art collection to the city of Swansea, together with £10,000 to create a gallery to house it. The collection is really eclectic: there are such diverse pieces in the permanent collection – from Swansea pottery and Welsh paintings (particularly nice to see a number of female Welsh painters represented), to European and oriental art – that you really get drawn in walking from room to room. Apart from the permanent collection, there is also a temporary exhibit with Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings which is worthwhile visiting.
An influential family
I was excited to find out that Richard Glynn Vivian, the gallery’s founder, was in fact part of the Vivian family who lived at Singleton Abbey before it became part of the university, about which I have blogged before. The Classical education of the Vivians greets you at Singleton Abbey with a ‘salve’ (‘hello’ in Latin) when you enter the building, and likewise, Classical influences can be found in the Glynn Vivian collection.
While his older brothers studied science and looked after the family copper smelting business, Richard studied arts at Cambridge and travelled extensively all around the world. By means of his share of the family fortune, he started amassing an extensive art collection during his travels. It must have come as a terrible blow when he started going blind in 1902. He wrote and published a collection of poems (which I’m yet to get my hands on) called E tenebris lux, ‘out of darkness, light’, with the sub-heading ‘scattered leaves gathered together during hours of blindness’.
The Latin title, which refers to Genesis 1.4, expresses the strengthening of his Christian faith – already running deep in the Vivian family, as the Latin quotes on the walls of the council chamber of the Abbey reveal – because of his blindness, and it was to the cause of shining a beacon of light in the darkness of humanity that he dedicated the rest of his life.
Apart from opening the Glynn Vivian gallery which gave access to international art to people from all economic backgrounds in South Wales, he also became a patron of miners – which will have had a profound impact on local communities – through the Glynn Vivian Miners’ Mission and established a home for the blind on Gower. Upon his death, his will further divided his fortune between charities.
Dialogue of past and present
Walking through the gallery, Glynn Vivian’s personal taste and philanthropy really speak to visitors through his collection. While Wales plays the leading role in his collection, Classical influences can also be spotted, at times very obviously, other times in a whisper. The statue of the sleeping Pan by French artist S.J. Brun (1832), given a prominent space on its own between two rooms and cleverly juxtaposed with views of the long glass windows and the Swansea street, is a beautiful example.
Less obvious, tucked away among other pieces, is the Dillwyn pottery with Greek-style red-figure vase paintings, inspired by 18th and 19th century archaeological excavations in Etruria. This pottery stands in similar contrast with the contemporary styles of other vases which surround them.
While the building itself has a Baroque style, its interior – and particularly the neoclassical busts – stand in stark contrast with the (awesomely disturbing) postmodern Matrix-like installation on the ground floor.
The present curators have obviously created clear boundaries between past and present through their choice of pieces that are very different in style. While they sometimes jar visually, all pieces live harmoniously within the building itself which embraces both its Baroque past and utilitarian extension. I particularly like how part of the building has been opened up onto the street, like a Greek theatre looking out onto the polis while the plays were being staged within.
I can’t wait to go and explore all the pieces further – you might find me sitting in front of the Turner painting for quite a while… In the meantime, though, I’m happy to report that the reopened Glynn Vivian gallery, outward looking and inviting visitors to consider the dialogue – or is it a clash? – between eclectic pasts and present, continues Glynn Vivian’s humanist quest to give everyone access to art and create e tenebris lux!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.