Celebrating 20 years of the Egypt Centre!

This year we’re celebrating the Egypt Centre’s 20th Anniversary! Below are ten fun facts about Egyptology and the collection housed in this award winning museum and educational centre.

  1. An amulet or charm was worn to give the wearer protection or power. Different amulets were connected with different powers. The living wore amulets as jewellery. The dead wore amulets wrapped up in their mummification bandages to protect them. The wealthier you were, the more amulets you had. If you look really close – the detail is incredible!

    1. Amulets from the collection.
  2. Did you know that during the Victorian Era, wealthy Victorians would host ‘mummy parties’ as a social occasion? The upper-class Victorians would get together and unwrap a mummy to see how many amulets they could find and they’d be kept as gifts.

    A mummy from the Egypt Centre.
  3. The Egyptians had their own numbering system. Here’s what 1 million looks like (a God with praised arms)… and 100,000 (a tadpole)…. And 1000 (lotus flower).

    3. Egyptian numerals.
  4. Did you know that during the mummification process, all organs were removed except the heart? Even the brain was pulled out from the nose!

    4. Bob – our willing model for demonstrations in the Egypt Centre!
  5. The lungs, stomach, intestines, and liver were dried out and each placed in a canopic jar. The jars came in sets of four, and each of the Four Sons of Horus were assigned the duty of protecting the contents.

    5. Canopic jars.
  6. A Mummy Mask like this would be placed on the face of the dead. These would be made from a mixture of plaster and bandages, and gilded.

    6. A mummy mask from the collection.
  7. This beaded collar made of faience beads dates from the middle of the New Kingdom c1350BC. The object below may have belonged to an Amarna princess.

    7. A beaded collar made of faience beads from the collection.
  8. Take a look at this brand new VR feature! It brings to life a mysterious wrapped linen package that contains a mummified snake! @DrRichJohnston of @CollegeofEngineering made a 3D print of what the snake would look like.

    8. 3D print of a snake from an unopened mummy from the collection!
  9. Hundreds of gods and goddesses were worshipped in ancient Egypt, including this cheeky looking fellow Bes. Bes looked after women, children, and was even a god of music and dancing!

    9. A representation of Bes from the collection.
  10. The Egypt Centre has a very full trophy cabinet. This year the centre was awarded The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award for voluntary service by groups in the community. This is the equivalent of an MBE!

Persephone: a coming-of-age story: the representation of Persephone in George O’Connor’s “Hades: Lord of the Dead”

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.

The idea of a ‘Queen of the Underworld’ has always appealed to me, and so I was delighted when I found out that George O’Connor’s graphic novel ‘Hades’ (see http://olympiansrule.com/) centred around just that. O’Connor’s Olympians series was created by drawing on ‘primary documents to reconstruct and retell classic Greek myths’[1], so it is surprising that O’Connor felt the best way to convey the story of Hades, was by telling a coming of age story concerning Hades’ wife, Persephone. The fourth instalment to the series has proved a run-away hit with critics, many making comments such as ‘I loved the twist on this myth of how Persephone became the Queen of the Underworld’.[2]  One of the key things to explore in reading this, is to find out why O’Connor took a character so ostracised in her own mythology, and made her the star.

Kore! A traditional classical woman

Persephone is first introduced in the comic as Kore: an awkward and seemingly minor character. O’Connor emphasises this by placing her in a small, side panel, of which Kore only occupies a fraction. She is shown in an awkward position, and due to her innocent reaction to Apollo, her naivety is emphasised. The Homeric hymn to Demeter uses the word ‘playing’ to describe Persephone before her abduction, which Debloois argues shows her to be ‘like a child’ (1997,248).[3] Kore seems to personify women commonly found in classic tradition: as a young woman, she is submissive to those around her. Dowden notes that in myth, ‘women may be maidens, or matrons, but not unmarried women’ (2002, 46),[4] and so it is easy to see that Kore fits straight into the mould of ‘maiden’. It is also notable, that in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Persephone and her thoughts occupy very little of the narrative, and is instead filled by Demeter. By showing Kore to be awkward and pushed aside, he is symbolically representing the traditional way which Persephone has been depicted in antiquity, and the model he is going to challenge.

Becoming Persephone- a modern feminist statement

Later in the comic, Kore adopts the name Persephone, officially accepting her role as Queen of the Dead. Gone is the awkward youth, now we see a woman single-handedly occupying a whole page. O’Connor’s choice to have her fill the page shows she is no longer pushed aside, but knows who she is. A smile plays on her lips as she speaks her new name, emphasising her metamorphoses. This page tells the reader two major things: this is a coming of age story, and Persephone is the real protagonist in this graphic novel. The bold colours which O’Connor elects to use shows that this is not the same maiden we were introduced to, picking flowers in a bright field, and thus illustrate her change as a character; she is sure of herself.

By having her so readily break free of the bonds of her mother, and embracing such a drastically different path, O’Connor is creating a feminist statement. We should not view her as a meek character, but as a strong and powerful woman in charge of her fate. The tradition of Persephone being powerful is even reflected in some ancient Roman sources; Ovid calls Persephone ‘the queen, the most powerful woman in the underworld’ (5.507).[5] Nixon argues that the Homeric Hymn to Demeter is an example of feminism in the ancient world, as it ‘focuses on a harmonious mother-daughter relationship, rather than a violent father-son dyad’ (2002, 92). In this way, O’Connor can be seen to take on the original intent of the Demeter/ Kore relationship, and show it through the lens of modern feminism.
The Happy Couple- Persephone and her sweetheart (200)

O’Connor does not fail to explore the relationship between Hades and Persephone either. As the images below show, there is an accuracy to showing the two gods ruling harmoniously side by side. In fact, a number of ancient sources which deal with Hades and Persephone show them to be equals. Odysseus ensures that he makes offerings to ‘the powerful Hades, and to revered Persephone’ (11.47),[6] while the Iliad names her ‘dread Persephone’ (9.457).[7] There is no doubt that throughout antiquity literary tradition, Persephone was viewed just as formidably as her husband.

     

O’Connor discusses this in the epilogue to his graphic novel; he comments ‘maybe Persephone likes being the Queen of the Dead. It would certainly explain why she’s apparently always hanging around the Underworld.’ O’Connor’s exploration of Persephone as a willing and eager Queen of the Dead definitely shows her as a woman in control of her fate. Indeed, it is notable that in the panel shown above, they are shown to mirror one another; they wear the same colours, their body language is exactly the same, and they sit on equal thrones. It seems Persephone is completely comfortable with her position of power.

Conclusion

In ‘Hades: Lord of the Dead’ O’Connor achieves a coming of age story, which details the awkward and forgettable Kore’s transformation into the formidable Persephone. He draws from a number of ancient sources, but ultimately he tells the story through the veneer of feminism. He explores the famously female lead story, and updates it in order for his audience to see a powerful woman in control of her own fate. Persephone is definitely someone his younger audience is portrayed as a role model.

Written by Sarah Hartill

[1] http://www.olympiansrule.com.vhost.zerolag.com/the-books/

[2] https://thebookmonsters.com/graphic-novel-review-hades-lord-of-the-dead/

[3] Debloois, N. (1997). ‘Rape, Marriage, or Death? Gender perspectives in the Homeric hymn to Demeter. Philologicial Quarterly. 76.3. 245-62.

[4] Dowden, K. (2002) ‘Approaching women through myth: vital tool or self-delusion?’ in Hawley, B, Levick, R. (eds.) Women in Antiquity: new assessments. 44-57.

[5] Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Raeburn, D. (London: Penguin, 2004).

[6] Homer, Odyssey, trans. Lattimore, R. (New York: Harper & Row Publishers Inc., 1967).

[7] Homer, Iliad, trans. Lattimore, R, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951).

 

Egyptian demons in research and the classroom

After a hiatus of few years working on the Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project  I am again offering her module on Ancient Egyptian Religious Beliefs and Practices—this time for both year 2 and 3. Students not only get to handle 4,000 year old artifacts in a special area of the Egypt Centre Museum as part of the course, but they also get to be creative and reconstruct an Ancient Egyptian ritual. One group made a “Mockumentary” while another group decided to dramatize and read out a Water-Spell against crocodiles. I can’t wait to see what we do this year!

Amber Furnage and Saffron Hinder at Museum’s Live Friday

You can also see a blog post by one of the students in my year 3 & MA module on “Supernatural Beings and Demons of Ancient Egypt” that was offered last year. His daemon was “MISSING: Armed and possibly dangerous!

British Science Festival at Swansea Museum

The Demonology Project and student volunteers were involved in three major events. Some included our Demon Creation Station where everybody was able to make their own helpful guardian “daemon.” Events included included the Heroes and Villains event at the Ashmolean Museum’s LiveFriday, the Being Human Festival on Hopes & Fear    and the British Festival of Science. If you use #demoncreationstation on twitter you can see more pics!

Written by Dr Kasia Szpakowska

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.

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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