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.
Once upon a time
We start in Oxford, in the nineteenth century. The first Greek-English dictionary was published by a man called James Donnegan in 1826, but it was riddled with errors and inconsistencies, and so classicists were clamouring for an alternative. This is where we meet two friends: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott who both worked at Oxford University. It was Liddell, the more authoritative of the two, who was initially asked to start compiling a new English-Greek dictionary, but he consented only if Scott would be asked as well. Liddell was from an affluent background and went on to become Vice-Chancellor of the whole university (he had a daughter called Alice who would become immortalized in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland). Scott made it to the position of Dean later in life. The friendship between the two became very well known, and stories about them started to circulate. The story goes that, when Liddell’s students would notify him of an error in the lexicon, he apparently used to retort: ‘Scott wrote that part!’. The two friends even became the subject of several rhymes. One of the most famous is this:
Two men wrote a lexicon, Liddell and Scott;
Some parts were clever, but some parts were not.
Hear all ye learned and read me this riddle,
How the wrong parts wrote Scott and the right parts wrote Liddell.
It’s a stark exaggeration, of course, particularly as Liddell and Scott had a team of other scholars collating references and giving help with translations. But it demonstrates the almost legendary nature of the lexicon’s origins in the academic friendship of two colleagues.
You might wonder how one starts working on a Greek-English dictionary. Since antiquity, in fact, very few scholars have started from scratch. And neither did our two dear friends: Liddell and Scott used the then most recent Greek-German dictionary, written by a scholar called Franz Passow, as their starting point. Logical though it may be not to start from scratch, it also created difficulties: for Liddell and Scott were not always looking at the Greek for their translations, but instead translated Passow’s German! While German and English are closely related as Germanic languages, not every German word can be rendered into straightforward English; the reality is far more complex than that. This did not dissuade the two friends, however, but it meant some of their translations reflect the German more than the Greek.
Another complication was their political agenda. From the start, they decided to compile a Greek-English dictionary rather than Greek-Latin which was more traditional. But they went further: they also insisted the English translations should primarily be Anglo-Saxon words rather than words derived from Latin. But if you consider that approximately 60% of English is derived from Latin, that cuts out a hefty chunk of the English language at their disposal! They didn’t actually adhere to that principle fully, but it did mean some slightly odd translations were used to bypass more obvious Latin-derived words.
Success and challenges
In spite of those issues, the dictionary – first published in 1843 – became a huge success, so much so that two years later a second edition was published, and then a third, and so on. Liddell and Scott kept on revising until the eighth edition in 1897. In every edition, they would focus on deleting errors and adding materials from newly discovered texts or recent research, and you can find out the specific details they focused on from the prefaces of each edition. However, it was one thing to have a progressive agenda set out in the preface. In reality, lots of errors were just ignored time and again, and feedback/criticism provided by other scholars in a steady stream (both informally and through reviews in scholarly journals) was only ever partly incorporated.
Part of the reason for this was that Liddell and Scott didn’t just struggle with getting all the translations together. They also had to take into account the material restrictions: they couldn’t exceed a number of pages as this would drive up the price too much, so translations or sometimes complete entries of words might be deleted simply to save space. Sometimes other editors who helped them became ill or had other priorities, and so work would be stalled. In fact, when Liddell passed away in 1898, it seemed like that might be the end of the lexicon’s editions. Other scholars were approached to take on the work of revising the lexicon, but several declined. And this is where the third letter of the LSJ enters our story: J for Jones.
Henry Stuart Jones, who also worked at Oxford University (and would later take up posts at Aberystwyth, Lampeter, Carmarthen and the National Library, learning Welsh along the way), started revision of the dictionary in 1911. In the preface of the ninth edition, he confesses the revision was a lot more extensive than he had anticipated. But he, alongside his international team of scholars, set about revising all the entries, and – in spite of setbacks because of WWI – the final ninth edition was published (posthumously for Jones) in 1940. The difference between the ninth and earlier editions is crystal clear: lots of errors were corrected, translations updated, they added more references to ancient texts, and the etymology was brought in line with contemporary scholarship.
I have a cunning plan
The odd thing now is that, depending on which edition of the LSJ you consult, you might get different interpretations of one word. I am the proud owner of a copy of the fifth edition (left in my care after my inspirational predecessor, Byron Harries, passed away), and until I started this research, I had no idea how much it differed from the ninth. The research I’m currently working on concerns the concept of ‘cunning intelligence’ (yes, like in Blackadder’s ‘cunning plan’) in ancient Greece. The ancient Greek word for this is metis (μῆτις), and it’s all about using disguise and deception to exploit your enemy’s weakness so you can overcome them.
Odysseus, for example, has metis: his trick with the Trojan horse is a prime example. He uses trickery (disguising warriors as a wooden horse, and a trap as a present) to compel his enemies to open their weakest spot (their gates – as well as their pride!). In the animal kingdom, the Greeks believed the octopus had metis: to avoid being killed by predators or spotted by his prey, he can take on the same colour as whatever surface he clings to, and also turn the world around him black with his ink thus rendering him virtually invisible. Because he is a master of deception, fishermen had to use superior trickery to lure an octopus into their nets: the ancient Greek trick was (wait for it…) to dangle a female octopus in front of them. For the instinct of the male octopus was such that he could not resist clinging obstinately to a female – this was his greatest weakness (I know, how did they catch the female octopus?!).
Metis is thus about using deception to lure your enemy into exposing their greatest weakness. You need to use this deception at the right time, so patience is an important part, and it’s important you approach your enemy indirectly rather than with violence (think of the ten years of violence which preceded Odysseus’ trick at Troy). However, if you look up the entry in the LSJ, in the ninth edition, there are two translations: (1) wisdom, skill, craft, and (2) counsel, plan, undertaking. When you consider these translations, the only one that conveys any notion of deceitfulness or trickery is ‘craft’. And nowadays, we would use ‘craftiness’ instead of ‘craft’, as the latter is now really primarily connected with craftsmanship. The other translations don’t really convey the full meaning of the word, and are rather general. Until the eighth edition, the word ‘cunning’ had been part of the first translation. But for some mysterious reason (which I’m still trying to figure out) it was then deleted.
The smell of a dictionary in the morning
The entry of metis nicely exemplifies why scholars have been clamouring that it is time for the LSJ to make way for a better, modern dictionary. Cambridge has been working on their new Greek-English lexicon (which apparently does not rely on the LSJ) which might be published in 2018. Brill publishers (in Leiden, the Netherlands) are publishing a new Greek-English lexicon in August this year which they claim will replace the LSJ. But guess what: it’s based on an Italian dictionary… which relied partly on the LSJ (in fact the translations of metis are almost identical)! So far for innovation. More and more, scholars think the future lies in online databases. An existing one is the amazing www.perseus.tufts.edu website: you can click on any word (well, most) of any text (well, a proportion of Greek literature) and you’ll be directed to the translations. But of course, that doesn’t solve problems with the translations themselves. Moreover, much as I appreciate the ease of being able to look up translations and occurrences of words online, there is a great pleasure to be derived from leafing through an actual copy of the huge Liddell-Scott-Jones which radiates learning and smells of an old library. Preferably while sipping on a coffee and nibbling on a chocolate bar.
And so we have come to the end of our story. The next time you consult a dictionary, you may consider the friendships (or not) between the editors, financial and other restraints they had to cope with as well as the anguish they faced when struggling with translations, the knowledge they had from the start that their work would inevitably be flawed and criticized, their perseverance to continue in spite of this – and the many previous generations of scholars who faced these same issues working on dictionaries before them, just so we can look up words at our leisure in the knowledge that others have done the hard work for us. Or have at least provided us with a starting point.
Written by Dr Evelien Bracke
For more information about the LSJ and its history, have a look at Chris Stray’s edited volumes on Classical Dictionaries: Past , Present, and Future (London, 2010) and Oxford Classics: Teaching and Learning 1800-2000 (London, 2007). For a nice blog post with more information about the characters of Liddell and Scott, see https://uncomelyandbroken.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/liddell-scott-a-little-about-both/.
If you would like to find out more about metis, Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant’s 1978 Cunning Intelligence in Greek culture and society (a translation of their 1974 French edition) is still the main reference work. You can also read my PhD thesis Of metis and magic online: http://eprints.maynoothuniversity.ie/2255/1/e_bracke_thesis.pdf.
e.bracke April 27th, 2017
Posted In: Classics
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 Egyptology Centre
When the talk ended we made our way to the Egyptology centre. We got to hold artefacts that were over 3,000 years old! My favourite artefact was the necklace made out of glass beads and real gemstones! After we handled the artefacts we looked round the Egypt centre then we went outside to explore the campus of Swansea University. It was a huge place full of busy people and huge buildings. There was also a garden and a sun dial!
The Egypt Centre was probably my favourite part of the trip. We got to hold many ancient artefacts from the Egyptian time. The artefacts were all very detailed and interesting. My favourite thing was the eagle eye from the statue. It was extremely delicate and I was quite scared that I was going to drop it. I also liked the papyrus paper, but it was really thin and I didn’t want to rip it. After that we went to the gift shop. There were loads of really nice things in there, however, I got a pretty turquoise stone that had lines of blue and green on it.
Some active learning
After that we had a talk on images of power from the ancient times to today. It was very interactive as the lecturer, Dr Stephen Harrison, made us stand up, turn in a 360 degree circle and he made someone do 5 push-ups! In this talk we learned about empires and how people controlled them. We learned the Alexander the Great had to change his appearance to get noticed.
One of the most memorable moments in the second talk was when Dr. Steven Harrison made all of us do weird things like star jumps and spinning. It was really funny when he made two boys in our class do press ups. The third talk He was making us do this because his talk was on images on power. He said men with longer beards that kind of go all round their faces look more wise and powerful. Also Dr. Steven mentioned Alexander the Great who tried to rule two countries at the same time and made people unhappy because he changed his clothes to appeal to everyone. In the end he was killed in battle.
I learnt that having a long beard is great for ancient Persia but nowadays you have to be orange to get power (Donald Trump) and use a pointy finger!
My most memorable moment of the visit was when Dr Stephen Harrison got me to do press-ups in front of everybody so to show how he was commanding me to do something and how it worked. This was my favourite moment because it showed how everybody could see my true face.
When the talk ended we saw our last lecture. It was about ‘pirates and true love’ novels. We learned about some famous novels and even saw some extracts from them! The lecture was by Dr Ian Repath.
Finally we had our last talk by Dr Ian Repath which was all about “ancient Greek novels” pirates and true love. It was a well made and presented talk, for it included lots of essential facts on the subject. I learned many new things such as that most love stories in ancient Greek all had roughly the same story base. The lovers are split up and they search for each other and in the end they are reunited. Like I have said previously it was a very fact packed talk.
My favourite part of the trip handling the artefacts and my favourite talk was the lecture on images of power because it was interesting and interactive. I would like to find out more about classics because they are interesting and I could learn a lot.
Many thanks to everyone who put on the Classics Day Trip, as it was a most thoroughly enjoyable day.
The Classics day was an absolute blast and I learned so much I want to go again.
The Campus Tour was really good as I got an insight of university life and what university is like. It was such a great experience for me and I’d like to thank everyone at the university for a great and interesting day. Thank you.
Overall it was an amazing trip and I would definitely recommend going there. I would have liked to have stayed there for even longer but we had to go. The University is amazing and the campus looked really good too.
Written by pupils of Castle School Pembrokeshire
NB: The department would like to thank Silke Davison, Megan Hitchen, and Alex Nethell for their invaluable help throughout the day.
You can find more images and tweets from the day here: https://storify.com/nimuevelien/classics-schools-day-at-swansea-university
e.bracke March 31st, 2017
Guest blog post by Minette Matthews, 2nd Year Ancient History Student
Every year the British School at Athens offers an intensive 3 week summer course for undergraduate students interested in Ancient Greek history. On this course, students are taught by 3 specialists in Greek Ancient history – one of them being Dr. Chryssanthi Papadopoulou, the Assistant Director of the British School at Athens. Approximately 10 days are spent in Athens looking at various archaeological sites and museums (among these the Acropolis, the Parthenon Museum, the Kerameikos, and the National Archaeological Museum), and 11 days in the Peloponnese visiting Mycenae and Tiryns, and Corinth, to name a few. In 2016 I successfully applied for a place on this course.
Arriving in Greece and finding your way to the British School having never been to Greece, let alone not knowing a word of the language or anyone else on the course, was a little intimidating to say the least. However, settling in was a quick process, and I met most people on the course soon after arriving. In the evening a group dinner of pizza on the veranda and a healthy ravaging from the local mosquito population helped speed the process of getting to know those I had not yet met.
On our first day in Athens, we were thrown in the deep end with an 8-hour day on the Acropolis. This was a bit of a shocker, as anyone who’s been there will know, as there isn’t any shade up there, and in 40°C it was at times hard work (even the local Greeks were struggling in the temperature!). Nonetheless, it was a rewarding day as we were given special permission to go into the Parthenon, which was an amazing privilege (you could really see some of the architectural illusions), and we were given a guest talk by an expert on the Propylaea. This was incredible as some of the information that we were told about the Propylaea was unpublished research.
The Athenian Acropolis wasn’t the only site where we had a lecture from a site expert. At Bassae (a temple on a mountain in the Peloponnese), we had one with Konstantinos Papadopoulos, and as with the Parthenon, we were allowed inside the temple, which is usually prohibited to the general public. Here we learnt about all sorts of techniques in building conservation, and the restoration process of the temple.
Learning about the latest views on Greek history was one of the main aspects of the course. Whilst this was hugely exciting, we were also told about some of the most current archaeological debates. For example, during American excavations at Mycenae, they found a bit of stone that they believed was part of the throne (found on the east side of the throne room, suggesting that the throne may have originally sat on that side, rather than in the middle as previously believed). The Greek archaeologists apparently refuted this and declared it part of a toilet! I believe the Greek archaeologists have now conceded that it may be part of the throne. Similarly at Sounion, where the famous temple of Poseidon is, underwater archaeologists have uncovered what they believe is a boat house, although some dispute this saying that it is more likely to be a slip way.
Figure 3. Rhamnous, Peloponnese.
My favourite site on the whole trip though was Rhamnous, a ruined town that had been important in Greek defense during the Peloponnesian War, and had two natural harbours – although they don’t exist as such any more you can still see their outline. After having a lecture on the site, we were left to walk around freely for an hour or so. As the site is off the main tourist trail, you can explore at your leisure without being corralled by employees of the site, who have a tendency to blow their whistle at you it they think you are touching any of the archaeology or taking an unorthodox route. It was a wonderful afternoon, and it felt as though no one had ever really been there as you could see anchors and tiled floors in situ.
This was an amazing experience that has really inspired my interest in Greek history and one that I would whole heartedly recommend to any first or second year undergraduate. Whilst at times it was hard work because of the intensity, heat, and simply sometimes, being in another country, I have made what I hope to be some lasting friendships with like minded people. I will always remember my time here with great fondness.
For those interested in applying for the course there is still time to apply for this year – the closing date is 31st March 2017:
Megan Hitchen March 16th, 2017
The Remorse of Nero, J. W. Waterhouse. 1878. A depiction of Nero lamenting after the assassination of his mother Agrippina in AD59, notoriously by his own command.
I was first introduced to the intricacies of Nero’s reign of AD54-68 in Dr Nigel Pollard and Dr Joanne Berry’s Rome: From Village to Empire module. While I had heard of him before, the interpretation that I had of him was merely superficial, devoid of any historical methodology. What I learned about him in these lectures, however, challenged this view in the most fascinating way: it brought to light the facts of Nero’s reign, with no bias, creating a completely different character from what had been formed in my mind. This is the basis of my fascination with Nero, and, to an extent, my love of history. The fact that there are so many interpretations of Nero, so often exaggerated to draw in an audience, simply reflects that very little has changed since his reign. Some of Suetonius’ more extravagant accounts continue to be repeated today, and filtering through these accounts to find the truth never ceases to entertain me.
The idea that “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” has long been rejected by historians. However, the notion that Nero was a debased, merciless emperor to the extent that he would not look out of place in a horror story still remains laced within history. The name Nero has become so synonymous with brutality that if you were to call someone “Neronian” you would most probably follow by offering them a therapist appointment. Most people, when Nero is mentioned, would call back to Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus in Gladiator, and think that he is a close enough representation. If Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars, and a number of other works on Nero’s life are taken as fact, this perception would not be far from the truth.
Only recently have we been able to read Roman history with a level of modern academic scrutiny. Before the nineteenth century, sources such as the works of Suetonius and Livy could mostly be accepted as fact, with little notion of the possibility of a personal, ideological narrative within their works. Recently however, there has been an increase of historians looking at history in the context the society in which they were written, and not their own. And yet still there remains a struggle to separate fact from fiction when it comes to modern accounts of Roman Emperors, most prominently those of the imperial era. Else Roesdahl perfectly describes ancient works driven by a personal narrative as “historical novels”, yet documentaries and books continue to disperse them as fact. Nowhere else is this as apparent as in depictions of Nero, which continue to be as sensationalist today as they were almost 2000 years ago.
Nero came at a time when the Roman senate was still adapting itself to a state ruled by a single emperor. The senate and Roman elite began to realise their need to secure influence which was rapidly dissolving under Emperors who noticed the senate was now merely an advisory institution. The pragmatic members of the elite, however, realised that there was still a way to exercise power over the Emperors: through writing. Roman elites had already been writing diaries and cataloguing letters for centuries, but not as extensively as during this time of slow senatorial alienation from imperial power. With loss of power came the rise of writing Roman “history”. Authors began to write with more than the glorification of the Roman empire in mind.
Suetonius’ account of the lives of emperors is wonderfully useful when attempting to discover the ins and outs of Roman society and its elites, but becomes frustrating in its description of details, some of which Suetonius could not possibly have known. He cites “reliable authorities” as his sources, which dissolves any form of reliability his statements have. A particularly far-fetched moment in his description of Nero comes after the assassination of his mother Agrippina by his own order. It states that Nero rushed to his mother’s corpse to examine and assess her body critically, perversely. This certainly does evoke a reaction of disgust in the reader, but this is exactly the reaction Suetonius desires. If he wanted to give his readers a chance to critically evaluate Nero, he would have omitted this moment entirely. Nero’s chapter in Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars is rife with moments like this, but sensationalist stories attempting to dramatise Nero’s life for an audience reaction do not end with Suetonius’ work. You simply have to watch a modern documentary on his life to find that ridiculous examples of imagery still remain. Documentaries begin with wonderful montages of brutality and fire overlaid with the sounds of screaming crowds and a deafening orchestra in the process of a violent fit. While it certainly is attractive to an audience, you could start a documentary on any Roman emperor with a montage of brutalities and remain safe in the assurance that it remains loyal to its source material. Nero’s violence was not unique, simply more public and personal.
Those who did not write history, the common people of Rome, it is harder to predict the opinions of. However, we can probably assume that Nero’s reign, being of such spectacle, was in fact enjoyed by the lower classes of Rome. His love of all the arts and past times of Rome, from poetry to music to athletics, ingratiated him with the Roman people, something an Emperor completely enthralled with the Senate would find nearly impossible. He thrived in this section of Roman society, something which has been difficult to determine due to the colouring of history by the elite. Nero’s obsession with Hellenic, artistic culture benefitted both him and the eastern half of the empire when he brought into effect a “liberation of the Hellas”, exempting Achaea and the Peloponnese from taxes. Upon his return, Nero acquired all manner of divine acclamations, “Nero Zeus the Liberator”, to name one among many others. On one side of this decision is a certain distaste from the Senate due to its removal of a large portion of income to Rome. On the other, however, was a huge increase in support for Nero from the lower classes, marvelling at his generosity.
And yet it cannot be denied that Nero was a man of few boundaries when it came to indulging a more extreme lifestyle. And it is in these indulgences that he simply happened to be on the wrong side of the authors of history. His obsession with art leaked into his political life, spawning a number of Hellenistic values being put upon the Senate and people of Rome. The most prominent example of this is the quinquennial Neroneia he introduced to Rome in AD60: a series of artistic competitions, modelling on Homeric contests. This slow merging of Hellenistic and Roman values in the public domain was unsurprisingly disturbing for the traditionalist Senate. While leaking into some parts of his political attitude, his love of art simply replaced and removed other aspects of politics. His apparent lack of reaction initially to Vindex’s revolt in AD68-69 shows his mental separation from some aspects of policy, and a reliance upon others – in this case probably Verginius Rufus, a nearby commander of an army – to solve the issues which he held no concern for.
So why do people love to dramatise his life so often? Part of the problem when looking at Nero’s life comes from the imaginations it seems to have captured. Recently, in Trier, there was an art exhibition using the theme of Nero’s death named Lust and Crime, a rather theatrical name intended to pull in those with less interest. In the same way that Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra twisted the love between its two protagonists to romanticise their situation, this art installation reveals representations of Nero’s life that have twisted him into a figure of mythical debauchery.
The fact of the matter remains, however, that we will never truly know Nero. We can only get two extreme accounts of him-one supportive, and one, more substantial, damning him. Though recently it has been accepted that the truth about Nero’s reign remains hidden somewhere between those two accounts, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly where. Modern romanticising of his reign has not helped this, and many documentaries and books on his reign merely act to obscure the balance between the two opinions. Nero has inspired so much artistic interest in his modern audience that his supposed final words, “what an artist dies in me”, take on a completely different meaning. Though an artist died with Nero, his death generated more works of art and imagination than he could possibly have wished for, transforming his rule into one of mythical proportions.
Written by Oscar Brierley
Megan Hitchen March 9th, 2017
I took Dr Heather Hunter-Crawley’s Greek and Roman Art and Architecture module last year and was taken on an art historical journey, studying the progression of art from Bronze Age Greece to the Byzantine era. One of the ways in which this module was brilliant was the way in which the students were taught how to ‘look’ at art, which isn’t as passive an experience as one may think (similarly to Alastair Sooke’s ‘Treasures of Ancient Greece’, a BBC Production which I highly recommend watching if you are interested in the art history of the ancient world). Heather teaches her students not only the historical significance of sculptures, pottery, and paintings – the Pergamum altar, and the Jockey of Artemision to name a couple of my favourites – but the ways in which they can be read and interpreted. However, while I could easily continue to write about the merits of this module that is not the purpose of this post. Instead I wish to write about a guest lecture given by Dr Nigel Pollard which was organised by Heather at the end of this module.
One focus of Nigel’s lecture was on the Hague Convention in 1954 which passed the Act on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, a law which made it a crime against human rights to damage or destroy a site or cultural or historical importance. The catalyst for this was the extensive damage done to sites during the Second World War, for example Coventry Cathedral or Pompeii. Now, this Act is enforced by groups such as the International Committee of the Blue Shield, which protect sites under threat and seeks to gain the co-operation of governments or other bodies that can help to implement this.
However, Nigel noted that while this law is commendable, it is not always enforced (of course some sites are easier to protect than others), and there is a global disparity in the definition of ‘cultural heritage’. For example in 2003 the Iraq National Museum in Bagdad was looted as a result of American forces not stepping into the security vacuum after the Taliban were pushed out. Also when comparing the number of UNESCO sites in Europe and Middle Eastern States the difference is quite staggering; 499 and 81 respectively (I use this example as Nigel’s lecture focused predominantly on the Middle East and the West). This to me suggests a dominant interest in Western sites and Western ideas of culture, perhaps at the expense of those elsewhere.
Reflecting back on this lecture I can’t help but notice that in seeking to protect sites of cultural heritage, we are simultaneously potentially making them more vulnerable to cultural conflict. In the past, sites of cultural or historical importance have frequently been targeted by opposition parties as a means to demonstrate another culture’s vulnerability or lack of permanence in the world. In 25/24 BCE the Kushites invaded the province of Egypt (now North Sudan), and in a fit of triumph against Augustus, emperor of Rome, they severed a bronze head of Augustus (see figure 2), which they took back to Meroë and buried under the steps of their victory monument. Not only did this demonstrate resistance to Rome as it was never returned, but this symbolically showed the Kushites’ strength and perhaps cultural superiority over the Roman Empire, and would have evoked a sense of disgust from the Romans (if they knew that this had happened).
With this in mind, it is perhaps not particularly surprising that cultural sites are damaged now, especially with Palmyra in mind (August 2015), and ongoing cultural conflict in the Middle East.
It is noticeable that the West has become increasingly desensitised to the atrocities that have been going on in the Middle East; some may go so far to say as disinterested. Therefore, destroying a place that we have so clearly stated is important to our culture seems an obvious way to attract our attention. Equally though, this Western interest in ancient sites has fuelled the selling of looted antiquities eg. from Apamea. Does that mean that the West is indirectly violating the 1954 Hague Convention?
While I agree that it is important to continue to protect sites with historical importance, I do think that we should be aware that there is a cultural disparity in the consensus in terms of ‘cultural significance’ which may have potentially caused conflict between groups of people. I also would argue that when people set out to protect these sites, it is necessary to be aware that increasing their publicity can have a negative impact. This is a diverse and complex topic, one which ultimately has no ideal solution.
Written by Minette Matthews, 2nd Year Ancient History Student
Here are a couple of links if you are interested in reading more on this:
Megan Hitchen March 2nd, 2017
On Thursday 23rd February 2017, the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill 2016-2017 received the Royal Assent and so became an Act of Parliament. This was a big moment for me, as I’ve been part of lobbying efforts to achieve this for the last five years as a board member of the UK National Committee of Blue Shield. The key provision of the Act is that the UK will finally ratify the 1954 Hague Convention on the protection of cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and its two Protocols, of 1954 and 1999. ‘Cultural Property’ in this sense includes monuments, sites and buildings, museums, galleries , libraries, archives and their contents ‘of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people’.
Damage to cultural property has been long-standing feature of wars and internal conflicts throughout history, and has been subject to considerable scrutiny in recent decades, through conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Mali, Libya, Egypt and the former Yugoslavia. This is the result of deliberate, ideologically motivated attacks on cultural property associated with other cultures and religions, accidental damage caused by insufficient care and respect for cultural property when conducting military operations, failure of occupying armed forces to safeguard cultural sites and property for which they are responsible, and looting of unprotected sites and collections in conflict zones for the illicit antiquities trade.
The UK, like the USA, didn’t ratify the original 1954 Hague Convention for political and military reasons associated with its Cold War context, and while the UK claimed to work within the spirit of the Convention (for example, at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq), it is the last country with extensive military involvements abroad to ratify it. Passing of the Act and ratification of the Convention will be important symbolic steps in demonstrating the UK’s commitment to the protection of cultural property as well as having practical implications. For example, violations of the Convention and its protocols will be recognised as offences in UK law, and legal sanctions relating to dealing in ‘unlawfully exported cultural property’ will be strengthened. The UK is preparing an inventory of its own cultural property for the purposes of protection, and potentially some buildings may be marked with the Blue Shield emblem for protection, already in use in some countries such as Austria. Another requirement of the Convention is that the UK is establishing a special unit within the armed forces for the protection of cultural property, inevitably popularly dubbed the ‘New Monuments Men’ after the Anglo-American Allied Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Sub-Commission of the Second World War, popularised by the 2014 George Clooney film. In addition, the UK set up a £30 million Cultural Protection Fund to fund projects and initiatives in this field in 2016, after consultation with heritage specialists including myself.
I became interested in this issue through my research relating to damage to archaeological sites such as Pompeii in the Second World War, and the history of the ‘Monuments Men’ organisation. For that reason I played a role in the re-establishment of the UK National Committee of Blue Shield in 2012. However, as an archaeologist, much of my past research and fieldwork related to Roman Syria, so the intensification of the civil war there involved me more and more in contemporary efforts to preserve heritage sites in conflict zones. I have digitised many of my images of archaeological sites in Syria that have been damaged in the conflict as a contribution to their preservation for research and teaching.
Written by Dr Nigel Pollard
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e.bracke February 27th, 2017
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.
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
Megan Hitchen February 23rd, 2017
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. (Please note political views are the student’s, not necessarily the department’s.)
A striking result from a class quiz result got me thinking about the political message in the comedy series Plebs. Asked whether we agree that the series is ‘purely for entertainment’, the vast majority of us, including myself, answered in the affirmative. On reflection, though, I think I answered like this because of the show’s close similarity to The Inbetweeners – a sitcom about a dysfunctional group of lads, outsiders to the society they live in, who are thrown together into outrageous situations. But I have now come to the conclusion that underlying the comedy of Plebs is a political message. Tom Basden, a writer on the show, admits that the ‘Plebgate’ scandal in politics, featuring a clash between an MP and the police, at the time of the show’s initial release highlighted a key theme: that people are the same now as they were two thousand years ago. He explains that there is always going to be the angry mob ready to criticise the rich and powerful; and that society will always be obsessed with class. So, with this in mind I am interested in Plebs’ use of Classics and modern politics.
We all know that politicians are basically untrustworthy. Nigel Farage exemplifies this, for example in his promise that there would be £350 million for the NHS once we voted for Brexit. In Plebs, there is no greater archetype for the untrustworthy politician than Victor in the episode on The Candidate. He is clearly depicted as the ‘conservative’ candidate for the election week. He hires ‘clappers’ (people to support his campaign trail) and wears a Donald Trump type toupee. What is more worrying is that he has no idea about the common people. When visiting a poorer district, the Aventine, Victor declares that the people would like a “biscuit based brawl”. This is a clear dig at our out of touch politicians, such as Ed Miliband who guessed that a weekly shop for a family of four would be £70 or £80, which is £30 short of the national average. Even though his representation is exaggerated, Victor’s cluelessness about the Aventine does seem to be plausible because there was no real ‘middle class’ in Ancient Rome.
Julius Priscus, who represents the opposition, is also worth a mention. He has laudable socialist ideas about renewing the Aventine and stopping corrupt landlords. Ironically, at the end of the episode, the game of politics seems to have changed him. He wins the campaign, but only with the support of the landlords he so desperately wanted to get rid of. Grumio dubs him a “slippery sod”, and I must say, on the whole, that this is the prevailing feeling about all politicians by the end of this episode.
“A tiny cog in a big wheel”
Key targets for satire are ‘the landlords’, a mafia-esque consortium, working together to keep themselves rich and the poor, even poorer. As Landlord states, as he raises Marcus and Stylax’s rent, “I’m just a tiny cog in a big wheel”. But this does not ring true for the rest of the episode. In fact, Landlord has a sinister hold over the politics in Rome and ultimately Davus, his henchman, assassinates Victor. Earlier in the episode the group of landlords have an informal meeting with Victor at the baths, ominously remarking: “we think you’ve forgotten who your friends are.” The parallel between the personal relationship between endorser and endorsee, common in modern politics, is difficult to miss: in the Tory party, reportedly, the highest donation from an individual was from the businessman, Michael Farmer, who is also co-treasurer of the Tory party. It seems that manipulation in politics has been true throughout time, and scholars such as Staveley explore how voting was rigged in Rome. It occurs to me that the disparity between the classes is really apparent in the context of Plebs. The show uses this to highlight the failings of our own politicians.
Marcus climbs the social ladder, becoming a ‘wigman’ cum political advisor to Victor’s campaign. He suggests a cap on rent in the Aventine to Victor; and in desperation for the crowd’s applause Victor supports it and Marcus’ and Landlord’s roles are then reversed. This is displayed perfectly when Marcus delivers the line back to Landlord: “I am just a ting cog in a big wheel”. Reversal of class is something we also witness in the episode Jugball, when Marcus takes on Flavia’s job. Both times though, the role reversal is restored as Victor is assassinated and Flavia becomes manager again. By the end of The Candidate and Jugball the main characters in fact end up in a poorer position than they were previously, and in The Candidate, Aurelius informs the gang that they will be fined if they do not clap at political speeches.
On the whole, Plebs criticizes the corruption that surrounds politics, the way in which it is used as a game simply to be won. It undermines the two main modern ideologies of Labour and Conservative by displaying the representatives, Victor or Julius Priscus, as easily bought. Nothing changes at the end of the episode; there is no revolution of the people, no fair representation for the Aventine. The status quo remains the same, and there is a feeling that history repeats itself. And, I must say, a similar feeling comes every five years after an election.
Written by Rebecca Elms
 Basden, T (2013) ‘Plebs: A funny thing happened on the way to the Colosseum’, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/comedy/features/plebs-a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-the-colosseum-8547754.html. Accessed: 26/10/2016/.
 Graham, G. (2014). ‘Ed Miliband’s weekly shopping bill? Er… £70? More?’, The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/ed-miliband/10842953/Ed-Milibands-weekly-shopping-bill-Er…-70-More.html. Accessed: 27/10/2016
 Thelwell, E. ‘FactCheck: party donors—who funds Labour and the Tories’, http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/labour-funding-party-donors-tories-factcheck/13899 . Accessed: 27/10/2016
 Staveley, E. (1972) Greece and Roman Voting and Elections. London: Thames and Hudson.
e.bracke February 14th, 2017
You’ve probably all seen the St Valentine’s meme on social media:
It is a pretty good joke, pointing out the incongruity of celebrating the violent death of an early Christian martyr at Rome with a consumerist frenzy dedicated to love and romance. Moreover, the meme is quite well-informed: the basic outlines of the story derive from an anonymous Latin account of Valentine’s torture and death.
Of course, the whole story is pretty dubious. The text itself is late, dating to the sixth or seventh century, and so to some 200-300 years after the Romans had stopped persecuting Christians. Many of the details it contains push the limits of historical credibility. The persecution in which Valentine supposedly died happened “during the reign of Claudius” but it is not clear which Claudius is meant: the Julio-Claudian emperor Claudius (AD 41-54) is too early, given that Roman persecution of Christians didn’t begin until the reign of his successor Nero; and the later emperor Claudius II (268-270) is not known to have suppressed Christians. The historical situation is confused further by the text’s mention that Valentine was a priest at Rome when the pope was Callistus, whose dates of 217-222 coincide with the reign of neither emperor Claudius. If you like your history full of “accurate facts”, this story will have you pulling your hair out.
But that is probably to approach the text about Valentine in the wrong way. It was never meant as straight history, but rather as a celebration of a Roman saint and martyr. In fact, it is one of dozens of Latin romances about martyrs composed at Rome between the fifth and seventh centuries. These texts reflect the popularity of martyr cult, and were themselves so popular that their use in Christian services had to be restricted by the Church.
The Valentine story shares many features with these other romances – and not just a cavalier attitude to historical “accuracy”. The scenes of Valentine curing a magistrate’s daughter of blindness, of his subsequent arrest, torture, and death, as well as of the recovery of his body by a Christian matron who then buries it in a Christian cemetery – all of these are features that can be found in countless Roman martyr romances. Moreover, the story of Valentine appears in a connected narrative that contains the stories of other martyrs too, such as the Persian pilgrims Marius, Martha, Audifax, and Abbacuc who came to Rome to visit the tombs of the martyrs and ended up as martyrs themselves.
In other words, the story makes perfect sense in the context of Christian Rome in Late Antiquity. This was a time when the flourishing cult of martyrs created a demand for stories to explain who these martyrs were. These stories often papered over cracks and uncertainties in the historical record, or simply invented details where none survived. For example, from a calendar of saints’ days that dates to the same period as the story of Valentine, we learn that 14 February was associated with not one but two martyrs called Valentine: one from Rome, and the other from Interamna, modern Terni in Umbria, but confusingly buried at Rome. (And there are other Valentines besides: the name was relatively common.) Were these two Valentines the same person? Scholars usually assume that they were, but disagree on which came first. In any case, the story told in the martyr romance about Valentine is plainly the Roman one mentioned in the calendar. It records that he was buried on 14 February at the Via Flaminia leading north from Rome, where a church dedicated in Valentine’s name is known from the fourth century. (Barely anything remains there anymore, although a skull allegedly belonging to a St Valentine is now on display in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in the centre of Rome.) And that is essentially what the story is all about: an explanation of how a Valentine celebrated on 14 February ended up buried on the Via Flaminia, and to which various details of his heroic Christian resolve in the face of persecution have been added.
So did St Valentine suffer as horribly as the meme suggests? Probably not: the story was invented to tell a compelling and inspiring story to a receptive audience. But then he has nothing to do with the celebration of romantic love either: that association seems to have come about only in the later Middle Ages. So far as St Valentine is concerned, Tina Turner got it absolutely right when she sang: “What’s love got to do with it? What’s love but a second hand emotion?”
In other words, you can send each other chocolates, and gobble them up too, with a clear conscience.
Written by Prof. Mark Humphries
e.bracke February 10th, 2017
Posted In: Ancient History
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