Saturday, 17 August 2019

ALBANIA: Why You Need to Visit NOW


Over the last week I fulfilled an ambition I conceived as a Cold War teenager, locating places crucial to classical literature that that lay  behind the Iron Curtain. And the curtain separating isolationist Albania was the most impenetrable. By the time I arrived at university, the dictator Enver Hoxha had fallen out not only with Yugoslavia, but with the USSR and China too.

Our Driver on Via Egnatia
Until the 1990s I believed I’d never swim in the Adriatic by the towns of Northern Epirus, inhabited by Illyrians whose war cry terrified the best-trained Greek hoplite.  I thought I'd never visit the city of Epidamnus, from which the northernmost Greek sailors rowed at the Battle of Salamis. But now I've seen them and swum there, accompanied by my historian daughter Sarah. We were phenomenally fortunate in our guide Jenka Curri, driver Vinny (here on the Via Egnatia, which linked the Adriatic to Byzantium) and tour companion, and recommend their company Balkan Insight with the utmost enthusiasm.

Theatre of Buthrotum
Buthrotum/Butrint is breathtaking, fed by rich rivers flowing through verdant valleys to a turquoise lake that meets the sea.  Cicero’s loaded friend Atticus lived on a great estate here, than which Cicero wrote in 56 BCE, ‘nothing could be quieter or fresher or prettier’. Here Augustus settled the veterans of Actium so  Virgil knew he had to laud Buthrotum in his Aeneid. Rome’s future relations with not only Epirus but all Greece are defined forever by the friendly meeting between Aeneas and two other Trojan refugees, Helenus and Andromache. 

Apollonia Amazon
I read this part of Book III for ‘O’-Level Latin in 1976, and remember my frustration that my teacher could not even find  Buthrotum on a map. Last week, at last, I found a shady spot beside the temples of the forum, where I imagine Andromache making her sacrifices to Hector’s shade before loading Aeneas' son with gifts because he reminds her of her dead child Astyanax, and Helenus' prophetic description of the future dangers facing the Trojan wanderers. 

Comic Costume
Apollonia was an imposing hillside city, built by Corinthians in the seventh century BCE, where Romans came to study philosophy and rhetoric (a stunning bust of Demosthenes has been found). Octavian received the news of Julius Caesar’s assassination here in March 44 BCE. The museum is packed with treasures including gorgeous Amazons and a comic actor chatting up Dionysus.

Dyrrachium Christian Mosaics
Dyrrrachium/Durres, known to the Greeks as Epidamnus, site of one of the most important battles between Caesar and Pompey, boasts an amphitheatre in the ruins of which early Christians built a church ornamented with stunning mosaics. I had always wanted to visit the city where Plautus’ Menaechmus Brothers is set, the play which underlies Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. The clever slave Messenio says that it houses ‘debauchees, big boozers, sycophants, perjurers and world-class fawning prostitutes’; it is certainly still full of Italian pleasure-seekers at it was in Plautus’ day.

Pot within a Dionysus Pot
My favourite finds in the Durres Museum were the gravestone of a tailor called Lucius Domitius Sarcinator and an exquisite vase depicting a sacrifice to Dionysus, complete with a vase-painting of dancing satyrs within the frame vase-painting.

Albanians are friendly, funny (a specialism is dark humour about politics) and excellent cooks. They have fine indigenous wine and beer. Many of the seriously inexpensive restaurants are called ‘Antigone’, not after Sophocles’ tragic heroine but the wife of Pyrrhus, Plutarch's ‘last of the Greeks’, who so bravely opposed Roman imperialism. I am still buzzing with excitement with all that I have seen, and would urge you to consider an Albanian adventure at the  first opportunity.
Apollonia Council House



Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Report on 'Ridiculously Ambitious' Summer School 2019


So we did it!  The ACE project ran a whole week’s course on Classical Civilisation GCSE and A/S Level, with a session devoted to every single component on the OCR specs! In the River Room at King’s College London, with its spectacular views, a heroic band of teachers met KCL academics to think about how teenagers would respond to texts from Homer to Horace and images from Mycenae to Hadrian’s Wall.

Dr Dan Orrells Welcoming Us All 
The scheme, which at least one colleague at another university told me was so ambitious that it was ‘ridiculous’ to think it could be accomplished, faced obstacles. The KCL Widening Participation team in their wisdom decided to give us exactly one third of the required funding (we were saved here by the Head of the Classics Department, Dan Orrells, who understands the importance of getting Classics into state schools better than anyone), by the Hellenic Society, and Pavlos Avlamis who let us have ££ from his personal research account to cover the  catering (at one point Arlene Holmes-Henderson and I thought we would be making the sandwiches ourselves).

Pavlos Avlamis on the Iliad
The heat was overwhelming and the alleged aircon crap; on Thursday 25th July, I ran sessions on Democracy and the Athenians and War and Warfare (the latter in partnership with the coruscating James Corke-Webster) when the thermometer hit 37 degrees (sort of appropriate for pitched hoplite battle!)

Our teachers ranged from someone still training, to non-classicist teachers hoping to introduce Class. Civ., to people already experienced in it intending to expand provision or support other schools locally. We are confident that the summer school will expand the availability of Class. Civ. in several schools/sixth-form colleges.

Emily Pillinger on Sappho & Virgil
Our KCL colleagues were exemplary. Everyone had read the OCR teaching materials carefully and delivered perfectly bespoke talks and activities. Ellen Adams showed for Homeric World the importance of thinking about the size and setting of early Greek towns; Nicola Devlin managed to pack the entire history of Greek vase-painting into 90 lucid minutes for Greek Art; Emily Pillinger enthralled on Sappho and Catullus for Women in the Ancient World and made the Aeneid’s message on migrants compelling for World of the Hero.

The Afternoon of 25th July Did Feel Rather Like This
John Pearce showed how the Colosseum can reveal almost everything we need to know about Roman City Life; Lindsay Allen got everybody thinking like an Achaemenid Persian in Invention of the Barbarian; for Imperial Image Dominic Rathbone persuasively made me dislike Roman emperors' PR machines even more than before; Pavlos Avlamis won the prize for Most Popular Activity when he got everyone to draw Achilles’ shield from Iliad XVIII for World of the Hero; Mike Trapp made Plato comprehensible for Love and Relationships; Hugh Bowden sorted out myth and religion for both GCSE and A Level; Arlene had everyone turning into classically trained orators for Politics of the Late Republic and conducted magisterial overviews of curricula and resources; I mopped up Greek Theatre and the Odyssey.

There will be a legacy in the form of films of the presentations for the KCL website made by Big Face Art, with Tom Russell in charge, and in due course these and all the powerpoints and handouts will be made available on the ACE website too.

Dominc Rathbone on Imperial Images
But the real efforts were made by the extraordinarily committed teachers who attended, either the whole course or parts of it: Charlotte Cannon, Will Dearnaley, Edda-Jane Doherty, Jenny Draper, Laurence Goodwin, Chandler Hamer, Rob Hancock-Jones, Pantelis Iakovou, Susan Jenkins, Jo Johnson, Lidia Kuhivchak, Jo Lashley, Lottie Mortimer, Judith Parker, Halliford School, Saara Salem and Helen Turner. It was a privilege to spend the week with them, and I know we are going to hear far, far more from them in the future! The memories of the dinner at Pizza Express Holborn on the Wednesday evening will stay with us forever!


Camera Supremo Tom, a dead ringer for Danny Kaye
This 'ridiculously ambitious' summer school showed what can be done if teachers in Tertiary and Secondary education get their heads together as a team committed to all our teenagers accessing the Greeks and Romans and their amazing civilisations. It will not be the last of its kind run by Classics at KCL.


Monday, 5 August 2019

Celebrating a Classicist Hero of Working-Class Childen: W.T. Stead


On this day 170 years ago was born one of the heroes of the forthcoming book A People’s History of Classics I’ve written with Henry Stead. William Stead (sadly no relation) was a journalist, publisher and social reformer, committed to enhancing the cultural range of ‘the New Reader, who is the product of the [1880] Education Act’. Born poor in Wakefield, Stead learned Latin from his Nonconformist father. He was appointed chief editor of the radical Northern Echo in Darlington at the age of 22. ‘I felt the sacredness of the power placed in my hands,’ he later recalled, ‘to be used on behalf of the poor, the outcast and the oppressed.’
Darlington Pub Named after Stead


In 1883, Stead became editor of the gentleman’s gossip journal The Pall Mall Gazette, and transformed it into a vehicle for exposés. The most famous was the 1885 articles investigating the traffic in young girls in the underworld of London, The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon: The Report of our Secret Commission. Stead invented modern journalism by organising a complicated undercover investigation and writing in a sensationalist style, using a comparison with a famous mythical monster who committed atrocities.

The first article in the series consists of a detailed account of the Minotaur story, with long quotations from Ovid’s Metamorphoses VIII, emphasizing the death of innocent girls cast to a beast who was himself 'the foul product of an unnatural lust' because 'the maw of the London Minotaur is insatiable'.

No Reforming Journalists were in Titanic movie
Stead’s campaign against the Minotaur successfully precipitated the raising of the age of consent, by the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, from just 13 to 16. He suffered for his efforts, however: he had staged the purchase of a girl as part of his detective work. He served a three months’ prison sentence for abducting her. His career never fully recovered. He turned to Spiritualism, and died as a passenger on the Titanic on April 11th 1912.

Less well-known today are his cheap versions of famous literary works for children, ‘Books for the Bairns’. Ten were from classical sources: Aesop’s Fables, The Labours of Hercules, Perseus and the Gorgon’s Head, Tales of the Ancient Greeks, The Quest of the Golden Fleece, Stories of the Persian Kings, Stories of the Greek Tyrants, and The Quest of Orpheus.

An iron-foundry worker named Joseph Stamper (born in 1886), recalls being enchanted by Stead’s ‘Books for the Bairns’ as a child in Lancashire. They ‘had a pink cover and contained selections from the ancient classics: stories from Homer, the writings of Pliny… I took a strong fancy to Aesop, he was a Greek slave from Samos, in the sixth century BC, and workpeople were only just beginning to be called “wage slaves”. I read all these.’

Stories from ancient Rome (May 1901), was as usual lavishly illustrated, with prints on almost every page. It summarized tales from Virgil’s Aeneid, Livy and Plutarch.  The opening of ‘The Story of Coriolanus’ invites the child reader to make comparisons between contemporary and Roman Republican politics:

The Patricians and Plebeians did not always get on well together. The Patricians, like some of the kings, wanted too much of their own way, and at last the Plebeians said they must have two officers, appointed by themselves, to look after their interests... The Tribunes were a little like our House of Commons, and the Patricians were something like the House of Lords.

If only children across the socio-economic spectrum  today had access, for a few pence, to ancient history + critical thinking about their own constitution + dozens of gorgeous illustrations.  They still have William Stead to thank for first getting the age of consent, before they could be fed to the Minotaur, to what it remains today.


Sunday, 28 July 2019

Five Great (Labour) Classicist Parliamentarians


The political associations of the discipline I have spent three decades trying to democratise have been tarnished this week. So, here is a celebration of five of the exemplary non-Etonian classicist Members of Parliament who feature in the book I’m about to publish with Henry Stead, A People’s History of Classics: Class and Greco-Roman Antiquity in Britain.

Ben Tillett, who served as MP for Salford 1917-1921 and 1929-1931, had taught himself Latin and some Greek in order to improve his oratory.  Tillett was labouring in a brickyard by the age of eight, followed by work as a fisherman, circus acrobat, cobbler and sailor. He moved to London, and in 1887 formed the Tea Operatives and General Labourers Union, later renamed the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers’ Union, while working at Tilbury docks.  He earned fame as a union leader in the London Dock Strike of 1889, and in 1910 co-founded the National Transport Workers’ Federation, later the TGWU.

Jack Lawson, as one of ten children of an illiterate mother and a County Durham miner, followed his father down Bolden Colliery Mineshaft at the age of twelve. He went on to become MP for Chester-le-Street and Financial Secretary to the War Office in the first Labour Government. But that first required a rigorous self-education with a miners' group studying Latin and Greek and  collecting second-hand books, of which his favourite were the Homeric Epics and Gibbon's Decline and Fall.

Keir Hardie, a founder and the first leader of the Labour Party, taught himself Latin and Ancient History after twelve-hour shifts down the mine precisely in order to prepare himself for debating with higher-class political adversaries.



Mary Agnes Hamilton, a Newnham classicist from Glasgow, was elected  Labour MP for Blackburn in 1929.  Hamilton was a radical journalist who wrote high-end ‘popular’ books about ancient Greece and Rome for OUP’s Clarendon Press, including Greek Legends (1912) and an accessible history of the ancient world (1913) covering the entire history of the Greeks and Romans from Hissarlik to Julius Caesar   Being an acknowledged expert in the history of the classical world lent authority to her biographies of Abraham Lincoln, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Carlyle and Ramsay MacDonald, as well as a lucid textbook The Principles of Socialism.


And John S. Clarke’s Young Workers’ Book of Rebels (1918), a Scottish textbook produced for teaching at the Proletarian Schools of Red Clydeside, rewrote Plutarch’s Life of Crassus to tell the story of Spartacus. Clarke (1885-1959) was one of fourteen children born into a circus family living a nomadic gypsy life. He performed as a bareback rider and a lion tamer, and was later to become an important Labour Party author; his Marxism and History (1928) contains a long analysis of the Roman Empire, was influential in socialist circles. He was elected MP for Maryhill in 1929.


I hope these examples will help clear the reputation of Classics and Classicists in British political life and parliament. I’d like to stress, too, that our Prime Minster’s grasp of Greek philosophy and political theory is ropy at best.  This was evident when in 2015 he lost a debate where he spoke “on behalf” of the ancient Greeks (poor them!) against Dame Mary Beard for the Romans, whereas I was able to see her off with ease at the Cheltenham Festival a few years ago. This does not make me specially clever: any Classics graduate who can’t persuade an audience that the contribution of authors writing in ancient Greek was more important to intellectual history than those of ancient Rome shouldn’t be put in charge of Bullingdon Club piss-up, let alone a nation-state.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Murderers who Moonlit as Classicists


Classicists are not always the most virtuous of people, but two classicists have outdone the rest of us mere narcissists, grudge-holders and backbiters by committing murder in England. I don’t know if it’s the heat or the mental strain of the Tory leadership contest, but I have an urge to blog about them today.


Murder Victim
Bionic Translator
The Reverend John Selby Watson, an Irishman, a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, and headmaster of Stockwell Grammar School, was in 1872 sentenced to death, despite his plea of insanity, for battering his wife to death with the butt of his pistol; his sentence was subsequently reduced to life imprisonment. 

Watson had acquired mild fame as a prodigiously prolific classical translator;  he had translated Quintilian, Xenophon, Lucretius, Cicero, Sallust, Florus, Velleius Paterculus, Justin, Cornelius Nepos, and Eutropius for Bohn’s Classical Library. He lived out his last twelve years in Parkhurst Prison, where he died after falling out of his hammock.

Eugene Aram (1704-59), on the other hand, was an entirely self-taught philologist from Ramsgill, Yorkshire. Despite his humble origins (his father worked as a gardener for a clergyman), he became a philologist of a high order. He taught himself Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldaean, proved the Indo-European roots of the Celtic languages almost a century before  J.C. Prichard’s lauded Eastern Origin of the Celtic Nations (1831) and was one of the first to dispute the then commonly held view that Latin was derived from Greek.

But Aram was also a murderer, a thief, and reportedly lived incestuously with his daughter. In 1744, he killed his ‘best friend’ Daniel Clarke (nobody knows why although rumours about a woman abounded). He fled to London and earned a living teaching Latin in a school in Piccadilly. He managed to avoid trial until 1759, when Clarke’s body was found in a cave. Aram admitted his crime and attempted suicide by slitting his arm above the elbow. He failed in the attempt and was hanged without delay from the gallows in York.

Would you Learn Latin from This Man?
His corpse was suspended in chains in Knaresborough forest, where his friend’s body had been discovered. The dark philologist’s infamy lived on in Thomas Hood’s ballad The Dream of Eugene Aram, a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton called Eugene Aram, a play by W.G. Wills of the same name, and sundry allusions to his exploits in a 1915 silent movie, poetry and fiction. P.G. Wodehouse was fascinated by Aram, and refers to him in several of his novels about Jeeves and Bertie Wooster.

I’m not proposing that we add these two gentlemen unreservedly to the annals and canonical list of Heroes of the History of Classical Scholarship. But they certainly make it a little more colourful. I’d be interested to hear of other dastardly classicists who committed nefarious deeds in other countries.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

We Are a Proud Professional Mother


Our Earlier Book

I have magnificent news. My collaborator on my Classics and Class project, and co-author of the forthcoming A People’s History of Classics: Class and Greco-Roman Antiquity in Britain, has been appointed at St Andrews as Lecturer in Latin. I am ecstatic. Henry Stead is a wonderful person as well as an outstanding young intellectual and I am exploding with metaphorically maternal pride.

I’m too delirious to write anything but a boasting love letter to all my Post-Docs and Research students who have kept in touch. They are not my biological children so I do not fear the fate of Niobe. Helping to look after you all has been one of the biggest pleasures and privileges of my life.

Dr Lucy Jackson, Utterly Brilliant
The brilliant Lucy Jackson, who is completing a Leverhulme Post-Doc on Renaissance translations of Greek tragedy, is also about to go off to a permanent appointment at my old stomping-ground, the University of Durham. The astounding Arlene Holmes-Henderson is co-writing a book with me, Teaching Classical Civilisation and Ancient History in Britain at KCL and co-running our ACE campaign to get Greeks and Romans to every British teenager.

More than a quarter of a century ago, at Reading, there were Kim Shahabudin (now Teaching Fellow there), Andrea Bolton (who teaches Classics at Portsmouth Grammar School) and Ruth Bardel, who made a fine career in TEFL. At Durham, the dancing Alessandra Zanobi wrote her elegant thesis/book on ancient pantomime dancing and Emma Bridges her dazzling study of Xerxes co-supervised with Peter Rhodes (Emma’s now ICS Public Engagement Fellow in Classics) as well as the co-edited Cultural Responses to the Persian Wars


It was at Durham that Rosie Wyles began her splendid work on Greek tragedy (she now lectures at Kent Uni and has done THREE books with me as well as her own), Leanne Hunnings began her PhD on slavery (she’s an International Education Analyst), as did Laura Proffitt (who co-edited Reading Ancient Slavery with me and Richard Alston).

These last three passed their doctorates at Royal Holloway, where I also supervised Justine McConnell, now a trailblazing lecturer in Comparative Literature at KCL, who's done two books with me besides her pathbreaking Black Odysseys, Daniel Goad, a successful administrator at LSE, where no doubt being an expert on the Aristophanic Absurd throws light on the strange workings of academe, David Bullen, Theatre Director and Lecturer, and Jarrid Looney, who teaches Classics and English at Uwharrie Charter Academy.

At KCL I’ve made a point of supervising excellent mature and part-time PhDs students, including Matthew Shipton (a mountaineer when not Head of Comms at City Uni, London), Caroline Latham (an unnervingly intelligent star, older even than me, who’s done wonderful indexes for Women Classical Scholars and New Light on Tony Harrison), Miryana Dimitrova (freelance translator), Etta Chatterjee (an international lawyer),  Lottie Parkyn (now Director for Academic Engagement at Notre Dame London), Oliver Baldwin (world’s greatest expert on Seneca in Spain), Devan Turner (a university administrator), Anactoria Clarke (Curriculum Innovator at the Open University) and Magdalena Zira (one of Cyprus’ top theatre directors).


There are also two famous theatre directors amongst my past KCL PhD full-timers, Helen Eastman (an outstanding writer too) and Leonidas Papadopoulos, who wrote a lyrical thesis on Greek Tragedy and the Sea. Currently on the books full-time are Nimisha Patel (whose insights into contemporary Indian education never cease to stagger me) Peter Swallow (with whom I’m co-editing Aristophanic Humour) and Connie Bloomfield (with whom I’m convening a conference on Time in Greek Literature in September).


Many other wonderful junior colleagues (Stephe Harrop, once post-doc at the APGRD I co-founded at Oxford and with whom I edited Theorising Performance, now Senior Lecturer in Drama & Theatre at Liverpool Hope Uni) and students have laughed and cried with me in my many offices (Marcus Bell!), but this is already a long blog. Here are just some of the books which my babies have produced. (The software won't let my load any more). They have also had lots of their own real babies, theatrical productions, glamorous weddings, and other exciting tales to tell.




Saturday, 15 June 2019

A Bloomsday Post on Another Irish Ulysses


June 16th is Bloomsday, the date when James Joyce’s Ulysses is set. One of Leopold Bloom’s encounters is with the terrifying Cyclops, the obsessive Fenian anti-Semite Citizen, who baits the Jewish hero mercilessly. But another creative Irishman, James Barry,  had used the Odyssey long before to make a point about conflict between him and a compatriot.  

Permanent Collection of Cork's Crawford Gallery
Barry’s Portraits of Burke and Barry in the characters of Ulysses and a Companion fleeing from the Cave of Polyphemus (c. 1776) is discussed in my forthcoming book with Henry Stead, A People’s History of Classics. Barry was born to a Protestant father, who operated a cargo coaster out of the Port of Cork. But he enthusiastically adopted the faith of his Catholic mother.

He was saved from working as a sailor by fellow Irishman Edmund Burke, no less. Burke was still most famous as the author of A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful rather than for his trenchant conservative Whiggery. 

Burke spotted Barry’s talent, and had him trained in the workshop of James ‘Athenian’ Stuart (who was also the son of a sailor, and suffered a near-destitute boyhood in Ludgate). Burke paid for Barry to study in Rome. But Burke disagreed with Barry’s politics and attitudes to authority. The much poorer, younger man loathed having to appease patrons.

Barry supported Irish peasants, French revolutionaries, Abolitionists and Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminism. Burke agreed with him on religious freedom and American independence but very little else. 

Polyphemus represents the rapacious British establishment, and the sheep its chattel-like Irish subjects. Burke (Ulysses) is trying to silence his companion. Barry knew that Ulysses’ lieutenant Eurylochus later becomes mutinous, complaining that Ulysses was himself responsible for the disaster on the Cyclops’ island.

Barry was appointed Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy in 1782. But his Irish vernacular, slovenly clothes (he was sometimes mistaken for a beggar) and what an insider called his ‘avowed democratical principles' culminated in his expulsion from the Academy in 1799 and death in abject poverty seven years later.  

His inability to embrace the British artistic and political establishments, as the increasingly reactionary Burke urged, is the fundamental message of this fascinating pre-Joycean Irish allegory of the Odyssey. It is one reason why Barry was so admired by Blake, Turner, and Watts. But, despite his endlessly reproduced and beautiful pictures of the suffering Philoctetes, Jupiter and Juno on Mount Ida, etc, far too few of us are aware of his radical classicism today.

More on a research topic rather than UK parliamentary politics again next week!