Thursday 12 November 2020

Some Pindar for my Father


A dark day after a sleepless night. My father, the Revd. Prof. Stuart Hall, in his nineties in a Scottish care home, has contracted Covid. He seems OK right now but I am terrified that he won't recover. He taught me my first steps in ancient Greek and to speak out against racism. My family has been here before when my husband’s stepmother of 60 years died far away in Guernsey under the first lockdown.

I do not share my father’s ardent Christian faith. So this translation of parts of Pindar's gorgeous ‘Get Well Soon’ ode (Pythian 3) to his sick patron Hieron of Syracuse in Sicily will have to do instead of a prayer. We all need Chiron the Centaur-Medic now.

"If I might be forgiven for saying a traditional kind of prayer, I would wish for Chiron the deceased son of Philyra to be alive. He was the child of Ouranos’ son Kronos, and his realm was wide. I would want that creature of the wild to reign again in the valleys of Pelion, with his affectionate attitude towards men…

"Apollo gave him to the Centaur of Magnesia to teach him how to cure many painful human ailments—people afflicted with chronic sores, or with limbs wounded by grey bronze weapons, or with a stone slung from afar, or wasting away from summer heat or wintry weather—he set them all free, saving them from their different afflictions. He treated some with gentle incantations, others with soothing potions, or by wrapping curatives all round their limbs, and others he set right with surgery…

"We should seek from the gods what is appropriate for mortal minds—knowing what lies at our very feet and what kind of destinies we have. O my soul, do not crave immortal life, but make full use of the remedies available! 

"Yet, if wise Chiron were still living in his cave, and  my honey-voiced songs had entranced him and held him spellbound, I would even now have persuaded him to send a physician sprung from Apollo or his father Zeus to cure good men of their feverish diseases. And I would have sailed on a ship, cutting through the Ionian sea, to the fountain of Arethusa, to see my host at Etna…

"If a mortal has the path of truth in mind, he should take his chances that he will fare well at the hands of the gods. 

"But on high the gusting winds blow capriciously."

Friday 6 November 2020

Defiant Good News re Doorstep Classics

Whatever else is happening in the world, my project to expand provision of classical subjects in UK state education flourishes. I’m delighted to announce that my local Cambourne Village College this week asked my ACE colleague Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson (lower right) to train up their history teachers, who are led by the enterprising Jess Angel, in preparation to introduce Ancient History GCSE! 

The college, like our house, lies in western Cambridgeshire just off Ermine Street, the great Roman road between London and York. The pupils had already shown their passion for antiquity a couple of years ago when they dug up Roman artefacts on an adjacent Roman-British farm thanks to a grant from the National Lottery. I think the local youngsters develop their enthusiasm at their wonderful Roman-themed swings and slides adjacent to the Co-op. Whenever I go for groceries from now on I can think with pride about the teenagers studying ancient history for real.

And I’ve just discovered a riveting postscript to my book on Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris, in which I showed that the strange Greek myth of the escape of Iphigenia and her brother Orestes from the barbarians of Tauris (Sevastopol, Crimea), stealing their cult statue of Artemis, adorned art in nearly every corner of the Roman Empire from Egypt and Anatolia to Gaul. 

The same year the book was published, so was a Roman artefact discovered in a West Sussex garden [1], which shows that the exotic myth  reached 
even my barbarous homeland in Roman times.

A column fragment carved from Paris Basin limestone, it has been hollowed out and used as a planter. It was probably taken from a Roman site in southern England like the nearby Bignor Villa, visited by antiquary A.J. Kempe in in the early 19th century. It seems to have been handed down in his family. 

Bignor Villa mosaics, West Sussex

I just want someone to do some 3-D printing for me so I can add a copy of the planter to the gnomes and stone pigs in our garden, which we have turned into an outdoor pub to visit every lockdown evening when the sun goes over the yardarm. We've got the heater, ordered the sign, and last night waved around our authentically Greek-looking Diogenes lantern over the lager and Cabernet Sauvignon. I'll let you know whether we find any honest men.

(1)  'A New Sculpture of Iphigenia in Tauris'. E. Black, J. Edgar, K.M.J. Hayward and M. Henig, Britannia 43 (2012), 243–270