Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Vases on Stage: A Panoply Interview with Dr Rosie Wyles.

We're delighted to be talking today to Dr Rosie Wyles, lecturer in classical history and literature at the University of Kent. Rosie is an ancient theatre specialist, working on Greek and Roman performance arts, costume, reception within antiquity and beyond it, and gender. Her doctoral research was on the role of costume in performances of Euripides’ 'Telephus', 'Heracles and 'Andromeda' in antiquity. Her publications include Costume in Greek Tragedy (2011), the highly acclaimed Women Classical Scholars: Unsealing the Fountain from the Renaissance to the Twentieth Century (2016), edited with Prof Edith Hall, and the vase-tastic 2010 volume: The Pronomos Vase and its Context, edited with Prof Oliver Taplin.

I heard Rosie's presentation on her latest research at the Classical Association Annual Conference earlier this year, and I knew that you Panoply readers would love it, with its marvellous combination of vases as objects and vases bearing images. So here it is: vases in ancient Greek theatre...

1) Were vases used as props in ancient Greek theatre?
Yes we have a number of plays which feature vases. For example, we have Electra in Sophocles' Electra holding an urn (which she has been led to believe contains the ashes of her dead brother) and lamenting over it. This becomes a particularly famous moment in the play thanks to the story about a fourth-century actor called Polus performing the scene using an urn which contained the ashes of his own son (recorded in Aulus Gellius Attic Nights 6.5.5-8). This first example demonstrates the urn prop being used for ashes, but vases or urns serving other purposes are also represented on stage. In Aeschylus' Oresteia (458 BCE), vases for pouring libations feature in the second play of the trilogy (Libation Bearers) and the water jars (hydriai) used as voting urns in the law courts are brought onto stage in the final play (Eumenides). By contrast, Euripides uses a water jar (hydria) in his Electra as simply a vessel for drawing water from a well.

2) So people were seeing objects from their own lives on stage for the first time. What affect do you think that had on people?
In the case of the Eumenides, this is our first fully extant play to use voting urns as props within its action. The effect would, I think, have been particularly powerful given the importance of legal procedures to Athenian civic identity. As symbolic representatives of the law court experience in Athens voting urns are 'charged' objects, which offers an added dimension to their meaning as props on the tragic stage. As contemporary objects within the mythological action of the drama, they would have invited a direct comparison between the experience of real life in Athens and the story being presented on stage. Within the context of the Eumenides, these props represent order (in contrast to divine dispute) and so assert the superiority of the Athenian approach to governance.

3) What can we learn about ancient Greek voting from the voting scenes on vases?
There are surprisingly few Attic vase paintings which depict voting. A series of eight cups dating to between 490-470 BCE show Athena presiding over a vote to decide which warrior should receive the arms of Achilles. The vote however is not an exact equivalent of Athenian practice as it involves warriors placing a pebble at either one end or the other of a platform in front of Athena. A much closer representation of contemporary practice is offered by a cup attributed to the Stieglitz painter and dated to 470-460 BCE (Musée des Beaux Arts, Dijon, CA 1301). On the exterior of the cup are two scenes of men voting (using the method of dropping the mussel shell into one of two urns - one urn to represent guilty and one not guilty). There are also seated men on both sides of the cup who oversee the action or are in conversation with each other. It is striking that on side B of the cup there seems to be an underage (because beardless) voter and a dispute which offers a parallel to the scenes on the earlier series of cups which also depict conflict on one side. The Stieglitz painter's cup acknowledges that voting can be contentious but at the same time the 'dispute' on this cup is far more civilised than the earlier mythological example (in which swords are drawn) and so it celebrates this aspect of Athenian governance.
Above, Athenians cast their votes on a cup, Musée des Beaux Arts, Dijon, CA 1301.

4) What vases scenes are there of vases being used in theatre?
The scene of Electra lamenting by the tomb of Agamemnon with a libation urn beside her becomes popular in ancient art. One of the challenges, however, is to determine when these representations can be confidently associated with a particular performance or production, or whether they represent a more general response to the dramatic rendering of the myth, generating an iconographic tradition independent of the theatre.

Above, Electra mourns with a libation urn, 4th century red figure, Paris, Louvre Museum, K544.

5) Would you tell us a bit more about how you, as a theatre historian, use vase scenes as evidence for other aspects of staging and putting on plays in classical Greece?
The body of 5th-century iconographic evidence for performance is quite limited. There are far more representations from 4th-century South Italy (or 'Western Greece' as Oliver Taplin in his major study Pots and Plays calls it), although the time lag, evolving performance history, and potential of local influences have to be taken into account for these. The fifth-century evidence, even if quite scant, can be really enlightening. A great example of this is the Pronomos vase (now in Naples and dated to just on the cusp between the 5th and 4th century) which is so rich as a piece of evidence that an entire conference and then book could be dedicated to its study! Since it depicts a cast in an off-stage setting after the end of the performance, one of the major insights which it offers is into perceptions of theatre as a cultural institution and attitudes towards performance. It is also of course useful for seeing what the costumes (no material remains of which survive) looked like. On the other hand, vases such as the Stieglitz painter cup can be used in a different way: since it is earlier than the Oresteia it offers an example of an alternative artistic response to the cultural institution of voting and informs us of current strands in the discourse on law courts which Aeschylus then exploits. The iconographic record in general gives us a unique and valuable view into the visual landscape of the theatre audience which is essential to an analysis of their responses to the visual dimension of performances.

Above, the celebrated Pronomos Vase depicts a theatre cast after a performance, Naples Archaeological Museum, 81673

6) Who's your favourite ancient Greek?
It used to be Euripides because of the wonderful way in which he manipulated costume is his plays both to create powerful dramatic moments and also to comment on other playwrights. More recently, however, I've been researching Aristophanes and find his ability to produce brilliantly farcical scenes which at the same time are packed with sophisticated and incisive commentary really impressive. So at the moment it's a tie between the two!

Many thanks to Dr Wyles for sharing these insights on a fabulous topic! If you'd like to find out more about Electra on stage, you will enjoy reading Electra Ancient and Modern – A Panoply Interview with Dr Anastasia Bakogianni. To those of you on Twitter, you can follow Dr Wyles at @RosieWyles for highly recommended updates on her research and other interesting classics news.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Our Mythical Hope: An Adventure in Warsaw.

Above, Panoply's Sonya Nevin and Steve Simons (c & r) enjoy the rather dazzling Warsaw sunshine with Susan Deacy (left).

We're not long back from a super adventure in Warsaw, where we've been attending the first Our Mythical Childhood project conference: Our Mythical Hope in Children's and Young Adult's Culture... The (In)Efficiency of Ancient Myths in Overcoming the Hardships of Life ( http://omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/). How does myth help young people deal with life's difficulties? We were there to count the ways...

First things first, we were also there to give an update on our part of Our Mythical Childhood – the Animating the Ancient World project. We presented our work at the striking Palace of Culture and Science which, at 42 floors, is one of the highest buildings in Europe. The first of the five animations that we're creating for the project is almost complete, and I described what that will be and how it's come together. The vase itself is unusual and starkly lovely. It depicts Sappho, one of the great poets of antiquity, and one of the few authentic women's voices to survive from that time. She appears on a black background, lyre in hand, with a name label beside her so that we know this is Sappho herself, not just a random musician. We are animating her playing her account of Prince Hector bringing Andromache to Troy as his new bride. Sappho's poems don't survive in full, but in fragments, and we'll be (re)animating Fragment 44, the surviving part of a larger poem. Using a new and experimental style, we'll be showing Sappho bringing to life geometric style figures – the vase style of 'long ago' for people in Sappho's days – to act out her lyrics. The look of this will be very special, and the music for this animation is rather special too. Thanks to collaboration with ancient music specialist Prof. Armand D'Angour (Jesus College, Oxford), the music that you hear will be a recreation of the sound of the original poem, played for the first time since antiquity. Watch this space to see and hear more about the animation's release. By happy coincidence, Prof D'Angour was also in Warsaw for the Euripides the Innovator conference, giving us Mythical Hope delegates a chance to hear him talk about his ancient music breakthroughs.

Above, a behind the scenes visit to the National Museum in Warsaw to get up close and personal with the vases we'll be animating, taking preparatory photos and talking iconography with curator, Dr Alfred Twardecki. Many thanks to the Museum and Dr Twardecki for their help and hospitality!

As a project about young people's lives, Our Mythical Childhood encourages participation from people at all stages of their academic journeys. We had a chance to hear from the project's youngest contributors, pupils of Strumienie School in Jόzefόw, just outside Warsaw, and the XI Mikolaj Rej High School, all of whom have been working hard studying myth and thinking about its role in life and culture. Strumienie pupils performed Shakespeare's Pyramus and Thisbe (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) in Latin, and pupils from both schools displayed their research. We were also joined by BA students from the Belarusian State University, who presented their thoughtful work examining myth in children's stories and computer games. Great work all round!

Above, Strumienie pupils give an amusing performance of Pyramus and Thisbe in Latin. Pupils were also challenged to design modern adverts featuring ancient mythology, in a task combining lessons in Classical Civ. and English Language.

The academics' presentations on myth and life challenges in young people's culture were many and varied. To mention just a few.... Thinking about therapy, classicist Dr Susan Deacy (Roehampton) and psychiatrist Dr Edoardo Pecchini (Warsaw / Bolzano Hospital) both spoke about using Heracles as a focus for helping young people tackling autism or trauma (For more on Susan's project, visit her blog at: http://myth-autism.blogspot.co.uk/).

A great paper from Prof. Helen Lovatt (Nottingham), explored myth – particularly those of Antigone and Pandora, in the book and film, The Girl with All the Gifts. The Girl... gives us children in (apocalyptic) crisis, with myth acting as both a model for the events and themes that make up the story, and as material within the story that the children are learning about and using to help make sense of their otherwise bewildering situation.

Above, Prof. Lovatt analyses 'The Girl with all the Gifts'.

Dr Krishni Burns (Akron) discussed several young adults' novels exploring the way they depict women's resilience in challenging situations. Mythical figures including Ariadne and Cassandra appear in novels such as Clemence McLaren's Inside the Walls of Troy and Waiting for Odysseus, and Patrice Kindl's Lost in the Labyrinth, finding ways of coping with difficult situations that they cannot control. This in turn models positive coping mechanisms for young people experiencing the usual hardships of growing up or even more traumatic personal circumstances.

Prof. Liz Hale (New England, Australia) extended the discussion of children's literature further, analysing The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky, in which learning about classical antiquity is combined with life crisis for the protagonist schoolgirls, with ancient and modern myths worked together in an exploration of adolescence and national identity. Moving from novels to the children's sections in early 20th century newspapers, Prof. Maguerite Johnson (Newcastle, Australia), asked us to consider whether their retellings of myth were helping to provide solace and hope to children troubled by WW1, or whether they were more akin to propagandistic brainwashing.

Above, Prof. Maguerite Johnson talks myth in WW1-era children's columns.

Childhood in antiquity got a mention too, in the form of two presentations from Prof. Véronique Dasen (Fribourg). The first described the reconstruction of ancient games in the travelling exhibition Veni, Vidi, Ludique, which frequent readers will recall from our interview with Véronique on magic and play. In the second, Prof. Dasen analysed vases featuring young women playing games and discussed them as evidence for ancient ideas about girls' active role in betrothals.... Some forms of play acting as steps towards adult life you might say.
Above, Prof. Dasen and further conference members listen to a presentation.

Above, (centre) Prof Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (Tübingen), with her recent award-winning publication; (left) Prof Katarzyna Marciniak, our host in Warsaw and Principal Investigator of the ERC funded Our Mythical Childhood project; and (right), doctoral candidate Anna Mik ( Warsaw) who presented a strand of her research into myth in children's literature: colour schemes and mythological creatures in Disney's Fantasia.

I hope that has given a flavour of the variety and depth of a conference programme that included young people's fiction, anime, illustrated books, TV series, fan-fiction, the surprisingly large number of Trojan horse toys, and much more. Sometimes Greco-Roman myths can seem to contain material that is too sensitive, too potentially troubling for children; this conference has made a strong case that it is precisely those difficult bits that can help children and young people cope with or prepare for the very real challenges that life has to offer. You may also enjoy the short conference video, here:

A huge thank-you to our hosts at the Centre for Studies on the Classical Tradition (OBTA) at the University of Warsaw. We look forward to seeing you again!

If that has whetted your appetite for thinking about myth, save the date for Mythology and Education: History and Practice, a workshop to be held at the Faculty of Education, Cambridge, Friday 27th October 2017. Full details and booking (for free tickets) at: http://tinyurl.com/umy9kht.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Adventures in Sweden, Ireland, and England

There have been plenty of adventures for Panoply recently, so an update's in order...
Late last month I had the great pleasure to visit the Humanities Lab, known as Humlab, at the University of Umeå in northern Sweden. This is a very impressive facility, where humanities experts and tech specialists can work together, collaborating effectively on projects that call for the strengths of both. Very cool.

I gave a seminar talk on vase animations as a form of engagement and research activity. I said a bit about the process of developing the animations, a bit about the different ways that museums have displayed them, and a bigger bit about what we're doing within the Our Mythical Childhood project (on which see the video at: www.panoply.org.uk/omc.html.
Above, my presentation in the Umeå Humlab.

My animation talk was followed by a presentation on Virtual Reality by Umeå doctoral candidate Claudia Sciuto. This is a hot topic in lots of fields at the moment, so it was great to hear some of Claudia's thoughts. She was looking at how VR can be used effectively in interpreting the results of archaeological excavations. Claudia has seen that making VR versions of sites is particularly useful for collaborative work, as it makes it easier for team members to share their visions of how the site worked and to try out alternative interpretations.

Above, adventures in VR.

It was interesting to try out a VR version of an ancient homestead, based on the findings from an excavation. I also enjoyed visiting a VR theatre environment that was inhabited by a dancer created as part of a Roman pantomime project by Anna Foka, my host in Umeå, Helen Slaney (Roehampton) and Sophie Bocksberger (Oxford), and technical specialists Mattis Lindmark and Jim Robertsson. Dr Foka, a classicist and digital humanities specialist, is currently engaged in the digitisation of an archive in Stockholm – another exciting project to keep your eyes open for. Thank-you to everyone in Umeå for your warm welcome and smart questions.

Always a pleasure to visit Ireland... Next up was a trip to University College Dublin, my alma mater. I was there to give a seminar talk called, 'Games as Prizes. Struggles for Control of Panhellenic Sanctuaries in Classical Greece'. The talk was based to a large extent on chapter 6 of my new book, Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare. I gave an overview of the conflicts fought for control of the panhellenic sites – the sort of overview that makes you realise that this was a much bigger issue than we sometimes imagine. I moved on to demonstrating how it was that Arcadians and Phocians came to take huge amounts of wealth from Olympia and Delphi – and why it wasn’t quite as out of the blue as it sometimes seems. If that's your cup of tea and you'd like to know more, better grab a copy or order one through your library! Many thanks to host Philip de Souza (who you'll remember from his fantastic Panoply interview on ancient piracy) and the rest of the department for great questions and a wonderful visit.

Above, terracotta of a woman playing a lyre, c.400-380BCE, Nicosia, as seen during my Dublin trip, at the National Archaeological Museum (terracotta on loan from the Cyprus Museum, 1934V-183). This seemed an appropriate artefact to snap as our latest Panoply work is all about Sappho, the ultimate lady with the lyre.

In ultra recent news, I'm just back from the UK Classical Association conference, this year held at the University of Kent in Canterbury. My talk there was about fan art which reimagines the Star Wars universe through ancient Greek vase scenes. I showed some of my favourite examples, some of which you may remember from a post on the subject written a while back, and I also talked about ways that that material can enrich sessions with children and young people on vases and antiquity more broadly. After all, if you ask a room full of children "Do any of you have characters from stories or cartoons on your bags or lunch boxes?", you always find that lots of them do, and that can be a route into drawing explicit comparisons about stories and characters they like, and stories and mythical figures real ancient Greek people liked. And a question such as, "If you had to get across Star Wars in one image, what image would you choose?", can be a good way to help them think about what's packed into iconography – ancient or otherwise. The Star Wars vase images can be a fun yet idea-provoking middle ground between more typical contemporary images of heroes and ancient images of heroes.... why not try it out and see how you get on?! If Star Wars isn't your bag, there are plenty of other examples of cross-over vase art; expect further blog posts on this topic in the not too distant future, and check out my Vase Remixes post from a little while back.

It was a real pleasure to be at another Classical Association conference. Fellow panellists gave super papers: Tristan Taylor (New England, Australia), From Republic to Empire – Rome and Star Wars, Octavian and Palpatine, from Roman Empire to evil Empire; Ben Howland (Louisiana State) ‘He could destroy us’: Oedipus, Palpatine, Vader and the self-fulfilling prophecy; and Joanna Komorowska (Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński)‘Go to the Dagobah System’: Or Obi-Wan between epic and tragedy. The panel was convened by Roehampton's Tony Keen, and it was a fine contribution to Star Wars 40.

Another conference highlight was Rosie Wyles' (Kent) paper, Theatricalising everyday objects, in which she discussed the significance of Greek dramatists beginning to use props for the first time, bringing vases onto the stage to use in voting scenes. While we all take the use of props on stage for granted now, it must have been a mind-blowing thing when it was first tried out, and something that changed the relationship between the stage and real life. This was a really wonderful look at a the use of vases in an unusual context, and we look forward to hearing more about it as Dr Wyles' project continues. One last conference highlight... Military Leaders and Sacred Space looking striking on the IB Tauris stall:

Many thanks to the Classical Association and the University of Kent for all your hard work on the conference.

We'll be back soon, with news on Panoply developments for Our Mythical Childhood, adventures in Poland, and further vase remixes. See you then!

Monday, 13 March 2017

Our Mythical Childhood – Celebrating ERC Week

A big Thank-You to everyone who came along to last month's events, whether it was the launch for Military Leaders and Sacred Space, the Iris Project Festival, or my symposium talk at the Pitt Rivers Museum marking the opening of the Out in Oxford Cross-Collections Museum Trail (for which see http://www.glam.ox.ac.uk/outinoxford).

This week we're delighted to be celebrating ERC Week, cheering the ten years that the European Research Council has been funding cutting-edge research. We've made a new video to mark the occasion; if you haven’t seen it already, here it is!

We're very grateful to the ERC for funding our latest endeavour: an international multi-part research project called Our Mythical Childhood... The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges. Our Mythical Childhood is looking at the roles that ancient myth plays in young people's lives around the world. A central idea of the project is that myths are not passed on in a vacuum, but influenced and shaped by the conditions in which they are retold. These subtle (or, sometimes, not so subtle) influences include things such as the age of the intended audience, the purpose and style of the re-telling, or the values held by the author and society in which the myths are being retold. Over the next five years, the project will be shedding light on these dynamics and creating wonderful resources for academics, teachers, and members of the public to use, enjoy, and learn from.

Above, this info-graphic lays out the structure of Our Mythical Childhood.

For our part of the project, we'll be creating some new depictions of ancient mythical figures in the form of five new vase animations. You'll see the ancient poet, Sappho, re-creating tales of Troy on her magnificent lyre, and you'll see Heracles on the trail of adventure. Three more animations will give you a slice of the gods' lives, with Dionysus, Iris, Zeus, Athena, and Nike all making an appearance. As well as the vase animations, we'll be making a documentary and all sorts of other supporting materials (whoop!). The animations will be displayed in the National Museum in Warsaw and you'll find them and the other materials online on their own page of the Panoply website.

Above, Prof Katarzyna Marciniak

Our Mythical Childhood is being spear-headed by Prof. Katarzyna Marciniak of the University of Warsaw. You may recall that Katarzyna was the brains behind the Chasing Mythical Beasts project, including the conference that we contributed to last year (there's a reminder video here). As well as keeping everyone on track, Katarzyna is coordinating an array of project publications, annual conferences, and a database, with help from a talented group of scholars and PhD students.

Above, Dr Susan Deacy.

Like us, Dr Susan Deacy is based at the University of Roehampton in London. Susan's Mythical Childhood research is exploring the special potential of classical mythology to engage autistic children. You can keep up-to-date with this fascinating project at: http://myth-autism.blogspot.co.uk/.

Above, Prof Daniel Nkemleke.

Another wing of the project will see Prof Daniel Nkemleke and Dr Divine Che Nebe of the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon conducting a survey of traditional African myth. This will include seeking out storytellers and asking elders to put their old tales on record; it's not a million miles away from the work carried out back in the day by the great folklorists Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm!

Sometimes myth appears at home, in our books, and cartoons and in the stories we tell each other, and sometimes we find it in schools as part of our formal learning. At Bar-Ilan University, in Israel, Dr Lisa Maurice and a team of scholars will be examining the place that mythology has in school curriculums around the world. UK curriculums will be researched and represented by none other than Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, a researcher with specialism in classics in UK education and a friend to Panoply who many of you will know from her sterling work in UK schools through Classics in Communities.

Above, Dr Elizabeth Hale.

If all of this is starting to seem like a lot, you'll be glad to hear that Dr Elizabeth Hale and Associate Professor Marguerite Johnson of University of New England in Australia will be creating Children's Literature and Classical Antiquity: A Guide. Elizabeth, a Senior Lecturer in English and Writing, specialising in children's literature, will lead us through the complex web of myths told, retold, and told again.

Above, Some of the books in the Our Mythical Childhood Survey.

Perhaps you're now remembering the books that had your favourite myths in when you were young. Perhaps you're thinking of a small person in your life who might enjoy a bit more myth. Or perhaps you're feeling curious about the many ways your favourite myth might have been told differently by different authors. If that's the case, start looking forward to the project database: Our Mythical Childhood Survey. It will host summaries of items from children's culture from all over the world (especially children's literature), including details on how each work has represented myths and mythical themes. Many scholars (including me) are contributing to the database, and it's already shaping up to be tremendous. Above and below here you can see some of the books I'm working on.

Above, More books from the Our Mythical Childhood Survey.

Later on this week we'll be talking at An Introduction to Our Mythical Childhood, at the University of Roehampton. We're delighted that people from a wide range of disciplines will be joining us to hear about the project. If you can't make it, watch this space (and Twitter: @SonyaNevin; @OMChildhood ) for Our Mythical Childhood news and updates. Tweet to tell us what your favourite myth book is!

All of this work is made possible by the European Research Council. Long may they keep up the good work :)

EDIT: Thanks to everyone who came to the Introduction to Our Mythical Childhood, making super, and truly inter-disciplinary event. A couple of photos:

Above, Team Roehampton l-r, Dr Katerina Volioti (researching representations of the gods in Greek children's literature), Dr Susan Deacy, and Dr Sonya Nevin.

Above, Team Roehampton, the Panoply wing: Steve Simons and Sonya Nevin.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Upcoming Public Events

There are three fun and interesting public events lined-up for next month, 2 for adults, 1 for children, so, if you're in the UK, come and say hello and enjoy. The first is a book launch, the second a schools' fair, and the third a party at the Pitt Rivers Museum. I'm also giving you advance notice of a super-cool event that will be taking place at the University of Roehampton in March. If you like the sound of any of that, read on....

1) Monday 6th Feb. Launch of Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare.
This book launch will be celebrating the publication of Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare, aka my new book :) (available on the IB Tauris website). The launch will feature an introduction by Prof Hans van Wees of University College London and an opportunity for some ancient history chat over a drink. Copies of the book will be on sale at a discounted price. This event will take place at the University of Roehampton (West London) on Monday 6th Feb, 6-8pm in the Howard Building (room 001). This is a free event, but please book via Eventbrite so we know how many people to expect. All very welcome. You can also find a discussion of Military Leaders below in our previous post.

2) Tuesday 7th Feb. The Iris Project's Festival of Ancient and Modern Science.
The Panoply Vase Animation Project will be amongst a fabulous selection of stalls and talks at the Iris Project's Festival of Ancient and Modern Science. We'll be showing our animations, chatting about them and our new project, and hosting a range of drawing and colouring activities. Bring your nippers to hear more about ancient vases, Greek myth, and ancient and modern science. The festival will also feature Professor Helen King talking about Hippocratic medicine, a QandA with IVF pioneer Professor Robert Winston, and a talk by Professor Anthony Grayling on the Pre-Socratic philosophers. This event is on from 3-7pm at Cheney School in Oxfordshire. It's free. Drop-in, no need to book unless you plan to bring a group. For more information, visit the Iris Project's website. This video might whet your appetite:

3) Saturday 11th Feb. Out in Oxford: Party at the Pitt.
On Saturday 11th February, from 7-10pm, there will be special exhibitions, short talks, and interactive activities led by community groups, curators, performers and artists at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Party at the Pitt is on to celebrate the launch of the Out in Oxford: Cross-Collections Trail, a trail that connects the University of Oxford's museums, highlighting and exploring artefacts connected to LGBTQ history and culture. You can download the Out In Oxford trail, written by LGBTQ volunteers and allies, at http://www.glam.ox.ac.uk/outinoxford. I'll be there, giving a short talk about The Symposium - Panoply's 2016 animation created for Oxford Uni's Classics in Communities project. Party at the Pitt is a free event for anyone over 16. Tickets are available via Eventbrite. Hope to see you there!

Museum types interested in introducing more LGBTQ-friendly material into their museums will enjoy this short talk by the Out in Oxford trail's curator, Beth Asbury:

4) Thursday 16th March. Our Mythical Childhood - An Introduction.
And finally, a head's up about an event in March – an introduction to the Roehampton wing of the ERC-funded project Our Mythical Childhood... The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges. I'll be talking about the role that Steve and I have in this project – making a set of new vase animations on mythical themes and a documentary about vases, myth, and animation. There will also be presentations from Dr Susan Deacy on her work on classical myth in the autistic classroom and from Dr Katerina Volioti on gods and other mythical creatures in literature for young children. Last but not least, you'll hear about the survey of classical mythology in children's culture which is being collected by scholars around the world. This is a fantastic new project and this is the first chance to hear how it's unfolding and how it might be of use to you in your endeavours. This event will be of particular interest to classicists and children's literature experts, but all are very welcome. It will be on on the 16th March, 5.00-6.30pm in the University of Roehampton's beautiful Adam Room in Grove House. Booking details will be released closer to the time.

Hope to see you at one of these events. We'll be back soon with more news on our developing animations.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Military Leaders and Sacred Space: An In-House Interview with Dr Sonya Nevin

We're delighted to be celebrating the recent publication of Sonya's book: Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare: Temples, Sanctuaries, and Conflict in Antiquity. Sonya completed her doctorate at University College Dublin before going on to work at the University of Roehampton in London. She is the author of several publications, including 'Negative Comparison: Agamemnon and Alexander in Plutarch's Agesilaus-Pompey', GRBS 54, and 'The Spectacle of War in the Panoply Vase Animations'. Usually Sonya writes our news updates and asks the questions in the Panoply interviews, but today we've turned things on their head to ask Sonya about military leaders, sacred space, and how this book came to be written...

1) What's the book about?
When ancient Greeks went to war, sooner or later they would encounter sacred sites – such as sacred groves, hero shrines, or full-on sanctuaries with temples and valuable offerings. This book is about how ancient Greeks behaved in those situations, and why. The ideas in it mostly come from looking at the sorts of stories that ancient Greeks told about their wars, and the roles that encounters with sacred places played in those stories. To some extent, human societies are defined by how they fight their wars, or rather, by the stories that are told of those wars. Looking at how the ancient Greeks' talked about war is the best way to understand the values that underpinned what happened in their real lives; the values in the stories and the rhythms and motifs with which they're told are very revealing. So the book features some pretty shocking behaviour within an overall pattern of restraint. There's a realisation amongst ancient writers that those episodes of a war that get reported define how most people think about that conflict. Who said what to the priest? Were offerings made; when and by whom? When was the statue taken? broken? – these things make or break the long-term image of generals and their campaigns. There are fantastic stories about the Greeks at war, featuring some of Greece's most famous (or infamous) military leaders: King Cleomenes crushing Argos; the Argives' crushing of their neighbours; sanctuaries in the Persian Wars; doomed Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition; the magnificent Brasidas and his diplomacy in the Peloponnesian War ("not bad for a Spartan", said Thucydides), and Agesilaus of Sparta and his many adventures annoying people all over the Greek world. There's also a whole chapter on the struggles for control of the panhellenic sanctuaries – Olympia, Delphi, Nemea and Isthmia.

Above, heroes arise for battle, as depicted on a cup (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 1911.615).

2) Have you included any vases?
Oh yes. While Military Leaders and Sacred Space is very much focused on written accounts of history, vase scenes offer a valuable addition. They provide insights into the sorts of things that ancient Greeks could conceive of as happening in conflicts, and of the sorts of images they were happy to have around them. One issue that I explore is what people thought about having sacred places near the battles they fought. Sometimes the presence of the sanctuary was regarded as very encouraging – even for people in enemy territory. Historians frequently describe people praying to the gods and heroes of those sites to come and help; they tell stories of how those gods did come... and of how sometimes they didn't. Heroes seem to have been considered more likely to help, largely because they were closer to human affairs having once been mortal themselves. The wonderful vase above depicts heroes climbing out of their tomb. Their alert postures and readiness with their swords suggests that they're about to join a battle, and it's probably a depiction of heroes coming to join the battle of Marathon. This is a fantastic addition to the written accounts of the battle and descriptions of long gone, large-scale commemorative artwork. The artist has captured the heroes taking notice and leaping into action. This scene reinforces evidence for the belief in heroes' interest in mortals' battles and, as such, it's further evidence that the proximity of hero shrines to battlefields was held to have significance.

Above, close-up of Ashmolean 1911.615. There are further pieces of this vase, depicting more of the tomb, in the New York Metropolitan Museum (1973.175.2).

3) Do mythical vase scenes help? What ones have you drawn on?
Yes, they do. It's not always easy to distinguish scenes indicating myth from those that are meant to be more historical, but in cases where there is a clear motif or – even clearer – labels, you can be more confident. Scenes depicting the Trojan War are an interesting case in point. There was a story that the Greeks were told that they would never take Troy without first removing the Palladium – a statue of Pallas Athena – from the city. When they heard this, Diomedes and Odysseus crept into Troy and stole it. Scenes of this incident appear on quite a few vases, sometimes with Athena looking on approvingly. In Military Leaders and Sacred Space I've discussed the implications that this has for thinking about what happened to sacred statues during historical conflicts.

Above, Athena looks back at Diomedes, who is carrying her statue (amphora by the Tyszkiewicz Painter, Stockholm Medelhausmuseet , 1963.001).

Above, Diomedes clutches the Palladium, (cup exterior, St Petersburg State Hermitage Museum, 1543).

Tales of the sack of Troy also bring us some curious depictions of military conduct. Vase decorators seem to have felt comfortable depicting some of the horrors of war when they were set at Troy in a way that they tended not to for real, contemporary life. One example of this is the rape of Cassandra by Locrian Ajax (not Achilles' cousin, the other Ajax). Vase scenes depicting this event always place emphasis on Cassandra being pulled from the statue of Athena in the sanctuary where she served as priestess. To some extent the statue simply helps to identify the scene, but it also suggests that it was the sacred nature of the site from which Cassandra was pulled that made this act problematic – not the attack itself. This is borne out in the way that the poets tell this story too. It's a subtle yet significant distinction. There are also vase scenes of Achilles killing Troilus in the sanctuary of Apollo... it didn’t work out well for either of them.

Above, Locrian Ajax attacks Cassandra in the sanctuary of Athena at Troy (hydria by the Kleophrades Painter, Naples, Museo Nazionale Archeologico).
Above, Locrian Ajax makes his attack, here with Cassandra depicted as a girl, in contrast to the adult-sized Ajax and statue of Athena (plate, Yale University, 169).

4) What got you interested in this topic?
I've been interested in the conduct of war for a long time. When I was small I was fascinated with Shakespeare's Henry V. During the siege of Harfleur, Henry tries to force the town to surrender by describing all the horrendous things that his soldiers will do to its citizens if they don't submit; he asks if they will surrender or "guilty in defence, be thus destroyed", essentially saying that they will be responsible for the terrible things that will happen to them. Later on in the play, he hangs someone for robbing a church and decrees that the army should behave itself as they march across France, "For when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner." The whole play is full of conflicting messages. I was intrigued by the way that the rhetoric shifts, and also by the fact that this is not an account of medieval warfare, but an Elizabethan thought experiment placed in a campaign fought almost 200 hundred years before. I remained fascinated by the extremes that war pushes people to and, when I became more interested in ancient Greek history, questions about how wars were conducted, how the people participating thought they should be conducted, and how the culture as a whole dealt with these issues and talked about their conflicts remained very significant for me. Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon - these historians and others were pioneers of the genre of history-writing and right from the start they were interested in moral themes and in reflecting thoughtfully on what happens to society and people's ethics during wars; I never tire of exploring their work. During my MA I studied Greek cult and wrote a thesis on the conflicting accounts of the Persian invasion of Egypt. That set me up to pursue a full project on Greek wars for my doctorate. This book is 50% revamped material from my doctoral thesis, combined with 50% new material. War will not be going away any time soon, so questions about how wars should be conducted and how the ways that they are reported and remembered influences society remain a vital part of human culture.

5) Who's your favourite ancient Greek?
Miltiades! Miltiades, son of Cimon, is best known for his leadership at the battle of Marathon. He had an outrageously exciting life prior to that too. He experienced Athens under the tyrants and the emergence of democracy; he was an exile and a tyrant himself; he fought for Persia and for the Greeks; he was a hero and he died in disgrace. Realistically it's hard to be confident of very much about him personally, but he lived an adventurous life during a time of fabulous cultural richness and heady transitions, always in the thick of it, and I love him for that. I enjoyed writing about him in Military Leaders and Sacred Space; he was a controversial figure even in antiquity, so it was great to explore how different writers tried to cast him as good guy or bad guy. Military leaders always upset someone; stories about them doing terrible things in holy places are a sure way of knocking the shine off their image.

Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare can be ordered here, on the IB Tauris website and in all good bookshops and libraries near you.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Death and the Vase: A Panoply Interview with Dr Bridget Martin.

As Sawhain-Halloween sets in, we turn our thoughts to other-worldly matters and talk to Dr Bridget Martin, an expert in death, funerary rites, and the afterlife in ancient Greece. Dr Martin teaches Ancient Greek and Classical Civilisation at University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. She wrote her doctoral thesis on the dead in Greek tragedy and is the author of 'Blood, Honour, and Status in Odyssey 11', Classical Quarterly, 64.1, (2014). In the interest of transparency and recalling good times I should tell you that Dr Martin and I studied for our doctorates together, at one point even sharing a cheerful office. As such, I had the pleasure some eight or nine years ago of hearing Bridget present a research paper on the topic of winged psychai on funerary vases. That work has since been developed further and published as: 'Cold comfort: Winged psychai on fifth-century BC Greek funerary lekythoi', Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 59.1 (2016), a study that analyses psychai as indicators regarding death, bereavement, and ideas about the Afterlife. Dr Martin is here to tell us about this fascinating topic; read on... if you dare.

1) Your research includes focus on rites around death in ancient Greece; what were some of the more important ones?
Some of the most important rites were performed during and after funerals. The body of the deceased was laid on a couch (kline) for the prosthesis (the equivalent of a modern wake), where mourners sang laments, and the body was then transported by ekphora (procession) to the burial site. Women could be very expressive in their mourning, especially during the prothesis: they could sing laments, lacerate their flesh, pull out or shear off their hair or cover themselves in dust. Such was their enthusiasm that legislation was put in place to limit excessive female mourning practices! Male mourners were usually more sedate, typically stretching out a hand over the body (as often depicted on vases) or offering a lock of hair. The dead were also offered gifts, such as vases, libations and food (sometimes including blood and animal sacrifices), either during the funeral itself or afterwards. Vase paintings show us that the living visited the tombs of their loved ones, sometimes with gifts, in order to mourn, and this also occurred during annual communal festivals, most notably the Genesia. These rites offered honour and remembrance to the dead and also allowed for the ritual separation of the living and the dead.

Above, male and female mourners at a prothesis, funerary plaque, Athens 525-475BCE. New York, Metropolitan Museum (54.11.5).

2) Was this an important part of the culture?
Yes, definitely! For us today it’s very difficult to determine what exactly the Greeks believed about the dead and the Afterlife – there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Greeks believed there was some manner of ‘life’ after death, but also that there was nothing after death. Regardless of individual beliefs, however, it was clearly essential to honour the dead through the rites outlined above. Such was their importance that the denial of burial rites was considered a fitting punishment for terrible crimes, such as temple robbers and killers of their own kin (the denial of burial is an important theme in Homer’s Iliad and in fifth-century tragedies, most notably Sophocles’ Antigone). The rites were preferably overseen by close kin, specifically sons, and, as such, if a man approached the end of his life without a son, he could adopt someone to ensure that he received the customary rites following his death.

3) Your publication focuses on winged psychai; could you tell us what they are?
The dead were depicted as winged psychai on funeral vases, especially lekythoi, from the middle to the end of the fifth century BC, primarily in Athens. They are small, generic, stick-insect-like figures that flit about in the background of images connected with death, most commonly images of the prothesis, images of the god Hermes or the boatman Charon accompanying the dead on their journey to the Underworld, or images of mourning at tombs. The dead are also portrayed as full-sized and very life-like figures on these vases, but the winged psychai are far more fascinating, in my opinion, as they suggest an attempt to capture the dead as they really are in the Underworld – shadowy, flighty and ethereal. The winged figures are often denoted by the word ‘eidolon’ (‘eidola’ in the plural), which means an exact copy or replica, but the word ‘psyche’ (‘psychai’ in the plural) is more fitting as the psyche is what leaves the body at the time of death and travels to the Underworld (our nearest equivalent is the soul, but a direct analogy between the two is problematic), and this is what the vase painters were attempting to depict with the winged figures.

Above, a dead woman (right) is led to the Afterlife by Hermes and met by Charon the boatman and a crowd of winged psychai. Line drawing by Bridget Martin of red-figure white-ground lekythos, attributed to the Sabouroff Painter (475-425 BCE), Athens, National Museum (1926).

4) How do you interpret their appearance on vases? What does it all mean?
Well, there are many meanings, and all or none could be correct! The psychai might merely signal the presence of death, but this isn’t really necessary as they often appear alongside a dead body or a tomb. They might be the tail end of a tradition stretching back to the sixth century BC when winged figures representing recognisable epic figures, such as Patroclus or Sarpedon, were popular. Perhaps the most common interpretation of the winged psychai is that they present a frightening image of what happens after death: you become a flitting shade without individuality or awareness. What I believe, however, is that the winged psychai are comforting figures for both the living and the dead. Firstly, they oversee the performance of the prothesis and the mourners visiting tombs, thus assuring the living that their pious actions are recognised. Secondly, in images in which the newly dead are led to the Underworld or enter Charon’s boat, the presence of multiple psychai gives a comforting suggestion of a guiding hand or even family reunion. Furthermore, the presence of the psychai in images including living mourners maintains a connection between the living and the dead, thus delaying the absolute separation of the two.

Above, 2 women attend a tomb, with psychai flying overhead. Line drawing by Bridget Martin of a red-figure white-ground lekythos attributed to the Woman Painter (Athens, 450-400 BCE), Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum (144).

5) What else can we learn from vases about ideas about funerary rituals and ideas about death?
The ancient Greeks held extensive and often contradictory beliefs about death and the dead, which is not surprising for a complex and evolving society, but the vases tell us that honouring the dead was unfailingly important to the living. Images of the prothesis, for example, appear on vases as early as the eighth century BC and remain very common until the end of the fifth century BC, when funeral vases fell out of popularity. Perhaps one of the most important things we can learn from the vases, specifically those depicting winged psychai, is that the ancient Greeks desired to make the unfamiliar familiar. Death was an unknown and frightening process, but portraying scenes of the newly dead being cared for by mythological guides and the ‘established’ dead in the form of winged psychai could go some way to softening the fear of death.

Above, Two men overlooked by a psyche prepare a body for prosthesis, on an Athenian black-figure olpe (525-500 BC). Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney (NM98.150).

6) Who's your favourite ancient Greek?
My favourite (mythical) ancient Greek is Clytemnestra, the wife and murderer of Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks at Troy. I am thinking particularly of Clytemnestra in Aeschylus’ tragic trilogy the Oresteia, as her character reveals such fascinating insights into interactions and relationships between the living and the dead. In the trilogy, Clytemnestra is a champion of the dead (she seeks revenge for her murdered daughter), an abuser of the dead (she both denies and perverts Agamemnon’s burial rites) and, following her own death at the hands of her son, she is a revenge-driven ghost. As a ferocious figure of vengeance who connives from both sides of the grave, Clytemnestra is in a class of her own!

Thank-you very much for talking to us, Dr Martin!.

If you fancy finding out more about this topic, get yourself a copy of 'Cold comfort: Winged psychai on fifth-century BC Greek funerary lekythoi', Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 59.1 (2016), either by reading it online www.icls.sas.ac.uk/publications/our-journal-bics or by ordering it through your library. And keep your eyes open for signs of mourning rites and the Afterlife next time you're combing through a vase collection.

Regular readers may recall this Louvre vase tomb scene as featured in our interview with Anastasia Bakogianni about Electra mourning.