Highlights of 2013-2014


Richard Janko (University of Michigan and Senior Visiting Fellow of the ICS) delivered the annual JP Barron Memorial Lecture on 'Pithecusae, Methone and the early history of the Greek alphabet'.

Recent finds at Eretria, Gordion and Methone near Thessaloniki of eighth-century BC alphabetic inscriptions, including a second 'Nestor's cup', help to clarify the vexed question of the origin of the Greek alphabet. Was it Phrygians or Greeks who first adapted Phoenician script? Were the two adaptations independent? And where did they occur, in Greece, Asia Minor or elsewhere? This illustrated lecture brought new considerations into the debate.

ICS Special Lecture 28th May 2014

Naukratis revisited: new research on the Egyptian-Greek trading port of Naukratis was presented by Alexandra Villing, Ross Thomas, Aurélia Masson, Marianne Bergeron.

The ancient trading port of Naukratis was the earliest Greek settlement in Egypt and a main point of direct contact between Egypt and the Mediterranean world. For several years a research project based at the British Museum (and supported by the Institute of Classical Studies) has been investigating the site and its history by studying old and conducting new fieldwork. Over 20,000 old finds and extensive archival fieldwork documentation from the excavations by Flinders Petrie and his successors have now been studied and assessed. Since 2012, new fieldwork has also been conducted, comprising geological investigation, geophysical survey and excavations and highlighting the immense remaining archaeological potential of the site.

Results so far have brought significant advances, allowing us to revise our understanding of the character and development of Naukratis throughout its history, from its foundation in the 7th century BC until its demise in the 7th century AD. They indicate that the town was a mixed Egyptian-Greek settlement with a significant Egyptian element to its material culture from its very beginnings, clarify the site’s (substantial) extent and its relation to the Canopic branch of the Nile, and provide a new basis for charting the history this vibrant town and trading port at the cusp of two civilisations.

The 2014 Rome-London Lecture was given by Professor Alessandro Barchiesi, on the 20th May 2014..

The theme of this lecture was APULEIUS THE PROVINCIAL.

The Metamorphoses of Apuleius is often described as one of the first novels: it is important in this perspective to look at the relationship between Rome and the provinces, centre and periphery, as a crucial aspect of the plot.

The Rome-London Lectures, launched in November 2012, are intended to promote collaboration on all aspects of the Classical tradition in Italy, with special emphasis on Roman archaeology and history, but not excluding aspects such as literature, language, philosophy and art. Each year a UK-based scholar presents a lecture in Rome, while an Italian scholar gives one at the Institute. The venture is supported by the Institute of Classical Studies, the British School in Rome, the British Museum and the Roman Society.

Professor Joan Breton Connelly (New York University) gave a Special Guest Lecture at the Institute of Classical Studies on Wednesday 19th March 2014, entitled Acropolis and Parthenon: genealogical myth, boundary catastrophes, and local memory.

She explained how the Parthenon’s sculptural programme is steeped in genealogical myth beckoning ever backward across imagined aeons.  Cosmic and epic narratives, and the great boundary catastrophes that separated the ages, established temporal and topographic frameworks through which Athenians understood who they were and where they came from.  By taking the long view from the archaic Acropolis through the fifth century, the power of architectural sculpture in creating and communicating a shared memory of Athenian origins an identity is revealed. She showed how, for a culture without media, without a sacred text, the centrality of great architectural sculptures in forging this solidarity cannot be overstated.

The lecture was held in association with the Institute's Classical Archaeology Seminar, and in collaboration with KCL and UCL.

Professor Jon Solomon from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a leading expert in the field of Classics and Cinema presented a Special Guest Lecture at the Institute of Classical Studies on Tuesday 25 February. His topic was Ben Hur: avatar of the commercially successful literary property.

Lew Wallace’s novel Ben Hur (1880), set in ancient Rome and the Levant, sold several million copies in America and Europe. It permeated popular culture with both an exciting chariot race and a fictional eyewitness account of the Passion of Christ. Consumers never before seduced by such an alluring combination not only purchased the novel but eagerly bought some 20 million tickets to see tableaux adaptations, stereopticon lectures, and the spectacular Klaw & Erlanger dramatic production complete with an onstage, 8-horse chariot race. Such unparalleled success in the popular arts and entertainments inspired dozens of businessmen to start up ‘Ben-Hur’ companies and advertise ‘Ben Hur’ name brands and products. The overwhelming success of these businesses developed into the first sustained example of popular consumer culture. Modern scholarship has previously ignored the fact that this quintessential dimension of modern economies originated within the parameters of Classical Reception. This lecture was profusely illustrated with unique, vintage images.

Dr Francesca Silvestrelli from the University of Salento and the 2014 Trendall Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies present the A.D. Trendall Lecture on 19 February 2014. Her subject was Defining a Metapontine identity: workshops and contexts of South Italian red-figure pottery at Metaponto.

Today Metaponto is regarded as one of the most important production sites for South Italian red-figure pottery. However until the middle of the last century the few vases found in the city did not permit this role to be recognized. Research undertaken from the late 1960s onwards laid the basis for a radical change and progressively transformed Metaponto into a privileged case-study for investigations into red-figure pottery. Metapontine production will be considered through the analysis of the most important workshops active in the city — focusing on the Pisticci, the Cyclops and the Amykos Painters, along with the archaeologically well-known atelier of the Creusa and Dolon Painters. These betray a common cultural identity visible in shared practices and techniques, in the morphological repertoire, and in the choice of subjects. Furthermore, the intensive research undertaken in the city and in its territory, where red-figure pottery has been found not only in tombs but also in sanctuaries and possibly in farmhouses, has also prompted the need to redefine functions and forms of consumption for this type pottery.

The Annual TBL Webster Lecture was delivered on 5 November 2013 by the current Webster Fellow, Professor Victoria Wohl (University of Toronto) on Recognition and Realism in Euripides' Electra.

Professor Wohl raised the question as to why the heroes of Greek tragedy are all elite Why in the premier genre of democratic Athens should the action always be performed by a blue-blooded nobleman and not by, say, a poor farmer? Euripides’ Electra raises this question and dramatizes its stakes. It poses the possibility of a non-elite hero – in fact, a farmer – only to show how and why this radical premise fails to pan out. The famous recognition scene compels the audience to recognize Orestes as the play’s hero based on literary allusions and stale theatrical conventions, and in the process to disavow the egalitarian reality the play itself has staged. Electra does not ultimately answer the question why the tragic protagonist has to be elite, but it does reveal the consequences, political and dramatic, of accepting that necessity. In so doing, it exposes both the utopian potential of tragedy and its limits, and challenges us in the audience to acknowledge our role in both.

Tragic Beauties: Corpses and other Bodies in the Electra Plays  was the theme of a  Special Guest Lecture given at the Institute on 20 November 2013 by Professor Nancy Worman (Barnard College, Columbia). 

Professor Worman explained that a number of modern theorists share an attention to the tragic effects that Edmund Burke described as ‘delightful horror’. They also tend to regard the sublime and aesthetics more generally as ‘invented’ in the modern period, a difficulty for anyone attempting to come to terms with the strange aesthetics of tragic bodies. This paper addressed tragic beauty and pleasure in relation to such bodies — especially dead ones, but also those living ones that are represented as approximate and/or proximate to corpses. Professor Worman argued that their effects elevate agony and thrill, both of which verge on the sublime broadly construed. Aeschylus’ Oresteia offers an arresting collection of corpses, with both Clytemnestra and Orestes commanding tableaus the effects of which drive the son (if not the mother) mad. Sophocles focuses instead on the moribund body of Electra; she emphasises her tattered state and proximity to Orestes, whom she thinks is dead (e.g., 1151-52, 1165-67). Euripides combines these effects: Electra expatiates in bitter detail on her coarse clothes and shorn hair; then later the action shifts to unsettling effect engagement with the corpses of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. Aeschylus’ and Euripides’ dead exert unnerving holds over the live viewers of their bodies, while Sophocles’ ‘dead’ Electra is also a presence that is difficult to assimilate or ignore, with her sullied appearance and harsh regard. I explore how these bodies attract the living into confrontation with their ‘beauties’ and stimulate aesthetic reactions central to the dynamics of tragic mimesis itself.