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With Belfast finally thawed (although still a tad chilly), on 7 March 2018, the Classical Association in Northern Ireland convened for its first public talk of the year. Showing the continued interest in the Ancient world and the calibre of the speakers CANI have been able to attract, the Old Staff Common Room of Queen’s University was once more packed out. We might need a new venue soon!
After a brief CANI update from Helen McVeigh, Dr John Curran introduced Dr Laura Pfuntner (QUB) to speak on ‘A Roman Holiday in Sicily,’ which was framed with a Grand Tour theme and addressed the purported Roman ambivalence to Sicily.
With the island being ‘not Roman, not Italian, not Greek’ (and with some Punic and native Sicels thrown in), could any such Roman ambivalence reflect standoffishness or ignorance? Or was Sicily of less interest because it was a conquered land, with the Roman elite less interested because there was no renown to be won there even with the slave revolts and civil wars of the last century of the Republic? Or is the idea of Roman ignoring of Sicily only a reflection of the limited scope and focus of the sources rather than the political, social and agricultural reality?
As Rome’s first overseas territory, Sicily could be seen as something of an ‘imperial training ground’ with both Marcellus, the captor of Syracuse, and Augustus learning lessons there. The pervasiveness of this idea may be seen in the depiction of Aeneas as something of the ‘first Roman in Sicily’ in Virgil’s Aeneid.
While Marcellus’ brutal siege and capture of the Syracuse saw significant damage and death, including that of Archimedes, the Roman conquest of the city and the island saw a significant boon of Hellenic art and culture in Rome (both a positive and negative according to the sources).
This removal of so many great pieces of Greek art from Syracuse could be construed as a positive in the writings of men such as Cicero, who presents himself (and perhaps Marcellus) as something of a preserver of Syracusan art and culture, particularly through his own rediscovery of the tomb of Archimedes in 75BC.
By the time of Augustus, Syracuse and Sicily was seen as many things – a workshop, a warehouse for trade goods coming in from across the empire, a grain farm for Italy and increasingly as a retreat for wealthy Romans, complete with growing villas and its own tourism industry, displayed by the mystagogi – Syracusan tour guides.
After whetting our appetites about the historical and cultural position of Sicily in the Roman world, Dr Pfuntner also took a variety of questions about the island regarding its geography, size, demographics, resources, slave population, and as an entrance to Hell.
I daresay that some in the audience will be sorely tempted to take up some of Dr Pfuntner’s advice about visiting Sicily and some of the lesser known sites it has to offer!
On 5 March 2018, members of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland were very fortunate to attend William Crawley’s interview of Professor Mary Beard at BBC Blackstaff as part of the eye-opening new series Civilisations.
Over the course of 90 minutes a vast array of questions, from interviewer and audience, were asked and answered by Professor Beard on a variety of subjects linked to the show, its making, its predecessor by Kenneth Clark, and the history touched upon within.
Through clips from the show, starting with Professor Beard’s first episode in the series on how man has depicted himself in art, those in attendance were taken on a journey from a monumental Olmec head in a zoo…
…to the upright Kore style statue of the likes of Phrasikleia…
…giving way to the more natural, flowing presentation of the Apollo Belvedere, a sculpture elevated to ‘perfection’ (for good and ill) by the influence of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the father of Art History.
The audience were also treated to clips from Professor Beard’s second episode in Civilisations, which focuses on the depiction of the divine and the problems that can arise, such as the potential horrors of but logical arguments behind Iconoclasm – the breaking of icons – and when does veneration become idolatry within a monotheistic religion (and not just in Christianity).
The fact that there were over 2000 applicants for just 350 seats in Blackstaff Studios to watch and listen to such a fascinating interview suggests once more what we at CANI have long suspected – there is a real appetite for the Classics, Ancient History and History of Art in Northern Ireland.
We hope to have Professor Beard back to these shores really soon, perhaps even as part of CANI‘s programme of events.
Thanks to Mark Adair, BBC NI, William Crawley and Professor Beard for providing a thoroughly engaging evening.
Civilisations is broadcasted on BBC Two at 9pm on Thursdays and is available on the BBC iPlayer.
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All in a day’s work you might say… but there was so much more than even that at the Advocating Classics Education and CANI event hosted by the Ulster Museum on 9 February 2018…
Cross-border antiquities, in-door artillery fire (no one got hurt), creating Greek theatre masks, dramatic decisions over whether to sacrifice a daughter for the ‘greater good’, a Roman military parade down University Road, coin-stamping, an impromptu rendition of the massacre of Teutoburg Forest involving Botanic Gardens and some screaming (in a good way) primary schoolers, an overflowing lecture hall, trying to figure out what the Aeneid was really for, how the Ancients can inspire good modern living and numerous visits to the Ulster Museum’s many, many other attractions, including the giant Game of Thrones tapestry and the GCSE/A Level Art displays.
It goes without saying that this kind of event could well be taking pride of place in the CANI annual programme for the foreseeable future.
The ACE Project (Prof E Hall and Dr A Holmes-Henderson)
|Group 1||Group 2|
|Drama performances from QUB students||Art activities provided by students from Stranmillis University College and Object handling|
|11.15am||Art activities provided by students from Stranmillis University College and Object handling||Drama performances from QUB students|
The ACE Project (Prof E Hall and Dr A Holmes-Henderson)
|1.05pm||The Classics and the Irish stage|
|2.00pm||Dr John Curran (QUB) “What’s the Aeneid really about?”|
|2.30pm||Natalie Haynes “The Ancient Guide to Modern Life”|
There are so many thanks to be given out…
Firstly, to the Ulster Museum for providing the space for so many different activities. This is not the first time and nor will it be the last that CANI has teamed up with the UM for a successful event. Here’s to continued success of future events!
To Edith, Arlene, Sam and Natalie from the ACE project for providing the impetus and inspiration to host such an event. I am sure will all be combing through photos for weeks!
To Martin and his men of the XXth from Legion Ireland, who provided such a spectacle with their gear, knowledge, enthusiasm and posed for an inordinate amount of photographs. We hope to have you back to northern Hibernia some time in the near future.
David Grant and his chorus of drama students from Queen’s University for providing an emotive, interactive show that provided something for all ages.
Amber Taylor and her Stranmillis colleagues for giving their time to provide arts and crafts to the primary school pupils.
Dr Alex Thein and UCD for facilitating our artefact handling session through a ‘clandestine’ meeting that belonged in the pages of a le Carré novel.
BBC NI and Good Morning Ulster for giving us a platform to drum up further interest in the event and to let the wider public know that the Classics are most certainly not dead in Northern Ireland.
To all the 250 pupils and teachers from Our Lady’s Girls Primary School, Inchmarlo, Stranmillis University College, Queen’s University Belfast, Royal Belfast Academical Institution, Methodist College, Dalriada School, Ballymoney, Gonzaga College SJ, Dublin, Belfast High School and Victoria College who made the day worth it by their enthusiasm and participation.
To the members of the public who were encouraged to drop in either by CANI advertising, the Good Morning Ulster interview or were just there for a visit to the Ulster Museum to be initially perplexed by the presence of a Roman invasion in the Welcome Area of the Ulster Museum.
Thank you all for your involvement, expertise, questions, comments, photographs and enthusiasm.
Special thanks go to Helen McVeigh and John Curran for the amount of organising and presenting they did both on the day and behind the scenes in the run up to the event.
For more photos of what was a fantastic event, check out our ever-growing facebook album