Latest Event Updates
The second Belfast Summer School took place from Monday 3rd until Friday 7th July, 2017, and offered classes in Beginners and Intermediate Latin and Classical Greek. The expansion to Latin and the great increase in attendance this year speaks to both the success of last year’s Summer School, and to the desire for ancient language courses in Northern Ireland. We extend our sincerest gratitude to the Open University in Northern Ireland for its generosity in allowing us to use its facilities for classes.
The four classes, two Latin and two Greek, ran concurrently with 12 lessons timetabled over the course of the week. Invited speakers gave presentations on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
On Tuesday, Stephen Strickland (Maynooth University) gave a talk on Food and Character in Suetonius, regarding the emperors Augustus, Claudius, and Caligula. One of the ways in which Suetonius characterised his subjects was through descriptions of the foods that they ate. For instance, the reserved and moderate Augustus was described as having simpler tastes in food than the likes of Claudius, or indeed Caligula who was so extravagant as to eat loaves of bread made from gold, and to drink pearls dissolved in wine. Claudius was the main focus of the talk, an emperor somewhat in between the extremes of Augustus and Caligula, and the students’ discussion afterwards centred on his character and reign.
The second presentation to the summer school took place after Thursday’s classes. Giulio Di Basilio (UCD), provided an introduction to Plato’s Ethics, explaining the dialogue format and giving an overview of the development of Plato’s ethical thought. Giulio talked about humanity’s search for happiness and how, for many philosophers, this required a life of virtue. He then focussed on Plato’s Republic to speak about justice and truth, demonstrating how ancient philosophy remains relevant to the modern world. There was an excellent turnout for both invited speakers, and healthy discussions followed each talk.
On the social side, a large number of summer school students joined members of CANI for drinks and dinner. We had an enjoyable afternoon/evening in Granny Annie’s, Chichester Street. At the close of the School on Friday, Dr John Curran, Convenor of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland, presented certificates of attendance to all participants.
The students attended the Summer School for a wide variety of reasons and for different purposes. There were a number of PhD students, two of whom were studying medieval history and wished to have some knowledge of Latin to further their research. Others were undergraduates thinking about further study in Classics. Yet others simply wanted to revisit their love of languages from school, and some were veterans of the 2016 Summer School who had returned for more! During the course of the week, Open University staff were on hand to speak to students interested in humanities courses in general or classics modules in particular.
Informal feedback has shown that many students would return next year to continue their studies at more advanced levels of Classical Greek or Latin. When planning this year’s expanded Summer School, we had hoped we would have the same success with Latin as we did last year with Classical Greek. Attendance for both languages exceeded our expectations, and both the tutors and students found it a great success.
But what did the students themselves have to say? The feedback was overwhelmingly positive with remarks such as
“I wasn’t expecting to learn so much Latin in a short space of time.”
“I loved the course!!”
“My confidence in Latin has gone way up. I’ve loved this week.”
“The teacher created a friendly and informal atmosphere from the start. His explanations were lucid and the classes were well-prepared and well-organised.”
“This course is wonderful. What a great opportunity to have something like this running in Belfast.”
Thanks are due to the Open University in Northern Ireland for their hospitality, the Classical Association in Northern Ireland for its continuing support, Dr John Curran for always being there, the tutors for their hard work above and beyond the call of duty, and to the 2017 students for being so inspirational!
The summer school staff are already looking forward to the 2018 Summer School, scheduled to run from Monday 16th to Friday 20th July. Given the extraordinary success of the summer school to date, we have bigger and better plans for 2018. Watch this space!
Helen McVeigh and Stephen McCarthy
For more videos and photos of a great Classical day in Belfast, check out our Belfast Summer School 2017 Gallery and our Facebook album below.
Such was the success of our public reading of Homer’s Iliad at Queen’s University Belfast, that on Saturday 17 June, a little over six months after our first outing, The Classical Association in Northern Ireland were invited by the Ulster Museum to host a second public reading, this time of Homer’s other epic poem, The Odyssey.
Once again, the people of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England and Australia were extremely generous with their donations to MacMillan Cancer Research, the chosen charity this time around, and with their time, making sure that a considerable portion of the schedule was filled up even before we set out our stall in the foyer of the Ulster Museum.
Again, as with our previous outing, innumerable people, heading into the museum to take in its many fascinating exhibits, paused to donate and listen to the latest misadventures of Odysseus and his ever-dwindling crew, proving again that a great story is impossible to ignore.
Facts, Figures and Highlights (and Highlighters…)
A little after 10am, #OdysseyLiveBelfast began with Dr John Curran (QUB) introducing the event and our first speaker, local actor Jimmy Kearney, who drew on all his acting talent to project the open 95 lines of Book I.
That introduction initiated six hours of non-stop reading of Richmond Lattimore’s translation of Homer’s Odyssean epic, with our most distant reader once again Heather Parsons, taking up the mantle of the opening of Book V from the sunny Antipodean shores of Tasmania.
With that, #OdysseyLiveBelfast was in full flow…
Our second talking head projected onto the wall was that of Laura Jenkinson, who contributed lines 1-151 of Book IX.
The eagle-eyed of you will notice that this is not Laura’s first appearance on the pages of the CANI website. Her fantastic contributions to the spreading of the Classics through @GreekMythComix have been blogged by CANI in the past – Playing Cards and Paper Dolls: The Trojan War As You Have Never Seen It
And not only did Laura donate her vocal skills to #OdysseyLiveBelfast, she also provided a tremendous amount of material both for advertising the event and for children of all ages to partake in some colouring-in on the day (and I must admit, on several evenings since).
The stages of the Odyssey, vases, cutting-out, felt-tip pens and Greek alphabet ‘lessons’ attracted people of all ages and abilities, providing a wonderfully creative and colourful aside to #OdysseyLiveBelfast. CANI cannot thank Laura enough for her generosity.
And whilst this colouring-in session took place, Odysseus continued on his arduous decade-long journey home to Ithaca from Troy.
By the time Dr Curran brought proceedings to the close at 16:10 (a little ahead of schedule rather surprisingly!), Odysseus was home in his own bed with his wife Penelope; the anger of Poseidon, Helios and Zeus had been endured; the Cyclops blinded; Aeolus’ wind squandered; cannibals avoided; sailors turned into swine; Circe and Calypso abandoned; Sirens’ song survived; Scylla and Charybdis bisected; and suitors slain.
In total, there were 36 reading slots taken up by 34 different readers of all ages, geographical locations and academic backgrounds.
|10.05-10.10||Introduction and welcome||John Curran|
|10.10-10.20||Book 1||Jimmy Kearney|
|10.20-10.30||Book 5||Heather Parsons|
|11.30-11.40||Book 9||Laura Jenkinson, Greek Myth Comix|
|12.10-12.20||Book 10||Janice Holmes|
|13.00-13.10||Book 11||Peter Crawford|
|13.40-13.50||Book 12||Raoul McLaughlin|
|14.30-14.40||Book 19||Helen McVeigh|
|15.00-15.10||Book 21||Stephen Strickland|
|15.30-15.40||Book 22||Selga Medenieks|
|15.50-16.00||Katerina Kolotourou II|
|16.00-16.10||Book 23||John Curran II|
The Classical Association in Northern Ireland would like to thank all of those who helped organise and promote the event, those who took part (first-timers or returnees), who donated to such a worthy cause, or just took time to listen in as they passed by. We promise that there will be sweets again next time!
However, there are a few ladies who need to be singled out for special thanks…
Firstly, to Clare Ablett and the Ulster Museum for being such enthusiastic and accommodating hosts. Here’s to a blossoming relationship between CANI and the UM heading on into the future.
Secondly, again, to Laura Jenkinson not only for her video appearance on the walls of the Ulster Museum but also for providing so many excellent activities for kids of all ages through her tremendous @GreekMythComix.
However, for all the gratitude due to members of CANI, friends and family, the Ulster Museum, Greek Myth Comix, and the numerous readers, there was one individual who deserves to be singled out for special consideration, praise and thanks: for again printing fliers, sending emails, organising the set-up, bringing together the rota, reading and devoting an entire day to overseeing the event (ably aided by Erin Halliday, Katerina Kolotourou and Naomi), Helen McVeigh again went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that the #OdysseyLiveBelfast was as big a success as its Iliad predecessor.
Thank you all.
For those of you wondering what might be in store for our next public reading, the idea to come to mind immediately was to finish the trilogy of works pertaining to the Trojan War and follow the survivors of Troy to their new home in Italy through Virgil’s Aeneid. That might be the safe option, but CANI are willing to take risks and another idea is floating around with regards to reading some of the plays of Aeschylus and Ariostphanes…
Keep an eye out for the publication of our 2017/2018 Programme of Events in the next few weeks to find out how brave we are and what other sure-to-be-fantastic events we have planned!
For more videos and photos of a great Classical day in Belfast, check out our #OdysseyLiveBelfast Gallery, with links to our Facebook albums and Youtube Channel, where you can see pictures and videos of not just our latest public reading but also our growing annual programme of events.
When you think about code-breaking, the chances are your thoughts will automatically shift to Enigma, Bletchley Park, the Imitation Game and Alan Turing as perhaps the most prominent example. However, encoding messages was by no means an invention of the modern world.
Some form of cryptography itself seems to date back to at least early second millennium BC Egypt, with hieroglyphics were used to decorate tombs, while other examples appear in Mesopotamia and Greece; however, there are doubts over whether some of these encryptions were really used to prevent others from reading the text or as simple literary puzzles for amusement or even as a way to avoid bad omens (Cohen (1995); Kelly (1998); Lateiner (2010)).
The Polybius Square
More clear cut examples of cryptology had appeared by the second century BC. Polybius wrote on a system to be used in fire-signalling “devised by Cleoxenus and Democleitus and perfected by myself (Polybius)” (Polybius X.45.6), now referred to as the Polybius Square.’ Polybius X.45.7-47.11 describes the square in action. Julius Caesar is recorded using a cipher – now known as the Caesar Cipher – which shifted each letter two or three places further through the alphabet (Suetonius, Divi Julius 56.6). Augustus is also recorded using a similar cipher (Suetonius, Aug. 88), while it has been suggested that Caesar may have used an even more complicated system – “there is even a rather ingeniously written treatise by the grammarian Probus concerning the secret meaning of letters in the composition of Caesar’s epistles” (Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 17.9.1-5).
However, it was not just such cryptology that the Romans resorted to prevention sensitive or important information falling into the wrong hands. We are fortunate to have recorded one such instance of the lengths a Roman diplomat might go to get a message out to the Roman authorities. The basis of this good fortune is the military career of the historian Ammianus Marcellinus. In serving as a protector of the general Ursicinus during the 350s, Ammianus was in a position to see one such message be found, decoded and then deciphered.
The author of this coded message was a certain Procopius. While less well-known that his sixth century namesake, the historian Procopius of Caesarea, this Procopius is a character well worth reading up about. A native of Cilicia, he attempted to usurp the imperial throne from the eastern emperor Valens in 365/366.
Basing his claim on being a maternal cousin of Julian and the idea that Julian named him his successor, complete with an imperial purple robe, at the outset of the disastrous Persian expedition, Procopius’ usurpation was peculiar mix of farce, organisational skill, drama, loyalty, bribery, betrayal and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory (or vice versa depending on the point of view).
Julian and Valens
His improvised coronation with makeshift imperial regalia of what seems like slippers and a napkin, in the dead of night in Constantinople in the hands of Ammianus reads more like the comedy of Aristophanes or the satire of Petronius than a serious assumption of imperial power (Ammianus XVI.6.16-19).
Constantius II and Shapur II
But before he was usurping the imperial throne, Procopius served under the emperor Constantius II as a tribunus et notarius, a position which in itself demonstrates that Procopius was no dummy. He was also felt worthy of being entrusted with one of the more important duties of the 350s: along with the comes, Lucillianus, Procopius was dispatched to the court of the Sassanid Persian King, Shapur II, to negotiate a peace between the two empires (Ammianus XVII.14.3).
In other times, this would not have been as difficult as it sounds as there were prolonged periods where both Rome and Persia were happy to see their shared border remain quiet. Unfortunately for Procopius, this was not one of those times. Shapur II was on the warpath, determined to see large parts of Armenia and Mesopotamia ceded to him either at the negotiating table or through force.
Procopius and Lucillianus had their work cut out for them. Indeed, it could be argued that Constantius II did not intend for them to succeed in obtaining any sort of treaty, merely using the pretext of the embassy to slow and/or discover the Persian king’s plan for the coming campaign season. Ammianus goes as far as to say that Shapur, “armed with the help of the savage tribes which he had subdued, and burning with superhuman desire of extending his domain, was preparing arms, forces, and supplies, embroiling his plans with infernal powers and consulting all superstitions about the future.” (Ammianus XVIII.4.1)
While the exact nature or access of the embassy to the Persian court is not recorded, Procopius and Lucillianus were able to hear or see enough to recognise that even with these ‘negotiations’ still on-going, the Persian army was on the move. And the comes and notarius needed to get the word back to Roman authorities. They achieved this by getting a concealed note to a group of Roman scouts in a scabbard, who then succeeded in delivering this communiqué to Ursicinus at Amida (Frontinus, Strat. III.13.5 advised similar use of a scabbard to conceal secret messages – “some have written on the linings of scabbards”).
The message was not only hidden in a secret place, once it was removed from the scabbard, it was found to be written in code, and even when the cipher was applied, the decoded message appeared nonsensical (Ammianus XVIII.6.17; Blockley (1986) on decoding the letter).
“Now that the envoys of the Greeks have been sent far away and perhaps are to be killed, that aged king, not content with Hellespontus, will bridge the Granicus and the Rhyndacus and come to invade Asia with many nations. He is naturally passionate and very cruel, and he has as an instigator and abetter the successor of the former Roman emperor Hadrian; unless Greece takes heed, it is all over with her and her dirge chanted” (Ammianus XVIII.6.18).
The coded nature of the letter, in terms of secreting, symbols and allusion, along with the inference of the first line suggest “that the envoys of the Greeks” – Procopius and Lucillianus – had been imprisoned by Shapur or were at least under surveillance.
Mithridates VI of Pontus
The mention of an “aged king” bridging the Granicus and Rhyndacus rivers, both in Asia Minor, was considered an inference to the outbreak of the Third Mithridatic War in 74/73BCE, with the “aged king” being Mithridates VI (Appian, Mithr. 69-71; Matthews (1989), 42-43; Mayor (2009) on Mithridates VI). Respectively, the Granicus and the Rhyndacus are the modern Biga and Mustafakemalpasha rivers in north-western Turkey. The former is most famous as the site of Alexander the Great’s first victory over the Achaemenid Persian Empire in 334BCE, while the latter was the site of two Roman victories over the forces of Mithridates VI, first by Fimbria in 85BCE and then by Lucullus in 73/72BCE (Frontinus, Strat. III.17.5; Plutarch, Lucullus XI.2-3).
The Granicus/Biga and the Rhyndacus/Mustafakemalpasha Rivers
This allusion to Mithridates and his crossing of rivers was considered to be a reference to Shapur’s planned crossing of the Greater Zab and Tigris rivers for an invasion of Roman territory, with the mention of his cruelty and passion likely highlighting that Shapur’s invasion was not some run-of-the-mill raid but a full-scale invasion intent on conquest. A similar sense of the immediacy and size of the threat posed by the Shapur’s latest invasion is also conveyed by the final line of the message.
The Eastern Theatre in the 350/60s
Perhaps the most straightforward piece of information is the allusion to Hadrian’s successor, the emperor Antoninus Pius, as an “instigator and abetter.” This was revealing the presence and identity of a Roman defector, Antoninus, at the Persian court, and his role as an adviser to the Persian king (Ammianus XVIII.5).
Hadrian and Antoninus Pius
It might seem then that that this letter gave Ursicinus valuable insight into the planned movements of Shapur but it in actual fact, the coded message of Procopius is rather short on actionable intelligence or new information. By the time they received Procopius’ message at Amida, Ursicinus and Ammianus had already been confronted with evidence that the Persians were in Roman territory, not only finding a Persian spy at Meiacarire but also being confronted with the initial stages of Nisibis being put under Persian blockade.
While it does hint that Shapur intended to invade en masse, it does not give any real notion of the size of his army or where exactly he intended to cross into Roman territory. Was he going to cross the Greater Zab and the Tigris close together, perhaps at their confluence and then drive at Singara? Or was he going to cross the Zab and then follow the Tigris upriver to the northwest before crossing? And even then where would he cross? Near Nineveh? Bezabde? Amida? Or somewhere in between or beyond?
So Procopius’ message was telling the Roman high command something they already knew – the Persians were invading – but then failed to tell them something of exact strategic usefulness that they did not already know – where was the main Persian army going to cross into Mesopotamia? This cannot be held against Procopius and Lucillianus. The close scrutiny of the Persian court likely limited the intelligence they would get their hands on and the rapidity with which they could get that limited intelligence back to Roman territory.
Desperate to get more firsthand knowledge, Ursicinus sent Ammianus on a mission to contact Jovinianus, the Persian satrap of Corduene, who sent Ammianus on with a guide to a cliff that overlooking the route of march of Shapur’s army. Again harking back to ancient history, Ammianus describes the size of the Persian force with suitably dramatic flair, recalling the great invasion force of the Achaemenid Persian king Xerxes in 480BCE and suggesting that it would take three full days for the entire Persian army to cross the Tigris (Ammianus XVIII.7.1; XIX.6.11 later declared Shapur’s force to be 100,000 strong; Herodotus VII.59-60 on Xerxes’ force).
So the coded message of Procopius might not have wielded any overtly useful intelligence for Ursicinus at the time; indeed, the subsequent Persian campaign saw the epic siege, capture and destruction of Amida. However, this episode does give us some insight into Roman coding techniques of concealment, encoding and allusion in action.
Blockley, R.C. ‘The coded message in Ammianus Marcellinus 18.6.17-19’, Echos du Monde Classique 30 n.s. 5 (1986) 63-65
Cohen, F. ‘A Short History of Cryptography,’ http://all.net/edu/curr/ip/Chap2-1.html (1995)
Crawford, P. Constantius II: Usurpers, Eunuchs and the Antichrist. Barnsley (2016)
Lateiner, D. ‘Signifying Names and Other Ominous Accidental Utterances in Classical Historiography,’ GRBS 45.1 (2010), 35-57
Matthews, J.F. The Roman Empire of Ammianus. London (1989)
Mayor, A. The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithridates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy. Woodstack (2009)
Kelly, T. ‘The Myth of the Skytale,’ Cryptologia 22.3 (1998) 244-260
For lots more photos from the big day at the Ulster Museum, check out our Facebook page below.
On Thursday 8th June, Dr Peter Crawford delivered the final lecture in the Classical Association in Northern Ireland’s 2016/17 programme of events, entitled ‘Who was Constantius II?’
Dr Crawford’s biography of the fourth-century Roman emperor (2016) with its subtitle ‘Usurpers, Eunuchs and the Antichrist’ posed the same question, offering three frameworks through which we might view the son of Constantine the Great. Thursday night’s audience heard a more extensive range of possibilities, Dr Crawford stating that, when asked to summarise the character of Constantius II, he found it difficult to do so without perpetuating the same underestimating, sidelining and misrepresentation of the ‘philosopher king’ that had prompted him to write the biography in the first place. So he supplied each audience member with a checklist. Amongst other descriptions, this introduced us to Constantius II as: an imperial stop-gap; the ‘wrong kind’ of Christian; a paranoid monster and family annihilator; and – as his book suggests – the Antichrist.
Dr Crawford began by introducing those of us unfamiliar with this emperor, to the bare details of his reign: Flavius Julius Constantius was born in Sirmium in 317, first serving as Caesar (junior emperor) from 324 until 337, then as co-Augustus with his two brothers until 350, when, after their brutal deaths, he became sole Augustus until his own death in 361. It soon began to become clear that the initial assertion of Constantius’s enigmaticism was sound: analysis of Constantius II’s character and reign is frustrated by a basic lack of information. In fact, Dr Crawford’s talk was punctuated by a series of compelling questions that remain unanswered by historical sources; although he reigned for 24 years between Constantine I and Julian, general works on this period overlook Constantius II’s substantial reign in order to reach Julian the Apostate.
Constantine I, Constantine II, Constantius II, Constans and Julian (left to right)
More details of Constantius II’s background were explored: the ‘scandal-mongering’ that surrounded his rise and inheritance of the Empire, including discussion of his mother’s possible extra-marital honey-pot trap, as well as multiple executions and inter-familial murder plots. Combined with the psychological impact of his father’s murderous actions and manipulation of his sons, our eyes were opened to why this emperor might be characterised as the ‘paranoid monster’ on Dr Crawford’s checklist.
The Rivals – Dalmatius, Hannibalianus, Constantine II, Constans, Magnentius, Decentius, Vetranio, Nepotianus and Julian (left to right)
The body of the lecture dealt with not simply the paucity of the sources, which itself significantly undermines Constantius II’s reign, but also the dislike of Constantius II exhibited by those sources. The chief of these is Ammianus Marcellinus. Despite the importance of Ammianus’s work to historians of Constantius II, he refers to the emperor’s ‘dullness of mind’, claiming that he ‘accomplished nothing worthwhile’. This derision persists even in modern presentations of Constantius II; the famous historian of late antiquity A.H.M. Jones (1964) brands him a ‘vain and stupid man’ and ‘easy prey to flatterers’. Ammianus also decries Constantius II’s military record, unfairly, it would appear, since Dr Crawford was able to contradict many of the half-truths quoted from Ammianus; Constantius won many civil wars, and was a well-renowned battlefield commander, defeating revolts and barbarian tribes, as well as successfully invading Persian territory.
Dr Crawford then addressed the rather different problems posed by ecclesiastical histories, which denigrate Constantius II’s reputation due to his supposed Arianism. This is where ‘Constantius the Antichrist’ comes in. I gained a deeper understanding of the term ‘Arian’, as a follower of the doctrinal teachings of Arius of Alexandria, the main thrust of which was that a ‘created’ Jesus was separate from and thus inferior to God. As the Church moved to have Arianism suppressed, Constantius was faced with dire opposition for what were more likely progressive rather than Arian views. Even as Augustus, Constantius II’s attempts at reform and unification were seen as a disguise for being an Antichrist. Yet it was not only his confrontation with the church that damaged his reputation; another moniker on the checklist is ‘family annihilator’, justified in the light of confrontations with his extended family about succession after his father’s death, which led him to assassinate uncles and cousins, securing the accession of himself and his brothers.
Furthermore, Constantius II’s excessive emphasis on personal imperial dignity rendered him an aloof, domineering character. Instead of ‘first among equals’, we have a dominus, as Dr Crawford put it, ‘lording it over his underlings’. This aloofness went hand-in-hand with a paranoia bred by self-fulfilling usurpations, disloyalty, and revolt.
The conclusion of Dr Crawford’s lecture, then, asked us, how do we judge Constantius II, given the inadequacy, misinformation and bias that dominate the historical evidence of this emperor’s reign? It was clear that attempting to cut through the bias does not affect any significant shift in the perception of him. If not a paranoid monster, at best Constantius II was a ‘good, bad, and ugly’ enigma. Was Ammianus correct in his portrayal? Even accounting for some exaggeration still leaves a picture of, as Dr Crawford put it, ‘a potentially unpleasant, utterly ruthless and unscrupulous man.’ If not the psychologically damaged, uncreative, barbarian-using Antichrist, Constantius II certainly lacked a good publicist, as his military and political achievements are downplayed more than they should be.
Dr Erin Halliday
You can see a few more photos from the event in our ‘Who Was Constantius II?’ Gallery.