Previous Events

Schools Classic Conference in the Ulster Museum 2020 Review

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CANI’s full February of events continued with our now annual Schools Classics Conference in concert with the Ulster Museum. Showing the sustained popularity of the Classics in Northern Ireland, this event was expanded to two days, 7-8 February, and encapsulated various levels of education and the general public.

This seemingly ambitious move was to be born out as over the course of the two days…

Day 1 – AM

20200207_131605The morning of Day 1 saw over 140 primary school children from Stranmillis Primary School, Our Lady’s Girls Primary School and St. Joseph’s Primary School packed in the UM Lecture Theatre with CANI convenor, Helen McVeigh welcoming everyone and explaining how the day would work with the children separated into three groups to cycle through three stations in turn.

In the UM Lecture Theatre, CANI’s Amber Taylor, overcoming some unforeseeable technical difficulties, presented on Ancient Greek Theatre. Her fantastic, interactive presentation was met with considerable enthusiasm and plenty of questions and answers from each group.20200207_105429

In the UM foyer, the craft exercise involved the making of an Ancient Greek theatrical mask. The use of colour, glue, sequins and glitter (even if the latter got everywhere…) saw the creation of dozens of masks fit for the Ancient Greek stage. CANI would like to extend our thanks to Mrs Isabel Bredin for taking on the craft tables.

Throughout the day, the UM foyer also hosted the return of the Roman reenactors of Legion Ireland. An annual fixture in the CANI calendar, Martinus and his legionaries again showed off their expertise in the Roman army. They again proved a big hit with the schools and the public at large, answering questions on various aspects of their Roman military equipment, demonstrating its use and helping guests try on armour and helmets and wield swords and spears.

Day 1 – PM

In the afternoon, another 100+ secondary school pupils from Belfast High School, Strathearn, RBAI and Belfast Royal Academy as well as members of the public enjoyed not just the continued presence of Legion Ireland, handling sessions and the Museum’s collections but also two talks in the UM Lecture Theatre.


Natalie Haynes called upon her considerable memory and stand-up comedienne background to deliver a whirlwind ‘Reprisal of the Iliad,’ summarising its 24 books in (around) 24 minutes. In this breath-taking tour de force, she addressed various episodes including but not limited to ‘Achilles and the longest strop in history’, ‘Hera, Zeus and the Magic Bra’ and ‘FIGHTING!’ The enraptured audience was not quite sure what had hit them, but they knew it was special!

20200207_144040Day 1 was rounded out by Dr Greer Ramsay (Curator of Archaeology, UM) speaking on ‘Why have we so few Roman objects in the collections?’ This involved looking at the other ancient displays in the UM collection, including the fascinating work being done on the museum’s mummy Takabouti and the Inch Bulla. Dr Ramsay also looked at how some of these antiquities came to be in the UM before moving on to the limited Roman material, focusing on the recent discovery in Murlough Bay (soon to go on display) and the Coleraine Hoard, still the largest Roman find in Ireland to date.

Day 2

On Day 2, Legion Ireland reprised their role from the previous day, but with the addition of a series of displays pointing out a lot of their equipment and day-to-day life.

20200208_140302Over 60 members of the public then made their way into the UM Lecture Theatre first to hear CANI Convenor Helen McVeigh present on the ‘Classical Influences in Harry Potter.’ Using an array of pictures and videos, Helen looked at several characters with classical links – Hermione, Argus, Fang and Fluffy and some of the spells and potions which use classical languages – Expecto Patronum, Expelliarmus, polyjuice and veritaserum.

For those of you interested in this chapter of classical reception, but were unable to attend on the day, you can listen to the talk and view the accompanying presentation of slides and videos below…

20200208_144131The weekend of events was then completed by Dr Ramsay repeating his talk of the day before for the public and the Belfast YAC @QUB.

CANI and the UM could not have been happier with how the event went. The talks programme alone over the course of the two days welcomed well over 300 people while the numbers engaged with Legion Ireland and the handling sessions were too many to keep track of.


CANI would very much like to thank everyone who helped make this event the success it was. To Martin and his men of Legion Ireland for trekking all the way up North and making camp in order to show off their expertise once more. To all of our speakers, Natalie Haynes, Amber Taylor, Dr Greer Ramsay and Helen McVeigh for providing such a wide variety of talks, slides and videos. To all of the schools who came along and showed such interest and enthusiasm for the Classics and Ancient History. To the Ulster Museum for playing host to our Schools Classics Conference once more.

Next year is already in the planning!

‘Troy Story’ Natalie Haynes Review

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4897531-8775072676-troy-A busy week for CANI was kicked off by special guest Natalie Haynes as she presented “Troy Story” on 6 February, a talk full of hilarious anecdotes, somewhat connected tangents and not a little expertise on her classical subject; all delivered in Natalie’s machine gun but utterly engaging style.

After Helen McVeigh provided an update on CANI’s upcoming events, she introduced our speaker to the packed room of more than 50 people, who jumped straight into a topical anecdote on Eric Douglas and how cries of “No, I’m Kirk Douglas’ son!” took over a comedy club in Greenwich.

20200206_185911That set the tone for a trademark, entertaining whirlwind of a talk involving the entire Trojan Epic Cycle, the loss of black and female heroes from their stories and how Achilles is the most famous part of the Trojan War in modern Greece, rather than the Trojan Horse or even Helen in Britain…

Interspersed amongst these various mythological comments and questions were a variety of spoilers and tangents including the Rock, Aquaman, Dunedin, her role in Midsomer Murders and ‘Bergerac’s’ eating of muffins, tragic hero in Sophocles – good things taken to a negative degree: Holmes, Tennyson, Morse, Diagnosis Murder and Dick van Dyck, kickboxing, Father Brown, TMNT, snakes and horses in plasticine and swans…

I swear, they all made some sort of sense…

“And back to… THE HORSE!”index

From Aeneid Book II, Natalie then recalled how she developed a sympathy for the seemingly ‘stupid’ Trojans for having been taken in by the Trojan Horse. The Trojans were a besieged people, hidden behind their walls for a decade and keen to see an end to their virtual captivity. And when the Trojan priest, Laocoön, “afraid of Greeks even those bearing gifts,” demands that they burn the Horse and throws a spear at it, his children are killed in divine retribution. This will have been a sign from the gods to the Trojans that all was safe, even if said gods were on the Greek side.


Natalie also looked at how women in general were downplayed in modern times rather than in the origin texts and despite being the centre of much ancient drama. For example, Amazons appear at the end of some versions of Iliad, with their leader Penthesilesia, a warrior the strength of Achilles instead downgraded to a corpse with no agency in Graves’ poem.

A further example of this is the depiction of Helen of Troy/Sparta herself. She has become portrayed as the cause of the entire war due to her inability to control her lusts and desires, despite it being more than she was kidnapped. Some versions of the story even have her not taken to Troy at all with a facsimile of her demonstrating the utility of war, but yet she is still considered at fault.

20200206_194755Natalie finished up her talk with a reading from her latest book, A Thousand Ships, focusing on the perspective of Calliope – “How much epic poetry does the world need?” It was a reading that was beautiful enough for this grizzled, late antique historian to purchase a copy on the way home on the train afterwards.

After a series of questions about Euripides’ tragic comedy on Helen, Cassandra as a biggest loss to the story, the likes of Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and Black Panther providing modern counterparts of characters from the Epic Cycle and Natalie’s next book, Pandora’s Jar, on misrepresentation of women in Greek myth being slating for release on 1 October 2020, Helen McVeigh thanked Natalie Haynes for once again thrilling the audience with her knowledge, enthusiasm and entertainment.

‘Latin and Romance Loan-words in Early Irish’ Tempan Review

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20200129_183504CANI’s programme of events for 2020 kicked off on 29 January and following on from the detective work of unravelling a section of a Sophocles at the end of last year, Dr Paul Tempan presented us with a selection of mysteries in his talk on ‘Latin and Romance Loan-words in Early Irish.’

Introduced by Dr John Curran and after ensuring the room that fluency in Latin, Irish and any Romance language was not required, Dr Tempan presented his first little mystery – the building used in his title slide. He assured us that it was not in Ireland but has Irish links…

Leaving us hanging, Dr Tempan then moved on to an outline of his talk, highlighting Irish’s place as an Indo-European language, through the Celtic and Goidelic branches, but also noting that there were aspects of Irish that were not Celtic or even Indo-European, which might seem peculiar but also appears in languages such as German and Latin.


Through their shared Indo-European roots and Celtic influences, Irish and Latin are closer on the linguistic tree than you might imagine, but care must be taken to differentiate loanwords and similarities due to common origin. As Dr Tempan was focusing on the former, he looked at how Latin influence on Irish is much later than Latin’s influence on other European languages. This is due to Ireland not being drawn as closely into the Roman orbit as much of the rest of Europe. The Latin influence comes instead through Christianity and perhaps even through not Classical Latin but a more Brittonic (Welsh) Latin.


After presenting some useful source material, Dr Tempan then looked at a selection of six Irish words which may have Latin or Romance origins, starting with one recently made more famous world-wide through Star Wars – skellig. Meaning ‘rock, stone or crag,’ it could be that skellig and other versions of it derive from the Latin spelunca, meaning ‘cave, grotto or cavern.’ Such a potential identification is aided by the frequent disappearance of the letter ‘p’ in Old Irish, which saw ‘Patricius’ become ‘Coithrige.’ Dr Tempan summed up this phenomenon as “different reactions to unacceptable alien sounds.”


As well as proposing some connections with Latin and Romance, Dr Tempan also looked at some potential avenues that the likes of Early Spanish might have influenced Early Irish, not just the writings of churchmen such as Isidore of Seville but perhaps also pre-existing mining or trade contacts, connections that may have been long-enough established for the Roman historian Tacitus to position Ireland “lying between Britain and Spain” (Tacitus, Agricola 24 on Ireland).


Dr Tempan then answered a series of questions from the audience, who were so enraptured by the etymological detective work and brimming with queries that dinner became quite the late affair!

CANI would like to thank all of those who came out to support our event and Dr Tempan for presenting such an interesting, thought-provoking but accessible talk for all present.

If you are interested in more on this subject, keep an eye out for more on our blog where we are hoping to host a summary of Dr Tempan’s work and if you were unable to join us in Belfast, Dr Tempan has kindly given permission for a recording of his talk to be posted on the CANI youtube channel. You can also search for Dr Tempan’s papers on various Latin-inspired Irish words on

“Episodes in Fifth Century BC Greek History” Public Reading Review

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Public Reading 3

20191205_100614At exactly 10:05am on 5 December 2019, Dr John Curran stepped up the microphone to welcome all those present and passing through the now-expanded coffee lounge of Hope Café and the McClay Library in Queen’s University Belfast to CANI’s fifth public reading of an ancient text. In a slight change from our previous outings, rather than follow a single, poetic text, we read a selection of passages from Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon, telling the story of the pivotal events of fifth century BC Greece.

Barry Trainor got us underway with Herodotus’ preamble to the Battle of Marathon. From there the Herodotean ‘Greek vs Persian’ battles came thick and fast, with Marathon followed up by the epic Spartan-led resistance at Thermopylae, the naval engagement at Salamis and the climactic showdown between the united Greeks and the Persians at Plataea.


We then switched to Thucydides to hear of the disintegration of that united Greece into the Spartan-led Peloponnesian League and the Athenian Empire and the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War between the two. Through Thucydides, we heard a combination of debates, speeches, controversy, betrayal and military catastrophe. As Thucydides’ text ends before the war does, it was left to Xenophon to bring the Peloponnesian War to its crescendo through his record of the final naval engagement and the surrender of Athens in 404BC… or more accurately at 15:07, when the public reading was brought to a close by our 16th different reader in the 29th reading slot.


It was not only these events which had a profound impact on history. The works of Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon marked the instituting of what we recognise as the recording of history. Without the scientific approach of these men, the genre of ‘history’ might be quite different from what we recognise today. At the very least, our understanding of the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars would be much reduced.

CANI would like thank all of those who took part in the reading, sat and listened along, and donated so generously, with all proceeds to be donated to the Simon Community NI. Thanks also go to the Queen’s University McClay Library for again allowing us to commandeer a corner of the coffee lounge and the screens.

The CANI board would also like to thank Peter Crawford, John Curran, Katerina Kolotourou, Helen McVeigh and Barry Trainor for their help in preparing the reading and on the day.

See you all again next year! But what should we read then…

For more information on the work of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland or to become a member, see or email

“A New Papyrus of Sophocles” Prof Patrick Finglass Review

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CANI was delighted to welcome Professor Patrick Finglass from the University of Bristol to deliver our winter lecture.  There was an excellent turnout from CANI members and supporters to hear Prof Finglass, as well as sample the refreshments and peruse the CANI bookshop.  CANI Convenor Helen McVeigh welcomed everyone to the lecture and reminded supporters of forthcoming events.

Prof Finglass began by summarising the myth of Tereus: Tereus rapes Philomela (sister of his wife Procne) and cuts her tongue out so she cannot implicate him. When Procne discovers what has happened she kills her son Itys and serves him to his father Tereus. Sophocles’ play Tereus does not survive but was influential in Greek and Roman literature such as Aristophanes’ Birds and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

512fffb62e2134edd7de971d4da43a13The papyrus in question was discovered in Oxyrhynchus around a century ago, and was published in 2016. The right column of the papyrus contains the extension of a speech in Tereus, which provides the basis for an attempt to reconstruct some of the play’s lay out. The fragment shows that after the speech by Procne about the difficulties of marriage and being a woman, she continues to speak with the chorus and a shepherd enters with an announcement. Prof Finglass asserted that the chorus must be female because Procne would not have spoken in such intimate terms before a male chorus. The presence of the chorus on stage allows the scene to be identified as scene two. A similar scene occurs in Sophocles’ Trachiniae with Deianira making a speech of similar subject-matter in the presence of a chorus of women.

The shepherd as a messenger is a long-established literary trope. He does not begin by exclaiming good news which bodes ill. Later he offers to swear an oath which suggests he is bringing at least neutral but potentially disastrous news, possibly about the discovery of the mutilated Philomela. A recognition scene may have followed.

index6Prof Finglass highlighted that Tereus revolves around the reaction of the woman to the wrongs of the man, and compared this myth to that of Medea.  Both women are active in punishing their husbands by killing their own children, although Procne goes a step further and serves Itys, her son with Tereus, to him to eat.

At this grisly juncture, Prof Finglass concluded his lecture and answered a number of questions regarding the possibility of discovery of more papyri, the preservation of popular plays, and dramatic performance.

CANI wishes to thank Professor Finglass for his marvellous lecture.

Helen McVeigh

“The Life and Legacy of Agrippina the Younger” Dr Emma Southon Review

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Before a packed room, the CANI programme of events for 2019/20 began on 16 October with the talk Dr Emma Southon presenting on ‘The Life and Legacy of Agrippina the Younger.’

After some quick CANI business, Helen McVeigh introduced our speaker. Originally from Brighton but now living in Belfast, Dr Southon received her PhD from the University of Birmingham on the subject of ‘Marriage, Sex and Death: The Family and the Fall of the Roman West.’ Her first book Agrippina: Empress, Exile, Hustler and Whore provided the subject of the talk – the life of the granddaughter, sister, niece, wife and mother of Julio-Claudian emperors, Agrippina the Younger.

20191016_184231Dr Southon expressed how her want to write this book was because there was no biography of the woman so important to the story of the prototypical emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and the records of historians such as Tacitus.

But in those pages of Tacitus, along with the likes of Suetonius and Cassius Dio (none of whom were her contemporaries), Agrippina is almost universally derided as an arch-manipulator and “ruthless slut.” She grew up in a climate of suspicion where she felt that Tiberius had murdered her parents, but this only the beginning of the rollercoaster that was her life in the imperial spotlight.

20191016_192016She first appears in sources with Caligula’s untraditional and perhaps even unhealthy attachment to his sisters, with them depicted on coins and made part of the oaths of state. This did not stop her plotting against her brother, who had her exiled. Agrippina was allowed to return by Claudius, but he married her off and she disappears from the historical record for another five years. When she returned to the public eye, it was as the wife of the emperor (who just happened to be her uncle…)

Agrippina was appointed Augusta and became the first to hole that title while still having a public role and even had some semblance of power within Claudius’ court. Unsurprisingly, Tacitus sees this as a “political earthquake,” gravely undermining the social fabric.

That said, the appointment of Agrippina to a position of power and influence coincided with an upturn in popularity for Claudius’ regime and the building of a more successful government, able to move people around into useful positions without having to resort to arbitrary removals and executions.

Nerón_y_AgripinaEven the event that Agrippina is best known for – the succession to Claudius – demonstrates that the empress was a talented administrator and leader. She, along with Claudius, very much followed the succession plan of Augustus, gradually introducing Nero to positions of publicity, power and influence so by the time of his accession, the public was used to his presence and Nero himself should have been well-used to being ‘first among equals.’

However, the succession of Nero also highlights the incident that garnered Agrippina much of her infamy – her being behind the murder of Claudius. Furthermore, the likes of Tacitus saw her succession plan as a manipulation of the political scene to make sure Nero succeeds instead of Britannicus. This violation of pietas was perhaps a greater crime than her killing of Claudius and Britannicus.

20191016_192543Because of her gender, her achievements were often seen as crimes, with the Neronian lens further ruining Agrippina’s reputation – she had birthed him, reared him and put him on the throne, so she was responsible for his actions. And even the most powerful woman could be brushed aside by even a weak/poor emperor, which was seen after the smooth accession of Nero, when the new emperor and Seneca saw to the marginalising of Agrippina. But even then, she must have retained some influence over her son – why else would he have undertaken to have her murdered?

At the end of her talk, Dr Southon answered some questions from the audience regarding Agrippina’s cremation on a dining room chair, Poppaea’s involvement in her death (yes, but Nero must also have been prominent – proving the influence Agrippina still had), the universality of her depiction as a whore, who her modern counterpart might be (Margaret Thatcher?), whether there was any reflection of Agrippina in Nero’s acting and whether she wanted power for herself or for Nero. For the latter, Dr Southon suggested that she may have been more interested in bringing the imperial position back into her own Julian side of the family.


CANI would like to extend our thanks to Dr Southon for her fascinating look at an otherwise maligned and pigeon-holed empress. We very much look forward to Emma presenting for us again in the future.

Agrippina: Empress, Exile, Hustler and Whore is available in all good bookstores and Dr Southon’s second book on Roman murder entitled A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is due out in 2020. She is also co-host of the History is Sexy podcast.

Summer School 2019 Review

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The Belfast Summer School is over for another year!  For almost two weeks, 33 students and 7 staff met at Queen’s University Belfast to talk about new alphabets, imperfects and aorists, datives and ablatives, subjunctives and perfects. And that was just the grammar classes! The Advanced Greek and Latin classes read original texts including Demosthenes, Heraclitus, Ovid and Cicero. The final day of the Summer School was taken up with translation for all classes – even those in beginners Greek were reading Aristophanes and Anacreon. In response to requests from students, Beginners Greek tutor Dr Kerry Phelan assembled a number of ancient Greek insults, those found in Aristophanes’ Clouds, Eubulus and the Epistles of Phalaris. Intermediate Greek students read an unadapted section from Chariton’s novel and some adapted Herodotus while Intermediate Latin students were challenged with some Ovid.

As usual, there were other activities in addition to lessons. This year we were blessed with excellent weather and on Wednesday, our discussions of ancient texts and grammar continued in the beer garden at The Parlour Bar followed by dinner in Villa Italia.

DSCF6734.jpgOn Thursday, a bus trip was organised to the Thermopylae Battlefield Garden at Kilwarlin Moravian Church, Hillsborough, Co Down. We were treated to a tour of the garden which features a pond, fountain, flower beds and several odd mounds and hills.  These unusual earthworks were built to create a model of the topography of the battle of Thermopylae as it was in 480 BC. The groundworks were ordered by Rev Basil Patras Zula, a Greek native, who came to Ireland in 1828 and became minister at Kilwarlin in 1834 where he served until his untimely death 10 years later. It has been suggested that Zula, who came from a wealthy family, organised the landscaping work in order to provide employment for his parishioners who were living in poverty. Our group were shown where Zula was buried in the graveyard, and were taken inside the church. Following the tour, we were treated to refreshments provided by Kilwarlin Moravian Church. Our grateful thanks go to Rev Dr Livingstone Thompson and members of the congregation who hosted us.


Dr Raoul McLaughlin gave a lecture about retail in ancient Rome. He began by highlighting the importance of the port of Ostia and the trade routes to Rome. There were auctions for incoming goods as well as permanent markets in Rome. Goods bought and sold included perfume and ungents, clothing, precious gems for jewellers, exotic spices. Warehouses for storage were fronted by retail units: these were made of brick and so safer than normal tenement blocks so the chance of devastating fire was lesser. Ovid offered advice to young men that they should avoid certain districts lest their girlfriends demand that they be bought expensive gifts. Other writers, for example, Martial and Propertius, warn about shopping ventures. Many thanks to Raoul for his fascinating insight into shopping habits in the ancient Roman empire.

During the second week of summer school, Helen McVeigh talked about the joys to be found in the ancient Greek novels. The five extant novels are defined as fictitious stories, narrated in prose and sharing common motifs. The protagonists are a young man and young girl from distinguished families, both of exceptional beauty. They set out on a long journey, together or separately, having sworn to each other mutual pledge of fidelity. After undergoing a series of harrowing experiences including apparent death, kidnap and shipwreck, the couple are reunited and return home to live happily ever after. Choosing to focus on Callirhoe by Chariton, Helen suggested that this novel might have been serialised, given that plot summaries are regularly provided to remind the reader of what has gone before. Most interesting about Callirhoe is the large number of Homeric quotations.  Some of the plot and characterisation is drawn from the Odyssey and Iliad, for example, the characterisation of Callirhoe as a combination of Penelope (the faithful wife) and Helen (abducted to a foreign country to become the illegitimate wife of another).

DSCF6854.jpgCANI was delighted to receive a donation of classics books from the personal library of Dr Robert Jordan, former head of classics at Methodist College Belfast and, from 2000 until his retirement in 2004, Assistant Director of the Institute of Byzantine Studies at Queen’s University Belfast. Dr Jordan donated many Latin and Greek texts, as well as books on various aspects of Greek and Roman history. We were delighted that Dr and Mrs Jordan were able to attend the prize-giving at the end of the first week of the summer school.  Dr Jordan talked about his life as a classicist and presented certificates to those students leaving at the end of the five day course. As a token of gratitude, on behalf of CANI, Helen presented Dr Jordan with Honorary Lifetime membership of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland. The books which Dr Jordan donated were part of a book sale during the Summer School and the money raised will go towards CANI funds.

67374718_1069349019925281_6143659728598728704_nOn the final day of the summer school, Dr John Curran presented certificates of attendance, commending the students on their eagerness to learn these ancient languages. In past years, students have come to the summer school from all over the world. This year was no exception and along with students from Northern Ireland, there were students who had travelled from Co Donegal, Co Clare and Dublin, from England, Italy, USA, Japan, and China.

Thanks are due to many who ensure the continuing success of the Summer School: Amber Taylor, Steve McCarthy, Dr Laura Pfuntner, Dr Kerry Phelan, Dr John Holton, Solomon Trimble, Dr John Curran, Dr Raoul McLaughlin, Dr Peter Crawford, Dr Robert Jordan and Rev Dr Livingstone Thompson. Thanks most of all go to the students, whose passion, enthusiasm and hard work make it all worthwhile.