Previous Events

‘A Roman Holiday to Sicily’ Dr Laura Pfuntner Review

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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!

Old Staff Common Room, Queen’s University Belfast7th March 2018, 6.45pmEveryone Welcome!

Posted by The Classical Association in Northern Ireland on Sunday, January 7, 2018

Beard in Belfast: The Civilisations Tour

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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.

A Roman Invasion, a Greek Tragedy and a Radio Broadcast: ACE and the Ulster Musuem

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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.

10.10am Welcome (CANI)

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
11.00am Legion Ireland
11.15am Art activities provided by students from Stranmillis University College and Object handling Drama performances from QUB students


12.50pm Welcome (CANI)

The ACE Project (Prof E Hall and Dr A Holmes-Henderson)

1.05pm The Classics and the Irish stage
1.35pm Object handling

Legion Ireland

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!

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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

Natalie Haynes, Legion Ireland, Ancient Artefacts, Drama and Fashion Ulster Museum9th February 2018

Posted by The Classical Association in Northern Ireland on Friday, November 10, 2017


CANI Review of 2017

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CANI kicked off 2017 with two days devoted to its CANI4Schools initiative, starting off with a series of talks to the Classical Civilisation Upper and Lower Sixth classes of Dalriada School, Ballymoney on 23rd February.


After a brief introduction from Mr Stewart Bredin, Head of History at Dalriada, Dr Peter Crawford, returning to his old grammar school where he was first bitten by the Ancient History bug, went through the overall story of the Persian Wars, before Dr John Curran explained how Augustus attempted to ‘make Rome great again’ through various reform, building and propagandist means. Drs Crawford and Curran then combined to go through the chronological fall of the Roman Republic through the eyes of Cicero and then held a brief Q&A session saw pupils ask about the benefits of a History degree and subjects of interest within Ancient History.

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The following day, 24th February, Drs Curran and Crawford then headed to Derry/Londonderry on the invitation of Lumen Christi College’s Latin Club. Again working in tandem, they presented a talk on “20+ Things Every Latin Student Should Know About Ancient Rome” covering origin myths, neighbouring peoples, religion, the army, conquest, Roman enemies, the Roman family, trade, literature, slavery, and the modern day influences of Latin on science, law, politics and pop culture.

CANI would like to express our own thanks to the staff and students of both Dalriada and Lumen Christi College. These are the kind of events for which CANI was originally formed, and with so many enthusiastic pupils attending and asking questions, it is clear that interest in the Ancient World is alive and thriving in Northern Ireland.

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CANI then kicked off its 2017 public programme on 16 March with ‘Narrative Experience in Xenophon’s Anabasis‘ by Dr Rosie Harman of UCL. Dr Harman showed how Xenophon justified everything the Greeks did or proposed to do during the ‘March of the 10,000’ in them being superior to the alien inhabitants of the Persian Empire, all the while presenting the story in almost diametrically opposed terms – an ‘easy’ triumphal journey or a harrowing tale of survival against all odds.


On Thursday 6th April, CANI hosted a talk on ‘Greek Percussion’ by Dr Katerina Kolotourou. A historian, linguist, field-archaeologist and accomplished pianist, Dr Kolotorou called upon literary sources and fragmentary sculptural evidence to demonstrate the sistrumtympanon and kithara in the prominent roles required of them by the classical Greek musical ear.


CANI‘s 2016/17 talks programme was completed with Dr Peter Crawford asking the question ‘Who Was Constantius II?’ on 8th June at Queen’s University. The answer required a long checklist for all those in attendance, but can be summed up with saying that this ‘good, bad, and ugly’ enigma of a fourth century Roman emperor was ‘a potentially unpleasant, utterly ruthless and unscrupulous man’ who had his political and military achievements downgraded by negative sources.

Readers Collage

Following hot on the heels of our highly successful public reading of Homer’s Iliad at Queen’s University Belfast, Saturday 17t June saw the second Homeric epic, the Odyssey receive the same treatment, this time in the foyer of the Ulster Museum. Once again, the people of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England, Italy and Australia were extremely generous with their time and donations to MacMillan Cancer Research.

Vase Collage

Further colour was added to proceedings by the generosity of Laura Jenkinson, who 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 through her @GreekMythComix initiative

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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 in facilities laid on by the Open University in Northern Ireland. Four classes, two Latin and two Greek, ran concurrently for 12 lessons and were supplemented by talks by Stephen Strickland (Maynooth) on ‘Food and Character in Suetonius’ and Giulio Di Basilio (UCD) on ‘Plato’s Ethics.’

Showing the range of interest in these classical languages, attendees included PhD students, undergraduates, those looking to revisit their love of languages, and veterans of the 2016 Summer School.


Such was the success this year that the 2018 edition has already been scheduled to run from Monday 16th to Friday 20th July and plans are afoot to include Advanced levels in both Greek and Latin. Watch this space!


CANI‘s 2017/18 programme began on 4th October with a talk by Dr Elizabeth Dawson (QUB) on ‘The Earliest Latin Lives of St Patrick: Hagiography and History.’ Those in attendance were treated to a look at Patrick’s own fifth century writings and then what the works of two seventh century hagiographers, Tírechán and Muirchú, might tell us about Patrick politics, society and the Patrician cult in seventh century Ireland when woven together.


6th November saw the pre-visit from our colleagues at Advocating Classics Education, Professor Edith Hall and Dr. Arlene Holmes-Henderson, which brought together a tremendous array of representatives from the full spectrum of education – primary, secondary, tertiary, research, public engagement, examination, governance – all interested in the future of Classics education on this island. But do not take my word for it… Here is what Professor Hall had to say…

“Our wonderful Belfast partners, led by super-efficient Dr John Curran won the prize for the largest number of committed stake-holders at our heart-warming meeting at Queen’s yesterday. Northern Ireland really cares about Classics for Everyone–and there was a delegate from Dublin too!”

ACE Event Flier

A day-long event hosted by CANI, ACE and the Ulster Museum will take place on 9th February 2018 and will feature the acting out of Greek plays in costume, along with talks from Natalie Haynes and Dr John Curran, handling sessions of ancient artefacts and an appearance by Legion Ireland, Roman re-enactors from Cork.

Stay tuned for more details…


The final CANI talk of 2017 came on 30 November attracted a fantastic crowd to hear Dr Philip de Souza (UCD) revealing ‘The Truth About Triremes: Ancient Naval Warfare Re-examined.’ Dr de Souza investigated how the perceptions of sources regarding sailors, sea battles and triremes as ‘man-driven torpedoes’ has potentially distorted the numbers, involvement and abilities of warships and their crews – “the worst scum of the Greeks” according to Isocrates, On the Peace 79, as well as their general use by naval powers such as Athens, Carthage and Rome.

Readers Collage

CANI‘s 2017 was closed out on 7th December with a public reading of the final part of the ‘Trojan War’ Trilogy – Virgil’s Aeneid. From 10am, the McClay Library of Queen’s University Belfast rung out with the rhythmic prose of former Poet Laureate Cecil Day Lewis. A brief diversion at about 1pm saw Seamus Heaney’s translation of Book VI become our guide (the great man even popped up on screen a few times to keep an eye on proceedings…).


By the time Turnus’ pleas for mercy had been ignored in a fit of Aenean rage shortly after 4pm, 23 different readers of all ages, geographical locations and academic backgrounds had taken part, with numerous participants and listeners donating to the Simon Community NI.

With the Trojan War epics thoroughly mined, what might CANI‘s next public reading be? Ovid? Aristophanes? Herodotus? Petronius?; a conglomeration of historians on Alexander the Great? Answers on a postcard…

Blog Collage 2017 .jpg

The CANI blog in 2017 continued its brief to cover as many diverse topics as it could, featuring entries on the Bann Disc, whether or not the Romans invented the concept of “BAE,” the question “is AHM Jones better than Gibbon?”, imperial long necks on coins, ancient coded messages, Helen of Troy and the Rhodian Colossus in Game of Thrones, a really short consulship, an Ulster-American Odyssey and fireships in the ancient world.

We are also always willing to take contributions from our readers so get in touch if you have an idea or even an already completed piece lying around without a home.

2018 will see CANI embark on the aforementioned day-long with Advocating Classics Education in the Ulster Museum on 9th February, aimed at increasing participation in Classics within schools. February will also see CANI heading back to Dalriada School, Ballymoney to provide a series of curriculum-supporting talks on the Persian Wars, the End of the Roman Republic, Cicero and Augustan Rome.


CANIs public talks programme begins again on 7th March with Dr Laura Pfuntner (QUB) describing ‘A Roman Holiday in Sicily.’ Laura Jenkinson of Greek Myth Comix will present on ‘Classics, Comics and Education’ on 11th April. CANI Film Night III will see the epic Jason and the Argonauts battle their way into the Ulster Museum on 12th May. Dr Pamela Zinn (Texas Tech University) will look at ‘Animals and Vegetarianism in Antiquity’ on 30th May, before the return of the Belfast Summer School in Classics between 16-20th July and finally CANI and QUB will play host to the Classical Association of Ireland’s annual Summer School of talks on 17-19th August.

It is clear from the attendance of our events that interest in the Classics and all aspects of the Ancient World is in rude health. We may even need to book a bigger room…

CANI will soon be looking to bring together our programme for 2018-2019 so if there are any schools, community groups or historical societies that would like to organise an event with us or just would like some input about their own activities, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Twitter – @ClassAssocNI

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Instagram – classassocni

Email –








#AeneidLiveBelfast Review

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On 7 December 2017, The Classical Association in Northern Ireland returned to the scene of its first public speaking event the previous year, the McClay Library of Queen’s University Belfast. The aim this time was to complete the ‘Trojan War’ Trilogy, this time looking at the fate of a band of Trojans escaping the Greek sack of their city: Virgil’s Aeneid.

A little after 10am, #AeneidLiveBelfast began with Dr John Curran (QUB) introducing the event and taking the first reading slot as Virgil ‘sung of arms and of a man,’ who with his band of followers sought for a new home against the wrath of Juno

That introduction initiated six hours of non-stop reading of Poet Laureate Cecil Day Lewis’ translation of Virgil’s poetic propaganda in hexameter.

However, there was one break from the rhythmic prose of Cecil Day Lewis at around 1pm when our schedule came to Book VI. It would have been remiss for an event hosted by the Classical Association in Northern Ireland in the surroundings of Queen’s University Belfast not to make use of the translation of Book VI by Seamus Heaney (and as you can see from some of our photos, the great man popped up on screen a few times to keep an eye on proceedings…).


1. John Curran I

For those passers-by who were not familiar with Virgil or the Aeneid, a short summary of CANI, the event and the story of Aeneas was provided.


 While the journey of Aeneas was recanted, with listeners enthralled, intrigued and bemused, CANI had a few new additions to its table of goodies this year – along with promotional programme cards, membership sign-ups and business cards, the new Annual and the return of the sweets, we have branched out into the world of merchandise. Notepads and pens, mugs and stickers emblazoned with the striking CANI logo were all available for purchase.


If you are interested in purchasing a mug, notepad and pen or some stickers do not hesitate to get in touch through the web address, facebook or twitter.

By the time CANI convenor Helen McVeigh brought proceedings to the close at 16:10 (almost right on time…), the Trojan Horse had done its damage; storms had been survived; the heart-broken Dido had breathed her last; Aeneas had journeyed to the Underworld; Anchises has informed us been informed about how great the Romans would be and Turnus’ pleas for mercy had been ignored in a fit of Aenean rage.

36. Helen McVeigh II

In total, there were 36 reading slots taken up by 23 different readers of all ages, geographical locations and academic backgrounds.

Time Reader Time Reader
10:05-10:10 John Curran (introduction) 13:10-13:20 Anita Greg
10:10-10:20 John Curran 13:20-13:30 Laura Pfuntner
10:20-10:30 Peter Crawford 13:30-13:40 John McGuckian
10:30-10:40 Patrick Bell 13:40-13:50 Helen McVeigh
10:40-10:50 Anita Greg 13:50-14:00 Leslie Gilmore
10:50-11:00 Raoul McLaughlin 14:00-14:10 Raoul McLaughlin
11:00-11:10 Katerina Kolotourou 14:10-14:20 Peter Crawford
11:10-11:20 John Curran 14:20-14:30 Joanne Brown
11:20-11:30 Peter Crawford 14:30-14:40 Janine Paterson
11:30-11:40 Antonia McAllister 14:40-14:50 Caroline Jones
11:40-11:50 Katerina Kolotourou 14:50-15:00 Stephen Strickland
11:50-12:00 Raoul McLaughlin 15:00-15:10 Kevin Forsyth
12:00-12:10 Margaret Marshall 15:10-15:20 Laura Pfuntner
12:10-12:20 Anita Greg 15:20-15:30 Ciara Campbell
12:20-12:30 Mary Preston 15:30-15:40 Philip Griffiths
12:30-12:40 Katerina Kolotourou 15:40-15:50 Joanne Brown
12:40-12:50 John Garry 15:50-16:00 Amber Taylor
12:50-13:00 John Curran 16:00-16:10 Helen McVeigh
13:00-13:10 Keith Currie    

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 in the Simon Community, or just took time to listen in as they passed by.

Particular thanks to the McClay Library, Hope Café and Queen’s University Belfast for allowing us to use their grounds and resources.

To the writers who made this possible, Cecil Day Lewis, Seamus Heaney and Publius Vergilius Maro (a special thanks to one Imperator Caesar Augustus who countermanded Virgil’s desire to have the unfinished Aeneid burned when he died).

And Helen McVeigh and John Curran for organising the whole event.

Thank you all.

The ideas for our next public reading were already pouring in before Aeneas had plunged his sword into Turnus: Ovid’s Metamorphoses; selections from Herodotus; the Satyricon of Petronius; a conglomeration of historians on Alexander the Great.

And if you cannot wait until this time next year for live performances of Ancient Classics, our joint event with Advocating Classics Education in the Ulster Museum on 9 February 2018 will feature the acting out of Greek plays in costume, along with talks from Natalie Haynes and Dr John Curran, handling sessions of ancient artefacts and an appearance by Legion Ireland, Roman re-enactors from Cork.

Stay tuned for more details…

ACE Event Flier

For videos and photos, check out our #AeneidLiveBelfast 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.