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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
The 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.
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!
Day 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.
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.
Over 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…
The 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!
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.
That 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!”
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.
Natalie 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.