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Belfast Summer School in Latin and Classical Greek 2017 Review

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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.  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.

indexThe 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.

BeFunky Collage

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.

3rd-7th July 2017Open University, Belfast

Posted by The Classical Association in Northern Ireland on Sunday, August 13, 2017


“An Unpleasant Man” – ‘Who was Constantius II? Dr Peter Crawford Review

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1856, 1205.2

The oldest dateable coin of the Coleraine Hoard (itself a topic of CANI events in the past – HERE and HERE, Constantius II, 353-355, Arelate RIC VIII.218, 207; BM 1856, 1205.2

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.


‘Greek Percussion’ Dr Katerina Kolotourou Review

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CANI_LOGOOn Thursday 6th April 2017, The Classical Association in Northern Ireland was proud to host its latest talk on ‘Greek Percussion’ by Dr Katerina Kolotourou in the Old Staff Common Room of Queen’s University Belfast.


To welcome an expert on ancient Greek culture, history and society to Belfast at any time is a great pleasure but to find a speaker with the distinction of Dr Kolotourou, now resident in the city, is doubly a boon to the Association. A historian, linguist, field-archaeologist and herself an accomplished pianist, Dr Kolotorou delivered a bravura lecture on Greek percussion to an audience, in which many will have known of poets, rhetors and drama, but may easily have overlooked (or underheard) the wide range of percussive instruments that accompanied many aspects of Greek culture.


Calling upon a literary sources and fragmentary sculptural evidence, Dr Kolotourou restored the sistrumtympanon and kithara to the prominent roles required of them by the classical Greek musical ear. From the pulsing energy of the ceremonies of Dionysius to the high spirits of street-musicians of the Piraeus, the Belfast audience had an audio-world powerfully evoked. Understanding the sounds, instruments and players recreated the uniqueness of percussion as a means of musical expression, then as now.


And striking parallels and differences between Greek instruments and those of ancient Egypt and the Near East opened up yet another avenue of enquiry into the relationship between ancient peoples of the eastern Mediterranean.


Not surprisingly, the lecture had attracted the attention of historians of music as well as musicians themselves, and Dr Kolotorou was able to offer food for thought to questioners on 14th century Sweden as well as early modern English song. We very much look forward to hearing from Dr Kolotourou again and wish her well for her ongoing research which is to culminate in what will certainly be a fascinating monograph.

You can see a few more photos from the event in our ‘Greek Percussion’ Gallery

#OdysseyLiveBelfast – Public Reading of Homer’s Odyssey in translation at Ulster Museum

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Following the success of the first Classical Association in Northern Ireland public reading of Homer’s Iliad, we are delighted to announce our second public reading event: a collaboration with the Ulster Museum.  On Saturday 17th June, from 10am, we will read of Homer’s Odyssey in the Welcome Area on the ground floor of the Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast.


The reading will comprise books 1, 5 – 14, 16, 19, and 21 – 23, which contain the basis of the narrative of Odysseus’ homecoming.  Ten-minute reading slots may be reserved by contacting me at, although there will be plenty of room to  sign up on the day. We are also especially keen for those who cannot attend in person to offer a video-recording which we can play to our audience on the day.

Keep a look out on our website, Twitter and Facebook feeds to hear of any further developments of events taking place as part of this #OdysseyLiveBelfast…

I look forward to hearing from you and hope to see you at this exciting event!

Odyssey Flier

Lumen Christi Latin Club – “20 Things Every Latin Student Should Know About Ancient Rome”

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The Classical Association in Northern Ireland’s visit to Lumen Christi College

On Friday 24th February, Dr John Curran and Dr Peter Crawford visited Lumen Christi College in Derry/Londonderry on behalf of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland. They delivered a very informative and engaging talk entitled “20 Things Every Latin Student Should Know About Ancient Rome” to members of the Lumen Christi College Latin Club, other interested students, and senior staff. There was an impressive turnout of approximately 20 students and senior staff for this much-anticipated event.


This fascinating presentation covered a wide variety of topics, beginning with the mythological origins of Ancient Rome and the influence of surrounding cultures, such as the Etruscans and the Greeks, on the Romans. The two esteemed speakers moved on to discuss the Pantheon of Gods and religion in Roman society. A topic that generated much excitement amongst the students was the Roman Army, especially the wonderful replica sword that Dr Crawford used to demonstrate Roman fighting techniques, which the students found to be particularly engaging. One student remarked that “The best part was definitely holding the sword.” Another student agreed: “I loved the sword.”

Dr Curran and Dr Crawford then explained the expansion of the Roman Empire to the pupils, as well as the Punic Wars. Ronan found this particularly engaging: “My favourite part was when they spoke about the Empire.” Many students found the variety of diagrams and maps used in this section helpful and informative. The students also expressed that they thoroughly enjoyed the section on Hannibal and his elephants, with one student remarking that: “My favourite bit was the bit about Hannibal.”


The speakers then moved on to discuss the concept of ‘paterfamilias’ and the patriarchal nature of Roman society. Dr Curran and Dr Crawford successfully explained this difficult concept in a manner that was relevant and appropriate to the age range of the students present by drawing comparisons between the power structure of Roman families and the royal families of Europe.


Other topics discussed included slavery in the Roman Empire, Roman trade, and Roman literature (in particular, the Aeneid). Towards the end of the presentation, the speakers brought the story of Rome into a modern-day context by explaining the Latin origins of the spells in the ‘Harry Potter’ series, and the use of Latin names in the ‘Hunger Games’ series. The students found that link between modern pop culture and the Ancient world to be particularly relevant and interesting. One student commented: “I thoroughly enjoyed the entire presentation, particularly the references to pop culture and how many franchises derive from Latin.”

Photos were taken of the event. An article about the talk also featured in the school newsletter, which can be viewed at the following web address:

All in attendance have expressed their appreciation and enjoyment of the event, and the students in particular expressed that they felt inspired and informed by the presentation.

I would like express my gratitude to Dr Peter Crawford and Dr John Curran for devoting their time and expertise to come to Lumen Christi College and deliver such an informative and engaging presentation. Furthermore, I would like to thank the Classical Association in Northern Ireland for making such events possible across Northern Ireland, work that is both enriching and inspiring. I look forward to many such events in the future.

Ava Wilson
Latin Club Founder
Year 13
Lumen Christi College

CANI would like to express our own thanks to Lumen Christi College, the Latin Club and in particular Ava Wilson for inviting us to speak. It was for this kind of event that 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.

As this was part of the CANI4Schools initiative, these talks are now part of our list of available resources should you, your school or group be interested in hosting a similar event.

‘Narrative Experience in Xenophon’s Anabasis’ Dr Rosie Harman Review

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The Classical Association in Northern Ireland kicked off its 2017 public programme with ‘Narrative Experience in Xenophon’s Anabasis‘ by Dr Rosie Harman of UCL on 16th March in the Old Staff Common Room of Queen’s University Belfast.

Having studied at Cambridge and Nottingham and taught at Liverpool and Trinity College Dublin, Dr Harman currently serves as a Lecturer in Greek Historiography at University College London and is widely published on various aspects of the works of the 5th/4th century BC Athenian philosopher, historian, soldier and mercenary Xenophon – power, panhellenism, barbarians, identity, colonisation – and what they say about the Greek world of his period.


Dr Harman’s illustrated talk was specifically about the narrative experience of what is probably the most famous of Xenophon’s works, the Anabasis, also known as the ‘March of the 10,000,’ where a Greek mercenary army, eventually led by Xenophon, finds itself trapped in Mesopotamia after the death of their Persian patron and having to march and fight their way back to the Aegean in 401-399BC.

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A major part of Dr Harman’s talk focused on the ideological and descriptive contradictions throughout the Anabasis, with Xenophon attempting to cover all bases so as to depict the Greeks as capable of doing everything the alien inhabitants of the Persian Empire could and more. On the one hand the Greeks wanted to return home like Odysseus only for that narrative to be replaced, almost immediately, with something approaching foundation poetry with the 10,000 contemplating founding a city of their own in the Persian Empire, much to the consternation of their enemies.


Was the Anabasis a triumphal journey through enemy territory proving the superiority of the Greeks, where their greatest opponents were geography and hunger or a harrowing tale of survival against all odds? Quite possibly both, with the Greeks frequently not in control but ultimately victorious – usually through the intervention of Xenophon…

Traversing of the difficult terrain of the east made victory all the more sweet, but at the same time there is room to question whether this is all bred of confidence that the Greeks would succeed, anxiety that the dangers would prove too much or indeed hindsight, given that Xenophon knows that they will succeed. ‘Desire for’ versus ‘dislike of’ the ‘easy’ life and the “exotic delights or terrifying danger” were highlighted, with perhaps the most colourful tale being the description of the 10,000 eating poisoned honey reading like a drunken night out, complete with the awful hangover afterward (which seems somewhat apt on St Patrick’s Day…).

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Demonstrating the interest stirred up by Dr Harman’s talk, there were a variety of different questions and points of discussion put forward by the audience – the reception of mercenaries at home, their aims of on the expedition and return, Greek perceptions of rivers and travel up-stream, the extent of the 10,000’s baggage train, when and where Xenophon might have been writing, his possible note-taking early in the march, his ultimate (un)reliability as a narrator, his harnessing of the styles of both Thucydides and Herodotus an his reception as an historian amongst his contemporary Greeks, Alexander the Great and the Romans.

The Classical Association in Northern Ireland would like to thank Dr Harman for her fascinating talk and to all those who attended, gave their enraptured attention and provided so many interesting and insightful questions.