CANI’s 2017/18 talks programme finished out with Dr Pamela Zinn (Texas Tech University) speaking on ‘Animals and Vegetarianism in Antiquity.’ While the heat outside (and inside) might have acted as a deterrent, such was the interest in the Classics and Dr Zinn’s subject that extra chairs needed to be brought in to the Old Staff Common Room, not to mention a bolstering of the summer drinks table!
Dr Zinn began by demonstrating how integral to the ancient life animals were and not just because the world of antiquity was an agrarian one, with there prominence in art, myths and even history: geese reputedly saved Rome from the Gauls by warning of the approach of an army.
Some animals were seen as divine or capable of revealing divine wishes through omens – cats in Egypt and the original auguries coming from the flight of birds. Dr Zinn then provided some more specific examples such as how because Romulus saw more birds than Remus, the city they built was called Roma not Remora and how Claudius Pulcher famously through the sacred chickens overboard prior to the Roman disaster at Drepanum because they would not give him favourable omens.
While an affront to modern sensibilities, animal sacrifice was not only an important aspect of the religion of ancient societies but also to its diet and community life.
Meat-eating was not as widespread in the ancient world, not due to any real aversion to it, but as many of the animals were less numerous, harder to farm and required for other activities, as beasts of burden, supply of resources, providers of entertainment and instruments of war.
Such community sacrifices were therefore the main source of meat for large sections of the population, with Dr Zinn referring to the prevalence of feasting in ancient epics as suggesting that “only heroes eat meat.”
The ancients were also prominent pet-keepers. They are written about in books and on inscriptions, commemorated on tombstones and depicted on icons and other art. Numerous examples were given including Pompeii’s archaeology famously preserving mosaics and volcanic casts of dogs; how the philosopher Porphyry had a talking partridge and how Tiberius granted a state funeral to a raven who always saluted him as he entered the forum.
With the closeness between the ancients and their animals and meat-eating somewhat uncommon, it might be expected that vegetarianism was more widespread than the evidence seems to suggest it was.
Some philosophers certainly showed sympathy of animals. Pythagoras thought that eating animals was tantamount to cannibalism due to reincarnation, while Lucretius felt that animals had free will and reason and that sacrifice was a violation of the public trust placed in animals. Virgil intimated that animals were key to civilisation.
Of course, these were very much in the minority with the likes of Cato, Aristotle and the Stoics viewing animals as having limited or lesser souls, therefore worthy of being only possessions and food.
To such men and much of the population, vegetarianism and its concomitant abhorrence of sacrifice was a rejection of the gods and/or the community which were so important to ancient societies. Dr Zinn provided the example of Seneca, who gave up vegetarianism for the sake of his political career as it was seen as foreign and anti-social.
After a thoroughly engrossing and colourful talk, Dr Zinn took numerous questions from the audience about various aspects of her work and the subjects covered, striking up further conversations over the summer drinks served throughout.
CANI would like to thank Dr Zinn for taking the time to return to these shores and for her presentation and willingness to interact with so many of the attendees afterwards.
And thank you to all who attended on the night and to all other talks in the 2017/18 programme.
Have a great summer and look for our new programme of events for 2018/19, which should be largely finalised in the coming weeks…
If you cannot wait until the autumn for our next public talks then perhaps you would be interested in our upcoming Latin and Greek Summer School or the Classical Association of Ireland’s annual conference being hosted by CANI at Queens University, Belfast this August.
And our blog will continue to delve into the weird, wonderful and not so well-known corners of the Classics and Ancient History.
The first (ever!) ancient history workshop to be held at Queen’s University Belfast was convened by Dr Laura Pfuntner on 24 May 2018 on the theme of warfare and peacemaking in the Roman provinces in the first century BC.
The workshop was a welcome opportunity to explore a familiar epoch in Roman history – the decline and fall of the Roman Republic – but from a perspective strikingly different from that of the Roman urban elite. In the face of the letters of Cicero and Plutarch’s biographies of the great men of the period, it is easy to forget that most of the victims of the civil wars are likely to have been living in the provinces governed by Rome.
A series of papers sought to bring attention to bear on the kinds of contexts in which the conflicts between upper class Romans manifested themselves. Alexander Thein (UCD) illuminated the local politics of Athens as Sulla intruded violently into the world of the Greeks, while examining the varied settlements of Sicily and Sextus Pompey’s task in locating himself there allowed Laura Pfuntner (QUB) to provide valuable insight into the perspective of the governed towns and villages of the island during the tumultuous years after Caesar’s death.
Carsten Hjort Lange (Aalborg) demonstrated that the very definition of ‘civil war’ was a highly contested concept that was itself an extension of the politics of the period and Peter Morton (Manchester) again questioned the notion of a ‘fixed narrative’ in looking at the way in which slave revolts were folded into the narrative of high politics, becoming themselves both cause and effect of the deterioration of social bonds.
With Manuel Fernández Götz (Edinburgh), discussions turned to archaeology and some startling insights into some contemporary work being conducted in central and northern France. The strangeness of the northern peoples as depicted by Caesar emerge from the archaeology as more settled, urbanised and sophisticated than hitherto appreciated – and made Caesar’s brutal subjugation even more destructive than many have suspected.
Hannah Cornwell (Birmingham) completed the day with an exploration of the imperial language of peace, a language that had to work in the provinces above all for Octavian/Augustus’ masterly navigation of the Roman commonwealth from the stormy waters of war to what would become Gibbon’s famous two centuries of greatest human happiness.
The day was a splendid success and Dr Pfuntner is to be congratulated not just on the conception of the workshop and its star line-up of scholars, but also on the highly successful format that welcomed speakers, students and even some history colleagues from Enlightenment Studies who were certainly enlightened on the rich sources for the late republic and also the vigour and stimulation of discussions between ancient historians.
We have not heard the last of the QUB ancient history workshop!
Dr John Curran
In 1963 the world was captivated by the delightful, dramatic stop-motion technique found in many movies of the decade. Don Chaffey’s 1963 version of Jason and the Argonauts was one that caught the attention of millions.
With its terrifying harpies and hydras, clashing rocks, the beautiful Medea and of course, the all important Golden Fleece, this tale is set to keep you interested throughout. Of course, no Hollywood blockbuster is complete without a few deviations from the original mythology. There are some chronological differences with Talos being defeated on the way to the Golden Fleece rather than on the long journey home. The god Triton (wonderfully depicted as a mermaid) makes a big feature as well, holding the Clashing Rocks back from crushing the terrified Argonauts to death – in the original myth it is the blinded King Phineas who tells Jason to release a dove before entering the Clashing Rocks to avoid its imminent dangers. I have always felt that, even with its deviations from Classical myth, it is still a story the Ancients would have been proud of with its colourful visuals, quick pace and constant action.
This is the movie that began to stoke the fire of my love for Classics. As a young girl my father put this movie on the television with the intent to show me one of his favourites – little did he know he started me on my journey through the Ancient World. I was in awe of the stop motion techniques of Ray Harryhausen that brought the harpies, Talos and skeletons to life; mythology really did seem like magic when portrayed on the screen.
With all of this in mind and following the success of our previous screenings of Gladiator and Monty Python’s Life of Brian, CANI were incredibly excited to host their third annual movie screening of Jason and the Argonauts in the Ulster Museum, who CANI would like to thank once more for its willingness to host our events. With a fascinating and insightful introduction by CANI’s own Katerina Kolotourou (and after some deliberation at how to move a large curtain away from blocking the screen), an enthralled audience sat back and for an hour and 44 minutes watched in admiration as Hera and the gods on Mount Olympus aided Jason and his companions in their quest.
Speaking to a few people after the performance, I received nothing but positive opinions for the screening. There appeared to be ample debate after the showing with some viewers telling me that seeing Jason and the Argonauts playing on a larger screen for the first time, really served to bring the movie and the Classical myth it derives from, even more alive. The setting of the Golden Fleece became even more mysterious and magical as its golden wool seemed to glitter that much brighter. The hydra was a big favourite as well; showing its fierce hissing and jabbing on the big screen only served to heighten the fear it produces.
Overall I can say with confidence that this was a wonderful event for all involved. It can be said that Classics (and the enthusiasm for Classics) is very much alive not just in the traditional sense, but even from the modern viewpoint where big budget productions bring these tales into the eyes and hearts of all who watch them. This was the third movie event for CANI and hopefully there will be many more to come.
On 11 April, CANI were proud to host an educational talk by Laura Jenkinson of Greek Myth Comix and Churcher’s College, Hampshire.
We at CANI have already had the honour of working with Laura as she provided some of her wonderful artwork for our public reading of Homer’s Odyssey [https://classicalassociationni.wordpress.com/2017/07/02/odysseylivebelfast-gallery/] and even took part in the reading via video.
After a brief CANI update from Helen McVeigh, Erin Halliday introduced ‘Jenks’ to the audience, who (after a few technological gremlins were dealt with) launched enthusiastically into a colourful portrayal of her work, its development and her influences in using comics as a teaching tool.
The talk began with a fascinating look at how flickering light of a fire could make the horses, oxen and bison in the cave art of such places as Lascaux in southwestern France, seem to wag their tails, move their heads or run in a prehistoric, primitive form of animation.
Jenks also showed how even single pictures on vases, freezes and walls could be considered as versions of comics as many of the aspects contained within should be viewed sequentially, such as some of the strange (and unsurprisingly raunchy) wall paintings of Pompeii depicting Priapius, Daedalus presenting Pasiphae with her bull costume and the story of Ixion the first Family Murderer and progenitor of the marauding centaurs.
Daedalus and Pasiphae. Fresco from the picture gallery of House of the Vettii in Pompeii
These prehistoric, archaic and classical ‘animations’ continued their development into the second century AD, where we find what is perhaps the first graphic novel in the imperial telling of the Roman conquest of Dacia on Trajan’s Column.
Laura then showed how her interest in comics, drawing and the Classics came together in an infographic regarding the number, methods and perpetrators of death in the Iliad. The online response to this not just in terms of views but also the conversations it seemed to encourage conversation about the Iliad, various aspects associated with it and the Classics in general demonstrated that there was a thirst for the Classics in comic form and in general.
The global reaction to her Iliad infographic, together with the overwhelmingly positive reactions in the classroom, encouraged Laura to further expand her range of comics, leading to the @GreekMythComix tagline of “Explaining the Classics, one comic at a time.”
But do not think that this is just a bit of fun. There are valuable educational benefits to the use of sequential art and the type of comic strips that Greek Myth Comix specialises in. This was backed by academia and further anecdotal evidence which suggested that the integration of drawing and text in comic strips was more useful for revision and general teaching purposes, as it was seen as an ‘easy’ and fun homework and far less daunting than a block of text, as well as providing context and memorability.
Laura Jenkinson has enthusiasm to burn about the Classics and there clearly are not enough hours in the day for the amount of ideas she has, a list that was only further extended by some of the questions and suggestions put forward by the audience on the night, such as expansions into youtube videos, podcasts and A Level course material.
Laura is also exceedingly generous with not only her time, but the fruits of her much more than twelve labours, making them available through her website http://greekmythcomix.com/. She is also willing to listen to virtually any ideas for commissions.
For a little more on Laura Jenkinson’s work, you can read a previous CANI blog post by Dr Halliday [HERE – https://classicalassociationni.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/playing-cards-and-paper-dolls-the-trojan-war-as-you-have-never-seen-it/%5D or contact Laura directly through twitter, facebook or her websites…
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!
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.