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GoTAH VIc – Harbinger of Change – The Reception of Comets amongst the Greco-Romans

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Red_comet_by_dhadkanWhile in the East, a great blaze of light in the sky could be a hopeful sign of the rise of a powerful leader, the Greco-Romans dreaded comets as portents of doom, war or the overthrow of a ruler.

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When recording much of the previous ‘knowledge’ of comets in his Natural Questions, including the likes of Aristotle who believed they came from the Earth, Seneca highlights a lot of their historic negative receptions, even when he is attempting to be scientific, while Pliny the Elder records certain comets as “a very terrible portent” (Pliny, NH II.22; Seneca, Natural Questions VII). This was so prevalent that the English word ‘disaster’ comes from the Latin for ‘dire star’, referring to a comet.

Lubienietsky_Comet_Crisis

During the late second/early first century BC, the Romans will have been forgiven for thinking that their predilection for fear of comets was completely justified. The comets of 135BC, 119BC and 87BC came at a time when the eastern Mediterranean was awash with prophecies of trouble for the Roman state (Sanford (1937), 437-439, 446; Holland (2003), 31-58; Buitenwerf (2003) on Sibylline Oracles), prophecies which seemed to be coming true – external problems abound with Spaniards, Numidians, Germans, pirates and the comet-swathed Mithridates, while internally political instability had brought about increasing bloodshed with the Gracchi, Saturninus, the Social War and the burgeoning war between Marians and Sullans. The Messianic figure to bring down the great tyrant of the age promised by such comets may have seemed just around the corner to many a Roman and Asian…

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There were so many prophecies proclaiming seemingly anti-Roman aims and included comets in some way that it could almost be queried whether the Romans were scared of what they thought the comet meant in terms of portents or what it might mean to many of its provincials and hostile neighbours, particularly given the Messianic, tyrant-slaying empire-overthrowing claims amongst the peoples of Asia Minor and the Middle East. Greeks and possibly even some Italians choosing to see these comets in a more positive, revolutionary way could have dire consequences for Rome and her empire.

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Into this mire came another celestial intervention during a confrontation at Ortyrae between the forces of Mithridates (under the command of a one-eyed Roman rebel Marcus Varius) and the army of Lucullus in 73BC. As the two armies were about to collide, a meteor struck the ground between them, causing both armies to retreat from the battlefield. While Mithridates already had over sixty years of positive comet propaganda behind him in appealing to divine protection, Lucullus will have been struggling largely against the flow of Roman reception of comets and meteorites to have the positive spin of being saved from a battle he did not want due to being thoroughly out-numbered through divine meteor intervention accepted at home; however, the circumstances of the Ortyrae meteorite may have helped him greatly (Mayor (2009), 267-270; Plutarch, Lucullus VIII.5-7; Stothers (2007); D’Orazio (2007); Keaveney (1992), 77 “Both sides, recognising an evil omen, withdrew”; Strabo XII.5.3 on Cybele’s meteorite; Mitchell (1995), II.20).

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Meteors were associated with the Anatolian mother goddess Cybele, a goddess who had gained a significant following in Rome over the previous decades due to her intercession on Rome’s behalf during the Second Punic War. With the battle with Hannibal reaching its crescendo, the Sibylline Books warned that the great Carthaginian general would only be defeated if Cybele’s sacred black stone meteorite kept at Pessinus in central Anatolia was brought to Italy (similar meteorite veneration continues to this day in the guise of the Kaaba in Islam).

The Romans followed this advice and with great pomp and ceremony the black stone was brought to Rome in 204BC. Scipio Africanus’ subsequent decisive victory over Hannibal at Zama in 202BC saw Cybele worship became popular amongst the Romans, leading to a gradual overturning of the traditional Roman fear of meteors and comets. The Romans did not forget this intervention with the great general Marius making a pilgrimage to its site in 98BC, while Sulla had received encouragement from a visitation by Cybele in a dream.

While the likes of Seneca and Pliny would continue to list the poor portents of many comets, before the first century BC was out, Rome would embrace the potential positives of such wandering starts, although it may have taken a dictatorial/imperial hand to guide them.

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According to Suetonius, as celebrations for the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris of 44BC were getting underway, “a comet shone for seven successive days, rising about the eleventh hour” (Suetonius, Divus Julius 88). This bright, day-light comet was initially thought to have appeared in September, this has recently been reused to July, which just so happens to be the month of Julius Caesar, who had just been assassinated on the Ides of March.

Due to the fortuitous timing and no doubt some ‘encouragement’ from the Caesarian party, this astronomical visitor became known as the Sidus Iulium (‘Julian Star’) or Caesaris astrum (‘Star of Caesar’) and became increasingly identified as “the soul of Caesar” (Suetonius, Divus Julius 88), ready to ascend to the heavens once his deification was acclaimed on 1 January 42BC.

Such seeming manipulation of names, dates and meaning of ‘Caesar’s Comet’ raises the suspicion as to whether the star/comet appeared at all or was the total invention of Augustan propaganda (Gurval (1997); Marsden in Ramsey and Licht (1997); Pandey (2013)). However, much like with scepticism over the comets of Mithridates, the records from Han China do suggest that there was a comet in the skies of the summer of 44BC, although perhaps in mid-May to mid-June rather than late July. Whether it existed or not, the Sidus Iulium became a potent propaganda tool over the two decades as Augustus established his power and then established his own links to Aeneas and Venus through Caesar.

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It must also be noted that what became known as ‘Caesar’s Comet’ was not always considered to be such. It appeared on coins before 44BC was out but as a tailless ‘Star of Caesar’ rather than a comet. Perhaps as further evidence of the infiltration of eastern positivity towards comets, this Sidus Iulium gradually grew a tail to become a comet and also a depiction of Caesar’s divinity (Gurval (1997)).

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While Virgil’s “never did fearsome comets so often blaze” seems to link comets to death rather than Caesar’s divinity (Virgil, Georgic I.487-488), this transformation appears to have been complete by the dedication of the Temple of Divus Iulius in 29BC for at the back of the temple a huge image of Caesar was erected with a flaming comet fixed to its forehead, leading the temple also being called the ‘Temple of the Comet Star’ (Pliny, NH II.93-94; Ovid, Meta. XV.840, cf. 745-842).

Again much like with Mithridates, Augustus must have been happy with the timing of the return of Halley’s Comet in 10BC, as it just happened to coincide with the massive funeral games the emperor staged that year in honour of his great friend and general, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who had died in 12BC.

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The seeming transformation of the ‘Julian Star/Star of Caesar’ into ‘Caesar’s Comet’ is similar to the development of the reception of perhaps the most famous comet in the ancient world… after the comets that signalled the coming of Mithridates and the heavenly ascent of Julius Caesar, there was the wandering star juxtaposed into the birth story of Jesus of Nazareth. Much like what is supposed for the Red Comet, this ‘Star of Bethlehem’ acted as the herald for a new King, a guide and a symbol of a Messianic arrival. This association of the celestial guide of the Wise Men with a comet has a long history, with C.R. Nicholl’s 2015 work The Great Christ Comet: Revealing the True Star of Bethlehem being just the latest (Rosenberg (1972) Brown (1975); (1993); Cullen (1979); Hughes (1979); Humphreys (1992); Paffenroth (1993); Jenkins (2004)).

Even more maligned emperors like Nero had numerous celestial visitors to use for their propaganda and political ends. The death of Claudius and Nero’s accession to the throne in 54 was greeted with bright tailed comet, while in 64, the emperor used the appearance of a comet to have numerous senators he disliked executed. However, in 66, when Nero’s regime was beginning to crumble, his popularity replaced with growing opposition, Halley’s Comet returned to the skies.

Perhaps the Jews took this appearance as a sign to overthrow the tyranny of the Romans, breaking out in revolt in the summer of 66, while many Romans may have welcomed the old prophecies of comets bringing about the downfall of tyrants…

Within a decade, during his fifth consulship of 76, the future emperor Titus, the man who had put down said Jewish revolt, wrote a poem about a javelin-type comet, which Pliny the Elder considered to be famous (Pliny, NH II.22).

Down to Modern Times 

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 32 : des hommes observent la comète de Halley

Even with the seeming embrace of comets by much of the world, these wandering stars continued to provoke a range of response throughout the medieval period. Halley’s Comet appears above Harold Godwinson in the Bayeux Tapestry, seemingly as a hint of subsequent events during the Norman Conquest (with the benefit of hindsight).

The record of the First Crusade is also littered with instances of cometary sightings in connection with significant events, for good and ill. Comets and meteors had been taken as God’s blessing for Pope Urban’s call of what became the Crusade at Clermont in 1095. A meteor shower visible at Constantinople was seen as a predictor of the arrival of the Frankish ‘locusts’. The Turkish camp of Kerbogha besieging the Crusaders in Antioch was seen to be hit by a meteor on 14 June 1098.

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In various parts of Europe, it was blamed for earthquakes, illnesses, birth defects and even the Black Death, with Pope Callixtus III excommunicating the comet in 1456 as an “instrument of the devil.” Its 1835-1836 return was claimed to have caused a large fire in New York, a massacre of Boers by the Zulu in South Africa and the siege of the Alamo.

On comets in general, a 15th century poem claimed that they brought “fever, illness, pestilence and death, difficult times, shortages and times of great famine,” which would be an apt description of the consequences for the locals upon the appearance of the Conquistadores in Central and South America. Indeed, Inca and Aztec astrologers saw comets as signs of divine wrath, with one reputedly appearing in the days before the conquest of the former by Francisco Pizarro.

The 16th century French physician, Ambroise Pare, thought a comet of 1528 “was so horrible, so frightful, and it produced such great terror that some died of fear and others fell sick. It appeared to be of extreme length, and was the color of blood.”

Hevelius_Comet_Types

It was not all negative. By the 17th century, European winemakers claimed that comets caused higher temperatures and therefore aided their grape production and taste, while Napoleon connected some of his early military victories to the appearance of comets.

As science progressed into the 20th century, the old adage of ‘a little knowledge being a dangerous thing’ came into play. In 1910, “comet pills” and “comet insurance” appeared on the market and some Americans felt the need to board up their houses due to the supposed threat of poisonous cyanide gas as Earth passed through the tail of Halley’s Comet.

One might think that as the 20th century progressed that fear of comets was to be confined to Hollywood story lines, but forms of ‘comet fever’ still survive into more modern times. When Comet Hale-Bopp appeared in the skies in 1997, it was taken to be a cover for the apocalyptic appearance of ‘Nibiru/Planet X’ or the pre-emptor of an alien space ship, which a group called Heaven’s Gate committed mass suicide in order to be beamed aboard.

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Comets inspired dread, fear, and awe in many different ancient societies and even to this day, they continue to fascinate, astound and even frighten for the same core reason – they are something out of the ordinary in a sky which is almost always predictable.

Even the polar opposite receptions of comets have their own modern versions. While Greeks and Romans may have seen divine warning of an impending disaster, modern viewers of Halley or Hale-Bopp could be all too aware of that apocalyptic threat posed by such (not-so) Near Earth Objects.

And on the other hand, the eastern views of great positive, even Messianic change to come in the wake of a comet also have their modern theoretical backing in their bringing of the essential Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons to Earth in order for life to emerge.

Whether by luck or design, G.R.R. Martin and the creators of Game of Thrones captured this ambiguity perfectly in their words and scenes on paper and screen. The Red Comet is a “harbinger of change,” but what that change is depends on your perspective – victory for your enemies or yourself; the arrival of ice zombies or the dragons/Messiah seemingly sent to defeat them; new life or death.

GoTAH VIa: Harbinger of Change – The Reception of the Red Comet

GoTAH VIb: Harbinger of Change – The Reception of Comets in Eastern Traditions

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https://www.wired.com/2015/01/fantastically-wrong-halleys-comet/

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https://www.csicop.org/si/show/myth_of_nibiru_and_the_end_of_the_world_in_2012?/si/2008-05/morrison.html

Robinson, W.G. ‘Heaven’s Gate: The End,’ Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 3 (1997) 10.1111/j.1083-6101.1997.tb00077.x

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Classics in Primary Schools? It’s All Relevant!

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When I left high school a few years ago having studied Latin and Classical Civilisation to A level and progressed into University to study Primary Education, I made a promise to myself that I would teach Classics to children in whatever way I could. But more importantly, I would try to stoke the same passion and excitement for the subject in the children I would teach as my own teachers had in me. On my second block placement with Stranmillis University College in Whitehouse Primary School, Principal Frazer Bailie (whom I would like to thank immeasurably for allowing me into his school and having the chance to bring Classics with me) very kindly gave me permission to host a Classics club for Key Stage 2 children every Tuesday afternoon for five weeks. Suffice to say the Classicist in me was elated.

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I should explain that I am a student primary school teacher and so the idea of running an entire club from start to finish is a bit intimidating, even with previous experience of working with children in extra-curricular activities. So as I sat down to plan my five week scheme of work I thought “how do I make this relevant?” Because that’s the key in teaching, isn’t it? Make it relevant, make it fun and the learning will follow. At the time I realised that chances are, the children I would be teaching would have never had any formal experience in learning Classics and so it was up to me to make sure they formed a love for it.

In my training at Stranmillis we are told to make topics as cross-curricular as possible, meaning you can teach Music through Literacy or Numeracy through World Around Us (History, Geography and Science and Technology) topics. I am of the opinion that Classics is the perfect cross-curricular topic and so that is how I set out in planning my club – not only was it going to be fun, it was going to be as enriching as possible.

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Five weeks, five lessons and a whole lot of Classics to cram into my short timeslot but I was determined to make the most out of my time in Whitehouse. Week One started with a brief introduction to Classics. An exploration, if you will, of the topic as well as the beginnings of Latin. Over twenty Key Stage 2 children involved in the club seemed enthralled that their first taste of Latin was casting Harry Potter spells – certainly a deviation from the routine Numeracy and Literacy! This not only captured their attention straight off, it meant that even from the very start of their Classical education, they were expanding upon their vocabulary (a statutory requirement in the Northern Ireland National Curriculum). “Expecto Patronum!” shouted eagerly throughout the halls of Whitehouse Primary School quickly turned into a discussion of what a patron was and how the word ‘expect’ comes from the Latin verb expecto.

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Moving on to the first few pages of the Cambridge Latin Course (Book I), the children got a taste of some of the first stages in learning Latin when they reach post-primary. With some background to Pompeii and an interesting family, the children once again were able to explore the Latin language. They especially enjoyed the flash card pop quiz at the end with the all important Haribo on offer should they get a new vocabulary word correct.

The Classics Club was off to a roaring start, with some new children joining the following week, having heard of the fun had already in the early stages. Week Two proved a challenge to plan. Do I follow the Cambridge Latin course for the next four weeks or do I vary what parts of Classics the children should experience? I decided for the time being, to move through some more of the Cambridge Latin course so that the children could begin to formulate simple sentences in Latin. And so we moved to Roman houses. Some background and context started us off, generating a comparison of Ancient Roman houses and houses today and so another way in which Classics can be used as a stimulus for the Northern Ireland National Curriculum. The young classicists then moved to learning the Latin names for Roman rooms using flash cards (and an exaggerated Italian accent!). Using an A1 poster of a cross-section of a Pompeian Villa and some laminated character and word cards, the children solidified their knowledge of Latin words and phrases. If I said “Caecilius est in horto” they would have to place Caecilius on the correct place on the board. A competition began, sweets were given out and the next generation of classicists began to see that Classics really was worth learning (hopefully because of more than just the promise of sweets!).

For Week Three, the Classics Club took a flight from Ancient Rome to Ancient Greece and rolled up their sleeves, ready for what I had in store. So far I had managed to link Classics to Literacy, Drama and World Around Us in the Northern Ireland Primary Curriculum but now it was time for some Music. And what better way to do this than to learn to rap the Ancient Greek alphabet? Through the above YouTube video, the children were soon able to rap the alphabet on their own, knew where our current alphabet came and even managed to write out all the Greek letters. This was, out of all the sessions we had together, the most fun for children and teacher alike. It allowed us to let go of our inhibitions and learn a song we could impress our friends with later. I’ll forever cherish the memory of walking twenty children out to the front gates to meet their parents while they sang the Ancient Greek alphabet.

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Week Four continued in Ancient Greece with drama and theatre. Incorporating Art and Design and Drama into one lesson was no small task but the children delighted in the great variety Classics was providing them, decorating Greek tragedy masks and trying on togas and stolas. It was certainly quite difference from their normal school day activities!

Week Five finished up the Classics Club with a return to Ancient Rome, specifically its dinning table. If time and culinary skill were on my side I might have served a banquet of Dormice, Flamingo Tongues and Garum but alas, it was just a selection of peach juice and iced buns on offer. I sat down and discussed with them the dramatic food and parties hosted by Caligula (a P.C. version!) and took the opportunity to answer questions on Classics at post-primary level, with many students taking a keen interest in the possibility of continuing the subject. Perhaps this was an indication on the success of the Classics Club.

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All in all, through my wonderful experience at Whitehouse Primary School, Classics can not only be brought into minds and hearts of primary school children in a meaningful way, it can also be linked to the Northern Ireland Primary Curriculum through a variety of class subjects; however, the most important thing is the joy that Classics brought the children I was able to teach. Their engagement and excitement at each new topic gave me hope that there is a future in Classical education in Northern Ireland and reminded me of just how important it is that this versatile subject is considered to be relevant to the children of today.

Amber Taylor

Paid to Behave: The Traprain Law Hoard

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Those of you who have been following CANI since the earliest days of its 2014 reincarnation, you will know that the hoard of Roman silver found at Ballinrees near Coleraine in Northern Ireland and the circumstances of its deposit there have been the subjects of several pieces involving CANI members: the inaugural talk, a guest lecture for the Coleraine Historical Society  and a published article for Classics Ireland.

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Given the weight of focus on this Coleraine find in CANI pieces, you might be forgiven for viewing it as an isolated product of raiding, trading and/or political payments. However, the Coleraine Hoard is not the only silver find in Ireland – there is its ‘sister’ hoard at Balline, Co. Limerick from a similar period and at least two documented coin hoards of Quigg and McKinlay from the North Coast, nor is it part of a solely Irish phenomenon with Britain being the site of numerous late Roman hoards of various size, including the enormous Hoxne Hoard and the smaller, earlier but no less intriguing Falkirk Hoard.

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http://www.hoxne.net/history/hoard.html

https://www.falkirkherald.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/falkirk-s-greatest-roman-discovery-1-4327903

Recent finds such as the Echt Hoard near Limburg in the Netherlands, on top of a whole lot of others, show that it is not even a specifically British or Irish phenomenon.

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https://www.archaeology.wiki/blog/2014/04/30/the-echt-hoard-a-late-roman-treasure-from-limburg/

But it those finds from outside Roman territory on the British Isles and made up purely of silver like Coleraine and Balline that are the interest of this piece. Specifically it is the over 20kgs of silver of various sizes and shapes which make up what is known as the Traprain Law Hoard.

Unlike the Ballinrees find, the site of the hole in the ground in East Lothian from which this hoard of silver was plucked has a more straightforward explanation. The sheer fact that this Scottish hoard was found five years into an extensive nine-year excavation immediately suggests that archaeologists knew that there was something to be looked for on the hill called Traprain Law, about four miles east of Haddington in East Lothian, Scotland.

This 221m hill had a long history of human usage before it became the resting place of a large hoard of Roman silver. By the middle of the second millennium BC, it was a site of burial and by the first millennium BC, there is evidence of occupation and even defences.

This has seen Traprain Law classed as an Iron Age oppidum, and one of significant size for northern Britain, covering up to forty acres. This has helped fuel speculation about the exact nature of the ‘settlement’ on Traprain Law. Was it purely a religious burial site? Did it development into a permanent town? Was it a seasonal meeting place for the Votadini or was it a defensive hill fort, only retreated to in the face of Roman or Scotti invasion? It would later be used as a beacon site, to warn of English invasion. Perhaps it was all of these at various times.

Traprain Law’s archaeology suggests an occupation by the Votadini tribe, perhaps even as their principal settlement (called Curia by Ptolemy, Geo. II.3.7), between the 40s and the late second century, perhaps influenced by the arrival of the Romans in Britain and their subsequent withdrawal from the Antonine Wall. After a gap of a generation or two, the hill was again occupied from the 220s through the middle of the fifth century. The final abandoning of Traprain Law by the Votadini tribe and their proto-kingdom of Gododdin may coincide with the moving of their capital to Din Eidyn, the site of Edinburgh Castle.

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Being a potential ‘capital’ for the Votadini or other Caledonian/Pictish tribes bordering the Roman Empire made Traprain Law a magnet for Roman material gathered through any number of means – raid, trade, religious devotion or diplomatic contact. Similar arguments over origins are made for the Balline and Coleraine Hoards, but with Traprain Law, its position on the Roman frontier and the existence of supposed diplomatic connections may see more decisive support for that collection of silver being a payment to a local chieftain to keep the peace or provide soldiers for the Roman army.

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The archaeological dig which unearthed the Traprain Law Hoard began in 1914 under the leadership of Alexander Ormiston Curle. It was not until 1919 that pieces of silver plate started to emerge, along with drinking vessels, spoons, items marked with Christian symbols, remnants of a Roman officer’s uniform and various crushed and hacked up pieces of silver, some of which, despite their messy shape and size, were cut down to a specific weight, marking them as bullion. Some of the items were of high enough quality as to bring about suggestions of origins in some of the workshops in some of the major Roman cities of the Mediterranean.

For all the silver in the Traprain Law Hoard, there were only five Roman coins, in contrast to the 1,483 found in Ballinrees. The Traprain coins are also considerably clipped, but there is enough detail on them to aide their identification and therefore the dating of the hoard. The emperors depicted on the coins are Valens, Arcadius and Honorius, which puts the very earliest date in the last years of the fourth century but more likely the hoard comes from the first quarter of the fifth century.

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Coin of Julian from Coleraine Hoard in the British Museum collection (1856, 1205.8)

The Traprain Law Hoard underwent some restoration where appropriate and was sent to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, where it was CANI‘s good fortune to see it last month.

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Posted by The Classical Association in Northern Ireland on Sunday, May 20, 2018

For more information and pictures on the Traprain Law hoard, go to https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/stories/scottish-history-and-archaeology/traprain-law-treasure/

Dr Fraser Hunter, Principal Curator of Iron Age and Roman collections at National Museums Scotland, has also given talks and presentations on the Hoard.

 

Bland, R.F., Moorhead, T.S.N., and Walton, P., ‘Finds of late Roman silver coins from Britain: the contribution of the Portable Antiquities Scheme’ in F. Hunter, and K. Painter (eds.), Late Roman Silver: The Traprain treasure in context, (Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 2013), 117-166

Crawford, P.T. ‘The Coleraine Hoard and Romano-Irish Relations in Late Antiquity,’ Classics Ireland 21-22 (2017) 41-118

Curle, A.O., The Treasure of Traprain: A Scottish Hoard of Silver Plate, (Glasgow: Maclehose, Jackson and Co, 1923).

Hunter, F. and Painter, K. (eds.), Late Roman Silver: The Traprain treasure in context, (Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 2013)

Feachem, R.W. ‘The Fortifications on Traprain Law,’ Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 89 (1955-6), 284-289

Ridgeway, W., ‘Niall of the Nine Hostages in Connexion with the Treasures of Traprain Law and Ballinrees, and the destruction of Wroxeter, Chester, Caerleon and Caerwent’ JRS 14 (1924), 123-126

Happy New Year 2018!

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We here at the Classical Association in Northern Ireland would like to wish all of our friends and followers a Happy New Year! May Janus provide you with eyes on the past, future and present!

While we already have a programme set for the first half of 2018, rest assured that we are working on further events not just for the public but also for schools across Northern Ireland, which is a pivotal part of our mission. Our blog also continues to present aspects of the Ancient World and the Classics.

So stay tuned for further updates and additions and do not hesitate to get in touch if you would like more information, help promoting or running your own event or any ideas you think we at CANI could help with!

Thanks and once again, Happy New Year!

The Classical Association in Northern Ireland

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QUB Centre for Public History

In our latest blog, Dr John Curran outlines the activities of the Classical Association in Northern Ireland:

In 2015, a new partnership between the ancient historians at Queen’s and the broader public led to the formation of The Classical Association in Northern Ireland/Cumann na gClasaicí i dTuaisceart Éireann. The Association seeks to bring a number of different constituencies together to explore and celebrate the history and heritage of Classical antiquity.

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Already, distinguished scholars from Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland have delighted audiences with lectures on a wide range of subjects from ancient Greek music to Rome’s trade with India. Poetry evenings have celebrated the unique interpretation of ancient Classical culture by Northern Ireland’s most distinguished poets Michael Longley and Seamus Heaney and provided a platform for the next generation of writers in Belfast and beyond. Film nights have featured Queen’s historians examining the…

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#OdysseyLiveBelfast Review

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Such was the success of our public reading of Homer’s Iliad at Queen’s University Belfast, that on Saturday 17 June, a little over six months after our first outing, The Classical Association in Northern Ireland were invited by the Ulster Museum to host a second public reading, this time of Homer’s other epic poem, The Odyssey.

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Once again, the people of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England and Australia were extremely generous with their donations to MacMillan Cancer Research, the chosen charity this time around, and with their time, making sure that a considerable portion of the schedule was filled up even before we set out our stall in the foyer of the Ulster Museum.

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Again, as with our previous outing, innumerable people, heading into the museum to take in its many fascinating exhibits, paused to donate and listen to the latest misadventures of Odysseus and his ever-dwindling crew, proving again that a great story is impossible to ignore.

Facts, Figures and Highlights (and Highlighters…)

A little after 10am, #OdysseyLiveBelfast began with Dr John Curran (QUB) introducing the event and our first speaker, local actor Jimmy Kearney, who drew on all his acting talent to project the open 95 lines of Book I.

That introduction initiated six hours of non-stop reading of Richmond Lattimore’s translation of Homer’s Odyssean epic, with our most distant reader once again Heather Parsons, taking up the mantle of the opening of Book V from the sunny Antipodean shores of Tasmania.

With that, #OdysseyLiveBelfast was in full flow…

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Our second talking head projected onto the wall was that of Laura Jenkinson, who contributed lines 1-151 of Book IX.

The eagle-eyed of you will notice that this is not Laura’s first appearance on the pages of the CANI website. Her fantastic contributions to the spreading of the Classics through @GreekMythComix have been blogged by CANI in the past – Playing Cards and Paper Dolls: The Trojan War As You Have Never Seen It

And not only did Laura donate her vocal skills to #OdysseyLiveBelfast, she also 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 (and I must admit, on several evenings since).

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The stages of the Odyssey, vases, cutting-out, felt-tip pens and Greek alphabet ‘lessons’ attracted people of all ages and abilities, providing a wonderfully creative and colourful aside to #OdysseyLiveBelfast. CANI cannot thank Laura enough for her generosity.

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And whilst this colouring-in session took place, Odysseus continued on his arduous decade-long journey home to Ithaca from Troy.

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By the time Dr Curran brought proceedings to the close at 16:10 (a little ahead of schedule rather surprisingly!), Odysseus was home in his own bed with his wife Penelope; the anger of Poseidon, Helios and Zeus had been endured; the Cyclops blinded; Aeolus’ wind squandered; cannibals avoided; sailors turned into swine; Circe and Calypso abandoned; Sirens’ song survived; Scylla and Charybdis bisected; and suitors slain.

 

In total, there were 36 reading slots taken up by 34 different readers of all ages, geographical locations and academic backgrounds.

Readers Collage

Time   Speaker
10.05-10.10 Introduction and welcome John Curran
10.10-10.20 Book 1 Jimmy Kearney
10.20-10.30 Book 5 Heather Parsons
10.30-10.40   Laura Pfuntner
10.40-10.50   Barry Trainor
10.50-11.00   Terry McLaughlin
11.00-11.10   Erin Halliday
11.10-11.20   Mearns Pollock
11.20-11.30   Mark McCahill
11.30-11.40 Book 9 Laura Jenkinson, Greek Myth Comix
11.40-11.50   Joanne Brown
11.50-12.00   Solomon Trimble
12.00-12.10   Marco Palone
12.10-12.20 Book 10 Janice Holmes
12.20-12.30   Michael Trimble
12.30-12.40   Lynn Gordon
12.40-12.50   Janine Paterson
12.50-13.00   Caroline Jones
13.00-13.10 Book 11 Peter Crawford
13.10-13.20   Ava Wilson
13.20-13.30   Katerina Kolotourou
13.30-13.40   Anita Greg
13.40-13.50 Book 12 Raoul McLaughlin
13.50-14.00   John Curran
14.00-14.10   Nicola Christie
14.10-14.20   John Ashe
14.20-14.30   Leslie Gilmore
14.30-14.40 Book 19 Helen McVeigh
14.40-14.50   Philip Halliday
14.50-15.00   Stephen McCarthy
15.00-15.10 Book 21 Stephen Strickland
15.10-15.20   Kerry Phelan
15.20-15.30   Matt Kirkham
15.30-15.40 Book 22 Selga Medenieks
15.40-15.50   Stafford Reynolds
15.50-16.00   Katerina Kolotourou II
16.00-16.10 Book 23 John Curran II

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, or just took time to listen in as they passed by. We promise that there will be sweets again next time!

However, there are a few ladies who need to be singled out for special thanks…

Firstly, to Clare Ablett and the Ulster Museum for being such enthusiastic and accommodating hosts. Here’s to a blossoming relationship between CANI and the UM heading on into the future.

Secondly, again, to Laura Jenkinson not only for her video appearance on the walls of the Ulster Museum but also for providing so many excellent activities for kids of all ages through her tremendous @GreekMythComix.

However, for all the gratitude due to members of CANI, friends and family, the Ulster Museum, Greek Myth Comix, and the numerous readers, there was one individual who deserves to be singled out for special consideration, praise and thanks: for again printing fliers, sending emails, organising the set-up, bringing together the rota, reading and devoting an entire day to overseeing the event (ably aided by Erin Halliday, Katerina Kolotourou and Naomi), Helen McVeigh again went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that the #OdysseyLiveBelfast was as big a success as its Iliad predecessor.

Thank you all.

For those of you wondering what might be in store for our next public reading, the idea to come to mind immediately was to finish the trilogy of works pertaining to the Trojan War and follow the survivors of Troy to their new home in Italy through Virgil’s Aeneid. That might be the safe option, but CANI are willing to take risks and another idea is floating around with regards to reading some of the plays of Aeschylus and Ariostphanes…

Keep an eye out for the publication of our 2017/2018 Programme of Events in the next few weeks to find out how brave we are and what other sure-to-be-fantastic events we have planned!

For more videos and photos of a great Classical day in Belfast, check out our #OdysseyLiveBelfast 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.