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Caesar, Cicero and ‘The Best and Most Vigilant Consulship’

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In 45BC, the consul Quintus Fabius Maximus died late in the year, leading to the appointment of a successor by Julius Caesar, by now at the height of his power and influence within the Roman state following his victories over the Pompeian and senatorial forces in the civil war predicated on his crossing of the Rubicon in January 49BC.

This appointment drew particular scorn and withering derision from the great orator Cicero, but why? A plebeian like Rebilus replacing a patrician in Fabius Maximus might have raised a few eyebrows given that Fabius’ colleague, Caius Trebonius, was of an equestrian family. Conservative optimates, of which Cicero was a supporter, looked less than kindly on novi homines – ‘new men’ – the first of their family to hold the consulship at the best of times, but for two to be holding that esteemed position at the same time must have really rankled.

But then Cicero himself had been a novus homo upon his election as consul in 63BC, although the virtual appointment of these ‘new men’ may have irked him somewhat as he had had to win a politically charged election to attain his position, not rely on a masquerading king doling out rewards to his lowly allies when he grew tired of being consul sine college or on the off chance that a consul died in office.

Gaius Caninius Rebilus had served in Gaul as a military tribune of Julius Caesar in 52BC, making enough of a mark that he was given command of the two legions on the exposed southern slope at the epic double siege of Alesia. With support from Titus Labienus, another of Caesar’s most trusted and talented subordinates, Rebilus and his men resisted the last concerted attack on the Roman lines on 2 October 52BC.


Continued successful service saw Rebilus entrusted with the task of chasing down the Cadurci leader, Lucterius, who had refused to surrender after Alesia. Rebilus caught up to the rebel at Uxellodunum, which Lucterius had hoped could be another focal point of Gallic resistance. Rebilus saw the opportunity to repeat the siege of Alesia for Uxellodunum was also a fortified hilltop oppidum. He initiated a blockade and then defeated a large Gallic foraging force, killing Lucterius’ lieutenant.


While on the surface, the arrival of Julius Caesar to take up overall command of the siege might reflect poorly on Rebilus, his strategy at Uxellodunum was not overturned by Caesar, who quickly agreed that taking the oppidum by force would be too costly.  Uxellodunum would only fall after a prolonged disruption of its water supply (Caesar, BG VIII.40).

Upon the outbreak of civil war, Rebilus joined Caesar in Italy and was entrusted with initiating negotiations with Pompey at Brundisium, before being sent to Africa as a legatus of Gaius Scribonius Curio. He intervened decisively at the Battle of Utica, pushing Curio to take advantage of a break in the enemy lines, although it is unknown what role, if any, he played at the subsequent defeat and death of Curio at Battle of the Bagradas River. Whatever the circumstances of his escape from Africa in the aftermath, it did not sour Caesar’s view of Rebilius as he seems to have appointed him praetor for 48BC.

Rebilus is next seen serving alongside Caesar in 46BC as a propraetor during the Thapsus campaign in Africa, where he took part in the siege of Thapsus itself and accepted the surrender of the African governor, Gaius Vergilius. The following year he accompanied Caesar to Spain as a legatus, taking part in the campaign culminating in the Battle of Munda and occupying the town of Hispalis.

Clearly, Gaius Caninius Rebilus was well thought of by Julius Caesar and, while these were unusual appointments in unusual times where the rule of law and tradition was increasingly under the control of one man, having had a successful military career and served as a praetor, Rebilus was not exactly a completely left field appointment as suffect consul following the demise of Fabius Maximus. Indeed, Rebilus’ promotion to the consulship, even if just for a few hours could also show Caesar in a meritocratic light (cf. Tacitus, Hist. III.37).


However, the real reason Cicero really felt the need to get his claws out about the appointment of Rebilus to the consulship was due to how late in the year it came. Fabius Maximus had not died suddenly in October or November or even early in December. No, Fabius Maximus had dropped dead on 31 December 45BC and by just after midday, Caesar had convened a meeting of the comitia centuriata which fulfilled his wishes by duly electing Gaius Caninius Rebilus as suffect consul.

So as the consuls-elect for 44BC, Julius Caesar himself and Marcus Antonius, were due to take up their office at midnight, the consulship of Gaius Caninius Rebilus, the first of his family to achieve the feat, was to be measured not in months, weeks or even days, but in hours; a little more than eleven to be exact.

This was rendered even more laughable by the fact that Fabius Maximus and his consular colleague, Gaius Trebonius, were themselves suffect consuls, having only assumed their positions after October 45BC, when Caesar had resigned his unconstitutional (although not unprecedented) position of consul sine collega.


Cicero recorded his sarcastic summations of this appointment in a letter to his friend Manius Curius at Patrae, where in typically melodramatic style, he urged Curius to stay away from Rome and claimed that he too was thinking of leaving.

So short was Rebilus’ consulship that Cicero pointed out that “no one breakfasted” during it and heaped false praise on Rebilus for being “so astonishingly vigilant that throughout his consulship he never closed his eyes” – i.e. presuming that Rebilius was awake for the accession of his consular successors at midnight, he would have never slept whilst being consul (Cicero, Ad Fam. VII.30).

Cicero’s scathing references to the hours of Rebilus’ consulship are not just recorded in Cicero’s own works. The second book of the fifth century Saturnalia of Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius contains a collection of witty retorts, many of which come from Cicero. As well as repeating his sarcastic jibe on the vigilance of Rebilus for having never closed his eyes while consul, Macrobius also has Cicero referring to Rebilus as “a notional consul… [who] …mounted the rostrum to assume office and at the same time to relinquish it.” He even goes as far to say that Rebilus had to ask “in whose consulship he was consul” (Macrobius, Sat. II.3.6).


Macrobius also mentions Cicero’s reaction to another case of Caesar appointing consuls for an exceedingly short period of time. Due to the prolonged nature of Caesar’s dictatorship of 48/47BC and his campaigning throughout the east, there had been no magistrates elected for 47BC. Despite the year drawing to a close, Caesar decided to rectify this by having Quintus Fufius Calenus and Publius Vatinius elected as consuls for 47BC as a reward for their service to him (cf. Caesar, BC I.87, III.26,100), seemingly as late in the year as September or even December.

In the same vein as his castigating of Rebilus, Cicero proclaimed that “Vatinius’ term of office has presented a remarkable portent, for in his consulship there has not been winter, spring, summer, or autumn.” (Macrobius, Sat. II.3.5) Vatinius later complained that Cicero, who had been a friend who had defended him in court, had not come to visit him while he was ill, to which the great orator retorted that “it was my intention to come while you were consul, but night overtook me” (Macrobius, Sat. II.3.5).

Why would Caesar open himself to such ridicule by appointing consuls for mere weeks, days and even just hours? He may have hoped that his appointing of consuls, even for such short periods of time, would be portrayed as an attempt by Caesar to retain/re-establish some kind of political normalcy – on the death of a consul, a suffect was supposed to be appointed to see out his term.

However, Caesar cannot have failed to recognise that his holding of repeated consulships and extraordinary dictatorships, his choosing of allies as consuls and the short terms of office, even if he had the interests of what was left of the res publica at heart, was going to attract ridicule.

The sensible thing probably would have been to do without a replacement and leave Trebonius to carry out any duties required for the remaining half day of 45BC or for Caesar himself to fill that short gap, perhaps by having Trebonius step down and appoint an interrex. But then Caesar himself had already been consul sine collega for much of the year before the appointment of Fabius Maximus and Trebonius in October.

Serving as consul twice in the same year was perhaps something that he was unwilling to do for unlike the rest of his irregular positions, there would appear to have been no precedent for that. It would not have helped the situation that Caesar was already slated to be consul prior for 44BC.

But then with 45BC having already seen a consul sine collega, leaving Trebonius without a colleague would also have set another unwanted precedent, as well as allowing someone else to join the very short list of consuls sine collega. On top of that, the whole rigmarole of having Trebonius step down and appoint an interrex for the remaining eleven hours of 45BC would also have attracted ridicule as constitutional overkill.


In a way then, Caesar was caught in a no-win situation constitutionally when Fabius Maximus died in the dying embers of 45BC – if he did not appoint someone, leaving Trebonius as sole consul, stepping up himself or appointing an interrex, he would be accused of forsaking the constitution once again or being overly fastidious in its application for the sake of appearances; and when he did have Rebilus appointed, Caesar was made to look a little ridiculous and cynical in using the consulship to blatantly reward a loyal supporter who may not otherwise have attained a consulship (Suetonius, Divus Iulius 76.2 claims that Caesar “gave the vacant office for a few hours to a man who asked for it”).

Perhaps because of such a political no-win situation, Caesar was happy enough to just promote one of his supporters. In the midst of the ongoing military and political crises, giving one of his military supporters a high office for eleven hours, which could be dressed up as meritocratic, rewarding loyalty and following the constitution, was worth the political barbs of the likes of Cicero.

GoTAH IV: “The Face That Launched 1,000 Ships” and A Game of Thrones: Lyanna Stark as Helen of Troy

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**There will be spoilers here for all seasons of Game of Thrones. If you have not seen up to the end of season 7, some major plot points will be spoiled for you!**


“How many tens of thousands had to die because Rhaegar Targaryen chose your aunt?”  Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish asks Sansa in front of the tomb of Lyanna Stark in S5E4 of Game of Thrones.

Viewers of the television series knew by the end of Season 6 that the rumours were true… R+L does indeed = J. The newly enthroned King in the North, Jon Snow was not the bastard son of Eddard Stark but of Rhaegar Targaryen, eldest child of Aerys II, the Mad King, killed in battle before Games of Thrones begins. And rather than a wet nurse, fisherman’s daughter or Dornish beauty, it was Lyanna Stark, Lord Eddard’s own sister, who was Jon’s mother.

As you can see in the video above, in the Winterfell crypt Sansa replies bitterly to Littlefinger that Rhaegar “… chose her, abducted her and raped her”; the version of the story she had heard throughout childhood. The silence and wry smile from Littlefinger says everything; he does not seem quite so sure.


Before being abducted, or eloping, Lyanna was promised to Robert Baratheon. The match was to secure the alliance between his house in the Stormlands and House Stark in the North. However, this was not just a shrewd political move; Robert admitted that Lyanna was the only woman he ever loved. Losing her was the catalyst for Robert’s Rebellion, his killing of Rhaegar Targaryen at the Battle of the Trident, his taking of the Iron Throne and exiling of the remaining Targaryens to Essos. The instability this caused and the establishing of the Baratheon-Lannister alliance at King’s Landing in turn led to the War of the Five Kings and everything that is ‘the game of thrones’.

s1e1 robert baratheon and ned game of thrones

In classical literature there is a similar well told story in which a beautiful woman is discussed as the cause of a war that killed thousands, tested loyalties and spread turmoil among the great families of the age. Like Lyanna, Helen of Troy’s part in starting a war is taken for granted by some and questioned by others.

Helen, then of Sparta, was promised to Paris, son of Priam of Troy, by Aphrodite as a reward for judging her the most beautiful goddess by presenting her with the golden apple. However, at the time Helen was married to Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon from the prestigious, but unfortunate, House of Atreus. Helen was so sought-after that Menelaus had had to compete against all the eligible heroes of the age in order to secure her as his bride. The competition had been so fierce that the other suitors swore an oath to defend the union in an effort to keep the peace. When Paris turned up later on a supposed diplomatic visit and decided to undiplomatically leave with Helen, it was not only the Acheans who recognised that there was not going to be a happy ending; Paris’ own family were dismayed, fearful of the outcome. And who exactly was to blame? The irresponsible young man who preferred playing the lyre to fighting, or the foreign woman who had tempted him?


Prince Rhaegar first met Lyanna Stark at the famous tourney at Harrenhal, presenting her with the bouquet of blue roses which crowned her his queen of love and beauty, preferring her over his own wife, Elia Martell. In the first book A Game of Thrones (Ch. 58), Ned Stark remembers the events whilst chained up in his cell waiting for execution, while viewers hear all about it from Littlefinger in the Winterfell crypt in the video above.

Like Paris, Rhaegar was an accomplished musician. Barristan Selmy tells Daenerys stories about the prince busking in the streets of Kings’ Landing in S5 E4. Indeed, Rhaegar played so beautifully at the tourney that Lyanna cried, suggesting it is believable that this young woman fell in love with the handsome, silver-haired warrior-musician. By the end of S7 it is confirmed that not only did Rhaegar not kidnap Lyanna, the two had been legally married, leaving Jon Snow not only not a bastard but the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne ahead of his aunt Danaerys.

In the world of Game of Thrones, as in the classical one, a marriage does not necessarily mean a love match of course. But Prince Rhaegar left his best swordsmen to guard the Tower of Joy as he went off to fight and die at the hands of Robert and his warhammer; was he protecting the family he loved or an heir he thought was ‘The Prince that was Promised’? Or both?

However, all the current claimants for the throne are still (for now) woefully unaware of the marriage and its implications, having never questioned what they had been told. The Three Eyed Raven, in S06E10, shows Bran Stark how events really unfolded under the Tower of Joy in a flashback, as his father comes to rescue Lyanna. It is at this point that Bran learns hard lessons about how the history you hear can be very different from the history that happened, as he watches the man he thought his father bravely defeated in battle get ignobly stabbed in the back and later discovers the true heritage (and name) of Jon Snow.


It seems that everyone around at the time remembers Lyanna and Rhaegar differently to those who have had their stories handed down to them. Rather than an abductor and rapist, Barristan Selmy describes Rheagar (S3E3) as the most noble man he knew and even Ned is never heard saying a bad word about him, although so blinded by rage and sorrow was he, Robert Baratheon had little good to say about the dead prince.


There is no consensus in classical literature on Helen’s character and motives. She can be portrayed as a victim of the gods and of mortal politics or as a vain, selfish schemer depending on the moral theme of the literature. In the Iliad, Homer’s Helen is full of misery and regret (III.173-175; Groten (1968)); Sappho (fr.16) decided Helen was assertive and pursued love; in the Troades (914-966), Euripides’ Helen blames love – either Aphrodite directly or the fact she is so desirable Paris is literally disarmed, and politics – the Achaeans are using her as an excuse for their military manoeuvring. In the history of art, Helen also has an ambiguous character, seen leaving Greece determinedly with her head held high, or crying as she is dragged away.


Lyanna’s story echoes Helen’s in the questions it raises about how the agency of women is perceived, of whether love is more noble than patriotism, what we are willing to believe to support our views, but maybe most importantly, to what extent history tells us more about the beliefs and values of the narrator and their society than what actually happened.

Dawn ‘Pickle’ Love

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


#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.


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.


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…


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).


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.


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.