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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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And the lot fell on… sortition in Ancient Greek democratic theory & practice

Some four decades ago the late Sir Moses Finley, then Professor of Ancient History at Cambridge University, published a powerful series of lectures entitled Democracy Ancient and Modern (1973, republished in an augmented second edition, 1985). He himself had personally suffered the atrocious deficit of democracy that afflicted his native United States in the 1950s, forcing him into permanent exile, but my chief reason for citing his book here, apart from out of continuing intellectual respect, is that its title could equally well have been Democracy Ancient Versus Modern.

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9780199686001

Art of the Ice Age [slideshow]

In 2003 Paul Bahn led the team that discovered the first Ice Age cave art at Creswell Crags in Britain. In recent years, many more discoveries have been made including the expanding phenomenon of ‘open-air Ice Age art’. In the slideshow below, you can see some of the earliest examples of art on the planet, and take a tour of prehistoric art throughout the world.

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Oxford Classical Dictionary

Classics in the digital age

One might think of classicists as the most tradition-bound of humanist scholars, but in fact they were the earliest and most enthusiastic adopters of computing and digital technology in the humanities. Today even classicists who do not work on digital projects use digital projects as tools every day. One reason for this is the large, but defined corpus of classical texts at the field’s core.

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American Arcadia

A guide to Southern California for classical art enthusiasts [interactive map]

Every year, millions of people visit California in search of beaches, hiking, celebrity sightings, and more. In the map below, Peter J. Holliday shows us his version of California, focusing on the rich history of classically inspired art and architecture in Southern California. Enjoy the stories of grand landmarks such as Hearst Castle, Pasadena City Hall, and the Getty Villa.

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Oxford Classical Dictionary

Do you know which classic inspired it? [quiz]

Do you know how many novelists, film directors, and board-game creators have been inspired to create art based on classical mythology and other classical works? Maybe not, but perhaps you know some of the more popular examples. Greek and Roman mythology has had a big impact on modern literature, film, and even the games we play. We owe more than we think to authors like Homer.

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9780197265710_450

Sculptural transformations: destruction and reuse in Roman London

Despite much build-up to the new Star Wars film, one of the lesser-known news stories of 2015 described the transformation of a statue of Lenin, standing in a square in Odessa, into one of Darth Vadar. This metamorphosis was necessary to comply with a law passed by the Ukrainian Parliament in April 2015 that banned communist propaganda. Streets were renamed and monuments removed, though even before the law was passed some statues of Lenin had been torn down or mutilated, possibly in protest against Russian influence at a time of heightened political tension.

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Latin: the Renaissance’s world language

Latin, then, was a ubiquitous and commonplace language in the Renaissance, widely spoken, read, and written across Europe and beyond. If the defining characteristics of what has variously been called a “world language” and a “universal language” are its number of non-native speakers and its international circulation, by the time Erasmus was writing his Colloquies and Shakespeare his comedies Latin had been a paradigmatic world language for well over a millennium.

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Oxford Classical Dictionary

Early Greek incantations from Selinous

The so-called “Getty Hexameters” represent an unusual set of early Greek ‘magical’ incantations (epoidai) found engraved on a small, fragmentary tablet of folded lead. The rare verses provide an exciting new window into the early practice and use of written magic and incantatory spells in the Greek polis of the 5th century BCE.

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Who owns culture?

The quiet corridors of great public museums have witnessed revolutionary breakthroughs in the understanding of the past, such as when scholars at the British Museum cracked the Rosetta Stone and no longer had to rely on classical writers to find out about ancient Egyptian civilisation. But museums’ quest for knowledge is today under strain, amid angry debates over who owns culture.

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Oxford Classical Dictionary

Ancient Rome vs. North Korea: spectacular ‘executions’ then and now

Reports over recent months from South Korea’s Yonhap news agency have suggested that two prominent North Korean politicians have been executed this year on the orders of Kim Jong-un. These reports evoke some interesting parallels from the darker side of the history of ancient Rome, or at least from the more colourful stories told about it by Roman historians.

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9780199640201_450

Platonic reception: that obscure object of desire

Of all the things we could possibly care about, why should we care about the reception of Plato? Wars rage round the world. The planet is in the process of environmental meltdown. Many remain mired in poverty, oppression, and disease. Surely this is a most obscure, not to say obscurantist, pursuit. But perhaps we are too hasty.

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Oxford Classical Dictionary

Innovations from the ancient world

Beginning over two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks and Romans innovated a surprising array of concepts that we take for granted today. It’s hard to imagine where we’d be without the Greek alphabet, Euclid’s geometric concepts, Roman concrete, and more.

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Oxford Classical Dictionary

Which mythological creature are you? [quiz]

Today, we’re looking at the less fashionable side of this partnership and focussing our attention on the creatures that mortals feared and heroes vanquished. Does your gaze turn others to stone? Do you prefer ignorance or vengeance? Have any wings? Take this short quiz to find out which mythological creature or being you would have been in the ancient world.

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A history of the poetry of history

History and poetry hardly seem obvious bed-fellows – a historian is tasked with discovering the truth about the past, whereas, as Aristotle said, ‘a poet’s job is to describe not what has happened, but the kind of thing that might’. But for the Romans, the connections between them were deep: historia . . . proxima poetis (‘history is closest to the poets’), as Quintilian remarked in the first century AD. What did he mean by that?

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OUP Philosophy Crest

Philosopher of the month: Plato

The OUP Philosophy team have selected Plato (c. 429–c.347 BC) as their February Philosopher of the Month. The best known and most widely studied of all the ancient Greek philosophers, Plato laid the groundwork for Western philosophy and Christian theology. Plato was most likely born in Athens, to Ariston and Perictione, a noble, politically active family.

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Epicureanism

Epicureanism: eat, drink, and be merry?

Most people have a good idea what it is to have a Stoical attitude to life, but what it means to have an Epicurean attitude is not so obvious. When attempting to decipher the true nature of Epicureanism it is first necessary to dispel the impression that fine dining is its central theme.

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