Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Geography in the ancient world

Imagine how the world appeared to the ancient Greeks and Romans: there were no aerial photographs (or photographs of any sort), maps were limited and inaccurate, and travel was only by foot, beast of burden, or ship. Traveling more than a few miles from home meant entering an unfamiliar and perhaps dangerous world.

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Ten things you may not have known about Greek gods and goddesses

Greek gods and goddesses have been a part of cultural history since ancient times, but how much do you really know about them? You can learn more about these figures from Greek mythology by reading the lesser known facts below and by visiting the newly launched Oxford Classical Dictionary online.

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Very Short Introductions Online

Very Short Resolutions: filling the gaps in our knowledge in 2016

Why make New Year’s Resolutions you don’t want to keep? This year the Very Short Introductions team have decided to fill the gaps in their knowledge by picking a VSI to read in 2016. Which VSIs will you be reading in 2016? Let us know in the comment section below or via the Very Short Introductions Facebook page.

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A history of modern scholarship on Ancient Greek religion

The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are a key period in the history of modern scholarship on ancient Greek religion. It was in nineteenth-century Germany that the foundations for the modern academic study of Greek religion were laid and the theories formulated by German scholars as well as by their British colleagues in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century exercised a profound influence on the field which would resonate until much later times.

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Did comedy kill Socrates?

This year, 2015, has seen a special landmark in cultural history: the 2500th anniversary of the official ‘birth’ of comedy. It was in the spring of 486 BC that Athens first included plays called comedies (literally, ‘revel-songs’) in the programme of its Great Dionysia festival.

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The enigma of Herculaneum and the promise of modern technology

When the ancient resort city of Herculaneum disappeared under more than 65 feet of hot ash and stone in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE, a large library of important philosophical texts was buried with it. Like the city and everything in it, the library’s large collection of papyrus scrolls was burned to a crisp, and the efforts to recover, conserve and read these texts has a long, intriguing history.

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