Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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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The freewheeling Percy Shelley

In the week I first read the Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things — the long lost poem of Percy Bysshe Shelley — the tune on loop in my head was that of a less distant protest song, Masters of War. In 1963, unable to bear the escalating loss of American youth in Vietnam, the 22-year-old Bob Dylan sang out against those faceless profiteers of war.

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Time and tide (and mammoths)

In July 1867 the British historian Edward Augustus Freeman was in the thick of writing his epic History of the Norman Conquest. Ever a stickler for detail, he wrote to the geologist William Boyd Dawkins asking for help establishing where exactly in Pevensey soon-to-be King Harold disembarked in 1052.

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OWC Reading Group

‘I get more of a kick out of your bad temper than your good looks’: Martial’s guide to getting boys

Martial adores sexy boys. He craves their kisses, all the more so if they play hard to get, “… buffed amber, a fire yellow-green with Eastern incense… That, Diadumenus, is how your kisses smell, you cruel boy. What if you gave me all of them, without holding back?” (3.65) and “I only want struggling kisses – kisses I’ve seized; I get more of a kick out of your bad temper than your good looks…” (5.46).

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‘Tomorrow I’ll start living’: Martial on priorities

‘Dear Martial’ – what a strange coincidence that Martial’s soul-mate, who leads the life he himself dreams of living, is called ‘Julius Martial’. In our selection we meet him first at 1.107, playfully teasing the poet that he ought to write “something big; you’re such a slacker”; at the start of book 3, JMa’s is ‘a name that’s constantly on my lips’ (3.5), and the welcome at his lovely suburban villa on the Janiculan Hill 4.64 is so warm, ‘you will think the place is yours’.

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Seeking the elusive dead

It is a well-known fact of British prehistory that burial monuments, sometimes on a monumental scale, are well-documented in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, but largely absent in the Iron Age, outside certain distinctive regional groups at particular periods.

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Shakespeare the Classicist

The traditional view of Shakespeare is that he was a natural genius who had no need of art or reading. That tradition grew from origins which should make us suspect it. Shakespeare’s contemporary Ben Jonson famously declared that Shakespeare had ‘small Latin and less Greek’.

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Distinctive dress: Martial’s index to life in a crammed metropolis

His books are famous around the world, but their author struggles to get by – two themes that quickly become familiar to any reader. Martial has an eye for fabric. He habitually ranks himself and judges others by the price and quality of their clothing and accessories (e.g. 2.29, 2.57), a quick index in the face-to-face street life of the crammed metropolis.

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Seders, symposiums, and drinking parties

The symposium is a familiar feature of academic life today: a scholarly gathering where work on a given topic or theme is presented and discussed. While the event may be followed by a dinner and drinks, the consumption of alcohol is in no way essential to the business of the gathering.

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Roman author, Greek genre: Martial’s use of Epigrams

An epigram is a short poem, most often of two or four lines. Its typical metre is the elegiac couplet, which is also the metre of Roman love poetry (elegy) and the hallmark of Ovid. In antiquity it was a distinctively Greek literary form: Roman writers were never comfortable in it as they were in other imported genres, such as epic and elegy. When they dabbled in epigram they often used Greek to do so. Martial’s decision to write books of Latin epigrams, and nothing else, is thus a very significant departure.

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