Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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The Illyrian bid for legitimacy

By Robin Waterfield
The region known as Illyris (Albania and Dalmatia, in today’s terms) was regarded at the time as a barbarian place, only semi-civilized by contact with its Greek and Macedonian neighbours. It was occupied by a number of different tribes, linked by a common culture and language (a cousin of Thracian). From time to time, one of these tribes gained a degree of dominance over some or most of the rest, but never over all of them at once. Contact with the Greek world had led to a degree of urbanization, especially in the south and along the coast, but the region still essentially consisted of many minor tribal dynasts with networks of loyalty. At the time in question, the Ardiaei were the leading tribe, and in the 230s their king, Agron, had forged a kind of union, the chief plank of which was alliances with other local magnates from central Illyris, such as Demetrius, Greek lord of the wealthy island of Pharos, and Scerdilaidas, chief of the Illyrian Labeatae.

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How to write a classic

By Mark Davie
Torquato Tasso desperately wanted to write a classic. The son of a successful court poet who had been brought up on the Latin classics, he had a lifelong ambition to write the epic poem which would do for counter-reformation Italy what Virgil’s Aeneid had done for imperial Rome.

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A bookish slideshow

From ancient times to the creation of eBooks, books have a long and vast history that spans the globe. Although a book may only seem like a collection of pages with words, they are also an art form that have survived for centuries. In honor of National Library Week, we couldn’t think of a more fitting book to share than The Book: A Global History. The slideshow below highlights the fascinating evolution of the book.

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Sex and the ancient teenager

By Jane Alison
Jane Fonda spoke passionately about teenage sexuality this week on the Diane Rehm Show. (Her new book is Being A Teen: Everything Teen Girls & Boys Should Know About Relationships, Sex, Love, Health, Identity & More.) Fonda’s book and words are very much of our age, yet some of her most moving points evoke the ghost of Ovid and his mythic stories of young sexuality that are over two thousand years old.

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Ovid the naturalist

By Jane Alison
Ovid was born on the 20th of March (two thousand and fifty-some years ago): born on the cusp of spring, as frozen streams in the woods of his Sulmo cracked and melted to runnels of water, as coral-hard buds beaded black stalks of shrubs, as tips of green nudged at clods of earth and rose, and rose, and released tumbles of blooms.

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Research in the digital age

By Adrastos Omissi
As someone who has lived out his entire academic career in a research environment augmented by digital resources, it can be easy to allow familiarity to breed contempt where the Internet is concerned. When I began my undergraduate degree in the autumn of 2005, Oxford’s Bodleian Library, as well as every faculty and college library, had already digitised their search functions…

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Five things 300: Rise of an Empire gets wrong

By Paul Cartledge
Let’s be clear of one thing right from the word go: this is not in any useful sense a historical movie. It references a couple of major historical events but is not interested in ‘getting them right’. It uses historical characters but abuses them for its own dramatic, largely techno-visual ends.

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“You’ll be mine forever”: A reading of Ovid’s Amores

Amores was Ovid’s first complete work of poetry, and is one of his most famous. The poems in Amores document the shifting passions and emotions of a narrator who shares Ovid’s name, and who is in love with a woman he calls Corinna. In these excerpts, we see two sides of the affair — a declaration of love, and a hot afternoon spent with Corinna. Our poet here is Jane Alison, author of Change Me: Stories of Sexual Transformation from Ovid, a new translation of Ovid’s love poetry.

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Proving Polybius wrong about elephants

By Adam L. Brandt and Alfred L. Roca
Do conservation genetics and ancient Greek history ever cross paths? Recently, a genetic study of a remnant population of elephants in Eritrea has also addressed an ancient mystery surrounding a battle in the Hellenistic world.

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The great Oxford World’s Classics debate

By Kirsty Doole
Last week the Oxford World’s Classics team were at Blackwell Bookshop in Oxford to witness the first Oxford World’s Classics debate. Over three days we invited seven academics who had each edited and written introductions and notes for books in the series to given a short, free talk in the shop. This then culminated in an evening event in Blackwell’s famous Norrington Room where we held a balloon debated, chaired by writer and academic Alexandra Harris.

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Love: First sights in Ovid

By Jane Alison
Among the myriad transformations in Ovid’s Metamorphoses—transformations of girls to trees or stars, boys to flowers or newts, women to rivers, rocks to men—the most powerful can be those wrought by erotic desire. Woods, beaches, and glades in Ovid’s poem are ecologies of desire and repulsion: one character spots another through the trees, and you can almost see the currents of desire flow as one figure instantly wants what he sees—and the other starts running away.

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Scenes of Ovid’s love stories in art

The poet Ovid plays a central role in Roman literary history and culture. Best known for his Metamorphoses, a 15-book mythological epic, and his collections of love poetry, particularly Amores and Ars Amatoria, Ovid’s poetry has greatly influenced Western art, and his works remain some of the most important sources of classical mythology.

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Was Alexander the Great poisoned?

By Philip A. Mackowiak
In the January issue of the journal Clinical Toxicology, investigators at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand and the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom offer yet another theory as to the cause of the untimely death of Alexander the Great just prior to his 33rd birthday.

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A goddess’s long life

By Amanda Podany
As an undergraduate, long before I chose to become an ancient historian, I took a course on ancient art history. I remember sitting in the darkened auditorium in the first weeks of the term, looking at images of prehistoric art and scribbling down notes as the professor paced the stage and pointed out features of each slide. Then came an image that took my breath away: a white marble face of a woman, almost life-size (though blown up to about six feet tall on the screen).

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