The famous marauders, explorers, traders, and colonists who transformed northern Europe between AD 750 and 1100 continue to hold our fascination. The Vikings are the subject of major new museum exhibitions now circulating in Europe and a popular dramatic television series airing on The History Channel.
For four centuries Britain was an integral part of the Roman Empire, a political system stretching from Turkey to Portugal and from the Red Sea to the Tyne and beyond. Britain’s involvement with Rome started long before its Conquest, and it continued to be a part of the Roman world for some time after the final break with Roman rule. But how much do you know about this important period of British history?
The city that we now call Naples began life in the seventh century BC, when Euboean colonists from the town of Cumae founded a small settlement on the rocky headland of Pizzofalcone. This settlement was christened ‘Parthenope’ after the mythical siren whose corpse had supposedly been discovered there, but it soon became known as Palaepolis (‘Old City’), after a Neapolis (‘New City’) was founded close by.
The British Museum’s current blockbuster show, Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art, amasses a remarkable collection of classical sculpture focusing on the human body. The most intriguing part of the show for me was the second room, “Body colour,” which displays plaster casts of several Greek sculptures brightly painted in green, blue, yellow, red and pink. The press has not known what to make of “Body colour.” It has been met with surprise, sneers, or been entirely ignored in otherwise glowing reviews.
Surprisingly few people have heard of Amelia Edwards. Archaeologists know her as the founder of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, set up in 1882, and the Department of Egyptology at University College London, created in 1892 through a bequest on her death. The first Edwards Professor, Flinders Petrie, was appointed on Amelia’s recommendation and her name is still attached to the Chair of Egyptian Archaeology.
Ashurnasirpal’s palace at Nimrud (Assyrian Kalḫu) was constructed around 865 BCE during a period in which Assyria was slowly becoming the empire that would come to rule most of the Middle East two centuries later. Ashurnasirpal’s palace is among the few Assyrian palaces to have been excavated (more or less) in its entirety. Measuring at least 2 hectares, it must have been one of the largest and most monumental buildings of its time.
With Greek tragedies filling major venues in London in recent months, I have been daydreaming about awarding my personal ancient Greek Oscars, to be called “Golden Nikes” (pedantic footnote: Nike was the Goddess of Victory, not of Trainers). There has been Medea at the National Theatre, Electra (Sophocles’ one) at the Old Vic, and Antigone, just opened at the Barbican. There are yet more productions lined up for The Globe, Donmar and RSC.
There’s a lot we can learn from ancient Athens. The Greek city-state, best recognized as the first democracy in the world, is thought to have laid the foundation for modern political and philosophical theory, providing a model of government that has endured albeit in revised form. Needless to say, the uniqueness of its political institutions shaped many of its economic principles and practices, many of which are still recognizable in current systems of government.
Recently, a number of prominent publications have featured a growing body of work on classical receptions in science fiction and fantasy, including Mélanie Bost-Fiévet’s and Sandra Provini’s collection L’Antiquité dans l’imaginaire contemporain (Garniers Classiques 2014), a special issue of the journal Foundation on “Fantastika and the Greek and Roman Worlds” (Autumn 2014), and our own collection, Classical Traditions in Science Fiction (OUP 2015). This focus on science fiction, now an important part of popular culture, reveals much about how ancient classics are being received by modern audiences, particularly when it comes to the silver screen.
In a recent survey, 87% of UK graduates with first or second class degrees saw freelancing as highly attractive. 85% believe freelancing will become the norm. In the US, as reported in Forbes in August 2013, 60% of millennials stay less than three years in a job and 45% would prefer more flexibility to more pay.
One of the most important and unremarked effects of the revolution in information technology is not to do with information services at all. It is the transformation of manufacturing. After a period of two or three hundred years in which manufacturing consolidated into larger and larger enterprises, technology is restoring opportunities for the lone craftsman making things at home.
In 1979, one of the most prominent Russian classical scholars of the later part of the twentienth century, Mikhail Gasparov, stated: “Vergil did not have much luck in Russia: they neither knew nor loved him.” Gasparov mostly blamed this lack of interest on the absence of canonical Russian translations of Vergil, especially when it came to the Aeneid.
The Renaissance vision of Jerome (c. 347-420 AD), as depicted by Albrecht Dürer in a world-famous engraving of 1514, seems to represent an ideal type of the scholar: secluded in the desert, far removed from the bustle of ordinary life (with a lion to prove it), well-established in his institution (as shown by the cardinal’s hat), and devoted to his studies.
When the Senate of the Free City of Krakow oversaw the renovation of the main gate to the Royal Castle in 1827, it commemorated its action with an inscription: SENATUS POPULUSQUE CRACOVIENSIS RESTITUIT MDCCCXXVII. The phrase ‘Senatus Populusque Cracoviensis’ [the Senate and People of Krakow], and its abbreviation SPQC, clearly and consciously invoked comparison with ancient Rome and its structures of government.
A permanent problem of political and economic management – and one on which many people hold very strong opinions – is how to ensure commercial enterprises comply with society’s sense of fairness and justice without strangling them in red tape.
For over 2,000 years the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome have captivated our collective imagination and provided inspiration for many aspects of our lives, from culture, literature, drama, cinema, and television to society, education, and politics.