Why Percy?

By now, you’ve all met Percy, the chirpy (and adventurous) CA teddy bear. But why is he called Percy? Surely a Classical name would be more appropriate? Why not Archimedes? Caesar? Cleopatra? Sophocles? Ursula? Percy doesn’t sound all that Classical, does it? Well no, but that’s because Percy takes his name from a man whom many regard as the founder of The Classical Association.

In November 1902,  John Percival Postgate wrote an article in The Fortnightly Review entitled ‘Are the Classics to go?’His article appeared in response to the education reforms of the day which he felt would threaten the study of Latin and Greek. Postgate was the Editor of Classical Review at the time, and his editorial published in July of the same year includes a stark warning. The upshot of his article in The Fortnightly Review was a series of correspondence resulting in the founding of The Classical Association in December 1903.

Don’t forget, if you’d like a Percy of your very own (moustache not included), he’s available online here.

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Percy visits Cambridge University Press

Percy recently went to visit behind the scenes at Cambridge University Press.  As you might suspect, there were quite a few books…

Some groovy machinery…

Pssst! Percy! I don’t think you’re supposed to sit on that…

…or that!

And some serious-looking people…

After such a fun day, Percy was exhausted.  He spent the evening working on a jigsaw of Ancient Rome.

The puzzle is timed and there are prizes for the fastest.  Have a peep at the CUP blog for more details.


Have you got a Percy Bear?  If so, send us a picture of Percy on his travels – we’d love to hear from you/him!

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Sport and Competition

Those of you who were at our conference in Exeter earlier this month may remember a rather engaging plenary given by Percy Bear Prof. Chris Carey entitled “What Makes a Winner?” with a distinctive Olympic theme.

If you missed it, or if you were there and it whetted your appetite for more Olympics-related Classics, good news!  You can hear more from Prof. Carey (and others) at a two-day conference:  ”Sport and Competition in Greece and Rome” which brings together archaeologists, sports scientists, ancient historians and many more.

The conference will be held at the British Museum, and is just one in a series of events to celebrate the return of the Olympics to London.  You can find a full list of events  here.


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The Classical Association Conference: Exeter 2012

By first time attendee, Sophie Raudnitz

As an MA student contemplating a PhD, I decided to attend the CA conference this year in an endeavour to ascertain ‘Who’s Who’ and ‘What’s going on’ in the world of Classics. I had some trepidation in advance, on both intellectual and social fronts. This was not only my first Classical Association conference but my first academic conference of any kind since my undergraduate days almost twenty years ago. Also because I am a distance learner with OU, I knew that I would not have any contacts via a university faculty and that as a mature student, most other people in my position academically would be very much younger than me.

In the event, I found the conference hugely rewarding intellectually. Although I had gone with a view to finding out what was being studied, it was even more interesting and instructive for me to think about how different scholars were approaching ancient material, that is, by way of history, politics, literary theory etc. This was not in the spirit of pigeonholing but rather in terms of the ways in which different approaches could complement each other and what they had to offer in practice. This, I know, will help me in no small way to clarify my thinking about my own projected research.

Socially, the reality was as difficult as I had anticipated.That said, I did stumble into someone else taking my course and also managed to meet a few women in similar situations to myself, largely thanks to Twitter, which provided not just a photo for identification purposes but also a pretext for opening a conversation, especially where I had corresponded with the person already.

I was hugely impressed by the smooth running of the conference, especially given its size and scope. This is a tribute to the vast amount of preparatory and behind-the-scenes work that must have gone on. I was also agreeably surprised by the diversity of the academic classical community, particularly in terms of the male/female split. Though there were clearly fewer women in senior positions, it is to be hoped that some of the large numbers of young women presenting papers will eventually help to swell their numbers.  I was delighted too that Will Griffiths received the Classics prize, especially as someone who had very little (and no positive) experience of Classics at state school in the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Overall I am very glad that I battled my demons and attended the conference. In addition to being ‘character developing’, it was useful, very interesting and even (I can say this in retrospect) fun.

Sophie Raudnitz is an MA student with the Open University, an ex-English teacher and a mother of three boys. She hopes to start a PhD in 2013.

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Birmingham & Midlands CA Sixth Form Conference

By Polly Toney

Following on from a successful re-launch in October of last year, which saw Lindsey Davis as guest-speaker, the Birmingham and Midlands CA held its first Sixth Form Conference on Saturday 10 March. Expected to become an annual event, with the potential to roll out the formula beyond Key Stage 5 to supplement GCSE teaching and learning in future years, the Sixth Form Conference demonstrated the BMCA’s ongoing commitment to facilitate and enrich classical learning in schools and colleges.

Proceedings took place at the University of Birmingham and we were delighted to welcome students (and several teachers) from a range of schools and further education institutions; from the relatively local, e.g., King Edwards Five Ways, to the further afield, e.g., Leicester Grammar. In an even more impressive vein, we were delighted to procure the speaking services of academics from across the country, including Professor Ingo Gildenhard, who travelled all the way down from Durham and Professor Oliver Taplin, whose busy schedule literally saw him jump out of a taxi, give his lecture to rapturous applause, then almost immediately set back out again to Oxford (the jet-setting lifestyle of the academic, eh?).

With the aim of providing support for both the AS and A-Levels syllabuses in Classical Civilisation and Latin, the day’s programme consisted of three pathways from which students could pick and choose. Following registration, Birmingham’s very own Professor Ken Dowden, kicked off the day in style with his keynote address. Covering AS and A-Level Latin, Professor Ingo Gildenhard (Durham), Dr Elena Theodorakopous (Birmingham) and Dr Chris Whitton (Cambridge) gave presentations on Cicero’s In Verrem 2, Ovid’s Amores 3 and Tacitus’ Annals 14 respectively. For AS and A-Level Classical Civilisation, Professor Oliver Taplin (Oxford), Laura Snook (Birmingham) and Dr Niall Livingstone (Birmingham) spoke on Greek Tragedy, Greek Art and Architecture and Greek Comedy. While our third pathway, designed as a miscellany of general interest talks, invited Emma Southon (Birmingham), Dr Carl Buckland (Nottingham) and Dr Niall McKeown (Birmingham) to muse on Caligula, Women in the Ancient World and Slavery in the Ancient World. After lunch, the entire cohort got together to hear Dr Juliette Harrison (OU and Birmingham) present on Virgil, rounding off the day with Dr Liz Gloyn’s extremely well received talk on Classics and Film.

As this was our first Sixth Form Conference and due to the relative newness of our re-formed CA branch we made sure to survey our attendees for their feedback and feel that all future events will benefit from their helpful suggestions. For example, with talks beginning at 10am through to 3.30pm we feel that the programme could be condensed and would benefit from drawing to a close around the 1-2pm mark, especially considering the lack of catering facilities on campus at the weekend. Moreover, we anticipate that the programme for next year’s conference will be available much earlier in advance to ensure maximum attendance and will expand its remit to support the AQA, as well as the OCR, syllabus.

With our new logo in circulation, courtesy of Luke Holliday, a Graphic Design student from Solihull College, the re-formed BMCA will soon be entering into its second year of proceedings and would like to extend its thanks to all those of you who have attended events thus far. Consolidating this year’s successes, the next promises to be even better, kicking off in October (exact date to be confirmed) with Professor Edith Hall as speaker for our Autumn Lecture.

You can find further details of the Birmingham & Midlands Branch on the CA website here, or by searching Facebook for ‘Birmingham and Midlands Classical Association’.

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Getting the most out of the CA conference

By Dr Liz Gloyn

Attending your first conference can be a nerve-wracking experience, and giving your first paper can be even more stressful. However, a little bit of forethought and preparation can make the whole experience much smoother and more enjoyable. For those who may be attending or presenting for the first time at the Classical Association conference in April, here are some top tips on making sure you get the best out of the experience.

Writing The Paper

  1. Make your argument obvious. Be absolutely clear about why your audience will benefit from listening to what you have to say. What is new and exciting about your research? Why are you changing the way people think? Make sure you clearly state your main point more frequently than you would in a written piece – this means your audience has multiple opportunities to absorb the information.
  2. Keep to the time limit. Your paper must fit into the CA’s twenty minute time slot.
  3. Remember that you are speaking, not writing. Keep your sentences shorter, more so than you would in your writing, as listeners will be able to follow your argument more easily.
  4. Practice reading your paper. Make sure you know the shape of each sentence, where the emphasis will fall and what direction the paper moves in. Listen for the places where you might rewrite passages to make them easier to say (and thus to understand).
  5. Make sure you begin and end your talk well. Begin with a couple of sentences to contextualise your work, and end with a clear summary of what you have said, so your audience knows you are rounding off your argument.

Delivering The Paper

  1. Remember that you are giving a performance. Speak confidently and at a sensible speed. Whatever you do, remember to sound excited about what you’re saying – if you aren’t enthused about your subject, why should your audience be?
  2. Think about your body language. Try to establish eye contact with your audience as much as possible. Watch out for slips in your posture, like swaying from side to side or jumping from one foot to the other. Be aware of what your hands are doing.
  3. Be sensible about your presentation aides. Powerpoints are useful if you have images, figures, tables or site maps to display; if you will mainly be discussing texts, then handouts with margins for people to scribble their own notes on will be more useful.
  4. Don’t panic if you don’t get any questions. This doesn’t mean your paper was a failure – it means that you thoroughly convinced your audience of your point.
  5. Manage your crisis in advance. Back up your paper in something like Dropbox. Have a copy of your paper and handout or Powerpoint e-mailed to yourself. If you are travelling by plane, keep the paper copy of your talk in your hand luggage.

Attending The Conference

  1. Do your preparation. Have a look at the conference program, find out who you know who is going, work out what you want to hear and who you want to catch up with.
  2. Be willing to experiment. Pick a panel you know absolutely nothing about that sounds interesting, and go along. You may hear something unexpectedly helpful for your own research.
  3. Take an interest in other people’s work. Think of questions for speakers, either during the discussion period or to follow up with them afterwards. The subject matter of papers also always gives you material to start up a conversation during the breaks.
  4. Network – and remember what networking is about. The primary goal of networking is to meet interesting people work on interesting things, not to engage in some kind of Machiavellian mind game. Be guided by your genuine curiosity and enthusiasm about classics, and you’ll start meeting people who are as fascinated by your work as you are by theirs – which is the point.
  5. Remember that conferences are supposed to be fun! For all the pressure involved in preparing for conferences, they are great opportunities to meet interesting people, hear exciting new ideas and continue learning about the discipline. Try not to forget that once you’re actually on the ground.


Dr Liz Gloyn is a teaching fellow at the University of Birmingham and specialises in Roman Literature.  She is also a regular blogger – you can read more about her work and find other useful posts on her blog, Classically Inclined. (Picture courtesy of Nick Metcalfe)

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Hull: the visitor’s perspective

By Penelope Goodman

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Hull to give a talk on Roman cities for a joint meeting of the local Classical and Historical Associations. My title was ‘Roman cities from the outside in: the visitor’s perspective’, and my basic point was that if we really want to understand how people in the ancient world experienced their cities and thought about where to place their buildings, then looking at a plan of the city drawn from above is not actually very helpful. People in the ancient world did know how to make city plans, but they were the sort of rare prestige project that might be commissioned by an emperor to form part of the state archives – not something ordinary people would use as they navigated their way around. Instead, most people experienced urban landscapes from the very human perspective of standing on the ground and moving around their environment. As visitors, this meant that they experienced new cities step by step, never seeing the whole city at once but instead viewing each individual building in a sequence, and accumulating insights into the character of the community which they were visiting as they did so. What’s more, local communities clearly knew this, and their small-scale planning decisions reveal a distinct preference for placing prestigious monuments or facilities likely to be attractive to visitors on major through-routes into the city.

Having never been to Hull myself before I went to deliver my talk, I was in a very good position to explain the difference between a map view and a human view of a city by talking about my own journey. As many people do nowadays, I looked Hull up on Google maps before setting off, which gave me an idea of its overall layout and allowed me to see which route I would drive in along. But the map view didn’t convey much of the real texture of the city – things like what actually catches the eye when you are standing in middle of it, which are the newer and older neighbourhoods, or which roads are prone to traffic jams. It wasn’t until I drove in along the A63 that I could really appreciate the scale of the Humber estuary and understand why it has been so important to the development of the city, or experience the mixture of edge-of-town warehouses, 60s tower-blocks and Victorian pubs that allowed me to place Hull in the same category as other cities I already knew like Birmingham or Leeds, and grasp the basic elements of its history and modern character.

My destination was the city’s Danish church – a building which itself says a great deal about Hull’s history as a major international port. There I was welcomed warmly by Sylvia Usher from the Historical Association and Margaret Nicholson from the Classical Association, who took me into town to visit the Hull and East Riding Museum, and especially to see the fantastic mosaics which they have there from a number of wealthy Roman villas in the surrounding area. Google maps certainly hadn’t primed me to expect the 17th and 18th century merchants’ houses which line the High Street in the museum quarter, and suddenly reminded me strongly of nearby York. By the time we’d finished with the museum, eaten a delicious Chinese meal and returned to the Danish church, I felt that I’d really come to know Hull on a human level as a rich and varied city with a very interesting history.

But at that point it was time to turn to some rather older cities. I took Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia as my case-studies, because they are some of the best-known and best-preserved cities of Roman Italy. I showed the audience how the busiest routes into Pompeii and Ostia were lined with lavish tomb monuments, each celebrating the status and achievements of individuals, but also collectively showing off the wealth, piety and social hierarchy of the community as a whole to any approaching visitors who cared to look. Meanwhile, for Herculaneum, we thought about what the seafront terraces must have looked like from the point of view of a boat on the sea, with the buildings rising in stacks above you and an eminent town patron raising his hand as though in greeting. Next, we considered the significance of city walls as markers of the ‘true’ boundaries of the city, and noted that many city gates had niches or altars where the experience of entering into the heart of the community could be marked appropriately via a religious offering.

Once metaphorically ‘inside’ our three cities, we traced the likely routes of visitors through the street network – past fountains and shop-counters carefully placed to catch their eye in Pompeii, or the sophisticated curves of a vast theatre fronting right onto the main street running through Ostia. Finally, we considered the likely main destination of most visitors – the forum (central square at the heart of the city), bustling with activity and lined with impressive civic and religious monuments, many of them consciously designed to signal the close links between the local civic community and the fashionable grandeur of Rome. By the time we got there, we had built up a real sense of the sorts of things an ancient community would want to show off to outsiders – its wealth, its sophistication, its prominent citizens, its entertainment facilities, its capacity for self-government, the goods for sale in its shops and its connections with the capital. Of course not every building in every city was commissioned or located purely to cater to the perspective of the visitor – but it would be hard to understand the design of a Roman city in any real depth without keeping at least one eye on the experiences of real people moving about its streets.

I always love sharing my enthusiasm about the ancient world with other people, and I’m glad to say my audience seemed to enjoy it too. I had a packed house of a good forty or more people, who kept me busy with all sorts of great questions afterwards – like what sort of smells the visitor might have experienced (all sorts!), whether cities in places like Roman Britain would be designed according to the same principles (yes indeed), what levels of social inequality we can detect by looking at things like house sizes (almost always very considerable disparities), and whether ancient communities might also demonstrate their control over law and order by displaying the bodies of executed criminals along major approach roads, Spartacus style (sometimes, yes, especially at crossroads). I must say that last one is one way in which I’m rather glad my visit to Hull didn’t resemble the experience of a Roman visitor! But even today, looking a map can’t replicate the full experience of going to a city and walking around its streets, complete with their sights, sounds and indeed smells. I’m glad to be able to count Hull now amongst the cities which I have visited properly for myself.

Dr Penelope Goodman is a lecturer at the University of Leeds and specialises in Roman urbanism and sanctuaries of the imperial cult.  For more information on events like this, you can find your local CA Branch and their programme of events here.

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Classical Quarterly Taster

Not so long ago, I published a post about a Greece & Rome taster.  Great news!  There’s now something similar for Classical Quarterly!  Pop over to the CUP website to view some of the highlights from the 2011 issues of Classical Quarterly.

Don’t forget, members of the CA can subscribe to the journals at dramatically reduced rates, so to stay up to date with leading scholarly opinion, why not add a journal subscription when you renew or take out your membership?

And that’s not all!  A recent Greece & Rome article, “Deformity in the Roman Imperial Court” by Lisa Trentin was featured in the latest issue of BBC History Magazine (vol.13 (2) Feb. 2012, p.14).  You can find the Greece & Rome article here.

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Homer for Everyone

By Dr Jenny March

Lots of people have wondered what I am doing, now that I am no longer editing CA News, so let me tell you about my current classical project, one dear to my heart.  You might almost say that I have been overtaken by missionary zeal.  Charlotte Higgins wrote in her admirable little It’s All Greek To Me, “A life without Homer is a life half lived”, and my aim is to bring Homer within the grasp of absolutely anyone who might wish it.  I am working on what I call A Pocket Homer, a condensation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey into one volume by using a combination of narrative and translation, the narrative to telescope the action and the translation of key passages to give a real flavour of Homer.  And there will be a good introduction to Homer and the Homeric world.

There are many people out there, mostly students, probably mostly young, who have to come to grips with Homer.  I want to give them a relatively easily acquired grasp of what Homer is all about, both Iliad and Odyssey, before they get down to studying their necessary passages in greater detail.  There are countless more out there, not students, probably not so young, who would like — or feel they ought — to be familiar with Homer, but are put off by the length and apparent inaccessibility of his works.  I want them to pick up my book and find that Homer is not so unapproachable after all.  That, yes, he is within their reach.  With luck they will go on to read either the Iliad or Odyssey, or both, in a full translation.  They might even (dream on, Jenny) decide to learn Greek, so that they can come face to face with Homer in the original.  Well, if they live anywhere near Tavistock in Devon, I am happy to teach them.

So what I want from you, dear readers, are your comments on all this.  I have already done my condensation of the Iliad, but I have not yet been able to find a publisher and I am loath to embark on the Odyssey before I have some feedback on what I am aiming to do.  So am I barking up the wrong tree, flogging a dead horse, or whatever?  Or will this truly, as I hope, be valuable?  Here is a sample of my condensed Iliad, the fateful quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon in Book 1.

Sing, Muse, the wrath of Peleus’ son, Achilles,

the accursed wrath that brought countless sorrows

to the Achaeans [the Greeks], hurled down to Hades the souls

of many brave heroes, and left their corpses

a prey for the dogs and all kinds of birds …

This is the beginning of the Iliad, with the very first word in the Greek being menin, “wrath”, the anger of Achilles that will reverberate through the whole work.  This anger begins with a violent quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon over their war spoils.  After a recent raid, Agamemnon has been awarded as one of his prizes a woman, Chryseis, to be his slave.  Her father Chryses, a priest of the god Apollo, is distraught at the loss of his daughter, and he brings to the Greek camp countless gifts as ransom and begs for her release.  The Greek army shouts out its agreement, but Agamemnon refuses and arrogantly drives the old man away under threat of violence:

“Let me not catch you, old man, by our hollow ships,

not loitering now nor coming back in the future,

for your staff and wreath of the god will never protect you.

The girl I shall not release.  Before then, old age shall come on her

in my house, in Argos, far away from her country,

going back and forth at the loom and sharing my bed.

Be off, don’t anger me, so you may go the safer.”

Thus he spoke, and the old man in fear obeyed him.


Apollo the Far-shooter is outraged because of this slight to his priest, and coming to earth he strikes the Greek camp with plague:

Angered in his heart he strode from the peaks of Olympus,

carrying on his shoulders his bow and covered quiver,

and the shafts clashed on the shoulders of the angry god

moving in fury.  He came as night comes down.

Settling far from the ships he let fly an arrow,

and terrible was the sound that rang from his silver bow.

First he killed the mules and the running dogs,

then shot his piercing arrows against the men,

and the funeral pyres burned thick and kept on burning.

For nine days the shafts of the god fell on the army.


On the tenth day the Greeks, summoned by Achilles, hold an assembly, in which Achilles calls on the seer Calchas to explain why Apollo is afflicting them.  Calchas is understandably loath to speak out, afraid that Agamemnon’s wrath may fall on his head; but Achilles reassures him, promising his protection.  At this, Calchas takes courage and explains the god’s anger, adding that the plague will end only after Chryseis has been given back to her father.

Agamemnon, although his heart is filled with rage, reluctantly accepts that he must give up Chryseis to appease Apollo.  But this will leave him without his share of the spoils, which is a slight to his status, so he unwisely says that in recompense he will take the war-prize of some other man, maybe even of Achilles himself.  The furious Achilles responds to this injustice by threatening to leave Troy and take his ships and men home to Phthia:

“You cunning, greedy man, garbed in shamelessness!

How could any one of the Achaeans readily obey your words,

to go on an expedition or to fight bravely in battle?

I never came here to war because of the spearmen of Troy,

for to me they are guilty of nothing.  They never drove away

my cattle or horses, never in Phthia, rich land of heroes,

did they lay waste my corn, for many things lie be­tween us,

the shadowy mountains and the loud-sounding sea.

But you we followed here, you heap of shamelessness,

for your pleasure, dog-face, to win honour for you,

and for Menelaus too, at the hands of the Trojans.

But you forget all this, or else you think nothing of it.

And now you threaten in person to take away my prize,

the one I fought for hard, the gift of the sons of the Achaeans.

Never have I a prize equal to yours, when the Achaeans

destroy a well-peopled stronghold of the Trojans.

No, the brunt of the painful combat do my hands bear,

but when it is time to share the booty, your prize is always

greater by far, while I go back to my ships with something

small, but dear to me, when I am exhausted by fighting.

Now I shall go back to Phthia, seeing it is better by far

to return home with my beaked ships.  I do not intend

to stay here dishonoured and pile up your wealth and riches.


Agamemnon, furious in his turn, replies:

“Run away then, if so your heart urges you,

I’ll not beg you to stay on my account.  With me are others

who will do me honour, and most of all ever-wise Zeus.

Of all the kings loved by the gods I hate you the most,

for always strife is dear to you, and wars and battles,

and though you are very strong, that is a god’s gift.

Go home then with your ships and your comrades,

be king over the Myrmidons.  I care nothing for you,

nothing for your anger.  But here is my threat to you:

Since Phoebus Apollo has taken away my Chryseis

… I shall come myself to your hut and take away

the fair-cheeked Briseis, your prize, and you will learn

how much greater I am than you.”


Achilles loves Briseis dearly: she is promised to him in marriage (19.297-9), and he calls her his “dear wife” (9.336).  And he says, once she has been taken from him, “every man loves the woman who is his, and cares for her, just as I loved this one from my heart, even though I won her by my spear” (9.342-3).  But there was more to it than this.  Since a warrior’s heroic standing relied not only on prowess in battle, but on visible possessions and spoils of vic­tory, Achilles now feels himself dishonoured by the loss of his prize, as well as pained by the loss of a beloved woman.

At first he is so angry that he considers killing Agamemnon.  He has drawn his great sword half way from its sheath when the goddess Athene suddenly appears, visible to him alone, and catches him by the hair, telling him to channel his rage into words, not actions.  He obeys her.  He thrusts his blade back into its sheath and rages at Agamemnon:

“You drunken sot, with your dog’s eyes and deer’s heart,

never do you have the courage to arm with your people for battle,

nor to go into ambush along with the best of the Achaeans,

for that to you threatens death.  Better by far, you think,

to go through the wide camp of the Achaeans and take away

the gifts of a man who speaks out against you.  Men-devouring king,

it must be you rule over nobodies; otherwise, son of Atreus,

this would have been your last outrageous act.”


He is no longer willing to fight.  He will withdraw from battle, and he swears a great oath to Agamemnon that they will all regret the loss of their best warrior.  “I swear there will come a time when a longing for Achilles will be felt by the sons of the Achaeans, by every one of them,” he cries, “and on that day, for all your sorrow, you will be able to do nothing to help, when many of them drop and die before man-slaughtering Hector.  Then you will eat your heart out in anger that you did no honour to the best of the Achaeans.”

Old Nestor, king of Pylos in Messenia and wise counsellor of the Greek leaders, tries to make peace between the two furious men, urging Agamemnon not to take Briseis, and Achilles not to rebel against his leader.  They ignore his advice.  Achilles with­draws from the fighting, taking his Myrmidon followers and his comrade Patroclus with him, and retires to his shelter.  Agamemnon delivers Chryseis into the hands of Odysseus, to be taken home by sea to her father, then gives stern instructions to his heralds Talthybius and Eurybates: “Go to the hut of Peleus’ son Achilles.  Take fair-cheeked Briseis by the hand and bring her here.  But if he will not give her up, then I shall come in person with a body of men to take her for myself — and it will be the worse for him.”

The heralds obey him, though reluctantly, but Achilles gives them no trouble.  He sends Patroclus to bring Briseis from his shelter, then the heralds duly return to Agamemnon:

… and with them, all unwilling, went the woman.

But Achilles, weeping, went and sat far from his comrades

on the shore of the grey sea, looking out on the endless deep.

Many times, reaching out his arms, he called on his mother:

“Since, mother, you bore me to have only a short life,

so at least Olympian Zeus, he who thunders on high,

should grant me honour.  But now he gives not even a little,

for now the son of Atreus, wide-ruling Agamemnon,

has dishonoured me, has seized my prize for himself, and keeps it.”


His mother, the sea goddess Thetis, hears his sorrow and comes from the deeps of the ocean to comfort him.  He begs her to intercede for him with Zeus, asking the great god to grant success to the Trojans in his absence, so that the Greeks will be sure to feel the lack of their supreme warrior.  She explains that she cannot do this just yet, because Zeus and the other gods have recently left snowy Olympus for eleven days, visiting the Ethiopians at the great river of Ocean.  When they return on the twelfth day, then she will do as her son asks.

Meanwhile Odysseus and his crew bring Chryseis home to her father, who takes her joyfully in his arms.  They sacrifice to Apollo to win back his favour, while Chryses prays that the god will now lift the plague from the Greeks — and Apollo hears his prayer.  Night falls, and they sleep.  Then:

When early Dawn appeared with her rosy fingers,

then they set sail for the broad camp of the Achaeans,

and Apollo who works from afar sent them a favouring wind.

They set up the mast and spread out wide the white sails,

and the wind filled out the belly of the sails, and the dark wave

sang loud around the keel as the ship sped on her way,

running swiftly over the waves to the end of her journey.

But when they were come to the broad camp of the Achaeans,

they hauled the black ship up on the shore, high on the sands,

and underneath her set in line the long props,

then each went his way to his own ship and shelter.

But he was sitting in anger beside his swift ships,

divinely-born son of Peleus, swift-footed Achilles.

Never now did he go to assemblies where men win glory,

never did he go into battle, but stayed just here,

wasting his heart away, yearning for war-cries and combat.


Do write to me at the old address, Ward House, Walkhampton, Devon PL20 6JY (or email me at jennymarch[at]intamail.com) with your thoughts.  It will be good to hear from old friends.

Dr Jenny March established CA News, which she edited for 20 years, and which is sent to all members twice a year.  You can find out more about CA News here, or become a member to start receiving it!

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Saturnalia Quiz

By Caroline Lawrence

Here is a quiz for you to test your knowledge of the Roman SATURNALIA and its influence on modern Christmas.

1. During the Roman Empire, some celebrated the birth of which famous

Mithras in the British Museum… but when was he born?

person on 25 December?

a) Julius Caesar
b) Mithras, the Persian god of light
c) Jesus Christ
d) Asterix

2. Three days before 25 December, what event occurs?

a) Summer Solstice
b) Summer Equinox
c) Winter Solstice
d) Winter Equinox

3. The Romans gave gifts on the Saturnalia. Which of the following did they NOT give?

a) chocolate
b) silver objects
c) preserved fruit
d) small clay or wooden figures

4. The mottoes and riddles in Christmas crackers might go back to the Roman practice of

a) hiring comic actors to deliver gifts
b) writing epigrams for Saturnalia gifts
c) Roman singing telegrams (in dactylic pentameter)
d) memorizing and reciting lines from Virgil’s Aeneid as a Saturnalia party trick

5. Which ONE of the following Christmas customs did NOT orignate in the Saturnalia:

‘King’ of the Saturnalia?

a) feasting
b) drinking
c) putting up lights
d) putting up greenery
e) Santa and his reindeer
f) giving gifts
g) taking time off work

6. In first century Rome, which illegal practice was permitted only during the Saturnalia?

a) murder
b) theft
c) witchcraft
d) gambling

7. The paper crown in British Christmas crackers reminds us of the Roman custom of:

a) choosing a ‘King’ of the Saturnalia
b) Caesar legalizing festivities
c) the Etruscan king Tarquin
d) It has nothing to do with any Roman custom

8. Santa’s red conical hat might well be traced back to hats worn during Saturnalia by:

A pilleum, but who wore it?

a) Trojans
b) Greeks
c) Persians
d) Smurfs
e) freedmen

9. Here are some more Christmas customs which might go back to the Saturnalia. Which one is bogus?

a) mulled wine
b) Christmas stockings
c) singing songs
d) pantomime

10. Which of the following foods was certainly NOT part of the Saturnalia feast?

a) hot chestnuts
b) honey-glazed ham
c) turkey and mashed potato
d) roast peacock

Answers: 1 = b; 2 = c; 3 = a; 4 = b; 5 = e; 6 = d; 7 = a; 8 = e; 9 = b; 10 = c

Caroline, dressed for the Saturnalia

Caroline Lawrence won the 2009 Classical Association Prize.  To find out more about the Saturnalia, check out her blog about A Roman Christmas!  And a fun kids’ book set in first century Rome during the Saturnalia is The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina in her Roman Mysteries series.

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