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Philosophy and theatre

uclzean4 June 2014

Friedrich Nietzche

Friedrich Nietzsche

Forty minutes into Tom Stern’s (UCL Philosophy) UCL Festival of the Arts lecture he had the audience humming a drone-like melody and clapping their hands in time. A 12-strong tragic chorus concealed their faces with masks and turned to the stage as two volunteers recited the opening lines of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex.

CREON: Before you came, my lord, to steer our ship of state, Laius ruled this land.

OEDIPUS: I have heard that, but I never saw the man.

CREON: Laius was killed. And now the god is clear: those murderers, he tells us, must be punished, whoever they may be.

OEDIPUS: And where are they? In what country? Where am I to find a trace of this ancient crime? It will be hard to track.

The audience continued to hum and clap but the hedonism was soon interrupted due to a complaint from a conference in the room below. A pity as it interrupted the near completion of the Apollonian unity Nietzsche had envisioned these events to be about. We had, at least, tasted what it would have been like to be at a religious worship of Dionysus that took place in amphitheatres over festival periods in Ancient Greece.

Stern is fresh from the publication of his book entitled Philosophy and Theatre which investigates how the two relate. He began by providing background into the history of both. This inevitably led to Ancient Greece, the birthplace of western philosophy and western theatre. ‘The tradition begins here. Both are Greek words. Philosophy means the love of wisdom  and theatron means a place for viewing’.

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Brain Anatomy and the Ancient Olympics

news editor4 July 2012

Annette Mitchell,  PhD student (UCL Greek & Latin)

Linking neuroscience and the ancient Olympics appears curious at first sight, but after hearing Professor Semir Zeki (UCL Neuroesthetics) express how neuroscience can illuminate ideological elements of the ancient Olympics these differing subjects proved to be a stimulating pairing.

The setting was a discussion on 28 June between Professor Zeki and Professor Chris Carey (UCL Greek and Latin) entitled The pursuit of Olympic ideals – physical, neural and aesthetic. Professor Zeki asked Professor Carey about aspects related to the ancient Olympics and concluded by providing neuro-anatomical explanations for them.

The Original Olympics
Professor Carey began by introducing the ancient Olympics, which is commonly believed to have first occurred in 776 BC. The Games were likely instituted so that the various ancient Greek city-states, which were often at war, could peacefully compete. The Olympic Games were, essentially, sublimated aggressive impulses.

Olympic competitors were, indeed, ruthless. In the pancrateon – a wrestling competition – any move, however harmful, was tolerated, provided it did not kill an opponent, which was “frowned upon”.

Athletics undergirded by aggression became part of the fabric of Greek culture. Indeed, everywhere the Greeks subsequently founded cites there were always wrestling arenas and gymnasiums (sporting grounds).

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Training, cheating, winning, praising: athletes and shows in papyri from Roman Egypt

Lubomira Gadjourov29 June 2012

In keeping with the Olympic spirit, on Wednesday 20 June, UCL in collaboration with the British Academy held three short lectures on the public games held in Roman Egypt, as revealed to us by recently restored papyri.

PapyrusChaired by Professor Dominic Rathbone (Kings College London, Ancient History), the featured talks were held at the Academy’s headquarters and led by Professor Christopher Carey (Head of UCL Greek & Latin), Emeritus Professor William J. Slater (McMaster University, Canada), and Margaret Mountford (Corporate lawyer, holding a PhD in papyrology from UCL).

An excavation made between 1896 and 1897 at Behnesa, the Roman Oxyrhynchus, unearthed the largest collection of Greek papyri from the Roman period found to date.

Still in the process of being restored, some nine volumes, equating to approximately 3,000 pages, have been published and the lectures focused on different aspects of what they reveal to us about competitive sport in ancient Rome.

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Ancient Egyptian or Greek? Fit Bodies debate

Lubomira Gadjourov27 June 2012

Who had the better body, the ancient Egyptians or the ancient Greeks? What do we even mean by “fit” exactly?  Is what we understand fit to be today the same as what it was in ancient times?

These are some of the questions that were brought up in the light-hearted discussion between Debbie Challis (UCL Petrie Museum) and Chris Naunton (Egypt Exploration Society) at the Petrie Museum on Tuesday 19 June. The talk accompanies the exhibition in the UCL Cloisters, entitled Fit Bodies: Statues, Athletes and Power.

Arguing his case first, for the ancient Egyptians, Chris Naunton brought up the very valid point, that even today the meanings of the word “fit” are numerous. One suggested meaning is, “To be the proper size and shape” – what is meant by “proper”, however, is fairly ambiguous.

Among the proposed definitions are: “To be suitable for a certain purpose”, as well as “To be physically sound, athletic, sporting” and lastly, the more colloquial, “To be sexually attractive”.

We learned that the human body as it is portrayed in ancient Egyptian art and sculptures differs with regard to the person being illustrated.

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