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The gadfly of Athens

BenStevens20 February 2014

“You are the incarnation of the good life”. As opening gambits go, it’s a sure-fire way to win over an audience and a compelling way to begin a lecture about Socrates.

Bettany Hughes

Bettany Hughes

But then, through her extensive TV work, author and historian Bettany Hughes knows all about how to captivate modern audiences with tales from antiquity and her public talk, ‘Athens: the theatre for Socrates’ ideas’, on 13 February was no exception.

The lecture was part of Ancient Plays for Modern Mind – a public engagement programme organised by UCL Greek & Latin, which was certainly doing its job, judging by the large number of eager sixth-form students sat around me.

Hughes began the lecture proper by explaining the meaning behind her “incarnation” comment; that by attending her talk and engaging in face-to-face debate, we were participating in one of the joys of life – at least as far as Socrates was concerned.

Having recently been asked by a journalist why the philosopher is relevant today, she told us that, although she could have supplied them with a book-length answer, her eventual reply was much shorter.

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The Ancient Olympics

newseditor25 June 2012

  Annette Mitchell, UCL Greek & Latin PhD student

The first Olympic Games are thought to have occurred in 776 BCE. It was held at Olympia in honour of Zeus and was the first in a series of four Panhellenic games.

These Panhellenic games, held in honour of other Gods, also consisted of the Pythian, Nemean and Isthmian Games, and were attended by delegates from the various Greek city-states. The last Olympics occurred in 394 CE in order to supress paganism in favour of Christianity.

The ancient roots of this now modernised global event are often forgotten and Professor Chris Carey of the UCL Greek and Latin Department has organised a series of events – listed on the Roman Society website – in the run up to the London 2012 Olympics to jog our ‘memory’.

These events focus on various aspects relating to the ancient Greek roots of the games. These include ancient ideas regarding anatomical ideals and the ideology of victory, and modern aspects such as the revival of the games in Athens in 1896.

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Why Classical Studies is important

newseditor9 May 2012

Annette Mitchell writes about Professor Miriam Leonard’s inaugural lecture.

Is Classics important today? After studying ancient history for more than 10 years, many people ask me what can you do with it? And it is a question I often asked myself until I started reading Freud and got curious about all the references he made to antiquity. By sheer coincidence, when I was accepted for a PhD on this subject in 2007 Miriam Leonard was joining the Greek and Latin Department and she became my supervisor.

I had heard of her before, but I thought it would be a good move to read more of her work and rooted out a copy of Athens in Paris: Ancient Greece and the Political in Post-War French Thought (2005). This was the first time I really got a sense of ‘Reception Studies’.

‘Reception Studies’, as a sub-discipline of Classical Studies, not only covers how antiquity is received in future times, but also considers how antiquity is used to express important political, social, cultural questions in future times.

Professor Leonard’s inaugural lecture on 1 May, entitled ‘Tragedy and Modernity’, squarely honed in on this latter aspect. She explained how specific German philosophers have used Greek tragedy, in particular Sophocles’ play Oedipus Tyrannos, to express certain conditions, since the mid-1700s.

Professor Leonard mainly concentrated on Hegel and Freud, explaining how both used Oedipus Tyrannos to encapsulate what they believed to be the modern condition.

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Desirability and domination: Greek sculpture and the modern male body

BenStevens29 June 2011

The portrayal of the modern female body is a perennial subject of academic and public debate, so it was refreshing to attend a lecture last Thursday where the male body was given similar critical attention.

Professor Maria Wyke, UCL Chair of Latin, gave a witty Lunch Hour Lecture at the British Museum entitled ‘Desirability and domination: Greek sculpture and the modern male body’ in which she managed to tease out the connections between classical sculpture, Italian film and the birth of bodybuilding.

She began by explaining how much of our understanding of classical sculpture has been shaped by 18th century German art historian Johan Joachim Winckelmann through his book, The History of the Art of Antiquity.

Watch Professor Wyke’s lecture at the British Museum (45 minutes)

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