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The gadfly of Athens

Ben Stevens H P Stevens20 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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Myth and the birth of drama

Ben Stevens H P Stevens21 May 2013

These days, when people think of classical drama they think of Greek tragedy. Professor Gesine Manuwald (UCL Greek & Latin) sought to redress this notion with her enticingly-titled lecture, ‘Drama & theatre in ancient Rome: braggart soldiers, parasites & murderers’ on 15 May, which formed part of the UCL Festival of the Arts.

She began by outlining how Roman drama grew out of the regular festivals and ceremonies held in Republican Rome to honour various gods.Greek theatrical mask

In 364 BC, the magistrates of Rome decided to introduce performances and Etruscan dancing to appease the gods after an outbreak of pestilence. However, it wasn’t until 240 BC that they commissioned Livius Andronicus (Rome’s first poet) to write a play – the first of its kind – one year after the Punic War to celebrate the victory.

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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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Why Classical Studies is important

news editor9 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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