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Drinking Parties in Ancient Greece

08:17, Thu 26 Aug 2010

James Davidson and David Fearn discuss ancient Greek bards and their booze.

The study of classics is the study of the consumption of alcohol. Archaic and classical Greek culture was steeped in spirit: the ancient elite recited lyrical poetry during drinking parties; large cohorts of Greek citizens celebrated the god of wine by performing tragedies and comedies at annual festivals; the common crowd enjoyed the pleasures of the pub, at least in democratic cities; and the pots produced in their hundreds of thousands with their beautiful paintings illustrate that the Greeks took drinking very seriously indeed.

And lest we forget: philosophy also drew on drink. Socrates famously could outdrink them all. Plato celebrated love and lust in his work The Drinking Party, better known as the Symposium. He demonstrates that our desire for beautiful objects and people can lead us to the idea of the pure good. ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

But how did the Greeks organise their drinking parties? Why did wine play such a central role in classical Greek culture? And is it really true that most of Greek art and literature is intimately connected with alcoholic orgies?


Roman Elegy: Pain is so Close to Pleasure

13:39, Tue 1 Jun 2010

Ian Fielding discusses elegiac poetry about passion, pain, and pleasure.

Love, longing, lament, loneliness: these feelings found a lyrical outlet in Roman elegy. In this poetic form, the dropouts and outcasts of society gave voice to their excruciating torment of not having, or of no longer having the person they love and desire. In the twilight of the declining old Republic, Catullus sang of his inner turmoil; at the dawn of the new Roman Empire, Tibullus and Ovid wept at their lover’s door. Then later, as the Goths sacked the city of Rome and its Empire sank into insignificance, elegiac poetry reappeared again.
This genre also contains some rather unexpected treasures: we find advice on where to meet girls, how to seduce them, and how to enjoy together with them Aphrodite’s ultimate ecstasy; or we come across a Greek slave girl singing a ditty on a male member that can no longer manage to fulfil its function.
But why did the Romans turn to elegy? How did elegiac poets succeed in fascinating generations of readers? And why are the fate and fortune of the Roman polity so intimately linked to this genre?


Renaissance Thought: the Lost Continent between Logic and the Occult

10:25, Fri 22 Jan 2010

Peter Mack and Maude Vanhalen discuss one of the most vibrant periods in human history.

The European Renaissance is one of those periods in history when everything seemed possible. The rediscovery of Greek texts led to a rebirth of literature and learning. Scholars across Europe and beyond formed a republic of letters, communicating across country and creed in a common language, Latin. Moreover, in this shared intellectual space, the arts and sciences flourished in extraordinary ways. It was the time when Plato rivalled Aristotle, when logic triumphed, when the light of reason pushed away the obscurantist clouds of a bygone age, as a Renaissance writer might put it. The Renaissance also witnessed a great concern with the occult: angels and demons, magic and mysteries were part and parcel of this enlightened age.
And yet, the Renaissance has now largely become a lost continent. The thousands and thousands of texts written in Latin and immortalised through the new invention of printing now lie largely unread and unstudied. For few are those who have enough Latin to peruse them.
But what were the intellectual and political forces which made this age of rediscovery and progress possible? Who were the scholars who brought Greek thought to Italy and the rest of Western Europe? And how did Platonic philosophy pave the way for numerology, demonology, and mysticism?


Medicine and Classicism in a Comparative Perspective

21:35, Thu 29 Oct 2009

David Arnold and Peter E Pormann discuss the idea of the classic in medicine.

Medical systems often resorted to constructing a classical past in order to shape and legitimise current medical theory and practice. This wish to forge a classical tradition appears to be a truly global and diachronic phenomenon. Greek doctors in particular served as a model of reference for many variegated cultures and societies. In second-century Rome, tenth-century Baghdad, sixteenth-century Florence, and eighteenth-century London, physicians used Hippocrates as a medical authority and deferred to him as the ‘father of medicine’. Other ‘classical’ authors emerged in various contexts: Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā) became the ‘prince of physicians’ during the medieval period in the Latin West and Arabic- and Persian-speaking East. The Indian and Chinese medical systems selected and constructed their own classics. Moreover, even today, the appeal to a classic such as Avicenna can sanction medical practice in so-called ‘traditional’ health system found in the Middle East, Africa, or India.
But what does it mean to be a medical ‘classic’? How do different cultures forge their own medical tradition through references to classical authors? And how does medical classicism impact on current health practices?


Sex in the Ancient World

11:58, Wed 21 Oct 2009

James Davidson and Dan Orrells discuss the nature and impact of Greek love.

‘Now sex. Sex, sex, sex. Where were we?’ This is a memorable line from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Sex produced us; it surrounds us, lures us, tempts us; it intrigues and entertains us, yet also abashes and disconcerts us. Few topics have enthralled and enticed scholars more than sex, but few topics are also seen with more suspicion and reservation. Think of the public school master played by John Cleese in the sketch just mentioned: he has to teach sex to a class of bored boys. He makes a mockery of the whole thing, because his dry detachment and scientific descriptions clash with the content of such a hot and emotional subject.
Sexuality as well as sex and gender are now firmly part of academic discourses in the humanities. Classics in particular has a lot to contribute, since so many things sexual seem to originate in Graeco-Roman antiquity. After all, Lesbian love, homosexuality, and the Oedipus complex all go back to parts of the Greek past. And sex is a Latin word.
But how did the Greeks conceive of love, lust, and sexual longings? Did homosexuality play a prominent part in classical societies? And how did Greek ideas about sex and gender impact on modern times?


The first emperor and the queen of inscriptions: Augustus in his own words

14:57, Thu 1 Oct 2009

Alison Cooley, of Warwick’s Classics department, discusses Augustus’ account of his long reign.

During the last days of the Roman Republic, one man emerged victorious: Octavian, Caesar’s adoptive son, later called Augustus. After his ascent to power, he pacified large parts of the known world. In Rome, he kept the populace happy with bread and circuses, and slowly eliminated all opposition. Yet he also had to confront major set-backs. For instance, the scandalous infidelity of his daughter and granddaughter became the gossip of the empire.
Augustus built himself a massive mausoleum, and composed an account of his reign, which was placed onto pillars outside it after his death. It is the ‘queen of inscriptions’, and survives in three copies from Galatia, in central Turkey.
So who was this man who became the first emperor of Rome, and shaped history like few others? How did Augustus obtain and retain his colossal power for nearly half a century? And how does his account, recorded in the ‘queen of inscriptions’, differ from other historical sources?


Graeco-Arabic Studies

09:27, Mon 28 Sep 2009

Bink Hallum and Uwe Vagelpohl discuss the formation of the Islamic civilisation through translation

Alchemy and alcohol are only two of the many Arabic words which came all the way to Albion. The word ‘alchemy’ had to travel a long distance: original a Greek term used in Hellenised Egypt, it passed into Arabic, Latin, French, and finally English. Translation made this transfer of ideas possible.
During the heyday of the Islamic empire in the eighth to tenth centuries, a massive translation movement from Greek into Arabic took place. Without it, our modern world would hardly be the same. No algebra and algorithms, for instance; no chemistry and no medicine as we know it. Islam itself would be unrecognisable, because Muslim theologians and lawyers used the tools of Greek logic and argumentation to develop their own disciplines.
Graeco-Arabic studies, a rapidly growing field within Classics, investigates this translation movement. Why were nearly all available Greek texts translated into Arabic? How did these translations lay the foundation for much of Muslim civilisation? And who were the people who produced them?


Epic Poetry: from Homer to Virgil

21:16, Sun 24 May 2009

David Fearn and Andrew Laird of Warwick’s Classics department discuss the vagaries of epic poetry.

War and peace, love and longing, and a hero’s home-coming—these are epic themes. We have all encountered them somewhere: on the big or small screen, in books, or perhaps even ourselves. Epics tell great tales of immortal gods and mortal men, of whole civilisations rising and falling. And yet, they also team with the many facets of the human condition, with grief and guilt, bereavement and betrayal, passion and persecution, death and desire.
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey mark both the end of oral poetry and the beginning of literature. In the Aeneid, Virgil continues the tale of Troy and recounts the epic events leading to the foundation of Rome.
But what are these epics really about? How is the ambient social and political order reflected in these great classics? And how do small people feature in these grant narratives?



17:27, Wed 18 Mar 2009

Kevin Butcher and Stan Ireland of Warwick’s Classics department discuss the fascinating story of money in the classical world.

Money makes the world go round. From buying bread to waging war, you always need money. But money did not always exist. In the Classical world we can witness the birth of the money economy. Scholars who actually deal with ancient coins are called numismatists. Their discipline tells us a lot about ancient societies and how they worked in practical terms. Some aspects seem rather strange: to buy cabbage, you needed first needed minuscule coins, because the face value still corresponded to the value of the metal. Later on, governments resorted to ‘quantitative easing’ in times of troubles just as they do today; in other words: they printed money. But when and why did the Greeks start using coins? Could one easily pay in Alexandria and Athens with the same currency? And did the images of emperors in people’s pockets improve their popularity?