Weekend Reading: Living in a Material World

This week I went along to the Launch Event of The Baron Thyssen Centre for the Study of Ancient Material Religion, at London’s imposing Senate House just off Russell Square.



The activities of the new Open University Centre were introduced by the OU’s James Robson, with specifics provided by director Jessica Hughes, Eleanor Betts, Emma-Jayne Graham, Marion Bowman and Phil Perkins. Ranging from Etruscan votives to Glastonbury, and incorporating both The Votives Project and the Sensory Studies in Antiquity network, the brief talks touched on a wide variety of areas and highlighted just how much can be brought together by a focus on ‘material religion’. They made me realise for the first time that some of the work I’ve been doing on chantry statues actually falls under the heading of ‘material religion’, and even has some crossovers with the tradition of votives; and that’s given me some interesting new research avenues to explore.



The keynote speaker was Esther Eidinow from Bristol. Professor Eidinow talked about Greek binding spells: though they’re often seen as mild and metaphorical, a fresh look at the evidence suggests that they may have related quite specifically to a lethal form of legal punishment. It was a fascinating talk which made me want to rush off and re-examine the nearest curse tablet.

Afterwards we adjourned to the grand marble-lined foyer for the real business of the evening: drinking lots of free wine, eating canapes and trying to take selfies with Prof Michael Scott. I had great fun meeting some of my wonderful current undergraduate and postgraduate students, who had made the trek to London especially for the event; and of course seeing the irrepressible Lorne Thyssen, patron of the Centre and one of my former students (yes, I get all the most interesting students!).


Free wine and brilliant students: my idea of a good evening!


Then I was whisked off to Neptune (the seafood restaurant, not the god: sorry, Ovid!) in the nearby Russell Hotel, with good food, fancy wines and some dauntingly intellectual company. I came away from the evening with a long mental list of books I need to read (and, unsurprisingly, a slight hangover).


Up, up, up to the Russell Hotel


With all this fresh in my mind it was interesting to read, a couple of days later, the history of OU Classics written by Professor Emerita Lorna Hardwick for the OU’s 50th birthday. She looks back on struggles over discrimination within the profession, arguments about the status and role of Classics within an Arts curriculum, and times when opportunities have been missed to extend or challenge the scope of Classics. Today she identifies the study of material religion as a growth area within the discipline, and also draws attention to ‘a pressing need to analyse more critically the history of scholarship’. Certainly the new Centre is addressing that first gap; and I suspect that the second will become more and more prominent in OU courses over the next few years.

Aside from the thought-provoking talks and the fabulous company, there were other high spots of my brief trip. Lurking around Russell Square, in the shadow of the Senate House building, gave me the chance to fulfill one of my personal ambitions by sitting on the steps of the old Faber and Faber offices with my T.S. Eliot first edition.

(Yes, I’m weird. I’m a book collector.)



I also got to visit the lovely (or should I say Loebly?!) giant Waterstones on Gower Street, which was pedalling a good line in myth-humour.




And, most importantly, a fancy Classics event gave me a chance to wear my Latin lyric poetry boots, which tend to be difficult to explain in my neighbourhood.


These boots are made for reciting.


So a big thank you, from me to the Centre, for bringing together some of my favourite things: ancient puzzles, brilliant OU folks, and a London adventure. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all develops in the future: it looks set to become a really interesting initiative!

Do keep an eye on upcoming events run by the Centre; there are new events being listed regularly, in Milton Keynes or London – and if this week’s Launch Event is anything to go by, they’ll be worth attending!


I love a trip to London; but it’s always good to get back home to this…!




This week’s links from the four corners of the Classics Internet


March newsletter – The Classical Association 

Fast food in Pompeii – The Guardian 

Naval battle discoveries – The Independent

On Brexit (worth reading for the Tacitus bit!) – The Guardian 


Comment and opinion

Not-wrong translations – Medium 

Anonymous graduate comments – Society for Classical Studies

50 years of Classical Studies at the OU – OU Classics 

Venus and anatomy – Hyperallergic

Being a poet and translator – Society for Classical Studies

Childbirth in the Roman Empire – History Extra 

Antigone and psychoanalysis – The Edithorial 

Bizarre Herodotus – Mental Floss 

Roman starlings – In Medias Res 

Ancient finger prints – Hyperallergic 

History of the Roman Forum – Latin Language Blog 

Reframing the Parthenon Marbles debate – The Art Newspaper 

Diversity in Roman Britain – The Conversation

Homer pictures – Apollo Magazine 

Falling for Ovid – Eidolon 

Contemporary pseudo-Stoicism – Sententiae Antiquae 

Socrates as a romantic hero – The Spectator 

John Malkovich as Seneca – Screen Daily 

Historians and chauvinism – The India Forum 


Podcasts, video and other media

On the great Quo Vadis?The Partial Historians 

Talking about the Gauls – Ancient History Fangirl 

Rome and the Samnites – The Hellenistic Age 

The bad-assery of Medusa – Next Door Villain 

Pericles’ Funeral Oration – Gresham College

Lectures on memorialisation – The Roman Society 



Join in with the live-streamed OU/ACE Classics afternoon on Monday – should be fun!

2 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Living in a Material World

  1. This is a great post Cora Beth! I would have loved to have been there, but work commitments kiboshed that idea! I’ve never been to London for anything remotely Classics related other than a fleeting trip to the BM! It certainly seems like there’s some great opportunities for research in the realm of Ancient Material Religion! It’s certainly something I’ve been thinking about for my future dissertation and possible PhD routes. I’ll be watching the Baron Thyssen Centre very closely from now on. I have two further questions…. 1. Did you get a pic with Prof Scott? 2. If not, why not? (Although I expect he’s treated much like a celebrity nowadays). That being said had I been there, I’d have been chuffed with a picture with yourself and the rest of the OU cohort!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nope, no photo for me: missed my chance…! I didn’t get to speak to Caroline Lawrence either, which I was sad about. There were so many people to talk to that I kept missing people!
      But you’re right: for anyone thinking about possible OU projects, it’s an area to watch.

      Liked by 2 people

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