Comfort Classics: Steve Havelin



The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.



Today’s interview is with Steve Havelin.



Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?


I have a shoe box full of postcards which I have a good rifle through whenever I’m fed up. One that’s always worth a lovely long lingering look at is this:





When did you first come across this picture?


I first encountered it on the cover of this book:




…which was a set text for one of the Classical Studies courses I did with the Open University.

I distinctly remember, when I took it out of its packaging, thinking what a lovely image it was. Indeed, when I subsequently somehow managed to loose the book, I immediately ordered a replacement copy, and was duly horrified when this arrived:




😳 In comparison it’s awful, isn’t it?! 😣



Can you tell me a bit about the painting and its context?


It’s a fresco (38 x 32 cm) found at Stabiae which, just a few miles from Pompeii, was also buried by ash from the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Whether the girl is human or divine is debatable. She has most often been identified as the nymph Flora, associated with flowers, signalling the season of Spring. 

It’s now in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples where I first saw it for real. I subsequently went back to see it several times when it was later on display for the Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum in London.



What is it about the fresco that appeals to you most?


It has a very uplifting, hope-filled feel about it. The colours are beautiful – the white and gold of the girl’s attire against the background green. It’s all very fresh, clean, light, bright and shinyThere’s a simple sense of renewal, with the promise of plenty summery sunshiny times ahead, of growth in greenery and plant produce, and all the natural abundance which that heralds (the big basket cornucopia she’s beginning to fill up). It has a hint of that start-of-the-long-hot-holiday thrill to it. Lovely! 😊



And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?


I LOVE re-reading the books I cherished as a child. It’s such a shame that some of the classics of children’s literature are so often seen as childish when they’re anything but. This is especially so once you’ve got a good grounding in Classics behind you. Go back to Narnia, or Middle Earth, or some of E. Nesbitt’s stories and you’ll spot all sorts of stuff that escaped you when you were younger. I can so easily lose myself completely in all the imaginative associations of an old-favourite story. And then emerging from that totally immersive reverie is like waking, thoroughly refreshed, from the soundest, soul-soothing sleep. Sod mindfulness! 😉😂



Steve Havelin focused on Maths and Sciences at school, started out studying Medicine at University, moved on to a BSc in Human Genetics, a PGCE in Chemistry, and subsequently taught school Science subjects.

Then he saw sense.

To tackle the intellectual Enlightenment havoc wrought on his mind by such relentlessly rational scientific thinking, Steve self-therapised himself with a Renaissance recovery regime that targeted hoovering up enough Open University Classical Studies courses to clock up three BAs. A Classics MA followed. And a PhD in Classics is in the offing.

Steve has accrued all his Classics qualifications studying part-time, by distance learning, whilst teaching Latin and Greek from beginners’ level to that of senior school scholarship exam entrants.

He’s glad he’s not a doctor.



7 thoughts on “Comfort Classics: Steve Havelin

  1. I love that picture – it’s on the cover of my penguin copy of Horace’s Odes and Epodes. When I think of Horace I always safe that image 😀.


    1. A quick Google reveals the scene on your Penguin Horace is a mirror image of what’s on my Penguin Ovid. Interesting…


  2. Thanks Steve and thanks Cora.

    I haven’t seen that image before and I have to agree it is heartbreakingly beautiful. For me, the fading over the years somehow adds to their beauty and air of mystery. On the one hand I want them to stay like that, fixed in time but, on the other, what I would give to be a fly on the wall when they were commissioned to understand why the particular imaged were chosen and how they fit in with others in a room. Not sure the owner would talk to me so I would gladly settle to be that fly.

    I haven’t really got a favourite, I change my mind too often and there is so much beauty.

    Thank you again.


    1. I read somewhere (Mary Beard’s ‘Pompeii’?) that occasionally images revealed during excavations at Pompeii have literally faded in the sunlight in front of the very eyes of those who’ve uncovered them. A truly heartbreaking, fleeting glimpse 😔


  3. It is, also I seem to remember but for the life of me I cannot remember where or who said it (Wallace-Hadrill maybe?) that the latest excavations have been recovered with the same debris to preserve what has been found.

    I am so torn, on the one hand I would hate to lose any images on the other, selfishly, I want to see them!


  4. There’s a useful review of a recent book on Flora(” Mater Florum: Flora e il suo culto a Roma”, Lorenzo Fabbri) in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review: BMCR 2020.04.54. Yes this is an iconic scene that kind of sums up that rich Roman life of dolce far niente.


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