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 Pam Herbert
Is there a source from the ancient world (a text, an inscription, an object…) that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
There are so many wonderful sources from the ancient world that it’s quite difficult to narrow it down to just one, and other contributors to this series have already chosen sources that I enjoy, so as I’m a bit of a sucker for a mosaic, here’s one of my favourites. It’s from the Villa Romana del Casale near the village of Piazza Armerina in Sicily. This is my own photo, so it isn’t the best quality, I’m afraid.
When did you first come across this mosaic?
I’m going to show my low-brow credentials here – I’m pretty sure that I first saw it on a TV programme called Sicily Unpacked in which the art critic, Andrew Graham-Dixon and his friend, chef Giorgio Locatelli travelled around Sicily admiring the art treasures and cooking up some good food as they went. During the show they highlighted the so-called bikini girls, and I think it was then that I decided that the villa was on my list of places to visit.
Can you tell me a bit about this mosaic and its context?
The Villa Romana del Casale was built during the early fourth century CE, although it isn’t clear whether it belonged to a rich landowner or to the Emperor himself. It is an extremely elaborate and luxurious villa, and pretty well all the floors in the main parts are covered with the most beautiful mosaics, often showing wild animals being captured and traded, and also daily life and mythological scenes. This particular image is from the Cubicle of Children Hunters. The floor of this room shows four rather gender stereotyped panels – one panel shows girls collecting roses and there is a panel showing a boy carrying heavy baskets of the roses (why? – for perfume making perhaps?). The other two panels show boys hunting small animals – a hare and a duck. Unfortunately for the boys, it all goes wrong for them in the next panel, in which one of them is bitten by a rat, and another is chased by a cockerel, and it is this last image that makes me smile.
What is it about this image that appeals to you most?
I know that we are often told that the people of the ancient world were not like us, but there is something in this image that reminds me of the bravado of small boys who can do anything …just like Daddy, until it doesn’t work out the way they expect, and then they run away in disarray, exactly like the little boy being chased by the cockerel. Pride comes before a fall, as they say, and as the mother of two boys (now grown up) I well remember this “just watch me do this” attitude! The other thing about this image is that it recollects a wonderful holiday, during which we visited amazing ancient sites and generally had a great time!
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
As you can possibly guess, I love travelling, always to a place with something interesting to see, either in the way of an ancient site or some lovely flora and fauna (my idea of hell would be a 100% beach holiday – I would be so bored). As that isn’t really on the cards right now, I have to escape in imagination by reading, with historical fiction as my preferred genre.
“I got hooked on the classical world at an early age when I was given a child’s book of Greek & Roman myths, and was lucky enough to study Latin at school. I specialized in science later, studying for a BSc (Hons.) Genetics & Cell Biology at Manchester University, graduating in 1978. After a brush with secondary science teaching, I eventually came back to Classics through the OU and basically registered for any course that was about the classical world. I graduated in 2011 with a BA (Hons.) Humanities with Classical Studies, and then went on to study for a MA as a distance learner with Trinity St. David (Lampeter University), gaining my MA in Classical Language and Literature in 2015. Unfortunately, Classics has remained an amateur interest for me, and I am currently an industrial chemist, working for Pirelli Tyres.”