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 Laura Frosdick
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
For me a source from the Ancient World that I find myself coming back to – or at least reposting various pictures of it on Instagram – time and time again is the Prima Porta statue of Augustus.
When did you first come across this source?
I first came across this source in my First Year of studying Classical Civilisation at the University of Nottingham as part of my Interpreting Ancient Art module. I used the facial detail of the Prima Porta to discuss the context of the portraiture of Livia Drusilla (58BC-29AD), Augustus’ third wife and adviser.
Can you tell me a bit about the statue and its context?
The Prima Porta statue of Augustus is the most iconic of all free-standing Imperial Roman portraits. Excluding its modern base, the statue stands larger than life at 2.04m and is made from Parian marble, valued for its fine grain and translucency. The statue was discovered in the once private Villa of Livia, Augustus’ wife, 9 miles north of Rome, in 1863 and due to its high quality, as well as distinctive ‘crab-claw’ hair, the term ‘Prima Porta’ has been adopted by scholars to refer to the most well-preserved of Augustus’ portrait types. Usually dated to c.15AD the Prima Porta is believed to be a later marble copy of a bronze original dating to c.20BC (the year that Augustus recovered the Roman military standards from the Parthians).
What is it about this portrait that appeals to you most?
Much has been written about the Prima Porta with the majority of academic discussions focusing on the programmatic cuirass (a breastplate and backplate fasted together) and portrait head. Yet, what appeals to me most is how the Prima Porta of Augustus communicates ideas about contemporary Roman politics, society and culture.
It communicates the importance of pax Romana within Augustus’ new social and political order. However, it also implies that within contemporary Augustan politics Caesar was still significant. Additionally, the use of Polykleitan ideals of beauty and strength within the statue also indicates the importance of unity and order within the Principate, the significance of youth and renewal within Augustan society, and the influence of Greek culture within contemporary Rome. Likewise, the depiction of conquered nations on the cuirass suggests the importance of Roman superiority and identity within contemporary society, as well as justifying Augustus’ new social and political order. In addition, my proposed location of the bronze original – in the Roman ‘Hall of Fame’ within Augustus’ forum – also implies the importance of competition within contemporary Roman society. Finally, the use of colour demonstrates the importance of villa viewing culture within contemporary Rome.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
I work as a Graduate Boarding assistant at a State Boarding School, so I do not have an awful lot of spare time. However, when I get the chance, I enjoy arts and crafts – my most recent creations include straw Christmas trees – as well as baking. During the first lockdown I also rediscovered my love of cycling.
When things are particularly dark I also enjoy cuddles with my cats Nala and Leia.
Laura Frosdick is currently working as a Graduate Boarding Assistant at Wymondham College, following graduating from the University of Nottingham with a degree (BA Honours) in Classical Civilization in 2019.
She currently delivers Classical Civilisation ‘Floreat’ lessons at Key Stage 5, with a view to potentially teach Classics alongside English. Her Classical interests include 5th Century Athenian Drama – in particular its performance context – as well as Roman Imperial Portraiture.
Laura will begin her PGCE in Secondary English at the University of Nottingham in September 2021.
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.