Comfort Classics

What makes you feel better when times are hard? In this series of interviews, Classics enthusiasts share the sources from the Ancient World which comfort and inspire them.


Contact me if you would like to join in! I’ll be adding a new interview every day, until we’re no longer in need of happy thoughts.



Comfort Classics Interviews


Comfort Classics: Steve Havelin

Comfort Classics: Lilah Grace Canevaro

Comfort Classics: Jack Lambert

Comfort Classics: Joanna Paul

Comfort Classics: Gina May

Comfort Classics: Klara Hegedus

Comfort Classics: Christine Plastow

Comfort Classics: Mary Beard

Comfort Classics: Rob Cromarty

Comfort Classics: Colin Gough

Comfort Classics: Sarah Thomason

Comfort Classics: LJ Trafford

Comfort Classics: Pam Herbert

Comfort Classics: Naoko Yamagata

Comfort Classics: Tony Potter

Comfort Classics: Edith Hall

Comfort Classics: Liz Gloyn

Comfort Classics: Greg Woolf

Comfort Classics: Leigh David Cobley

Comfort Classics: Valerie Hope

Comfort Classics: Gideon Nisbet

Comfort Classics: Laura Jenkinson-Brown

Comfort Classics: Neville Morley

Comfort Classics: Daisy Dunn

Comfort Classics: Jan Haywood

Comfort Classics: David Meadows

Comfort Classics: Anactoria Clarke

Comfort Classics: Jaap Wisse

Comfort Classics: Emma Bridges

Comfort Classics: Michael Scott

Comfort Classics: Frederick Armour

Comfort Classics: Susan Raikes

Comfort Classics: Armand D’Angour

Comfort Classics: Valeria Bosisio

Comfort Classics: Simon Pulleyn

Comfort Classics: Mirko Canevaro

Comfort Classics: Tom Mason

Comfort Classics: Katie Low

Comfort Classics: Penny Whitworth

Comfort Classics: Flora Kirk

Comfort Classics: James Robson

Comfort Classics: Lucia Nixon

Comfort Classics: Peta Greenfield






Or… scroll down to read them all.






Comfort Classics: 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.









Comfort Classics: Lilah Grace Canevaro


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

Greek epic poetry has it all. Gods and monsters, adventures, love stories, and plenty of gratuitous violence. Everything you need for a hefty dose of escapism. Within epic, though, it’s Hesiod’s Works and Days that keeps drawing me in. The underdog of epic poems. The one my students start the semester dubious about, and are completely attached to by the end of the year.



When did you first come across the Works and Days?

I read the Works and Days in a Greek class at Durham University. I was familiar with some of its stories, but this was my first opportunity to tackle it in the original. I was hooked – and ended up writing my PhD (and first book) on the text.



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

The Works and Days is an archaic didactic epic poem, in which the narrator Hesiod teaches his audience how to negotiate the difficulties of Iron-Age life. He looks back to previous ages of myths, legends and metallic races, sets the Iron-Age scene, and gives advice on everything from farming to seafaring to wearing a hat so your ears don’t get wet. These days the poem tends to play second fiddle to Hesiod’s Theogony (when you’ve got hundred-handed monsters, and gods castrating their relatives, why would you read a catalogue of farming tools?), but in antiquity it was actually the Works and Days that was the more popular, the more quoted.



What is it about this text that appeals to you most?

Its character. In particular, the character of its narrator. We don’t know who composed the poem – whether there was a Hesiod, or a ‘Hesiod’, or Hesiods. Whether it is the product of a single voice, or an anonymous tradition, or something in between. But that almost doesn’t matter. Not when the narrator has such a strong persona. I feel like I know Hesiod. He is grumpy. He doesn’t much like women, his family drive him up the wall, and he reckons we’re probably all headed for disaster. He is meticulous. He thinks of everything, and offers stream-of-consciousness advice that covers all eventualities in painstaking detail (I know more Greek vocab for parts of a plough than I care to think on). He is demanding. He sets high standards, and is definitely in the ‘teach a man to fish’ line. But he is also, deep down, an optimist. His brother Perses has blotted his copy-book more than once – but Hesiod remains convinced he can do better. The Iron Race are on a bad path – but there are ways out. Even women aren’t all bad – as long as you don’t let parts of their anatomy distract you.



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

I’m mother to two boys under 5. So I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies of my own. Our happy times at the minute involve ‘crafternoons’ (never mind the toilet rolls – we’ve been stockpiling the sequins and pipe cleaners), yoga for kids (it may be Pokemon themed, but it’s still calming), and cooking (the eldest loves baking and is a dab hand with a whisk, the youngest is fervently hoping there’s nothing you can’t puree).



Dr Lilah Grace Canevaro is Lecturer in Greek at the University of Edinburgh. Her research centres on ancient Greek poetry, with a focus on gender. She is pioneering new-materialist approaches to classical study, and has published also in classical reception and comparative literature. Her books include Hesiod’s Works and Days: How to Teach Self-Sufficiency (OUP, 2015) and Women of Substance in Homeric Epic: Objects, Gender, Agency (OUP, 2018).










Comfort Classics: Jack Lambert

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

The mosaic of Neptune and Amphitrite from the House of Neptune and Amphitrite in Herculaneum. I have a picture I took of it as my computer desktop image, so I see it every day. I guess it’s a comfort through familiarity, but occasionally I take a moment to appreciate it.





When did you first come across this mosaic?

I was on the Amalfi coast for a friend’s wedding in September 2014 and while there I visited the archaeological site at Herculaneum, which I’d never been to before. I was enjoying exploring the different buildings without necessarily following the guidebook and I ‘discovered’ this mosaic which really stood out for me.


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

It’s found in the triclinium of an atrium house in Herculaneum (Insula V, Cardo IV), the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, which is named after the subjects of the mosaic. The house is lavishly decorated and contains another ornate mosaic in its Nymphaeum.


What is it about this mosaic that appeals to you most?

Instantly striking are the use of colour and the intricate floral patterns which frame the figures of Neptune and Amphitrite. Looking closer you can really appreciate the skill of its creator to give the impression of light on the bodies of the figures and of depth in the fan/shell/awning (?) above them. It’s a really beautiful piece. Beyond that, it brings back great memories of my week spent on the Amalfi coast with childhood friends, most of whom I don’t get the opportunity to see very often.



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

I’ve played the guitar since I was 11 or 12, I’m not sure I’m getting any better, but I like to play when I have the time. Also, coastal walks here in Catalonia are a great way to disconnect, or there are plenty of mountains for something a bit more challenging.


Jack studied a BA and MA with the Open University and has lived and worked in Catalonia and the Basque Country as a TEFL teacher for the last 6 years. He is currently taking a break from teaching and studying a PhD at the University of Barcelona investigating language, identity and sociocultural change among the Iberian peoples of the eastern Pyrenees. His interests include Iberian and Latin epigraphy, and creations and representations of identity in the ancient world.


Jack Lambert







Comfort Classics: Joanna Paul

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

I’m going to cheat a little and choose a source that’s not ancient, but rather a modern poem inspired by Homer’s Odyssey: the poem ‘Ithaka’, by the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy(1863-1933).



When did you first come across this poem?

I can’t exactly remember, but I do know that I have always been totally fascinated by how modern writers and artists of all types use the ancient world for inspiration (which is why I’ve ended up specialising in modern receptions of classical antiquity in my research career.) Whenever it was that I read it, it definitely lodged in my brain, perhaps because it engages so profoundly with the Odyssey, which was definitely the first ancient source that I ever encountered, when I began studying the classical world as an A-level student.



Can you tell me a bit about this poem and its context?

Cavafy wrote a lot of poetry that addresses ancient history and myth and this is probably one of his most famous, I think because of the way in which it takes the basic narrative thrust of the Odyssey – the long journey home – and makes it a metaphor for life itself. His central message is that, although that homecoming – the ancient Greek concept of nostos – is something that we long for, ultimately it’s the journey itself that is more important than the destination: ‘Keep Ithaka always in your mind’, he says, ‘But don’t hurry the journey at all’, because we can gain so much wisdom, so many rich experiences, from that journey, just as Odysseus himself did.



What is it about this poem that appeals to you most?

I think I find it comforting as a reminder that, even when our journey through life feels difficult – besieged by monsters and angry gods as well as adventures and discoveries – that journey teaches us something; we become ‘wise’, says Cavafy, ‘full of experience’ – and that’s a pretty good message to hang onto right now. Concentrating on the journey rather than the destination is also another way of expressing a key principle of present-focused mindfulness, an attitude to life that I also find very comforting at the moment. If we’re always thinking too much about what’s ahead of us, we might distort our own personal ‘Ithakas’ and imagine that they represent some glorious, rewarding future, which may in fact be always out of reach. Instead, says the poem, we shouldn’t expect our Ithaka to make us rich, but we should appreciate our homeland as the place that gives us a grounding, ‘without [which] you wouldn’t have set out’.



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

I have two small daughters, aged 4 and 7, so they can usually be relied upon to cheer me up with some silly dancing, or just a big smile and a hug. I also try to find time for lots of hobbies that have nothing to do with classics or work. When I really need to escape and exercise a different part of my brain, I love running, and playing my sax in the Bristol Community Big Band; and you can never ever beat the joy of getting lost in a good book.


Jo is a Senior Lecturer in Classical Studies at the Open University, where she’s been since 2011. She works on a wide range of Classical Studies modules, particularly those to do with Latin literature and Roman culture, but her research specialism is the area of classical reception studies. She’s always been particularly interested in the ways in which contemporary popular culture engages with classical material, especially in the cinema, and she continues to publish widely on all aspects of Pompeii and its reception history.








Comfort Classics: Gina May


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

‘Tell me Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel….’



When did you first come across this?

I first met Homer at school when I was doing my O Levels.



Can you tell me a bit about these words and their context?

These are the opening words of Homer’s Odyssey where the narrator is calling on the Muse to tell the story of Odysseus and his wondrous voyage. It was a voyage that should only have been a total distance of about 450 (724km) miles from Troy to Ithaca but he ended up sailing somewhere in the region of 8,083 miles (13,008km).  Monsters and Mayhem is probably the best way to describe it!



What is it about this that appeals to you most?

It’s the beginning of an adventure like never before.  The words draw me in and want me to hear the story, just as those who would have sat around a fire and listened to the magnetic voice of the bard.  The story is old as time, but one that is alive and exciting, and thought-provoking, and one that no matter how old it is, will always be one that people want to hear.



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

I read – so technically that is within Classics – but there are so many books about the ancient world! There are fiction and non-fiction, but no matter which one I read, I learn something new.  I feel like there is a huge unfinished jigsaw of information about the ancient world in my mind.  It already has lots of pieces put in, and I can see parts of the picture, but there are still lots of pieces that need to be found, or made.  I learn all the time, from books, from colleagues and from my students.



Dr Gina May works at The Open University – and does many other things too!

“I have wanted to be a Classicist for as long as I can remember.  I didn’t finish my A levels at school but as the years went by, I did lot of OU courses that made me love Classics even more. Finally, when our youngest child was doing her GCSEs, I gave up work and did a full time Classics Degree at the University of Kent, Canterbury.  I loved every minute of it and it was there that I learned Greek and more Latin, and Hieroglyphs and so, so many other things!  I did well in my degree and was offered teaching jobs at the OU and The University of Kent that same year.  I was lucky enough to be awarded funding for my PhD, and so hot on the heels of finishing my BA, I started working on my thesis which was an extension of an essay question I had been set in my final year.  Three years later, I had the PhD.  I was still working for the OU and taught at Kent for another 8 years. 

18 months ago I left my job at Kent to start a business developing and teaching my own courses which include languages, literature, archaeology, numismatics, academic practice and lots more besides.  I knew that there were people out there that loved Classics as much as me and wanted to know more, either to enhance their BA, MA or PhD studies, or just for pleasure.  Since then, I have taught Ancient Greek and Latin to almost a hundred people.  My six week short courses have been extremely popular as have my Saturday Afternoon Seminars.  I recently advertised a 16 week Ancient Greek and Roman Comedy course and it filled very quickly, as has my 10 week Research Seminar course.  The demand is such that I am running the Research Seminars course again starting in the middle of April during the day.  If there is enough demand, the course will also run in the evenings.  My new 10 week Roman Values, Authority and Self course is also proving to be very popular. 

I am so fortunate. I love my job because I get to talk to students almost all day most days.  Being able to share my knowledge with such motivated, inspiring and inspired people is an absolute pleasure.  And in these days of lock down, and lock in, I hope that I can bring just a little bit of comfort to people by taking them away into another world for a few hours each week. 

To bring more people together, I am running a ‘coffee morning’ at 10am each Wednesday which has been attended by students, staff, professors and lots of other people. For details, please email me at   There is also a new (free) reading group starting on Mondays at 2pm where we will get together and read a book out loud together.  In the ancient world the stories would have been listened to, not read alone, so my aim is that we join together to recreate that feeling. To register for the reading group, and for details of all my courses, please go to”


For details of all Gina’s courses and how to register for the reading group, please go to her website, or email her:  The coffee morning is hosted through the OU in an Adobe Connect room: email Gina for the link.










Comfort Classics: Klara Hegedus


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

Thinking of the Forum, in Rome, always makes me smile. I’ve only ever visited it in summer, so for me, the memory is of the warmth of the sun, the sight of so much history, the smell of the warm air, and the excitement that there is so much to learn about it.



When did you first fall in love with Rome?

I first visited Rome on a family holiday nearly 3 years ago and was instantly captivated by it.





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

The Forum was the site of so much Roman political and religious history. Temples, the Senate, the site of Julius Caesar’s cremation, the houses on the Palatine, the Imperial Fora, Nero’s House, all are there or close by. Yes, most are ruins and many are replacements but the sense of history is incredible.





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

There is a sense of being close to the people and events of Rome. Figures like Cicero, Caesar and Augustus would have walked along the Via Sacra as we can now. We can see sites of imperial power such as the Arch of Titus and the Colosseum but protected by time from the more terrible elements of their existence. As I have always visited with family, the place is to me, one of fun exploration, which will then be followed by Aperol for the adults and Diet Coke for the kids in the nearby restaurant which we have made it a family tradition to visit.





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

At the moment, I am enjoying sitting with my family, eating popcorn and watching a TV programme together. We are currently watching The Mandalorian but Star Trek Discovery, The Young Sheldon and The Big Bang Theory are also favourites.

When the kids are asleep, we are enjoying watching The Thick of It and remembering how fabulously awful Malcolm Tucker was, whilst drinking an Aperol and remembering that all this will pass and one day we will be able to visit Italy once again.



Klara is a very mature student, studying for an MA at the OU and learning Latin, before hopefully starting a further MA in Classics & Ancient History at Reading in September. Her first love is Rome but she is currently fascinated by studying the work of Heinrich Schliemann and seeing how archaeology has developed over the last 150 years, and is happy to bore anyone to tears by discussing this topic at length…










Comfort Classics: Christine Plastow


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

It’s a bit of a weird one! I work on the Athenian forensic (law court) speeches, and I’m particularly interested in speeches from homicide trials. I know that sounds grim, but I promise I have a particular reason why this one makes me happy, so bear with me! This particular speech is Antiphon 6, On the Chorus Boy. It’s a defence speech for a man accused of poisoning a boy who was part of a theatrical chorus that he was managing.



When did you first come across this speech?

I first met this source while I was writing my PhD on the homicide speeches. It’s one of only 5 surviving speeches from homicide trials, so it was essential reading for me.



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

The defendant in the trial argues that he’s innocent (obviously!) but particularly that the whole trial is the result of a plot against him by his political opponents. He says that they waited so long to bring the case against him that it can’t possibly be sincere. He also says that this meant he was able to go about his normal business for a long time until they brought the case against him. This is because, once a person was accused of homicide, they weren’t allowed to enter certain buildings or parts of the city, such as temples, law courts, and the agora (marketplace), because they were seen to be ritually unclean and socially excluded. The speaker says that he was the key witness in a different trial, and that the friends of the people who were being prosecuted in that trial had brought this homicide charge against him in order to stop him being able to enter the law court and give his crucial testimony. That’s all a bit complicated, but it does bring me to the moment that I like most in this speech…




What do you like most about this speech?

While he’s arguing that the case against him is frivolous and insincere, the speaker says this:

‘To top it all off, by Zeus and all the gods, in the Council-house in front of the Council Philocrates here [the prosecutor] joined me on the podium, and with his hand on my arm he talked with me, calling me by name, and I did the same.’ (translation by Michael Gagarin)

The speaker’s point is that if the prosecutor Philocrates really believed that he had killed the boy in question, he would have considered him to be ritually unclean and socially excluded, and would not have been seen with him in public in this way. But what I love about this moment is how it encapsulates a fragment of human interaction – this feels like real life to me. There are plenty of problems with saying ‘the ancients were just like us!’ – in many ways they were totally different. But moments like this remind me that humans have been humans for a very long time: communicating, calling each other’s names, and, yes, touching each other. Simple moments of connection between people have been happening for thousands of years in so many forms, and they continue today. To me, it’s a reminder that we come from a long line of human beings living human lives, and that encourages me to believe that we can continue to do so long into the future.



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

My best tactic is keeping a playlist of songs that make me want to dance. Even if I’m in a rotten mood and can’t imagine wanting to drag myself off the sofa, I put on that playlist and soon enough I start dancing around my living room. It doesn’t have to be expert dancing – mine certainly isn’t! Just moving the body, getting the blood flowing, and reminding yourself that joy exists in the world.



Christine Plastow is a Lecturer in Classical Studies at the Open University. She works on the Athenian forensic speeches, and Athenian rhetoric, law, politics, and history more broadly. Her book Homicide in the Attic Orators was released by Routledge in 2020. She also works with London-based performance collective By Jove Theatre Company. You can find Christine on Twitter @chrissieplastow.









Comfort Classics: Mary Beard


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


I am not sure that there is a single one, or that much of classical culture etc. makes me feel ‘better’ in the way that a good movie does!  But if I was to choose an object, it would probably be the so-called ‘Tomb of the Baker’ in Rome. This is a wonderfully self-confident tomb in the shape of a bread oven, to commemorate a rich but definitely not-posh baker. The hutzpah always makes me smile (there is even a sculpted frieze showing not mythological battles, but work in the bakery).




As for a work of literature, it would have to be the Odyssey.



When did you first come across the Odyssey?


I knew some of the stories from it when I was very young, from what must have been a ‘Tales of Ancient Greece’ book. But I first came across it in Homer’s version when I was at high school. I was lucky enough to learn Greek at school… and the Circe book (Book 10) was one of the first bits of real Greek I read, aged about 14.




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


The Odyssey I suppose counts as the second earliest work of western literature, going back to the 8th century BC. Whatever its origins in ‘bardic performance’, in the form that has come down to us, it is an extraordinarily sophisticated text weaving together two different stories: the long homecoming of Odysseus after the Trojan War and the fate of his family as they wait back in Ithaca. It includes some of the most memorable (and most reworked) episodes in Greek literature – Odysseus’ cruel encounter with the Cyclops, or the sorceress Circe turning Odysseus’ men into pigs (a story recently told from Circe’s point of view by Madeline Miller).




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


Its brilliant complexity and self-awareness. Take the episode with the Cyclops, for example. It really undermines our certainty about the very definition of ‘civilisation’. Is it simply a clash between the heroic Odysseus and the barbarous cannibal? Or should we be calling into question quite how heroic the trickster Odysseus is? It is no surprise, I think, that this part of the Odyssey, in particular, has been seen as an uncomfortable model for the colonial encounter.



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


As I said, it is a good movie for me.



Mary Beard is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge; and author of SPQR and Women and Power. She is presenting a new series of Front Row Late on BBC2 from 16 April at 11.30 pm. Under current restrictions, she is presenting from her study at home (and is also standing in as camera person, sound engineer, floor manager and make-up artist). Wish her luck.


A small selection from the Editor’s ‘Mary Beard’ shelf…



Check out, too, the BBC Titian documentary from last weekend, in which Mary Beard talks about Titian and Ovid.







Comfort Classics: Rob Cromarty


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

There are a few actually, but it rather depends on my mood and what mood I want to get to. If I want reassurance that posterity will out, then I turn to Tacitus’ ‘Histories’. But I suppose the author I keep going back to is Ovid. He’s like an addiction. I was translating the ‘Ibis’ last year, this year I’m working on a commentary of ‘Fasti’ Book 2. But I’d tend towards the ‘Amores’ more than anything else. I still remember a comment in the Introduction to the Loeb edition of the ‘Amores’: “The reader will not look to the Amores for profundity of any sort, whether of thought or emotion.” Now, to be fair the editor goes on to say that this is what gives the poems their peculiar charm, but I couldn’t disagree more. Maybe it is just me patting myself on the back for seeing all the literary fun Ovid is having in writing these poems, or maybe it’s because I hear a note of sarcastic opposition to Augustus’ hypocritical puritanism throughout, but for me the ‘Amores’ are very much a regular re-read.



When did you first come across the ‘Amores’?

Well, I’d always been aware of them, but I only started looking at them seriously about 13 years ago as they were among the first texts I had to teach as part of the IB Diploma poetry allocation. I got very pissed off at how sanitised everyone else seemed to be in their delivery of them, so I just jumped in to full-blown ‘nequitia’ with both feet and haven’t really looked back since.




Can you tell me a bit about the poems and their context?


They survive as the second edition of the ‘Amores’ which you can date pretty firmly to ca. 14 BC, based on some references to wigs made from the hair of captured Germans, with Ovid adding in a little prologue to say that he reduced the first edition from five books to three, so he’s giving us a slimmed-down and tightened-up version. So they’re written in the opening decade or so of Augustus’ reign as the first emperor and so give us a pleasing insight into the literary and sexual predilections of Roman society at that time. This is even more interesting when one considers the Leges Juliae of 18 BC, with Augustus doing his best to curtail marital infidelity.




What is it about the ‘Amores’ that appeals to you most?

Where to start? The sheer exuberance of the poetry? The fact that Ovid’s love affair with love-elegy was so potent that he effectively killed off the genre, rendering all subsequent efforts moot? The fact that they are laced with inter-textuality and borrowings/homages/piss-takes of other poets’ work?

These are all great… But for me it’s also that Ovid is decidedly thumbing his nose at Augustus. For me there is no doubt that the “rusticus” of Amores 3.4, who “is smarting from his wife’s adultery” and “does not know well-enough the customs of this city, wherein not even those sons of Ilia – Romulus and Remus – were born without a nudge-and-a-wink”, is Augustus – desperately and hypocritically trying to stem the tide of adultery. I think Ovid would have afforded himself a sly chuckle in AD 9 when Augustus had to re-issue his adultery laws as the Lex Papia Poppaea, notably removing his own name from this unpopular legislation.




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

I guess that when I’m not on lockdown I can usually be found in a restaurant eating tremendous food and quaffing a cocktail or two (mine’s a ‘Morning Glory Fizz’). But also I coach Rugby, Netball, and Javelin; I used to be a carpenter, so I keep my hand in with a bit of wood-working; some old comic collecting brightens the day; and I’m a sucker for a good quiz or cryptic crossword.



Dr Rob Cromarty is a Classics Teacher writing books for Bloomsbury Classics, with the current one being a Commentary on Ovid, Fasti Book 2. He can be found on Twitter @DocCrom.


Durham University: B.A. (Hons.) Dunelm – Ancient History and Archaeology: Undergraduate Dissertation on Harappan Culture.

Durham University: M.A. Classics – Master’s Dissertation on Trade and Cultural Exchange Patterns in the Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean.

Durham University: PhD Classics – Research Title: Burning Bulls, Broken Bones: Sacrificial Ritual in the Context of Palace Period Minoan Religion.










Comfort Classics: Colin Gough


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

Well, I can see the question but, like Aristophanes pushing the envelope, I am going to be controversial and say two, both Greek orientated, for very different but personal reasons.

ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ – Odyssey Homer

And the first 3.05 minutes of this:




When did you first come across these?

The scene is 2013, the first second-level and the first Classical Studies module as an undergraduate. After introductions the first words of the tutor: ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ – Tell me O Muse of the man of many ways.

I don’t know why but the words made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, they sounded so evocative, so epic. The effect was life changing because, when I got home, I changed from a History degree to Classical Studies and I now eat, breathe and sleep anything classical.

The second left me open mouthed with astonishment and started my love affair with the theatre and tragedy in particular. Whilst the first one inspired me into my love for anything Classical, it is the second one I go to whenever I falter on essays or need a pick-me-up as I find the content and, dare I say the presenter, so inspiring. It kept me motivated and on the straight and narrow.



Can you tell me a bit about these sources and their context?

Hmmmm, what can I say about the opening line of Homer’s Odyssey? One of the greatest Classical Epics? Possibly the cornerstone of literature for millennia? The basis for myth, legend, playwrights, poets and filmmakers? All the above and more.

The second is the first three minutes of a three-part BBC documentary series. It starts in Ancient Greece with the intertwining of theatre, drama performance and tragedy with Athenian democracy… through the fall of the Athenian Empire and a new form of comedy… to the third episode of Roman preservation and adaptation of Greek drama and connections of modern with ancient Greek drama. Three hours of delight.




What is it about these sources that appeals to you most?

Both have the ability to transport me back to Ancient Greece. Listening to different performances in Greek of the opening lines of the Odyssey is fascinating and allows me to believe that I am potentially listening to Homer as (he?) would have been orally performed at the time. The documentary is littered with academics, gives a grounding of drama and theatre encompassing so many disciplines and the presenter, well, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and engaging doesn’t do him justice.

A final note: the opening line inspired me to the extent that I have it permanently etched as a reminder of the start of my journey of discovery. So, on my left arm:




But then my interests broadened and, in the spirit of balance on my right arm:






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

There are things outside Classics? Seriously a lot of my leisure time is taken up with classical things, but I also enjoy eating out (who doesn’t?), theatre, walking my fabulous dogs, dreaming about self sufficiency and ballet. Swan Lake is the one ballet everybody should see – even if you grit your teeth booking the tickets, I guarantee you will be emotionally moved by the music and beauty of the performance.



“Left school 50 years ago with five ‘O’ levels and after a recent foray with the OU have emerged the proud holder of a BA and MA Classical Studies. Coming under intense pressure to start a PhD but, apart from suffering acute imposter syndrome, am actually enjoying myself on a Comedy course and fitfully dipping my toes into Latin and Greek. One day maybe. We live on a farm in Hertfordshire and my nearest neighbour is over a quarter of a mile away so no problems on social distancing! Great for walking the dogs (when I have some of my best thoughts) – two beautiful sister Rotties and a Miniature Dachshund with an unfortunate Napoleon complex. Not only have I been married for 35 years, we also work together and, thankfully, share the same interests, visiting historical sites, to the extent of dragging her along to the Cambridge Greek Plays – she says she enjoys them…. honestly. Off now to dig my veggie plot (that one lasted quite a few meals).”




Stay safe and keep smiling everyone.







Comfort Classics: Sarah Thomason


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


‘Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’ Aeschylus “Agamemnon” Trans. Edith Hamilton

Not particularly uplifting at first glance, but essentially a quote to inspire exceptional strength in desperate times.

May I choose two? Herewith, in support –






When did you first come across Aeschylus and Thomson?


The ‘Agamemnon’; as an angst ridden 13-year-old uprooted from everything familiar. The Textbook; a gift from my self-educated grandmother, forced to leave school at a similar age.




Can you tell me a bit about these sources and their context?


‘Agamemnon’ is the first play in Aeschylus’ Trilogy ‘Oresteia’. A gory tale of the fall of the House of Atreus; infanticide, cannibalism, bloody revenge, insanity, war, tyranny and dreadful gods.  All related in beautiful poetic imagery.

Thomson sets the works of Aeschylus as a reflection of the agonising and brutal emergence of civilisation from a barbaric and primitive tribal society.




What is it about these sources that appeals to you most?


As a teenager of course I loved the stories, they appealed to my nascent Goth! I also adored the poetry, the imagery. Thomson taught me the importance of historical context and never to accept anything in isolation and without attempting verification.

Most importantly the notion of “Wisdom through Suffering” gave hope to my teenage self and helped explain the injustice I saw in the world at large. It still resonates today.

Recently, a past pupil (now in her 40’s) made contact to say she still reads her classroom annotated texts – and sent me proof!  I’m thrilled Aeschylus continues to give her hope.





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


Eat the delicious food cooked by my husband!

However, there is no ‘outside of Classics’ – Classics is all pervading!  We travel a lot both here and abroad, always seeking out archaeological sites, museums and food markets. For the moment our travelling is electronic, and as for visiting far flung friends – Hurrah for FaceTime!






Sarah is “Hellene Travel” Joint Founder & Consultant, BA Classics/History Jt. Hons., Rtd HoD and Chief Examiner OCR, as well as Ambassador for MOLA (+ working for ‘Shelter’, Teaching Children with Special Needs, Fire Service Training Clerk, GKN production line machine operator, factory floor sweeper-upper of iron filings, building a BSA Fleet Star motorcycle, archaeology & hand-picking swedes).

You can find her on Twitter @HelleneTravel.








Comfort Classics: LJ Trafford


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?

I’d like to say it was a work that celebrated the human spirit against adversity. Or opened a philosophical window into the very nature of man. A work of deep inspirational and intellectual value that has echoed through the centuries and brings insight and knowledge to the darkest of times.

I’d like to say that but I can’t because my chosen text is Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars.

Which is the most fabulously gossipy work ever created.




When did you first come across this text?

I first became interested in Roman history as an A Level English Lit student. We were studying Antony & Cleopatra. Being somewhat of a swat I read around the subject and was flabbergasted to discover that the villain of that play, Octavius Caesar, transformed into the good emperor Augustus!!! This was a mystery that needed unpacking. I began with historical fiction, working my way through the likes of Allan Massie and Robert Graves. Once I’d exhausted fiction I strayed onto Tacitus and Cassius Dio. Then one day I stumbled across a copy of The Twelve Caesars in the Cambridge branch of WH Smith’s.

It was quite an eye-opener for an innocent 17-year-old from East Anglia. I hold Suetonius wholly responsible for having written 4 books with the taglines:

Depravity. Debauchery. Decadence.

Sex. Skulduggery. Slaughter

Duplicity. Degeneracy. Destruction

Hedonism. Heroism. Horror


I still have that copy of Suetonius; it’s looking pretty battered now. It travelled with me to university after I talked my way onto an Ancient History degree by fan-girling over Augustus in my supporting statement. It accompanied me on my first trip to Rome where I determined I was going to read the chapter on Augustus outside the great man’s mausoleum on his birthday, which I did surrounded by drunks and hypodermic needles (it wasn’t a terribly nice neighbourhood in the late 90s).




I still flick through my copy regularly and it has been used as a source for my four fiction and two non-fiction books. As well as this History Girls article: The Sauce Factor!



Can you tell me a bit about The Twelve Caesars and its context?

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was a 2nd century biographer. We know very little about the man. He was a friend of Pliny the Younger’s, but then so apparently was every man in Rome at the time. He worked as a secretary for Emperor Hadrian but was dismissed for ‘impolite’ behaviour towards the Empress Sabina. He wrote a book called Greek Terms of Abuse, whose loss I mourn since it sounds like it could have had a useful practical application. And also Lives of Famous Whores which I like to pretend included the Empress Sabina as some sort of revenge.

His surviving work The Twelve Caesars is a collection of biographies of Caesars from Julius Caesar to Domitian.  It is undeniably stupendous.




What is it about this work that appeals to you most?

Its very accessibility. Classics has a somewhat unfair reputation as being a closed subject, something that the elite study so they can make witty jokes in Latin at dinner parties that only they understand. Suetonius demolishes that. It is simply a tour de force of scurrilous rumour served up on a plate to gleeful undergraduates worn down by the Aeneid and those books that Livy wrote.

It is an unparalleled joy from start to finish. Yes, Tacitus is so very quotable and he has that whole “they create a desert and call it peace” bit which is great but Suetonius has:

“So much for the man, now for the monster”.

This classic: “Valerian Catullus revealed publicly he had buggered the emperor, and quite worn himself out in the process.”

And my all-time favourite on Tiberius: “Some aspects of his gross depravities are almost too vile to discuss, much less believe”

Which Suetonius then helpfully lists so we may judge for ourselves their vile believability.

Suetonius tells us much about those twelve Caesars that you simply won’t find anywhere else, like Domitian’s bandy legs and Augustus’ woollen underpants. Not to mention the time a whole field of horses started crying because they knew Julius Caesar would be assassinated, if only horses could talk….

In times of stress I find Suetonius comforting, partly because it is very funny but also because it is littered with examples of people having a far worse day than you are; the ‘inoffensive’ senators accidentally mown down during Caligula’s assassination, the unfortunate dinner party guests invited to Domitian’s black banquet, the hundreds of people forced to endure Nero’s poetry recitals.




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

There is nothing better than being the first up, sitting in my chair with a nice cup of tea watching my fish tanks in quite contemplation.

Failing that a G&T hits the spot.




L.J. Trafford studied Ancient History at the University of Reading after which she took a job as a Tour Guide in the Lake District.

Moving to London in 2000 she began writing ‘The Four Emperors’ series. The series comprises four books – Palatine, Galba’s Men, Otho’s Regret and Vitellius’ Feast – which cover the dramatic fall of Nero and the chaotic year of the four emperors that followed. 

Her new book How to Survive in Ancient Rome will be published in October 2020.

She is currently working on a book on sex and sexuality in ancient Rome.

A regular contributor to The History Girls site, her proudest moment remains creating #phallusthursday a popular Twitter hashtag dedicated to depictions of penises in antiquity.

Follow her on Twitter at @traffordlj

Or Facebook










Comfort Classics: 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.”


Happy times in Capri.







Comfort Classics: Naoko Yamagata


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

The Philosophy of Epicurus.




When did you first come across this?

When I was sixteen, after both my grandmothers died within a month of each other and I became very aware of and scared of my own mortality.




Can you tell me a bit about the texts and their context?

Much of Epicurus’ works are lost, but some are preserved in Diogenes Laertius’s Lives of Eminent Philosophers (Book X in the Loeb edition’s Vol. II). Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who lived in the Hellenistic period (4th to 3rd century BCE) when democracy was lost and people felt they had less control over their lives. He opened a school in Athens which was, unique to the customs of much of the ancient world, open to men and women. The essence of his teaching is also expanded in Lucretius’s Latin epic, On the Nature of Things.





What is it about Epicurus’ work that appeals to you most?

It reassures you that death is not to be feared, because it has nothing to do with us while we are alive and when death comes we ourselves will not exist to feel it. He also advocates a stress-free life, teaching you how to keep peace of mind under any circumstances, being content with what you have got and valuing friendship. Contrary to what later became known as ‘epicureanism’ of small ‘e’, synonymous with excessive pursuit of pleasure, the original Epicureanism with the big ‘E’ is about controlling one’s fear, desire and other negative feelings that cause stress, and being content with life as it is, which arguably is the fail-proof pursuit of happiness. It has much in common with Buddhism as well.




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

Nothing much, because Classics is my hobby and reading about various classical authors is what keeps me happy most of the time. I do like sitting in the garden and admiring flowers as well, but that is also following in the footsteps of Epicurus whose school was known as the ‘Garden’!







Naoko is teaching Classics at the OU. She fell in love with Greece when she read a book called “Classical Greece” by Maurice Bowra when she was fourteen and has been learning about the Greeks and Romans ever since. She never looked back!










Comfort Classics: Tony Potter


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


Yes – Absolutely! I’ve recently re-discovered Martial’s Epigrams and they always cheer me up when I’m feeling a little low.




When did you first come across Martial?


I originally came across his work when I was studying the old OU course A219 – Exploring the Classical World. I can’t remember the exact details, but I think one of the TMAs was about Roman baths or something along those lines and one of the sources we looked at was Martial. I seem to remember then thinking that he was a real ‘people watcher’, and that sort of appeals to me!




Can you tell me a bit about his work and its context?


If I remember correctly Martial was originally from what we would call Spain today and I’m pretty certain that the twelve books of Epigrams are probably the best known of his works. The Epigrams were written between AD 86 and 103 during the reign of the Emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan. I reckon if you asked anyone about Martial, they’d definitely mention his Epigrams. I did a quick search on the definition of ‘epigrams’ just to check I knew what I was talking about and Wikipedia (don’t shoot me!) says that they are ‘brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statements’ and I think this sums them up perfectly!




What is it about Martial that appeals to you most?


As I mentioned earlier, I think Martial was the ultimate ‘people watcher’ and if we take anything from the Epigrams, they prove that he was a quick witted, outstandingly sarcastic and unapologetic man with a staggeringly vicious tongue! He observed life in Rome as it was and said exactly what he saw without thinking about the implications and I admire him for that. If I were to go out on a limb, I think I’d go as far as to say I can see a little bit of myself in Martial’s ‘take no prisoners’ attitude! The Epigrams are amazingly offensive but also side-splittingly hilarious and they never cease to make me chuckle.




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


This might sound a bit weird, particularly because we are talking about what I do to cheer myself up – but I do love a good horror film, the scarier the better. I’m not really into gory films but I do like a good film that chills you to the bone. When I’m not scaring myself silly with films about possessed dolls in rocking chairs I like to try and get outside as much as possible. I’m not a sporty person at all but I do have three hyper-active spaniels so I like to take them out on long walks to use up their energy. I also find it helps clear my mind and focus on whatever I’m currently researching or working on.



Tony Potter is currently a postgraduate student with the Open University, in the final year of study for the MA in Classical Studies.

“I have big ambitions and as soon as I’ve got my MA in the bag I really want to start thinking about PhDs. My current area of interest is Greek and Roman medicine, especially the cult of Asclepius. But I’m currently focusing on how the Roman Imperial army contributed to the spread of Roman medicine throughout the Empire.

My day job is not related to Classics at all! I am actually a Customer Service Manager for a decorative aggregates company in East Yorkshire, so my day to day activities are worlds away from Ancient Greece or Rome. In my spare time I’ve been learning Latin (I’ve been on with this for the past few years) and this coming summer I’m going to tackle Ancient Greek.

I am a very occasional blogger, but you can find me most often on Twitter where I tweet from the account @classicalfix. I tweet about lots of things but mainly classics stuff so if you don’t already do so, then please follow me!”










Comfort Classics: Edith Hall


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

 Yes, it’s an epigram by Nossis, here with my translation:

Θαυμαρέτας μορφὰν ὁ πίναξ ἔχει· εὖ γε τὸ γαῦρον
τεῦξε τό θ’ ὡραῖον τᾶς ἀγανοβλεφάρου.
σαίνοι κέν σ’ ἐσιδοῖσα καὶ οἰκοφυλαξ σκυλάκαινα
δέσποιναν μελάθρων οἰομένα ποθορῆν.


The little painting shows the beautiful figure of Thaumareta,

skilfully represented in her youthful pride and with melting gaze.

Even the puppy that guards the house would wag her tail if she looked at you,

and think that you were really her own mistress.




When did you first come across this epigram?

When I was teaching a module on Women in the Ancient World for Classical Civilisation A Level in the mid-1980s. I taught at 6th-form colleges in Oxford while I did my doctorate to make money as my then husband had very expensive tastes!





Can you tell me a bit about Nossis and the epigram’s context?

Nossis was a poet who lived in the third century CE on the underneath of the toe of Italy in Epizephyrian Locris, ‘City of the Western Locrians’, which Plato called ‘the flower of Italy’. It had two gorgeous sanctuaries, both for female deities—one for Persephone and one for Aphrodite. The temple of Persephone was famous for its votive pinakes or painted terracotta pictures of scenes from the life of Persephone, which I once spent hours looking at in the National Museum of Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria.






Children were dedicated to Persephone in her grand temple, and this poem was probably commissioned to go with a painting of a girl called Thaumareta ‘Astonishing-Excellence’ when she was dedicated, or possibly before her wedding.

Nossis was inspired to write poetry, in her Doric dialect, by the example of Sappho.  We have twelve of her four-line epigrams. She was famous in antiquity and one of the canon of nine women poets.  Some of them, like this, celebrate individual local women and girls, their relationships and their visits to the goddesses’ temples. She names her own mother and daughter in them.




What is it about this epigram that appeals to you most?

It takes me straight into an intimate moment shared between a female poet and a girl in a beautiful environment. It is joyful and the combination of the girl’s pride in her youthfulness and melting gaze enables me to see the portrait in my mind’s eye and imagine the pleasure of her mother, who probably commissioned the picture and the poem.

The clincher is the detail about the puppy, who like everyone else involved here (as in most of Nossis’ poems), is female.  The thought of the girl’s pet wagging her tail when she saw Thaumareta or even a likeness of her is delightful. It also makes me think of my own daughters and their intense love of our pets, which include a beloved dog. The Olympian religion offered women far more opportunities for regular fun together than the big monotheisms of today. Their festivals and dedications and sacrifices must have made up a good deal for their exclusion from political life, and I like to be reminded of this.


Edith Hall1




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

Talk to my daughters either in person or online! Walk the dog! Cook huge meals and watch Masterchef. Browse online art galleries. Go to musicals, especially Les Miserables and The Book of Mormon. Watch Eastenders with my husband while drinking red wine.




Edith Hall is Professor of Classics at King’s College London. Most of her books are available on her personal website Her latest book, written with Dr Henry Stead (Lecturer in Latin at St. Andrews—pictured with him below) is A People’s History of Classics: Class and Greco-Roman Antiquity in Britain 1689-1939 (Routledge Taylor Francis 2020), currently only £23.99 and a perfect antidote to lockdown tedium. Her dog is called Finlay.


Edith Hall3


Edith Hall2







Comfort Classics: Liz Gloyn


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

I don’t have something that I go to as a matter of course – my main research is on the work of Seneca, so if I want something thought-provoking I’ll head to his philosophy and his tragedies are always good for high drama, but I wouldn’t call them comforting! That said, one text which always lifts my spirits when I encounter it is Petronius’ novel The Satyricon. I love teaching it to my first year students, and it was the subject of my first published article; it turns all the assumptions about what classical literature is supposed to be about on their heads, and it really cheers me up.




When did you first come across Petronius?

When I was doing my A-level Latin in secondary school, we used a book based on an adapted text from Petronius, which used the middle section (also known as the Cena Trimalchionis or ‘Trimalchio’s Dinner Party’) as the basis for a thorough grammar review. I had no idea then that I’d read the full Dinner Party as part of my undergraduate degree, or that I’d end up studying and teaching it myself!




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

We don’t’ have all of the Satyricon – the consensus is that we probably have about a tenth of what would have been a whopping great novel, probably from somewhere in the second half. The author Petronius is usually identified with the advisor of the emperor Nero, who was brought in to consult on matters of luxury, so the novel was written in the middle of the first century AD. It’s an escapist romp which follows the adventures of Encolpius, a ne’er-do-well who potters around the bay of Naples getting into financial, erotic and social scrapes. Our surviving text spends a lot of time exploring the troubles of a love triangle he finds himself in, and his continuing problems to win the heart of the youth Giton. The whole novel seems to have been written as a parody of the Odyssey, except the offended god isn’t Poseidon – it’s Priapus, the fertility god, whose secret rituals Encolpius has accidentally profaned. Of course, you can imagine precisely which area of Encolpius’ life starts to go wrong as divine punishment…




What is it about this text that appeals to you most?

I love that it turns all our assumptions about what Rome ‘should’ be like on their heads. The novel happily settles into a demi-monde which the author may have known very little about personally, but which gives us a completely different glimpse of what life in Roman Italy was like, away from the imperial politics of the capital city and instead lounging around the luxury villa complexes of the sunny coastline.




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

I’m a voracious reader outside classics when I get the chance; I’m particularly keen on science fiction and fantasy, as well as trying to tick off some of the literary canon (or what people think is the canon… an early encounter with Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles has left me very cautious of books we’re told are ‘must reads’!). I’m also a classically trained singer; while I’ve not had much chance to sing since the birth of my son, I do get to our church choir for special services and evensong as often as I can. Now we’re all finding the small pleasures of being at home, I’m enjoying the opportunity to spend more time out in the garden and keeping things as under control as I can manage.




Dr. Liz Gloyn is a Senior Lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research focuses on the intersections between Latin literature, ancient philosophy and gender studies. She also has a strong specialism in classical reception; her most recent book is Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture [Editor’s Note: currently 30% off on the Bloomsbury website, or 45% for the ebook!]. She blogs about her academic life and research at Classically Inclined and is on Twitter at @lizgloyn.









Comfort Classics: Greg Woolf


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

I don’t find many classical texts comforting. Intriguing, entertaining, provocative maybe. But I don’t think I have much in common with the people who wrote them, or those they expected to read them. I think people like me eavesdrop on the past. Do private eyes find comfort in their tapes?

But I do have many favourites, and one of them is Juvenal.



When did you first come across Juvenal?

In my second term at university I asked if I could study Horace’s Satires. My teacher grimaced and suggested the topic ‘Are Horace’s Satires as trivial and pointless as they seem?’ We compromised on Juvenal, and I never looked back.




Can you tell me a bit about Juvenal and his context?

Juvenal wrote in the comfy first decades of the second century CE, and his satires are mostly set in and around the city of Rome. He was a contemporary of Martial and Pliny and Tacitus but he is quite unlike them (perhaps a bit like the more fun bits of Tacitus). Satire was an old genre of poetry in Rome, had been invented two hundred years before by Lucilius. The fragments of his poems that survive show his satire was rude, political, personal and contemporary – a sort of anti-epic even though it was written in hexameters, the metre of epic. Since then other poets – including Horace – had made it more gentle, calm, witty. Juvenal made satire angry again.



What is it about Juvenal that appeals to you most?

Like Tacitus and most Latin authors of the principate Juvenal was trained in oratory. The oppressive politics of empire didn’t allow many spaces for the kind of ferocious attacks Cicero used against enemies like Clodius and Antony. I love the way Juvenal harnesses the power of oratory to make savage attacks on Roman society, especially the hypocrisy of the wealthy, the pomposity of the wellborn, the feebleness of poets, the cowardice of those close to the emperor. He packs a lot into each verse too.

I don’t always share the opinions expressed. The attack on aristocratic women behaving badly in Satire 6 is quite strong stuff. But I love the energy and sustained fury with which his spokespeople launch their attack. He rarely speaks in his own person and in fact we know almost nothing for sure about him. Juvenal’s satires repay close reading too, which is one of the things that make them so much fun to re-read again and again. There have been many imitations too. I love Samuel Johnson’s London,  an attack on the city that makes good use of Juvenal’s third satire on Rome.




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

Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello LOUD. Reading detective fiction, Ian Rankin a special favourite. Watching science fiction on Netflix and reading Marvel Comics. When things are dark, a long walk, ideally by the sea. But I am lucky that I am not usually down for long, and usually remember life is a roller-coaster and that what goes down goes up.




“At the moment I am Director of the Institute of Classical Studies in London which is an amazing place to work as there is always something going on, new visitors arriving and all the excitement of the capital (so I agree with Samuel Johnson on something else). But I like to move about. I have studied and taught in Oxford and Cambridge, and for nearly twenty years in Scotland where I still have a home. I am about to move again, after Christmas, to Los Angeles and looking forward to that.

As for classical interests I am a sort of hybrid classicist-historian-archaeologist and I have very broad interests. One of the great things about Classics is that this has always been easy to do. I have worked on Roman identity in the provinces, on ancient libraries, on Iron Age hillforts, Roman religion and the assassination of Caesar. I have a new book coming out in a few months called The Life and Death of Ancient Cities. A Natural History which gave me a chance to learn a lot about evolution.”









Comfort Classics: Leigh David Cobley


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

Most of what I research on antiquity is a bit grim, but confronting the terrible nature of existence also has its comforts! It’s ancient philosophy I come back to, the idea that it can be lived as well as studied and that it’s a form of training (askesis) to deal with the things that life can throw at us. If I had to pick just one source it’d be Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.




When did you first come across this text?

I skimmed it a few times when I was younger, but as Aristotle says in the work, philosophy is wasted on the young! I only got to know it properly a few years ago when I was visiting a friend in Thessaloniki. We spent evenings jamming on the lyre and discussing philosophy. I’d packed my Loeb as I knew we’d be visiting Aristotle’s school at Naoussa and when we drove up there we couldn’t resist doing a few recitations. It’s such a wonderfully quiet place, perfect for contemplation and peripatetic countryside walks!






Can you tell me a bit about this text and its context?

The work’s title supposedly refers to Aristotle’s son, so maybe he also had difficulties bringing his kids up, though most parents wouldn’t go so far as to write philosophical tracts to rein their kids in! Unfortunately, all of his actual books are lost and the surviving text is really a collection of lecture notes from the Lyceum, his school at Athens. The work goes in and out of philosophical fashion, but has recently been an influence on the virtue ethics of writers like Alasdair MacIntyre and Martha Nussbaum.




What is it about Aristotle that appeals to you most?

Maybe it’s his observation that happiness (or however you prefer to translate eudaimonia) is an activity rather than a state. It’s not so much being happy that’s important as doing something happily. Life has its ups and downs so we can’t expect to remain in a constantly happy state. Human beings are complex organisms with many emotions, but if what we do gives purpose to our lives, they will be rewarding nonetheless.




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

I’ve always been into languages, so Greek was just an extension of that. I live in a cosmopolitan city so it’s easy to meet people from different backgrounds and in Europe meeting up on a terrace for drinks and language exchanges is an everyday thing. More than any specific text, it’s the active use of languages which I find cheers me up. I’m not very talented at it, but I have the patience to persevere and not feel embarrassed by making mistakes, which are a natural part of language acquisition. The same goes for Classical languages. For instance, I recently started a Greek blog to practice my writing.  It’s hardly Attic prose, but it’s a very productive learning process as I gradually realise how much I still don’t know from a real world need to communicate and take the grammar from there. Aristotle said that the activity of contemplation is true happiness, but he was most likely a monolingual Greek. Maybe if he had taken the time to pick up some of those supposedly “barbarian” languages he would have done things even more happily still.



Leigh David Cobley (M.A. Classical Studies) is an artist, musician and philologist specialising in recreating the memes of antiquity. His blog is an ongoing project to practice writing Ancient Greek and produce materials for beginner students. His YouTube channel documents his other classical comfort, learning to play an Ancient Greek tortoise shell lyre. He can be followed on Twitter @LeighDCobley.








Comfort Classics: Valerie Hope


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

Pliny the Younger’s Letters.



When did you first come across Pliny?

I first met Pliny when studying for my O-level in Latin. Extracts from a handful of his letters were among the set texts. The latter also included Tacitus’ Agricola – another of my go-to favourites.



Can you tell me a bit about Pliny’s letters and their context?

Pliny lived 61 to c.113 CE. He was a senator, lawyer and author, best known now for his surviving letters.  These letters were no doubt heavily edited before publication, and are thus carefully crafted to put Pliny in a good light as the perfect Roman gent. Or, at least, that’s what he intended. In the process, the letters provide lots of insights into life in the city of Rome – the daily round, family, slavery, dining and so forth. For a Roman social historian, the letters are essential reading, and for someone interested in death customs and mourning practices, they provide glimpses into the emotive world of Roman grief and loss.




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

Well, not Pliny’s Letters to the emperor Trajan……which are not his best or him at his best! Indeed, Pliny is not always easy to like – he’s vain, pompous, petty and obsequious. I don’t think the two of us would have got on. But Pliny’s faults (and sometimes obsessive self-interest) make him human.  I particularly enjoy the letters where he makes snide comments about his rival, Regulus, and the often moving obituary letters he wrote at the deaths of his friends. The letters also remind me of my school days, and how my Classical Studies journey began. Attending a small, rural comprehensive, it was very unusual (but fortuitous for me) to have the opportunity to study the ancient world, and we were the last year that took Latin in the school. In my own touch of 16-year-old pompousness, in an old autograph book I have my Latin classes’ signatures, under a quotation from Pliny (8.16). Clearly Pliny and I have a long term love-hate relationship, which is often exasperating, but also makes me chuckle.





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

Home life involves four children, four hens and two rabbits, so that keeps me pretty busy.  I enjoy reading and I am (an often reluctant) 5k runner, currently missing Parkruns on Saturdays.



Valerie Hope is a senior lecturer in Classical Studies at the Open University, with research interests in Roman death, funerals, commemoration, and mourning. Her books include: Death in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook; Roman Death; and Memory and Mourning: Studies on Roman Death. She is currently working on a book about Roman mourners.









Comfort Classics: Gideon Nisbet


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

The epigrams of the Greek Anthology.



When did you first come across the Greek Anthology?

My old undergraduate tutor, Ewen Bowie, steered me towards it when I was interested in doing postgrad but didn’t really know what kind of topic to go for. He’d fancied taking a run at the Anthology’s book of satirical epigrams, but had never found the time to get round to them. He reckoned they would suit my sense of humour – and also, I suspect, my short attention span.




Can you tell me a bit about this book and its context?

An epigram is a short poem, typically in elegiac couplets, and the Anthology contains about four thousand of them, plus some other bits and pieces. It’s truly massive. It was assembled in more or less its present form in the tenth century by a Byzantine scholar called Constantine Cephalas, who drew on a tradition of anthologisation going back at least as far as Meleager of Gadara in the first century BC. The story of how Cephalas’s Anthology came together, only to be lost and (mostly) eventually rediscovered, is dauntingly complicated; Alan Cameron tells it in his book, The Greek Anthology from Meleager to Planudes (1993).

The earliest epigrams of the Anthology are classical inscriptions rescued from authors such as Herodotus (Simonides, ‘Go tell the Spartans…’), but epigram branched out and became a literary genre in the early Hellenistic age, when they began to be performed at symposia and collected into authored books such as the recently rediscovered ‘Milan Posidippus’ papyrus. No other form of literature was as versatile – epigrams could be about practically anything – or as easy to break into; an aspiring writer only needed to stay in metre for a few lines, perhaps only a single couplet. So these little poems carried on being written in huge numbers, both for inscription and as literature, right through the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and far into late antiquity – the sixth century AD was an absolute hotbed of epigram-writing.




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

The Anthology’s versatility means that there is something there for pretty much everybody. Greek epigrams immortalised victories on the racetrack and battlefield – or in the bedroom; cracked jokes; posed riddles; chronicled lovers’ misfortunes; celebrated friendship, the rhythms of nature and the countryside, the satisfaction of a job well done… the list could go on. Last year I had the good fortune to spend several intensive months translating a large selection of its poems for the World’s Classics, which will be out this November under the title Epigrams from the Greek Anthology. It’s a classic that non-classicists have largely forgotten – the last selection on this scale was nearly a century ago – but that once had huge public appeal, and I hope my readers will see why.

Remember, epigrams began as inscriptions, and one place you keep on needing inscriptions is tombs and gravestones. In recent weeks, with a deadly pandemic cancelling all bets and unfinished business in grief already in hand, I have sought solace in going back to the Anthology and translating yet more poems, specifically from the gloomy fourth-century theologian, Gregory of Nazianzus. Gregory was a hugely important man in the history of the church, but he lost everyone he cared about, almost all to illness, often quite suddenly. Here’s an example (Greek Anthology 8.23), on a talented young friend who had everything to live for:


Though he had only twenty years, no more,

Euphemius flew to every Muse of Greece

And each of Rome, as no man ever flew

To any one of either. He burned bright:

A flash of brilliance and character.

Then he was gone. Alas, too quick comes death

When it is coming to the wonderful.


That one is in my World’s Classics selection, but I’ve been posting further versions on my academic blog (, really just as a way to get things off my chest. A century ago, facing an existential threat, the Greek Anthology might have been pressed into service for much more public consolation: epigram’s efficacy at heroizing the dead and consoling the living made it the irresistible template for poets memorialising the Allied fallen of the First World War (there’s a very good book by Elizabeth Vandiver, Stand in the Trench, Achilles (2010), that will tell you all about this).

I’ve found real comfort in spending more time with Gregory. Still, I can’t help being a bit suspicious of the Anthology’s formerly much-vaunted efficacy as a balm to the soul, if only because it’s served that purpose for some utterly dreadful people in the past, as well as some amazing ones. An aptitude in translating Greek epigram used to be the hallmark of a classical education, and carefully pruned selections from the Anthology helped empire-builders unwind, casting a glamour of humane culture over some pretty inhumane deeds and attitudes. That’s one strand of the story I explored in my last big academic book, Greek Epigram in Reception (2013).




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

I spend time with my amazing wife, and with the rest of my family when I can, which alas, isn’t now. I like to tinker with small projects around the house, and I love to cook. I play videogames and read comics, occasionally with a pretext of studying classical reception, but mostly just because I enjoy them. I ride motorcycles, not very well, with a particular weakness for Moto Guzzis; for years we used to take our dog to Italy and back twice a year by bike, though sadly he’s gone now and Italy isn’t really a prospect at the moment anyway. I can’t wait to be back there, eating lovely things and drinking wine with good friends, just like the Greek Anthology says I should.



Gideon Nisbet is Reader in Classics at the University of Birmingham. He is the author of Greek Epigram in the Roman Empire (2003), Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture (2006), Epigram (2009, with Niall Livingstone), and Greek Epigram in Reception (2013). He has translated Martial: Epigrams for Oxford World’s Classics (2015), and his translation of Epigrams from the Greek Anthology will be published in November 2020. He lives in Dublin.









Comfort Classics: Laura Jenkinson-Brown


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

When I want a bit of escapism, I dive into myths. I have a gorgeous double-volume Folio edition set of ‘The Greek Myths’ by Robert Graves, who includes all the different versions of every story.




When did you first come across this book?

My dad found it for me, in a skip in London. Apparently. He’s rather good at finding slightly obscure (to me, anyway) Classics-themed books with lots of pictures as inspiration for my comics.



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

Robert Graves was a novelist and Classicist and a poet and rather an inspiration – he also had Irish parents, and grew up in London. I think I saw ‘I, Claudius’ very early on and was mystified, then further mystified when I discovered it was a book and he’d written quite seriously about myths. ‘The Greek Myths’ is a mythography, a compendium of Greek mythology but with the author’s comments and analyses. I want to be a mythographer when I grow up. I’ve had a copy of ‘The White Goddess’ on the shelf, another of his that examines poetic myth, for when I finish ‘The Greek Myths’, but as I tend to get distracted and start making comics of the myth I’m reading, that’s not going to be any time soon.




What is it about this book that appeals to you most?

It’s more a piece of research than a totally entertaining read, but that’s what entertains me – the twistier and rabbit-holier the better! I tend to end up making frantic notes as I read. It also comes in a rather beautiful slipcase, with a black-figure-style Leda and the Swan illustration across it. Proper book porn.




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

The year before I met my husband, I bought a tiny maisonette in Southsea, Portsmouth. I’m from London and was amazed that I could a) actually afford to buy somewhere, especially that b) had a garden, with an actual tree in it! Since then, we’ve built a summerhouse and a shed with a green roof and planted vegetables and pink and blue plants everywhere, and it’s my absolute saviour right now. I also like to make things, and am currently working on felt animals for a mobile for the baby arriving in July. And I love to read, or at least listen to someone reading to me.




Laura Jenkinson-Brown is a secondary school Classics teacher, and illustrator of Greek Myth Comix, living in Southsea, Portsmouth. Before that she taught English, and before that was a bookseller in Oxford. Her educational comix include several books of the Odyssey, the life of Heracles, the Classical meanings behind names in Harry Potter, and an infographic on Deaths in the Iliad. She has most recently been collaborating with CSCP, Dr Sophie Hay and Caroline Lawrence on a new Pompeii-based Classics/Ancient History course as illustrator – the Amarantus project – launching later this year. You can see an overview of her projects and links to all her GCSE Classical Civilisation resources at and









Comfort Classics: Neville Morley


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

To be honest, I don’t really think of the ancient world in terms of comfort and reassurance; on the contrary, I tend to emphasise the elements that are jarring and disconcerting, or that unsettle comfortable modern assumptions about the Glories of Western Civilisation. Perhaps this is further evidence that I am not really a proper classicist… But there is certainly one work that I do find oddly calming: Frontinus’ De Aquis urbis Romae



When did you first come across this text?

During the first year of my PhD, when I was desperately floundering around for a topic and at the same time trying to understand how to ‘do research’ (in retrospect, the entry standards then must have been terribly lax; I certainly wouldn’t accept me for doctoral study without a lot more evidence that I had any idea what I was doing). I knew that I was interested in something to do with the supply systems of Rome, and so it made sense to try reading this work.




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

Sextus Iulius Frontinus was a successful general and provincial governor under Domitian, who in 96 was appointed curator aquarum, the superintendent of aqueducts in Rome, by Nerva. He took this role extremely seriously, not just embarking on a programme of renovation, repair and clamping down on people siphoning off water illegally, but also writing a two-volume book about the history and management of Rome’s aqueduct system and how great it is, since this might be useful to his successor. It’s a fascinating source of information about everything to do with water supply.




What is it about this work that appeals to you most?

It’s the combination of the public service ethos – Frontinus wants to be the best possible curator aquarum he can, rather than having to rely on his subordinates, and takes great delight in reporting his success in improving the quantity and quality of the urban water supply without having to build any new aqueducts or anything expensive like that – and the sheer nerdy enthusiasm that leads him to write a book all about pipe sizes and rates of water flow. It’s written in the same spirit as Pliny’s Natural History or Columella’s account of farming; a genuine interest in practical knowledge. Of course, as with those other authors, you can do a more sophisticated, cynical, political reading if you want; here’s someone who has flourished under Domitian and his successors, and of course his work is all about the dominance of the Roman state and sucking up to the emperor… I’ve done this myself – not in print, but I gave a talk a few years ago on ‘flows of power and flows of capital’ in Frontinus’ work – but generally I’m much happier to think that he simply immersed himself in his new job and then kept button-holing people at parties to tell them all about how water can be switched from one channel to another for the purposes of repairing the conduits or maintaining the supply to a particular part of the city, and do you know why the water of the Anio Novus is always rather muddy despite the settling tanks..? “With such an array of indispensable structures carrying so many waters, compare, if you will, the idle Pyramids or the useless, though famous, works of the Greeks!”




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

I tend to do practical things, mostly involving food and drink: cooking, baking, jam-making, preserving, sausage-making, smoking and curing, brewing, making cider, and growing fruit and vegetables. I do also play music – jazz bass – but generally I need to be in a reasonably good mood already, or I just get depressed at my limited ability.




Neville Morley is Professor of Classics & Ancient History at the University of Exeter. He works on a wide range of topics in economic and social history, historiography and classical reception, with a particular focus in recent years on the modern influence of Thucydides – he is currently finishing a book for Princeton entitled What Thucydides Knew, which is now going to have to have an extra chapter on coronavirus. He blogs regularly at, and tweets @NevilleMorley.









Comfort Classics: Daisy Dunn


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

There’s a small terracotta sculpture in the British Museum of two young women perched on the ground playing knucklebones. It’s quite a modest piece but so sensitive and beautiful. It’s strangely calming to behold.






When did you first come across this sculpture?

It caught my eye many years ago while I was visiting the museum and I saw it again when it was displayed as part of the Defining Beauty exhibition in 2015. I often look at pictures of it at home.




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

The sculpture is thought to be Campanian and was probably made around 330–300 BC. The paint has faded but a surprising amount of colour still survives.




What is it about this object that appeals to you most?

The figures are so animated they seem to be moving. I love the look of concentration on their faces and the position of their hands. It’s such a simple thing, two people playing a game, but charming for that. It’s not often you see women so carefree and at leisure in the ancient world.







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

I read a lot, especially poetry, and enjoy looking at art, even if it’s just online. Lately I’ve been going through old photographs of my travels and reminiscing.


Dr Daisy Dunn is an author, classicist and critic. Her most recent books, published in 2019, are In The Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny, Of Gods and Men: 100 Stories from Ancient Greece & Rome, and Homer: A Ladybird Expert Book. Her website is and she tweets at @Daisyfdunn.



Daisy pic





Comfort Classics: Jan Haywood


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

I’m not sure if there is a single ancient source that I find great solace in, although Priam and Achilles’ tête-à-tête in the final book of Iliad is stirring stuff! A source that I continue to wonder at, however, is Herodotus’ Histories.




When did you first come across Herodotus?

As a young boy, when I first picked up a second-hand library book on the Greeks and Romans. I remember distinctly being unable to pronounce Herodotus’ name, and the sense of fascination that a Greek author was writing about the ancient Egyptians.




Can you tell me a bit about Herodotus and his context?

Herodotus is often regarded as ‘the father of history’ in the western literary tradition. He was writing in the latter half of the fifth century BCE about the great conflict between Persia and the Greek world from 490-79 BCE, although, as any of his readers will tell you, his perspective ends up being much wider than this.




What is it about Herodotus that appeals to you most?

I cannot think of a more enigmatic author. Herodotus is supremely sophisticated in his approach towards narrating the events of history. A clear example of this is his celebrated account of the Lydian king Croesus in Book 1 of the Histories (there are a total of nine books). It’s a story that looks back several generations, weaving in cryptic oracles delivered at the famous centre of Delphi, while also drawing on the wisdom of the sixth-century BCE Athenian lawgiver Solon. The whole account appeals to such a wide range of sources of information and traditions and ultimately defies easy or reductive interpretations. It ends up being a profound meditation on the processes of history, and on the role that individuals play in shaping the past.




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

I am an avid cinephile and enjoy watching all kinds of films. Life in lockdown has been made a little less stressful recently by Alice Rohrwacher’s Lazzaro felice, Clare Denis’ High Life, Céline Sciamma’s Bande de filles and Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir – just four fine examples of the many amazing women directing films today!



Jan lectures in Classical Studies at The Open University. He is the author of a co-authored book on cross-cultural receptions of the Trojan War tradition with Professor Naoíse Mac Sweeney (Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War: Dialogues on Tradition; Bloomsbury, 2018), and has co-edited with Dr Zosia Archibald a volume in honour of the ancient historian John K. Davies (The Power of Individual and Community in Ancient Athens And Beyond; Classical Press of Wales, 2019). Jan is now working on a book and several articles concerning Herodotus’ Histories, and has recently set up the Herodotus Helpline with Professor Thomas Harrison – a free, online seminar series for all interested in Herodotus and his world.








Comfort Classics: David Meadows


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


The sarcophagus at the Metropolitan Museum depicting the contest between Sirens and Muses.






When did you first come across this sarcophagus?


I honestly can’t recall but it was during one trip down a rabbit hole when I was looking for photos of portrayals of Sirens.




Can you tell me a bit about this story and its context?


The story is mentioned in one of Pausanias’ books (and probably elsewhere) of the Sirens being talked into a singing contest with the Muses. The Muses won, and then plucked the feathers from the poor Sirens to make victory crowns. The sarcophagus in the Met is from the third century or so and depicts the whole progression of the contest.






What is it about this sarcophagus that appeals to you most?


I  love the ‘narrative’ of the sarcophagus. From left to right we see Zeus et al as judges, a few vignettes from the contest in a way that appeals to modern sensibilities — the best is the Siren taking on Euterpe and they look like a pair of metal guitarists competing at some Battle of the Bands. As the scene closes on the right the vanquished Sirens are depicted almost as fallen warriors. Outside of the great visuals, it’s also a great metaphor for social media, with the Sirens distracting you from the serious stuff represented by the Muses. In real life, though, the Sirens sometimes win.






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


 I  watch far too many sporting events for my own good.




David Meadows has an MA in Classics (Queen’s) and was ABD (McMaster) when the decision was made to head into elementary-level education instead. Even so, he is actively involved in the ‘internet side’ of the Classical World and has been blogging at rogueclassicism for 17 years — the sarcophagus mentioned above is the current anchor picture for the site. For the past decade he has been curating #Classicstwitter and continues to whinge about how Classicists should be making more use of the Internet and social media than they currently are.









Comfort Classics: Anactoria Clarke


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

Tryphiodorus’ The Taking of Ilios.  I’ve been fascinated by the Trojan war epic cycle since I first started studying the classics, and love reading the later ancients who fill in the missing gaps from texts we have lost.  I like the thought that even when there are gaps, people have found creative ways to fill them and record what might have been there.



When did you first come across this text?

My research originally started looking at minor male prophets (still a sideline of research) and I was looking for references to Calchas and Helenus.  I was trying to cut down my spending on Loebs and, having previously found Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica in the dusty basement of my local library service through the online catalogue, I idly wondered if Tryphiodorus would be there too.  It was!  I now have a tradition where I take it out over Christmas and New Year every year, to re-read.



Can you tell me a bit about this work and its context?

Like Quintus Smyrnaeus, Tryphiodorus was writing in Greek in the later Roman empire, 3rd or 4th century AD.  He was based in Egypt, and this is his only surviving work, although we know of two other lost poems, Marathoniaca and The Story of Hippodamea. It only covers from the building of the wooden horse through to the sacrifice of Polyxena, so is much shorter than Quintus Smyrnaeus.




What is it about this text that appeals to you most?

There are quite a few elements that seem to show the various receptions we have of some of the characters – Helen in particular.  It also shows Cassandra, daughter of Priam and prophetess (although it was her curse to be an accurate prophet but not believed); she is dealt with particularly harshly by Priam, and this reaction feels to me very much modelled on Agamemnon’s reaction to Calchas at the beginning of the Iliad, even calling her ‘prophetess of evil’.  If my Greek ever gets good enough, I’d love to do a detailed comparison!




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

I am a colossal geek so in my spare time I study; as a rare treat, I might read the odd Nordic Noir thriller.  I also work on creative writing, specifically poetry which usually has a classics-based theme.  I regularly try and brush up my ancient Greek and Latin, and intersperse this with not doing anything to brush up on them and taking two steps back.  During the pandemic and working from home, I’m currently being shadowed 24/7 by Freddie the miniature long-haired sausage dog.  Walking him definitely cheers me up.


Fred jumper



Anactoria is a Staff Tutor for Access modules and an Associate Lecturer in Arts for the Open University.  She originally studied for a PhD in late nineteenth century gothic literature, and then undertook a Masters in Classical Studies whilst working at the OU.  She is currently working towards a PhD in Classics at Kings College London, looking at Cheiron the centaur in ancient sources and in reception. 








Comfort Classics: Jaap Wisse


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

Hard to choose, though to be honest I am not sure there are many that actually cheer me up. But I do find it comforting that these old texts can still touch us – whether by being intellectually fascinating (Cicero), by ironically but seriously reflecting on life (Horace), or by giving us disturbing and gripping stories, fictional or historical (Homer, tragedy, Tacitus). Of course these authors are very different from us (Cicero would make a fascinating but rather too overwhelming dinner guest, Horace’s attitude to women is often embarrassing); but that, for me, in fact enhances the surprise and delight of finding common ground. But if I have to choose one text it would have to be Vergil’s Aeneid.



When did you first come across the Aeneid?

At school, but I don’t think I understood much of it then. I liked Lucretius much better (I forgot to mention him just now). The Dido episode was what appealed to us most, because it just seemed a ‘tragic’ love story.



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

It was written in the 20s BC, so at the start of Augustus’ reign, when the Roman world was ‘settling down’ after a long period of devastating civil wars. The new empire was relatively peaceful, but that came at the cost of growing authoritarianism. Augustus presented himself as rebuilding Rome and its power. At one level the Aeneid fits into that project by presenting an epic about the foundation of the City that looks forward to Rome’s later greatness. At another level, Vergil shows an acute awareness of the pain and suffering that was behind this, clearly partly a reflection of the civil wars. He may even suggest scepticism about Augustus’ grand claims, but the jury is still out on that, and opinions about this question will continue to differ.



What is it about this text that appeals to you most?

The depth of its humanity in the face of darkness and moral complexity, underlined by the comforting beauty of the way it is written. You always feel there is more going on than you have understood until now.



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

A good bottle of wine in good company (which doesn’t happen often enough), and music: lately Bob Dylan’s new work, Bryan Ferry, Schubert and Chopin.



Jaap Wisse is Professor of Latin Language and Literature at Newcastle. He studied mathematics and then classics in Amsterdam, where he also received his doctorate. His book publications centre on ancient rhetoric, in particular Cicero and his masterpiece, De oratore (On the (Ideal) Orator); they include an accessible translation of the latter (with James May). He also likes to work on Roman intellectual life, Greek and Roman historiography, and Greek and Latin language. He is currently collaborating with his Newcastle colleague Federico Santangelo in writing a commentary on Sallust’s War with Jugurtha for the Cambridge ‘Green & Yellow’ series.


On the Ideal Orator_cover


You can listen here to the recording of his public lecture ‘Lest we forget: Tacitus on history writing under a tyranny’.








Comfort Classics: Emma Bridges


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

The majority of the ancient sources I spend most of my time with at the moment aren’t particularly comforting, and in fact they often make me feel quite sad – I’m currently working on a project which examines the experiences of soldiers’ wives in ancient Greek myth, and the representations of these women in epic poetry and tragic drama can be particularly harrowing. But in a different genre altogether, I’ve always really loved reading the comedies of Aristophanes (in fact I’m a bit surprised that no-one else in this series has mentioned them yet!)



When did you first come across Aristophanes?

My first encounter with the classical world was via A level Classical Civilisation in the 1990s, where we read Frogs and Thesmophoriazusae (‘The Women at the Thesmophoria festival’) in English translation. Recently I went to the King’s College London Greek Play (it’s the last theatre production I saw before lockdown) which was a brilliant mashup of Frogs and Euripides’ Bacchae, and it reminded me of what it is that I love about Aristophanes.



Can you tell me a bit about Aristophanes and his context?

Aristophanes was writing his plays for performance at the theatre festivals in Athens between the 420s and 380s BCE. Eleven of his plays survive in full, but he seems to have written many more than this; of the rest we have titles or fragments. They’re a pretty raucous mix of every imaginable comic technique, from cutting-edge political satire and caricatures of well-known figures to downright silliness – puns and visual humour along with plenty of toilet jokes and sexual innuendo. Usually they have absurd plots – Frogs, for example, features the god of drama, Dionysus, making a trip to the underworld to bring back to Athens one of two dead tragic poets, Aeschylus or Euripides, to ‘save the city’ during a time of political turmoil.



What is it about Aristophanes that appeals to you most?

Some people think that as soon as you start to analyse something which is intended to be humorous it stops being funny. That may be true to some extent, but I think you can learn a lot about a society from finding out what makes its people laugh. I love the fact that we can read Aristophanes and see what kinds of running jokes there were in Athens at particular points in the fifth century BCE – from seeing which politicians were in or out of favour, to the kind of mockery to which Aristophanes subjects the tragic poets Euripides and Aeschylus in Frogs. Also, productions like the King’s College Greek Play show that, even after two and a half millennia, these ancient plays can still be hilarious for a modern audience.



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

Things I really love include: family time with my husband and our two children; long walks with our Labrador Izzy; yoga (great for switching off when my mind’s too full); working my way through the never-ending stack of fiction books by my bed; long chats with friends, ideally over tea (brewed strong, with just a dash of milk) or G&T (with ice and a slice of lime).



Emma Bridges is Public Engagement Fellow in Classics at the Institute of Classical Studies in London. She helps researchers to find creative and interesting ways of sharing their work in Classics with wider publics. She’s also a researcher herself; her next book, Warriors’ Wives: Ancient Greek Myth and Modern Experience, compares the depictions of soldiers’ wives in Homeric epic and Athenian tragedy with the experiences of contemporary ‘military spouses’. It will be published by Oxford University Press in 2021.

You can find Emma on Twitter @emmabridges.










Comfort Classics: Michael Scott


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

The Philogelos –  ‘Laughter Love’ – a compendium of ancient jokes!



When did you first come across this text?

In 2012 – when I was a research Fellow at Cambridge.



Can you tell me a bit about this compendium and its context?

It’s the oldest existing collection of jokes – written in the 3rd or 4th century CE (in ancient Greek). 265 jokes categorised into different sections depending on the subject.

For instance…

#263. Someone needled a jokester: “I had your wife, without paying a dime.” He replied: “It’s my duty as a husband to couple with such a monstrosity. What made you do it?”



What is it about this collection that appeals to you most?

We spend so much time thinking about the serious and important things the Greeks did – it’s good to see them ‘in their down time’, having fun, and telling jokes (even if some of them aren’t particularly funny anymore).






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

I am a massive fan of backgammon, board games, movies (old and new ones) and long walks.



Michael Scott is Professor of Classics at the University of Warwick.

“I am interested both in ancient Greece (and particularly its religious activities) and also in the ancient Silk Roads. My most recent book is on the development of connections across the ancient silk roads from the Mediterranean to China (Ancient Worlds). I am also passionate about communicating the ancient world to the wider public – through TV, books, lectures and social media. Check out my regular live Facebook Q&A via my page or my website:”










Comfort Classics: Frederick Armour


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

Pindar’s Odes.



When did you first come across this text?

I’d always been aware of Pindar as a kind of majestic background to Classical Greek lit but had not read anything by him, since he seems never to be included in any anthologies. I began reading his Odes a couple of years ago having read through Thucydides and Aeschylus – I must be a sucker for the Austere Style!



Can you tell me a bit about the Odes and their context?

Pindar, a Boeotian poet born in Thebes in the late 6th century, composed a number of different choral lyric works during the first half of the 5th century BC, and some seventeen books existed in Hellenistic times of which only four books are extant, more or less in entirety, the rest existing in fragments. It is in these four books that we have Pindar’s Epinician Odes, forty-four of them, each book entitled by one of the four Pan- Hellenic games: the Olympic, Pythian, Nemean and Isthmian Odes.

These were composed, on commission by the victor or member of his family, to be sung and danced by a chorus to pipe and lyre in celebration of a victorious athlete in one of these Games (not necessarily the actual athlete – the owner of a horse/chariot team being the commissioner/honorand, eg Hieron the Tyrant of Syracuse), the performance to take place in the victor’s home city (there’s some discussion as to whether the shorter odes might have taken place at the Games).

In the epinician ode genre, and others, Pindar had an elder contemporary, Simonides, and a younger, Bacchylides (Simonides’ nephew), thus these three were in competition. In the late 19th century some fifteen epinician odes by Bacchylides were discovered but of Simonides only fragments remain and the epinician genre seems to have flourished and died with these three (though Aristophanes the comic dramatist is said to have composed an epinician for Alcibiades and the antecedents of epinican are lost in the mists of time like those of the tragic genre).

To satisfy the commissioner, the ode would have to mention the victor’s name (as mentioned above, this not necessarily being the actual athlete), his competition, city, family name (some belonging or purporting to belong to famous families), sometimes past family members’ victories in Games, and a myth linked to the victor’s family or city, embedding them in an Hellenic whole as an egg yolk binding pastry together (possibly this felt more important for one in the Greek colonies in Crete or Cyrene in North Africa or elsewhere).



Etruscan bronze helmet found at Olympia in 19th century dedicated by Hieron the Syracusan tyrant to Zeus after defeating an Etruscan force off Cumae in the 470s BC, which is mentioned by Pindar in Pythian 1, 71-75 (Olympian 1 and Pythian 1 – 3 are dedicated to Hieron). British Museum.




What is it about Pindar that appeals to you most?

I enjoy reading poetry and I enjoy reading Greek lit and Pindar seems to fit perfectly in a Venn diagram of these. The necessarily celebratory nature of the Odes lends itself to cheeriness but there’s a deeper pleasure to be had in enjoying the verbal versatility of Pindar in ringing the changes to the formulae he necessarily has to use to satisfy the commission. There are regular transitions from one theme to another – there are no longeurs in Pindar – with a swift glide by means of a simple relative pronoun. Indeed there’s an almost liminal nature to the Odes when one finds oneself entering a mythic episode, in medias res, where there is a colourful vividness. For instance Heracles, in chase of a golden-horned doe (mythic does have mythic horns as Gildersleeve says!), in the land of the Hyperboreans, stands in amazed wonder at the shady foliage over the river Ister; Klotho withdraws young Pelops ,with his gleaming ivory shoulder, from a cauldron; Bellerophon, astride Pegasus, from the cold recesses of the empty air shoots missiles at the Amazon hordes – and so on in picturesque marvelousness.

Just to give a single example of Pindar’s poetic gift: in the phrase haptetai oikothen Herakleos stalan, (Olympian 3, 43-44) without that small ordinary word oikothen (this is the root of the word for home, oikos, plus termination –then meaning place from, so = “from home”) haptetai stalan Herakleos, “touches the pillars of Hercules” would be a worn metaphor, but adding oikothen Pindar produces a dizzying oxymoron – it emphasises the enormous distance (the pillars of Hercules were as sort of Hellenic Ultima Thule) but also presents a kind of optical illusion of the honorand, Theron, both at home and in physical contact with those far flung Pillars, rather like that illusion of the revolving mask, concave one side, convex the other, which when seen revolving shows convex both sides. (Those Pillars by the way, as well as being associated with the straits of Gibraltar, seem to have originated in early Greek travellers’ sightings of two huge pillars in the Phoenician temple of Melqart at Cadiz (Gadeira in Greek), according to Robin Lane Fox in “Travelling Heroes” following Strabo.)



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

Reading mainly…. Kate Atkinson is a current favourite, Mick Herron too and the old classics like Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories, Agatha Christie, and in particular Dorothy Sayers. I like watching the David Suchet Poirot films too. I wish I could say drinking beer in the pub but we’ll not go there….



“I left school as soon as I could and I’ve worked on the railways in various jobs at various places for 36 years, during which time I taught myself to read Classical Greek and subsequently started doing OU courses studying Classical Greek and Latin and Classical culture out of curiosity, one course leading to another and so found myself with a degree (though I ran out of Classical culture courses and got my honours with a Shakespeare course – which was nice!). I now work part time so I have lots of time to study Greek lit.”








Comfort Classics: Susan Raikes


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

Having worked in museum education all my career, the answer to this question has to be an object, but which one out of so many wonderful, fascinating, beautiful things that I have had the privilege to work with? Could be any of about 20, but, of all the fancy and famous things it could be, I am going to go for a sock! A woolly, stripy child’s sock from Roman Egypt, radio-carbon dated from 3rd or 4th century.  You can see it here: and it’s definitely worth spending some time taking a really good look.

The formal object description tells us it is a sock for the left foot of a child with separation between the big toe and four other toes worked in 6 or 7 colours of wool in a single needle looping technique sometimes called naalebinding and worked from the toe upwards. If you’re really into knitting then there are lots more lines on how the stripes are achieved!



From the British Museum:



When did you first come across this object?

I was lucky enough to be the first person ever to put this lovely object on public display. Until a couple of years ago I worked at the British Museum, leading the learning teams and also the museum’s activity across the UK. Thanks to my exceptionally talented and patient colleagues, in my ‘spare’ time I curated an exhibition called Roman Empire: Power and People which toured the UK. I was very keen to get my love of the ordinary object into the show and the sock was just being researched and cleaned and conserved at the right time for the people of Norwich, Coventry, Wallsend, Bristol and Dundee to see it up close. It later also starred in the wonderful Faith after the Pharaohs exhibition at the BM in London.



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

The sock comes from Antinoupolis, close to modern Sheikh Ibada, at the east bank of the river Nile.  Antinoupolis (I use the spelling that the British Museum does, although there are many others and you may have other preferences) was founded by the Emperor Hadrian in AD130 in honour of the loss of his lover (something else you can argue about if you want to!) Antinous who drowned in the Nile.

From 1913 to 1914 the Egypt Exploration Fund, led by John de Monins Johnson (1882-1956) excavated in the rubbish heaps along the ancient city wall of the town with the primary purpose of finding papyri, but also found leatherwork and textiles, including our sock.



What is it about this sock that appeals to you most?

I mentioned the fancy knitting techniques employed in the making of this object already, but it’s not the knitting that makes me return to this object again and again. It’s the combined sense of the ordinary, everyday thing that we all still have and still recognise instantly, and the wonder of the fact that such a thing has survived the centuries and is as colourful and comforting as it was when it was first knitted (or naalebinded? naalebound? answers on a postcard please!).

So often it is easy to forget, as we fall in love with their art, or poetry, or military tactics, or whatever floats your personal classics boat, that the people of the ancient world are the same people as we are – with hopes and fears and mundane daily tasks to do and… cold feet. Pair this sock (excuse the pun) with the Vindolanda tablets in which soldiers are receiving socks and underpants to keep them warm on Hadrian’s Wall (you can see one here) and you start to get a human connection with real people, just like us.  To my mind at least, objects do this more strongly than texts. And it’s that human connection that gives me comfort as well as wonder and joy.



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

Being outside with my dogs, Stanley and Mabel (my husband vetoed Alcibiades and Aspasia as too embarrassing to call out in the park!), always cheers me up and I love reading pretty much all historical fiction. I am currently re-reading all of Lindsay Davies’ books – Marcus Didius Falco can always make me smile no matter what’s going on in the outside world.



Susan Raikes is Director of Learning at the Science Museum Group and is passionate about the power of museums to intrigue and inspire and their unique position in providing creative learning environments.

Previously, Susan spent 10 years at the British Museum, with responsibility for all education programming and national partnership work. She also curated two touring BM exhibitions: Roman Empire: Power and People for the UK and Rome: City and Empire for an international tour and wrote accompanying books and catalogues. Prior to that, Susan worked in museum education roles for Tyne & Wear Museums and the Sussex Archaeological Society.

You can find her on Twitter @sraikes.







Comfort Classics: Armand D’Angour


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

This poem by Nicarchus makes me laugh every time. I love the idea of someone coming seventh in a race with six people – and the punchline is fabulous!


When Kharmos, in Arcadia, once entered in a race

    competing with five runners, he came out in seventh place.

A curious result, and you’ll be saying ‘How in heaven,

    with six men in the race, did Kharmos finish no. 7?’

The reason’s this. A mate of Kharmos, shouting ‘Go, you’re fine’

   ran fully dressed around the course, and beat him to the line.

So Kharmos finished seventh, but here’s to his sporting health:

    if he had five more friends, just think — he would have finished twelfth.







When did you first come across this poem?

I was writing an article about the ancient Olympics after I composed the Pindaric Ode for Athens in 2004, and it was cited in a scholarly book about ancient sport. I thought I must translate it into verse form, and did so.



Can you tell me a bit about this poem and its context?

Nicarchus was a Greek poet of the 1st century AD, famous for his witty epigrams, forty-two of which survive in a collection called the Greek Anthology. Many of them have a sting in the tail, like this one:


The pall of death hangs on the raven’s wing;

The song of death sounds in the raven’s cries.

But when Demophilus begins to sing…

The raven dies!


Not surprisingly Nicarchus was an influence on the Roman poet Martial, who wrote even more stinging epigrams.



What is it about this poem that appeals to you most?

Its humour and irreverence, and the ingenuity of putting the thought into the elegiac verse form.



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

The thought of a fresh almond croissant and coffee from our local café Sable d’Or cheers me up every time, though I ration myself to weekends. I think the idea actually stimulates endorphins.


“I teach Classics at Jesus College, Oxford, and I live in London NW3. I love all the Classics, Greek and Latin, but have been hugely enthused about my latest subject of research, the philosopher Socrates.  In my book Socrates in Love (2019) I paint a brand new picture of him  – that of a young man falling in love, fighting in battle, and sparring with friends. I’m looking forward to the book being made into a film, but it’s also a piece of serious revisionist history with which I think scholars must engage.”










Comfort Classics: Valeria Bosisio


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

It’s hard to pick just one! But for me it would probably be the Boxer at Rest.






When did you first come across this sculpture?

It’s quite a funny story. When my partner and I first started dating I remember asking him a question similar to the one I’ve just answered here – if there was a source from the classical world that he particularly liked. I knew he wasn’t much into Classics but he came up with this source I hadn’t met yet, the Boxer at Rest. Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed … many more dates were soon scheduled!




Can you tell me a bit about the Boxer and his context?

It’s a bronze statue dated to the Hellenistic period, between 330 and 50 BC. It was unearthed in Rome at the end of the nineteenth century but there are still many unanswered questions surrounding this source – nobody really knows for sure who sculpted it or how it ended up in Rome. There’s the oft-cited line from Horace, Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio: as the Romans marched east conquering Greece and the Hellenistic kingdoms they were absolutely bewitched by their art ,of which they became avid collectors – so this might provide an explanation for the Boxer’s find-spot. To be precise the statue was found near the ancient Baths of Constantine, and perhaps was publicly displayed there in antiquity; the fingers and toes are worn by repeated touching so possibly it was attributed healing powers. This was apparently not uncommon for statues of athletes, and could partly explain the statue’s safeguarding when the Baths were destroyed during the 5th century.




What is it about this statue that appeals to you most?

Well… if beauty is in the details then the unknown artist really did a magnificent job: the Boxer has a broken nose, even cauliflower ears – a deformity resulting from trauma to the ear that commonly affects combat athletes. His face and torso are those not of a boy but a more mature man and are covered in scars and bruises, with the impression of blood rendered through skillful use of copper inlays. What I like the most about the statue is precisely this dramatic realism and inclusion of bodily ‘flaws’, which is something we don’t find in the idealised, youthful figures of Classical Greek sculpture. There is a movement away from earlier traditions and I find this new representation of human vulnerability refreshing. The fact that the athlete is ‘at rest’ instead of in action like, let’s say, Myron’s Discobolus, is in itself striking – it shows tiredness, which matches the wounds in offering a picture of very human imperfection and weakness.

Now some might feel that there is something sad about this battered, beaten man but to me this is a markedly heroic figure (he has indeed been compared stylistically to previous representations of Herakles, the ideological connection here being with the Twelve Labours). I think the Boxer is heroic not in the ‘classical’ sense, but for the fact that despite his visible fatigue his head is turned to the right presumably to face an (invisible to us) adversary, the muscles in his legs are tense and he overall seems ready to resume the fight. To me there is something more relatable here in terms of human experience as compared to earlier utopian portrayals, and I personally love the way in which this work makes a hero out of an ordinary human with, and exactly because of, all of his frailties. Of course, I cannot know for sure what message the artist wished to convey or what ancient viewers made of it, but for me this reading is sweet and comforting – so this is my takeaway from the piece!






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

I love travelling and a second trip to Rome to meet the Boxer at Rest in person is definitely on my list! Of course this will have to wait for now, but it’s easy for me to divert myself at home. I enjoy a good night in binge watching some new series – period drama is my favourite, I’m currently on ‘Belgravia’ (watch out fans of Downton Abbey!). But other than this, I generally remain truthful to my passion for the classical world; I’ve recently come across this National Geographic kit to build a model of the Colosseum available on eBay and I’m feeling overly enthusiastic! I’m sharing the link here for anyone who’s interested – might be a nice way to occupy some hours during the quarantine.



“I am originally from Italy but have been living in the UK for about 3 years. I am approaching the end of my BA Classical Studies with the OU and I plan to continue with a MA. Rome is my preferred subject, especially the Late Republic and the Augustan period. I should love to deepen my knowledge around these topics! I’m not currently working in a Classics-related field but I hope my degree will eventually allow me to do just that – a job in a museum or a career in teaching would be very lovely.”








Comfort Classics: Simon Pulleyn


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

 Given that I have written a fair bit about Homer, people might expect me to say the Iliad or the Odyssey. But I don’t think I go to those works in order to be cheered up. The Iliad, in particular, is apt to show you nature red in tooth and claw and it has about as much consolation in it as a Greek tragedy. In her obituary of Prof Martin West OM, Prof Jane Lightfoot said that, ‘he was drawn to archaic poetry because of its unaffected, unshowy directness and lack of mannerism (not for him the “clever-clever” Hellenistic poets, Callimachus and the poets of the Alexandrian library.’ Martin himself once said of the Avestan Gāthās that they ‘give the impression of ringing out somewhere in the middle of a fresh and hopeful young world.’ I recognize the attraction of that lofty archaic simplicity, even if I think that Homer and the Gāthās are a good deal more sophisticated than they might seem. But I am not sure that this is where I go in order to feel better.

For that, I almost always go to Virgil’s Eclogues.





When did you first come across this text?

As a student at Balliol in the 1980s. I had the good fortune to be taught by Jasper Griffin and Oliver Lyne. People might think that Jasper was a Hellenist and Oliver a Latinist. But this was not so. Jasper wrote Latin Poets and Roman Life and also a very good study of Virgil in the Oxford Past Masters series. Oliver, for his part, was a brilliant expositor of Homer and I had half of my tutorials on Homer with him, not Jasper! So both my tutors covered Greek and Latin evenly. But it was Oliver who introduced me to the Eclogues. I later read the Georgics with him too.



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

Virgil wrote two works about the countryside, the Eclogues and the Georgics. The first in time was the Eclogues, a book of ten poems on which he was at work from about 43–38 BC.  Although they are both ostensibly about rural life, they are very different in content and feel.

Essentially the Eclogues owe a great deal to the pastoral poetry of the Greek poet Theocritus (fl. 280–260 BC). Theocritus wrote Idylls – these were partly poems about shepherds and rural pursuits but they could extend to urban themes. Although rustic in content, there is nothing crude or simple about the style of either the Idylls or the Eclogues. Theocritus was a Hellenistic poet and the literary movement to which he belonged valued craft and allusiveness in poetic constructions. Virgil took Theocritus’ characters and moved them to a world nearer to Rome (e.g. E. 1). He also wove into them some of the tension that surrounded the political struggles that attended the last decades of the Roman Republic. Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Octavian claimed the succession. Antony, Lepidus and Octavian formed the second triumvirate in 43 BC. In the next year, at the Battle of Philippi, Octavian and Antony defeated Cassius and Brutus, who were behind the killing of Julius Caesar. In 41 BC, the three divided up the world between themselves: Octavian took the West, Antony the East and Lepidus Africa. War broke out in Italy between soldiers loyal to Antony and those supporting Octavian. In 40 BC, Octavian captured Perusia and Antony’s Italian forces collapsed.  Later the same year, Antony and Octavian temporarily patched up their differences through the Peace of Brundisium. Octavian gave his sister Octavia to Antony in marriage to strengthen the alliance. In 37 BC Antony repudiated Octavia and married Cleopatra.

This is not the place to narrate the rest of the events that led to the victory of Octavian over Antony at Actium in 31 BC. The last Eclogues had appeared by 37 BC. It is enough to note that the period during which Virgil was writing was one of profound upheaval and anxiety. Concerns about loss of land through expropriation in favour of military veterans, loss of livelihood, and worries about the effect of war on the rural way of life surface time and again in the Eclogues. But there are also charming passages celebrating love, even if mostly not straightforward or successful, and the simple pleasures of the locus amoenus (the charming spot) and Arcadia. The Eclogues are formed into a book with a conscious architecture – poems towards the end of the book echo themes and lines from poems earlier in the book and the poems alternate between a single poetic voice and amoebaean song with two or more participants. So there is considerable sophistication there.

The Georgics are a very different kind of rural poetry. They stand in a didactic tradition going back to the Greek hexameter poet Hesiod (C7 BC) but with the huge influence of the Latin poem on natural philosophy De Rerum Natura by Lucretius (99–55 BC). The style of Virgil’s didactic poetry is altogether loftier than that of the Eclogues and stands in a different tradition, albeit allusion and craft are still very much to the fore. The sort of simplicity that some attribute to the archaic Hesiod is not to be found in the Georgics.



What is it about these poems that appeals to you most?

 What I love about the Eclogues is their sheer charm and beauty.  There are catalogues of flowers, with Virgil showing off his knowledge of the flora of Italy but also of Theocritus’ Sicily. There are contests among shepherds in poetic song – shepherds who turn out to be remarkably skilled at crafting dactylic hexameters with pointed rhetorical figures and games. There are laments about lost love, including a clever conceit (E. 2. 25–6) where Alexis says that he cannot understand why he has been rejected. After all, he recently caught sight of himself in the still waters of the sea and he did not seem so ugly. The joke here is that Virgil is following the story of the cyclops Polyphemus from Theocritus. A giant might be able to use the sea as a mirror, but scarcely an ordinary mortal. There is a pathos in these borrowed words.

This might be criticized as ‘clever clever’. Perhaps it is. But I have been enjoying these poems for more than 30 years and every time I come back to them I want to re-read so much other Latin poetry as well. Virgil expects you to revel with him in the quality of the poetic textures that he is creating.

In the end, I perhaps love the Eclogues for the same reason that I love AE Housman. Both show great beauty shot through with the complexity of longing and loss. Eclogue 2. 3 begins with rustic singing under umbrosa cacumina (‘shady tree-tops’); by Eclogue 9. 9 these have turned into iam fracta cacumina (‘tree-tops that are now shattered’). The move from pleasant rural pursuit to loss and gloom is also echoed in the placement of these two poems within the larger whole. In the same vein, Housman talks about the countryside of Shropshire and ‘the happy highways where I went and cannot come again’. (Shropshire Lad, XL). Just as Virgil’s characters bemoan the loss of love, e.g. Corydon and Alexis (Eclogue II), so Housman knows the same all too well (‘The heart out of the bosom / Was never given in vain; / ‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty / And sold for endless rue’, Shropshire Lad, XIII). Just as Virgil’s shepherds know of loss of land and livelihood (Eclogue IX), so Housman’s characters know about the bitter contrast between soldiery and farming (‘Oh stay at home, my lad, and plough / The land and not the sea, / And leave the soldiers at their drill, / And all about the idle hill / Shepherd your sheep with me.’ (Last Poems XXXVIII). In some ways, Virgil’s Arcadia and Housman’s Shropshire are mirrors to the same concerns.

The Eclogues is a book of contrasts. There is the complex literary allusiveness of Eclogue IV (the so-called Messianic Eclogue, seen in the Middle Ages as a prophecy of the birth of Christ) and Eclogue VI (the so-called Neoteric Eclogue where Virgil sets out a literary manifesto following the artful Hellenistic poet Callimachus and others). But there is also some very poignant poetry about love and loss and the beauty of nature and song. It is to this inexhaustibly rich mixture that I find myself drawn again and again.



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

I read poetry, listen to music, go for walks, and ride my bike. My tastes in English poetry range from Tennyson, Keats and Matthew Arnold to Philip Larkin, Dick Davis and Richard Scott. I have never enjoyed TS Eliot and Ezra Pound. In French, I love the poems of José-Maria de Hérédia, a C19 French Parnassian poet born in Cuba who wrote some brilliant classicizing verses and was elected to the Académie Française.  My musical tastes range from a deep love of early and Renaissance polyphonic religious music (sung by The Tallis Scholars, The Cardinall’s Musick and The Sixteen) through French chansons of all periods to the great English classics of the 60s (The Kinks) and the 80s (Dire Straits). Mark Knopfler, IMHO, knocks Eric Clapton into a cocked hat. I could not ride a bicycle until I was 47. In the years since then, it has given me so much pleasure making up for lost time.



Simon Pulleyn read Classics at Balliol College, Oxford in the 1980s. He stayed on and did a doctorate on Prayer in Greek Religion. He was a Lecturer in Classics at Merton College, Oxford for most of the 1990s. He practised Law in the City of London for seven years and taught Law for another six after that. During that time, he took a degree in Canon Law and has written a bit about that too. He is a vegan and committed to the raising the quality of ethical thinking about animals. He is a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and has contributed papers on animal experimentation in antiquity, vegetarianism in antiquity, and the treatment of animals in the religious laws of Latin Christendom. In 2014, he decided to go back to writing. He is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Greek and Latin at University College London. He is currently preparing an edition and commentary on Homer, Odyssey Book XI under contract to Oxford University Press.

A full list of his publications can be seen here, including a work for the non-specialist reader wanting an introduction to linguistics and philology.

He has three elderly cats, the oldest of which – Mildred – recently turned 19 and is pictured below:









Comfort Classics: Mirko Canevaro


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

 I’m not sure classical sources make me ‘feel better’ these days. I actually find most of them, particularly the textual ones, rather stress-inducing. I’m so used to unpacking them, thinking with them and through them about whatever problem is bugging me that I find it quite difficult just to sit down and enjoy them. My most recent attempt at a remedy has been changing the medium: if I listen to audiobooks of the Odyssey, of Herodotus or even of Aristotle’s Poetics, that helps me just go with the flow. But I’m going on a tangent…

Right, if I had to pick one text that consistently puts a smile on my face every time I go back to it, that would probably be Aristophanes’ Wasps. However analytically I go about reading it, I just always find it very funny, and somehow satisfying, though perhaps not for the ‘right’ reasons…



When did you first come across this play?

 It was at high school (Liceo Classico, in Italy), I must have been fifteen or sixteen. We had to read it all as an assignment, and then some time later we were brought to see a performance of it. I loved it… Those rough, ‘vulgar’, lowly, grumpy old men – I had plenty of those sorts in my family and I liked them. It was a mixture of familiarity and estrangement, because in the play those guys passed judgment in the lawcourts, made decisions for the city in the Assembly, kind of ran the place (whatever Bdelycleon says – he didn’t fool me, the pompous bore). A city where those guys were in charge… that’s a place I wanted to know more about!



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

 Aristophanes’ Wasps was produced in 422 BCE, during a brief stop in the Peloponnesian War following a truce between Athens and Sparta. It’s a comedy and, as is typical of Aristophanes’ plays of those years, it makes fun of demagogues (thieving opportunists and so on) and those who follow them (the lower classes that apparently are enjoying democracy a bit too much). But, unlike other comedies of the same years, this play concentrates on a particular institution – the lawcourts – and on the kind of people that typically manned them: the poor, grumpy old men I mentioned earlier. It goes on and on about how manipulated these people were by canny politicians without scruples, but also shows how at ease they were within the formal institutions of the state, how much ‘ownership’ they felt they had over them. And it provides a picture of class dynamics as they played out in Athenian politics and society which is very complex and rather subtle, I think, while remaining very very funny.



What is it about this work that appeals to you most?

First of all, I love how it begins. Pure slapstick! A house enveloped in a net, the door barricaded, the master and his two slaves on guard. And the old Philocleon trying in any possible way to get out of the house and join his fellow wasps on their way to the lawcourts – through the drains, the windows, up the chimney disguised as smoke. His son, Bdelycleon, and the two slaves only just manage to keep him inside. Scholars are sometimes dismissive of this part – of this kind of childish slapstick comedy. It just so happens that this is precisely what my own sense of humour demands… And the scene has now acquired a new poignancy, hasn’t it? A worried son trying hard to keep a disgruntled old father within the house, for his own good – it’s lockdown comedy!

The play then goes on to represent these poor old men’s attachment to political power in the lawcourts as an addiction and gives us a wonderful parody of an Athenian trial in which two dogs play the parts of two famous politicians and the item of contention is the theft of Sicilian cheese.

Finally, it shows us what happens when the old man is convinced to abandon his old ways: his son ‘frees’ him of his addiction to political participation and tries to educate him to the norms of upper-class society, taking him along to a symposion. There, Philocleon is uncomfortable, out of place, annoyed (more or less how I’ve felt at every formal dinner I’ve ever been to…) and so wreaks havoc on the conventions of polite society, gets raucously drunk, insults the pretentious friends of his son, steals a flute girl and when confronted by his son about it on the way home claims she is a torch (!). I’m not sure this is what Aristophanes wanted me to get out of this (probably not), but, to me, it is quite satisfying to see how Philocleon ultimately resists his son’s attempts to civilise him, particularly because being civilised apparently means dropping all political participation in favour of the company of a bunch of pretentious bores. When the people that Philocleon has insulted threaten to bring him to court, well, to me that’s his victory: despite Bdelycleon’s best efforts, there we go again!




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

 In a different world I’d be spending time on my beloved mountains, skiing, climbing, hiking. These days, I keep (or perhaps lose) my sanity through regression to teenage Mirko’s habits and tastes: comic books and videogames have been my cure for lockdown angst. They work too!



Mirko Canevaro is Professor of Greek History at the University of Edinburgh. He works on a wide range of topics in the institutional, social, legal and cultural history of ancient Athens and of the Greek polis more generally, always in dialogue with modern social and political theory. He has published extensively on authors and topics such as Demosthenes, Aristotle, Greek law and institutions, the Hellenistic reception of Athenian democracy and the possible synergies between Greek history and the social sciences. He is currently completing a commentary (in Italian) on Aristotle’s Politics books VII and VIII, and co-directing a large European project on Honour in Classical Greece. He also regularly writes (about ancient and, even more frequently, modern politics and society) for Italian national newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano and cultural magazine MicroMega.












Comfort Classics: Tom Mason


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

As a couple of others have done, I’d like to cheat a little and say two, but they are related to each other: the Philosophy of Epicurus, and an excerpt from Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses,


Now since the sea’s great surges sweep me on,

All canvas spread, hear me! In all creation

Nothing endures, all is in endless flux,

Each wandering shape a pilgrim passing by.

And time itself glides on in ceaseless flow,

A rolling stream – and streams can never stay,

Nor lightfoot hours. As wave is driven by wave,

And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead,

So time flies on and follows, flies, and follows,

Always for ever new. What was before

Is left behind; What never was is now;

And every passing moment is renewed.






When did you first come across these sources?

I first encountered Epicurus about 20 years ago, when I caught a series of short programmes called The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton, one of which was about Epicurus’ Philosophy. The excerpt from Ovid I first heard a few years ago watching a BBC 4 documentary called Ovid: the Poet and the Emperor (I suppose TV is good for some things!)



Can you tell me a bit about these texts and their context?

Epicurus was born on Samos to Athenian parents in 341BCE and, after learning of atomistic philosophy, settled in Athens in around 307/6BCE to teach, buying a house and garden and moving in with friends, slightly similar to the self-isolation going on at the moment, but done to address philosophical problems in a practical way; he said that “Any Philosopher’s argument which does not therapeutically treat human suffering is worthless”. Rather than the gluttonous ‘Epicurean’ he has been caricatured as, Epicurus actually suggested that happiness comes merely from fulfilling our essential needs which, aside from simple food, drink and shelter, consists of Friendship, Freedom and (not surprisingly) Philosophy, or ‘the examined life’. Fulfilling desires beyond these won’t necessarily make us any happier, and trying to do so could make us unhappy. His main concern was attaining ἀταραξία (ataraxia), a tranquility derived from being free of worries and distress.

Ovid was a Roman poet, born in Sulmo in 43BCE. Among other works, he finished his Metamorphoses in about 8CE, an epic series of mythologies around the theme of change and intended to provide a ‘continuous song’ from the beginning of time until the advent of Roman society and civilization. Unfortunately he fell foul of Augustus, embroiled in some plot the details of which are still unclear, and he was banished to Tomis on the Black Sea, about as far from Rome as it was possible to be then. The poem is equally playful and problematic, the fates of Daphne, Actaeon, Arachne and Marsyas just some of the more shocking events depicted. The excerpt I have chosen, though, comes from much later, in book 15, where Ovid is relating the philosophy of Pythagoras; while still agreeing with the atomism of Lucretius and Epicurus, he suggests the soul is immortal and can move between bodies.



What is it about these sources that appeals to you most?

While I’m not sure I agree entirely with Epicurus’ philosophy, it’s his approach that I find most uplifting. Philosophy is often seen as dry and abstract (don’t worry: it still can be!), but Epicurus shows that it can be applied to everyday life to resolve practical difficulties, that it is in fact open to all of us regardless of who we are or where we come from. The ultimate goal of reducing stresses and worries also feels particularly appealing right now. The lines from Ovid’s poem are not only poetically moving in their own right; they show a 1st Century BCE Roman poet discussing a 4th Century BCE Greek philosopher’s ideas, by referring to another Greek philosopher from the 6th Century BCE. It’s this constant conversation that these sources, and Classics generally, have with themselves, and which we can have by engaging with them, that I find continually inspiring. As the last line of this excerpt says, “…every passing moment is renewed” – there is always something new to find, a hopeful thought in these troubled times.



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

I enjoy reading (be a bit weird if I didn’t!) and wittering on about philosophy to increasingly bored- looking people, as the above will testify. Added to this, I find a lot of classical music very relaxing, as well as jazz and film music. I don’t know if it’s a proper thing or not, but there are some ‘800% slower’ film scores on YouTube at the moment, which I’m finding sublimely soothing – check out Thomas Newman’s Shawshank Redemption score if you’ve got an hour to spare (who doesn’t at the moment!)



I like gardening and being outdoors generally, and really enjoy mountain and fell walking; I am incredibly lucky to live close to the southern Lake District hills, with a fantastic viewpoint a 25 minute walk away (sorry to rub it in!). Oh, and real ale. Semper ale.



Tom has been studying with the OU for nearly 18 years, earning two undergraduate degrees; after studying both Philosophy and Classical Studies in the first degree, he thought he would concentrate on science and maths for the second one, but couldn’t resist the allure of Classics, ending up studying all the courses in the subject which he hadn’t already done, and is currently working towards an MA in Classical Studies. He has made repeated efforts to learn Greek and Latin, vowing each time that “this will be the last time!” He is looking into concentrating his MA thesis around ancient strangeness: like Pliny the Elder, he is still trying to work out if the Cynocephali are real or not (his pet dog Toby is very interested in the answer to this), but overall his interests are in ancient historical writers and particularly ancient philosophy, how it has evolved from the pre-Socratics to late antiquity and medieval times, and how it has interacted with mythology and religion throughout the Classical world.







Comfort Classics: Katie Low


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

I can think of a few sources to which I feel a particular connection, from Euripides’ tragedy Orestes (the highlight of my not very glorious career in student drama was being a chorus member in a production in the original Greek) to Fishbourne Roman Palace in West Sussex, where I used to volunteer as a teenager. But recent events have made me think a lot about ancient history in general, and – almost inevitably, given that I wrote my doctorate on him – the works of the Roman historian Tacitus in particular. History is a reminder that living through challenging times, and trying to make sense of them, has always been part of human existence. To someone like me, lucky enough to have been born in western Europe in the closing decades of the twentieth century, the pandemic may feel like an unprecedented horror – but looking back at the past shows that it really is not. I am not just talking about historical plagues here, but all the difficult situations that people have faced over millennia. I know that this may not be a source of direct comfort, but I think that it can be helpful to put our current experiences in perspective, and to be reminded that we are not unique in our troubles, although there are many things about the modern world that make us relatively fortunate compared with those who came before us.



When did you first come across Tacitus?

I first encountered Tacitus when I was studying Latin in my last year of secondary school. Part of Book 15 of the Annals was on the syllabus, describing Nero’s increasingly unhinged behaviour, the great fire in Rome, the scapegoating of the Christians, a conspiracy against the emperor, and more. Somehow I then didn’t read any more of his writings until I was a final-year undergraduate in Classics, when I realised I was especially interested in ancient historiography: the study of historians’ works from a literary perspective. Tacitus is an author who is fascinating to look at in this way, and I ended up writing my doctoral thesis on the first part of the Annals, his account of the emperor Tiberius’ reign.



Can you tell me a bit about Tacitus’ work and its context?

Born in the AD mid-50s, Tacitus followed a classic Roman political career that began in the time of the emperor Vespasian (69-79) and culminated with the consulship, Rome’s highest political office, which he held in 97. A few years later, he also governed the province of Asia, part of modern Turkey. He therefore lived through the civil war that broke out after Nero’s death in 68, and the reign of Vespasian’s son Domitian, who is said by most ancient sources (including Tacitus himself) to have been a paranoid monster – although his reputation may well have been posthumously blackened.

Tacitus wrote three short works, including a biography of his father-in-law Agricola, governor of the province of Britannia, and two longer historical narratives: the Histories, which starts with the civil war and would have ended (today only the first part survives) with the death of Domitian in 96, and the Annals. This begins with the death of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, and the accession of his stepson and heir Tiberius in 14, and continues the imperial story up to the death of Nero. Some sections – including the reign of Caligula, and the very end – are now lost.

Although Tacitus states that he will one day write about life under the emperors Nerva and Trajan, who followed Domitian and are generally positively portrayed in the sources, it is not clear if he meant this, or if it was just a polite but empty promise. Tacitus’ attitude to the imperial regime continues to be debated – his successful political career shows that he did not shun public life under the emperors but, when you read the Histories and the Annals in particular, you are very much not left with the impression that he approved of the system. However, his works also suggest he viewed the idea of reverting to the republic, which had collapsed amid dysfunction and civil war in the first century BC, as naïve and unrealistic.



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

I am still interested in the aspects of Tacitus’ work that initially drew me in: his habit of often seeming to say one thing but imply another, his claustrophobic accounts of life under tyranny, his enigmatic authorial persona. But coming back to the Annals is also a way of reflecting on what has happened to me over the years that I have been reading and rereading it. I have similar feelings about the city of Rome itself. I was first there with my family in 1997, then about a decade later as a student, and most recently a few months ago, having come from Brussels, where I now work for the EU. On those previous visits, that would have seemed well outside the bounds of possibility! The ancient sites are more or less the same, but the way I look at them has changed.


(Trajan’s Column, July 2007 and December 2019)


When five years ago I arrived in Brussels, where politicians are coming and going all the time, it indeed felt as my life had taken a completely different direction: instead of studying history, I was finally going to witness it being made. Then the Brexit referendum happened and I realised what I should have known all along: it is often a lot less pleasant to live through historical events than read about them. This made me start writing a memoir about studying Classics, leaving academia behind, and then realising that Tacitus might illuminate the contemporary world after all. Are the anti-Roman freedom fighters in his works like populist politicians? What can his views on how to live under a bad emperor tell us about being the subjects of governments to which we strongly object? I wasn’t trying to make simple comparisons between the ancient past and modern times but rather to explore how history can shape our thinking about the present, just as what I used to study is still relevant to my life today.

I have to add that the memoir project is on hold for now, as I try to work out where those questions fit into the current global crisis and the tragic and far-reaching effects it will have. But I hope I will find a way to continue. As I said at the beginning, if history can teach us anything, it is that even the worst experiences are not unprecedented, and that life always goes on.


This Could be a Place of Historical Importance, Braco Dimitrijevic – spotted in Dresden last summer



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

Since last autumn I have been learning Czech, partly for family reasons, partly because in the last few years I have become fascinated by central European history and culture. I miss attending classes, but my weekly Skype lesson always cheers me up. Focusing on grammar and vocabulary is certainly one form of distraction (and I was delighted to discover that a knowledge of Latin is occasionally helpful) – as is daydreaming about travelling though the Czech Republic, preferably by train. I had planned to do just that in the summer, but instead I am going to try to learn the basics of Old Church Slavonic, the ancestor of modern Slavic languages. After so many years of Latin and Greek, it is time to get to grips with another historical language!



Katie Low studied Classics at the University of Oxford, with a year as a visiting graduate student in Paris, although at various points she was also a freelance translator, language editor, restaurant blogger and unpublished novelist. In 2013 she was awarded a doctorate, having written her thesis on Tacitus’ Annals, with a focus on the historian’s portrayal of foreigners and the recurring motif of civil war.

She then carried on teaching and researching but, having spent much of her time in Oxford looking for opportunities to escape temporarily across the English Channel, in early 2015 she decided to leave academia and move to Brussels. Since then, she has held several roles in and around the EU’s institutions, and currently works on advanced technology policy at the European Commission. She is still very interested in Classics, having contributed to the forthcoming Tacitus Encyclopedia and given conference papers on topics including the uses of antiquity in Simone de Beauvoir’s works and ‘Tacitus and Brexit’, and hopes one day to finish a book on her experiences of ancient history and the contemporary world. She tweets sometimes at @_katie_low and blogs occasionally at







Comfort Classics: Penny Whitworth


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

If I were to choose a text, then it would have to be Virgil’s Aeneid. It’s a text which brings comfort primarily because of its familiarity; small selections of it are always assigned as the verse text at GCSE, and I find myself suddenly engrossed in a few lines from whichever book it happens to be, mining them for the techniques employed, desperate for students to be caught up in the joy of glimpsing beautiful language and intentional composition. This year’s text has been Book 2, and it’s fair to say that the slaughter of Priam at the altar and the description of Hecuba and her daughters like doves flung headlong into a black storm is not comforting, but it is nevertheless beautiful.

Really though, what sprung to mind when I considered the question are these two images of ancient Corinth:








When did you first visit the site of ancient Corinth?

A huge privilege of being a Classics teacher is the opportunity to take students to see, with their own eyes, the places you’ve been telling them about, and the ‘Greece trip’ is the best trip of them all. My first memory of Corinth was about 12 years ago, when I was with an enthusiastic colleague who demanded that we climb the Acrocorinth. I can’t recall it being an universally popular decision, but up we went nevertheless. Reaching the top felt like an enormous achievement at the time, but also a remarkable moment of engaging with history. I didn’t visit the site itself, from which the photos above are taken, until a number of years later, but it is these photos which particularly bring comfort to me.



Can you tell me a bit about Corinth?

Corinth was a polis on the narrow stretch of land which joins the Peloponnese to the mainland of Greece. In literature, it features in Euripides’ play Medea, as the location of Jason’s betrayal and Medea’s subsequent revenge. In the classical period, it was a large and important city, rivalling Athens and Thebes for wealth and it had involvement in all the significant wars. The Romans destroyed the city in the mid 2nd century BC, but around a hundred years later it was rebuilt, and was a city of note in New Testament times.



What is it about Corinth that appeals to you most?

The site today is stunning and tranquil. At the right time of year, the poppies are exquisite. There is nothing better than pausing on a bench and reflecting on all that has gone before in that very location – and for me, flicking through the account in the book of Acts in the New Testament, and imagining the apostle Paul there, who is said to have been brought to trial at the bema in Corinth.



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

Right now, I’m drinking a lot of coffee and cooking delicious food. I’m in anticipation of news about the return of live rugby, but in the meantime I’m following all the various signings clubs are making! I’m hanging out with my cat and watching previous seasons of Spooks, which are wonderfully all available on iplayer, and I look forward to Sundays and ‘online’ church, which is nowhere near as good as the real thing, but a decent substitute in the circumstances.


Penny studied Classics at Durham before becoming a teacher, first at Durham Gilesgate Sixth Form College, and now at RGS, Newcastle. She teaches classical subjects to students from Y7 all the way through to A level. She loves introducing students to literature texts at GCSE, and teaching Greek tragedy (usually as the Greek A level verse text) and Homer (to Classical Civilisation students) in the Sixth Form. She is also really interested in classical reception, motivated in part by the desire to engage young people with the relevance of ancient texts for today.









Comfort Classics: Flora Kirk


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

There are a few, but I would have to say the Mercury statuette at the Walters Art Museum is my favourite. During my four years in Baltimore I think I saw it about 3 times annually (thank you free admission!).





When did you first come across this statuette?

I first visited the Walters in 2013 and was blown away by the selection of Roman artefacts on display. The Mercury statuette immediately stood out to me due to its workmanship and my own proclivity for Mercury in mythology.



Can you tell me a bit about this object and its context?

It’s a Roman 1st century CE bronze statuette of the messenger god Mercury, identified by the remaining wing on his head. Originally, his left hand would have been holding a caduceus (winged staff with snakes) which is now missing. The statuette is much larger and more detailed than other lares (deity statuettes created for household worship), suggesting that it was used for decoration as well as religion. It’s a beautiful piece of art and would have probably been displayed in a wealthy family’s villa.


Images from The Walters Art Museum




What is it about this statuette that appeals to you most?

For some reason Mercury has always been one of my favourite gods – maybe it’s all the stylish accessories or that I love a good trickster god. The reason I love this piece specifically however is that it was the first museum research I ever did! It was for a class during my ancient studies BA when I was still trying to decide if I wanted to pursue a career in museums. The paper had asked us to analyse the display and how this piece would be viewed in a museum context. I spent a lot of time contemplating the space and how display practices can influence the artefact’s interpretation.




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

I LOVE to draw! I don’t know if it defeats the purpose of this question, but most of my subjects are artefacts or characters from the classical world. It’s a relaxing process and also allows me to study an artefact or part of history in greater detail. Much like the Romans with their statues, I am a big fan of bright and bold colours. I find that muted earth tones are often associated with archaeology, so I like to break that convention by drawing bright and stylised artefacts. Doing this interview even inspired me to make one of the Walter’s Mercury!





Flora is a British-born freelance illustrator raised on America’s East Coast. She loves to create art inspired by her fields of interest, whether that be archaeological artefacts, myths, or pieces that echo the emotions and aesthetics of a time long past.

After a year spent researching third-century AD Roman coin imagery in Transylvania, Flora is now studying for a Master’s in Museum Studies at the University of Durham. While she plans to pursue a career in museums, Flora sees this as only the beginning of her future with freelance illustration. You can keep up with her work and occasional museum posts on her Twitter and Instagram. A complete portfolio of her work can be found online at








Comfort Classics: James Robson


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

I’m going to say Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.  Because I love it, yes, but also because I’m writing a book on it at the moment, so it’s my daily companion.





When did you first come across this play?

In my first year of university as part of my Greek and Roman Drama module.  I found Ancient Greek comedy frustratingly difficult to get my head around at the time, but Lysistrata was different.  I felt that I got Lysistrata somehow – plus it made me laugh.



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

It’s a comic play from 411 BCE.  This was in many ways classical Athens’ darkest hour: the city had recently lost thousands upon thousands of its men in the disastrous Sicilian Expedition and was now at serious risk of losing the Peloponnesian War which it had been fighting against Sparta for 20 years.  Yet out of these dire times comes this extraordinary, sparkling play – a fantasy about the women of Greece staging a sex strike and forcing the men to reconcile their differences and live at peace.


Lysistrata poster art



What is it about this play that appeals to you most?

It’s kind of got it all: an inventive plot, sassy dialogue – and lots of wonderfully dirty jokes, of course – but also lots of hidden depths.  It also feels very modern compared to most ancient drama.  The first time you read it, that’s what makes it accessible.  But the more you read it, the more you understand how it was put together, why it’s capable of giving modern audiences that instant hit and just how innovative it was.  Plus, I’m forever noticing new details or subtle allusions that get me thinking … .



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

Well, with a three-year-old son and a cocker spaniel in the house, there’s not much opportunity to mope.  But I’m also going to give a shout out to good food: making it, eating it, thinking about eating it, that kind of thing. Our lockdown indulgence is high-end ingredients so, yeah, we’re eating well!


Tempura scallops with red sorrel cress


Burrata and sundried peach salad with a tomato and chilli glaze




James Robson is Professor of Classical Studies at the Open University.  His publications include Aristophanes: An Introduction (Bloomsbury, 2009) and Sex and Sexuality in Classical Athens (Edinburgh University Press, 2013) and he is also co-editor of Sex in Antiquity: Reconsidering Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World (Routledge, 2015). He is currently working on a book on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata for Bloomsbury and completing a funded project called The Battle for Latin looking at beginners’ Latin teaching in UK universities.


Robson 1






Comfort Classics: Lucia Nixon


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

Well, it’s not ancient, but it is important to me: a picture of 2 icon stands (containers for icons; Greek eikonostasia) near the village of Anopoli in Sphakia, SW Crete.  There’s also a church in the background on the left – you can see its little bell-tower.




When did you first come across these stands?

I came upon these 2 icon stands in the first year of our work on the Sphakia Survey.  We were walking a transect, and I suddenly caught sight of the larger one, and I thought, what is this doing here?  Most modern icon stands mark the scene of car accidents, but we weren’t on a car road.  Unravelling what these icon stands were about, and also what churches outside villages (Greek exokklisia), were about, and how they all fitted into the landscape of Sphakia took me a long time.



Can you tell me a bit about these stands and their context?

Icon stands, and churches both inside and outside villages, are part of the Greek Orthodox sacred landscape of later Byzantine-Venetian-Turkish (BVT) Crete, 1000-2000 AD.  Churches outside settlements are part of the overall settlement pattern, just as churches inside settlements are.  (Icon stands came along a lot later, maybe only in the 19thC.)  I found that outlying churches mark packages of resources which came into use just before the churches were built. A resource package could include one or more of the resources necessary for the kind of agro-pastoral life which prevailed in Sphakia until World War II – land for cultivation; pasturage for animals; water (or the means of procuring it); and connectivities by land and/or by sea, including how visible (and possibly intervisible) a specific site is.  Each church sets a sacred seal on the economic activity in that locality at that time.  If there are a lot of churches in a given area, inside and outside settlements, then that area will be very ‘resourceful’.  You just have to figure out what those specific resources were……….


Back to the two icon stands in the photo:  they’re on the old built mule-track, now overgrown, which linked Anopoli with Khora Sphakion on the coast.  The smaller, newer one (20thC)  faces toward the village; it’s near a dirt road leading to a sheep-pen. The larger, older stone one faces downhill towards Khora; the newer, smaller metal one faces uphill towards Anopoli. The older one, especially when regularly whitewashed, could be seen from some distance, especially from below.  It was the sign that you were approaching Anopoli, before you could see any part of the village.  Only when you reached the icon stands could you see any part of Anopoli itself, in this case the church in the background.





What is it about these icon stands that appeals to you most?

Several things…

As soon as I saw them, I knew that I needed to know more about these icon stands, that this was a thread that I had to follow — even though I didn’t know where it would take me!   And one of the things that I didn’t know when I started was that this particular sacred landscape, that of BVT Sphakia, would teach me also about sacred landscapes of the Prehistoric and Graeco-Roman epochs.

I especially enjoyed talking to women and men in Sphakia about churches and icon stands, some of whom had put up (or commissioned) icon stands and churches.  The outlying church that absolutely confirmed my resource package theory was built in 1994, at the mouth of a gorge.  By then the person who owned the land there had been bringing tourists in his boat to swim at the gorge mouth for a few years.  So the church was built not long after he started using that location to make money — result!

I like this photograph of ‘my’ two icon stands because I took it in February 1997, and it shows the moody, cloudy weather of that time of year, rather than the supposed perpetual summer of the Mediterranean.  You can also see why the White Mountains, in the background, are called white—it’s not because of the snow (there is some in this picture), it’s because the rock of which they’re made is actually white.



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

I’m spending even more time in my garden – and seeing things I never noticed before.  I planted camassia ages ago but this is the 1st time I noticed that the anthers are purple!


Camassia with purple anthers May 2020



Very cheering news: there is a now a Sportula Europe– the Sportula provides microgrants for Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies students and Early Career Scholars.  This is a great opportunity to give back, and I’m now a patron.




Lucia Nixon co-directs the Sphakia Survey, with Jennifer Moody. 

“Our Survey website is under reconstruction, but there’s some Sphakia info on the online archaeology course that Simon Price and I did.

I published my work on churches and icon stands in a book, Making a Landscape Sacred (2006).  I applied this perspective to Minoan sacred landscapes in a conference poster.

As well as archaeology in general, I write about other sacred and economic landscapes; archaeology and gender; and equality issues; more info on my page.

I’ve taught at universities in Canada and the UK, including two very different institutions, one a blue-collar commuter campus, and the other a highly selective collegiate university.  One of the best things I’ve ever read about teaching is Herbert Kohl’s book, ‘I Won’t Learn from You! The Role of Assent in Learning’, written before ‘intersectionality’ (thanks to Kimberlé Crenshaw), and ‘decolonising the curriculum’ came into use; there’s now a 2nd edition of his book.


Kohl, I won;t learn from you! copy


I thought of him when teaching, and more recently when reviewing a book about Nefertiti.

I’m on Twitter, @LuciaNixon.”


LFN on canal w E rowing






Comfort Classics: Peta Greenfield


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

For me it is hard to go past the Ara Pacis Augustae. It’s such a detailed piece of architecture with incredible friezes. The layers of iconographical meaning embedded in something like the ‘Tellus’ panel alone is something that I find incredibly engaging. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful piece.



Ara Pacis
Photo taken by Chris Nas, source Wikimedia Commons



When did you first come across this source?

This source is really important for understanding Augustus’ rule. By the time the Ara Pacis is dedicated, he has ensured his position of power and is very secure. This altar is really famous for its depiction of the familial procession, but the reason it caught my eye initially was as part of my study of the changing role of the Vestal Virgins. There’s one small panel which depicts the Vestals – it’s not a flashy part of the ara by any stretch, but very significant in terms of thinking about the connections between Augustus, who was pontifex maximus, and the variety of priesthoods depicted on the monument.



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

This ara is an important monument for Augustus. It’s first proposed by the Senate in 13 BCE after he returns from Gaul and is dedicated in 9 BCE, on the 30th of January. This coincides with Livia’s birthday which appears to be part of a plan to ensure she is also connected with the monument.

The legacy of this monument is just as interesting as its origins. The pieces we have now exist as part of Mussolini’s reconstruction so there’s always more questions to be asked about the structure, what it really looked like, the layers of political manoeuvring from Augustus onwards, and so forth.

Today you can find this reconstruction housed in a purpose-built museum and it’s one of my favourite places in Rome.



Ara Pacis2




What is it about this source that appeals to you most?

This source really appeals to me on an aesthetic level. It’s easy to dismiss the frieze panels of foliage that make up the lower decorations of the outside of the Ara Pacis, but one moment in front of the monument is enough to convince you that there’s something grand and deliberate in this. Not only are they incredibly beautiful in their own right, but a good deal of study has been done on their iconographical significance as well.

But it’s also more visceral than that. As a viewer, you’re never at eye-level with any of the processional or mythological friezes; they loom above you asking you to put Augustus and his family on the same level as the legendary and divine figures of Rome. The monument really imposes the legacy of Augustus’ rise and domination over the City. You can feel it.



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

Outside of the Classics, I love to paint. I find the universe a humbling thing and I love trying to catch the infinite nature of it as well as the sense of liminality that space suggests to me. The pictures from the Hubble telescope inform most of my work.



Dr Peta Greenfield attained her PhD in Classics and Ancient History from the University of Sydney and currently teaches English literature. Her interests in the classics include women in the ancient world, Latin poetry and the intrigues of the late Republic and Principate. She is the co-host of The Partial Historians podcast which she runs with Dr Fiona Radford.


Dr Fiona Radford (left) and Dr Peta Greenfield (right) in some amazing replica Roman wear made by Dr Elizabeth Smith based on her research into Roman statuary.