Thursday 18 May 2017
7 for 7:30pm, Humanities Research Institute
Co-sponsored with the Sheffield branch of the Historical Association
Emma Stafford (Leeds) Classical allegory in the Victorian-Edwardian north of England:
Sheffield has a number of Classically-inspired buildings, and this is one of my favourites. It is the Unitarian Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street, near the Crucible Theatre (another design inspired by the buildings of the ancient world).
The chapel dates from 1847-8, and stands on the site of a much older house. Its present appearance is the work of John Frith, who based it on the Travellers’ Club in London.
These are some of its features:
· The roof has the unmistakable low triangular shape of the pediment of the Parthenon in Athens. It does not, however, boast the sculptures for which that temple is famous: there is only blank brickwork. You can see the little “guttae” like small cubes lining the edges of the pediment.
· The upper-storey windows have a round arch shape, which isn’t found in Greek architecture as they hadn’t yet discovered how to build them! They are flanked, though, by Corinthian pilasters. A pilaster is a column shape – usually half the diameter of the whole column – attached to a wall rather than free-standing.
· The front door is sheltered by an imposing porch. This has four Ionic columns with a frieze above which bears only the name of the chapel.
It’s not uncommon to find two or more orders of architecture in the same building: the Parthenon itself has Doric columns as its peristyle (outer edge) and Ionic columns inside.
A walk round Sheffield city centre will reveal many more Classical buildings – especially if you look up above the shop fronts!
In view of the fact that the subject seems once again, or, if we're being honest, as always, under threat both nationally and locally, this is a question that needs answering afresh. I tried for thirty plus years and never really found, to quote a recent commentator on Social Media, 'the 'holy Grail' of 'what is it about classics that makes . . .' However, there's a new answer lurking a click away behind the graphic below with something of a new twist. Any contributions or comments on this score would be very welcome and assured of publication. More on this topic to follow.
The next and last film in the Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity/Sheffield Classical Association film series will be Agora on 25 April, in the Film Unit at 6pm (this time, the entire film will be screened).
Alejandro Amenábar's 2009 film is a poignant reminder of the antiquity and troubled history of the Christian community in Egypt which recent events have shown continues to this day.
It follows the story of Hypatia, a female philosopher in Alexandria in late fourth-century Roman Egypt whose life is about to become a struggle for the survival of an old world system. Witness Hypatia's tragic life - based on historical events - which the film uses to illustrate a perceived clash between triumphant Christianity and the traditions of Roman and Hellenistic culture, and between religion and science.
The film will be followed by a Q&A session with Dr Richard Flower, Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History, University of Exeter. Richard is an expert on fourth-century Christianity and religious conflict.
You can collect your free ticket here:
The film club is accompanied by a book club. The next novel we'll be reading is Evelyn Waugh's Helena, Waugh's only historical novel and the book he himself liked best.
Waugh's portrait of the mother of Constantine, the first Roman emperor converted to Christianity, is one of a woman who was determined to give Christianity a material past, beyond just text and myth -- the first archaeologist in History so to speak!
More information can be found here:
The book club will meet at the University Arms, 10 May, 5-7pm.
Elizabeth was a Latin poet who was possibly born in Chipping Norton but lived most of her life in Prague! Her early family history is very complicated but at some point between 1589 and 1591 her mother moved to Prague and married one Edward Kelley, a con-man, magician, alchemist and close associate of the infamous Dr. John Dee. In spite of the disreputable qualities of her step father, Elizabeth received an excellent Classical education. However, eventually Edward Kelley was 'rumbled' by his patron , Emperor Rudolf II, after he failed to fulfil his promises of being able to transmute base metals into gold. He was subsequently imprisoned and eventually he died of ill-treatment.
Elizabeth Weston, who was 15 at the time of his death, believed in him absolutely. She saw him as an unjustly mistreated man, and campaigned vigorously for the restitution of his property to herself and her mother. Kelley's death left her (and her mother) on their own financial resources, especially since a son, John Francis, died soon after his stepfather.
Astonishingly, she responded to this by becoming a writer. Her literary activity seems to have been conducted with complete professionalism. A very large proportion of her Latin poems consists of poems in praise of various grandees, mostly in Prague: this is exactly what one would expect from a writer in the public arena, dependent on patronage. In 1603, she married Johannes Leo of Eisenach, a lawyer. He was also interested in alchemy. Weston continued to write, while the pair had seven children (four sons and three daughters) before her early death. Three daughters survived her.
Her poetry, all written in Latin, is very much in the Classical tradition. Here is one in which she adopts the persona of the poet Ovid, who also suffered as an exile in a very foreign land. While the poem is totally in accordance with the form and traditions of Classical elegiac verse, it is, by no means a stitching together, as it were, of Ovidian tags. The language and phrases, while firmly based in the conventions of the genre, show originality and innovation.
For more see:
The Suppliant Women - review of Aeschylus’ play by the Actors Touring Company at the Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 1st April 2017
How does a trip from Sheffield to Manchester to watch a matinee performance of a Greek play compare with the Greek experience?
The Suppliant Women focusses on the Chorus of fifty women who have fled Egypt to avoid unwanted marriage to their cousins. They arrive at Argos, where the king requires a vote of the people to accept the women. (The play apparently contains the first recorded instance of the word democracy.) The people vote overwhelmingly to accept the women and the Argives protect the women when their husbands attack the city.
We were told at the start of the play that the Chorus was made up of local volunteers, and a libation of wine was poured around the stage. Their verse was sung as they moved and danced rhythmically to a specially composed percussion accompaniment. The effect was stunning with over twenty young women filling the stage. The music reflected the mood of the words, with a particularly affecting keening song as they fearfully watched the ships of their cousins approach Argos.
The play had strong contemporary relevance. The women were refugees and suffering abuse at the hands of their future husbands - there was a strong feminist element in the production.
So, although the theatre was not on a sunny hillside with glorious views over the sea or mountains, the production was carefully staged to mirror many of the Greek roots of drama. The volunteer chorus members, libations, the music and movement - this was a very physical performance - together with the contemporary relevance combined to give a feeling of sharing the ancient experience.
There is still the puzzle of why the women form the centrepiece of so many Greek dramas - a discussion to be picked up another day, perhaps.
Kath O'Donovan (U3A Classical groups)