On Thursday 19th November 2015, all A-level classics students went to the British Museum for a Classical Civilisation study day run by King’s College. The day was packed with various lectures, gallery talks and handling sessions.
This educational day began with a lecture by Michael Quire who is a lecturer at King’s about Mighty Aphrodite – Rethinking the Greek ‘female nude’. It was an incredibly fascinating talk filled with humour as we were given three new different perspectives on the ‘Aphrodite of Knidos’- a marble statue, attributed to Praxiteles, set up in c.360 BC in south-western Asia Minor. The first look at this statue was the modern cultural norms of viewing the female body in relation to the male. He talked about the way the Knidian Aphrodite was positioned, such as the hands covering or as others may see emphasising the female parts. Secondly he showed and talked to us about how various artists have created various versions of the statue as the original had been destroyed unfortunately and different goddesses and key figures in the past shown in similar position to what Knidian Aphrodite looked like. Compared to the ancient views of the statue as being more complex contradicts modern ‘feminist’ readings: if the statue embodies an objectified (and pro-pornographic) image of the female body. Thus making us consider other views against this mighty, epiphanic vision of a goddess.
The second lecture was by another lecturer at King’s- Will Wotton, who talked to us about Making Roman art: mosaics and sculpture. We were given insight into the architectural side of the ancient world and how artists made mosaics. It was fascinating to learn that they worked from the inside out when doing mosaics in order not to disturb the setting tiles. Surprisingly under the tiles there was only a thin layer between the ground and the tile. Flooring set with small pebbles was used in the Bronze Age in both the Minoan civilization based on Crete and the Mycenaean civilization on mainland Greece.
We then split into two groups and our first gallery talk was on Greek Athletics- the objects they used such as the discus (which were huge and incredibly heavy). We saw images on pottery of the various sports that happened such as the long and short distance running which was the most popular.
Our second session was a handling session on Augustus Coins. We were shown various coins which had images symbolising events that have occurred as this was the way news was passed on and travelled through. We had to be very careful in holding the coin; holding them on the rims. They were small but the images shown on the coins were interesting e.g. Silver denarius of Augustus, portrait of Caesar, Silver cistophorus struck for Antony and Octavia.
Our final session of the day was a gallery talk on Roman Women. We were shown around the various Roman staues and jewellery they wore which were elegant and the reds very bold. Important womens’ (higher authority) styles such as hair were copied by the commonfolk. Towards the end of the talk we were shown statues of Roman Women who were chosen to be vestal virgins and in return were compensated with money. At the time this position was considered an honour. They would be 40 at most at the end of their term and free to marry, but most chose to remain in service, for rumour had it that the few ex-Vestals who did marry had not done well.
Everyone enjoyed the variety of the talks and in particular the chance to handle objects over 2000 years old, we came away even more excited about the ancient world.
By Saranki Sriranganathan