The new volume in Wiley-Blackwell’s acclaimed “Historical Sources In Translation” series is now available. “Ancient Greece From Homer To Alexander” uses authoritative new translations of ancient texts to present a broad overview of Greek history, accessible to newcomers but one that does justice to their extraordinary intellectual and artistic achievements. The book’s release is supported by a helpful new website which provides more contexts to the passages used. We anticipate this book will prove highly popular in academic circles and so we have ordered generous quantities.
Monthly Archives: April 2011
Thanks to the generosity of Declan McCarthy, Commercial Manager of the Ashmolean Museum, my colleague Peter Saxel and I had the pleasure of attending the preview of ‘Heracles to Alexander the Great’, the museum’s main exhibition for the 2011 summer season.
The exhibition consists of treasures and artefacts discovered within the ancient Macedonian royal burial sites at Aegae (modern Vergina) from the 1950s onwards. These finds tell the story of the Temenid Kings of Macedon, a dynasty which ran from Perdiccas I in the 7th century BCE and ended with the assassination of Alexander the Great’s heirs roughly four hundred years later. More broadly they help show the development of the Kingdom of Macedon, a subject of the highest historical significance. This kingdom was eventually responsible, through the conquests of Alexander, for first spreading Greek (western) culture and language into the East.
The artefacts are arranged thematically, spanning three rooms: the King’s Room, the Queen’s Room, and the Banquet Room. Upon entering The King’s Room one is greeted with marble representations of Heracles and Alexander the Great, which define the scope of the exhibition and its theme (the divine ancestry of Macedonian royalty). The rest of the room concentrates on the lives of the kings, princes, and their noble companions. Here we find the heroic and virile spirit of Heracles alive in the examples of armour, weaponry, and hunting scenes. A pair of particular curiosities are the bronze greaves of King Philip II (father of Alexander), evidence of two very muscular royal calves. There is also a recreation of a magnificent fresco commissioned by Alexander the Great to adorn his father’s tomb, which touchingly depicts the two kings hunting a lion together in the forests of Macedonia.
The Queen’s room focusses on the lives of women at the palace of Aegae. There is a fascinating array of jewellery and pottery, including many small clay figurines (some with the original paint) which were used as offerings to the gods during burial. Alongside is a row of life-size clay heads, also used as part of a burial ritual. These perplexing portraits are believed to represent the goddesses Persephone and Demeter, with a couple representing grotesque demons; what they were for and precisely how they were used we can only imagine. Covering one entire side of the room above them is a recreation of a large painting known as the ”Abduction of Persephone by Hades”, a very expressive and informal example of ancient Macedonian art.
It is in the Queen’s Room that we find the real star of the exhibition. Outshining (literally) Heracles and the Macedonian kings is the resplendent ”Lady of Aegae”. One wonders if there ever was a more glamourous corpse than the one this lady must have made, bedecked head-to-toe for burial in the most exquisite gold jewellery; even the soles of her shoes were gilded. Close by is another of the exhibition’s highlights, one that reduced Oxford historian Robin Lane Fox to tears. The myrtle wreath of Queen Meda (wife of King Philip II) consists of over two-hundred leaves and flowers made from paper-thin beaten gold, the naturalism and beauty of which is breathtaking.
The Banquet Room ends the exhibition with a glimpse into the communal drinking and dining practices of the royal court at Aegae. This room doesn’t contain thrilling wonders quite on the level of the previous two rooms, but nonetheless there is still plenty to savour. The bowls, cups, jars, and jugs presented cover an extended period of time (some dating back to the 11th century BCE), which give a real sense of the development of such objects in their aesthetic and functional qualities. My favourite piece in the room is a perfect silver jug with the head of a satyr on the handle. This demonstrates extraordinary detail and craftsmanship, as do two miniature ivory carvings from the tombs of Philip II and Alexander IV (son of Alexander the Great) respectively.
I have mentioned only a few of the wonders on show. This is a superb exhibition which offers a real sense of connection to an important part of our history. The people who fashioned, used, and wore these objects began their own history believing in their descent from gods; ultimately, in Alexander, they produced a god-on-earth. Alexander’s achievements inextricably bound the fortunes of East and West and later inspired the Romans, whose legacy still affects us all.
Accompanying the exhibition is a glossy 270-page catalogue, close to matching the quality of the artefacts themselves. It includes detailed information about all the objects on show at the exhibition and tells the entire story of the archaeological discoveries and the history behind them, complete with hundreds of high quality photographs. It is, in effect, the definitive work on the subject.
It is on sale at Blackwell’s on Broad Street for £25.00, where there is also a great range of books on Alexander the Great and the history of Macedonia.
~ Dan Stott, History & Classics, Blackwell’s, Oxford.
‘Heracles to Alexander the Great’ is at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, from 7 April to 29 August. Tickets £8/Concessions £6
Following the tremendous success of “Doctor Faustus” that ran in the Norrington Room here at Broad Street, Blackwell is delighted to announce that Creation Theatre will be returning to the Said Business School for a production of William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”. The show will take place in the outdoor amphitheatre, weather permitting. Tickets go on sale in May and it is hoped there will be a panel discussion in Blackwell’s to mark the launch so watch this space.
Robin Waterfield is speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival to promote his new book “Dividing The Spoils” which will be published by OUP later this April. The book serves as an absorbing introduction to the dramatic developments following the death of Alexander when his generals wrestled for control over the Macedonian empire. The talk will take place at 4pm in the Blue Boar room in Christ Church tomorrow. Visitors to the event will have an exclusive chance to purchase early as well getting a signed copy.
The Oxford Literary Festival is delighted to welcome Andrew Wallace-Hadrill who will be speaking about his involvement with the excavations at Herculaneum. This fascinating site in Campania was destroyed alongside Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, yet remains far less visited by the general public. Andrew is currently Master of Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge and has written widely on Roman culture and society. The talk will take place at 6.30pm on Sturday evening at Christ Church where copies of Andrew’s books will be available.
Popular historian Adrian Goldsworthy is returning to Oxford to speak at the Sunday Times Literary Festival this week. He will be discussing his new book on Anthony and Cleopatra which will be published this July by Weidenfeld & Nicholson. The event will be held in Corpus Christi College on Thursday at 2pm and we hope many of you will be there. Adrian’s books will be available to buy both at the event and at the Marquee bookshop and there will be an opportunity to get them signed too.