La Trobe in the City Lecture Series 2016 ‘History’s Mysteries’

Delphi

Join La Trobe University’s experts in ancient Greece and Rome in exploring some of the mysteries, conundrums and problems of the ancient world in a series of myth-busting investigations of the evidence, suspects and victims.

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Image: The Temple of Apollo at Delphi, home of the Delphic Oracle.

Venue

Melbourne City Library
253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Lectures

Supernatural or Strategic? The Case of the Delphic Oracle

Presented by Gillian Shepherd

  • Tuesday 21 June
  • 6 pm-8 pm

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The Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi on the slopes of Mt Parnassus in Greece was home to the Pythia – a woman possessed by the god Apollo purportedly through “emanations” from the earth. Famous for her oracular utterings, for centuries the Pythia was consulted by states and individuals alike for advice and guidance; her oracles were cited to gain authority and recorded for posterity. But what was really going on here? Were highly sophisticated states and leaders really so susceptible to mystic advice? How did the Oracle function in ancient Greek society and politics? In this session we will look at the evidence for the Delphi Oracle and ask: what was it really all about?

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Cherchez la Femme: The Case of Cicero, Catullus and Clodia Metelli

Presented by Rhiannon Evans

  • Tuesday 19 July
  • 6 pm-8 pm

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The Roman orator Cicero demonised Clodia as the ‘Medea of the Palatine’ in a court case in which she wasn’t even the defendant. Like many historical women, Clodia has been the victim of hostile sources written by men. But Clodia’s reputation has suffered the double damnation of being identified as the ‘real life’ lover of the poet Catullus, adored and despised equally in his verse under the pseudonym ‘Lesbia’. In this session we shall look through the ancient evidence and modern theories, and ask: are these two women really the same person? And has Clodia been the victim of a historical stitch-up?

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The Emperor and the Fall: The Case of the Gladiator and the End of the Roman Empire

Presented by Rhiannon Evans

  • Tuesday 23 August
  • 6 pm-8 pm

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In the ranks of ‘bad emperors’, Nero might be more famous than Commodus – although you may know Commodus now as the murderous son and irrational tyrant of the films Gladiator (2000) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). However, for Edward Gibbon, Commodus’ reign marked the precise beginning of Rome’s end, coming after the supremely gracious rule of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor.  Indeed, for ancient writers, he was guilty of several notorious crimes: murder, incest and, not least, training as a gladiator. This session will explore the evidence on Commodus’ life and consider why gladiatorial combat might be considered inappropriate conduct for an emperor. How seriously can we take these tales? And did Commodus’ actions really mark the beginning of the end for Rome?

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Imperial Insanity: The Case of Nero fiddling while Rome burned

Presented by Sarah Midford

  • Tuesday 20 September
  • 6 pm-8 pm

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The Roman emperor Nero is renowned for fiddling while Rome burned, excited by the prospect of a clear space in the centre of the city upon which he could build his enormous Golden Palace. This was just one of many cowardly acts and vulgarities perpetrated by Nero during his reign. But was he really all that bad? History may not have remembered Nero as a competent leader, but it does tell us that his reign was prosperous and that his people loved him. So why then has Nero become a symbol of Imperial insanity?

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Roman Opulence: The Case of Murder and Mayhem in the Arena

Presented by Sarah Midford

  • Tuesday 18 October
  • 6 pm-8 pm

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Cassius Dio records that, in just 123 days, the Roman Emperor Trajan slaughtered 11,000 animals in the Colosseum – that’s about 90 animals each day! Each of these animals would have been transported over land and sea from as far away as Africa at great expense to the Emperor, just to die for the entertainment of the Roman masses. If watching exotic animals die was not enough, it was also possible to watch humans be slaughtered, and attend naval battles in which ships would sail in the arena. The brutality and logistics of spectacles contained within the arena still fascinate today, but to what extent can we know what went on 2,000 odd years ago? In this lecture we will bust some myths about Roman opulence in the arena and consider whether their spectacle entertainments were really that different from our own.

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Sold Out? The Case of Women at the Athenian Theatre

Presented by Gillian Shepherd

  • Tuesday 15 November
  • 6 pm-8 pm

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One of the most important events of the year in ancient Athens was the dramatic competition of the Great Dionysia festival, in which playwrights such as Aeschylos, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes competed. The Theatre of Dionysos in Athens could hold some 14,000 spectators – and Athenian citizens attended as part of their citizen duty as much as for entertainment. Yet Athenian citizens were also males – what about Athenian women? Were they allowed to attend? Or were they expected to stay secluded indoors as usual? In this session we will look at the ancient evidence for women at the theatre and ask: what does it really tell us?

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Who Lies Within? The Case of Philip II and Tomb 2 at Vergina

Presented by Gillian Shepherd

  • Tuesday 6 December
  • 6 pm-8 pm

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In 1977 an extraordinary discovery was made at Vergina in northern Greece: an unplundered chamber tomb, replete with gold and silver objects and other luxury items, and adorned with a painting depicting a lion hunt. Two gold boxes contained the cremated remains of a male and a female. Who were they? Could this be the tomb of Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great? Many have argued it is, especially on the basis of “portraits” in the tomb and the reconstruction of the skull; others have disagreed, citing dating evidence including the structure of the tomb. In this session we will look at the evidence for and against the identification of Tomb 2 at Vergina as “Philip’s Tomb”.

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Presenters

Gillian Shepherd

Dr Gillian Shepherd is Lecturer in Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Director of the A.D. Trendall Research Centre for Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe University.  Gillian studied Classics and Fine Arts at the University of Melbourne before going on to complete a PhD in Classical Archaeology at Trinity College, Cambridge, followed by a research fellowship at St Hugh’s College, Oxford.  Until her return to Australia in 2012 to take up her position at La Trobe University, Gillian was Lecturer in Classical Archaeology at the University of Birmingham, UK.  Her research interests are the ancient Greek colonisation of Sicily and Italy, burial customs, and the archaeology and art of Greece and Magna Graecia.

Rhiannon Evans

Dr Rhiannon Evans is Senior Lecturer in Ancient Mediterranean Studies at La Trobe University, where she teaches Latin and Ancient Roman culture. She has previously worked as a Classics Lecturer at the Universities of Melbourne and Tasmania for a total of thirteen years.  After a BA in Classics and a Masters in Latin in the UK, she completed her Classics PhD in Los Angeles, and wrote her doctoral thesis on ethnography and barbarians in Latin literature.  Rhiannon is interested in literary texts, and is currently working on Julius Caesar’s account of the conquest of Gaul.  She has published a book on the Golden Age and Utopianism in Roman literature.

Sarah Midford

Sarah Midford is a Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University. Sarah has a research background in Roman war commemoration and imperialist propaganda during the late republican and early imperial periods. Her current research focuses on cultural connections between antiquity and the modern world and the cultural impact of war in history, literature and commemorative processes. Sarah is currently researching how classical allusions have been used in the construction of Australia's Anzac legend.