Department of Greek & Latin


Summer School 1

This summer school is aimed at students who have done some Greek or Latin at school. This summer school is being offered for senior-cycle school pupils (Years 11-13) who are interested in the ancient cultures of Greece, Rome, and the Mediterranean, and who may be thinking of studying Classics or the Ancient World at university. Eight sessions will be offered under the general heading of ‘Life in the Ancient World’, allowing pupils to sample a mixture of ancient history, literature, and broader culture. 

Programme of the Summer School “Life in the Ancient World”, 18th-20th July, 2022.

Location: Institute of Archcaeology, Lecture Theatre G6, 31-34 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PY.

Monday 18 July 2022

10.00–11.30 Transgender antiquity (Mairéad McAuley)

Title: Transgender Antiquity: Please note: This lecture deals with ancient myths of gender transformation, some of which include references to gender-based prejudice and sexual violence. The issue of trans rights and identities is a fraught one in current public sphere. We ask that all attendees engage with sensitivity and mutual respect during the discussions.

Abstract: The mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome contain several stories of gender variance, non-conformity and transformation, from androgynous gods such as Dionysus and cross dressing heroes such as Hercules, to the metamorphosis of Hermaphroditus, in which male and female are fused in the same body. Religious rituals such as the Saturnalia, or the ritual castrations of the Galli, priests of the goddess Cybele, also featured elements of gender non-conformity and transformation. Indeed, recent theories of gender as on a spectrum, and the idea that male or female are identities that are assigned or constructed rather than fixed, biological or natural, emerged in part from the study of classical myths and practices. In this session I will explore some transgender examples in classical art and literature. We’ll look at what the Greeks and Romans might be using these stories and images of gender variance for, as they depicted them in different forms – sculpture, painting, poetry – and at different times in their history. What did gender mean for them? Was it biological, social, or a bit of both? Did their ideas change over time? Was it dangerous to be gender non-conforming in antiquity, outside of the ‘safe spaces’ of rituals and myths? What was at stake for the ancient Greeks and Romans when they thought about a woman becoming a man or a man becoming a woman?

11.30–13.00 What can myths tell us about the way the Greeks thought about women? (Alexandra Meghji)

Content Warning: Please note that there is some discussion of misogyny, sexual violence, and domestic violence in this discussion, as we are talking about women who lived in very patriarchal times.

Abstract: Thinking about women in the ancient world is complicated for many reasons, ranging from the political to the geographical to the methodological aspects of inquiry. Attention to women in antiquity is a burgeoning area of interest within the field of Classics, and scholarly work on the experiences, positions, and conceptions of women reveal the complexity and richness of their lives. However, this galvanizing scholarly attention to women in antiquity remains relatively new: the field has only been thinking seriously about women for about fifty years, while classical scholarship more broadly has obviously existed for millennia. There is still much work to be done in this incredibly rich domain of inquiry.

This discussion surveys some approaches to and problems for thinking about the lives of women in antiquity, and engages myth as a critical and interpretive lens. There is a clear connection between a culture and its stories, and looking at these stories can be a fruitful point of entry into ancient thinking. In this lesson, we explore the insight myths can offer scholars into the ways that the ancients thought about ‘woman’ and into, on a more quotidian, practical level, the shape that women’s lives actually took in the ancient world. Of course, antiquity is geographically and temporally vast, and it would be impossible to encapsulate what women’s lives looked like in the ancient world at large. Therefore, this lesson looks specifically at Homer and Hesiod, and examines what these sources can tell us about the way the Greeks thought about and treated women.


Please read the following chapter from Mary Beard’s book Women and Power:

  • ‘The Public Voice of Women’

You may also find Natalie Haynes’s Pandora’s Jar interesting for the purposes of this discussion, especially the chapters on Pandora, Clytemnestra, Helen, and Penelope.

*This reading is optional. It’s okay if you can’t read this text – but you might just find it interesting and it will give you a flavour of the things we will be talking about.

14.30–16.00 The papyrologist’s work: reconstructing everyday life in Graeco-Roman Egypt (Chiara D’Agostino)

In the late 1800s, archaeologists in Egypt started to discover in various locations a new kind of treasure: ancient papyri. These papers, mostly in Greek and spanning from the early Ptolemaic age to beyond the Arab conquest, contain everything we can imagine of life in antiquity and more. From literary books to school texts, private letters and public documents, petitions and complaints, contracts and tax registers, invitations to parties and notifications of death, amulets and drawings, a whole new era of studying the life of ordinary (and not so ordinary!) people in the ancient world opened to us. It is the job of the papyrologist to conserve, read and interpret these texts, so they can be used to enrich our knowledge of antiquity, and to help us truly connect with the past.

16.10–16.30 Roundup (Mark Weeden)

Tuesday 19 July 2022

10.00–11.30 Making the Law: Slaves, Injuries and Insults (Liz McKnight)

In the sixth century CE, the Roman emperor Justinian commissioned the leading jurists (legal experts) of the day to prepare a codification of Roman law, and to compile a digest of the most important legal opinions expressed by jurists of previous generations. The resulting works, the Institutes and the Digest, have had enormous influence in the development of the private law systems (the law relating to dealings between private citizens) in many modern jurisdictions.

The Digest is a veritable treasury of records of individual cases (both decided cases and hypothetical cases) disclosing the kinds of problems that might confront a Roman citizen in his private or commercial dealings, and how the Roman jurists set about developing Roman law to resolve such problems.

In this session, we will look at some extracts of the Digest dealing with slaves, personal injuries, and defamatory insults with a view to understanding how the law dealt with slaves, and how the values underlying the law developed over time.

11.30–13.00 Writing Laws in the Ancient World (Katie Shields)

14.30–16.00 The real king of Persia: an Empire up for grabs (Mateen Arghandehpour)

2500 years ago, king Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered most of the known world. After his death, each of his two sons became powerful kings, each ruling over vast countries. After eight years, the elder son, king Cambyses, “died by himself”, and the younger son, king Bardiya, mysteriously disappeared and was replaced by a lookalike. Freeing the empire from this sham lookalike, king Darius the Great took over the helm of the Persian Empire and was revered because he ruled honesty and justly.

In this session we look into the shady dealings that occurred between Cyrus’ death and Darius’ taking over. We will read translations of ancient inscriptions and literature, and come to a historical conclusion to judge what exactly happened.

Keep note of the names so you can keep up with the story!

16.10–16.30 Roundup (Mark Weeden)

Wednesday 20 July 2022

10.00–11.30 Caribbean Classical Reception in the 21st Century (Annemarie Schunke)

11.30–13.00 Homely Realism in Classical Literature (Rachel Collier)

13.10-13.30 Closing remarks (Mark Weeden)