Classics > Outreach > What we Offer > Talks and Workshops

Outreach Talks

Most of these talks are aimed at GCSE to A-Level pupils, however we can accommodate some to suit all age levels including primary.


Aeneas the Villain - Dr Stephen Heyworth

Abstract: The talk begins by acknowledging that Aeneas is a hero, but tries to bring out the way in which Vergil has written his epic so that an attentive reader is enabled and at some points compelled to see the poem’s protagonist as socially inept, emotionally stunted, morally questionable, deceitful, conniving, nasty; in short, a villain.  I consider Aeneas the lover, the family man, the teller of tales, the betrayer of Troy, the wager of war.

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Alphabetising the Mediterranean: a short history of writing from cuneiform and hieroglyphs to the emergence of the Greek alphabet - Dr Peter Haarer

Abstract: This richly-illustrated lecture places the emergence of alphabetic Greek script in the wider context of the development of writing. I include a brief explanation of the key differences between the alphabet and other systems of writing, and an overview of the development and early history of the alphabet.

Age Group: A Level

Ancient Greece's Next Top Model: Greek sculpture and the search for the perfect body

Abstract: What kinds of bodies did the Greeks like to ogle? Looking at sculptures from 600 BC to 330 BC, this illustrated talk examines how attitudes towards the male body changed over time and why. Students will also be shown how to use knowledge of Greek body-fashions to help them date statues to a particular period.

Age Group: Intended for Classical Civilization students taking the Greek Sculpture option at A2, and other Sixth-Formers with an interest in ancient art.

An offer you can't refuse: Aristotle on threats and coercion - Prof. Ursula Coope

Abstract: If you hold a gun to my head to get me to hand over some money, there is some sense in which you have forced me to hand over the money. All the same, I still have some control over whether I give you the money: I could refuse and risk being shot. Should I, then, be held responsible for handing over the money? If not, why not? In this talk, I discuss Aristotle's account of responsibility, and what it implies about the blameworthiness of people who are coerced by threats into acting as they do. I end by asking whether a threat is relevantly different from an exploitative offer, and I look at certain medieval philosophers who suggested that it is not.

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Art, text, and history in the Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii - Prof. Bert Smith

Abstract: Illustrated talk on reading the action and narrative techniques of the Alexander Mosaic in relation to the literary texts that describe the same action

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Building Augustan Rome - Dr Janet Delaine

Abstract: While there is no doubt that the city of Rome was transformed in the Augustan period, how much of this was due to Augustus himself? Does his Res Gestae represent what he actually built in Rome? Did Augustus really find Rome a city of brick and leave it a city of marble? The purpose of this talk is to investigate how much 'spin' is involved in Augustus's portrayal of his public building projects, and then to examine the practical realities of building Augustan Rome.

Age Group: Secondary Level

Bricks and Marble: Augustan Monuments as Propaganda? - Dr Peter Stewart

Abstract: On how the first Roman emperor transformed the city of Rome with Greek-style marble monuments.  But what how did monuments like the Ara Pacis work, and can they really be regarded as imperial propaganda?

Age Group: Year 12 and Year 13

Catullus 64 and its possible relations - Dr Gail Trimble

Abstract: Catullus' longest poem is a very short epic which tells two stories.  In an idealised heroic age, Peleus the Argonaut and Thetis the sea-nymph meet and marry in a luxurious palace.  In a picture on the coverlet of their marriage bed, Ariadne has been abandoned by Theseus on a desert island - and despite being a picture, manages to make a long speech lamenting this fact.  Back at the wedding, Peleus and Thetis hear from the Fates how their son Achilles will have a glorious career, killing vast numbers of people in the Trojan War before dying himself and having a beautiful girl's throat cut over his grave.  At this point, Catullus abruptly ends the poem by telling his readers how much better everything was before the gods ceased to visit us.

This talk explores some ways of approaching this deeply attractive but perplexing poem, and in particular asks whether we might have understood it in different ways if more Latin poems that had something in common with it had happened to survive.

Age Group: This talk is most suitable for students taking AS/A2 Latin.

Chorus in Greek Tragedy - Dr Felix Budelmann

This talk is aimed at students who are studying or have studied some Greek tragedy as part of their school curriculum (in translation or in the original). It tackles the chorus as the element of Greek tragedy that is often found alien and difficult, and shows how the chorus makes sense right at the centre of the plays. Through its focus on the chorus it tries to develop a richer and more complete picture of the genre.

Cicero's World- Dr Anna Clark

Abstract: This talk looks at three aspects of the world in which Cicero lived: the city of Rome, the Roman Empire as he experienced it, and the letters through which he constructed his world in another sense.

Age Group: A level 

Cicero, Verres and Sicily - Dr Jonathan Prag

Abstract: Verres is the most famous example of Roman imperial rule gone wrong, guilty of massive extortion from the first province of Rome’s empire, the wealthy island of Sicily. In a series of 7 speeches, the young Cicero demolished Verres’ reputation and immortalised his misdeeds. The talk examines the island of Sicily and Roman rule there, Verres’ misdeeds, and the nature of Cicero’s attack

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Cunning Plans in Tacitus - Dr Luke Pitcher

Abstract: This talk examines cunning schemes in Tacitus, with special reference to Nero’s plan to drown Agrippina in Annals XIV. I argue that, while there are a lot of people in Tacitus’s histories who think that they are very clever, the evidence of the text shows the ability of chance and the unforeseen to mess up human planning.

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Disease and Death in Ancient Greece -

Abstract: What happened when the Greeks fell ill? And what happened when they didn't recover? This illustrated talk leads the students through some of the ailments that could befall an ancient Greek, where they might go for a cure, and (if everything went wrong), what might happen to their body after death.

Age Group: The talk would not be suitable for students who might be upset by discussion of disease, death, funerals, or by photographs of skeletal remains. Recommended Year 9s and above.

Disrespect in Retrospect: the Defamation of the Emperor Tiberius - Dr Ed Bispham

Abstract: The talk attempts to assess how Tiberius' reputation has been distorted, principally by Tacitus, since the emperor's reign. It examines where Tacitus has been fair, and where he has been unfair; and where he has been unfair, how he has managed to make unfairness seem so convincing.

Age Group: A Level

Doing History with (Greek) Names - Prof. Robert Parker

Abstract: In the mid fifth century the leading Athenian politician and general Kimon named his son ‘Lakedaimonios’, ie ‘Spartan’, a very clear and probably controversial indication of his pro-Spartan political stance.  That is just one small example of the unexpected ways in which Greek names can teach us about Greek history. Names also tell us about such things as

1) The movements of people and of peoples: names travel for instance from mother cities to colonies

2) The spread of cults, since names formed from gods’ names such as Asklepiodoros (‘gift of Asklepios’)  were very common

3) Cultural interaction in places where Greeks and non-Greeks lived together: there are many combinations of ‘X son of Y’ form where X is a Greek, Y a non-Greek name, or vice versa

4) And much else besides. 

Since the 1970s a research project in Oxford has been collecting, publishing and plotting on maps Ancient Greek names : over 40,000 of them, belonging to over 400,000 individuals.  In this talk (intended mainly for post GCSE students, but with no prior knowledge assumed)  the director of that project, Robert Parker, will illustrate the potential for ‘doing history with names’, in Greece and every other society.  

Age Group: A Level

The gods in Homer - Dr Angus Bowie

Abstract: Discussion of the politics of Olympus and the limits of divine influence in the world

Age Group: Any age

A Great Future Behind It: The Prophetic Past in Livy Book I - Dr Luke Pitcher

Abstract: This talk looks at the two contexts for reading Livy – early Rome (Livy’s subject) and the late First Century BCE (when Livy was writing his history). I explore such episodes as Romulus and Remus and the Rape of the Sabines to show how Livy’s early Rome deliberately sets a pattern for what follows.

Age Group: A Level

Herodotus: esp. Book 8 and Herodotus and Persia - Dr Angus Bowie

Abstract: How Herodotus represents the Persians, looks at history, etc.

Age Group: Any age

How to Start A Story in the Ancient World - Dr Luke Pitcher

Abstract: This talk looks at the different ways in which classical texts begin, and argues that where the beginning is put makes a difference. The main texts I use are the Homeric epics and Vergil’s Aeneid, but I am happy to talk about the beginnings of other texts on request.

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

How we got our Classical texts - Dr Gail Trimble

Abstract: We can learn about the ancient world by means of artefacts and texts.  But while a Greek pot apparently looks to us very much as it looked to its first user, a modern copy of a classical text doesn't look anything like the book that Greek or Roman readers would have known. This talk tells the story of how classical texts got from their authors to us, how much got lost and broken on the way, and what we can do today to attempt to restore and fix it.  Featuring greedy librarians, monks, rubbish heaps, anagrams, censorship, calligraphy, DVDs and textual criticism.

Age Group: This talk is suitable for students in Year 10 and above studying any Classical subject or none.

Hunting, Fighting, and Drinking with Alexander: Wall Paintings from Macedonia - Prof Bert Smith

Abstract: Illustrated talk on the major themes of Macedonian wall paintings discovered in the last 30 years.

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Langauge learning across langauges, cultures and time  - Dr Philomen Probert

Abstract: When we learn languages we often find some things harder than others. For example, the distinction between masculine and feminine nouns in French is difficult for English speakers, but basic French word order is a bit easier. The use of the English word ‘the’ is very difficult for Russian speakers, but a bit easier for French speakers. (English spelling is difficult for everybody...) For these reasons, different techniques are used for teaching different languages and to different groups of people. Yet tools and techniques for language teaching have also influenced one another across languages and cultures. By exploring historical language teaching and learning techniques in western Europe, this talk aims to enrich the intrinsic interest of language teaching and learning itself.

Age Group: This talk is most suitable for people with basic (or more) experience of learning at least one foreign language.

The Lost Artists of Classical Greece - Dr Peter Stewart

Abstract: On Greek art as an 'inheritance of lost'.  What do we not know about Greek art and artists?  How have researchers tried to overcome that loss?  And how does the study of ancient Athenian vases offer a unique insight into otherwise lost artists.

Age Group: A Level

The Odyssey looks at the Iliad - Dr Angus Bowie

Abstract: The Odyssey's critical attitude to the significance of the Trojan War, and its innovative concern with the kinds of people and events which the Iliad ignores.

Our Friends in the North: Caesar and Tacitus on Barbarian Management - Dr Luke Pitcher

Abstract: This talk looks at how Caesar and Tacitus choose to present non-Romans in their historical works. Using Caesar’s excursus on the Druids in his Gallic Wars, I argue that the differing emphases we see in these accounts tells us a lot about what Caesar and Tacitus are trying to achieve with their larger histories.

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Ovid: play and politics - Dr Stephen Heyworth

Ovid starts his career as a very playful poet, mischievous in love and writing, but not especially engaged with politics (unlike his contemporaries).  The talk illustrates this from the first few poems in Amores 1, before going on to consider how things change as his career develops in his composition of the epic Metamophoses, before crashing with his sudden exile to Tomi.  The playfulness continues, but the political engagement increases, and becomes sharply observant, even polemical.  I consider in detail passages in books 1 and 15 of the Metamorphoses, and book 1 of the Tristia.

Age Group: A Level

The public image of the Emperor Constantine - Prof. Bert Smith

Abstract: Illustrated talk on the portraits and changing public image of Constantine, a master image-manipulator, in relation to the different choices of power-styles made by his contemporaries and competitors.

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Reading Greek Inscriptions: a Workshop - Dr Peter Haarer

Abstract: In this workshop-format presentation and working from images distributed on handouts I take students through three or four very short and simple archaic Greek inscriptions. I aim to show how the printed Greek encountered in text-books relates to actual inscriptions cut by the ancient Greeks themselves and encountered at archaeological sites or museums.  I also explain the historical significance of each of the texts encountered.

Age Group: The workshop is suitable for students at any stage of their school career who have already learned some Greek.

Reason and emotions in ancient philosophy - Prof. Ursula Coope

Abstract: We sometimes find ourselves torn between what we think we should do and what our emotions prompt us to do. An extreme example of this is Medea, who says that she recognises that killing her children would be bad, but that her anger is stronger than her reasonings. In this talk, I look at two different ancient models for understanding this apparent conflict between reason and emotion. On the first, Platonic model, our reasoning and our emotions spring from two different parts of the soul which pull us in opposite directions. On the second, Socratic model, there is no real conflict: at the moment of action, we always do what we think is best, although we may (like Medea) be constantly changing our minds about what to do. I raise questions about whether either of these models can make sense of our responsibility for our actions.

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Roman Emperors - Dr Anna Clark

Abstract: Focussing for the most part on the Julio-Claudian emperors, this talk/workshop encourages pupils to think about how to approach some of the evidence that survives about them.

Age Group: Can be adapted to different ages, probably best from early secondary school to GCSE

Roman Emperors and Greek Heroes in the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias - Prof. Bert Smith

Abstract: Illustrated talk on the marble reliefs from a major temple complex dedicated to the early emperors in Roman Asia. The reliefs juxtapose imperial and mythological subjects in a striking manner.

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Rome and Hollywood - Prof. Stephen Harrison

Abstract: This talk looks at Hollywood’s love-affair with Rome, especially the films Spartacus (1960) and Gladiator (2001). Illustrated with film clips.

Age Group: Suitable for 14+

'Rubbish heaps of riches': The Story and Treasures of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri - Dr Amin Benaissa

Abstract: The Oxyrhynchus Papyri housed at Oxford are the largest collection of ancient Greek papyri in the world. They preserve an astonishing number of literary works and documents, ranging from poems by Sappho to edicts by Roman emperors. This illustrated talk discusses their discovery by two young Oxford scholars at the turn of the 20th century, some of the collection's showpieces, and the way these manuscripts have transformed our knowledge of Greek literature and the ancient world.

Age Group: A Level

Sappho - Dr Felix Budelmann

This talk presumes no knowledge of Sappho or of Greek. It introduces this fascinating and elusive poet for sixth-formers, covering both her poetry and what we can say about her social setting

Sex and Death? The World of the Etruscans - Dr Ed Bispham

Abstract: It tries to establish what we do and don't know about the Etruscans, brings to the fore their remarkable artistic legacy and asks whether the evidence we have really justifies their portrayal in ancient times as orgy-prone, and in modern perceptions, as mysterious and morbid.

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Shall Greek be pronounced by accent or by quantity?": Debating Greek pronunciation since the Renaissance - Dr Philomen Probert

Abstract:[nbsp]It is fairly widely accepted today that we know quite a lot about the pronunciation of ancient Greek. Inevitably there are gaps in our knowledge, and we have more evidence for some periods and dialects than others, but big fights about the subject are comparatively rare. However, the pronunciation of ancient Greek was a fiercely contested subject for several centuries and until very recently. This talk takes a look at what some of these fights were about and how they were conducted.

Age Group: This talk is most suitable for people with basic (or more) experience of learning ancient Greek.

Spartacus - Prof. Stephen Harrison

Abstract: This talk looks at Stanley Kubrick’s film Spartacus (1960), the circumstances of its composition (Cold War/civil rights USA) and its manipulation of Roman material. Illustrated with film clips.

Age Group: Suitable for 14+

Text as interpretation: the editing of Latin poetry - Dr Stephen Heyworth

Abstract: This talk gives a brief overview of the way in which Classical Latin texts are transmitted to us, and illustrates this by looking at images of some manuscripts of Latin poet texts (usually Gallus, Propertius, Statius and Ovid).  It goes on to consider how modern editions are different from the manuscripts (and from the authors’ expectations), and how meaning is affected by the presentation of the text on the page, looking at punctuation and the use of capitals as well as verbal changes.  The talk can be adapted to involve texts that students are reading at school.

Age Group: A Level

What were the Romans really interested in? - Prof. Stephen Harrison

Abstract: This talk looks at some key Roman tastes, especially Roman attitudes to children, animals and violence.

Age Group: Suitable for 14+

Vergil's Aeneid and Roman Civilisation - Dr Stephen Heyworth

Abstract: The Aeneid sets Rome’s origin in an heroic past, but the narrative provides an account of the origin not only of the city but also of its history, its great men and its practices both religious and political.  It thus serves to show what a great poet saw as characteristic of Roman civilisation at a cultural and political highpoint.  The talk relates to works of art the varied vignettes with which Vergil explores what Roman society might be and what it is.  It begins from the first simile, which compares Neptune calming the storm to a statesman stopping a riot with his reasoned words, and then considers the different images of society we get from the Trojans’ first landing on the African coast and Jupiter’s prophecy of future imperium, before moving on to scenes from books 3, 6, 8, and 12.

Age Group: GCSE to A Level

Virgil, Aeneid 6 - Dr Angus Bowie

Abstract: Discussion of significant passages

Virgil's Aeneid: between Homer and Rome - Dr Gail Trimble

Abstract: Virgil faced many challenges when he took on the task of writing an epic poem, but this talk explores two of the biggest.  Homer was not only the undisputed greatest poet of the ancient world, but also the source of all other literature and perhaps of all knowledge: yet Virgil aimed to be another Homer.  On the other hand, as well as this literary giant he had to deal with a contemporary political giant in the form of the Emperor Augustus, who seems to have wanted an epic poem in praise of his new Roman world order.  And the Roman world in the late first century BC, with its messy politics and conflicting philosophical and religious ideas, was a very different place from the world of archaic Greece in which Homer's liad and Odyssey had first been heard.  How could Virgil compose a Homeric poem that still had important things to say to his Roman contemporaries - and to us?

Age Group: This talk is suitable for students in Year 10 and above, especially those studying the Aeneid or any part of it in Latin or in translation.

'You Can See it in Their Eyes'? Reading Roman Portraits - Dr Peter Stewart

Abstract: On the immediacy of Roman imperial portraits and the hazards of viewing them out of context.

Age Group: A Level