Avebury and Stonehenge 2017

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By Christopher Grocock, Head of Classics

Avebury, West Kennet and Stonehenge are special places, and the Ancient Civilizations BAC visited them on 26 September. It isn’t any old school trip. Eating on top of a communal grave over 5,000 years old was just a part of it. Then going inside and looking where the bones were laid out, and getting close enough to touch the actual stones dragged into position about 3,000 BC – you can’t get closer to the past than that. Coming face to face with an Outdoor Work project, which took decades to complete and did not even involve any metal tools – just animal bones and sheer sweat, helped bring home the determination and organisation that must have existed in ancient societies. Student efforts to pull a replica stone in the visitor complex at Stonehenge didn’t make the item shift an inch (or centimetre, if you prefer) and showed what muscle was needed in the original task. Unless you believe that Merlin did it . . . .

The visit gave the class a great opportunity to soak up the atmosphere that the sites exude. Stonehenge may be safely roped off, but at Avebury and West Kennett you get a real sense of the massive effort made and the awe which the stones may have inspired in those who first put them in place. Sadly we can’t fit in a quick visit to the Great Pyramid, but this annual trip has always fulfilled its aim – of putting things studied in class into a broader context – and this year was no exception. Even the weather conspired to make it a useful and fun day out!

The Berlin Painter and His World: Princeton University exhibition

By Alastair Harden, Acting Head of Classics

1On a visit to the British Museum with 6.2 Classical Civilization students in February, after looking at the Parthenon sculptures and the frieze from the Temple of Apollo at Bassae, I brought the class around the Greek Vase galleries. I know these galleries very well, so I confidently strode up to a glass case, ready to wax lyrical on one of the most beautiful pieces on the A-level syllabus: a magnificent volute krater depicting the final duel between Achilles and Hektor. I mentally gathered my notes and got ready to dispense wisdom when – much to my disappointment – the case turned out to be empty. Well, not quite empty: a card read “This vase has been loaned to the Princeton University Art Museum for the exhibition ‘The Berlin Painter and His World’.” This kicked off a very welcome chain of events that led to me trading the Block 3 Parents’ meeting for an aeroplane bound for New Jersey and attending the most important conference and exhibition on Greek Art to be held in a generation.

2I’d heard that Princeton was hosting the first exhibition devoted to a single vase-painter in almost forty years, so I emailed J. Michael Padgett, Princeton’s curator of Classical antiquities, chastising him for ruining my speech about Achilles and Hektor and fondly recalling the afternoon in 2011 when he took me to the store-room under the galleries in the museum at Princeton to examine some fragments for my doctoral dissertation. To my surprise and delight he replied straight away, inviting me to two events: the fizzy ‘gala opening’ of the Berlin Painter exhibition on March 4th, and a star-studded one-day symposium on April 1st. (Well, ‘star-studded’ to Greek Art enthusiasts. Or really to vase-painting enthusiasts. Well, really, to enthusiasts of early Athenian red-figure vase-painting, which thankfully I am.) I expressed my regret that I could go to neither, but after some string-pulling and many apologetic emails to my Block 3 parents I found myself gratefully bound for the symposium.

3‘The Berlin Painter’ is the name given by the Oxford scholar John Davidson Beazley to an otherwise-anonymous painter of the most beautiful painted pottery of the early fifth century B.C.: Beazley grouped together several vases which he judged to have been painted by the same person in a 1911 article entitled ‘The Master of the Berlin Amphora’, and in doing so he effectively initiated the study of Greek vase painting as a major art form. Beazley remained central to the study of Greek vase painting until his death in 1970, and I was working as a researcher at Beazley’s archive in Oxford (www.beazley.ox.ac.uk) when I left academia to come to Bedales.

The Berlin Painter was one of thousands of painters whom Beazley was to identify on stylistic grounds, but to all scholars of Greek art the Berlin Painter has a special place as the first painter to recognize the aesthetic potential of using the shape of the vase and the framing painted floral and geometric patterns to bring the painted scene to life. Before this, painters usually treated the shape of the vase as a blank field to be filled in, and simply divided the vessel into zones or panels, but the Berlin Painter seems to have had a gifted sense of how the complex shapes of the vases can complement the drawing. He (or she, though we presume the painter was male: that’s another discussion…) also observed anatomy in minute detail, and I hope all of my students share my enthusiasm at how the Berlin Painter renders the complex relationship of the serratus anterior muscles to the ribcage in a level of anatomical detail unprecedented in its accuracy, at a time when sculptors were also looking to complex anatomical accuracy to make bronze and stone resemble real living bodies.

4The exhibition in Princeton brings together a representative selection of pieces from museums all over the world, including the ‘name vase’, the ‘Berlin Amphora’ which Beazley discussed in his 1911 article; sadly the exhibition does not include the beautiful fragment which Beazley saw in Winchester College, pictured, but it was awe-inspiring to be in a gallery with so many pieces of such high quality. The symposium featured a brilliantly stimulating group of lectures, including a wonderful talk by Richard Neer about how Beazley’s sexuality and early Brideshead-like days as an Oxford undergraduate in the 1900s influenced his later scholarship, and a typically poetic paper by the renowned French scholar François Lissarrague on the painter’s astonishingly sensitive use of deep black backgrounds for the figural scenes. Mario Iozzo, director of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Florence (home of the famous François Vase), revealed that he found what all archaeologists long for: a secret message, barely detectable beneath the black glaze of one vase. His paper will quite literally have every curator of Athenian vases looking again for these tantalizing hidden words, which will occupy scholars for decades: they can only be seen with the naked eye under certain lighting conditions, preferably when the vase is being held in the hand, a nice reminder of the tactility of these objects in an era which is increasingly devoted to digital images and accessing artefacts primarily through the internet.

At the reception following the conference I re-connected with Prof. Lissarrague, who wrote the single most beautiful book on Greek vases (Greek Vases: The Athenians and Their Images) and, much less illustriously, examined my PhD thesis in 2013 (‘Animal-skin garments in archaic Greek art: style and iconography’). I also caught up with several other academics whom I knew through my five years working at the Beazley Archive: I was reminded of the joys of research, and I’ve already since been consulted by a curator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York about an animal skin on an ancient statuette. It has been very rewarding to spend even a brief time among academics and curators, and I plan to re-enter this world by writing a paper this summer on the Berlin Painter’s use of animal-skin garments: this will be one of hundreds of pieces of research inspired and stimulated by the epoch-making conference and exhibition, with its beautiful catalogue, and it was truly a privilege to have attended this monumental event.

On the day of the exhibition’s opening, Michael Padgett gave an excellent introductory lecture on the Berlin Painter which you can see here.

Bedales re-creates Rome in a day for visiting students

An appreciation of the Classics at Bedales was the theme of a day spent by 30 young students from 15 independent prep schools across the South-East. Upon arrival at the school, the students became members of the Bedales Roman Legion, were given their Latin names on a scroll and engaged in activities typical of a Roman citizen, which included blacksmithing and cooking in the school’s Outdoor Work department. The day culminated in a drama performance to their parents featuring 3 plays including Midas and the Golden Touch in Latin and English in the school’s outdoor Sotherington Theatre complete with togas and props.

Commenting on the experience, Keith Budge, Headmaster of Bedales Schools, said; “It was great to see so many young people embrace the history and culture of the Romans so wholeheartedly. I was particularly impressed with how quickly the students grasped their Latin lines for the performance. Overall it was an excellent opportunity for young people to get a sneak preview of the approach to learning at Bedales and see how much can be achieved in a short space of time when they are motivated by inspirational teaching..”

Classics Day

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Classicists visit local Roman villa site

A2 classicists took advantage of an archaeological dig by Liss Archaeological Group as part of their revision on villas and the economy of Roman Britain. In Colemore evidence has come to light of a substantial set of stone foundations, showing the presence of a well-developed farm (the Latin for which is ‘villa’). The buildings were situated on the second highest spot in Hampshire, and faced north but were at the centre of extensively farmed arable fields and woodland. Pottery and glass finds show that the occupants – who were probably native Celts – purchased goods from as far afield as the Nene Valley, Dorset, and even Germany. Students saw in this one location just how much the economic links in the Roman empire affected even modest sites like Colemore. The villa forms one of a series of Roman sites around Bedales, the best-known being the villa at Stroud, which was excavated by Bedalians during the Edwardian period.

By Christopher Grocock, Teacher of Classics

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Leading scholars inspire Classics students

Last term, Block 4 and 5 Bedalians studying Latin and Greek were given the opportunity to experience teaching from leading exponents of the subject when they attended the ‘Classics Inspiration Day’ at St Swithun’s School, Winchester. Leading scholars in their fields from the University of Oxford gave papers and fielded questions on topics such as ‘The Truth about Sappho’ and ‘Gender Roles in Latin Love Poetry’. The opportunity to think about the classical world in a wider way than the curriculum generally allows is an eye-opener, and above all shows students the value of slogging through all those vocab lists and grammar exercises, when the end result can be an appreciation of the past at a deeper level than they ever thought possible.

By Christopher Grocock, Teacher of Classics

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Ancient sites explored in Rome and Pompeii

30 intrepid students from Blocks 2 and 3 braved sunshine and surfeits of ice cream on the biennial trip to Rome and Sorrento, taking in over a dozen historic ancient sites and wearing the soles of their shoes to the bare minimum – 22 miles covered in Rome, in two days! Here alone there was masses to see – the Altar of Peace, the colossal Colosseum, the perfection that is the Pantheon, circuses and baths a plenty. In Pompeii, the students acquitted themselves magnificently, using workbooks and quizzes to guide them round the extraordinary remains of the historic city lost under the volcano of Vesuvius in AD 79. Great weather, great sights to see, great behaviour. Here’s to 2016 when we do it all again! View photos.

By Christopher Grocock, Teacher of Classics

Ancient sites explored in Rome and Pompeii

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Medals at Classics reading competition

A group of intrepid Classicists ventured out to the 65th annual Southampton Classical Association Latin and Greek Reading Competition at Cantell School, Southampton recently. We were dressed in our customary array of dazzling costumes – much to the amusement of the other suit-clad participants. However, it wasn’t a fancy dress contest, and it soon became apparent that competition was fierce. Nevertheless, proving that we have brains as well as beauty, we achieved three bronze medals and the highest accolade of all: gold medals in senior Greek reading by Sofia Tavener and Angus Carey-Douglas, which included a financial reward. Who says Classics doesn’t pay!  View photos.

By Robin Allez, 6.2

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.