Friday 8 December 2023

Autumn Animations: The Rattle, The Banquet, The Doctor’s Game, and ‘Teaching Ancient Greece’.

Time to reflect on a busy few months and bring you some animations, pictures and updates! Early Autumn saw us visiting the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, to release new animations for the Locus Ludi project ( ). Under the leadership of Veronique Dasen, Locus Ludi has been exploring play and games in classical antiquity. Results from the project were presented at a university open day, Explora 23. Panoply’s Sonya Nevin presented the Locus Ludi artefact animations. These animations have stretched us beyond vases to include wall-paintings and low-relief stone carvings. Perhaps you’ve seen Hide and Seek in Herculaneum, made from a fresco in the volcano-hit city. You will have had less chance to see the new vase animation, The Rattle, and its companion video, About the Rattle. You can see them here below and they now have their own page, with a bonus PowerPoint, on the main Panoply site. We’ll add a few other Locus Ludi animations in the New Year once their related resources have been finalised.

Above, The Rattle and About the Rattle made from a small jug now housed in the British Museum. For more on this topic, see .

Explora 2023 also saw members of the public playing Roman board games and there was a screening of the project’s documentary about a mercury-filled Roman dice that some cheeky Romans used for cheating at dice games.
Above, a Roman-style board-game prepared by Ulrich Schӓdler, played at the University of Fribourg’s Explora Open Day.
Above, Panoply’s Sonya Nevin presents the new artefact animations at Explora 23 at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.
Above, Explora 23 was a public showcase of research from across the University of Fribourg.

Meanwhile back in the UK, a new exhibition was opening at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology at the University of Reading. Locus Ludi – Anyone Can Play! was inspired by Locus Ludi and included all sorts of aspects of play and games in antiquity. Panoply collaborated with the Ure Museum team to make an animated documentary for the exhibition about an ancient board game from the Roman collection at Colchester Castle. You can see The Doctor’s Game here (length 1.55 min):

Above, a case from Locus Ludi – Anyone Can Play! at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, University of Reading. For an interactive version, visit the exhibition homepage

After a pit stop in Cambridge, we were off to Sicily. We travelled round this fabulous island and popped in to see Ludovico Portuese of the University of Messina. Ludovico leads the GALATEO project (, exploring etiquette in ancient Mesopotamia. You can read about his research and use of ceramics as evidence in this recent Panoply interview. Earlier in 2023, Panoply animated two artefacts for the GALATEO project, which can be seen online and irl in the Penn Museum in the USA:

Above, The Banquet, made as part of the GALATEO project from an Assyrian ivory plaque. For more on it, see:

Above, Worshipping the Gods, made as part of the GALATEO project from a Mesopotamian stone stele. For more on it, see:

We visited some fabulous ancient sites in Sicily, saw plenty of great vases in the well-stocked museums, and caught a puppet-show – the traditional Sicilian artform which is an ancestor of vase animations.
Above, a beautiful depiction of Perseus by the Phiale Painter, white ground calyx krater in the Agrigento Archaeological Museum (inv. A67, Beazley 214231).
Above, puppets from the Puppet Museum at Syracuse; a show at their theatre is a must for animation fans

Autumn also saw us return to University College Dublin to talk about how things have developed at the Panoply Vase Animation Project since we began animating vases in the UCD School of Classics way back when.
Above, a poster for Sonya's talk at University College Dublin on the history of the Panoply vase animations.

Meanwhile, our old friend, Hoplites! Greeks at War has gone on display as part of the Hoplites exhibition at the Déri Museum in Hungary. Having the animation displayed amongst the warfare artefacts gave visitors a chance to see the equipment in action, making it clearer what it was for and how it worked.
Above, visitors to the Hoplite exhibition at Déri Museum in Hungary, where vase animation put helmets and other equipment in context.

Last, but not least, we are glad to report progress on a project we’re very excited about: Teaching Ancient Greece. Lesson Plans, Vase Animations, and Resources. Teaching Ancient Greece, edited by Panoply’s Sonya Nevin, is a book of resources for using the Our Mythical Childhood vase animations in teaching and learning. It’s nearing completion and will be out next year. While hard copies will be available to buy, we’re delighted that it will be available as an Open Access download, through its publisher, Warsaw University Press. It features contributions from teachers and other educators all over the world and is chock full of handy resources and bright ideas. Watch this space for more news. In the meantime, checkout the other Open Access publications in the Our Mythical Childhood series:

Susan Deacy, What Would Hercules Do? Lessons for Autistic Children Using Classical Myth (2023), featuring vase illustrations by Panoply's Steve K Simons.

Katarzyna Marciniak (ed.), Our Mythical Hope. The Ancient Myths as Medicine for the Hardships of Life in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture (2021), essays on antiquity in modern young people's literature.

Lisa Maurice (ed.) Our Mythical Education. The Reception of Classical Myth Worldwide in Formal Education, 1900-2020 (2021), how classical myth fits into school curricula around the world.

Elizabeth Hale and Miriam Riverlea, Classical Mythology and Children's Literature... An Alphabetical Odyssey (2022), a guide to the use of classical myth in modern children's lit, featuring an a-z of chapter illustrations by Panoply's Steve K Simons.

Above, Teaching Ancient Greece. Lesson Plans, Vase Animations, and Resources, will join these Open Access Our Mythical Childhood publications in 2024. Download your free copies from the Warsaw University Press site:

Thanks for all your support over the year. We wish you all the best for your new adventures in 2024!

Thursday 29 June 2023

Ps and Qs in Mesopotamia. A Panoply Interview with Dr Ludovico Portuese of the GALATEO Project.

Dr Ludovico Portuese is a Near Eastern archaeologist researching ancient etiquette and hygiene practices. He is the author of Life at Court. Ideology and Audience in the Late Assyrian Palace (Zaphon 2020) and, with Marta Pallavidini, edited Ancient Near Eastern Weltanschauungen in Contact and in Contrast. Rethinking Ideology and Propaganda in the Ancient Near East (Zaphon 2022). Ludovico leads the international research project GALATEO: Good Attitudes for Life in Assyrian Times: Etiquette and Observance of Norms in Male and Female Groups. With Prof. Annunziata Rositani, Prof. Holly Pitman, and postgraduate student David Mulder, Ludovico analysed the iconography of the Penn Museum Mesopotamian collection, leading to the Manners and Etiquette in Mesopotamian Life exhibition. Panoply are delighted to have made two animations for the Manners and Etiquette exhibition, which you can see in the museum, on the Panoply website, and below. In this interview we’ll hear more about the project and Ludovico’s life as an archaeologist.

Above, the Middle East Gallery at the University of Penn Museum.
Above, the Manners and Etiquette in Mesopotamian Life exhibition, in the Middle East Gallery at the University of Penn Museum. The digital display features the artefact animations and a wealth of information about the objects and what they can tell us.

1) What is the GALATEO Project?
GALATEO is a research project which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant. The name of the project reveals its aims: GALATEO takes its name from the guidebook Galateo overo de’ costumi (or A Treatise on Politeness and Delicacy) by Giovanni Della Casa (1558), a discussion of manners dedicated to the bishop Galeazzo Florimonte (in Latin, Galatheus). Galateo then became the common term used in Italy to describe the rules of etiquette and behaviour. Put briefly, ‘galateo’ means ‘etiquette’.

With this in mind, I developed an acronym to explain its focus in detail: Good Attitudes for Life in Assyrian Times: Etiquette and Observance of Norms in Male and Female Groups. The project aims to understand anew the importance of etiquette in late Assyrian society (10th–7th century BCE) and to investigate the extent to which etiquette influenced the subsequent cultures of the Middle East. It works through a sociological perspective, to explore gestures, postures, proxemic interactions (that is, how space is used in social interactions), the use and choice of language, and table manners, and from an anthropological perspective, to examine the etiquette of hygiene.

The Manners and Etiquette in Mesopotamian Life exhibition at the Penn Museum approaches artefacts from these two perspectives to communicate this new insight into rules for correct behaviour in Mesopotamian life.

Above, The Banquet, an animation of a scene on an 9th-8th century BCE Assyrian ivory plaque ( Metropolitan Museum 59.107.22) made by Panoply for the GALATEO project, showing now in the Manners and Etiquette exhibition at the Penn Museum.

Above, a close-up of Manners and Etiquette, featuring (top) the ivory with the banqueting scene inscribed upon it and the illustration made of it by Steve K Simons, which was a stepping stone in Steve's creation of the animation.

2) How do artefacts tell you more about etiquette?
Every archaeological artefact can provide us with a great wealth of information about etiquette in antiquity, from simple kitchen pots to beautifully decorated objects. For instance, the shape of a bowl may suggest the way it was held when used by people, or an object can bear images showing people interacting through the performance of specific gestures and postures. Architecture is also an essential source of information, being the space where people interacted: for example, the throne room of a royal palace, where the position of the throne may give information about the distance between the king and his visitors during official audiences.

For the exhibition at the Penn Museum, the choice fell on image-bearing artefacts which show deities and humans interacting. The scenes depicted can be defined as “frozen moments” that artisans decided to select as the most meaningful of a specific event, either of a meeting or a banquet. As a consequence, the frozen gestures and postures depicted are also the most meaningful ones (e.g. raised hands, erect postures, toast). In this regard, it’s not always easy to distinguish artistic conventions from social conventions and caution is highly recommended. However, Mesopotamia offers several written sources which contain information on behavioural rules and may thus confirm what is represented.

Above, Worshipping the Gods, an animation of a stone carving created by Panoply for the GALATEO project, showing now in the Manners and Etiquette exhibition at the Penn Museum. The original object is part of the Penn Museum’s permanent collection.

3) It has been an interesting experience to animate ivory and stone rather than pottery for this project…. All the same, could you tell us a little about the ceramic culture of Mesopotamia?
Ceramic is certainly the most prevalent archaeological artefact also in ancient Mesopotamia. However, compared to the Greek culture for instance, Mesopotamian pottery in the main emphasises more the functional than the decorative aspect. Geometric forms, vegetal motifs, and animal figures are more dominant than human figures, and the few examples do not represent our best window into the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia. Ceramics often appear undecorated and mass-produced from the fourth to the second millennium BCE.

Variations certainly exist and the Mesopotamian ceramic culture is featured by regionalisms that help distinguishing south, middle and north cultures. Decorations cannot therefore be used to reconstruct etiquette rules. Nevertheless, some examples can provide us with information about the way bowls, for example, were used during banquets. This is best represented by the so-called Palace Ware attested in the first-millennium Assyria and used in a courtly context. Iconographic evidence shows that the king and high administrative officials held these fine ceramics on their fingertips to drink wine during banquets. This elegant mannerism of holding drinking bowls was perhaps the corresponding physical way to display the access to these luxury items and wine.
Above, a very early pottery vessel, made in what is now Iran c.5400-5000 BCE (Penn Museum, 69-12-15). Traces of wine and terebinth tree resin found inside reveal that it was a wine jar.
Above, a slip decorated pot from Ur, made in the Ubaid period (c. 5500–3700 BCE), (Penn Museum, 31-17-296).

4) What made Mesopotamian cultures so dynamic?
Many and sometimes concurrent factors made Mesopotamian cultures so dynamic. The presence and regular flooding of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates made the land around them especially fertile and ideal for growing crops for food. The abundance of natural resources for construction (reed) and food (wild animals and fish), with water easily accessible led to people cultivating plants, domesticating animals, coping with climate changes, staying in one place and forming permanent villages which then became cities. These cities welcomed large concentrations of people that organized their labour and society, created different social and economic classes, developed the earliest system of writing, built monumental buildings, and codified rules for correct behaviour. The latter, a rather neglected aspect, I believe contributed to demarcate group membership and, along with hygiene rules, protected groups from things that could damage the integrity of the Mesopotamian cultures contributing to their dynamism and success.
Above, an Encyclopaedia Britannica map of Mesopotamia, the land between the two rivers. This is largely modern-day Kuwait and Iraq (link opens Google Maps).

5) How did you get interested in ancient Mesopotamian culture?
I grew up in Sicily, surrounded by Greek monuments, and I was raised in a family where you could breathe Greek and Latin literature. It is not by chance that my brother is Professor of Latin at the University of Catania. Having said that, very few books at my parents’ house talked about the “Oriental” cultures that came before and inspired the later Greek culture. To contrast such a Classical dominant environment, I decided to explore the “uncharted” world of the Middle East and embark myself on the study of the “Oriental” cultures. After studying Egyptology and Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Pisa, I started my PhD at the Freie Universität Berlin to conduct research on the courtly life at the Assyrian palace in the first millennium BCE. I then expanded this topic through postdoctoral positions at European universities (Germany and France). The grant I received for the GALATEO project allowed me to work at the University of Pennsylvania for two years and finally to get hired by the University of Messina as assistant professor of Near Eastern archaeology and art.
It was a long and hard journey to get into this interest professionally, but Mesopotamian culture really deserves an entire life to be fully known and loved.
Above, terracotta figurine from Ur. Many aspects of Mesopotamian culture are familiar from later ancient Greek culture. We have seen ritual libations, and here we see a figure playing a double pipe, much like the Greek auloi pipes. (Penn Museum, 31-16-882).

6) What does life as a Near Eastern archaeologist involve?
Being a Near Eastern archaeologist means astonishment and excitement daily because we deal both with impressively advanced past cultures and with extremely fascinating countries that still bear the splendour and mystery of their past. So, in a nutshell, you never get bored.

The research activity may still be afflicted by difficulties linked to the political conditions in the countries of the Middle East. However, past conflicts and destructions forced us to devote more energies and resources to find new solutions for excavation and preservation projects, and new paths of research. For instance, many Near Eastern archaeologists are now looking at more peaceful geographic areas that were neglected in the past and that are bringing to light exciting results. Others are working on conservation and preservation projects in order to protect endangered monuments and sites. Some scholars, instead, develop new research fields to study what has been excavated in previous excavations. In a sense, the GALATEO project was developed within the latter context to understand and reconstruct social and hygienic rules that helped Mesopotamians to survive crises and dramatic changes. So, I would say that a life as a Near Eastern archaeologist nowadays involves an extreme flexibility.
Above, a fragment of the Ur-Nammu Stele, used in the Worshipping the Gods animation. On the right, King Ur-Nammu offers a libation to the Moon God, Nanna, on the left he makes the same offering to the Moon Goddess, Ningal. University of Pennsylvania Museum, B16676.

7) Who’s your favourite ancient Greek?
My favourite figures are the famous heroes Gilgamesh and Odysseus. The former is a hero in ancient Mesopotamian mythology, the protagonist of an epic poem written in Akkadian, and probably a historical king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk. Odysseus is the hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey and king of Ithaca. Although they differ in several aspects, both embark on many journeys and challenges: Gilgamesh travels to find immortality, Odysseus to go back home, and both take up challenges and learn from experiences. But most of all, they do not give up looking for and achieving their goals, they persevere. It is their remarkable perseverance that I praise, and it is perseverance that every person wishing to embark the challenging but marvellous journey of archaeology needs to possess.

Many thanks to Dr Ludovico Portuese for speaking to us about how objects can give us insight into etiquette and manners.

If you’d like to visit the Manners and Etiquette in Mesopotamian Life exhibition at the Penn Museum, you’ll find details about visiting here:
You may like to explore the Penn Museum collection online, through their collection database:

The Penn Museum have also put together a Mesopotamian highlights collection …and a Video Tour of the gallery.

Stay posted for news on developments on the GALATEO project.

Above, the logo of the GALATEO project.

Thursday 13 April 2023

Islanders. A Panoply interview with Dr Anastasia Christophilopoulou

There’s a new show in town! Islanders: The Making of the Mediterranean is a major exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. We’re delighted to catch up with the exhibition’s curator, Dr Anastasia Christophilopoulou, Senior Curator of the Ancient Mediterranean at the Fitzwilliam Museum, responsible for the collections of Greece, Rome and Cyprus. Read on for a fascinating insight into what pottery can tell us about island identities and what it means to be a museum curator.
Above, Dr Anastasia Christophilopoulou, Senior Curator of the Ancient Mediterranean at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

1) What is the Islanders exhibition about?
Islanders: The Making of the Mediterranean is a major exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum between February 2023 and the 4th June 2023. The exhibition is the result of an interdisciplinary research project (‘Being an Islander: Art and Identity of the Large Mediterranean Islands’, 2019-2023) which together with a public engagement programme investigates island identities in the Mediterranean. Together, they explore how ‘insularity’– being of an island, affected and shaped art production and creativity, architectural evolution, migrations, and movement of people, using three of the Mediterranean’s large islands, Crete, Cyprus, and Sardinia as case studies. The exhibition brings together over 200 objects from the three Mediterranean islands, most never exhibited outside their respective museums in Crete, Cyprus and Sardinia, that tell exceptional stories of insular identity, over a period of 5000 years, from the Early Bronze Age to the Roman period.

Above, a walkthrough of the Islanders exhibition.

2) What role does pottery play in islanders’ identities – or how we understand them?
Pottery and craftsmanship of pottery plays a major role in the material culture production of island societies and ancient societies in general. Pottery is the number one medium in which ancient material culture survives to us and enables us to understand important facets of the islanders’ cultural identities diachronically, which makes it a capital area of our study of the ancient past. During the development of the Being an Islander project, we focused on several research strands oriented around ceramic production, workshops, mobility and dissemination of pottery, expression of hybrid identities as seen in pottery production, iconography and styles and more.

However the best opportunity we had to examine the role of island identities as part of the project, was through the creation of a documentary which investigates the theme of insularity as a social construct and as a form of social and cultural identity, using the island of Siphnos, the site of centuries-old pottery workshops. In the documentary we included several case studies, such as filming in the region of the ancient tower of Siphnos (‘phryctories’), a system of communication and signalling designed initially to protect the mining area of the island, but later also used to control agricultural landscapes, exemplifying the continuity of landscape use and resources in the island’s metal-rich regions. Another major case study included filming at the Atsonios pottery workshop, which has been active for centuries, with the master potter describing his craft, resources, and the long presence of Siphnian potters in the most engaging way. Pottery workshops, particularly those devoted to the manufacture of cooking pots is a centuries-old craft in Siphnos. The craft, entangled in the island’s connectivity, idiosyncrasies, and its resources, made a perfect episode of our documentary.
Above, Anastasia describes the construction of the wall of Kastro on the island of Siphnos for the Being an Islander documentary.

3) Could you pick out one item in the exhibition that you consider especially interesting?
Yes! it would be the statuette of a Sardinian type of mother goddess figurine, known as the perforated plate type. A short section of the neck is preserved, joining raised shoulders, with linear arms bent horizontally to join at the hips. On her trapezoidal bust, the breasts are depicted in a conical shape. The part of the body corresponding to the lower limbs has a flat ovoid shape, without the characteristic posterior swelling of the buttocks.

The figurine, excavated from the necropolis of Porto Ferro, Alghero, is made of white marble and belongs to the Filigosa culture on the island of Sardinia, which flourished from around 3000-2400 BCE. The populations of this culture lived mainly in parts of central-southern Sardinia. They still used obsidian to produce tools and weapons but copper objects, such as daggers were becoming common. Lead and silver were also smelted. Their economy was focused on pastoralism and agriculture and part of their identity included the worship of warrior ancestors and the creation of megalithic monuments.
Above, a marble figurine from the necropolis of Porto Ferro on the island of Sardinia. It was made c. 3000-2500 BCE and is now housed in the National Archaeological Museum, Cagliari, no: 62476.

4) How did you become interested in archaeology and the ancient world?
From an early age, I was enthusiastic about training in a profession with a physical element to it. Archaeology drew me as I find the element of fieldwork and exploration of physical and cultural landscapes fascinating. Both my parents had a love of ancient culture and heritage and as a child I spent a lot of time travelling with them visiting archaeological sites and museums, it became part of my formation. As an archaeologist I enjoy working in the field and I enjoy the sensory experience of the discipline. I studied in Greece as an undergraduate and then spent time in Paris as a graduate student, before joining as a doctoral student the Faculty of Classics in Cambridge. I gained my PhD in Classical Archaeology at the Faculty of Classics, in 2008 and was a postdoctoral researcher at the Topoi Excellence Cluster, Freie Universität Berlin between 2009-2010, prior to joining the Fitzwilliam Museum. I have also lectured for the University of London, Birkbeck College and I'm currently an external collaborator to two interdisciplinary research networks in Cyprus and Germany.
Above, a ceramic centaur figurine from the Agia Eirini cemetery on Cypurs, made c. 750-600 BCE. Beside it is a clay model of a chariot, found in the same cemetery.

5) You have worked on a lot of excavations – what was that like?
I have worked in archaeological excavations and field surveys for over 20 years, and I’m currently the co-Director of the West Area of Samos Archaeological project (WASAP), a 5-year intensive survey project on the Greek island of Samos, under the auspices of the British School at Athens. Prior to that, I conducted rescue excavations of a Roman burial site in Marathon, and the excavation of the Hellenistic Acropolis of Dymokastro in Thesprotia (NW Greece), for the Greek Ministry of Culture. I have been a research associate to the Azoria excavation project, and the Vrokastro Archaeological Survey project both directed by the ASCSA, as well as the Praisos Intensive Survey project and the Karphi Settlement Condition Survey project directed by the British School at Athens. I worked as a research assistant to the Gaudos Intensive Survey (2006-09) and the Eretria excavations (1998-99), directed by the Swiss Archaeological Mission in Greece. These experiences gave me invaluable understanding and confidence in managing archaeological projects and working in collaboration with international teams and local communities.
Above, a Cypriot bichrome style vase, made c.750-600. This bichrome style – made with two colours – was found across Cyprus and in West Asia and Egypt – a sign of how interconnected those communities were.

6) What does your job as Senior Curator of Mediterranean Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum involve?
As Senior Curator of Mediterranean Antiquities the Fitzwilliam Museum, I am responsible for research and exhibition projects and permanent displays in the fields of Greek, Cypriot and Roman collections. Currently I’m focusing on the delivery of the 4-year research project ‘Being an Islander’: Art and Identity of the large Mediterranean Islands aiming to re-examine the concept of island life through material culture. My core interests are in the Archaeology of the Aegean Bronze and Iron Age cultures, the Archaeology of the Mediterranean islands and the Archaeology of Cyprus. I engage with questions of island identity, mobility and migration in the Ancient World, as well as with anthropological perspectives to interpreting material culture. I have worked widely in Public Archaeology and Public engagement with Mediterranean collections.

Previously I curated an interdisciplinary exhibition on the history of codebreaking, in collaboration with the Faculty of Classics, Cambridge. My work is really exciting and varied at the museum, a week’s ‘to do list’ could include teaching undergraduate groups and supervision of doctoral students, researching the collections of Ancient Greece, Rome and Cyprus, working with our collections management and conservation teams on improving accessibility, storage and management of the collections, or presenting in research seminars on the research themes I lead. I’m also very proud of the work we carry out in the field of public engagement as part our curatorial and research practice. My work at the museum is also enhanced by collaboration with other academic departments, the Faculty of Classics and the Department of Archaeology and the Mc Donald Institute in Cambridge as well as by serving as a member of the Managing Committee of the Cambridge Centre for Greek Studies (CCGS) and the Management Committee of the Society for Aegean Prehistory.
Above, Anastasia with a Nuragic Sardinian archer figurine (1000-700 BCE) during the installation of the exhibition. Photo by Joe Giddens.

7) Who’s your favourite ancient Greek?
My favourite ancient Greek is the ancient Greek historian Thucydides! Thucydides wrote a History of the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens and has long been considered the father of both scientific history and political realism. I am fascinated by his histories because he was writing a strictly contemporary history of events that he lived through and that succeeded each other almost throughout his adult life. He endeavoured to do more than merely record events, he attempted to write the final history for later generations. His work has an extensive influence on the modern world.

Many thanks to Anastasia for these insights into the creation of an exhibition of this scale and such a broad ranging project.

The Islanders exhibition is open until 4th June 2023. Book your free tickets here:

In the meantime, read more about Being and Islander project research here, and enjoy the Being an Islander trailer and a brief video interview with Anastasia in the exhibition:

Above, the trailer for Being an Islander.

Tuesday 21 March 2023

Classical Mythology and Children's Literature... An Alphabetical Odyssey

Spring is here! And with it – a free book! The latest publication from Our Mythical Childhood is Classical Mythology and Children's Literature... An Alphabetical Odyssey, by Elizabeth Hale and Miriam Riverlea. An exciting bonus – it’s illustrated by Panoply’s very own Steve Simons!

Alphabetical Odyssey takes you on a journey through the oceans of children’s books inspired by ancient Greek and Roman mythology. The 26 chapters discuss elements important in literature for young readers, providing insights into how mythical adaptations, retellings, and allusions connect with aspects of childhood and adolescence. The chapters are arranged alphabetically, such as E is for Emotions, J is for Journeys, N is for Nature, and O is for the Olympians, and each comes with their own illustration.

You can download a free copy here. Share the download link as much as you like. The book will have a special appeal to anyone interested in classical mythology, classical reception, and/or young people’s literature.

You can find other free downloads from the Our Mythical Childhood series, and hard copies of the books available for sale here

All too soon, they will be joined by Teaching Ancient Greece: Lesson Plans, Vase Animations, and Resources, a book based around Panoply’s Our Mythical Childhood animations featuring 15 lesson plans by teachers from all over the world and all sorts of bonus resources to go with them. We’ve been working on that for a good while now and can’t wait for you to see it. Watch this space for news. If you’ve managed to miss the OMC animations and documentaries, take a look here:

Above, entrance to The Allard Pierson Museum of Antiquities in Amsterdam

We’ve had a busy start to the year. January saw us at the Allard Pierson Museum at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Panoply’s Sonya Nevin was there to present at the Ancient Vases in Modern Showcases conference, organised by Laurien de Gelder and Vladimir Stissi. Kate Cooper of the Royal Ontario Museum gave a stonking key note speech, outlining all sorts of factors that must be considered when planning a vase gallery or exhibition. Consider even the difference between arranging vases chronologically, arranging them by type of vase, displaying artefacts according to their decoration to express themes such as Trojan War, Sport, or Warfare, or the effect of grouping similar objects from different cultures. These are all solid options, yet they create a different experience for the museum visitor and a different impression of the objects and their meanings.

We also heard from Jill Hilditch, who has tackled the display of prehistoric ceramics and objects with unknown functions. You may recall the interview that Dr Hilditch did for Panoply a little while back discussing her research project, Tracing the Potter’s Wheel. Sally Waite and Olivia Turner presented a public programme, You Echo Through Time , which they ran at the at the Great North Museum in the UK, helping modern women explore their own experiences through an artefact-based search for the voices of ancient women. David Saunders of the J.Paul Getty outlined the approach that will be taken in a forthcoming exhibition, placing Mayan, Moche, and ancient Greek ceramics beside one another to prompt reflections and comparisons. One to look out for.
Above, David Saunders outlines the ideas involved in the Getty's forthcmoing exhibition of Mayan, Moche, and Greek Pottery

Sonya’s presentation outlined the way in which vase animations provide a bridge between the museum and the wider community – creating opportunities for people to see artefacts outside the museum space – seeing them in a new form in the classroom, in theatres and cinemas, projected onto walls, on tablets in parks – all sorts of spaces - and offering a prompt for further creative engagements with the artefacts, be it drawing, pottery-making, poetry, storytelling and more besides. Enjoying an ancient artefact does not have to mean simply looking at it; seeing can be only the beginning.
Above, Vases beyond the museum: a school event in Poland sees teens watching Panoply vase animations in a theatre before giving their own research presentations and making their own ceramic designs.

Sonya recently gave a different sort of talk closer to home in Cambridge, at the Digital Education Futures Initiative ( This initiative, developed at Hughes’ Hall, Cambridge, creates opportunities for developing new models of education and new research priorities arising due to the growing prevalence of digital technology. Recent talks have explored digital tech’s ability to harness collective intelligence; Camtree, also based at Hughes’ Hall, which creates opportunities for teachers to conduct and share research and improve learning outcomes; and Sonya’s presentation on how digital technology has enabled new insights into the study of ceramics and ancient iconography.

We will have more news for you soon. Coming up are a new About Dionysus documentary to complement our Dionysus animation; news on an exhibition in the US that we've contributed to; and insights into the Islanders exhibition, which is on now at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Tuesday 20 September 2022

Iris – Rainbow Goddess, and Munich - Classical Playground

We are delighted to share our new documentary with you: About Iris – Rainbow Goddess. This mini doc is a companion piece for the Iris animation. Both can be found on the Iris webpage, and they’re shared here for your convenience too:

These videos were made as part of the project Our Mythical Childhood… The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges. The project was generously funded by the European Research Council (a wing of the EU), and headed by Professor Katarzyna Marciniak of the University of Warsaw.

For the last year or so, we have been busy preparing a publication to complement the Our Mythical Childhood animations. Teaching Ancient Greece: Lesson Plans, Animations, and Resources is a collection of lesson plans based around the five Our Mythical Childhood animations. They have been prepared by experienced teachers from all over the world. Every lesson plan contains guidance for delivering a class and an interesting and challenging activity. The lesson plans have been brought together with further resources to support teaching about antiquity, including materials about pottery and resources for making your own animations. The Iris section contains lesson plans by Kay Brown in New Zealand, taking a cross-cultural look at mythology, and by Dean Nevin in Switzerland, introducing a messenger themed writing challenge for younger children. As a bonus, Teaching Ancient Greece will be available as an Open Access publication, meaning that it can be downloaded for free. A hard copy will be available to purchase for those who love a physical book! We’ll have more news for you as the publication date approaches.
Above, a screenshot from 'About Iris', also found in 'Teaching Ancient Greece' in a section on Iris in 'The Iliad'.

In other news… a throwback to earlier in the summer. We took a trip to Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich, in southern Germany. The conference Mythological Education in Britain and Germany was part of the University of Cambridge-Ludwig Maximilian Strategic Partnership: an opportunity to visit each other’s universities and share good practice in Classics teaching and teacher training. Here are some images of the event:

Above, Panoply’s Sonya Nevin talking about using vase animations in the classroom.
Above, Emily Rushton describes ways of making Classics more inclusive, particularly for those who are neurodivergent.
Above, Lisa Hay from the Cambridge Schools’ Classics Project discusses the much-celebrated revamp of the Cambridge Latin Course.
Above, Our host, LMU's Markus Janka, presents the varied tradition of Ovid in education.
Above, Markus and his colleagues have published this Latin translation of Suzanne Collins’ 'Hunger Games' (complete with a Latin-German vocab guide).

Above, Raimund Fichtel describes the Classics teacher training programme at LMU and the top-up days which teachers from across Bavaria can attend at the university to keep them up-to-date with research and to share ideas and approaches.

Above, Berkan Sariaydin on the tradition of Virgil’s 'Aeneid' within education.

Above, pupils from the Gymnasium Schäftlarn near Munich, with their Latin teacher Michael Stierstorfer. The students gave excellent presentations on their research projects into various classical reception topics.
Above, the programme for Mythological Education in Britain and Germany.

We also had the opportunity to visit Wilhelmsgymnasium, a secondary school in Munich with a fine tradition of teaching Latin and Classical Civilisation. Many thanks to everyone who made us so welcome and let us crash the classes! And a big thank-you to everyone at Ludwig Maximilian and at Cambridge's Faculty of Education for bringing it all together.

Munich is sometimes called the most northerly Italian city - for its great tradition of Classics and neoclassicism. A trip there wouldn't be complete without a visit to the city’s superb museums, so Steve and I had a very enjoyable trip to the Staatliche Antikensammlungen, which holds Bavaria's extensive collections of antiquities from Greece, Etruria and Rome. Many thanks to curator Astrid Fendt for showing us around. We will have more news about our experiences with the Munich collections in due course…
Finally, above, a scene of vase-making from the magnificent collection at the Staatliche Antikensammlungen.

Thursday 16 June 2022

Constructing the African: A Panoply Interview with Najee Olya.

We’re delighted to have the chance to speak to Najee Olya, a PhD student at the University of Virginia, USA, working on the dissertation, Constructing the African in Ancient Greek Vase-Painting: Images, Meanings and Contexts. Before beginning doctoral study, Najee earned a B.A. in Anthropology and Classical Civilization at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an M.A. in Classics at the University of Arizona. In the field, he has participated in archaeological excavations in Italy at Etruscan Populonia at Poggio del Molino, and since 2018 at Mt. Lykaion in Arcadia, Greece. Najee is currently a William Sanders Scarborough Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, researching vases in Greek collections and their archaeological contexts. The next academic year will see him take up a post as the Bothmer Fellow in the Department of Greek and Roman Art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In this interview, Najee offers insight into his research on Africans in ancient Greek pottery…

1) What contexts do you think ancient Greeks and ancient Africans are encountering each other in?
I think that the primary context would be in Egypt. Given that there are Greeks in Egypt in the Archaic period as mercenaries and at Naukratis, it must be there that Greeks are encountering not only Egyptians but people from elsewhere in Africa, especially from south of Egypt itself—what the Greeks generally referred to as Aithiopia (not to be confused with the modern state). I also suspect that major hubs of maritime trade would have been the sorts of places where Greeks encountered people from Africa, at various ports and emporia – trading posts - around the Aegean and the wider Mediterranean. Conversely, I’m inclined to think that direct contacts on the Greek mainland were somewhat limited. That said, in a major city like Athens, for example, the interest in Africans among potters and vase-painters seems to indicate at least some kind of familiarity with what Africans looked like that doesn’t appear to come from just seeing artistic depictions. Moreover, there were almost certainly foreigners and people of foreign descent working in the Kerameikos in Athens, so it's impossible to rule out that at least one or two may have been from Africa. There’s also Athens’s port at Piraeus, which saw a lot of traffic from a variety of traders and merchants.
Above, a janiform cup (ie. two heads back-to-back like the god, Janus), showing an African and a European, Attic c.500-450BCE, The Art Museum, Princeton University: 33.45.

2) Who are the Africans depicted in Greek pottery – what trends are there?
There are three categories, as far as I can tell, into which the Africans depicted in Greek pottery can be grouped. Two of these are fairly straightforward mythological episodes and scenes of daily life. The third is more difficult, and consists of imagery that doesn’t fit neatly into either of the two other categories.

In terms of the mythological episodes, the main figures from Africa are Memnon and Andromeda. The pair are both said to be royalty from Aithiopia in the mythological tradition. Memnon was king of Aithiopia and an ally to Troy in the Trojan War, where he led a huge army from Aithiopia before eventually being killed by the hero Achilles. Andromeda was an Aithiopian princess who was offered up as a sacrifice to appease the ketos serpent, a sea monster sent by Poseidon to ravage the coasts of Aithiopia after Andromeda’s mother Cassieopeia had boasted that she (Cassieopeia) was more beautiful than the Nereids. Andromeda was rescued by Perseus, and the two married. In vase painting, Neither Memnon nor Andromeda are shown as African themselves, but there are instances in the iconography where Memnon is shown preparing to depart for Troy attended by African warriors.

In the Andromeda scenes, she is shown being bound between stakes for the ketos monster, sometimes in Persian dress. There are Africans on a number of the Andromeda vases. There are some mythological traditions which associate Memnon and Andromeda with the Near East, so this might explain why they are not depicted as African themselves.
Above, Andromeda with African attendants, Attic pelike c.475-425BCE, Boston Museum of Art, 63.2663.

Next, there are depictions of the hero Herakles in Egypt and Libya. In Egypt, he encounters the pharaoh Busiris, who wants to sacrifice the hero to end a drought. On pottery Herakles is shown routing Busiris and his priests, who are always depicted as African men. In Libya, Herakles is accosted by the earth giant Antaios, who waylays strangers, forces them to wrestle, and then adorns the temple of Poseidon with their bones after he has killed them. Herakles defeats Antaios by lifting him from the ground as they wrestle and cutting him off from the Earth, from which he derived his strength. On pottery, physical contrast is shown between the two as they wrestle—Antaios has a long unkempt beard and hair, similar to Egyptian depictions of Libyans.
Above, Heracles fights Busiris, Attic pelike c.500-450BCE, Athens, National Museum: CC1175.

As for images from daily life, we have African stable-hands, warriors, and some attendants at the grave. These figures can generally be identified by their very curly hair and prominent noses. The last set of objects includes things like plastic vases, which show either full African figures or African faces alone or paired with women, satyrs, Herakles, and Dionysos. Finally, there are alabastra, a shape that rather circuitously made its way to Greece from Egypt, used for perfumed oil which depict African warriors.
Above, An African groom cares for a horse, Attic kylix c.490, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989.281.71.

3) Some Africans seem to be represented rather beautifully; other depictions feel a bit… off. What’s the balance between realism, idealism, and hostile caricature in ancient Greek depictions of Africans?
On the whole, I would say that most of the depictions are not hostile caricature. I can think of one example, a lekythos in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, which shows what seems to be an African woman being tortured by satyrs. There is also at least one image of a figure who may be African shown wearing shackles and is unambiguously an enslaved person. I do not think, however, that it is possible to definitively call either instance caricature.

Plastic vessels made in the form of African youths being attacked by crocodiles have sometime been interpreted as cruel, mocking images, but one can just as easily say that these show interest in the river Nile and awareness of its dangerous fauna. Aside from these examples, however, I think that many of the images are either ambiguous or benign. It is difficult to know what the representations were meant to convey to ancient Greek users. When it comes to realism, the images are realistic to a degree, but as with all ancient Greek art, it is superficial and illusory. Especially when it comes to pottery, I think that one has to remember that the medium and its convention limit just how true-to-life the representations can be. The end result is something of a pastiche of reality and imagination—the vase-painter selects the subject matter and then executes it in his own way, but the final product will always be constrained by things like the limited colour palette and the curving surface of the vase.

Above, an African youth attacked by a crocodile, Attic rhyton, c.350BCE, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge GR.58.1865.

4) Overall, what does pottery add to our understanding of ancient Greek ideas about Africans and Africa?
First and foremost, I think it reminds us that ancient Greece was part of an interconnected ancient Mediterranean. Also, that “ancient Greece” spanned three continents, with settlements and poleis not just in Europe but also in North Africa and Western Asia. Pottery tells us that ancient Greeks were interested in depicting foreign people such as Africans, and while it is difficult to interpret all of the different representations, it is clear that potters and vase-painters found Africans an intriguing subject, and that the purchasers of Athenian vases did too. The representations, in a general way, seem to indicate that Athenians were thinking about North Africa in particular, especially Libya and Egypt, where there were permanent Greek settlements. What they specifically thought about Africans is harder to determine from the pottery itself, but it does not seem to be the case that Africans were viewed any differently than other foreigners. Certainly, there was a general chauvinism toward non-Greeks, but Africans do not appear to have been singled out more than other groups, such as Persians or Scythians.
Above, An African in trousers, Attic alabastron, c.500-450, The J. Paul Getty Museum: 71.AE.202.

5) What would you like to see improved in terms of using pottery to increase general understanding of Black people within ancient Greek culture?
One thing that could use some improvement is the terminology used to describe the artifacts, which is often simultaneously both outdated and anachronistic. In scholarship this is due in part to the rather small corpus dealing with Africans on Greek pottery, much of which is several decades old now. Also, you will often see in museums or on museum websites descriptions that assume the depictions of Africans on vases are slaves, without any explanation, or descriptions that make use of discredited race-essentialist anthropology to discuss their physical characteristics.

I think that it’s extremely important to rethink how Greek vases with depictions of Africans are presented in museums, as those are the spaces where the wider public is most likely to encounter the artifacts. Some museums are already making efforts to rethink their use of language for the objects, such as the J. Paul Getty Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Art. I was recently asked by a curator at the latter to write a new label for an Athenian black-figure vase in their collection which has a depiction of Memnon and one of his African warriors. Hopefully the number of museums revamping their descriptions will increase going forward.
Above, King Memon with African attendants, Attic amphora by Exekias, c.575-525, British Museum, B209, previously 1849,0518.10.

6) Perhaps you could tell us a bit about your Fellowships – what they are, how they work?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been awarded several fellowships that allowed me to study in Greece — from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) and the American Philosophical Society (APS). I started out at the American School in 2017 with a scholarship for the Summer Session, which is a six-week course involving travel around Greece to archaeological sites and museums. I came back to the ASCSA two years later in 2019 with a fellowship to participate in the Regular Program, which is an academic year spent in Athens, travelling around Greece more than the Summer Session. Now, I’m wrapping up my third stay at the American School with a fellowship as an Associate Member. This time, I’m focused entirely on working on my dissertation and taking the opportunity to revisit artifacts in museums relevant to my research, in addition to obtaining special permission to photograph many of the vases outside of their displays.

I received a Lewis and Clark Grant from the APS in 2019, which allowed me to do field research in Greece. I travelled to archaeological sites that are documented as having had material from Egypt excavated there, created an archive of photographs, and got a better sense of the sites and their topography from first-hand observation. Finally, in September 2022 I’ll be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for a year as the Bothmer Fellow in the Department of Greek and Roman Art. The fellowship will allow me to complete my dissertation and to access a number of the vases included in it, as well as the Met’s libraries. It’s worth keeping your eyes open to see what opportunities and funding are available.

7) Who’s your favourite ancient Greek?
It might be an obvious answer, but I will say Herodotus. I first read the Histories almost fifteen years ago as a Classics undergraduate, first in translation in a course taught wonderfully by Nanno Marinatos, and then in ancient Greek language courses. I think that it must be Herodotus’s interest in different cultures and his efforts to understand and make them legible for his readers that resonated with me, especially as someone who had already studied a bit of anthropology and archaeology before I came to Classics. As much as I enjoyed Herodotus years ago, I had pretty much left him behind until I selected my dissertation topic at the end of the first year working on the PhD. Since then, I’ve been revisiting him, as he famously writes about both Egypt and Aithiopia. I still read the Histories with a sense of wonder, but now I appreciate the complexity and sophistication of the work even more. Herodotus is one of the people from antiquity that I’d love to have a chat with if time travel were possible!

Many thanks to Najee for sharing his expertise!
If you enjoyed this topic, you may enjoy our previous blog post, Black and White Andromeda.
We'll have more news soon regarding a new Iris video!