A survey of Arabs in Roman Britain

If your pupils choose to do coursework on Roman Britain and are interested in multiculturalism, they might like an informative article written for British Airways by David Keys. It's called When the Middle East came to Britain.

Keys mentions military units and individuals, gathering inscriptions about imported Syrian gods and suggesting that there was quite a community in the north that kept its middle eastern ways. Of some Syrian sailors he writes:

They had come from an area of northeast Syria and northwest Iraq known in Roman times as Bet Arbaya – literally “the Home of the Arabs”. And when they arrived at their new home near Newcastle, they proudly renamed the fort Arbeia – a tiny Arab enclave facing out across the North Sea towards Scandinavia.


Monica delivers her message

The Hellenic Book Service visited Durham for two days last week, recognising the presence of two groups of Classics enthusiasts in St John's College, the JACT Classics Summer Course and the ARLT Summer School. Monica at my request modelled this teeshirt from her stock, with its message:

Latin and Greek are not dead. They are immortal.


I am glad to report that The Hellenic Book Service did good business. This is good news for all of us in Classics teaching. Monica knows her Classics books and provides an efficient service to schools and individuals. I urge heads of department to opt out of their schools' bulk buying agreements for textbooks and to use HBS.

At the Summer School I heard horror stories of those who went along with the school's bulk supplier and received the wrong translations of Classical texts, or a mixture of different editions for a class which needed a uniform edition for all. This was because their book suppliers did not understand the needs of Classicists.

Need I labour the point? 'Use it or lose it' does not apply just to local post offices!

An inspiring funeral for Liz Teague

Elizabeth Jean Teague 1932-2006, said the order of service, but Father Reilly (yes, he comes from Ireland) told a little story as the funeral (at 12.30 today, 1st August 2006 in Crewkerne) began.

The Rector, he said, visited Liz in hospital recently and found her apparently asleep. He prayed aloud for her, asking God to bless Elizabeth. One eye opened and a voice came from the bed: “I think that by now He knows me as Liz!”

So Liz it is.

We learned from Father Reilly's address that Liz was born in South London, in Lewisham, and made her own way, as few from there did in those days, to Oxford, where she read Greats and graduated at the age of 22. Her teaching career began at the top, at Cheltenham Ladies' College. After several different school posts Liz taught finally at the Old Palace School, Croydon.

Having gained her first degree at the age of 22 she went on to take an MA in Theology with London University at the age of 64, and an MPhil from Exeter a couple of years ago. She was practical as well as academic, and took a course in car maintenance too.

ARLT Summer Schools were mentioned during the address, and it was at Summer School that she and Mike met. They worked together at Summer Schools and only after some time realised that they were in love. “So we got married”, Liz said. That was in December 1971. Hilary and David, who accompanied them to Summer School in the early days, were born in 1972 and 1975.

Liz was exacting as a teacher, and exact in her own scholarship. If you were capable of an A she expected you to get an A. In her role as a Church of England Reader and Parish Magazine Editor for Crewkerne in Somerset her concern to get things exactly right could mean long telephone conversations about a single word. But she was loving and hospitable too. Father Reilly chose as the Bible reading the passage in St John's Gospel telling of Jesus' visit to the home of Martha and Mary, when Martha was concerned with getting the meal exactly right while Mary sat listening to Jesus. Bible Studies at Liz's home were times when people came to listen to the word of Jesus, like Mary, but also when Liz made sure that the refreshments and hospitality were just right, like Martha. Nice, said Father Reilly.

[Those who enjoyed her Greek New Testament reading groups at Summer School found the same mixture. Her groups never finished their planned reading, because of careful discussion of details.]

Liz, he said, was brave and funny. They would miss her determined, measured steps as she came to church, and the twitch of her eyebrow as she preached.

Seven other Readers, all robed, were in the funeral procession, and quite a large choir that sang a descant to Crimond. The organist played the final chorus from the St Matthew Passion before the service, and a Bach C minor fantasia afterwards. He adorned the final hymn, Thine be the glory, with uplifting trumpet fanfares. The fine parish church was well filled with friends and relatives, including Mike's sister. Hilary was with her husband David, and was very pleased that ARLT was represented at her mother's funeral. Mike and Liz's son David was also there, and I reminded him that I knew him when he was still a boy, coming with his parents to Summer School.

The non-biblical reading was a moving poem of John Donne, which I copy below.

 Hym To God, My God In My Sickness
by John Donne
Since I am coming to that holy room,
Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before.
Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown
That this is my south-west discovery,
Per fretum febris, by these straits to die,
I joy, that in these straits I see my west;
For, though their currents yield return to none,
What shall my west hurt me? As west and east
In all flat maps (and I am one) are one,
So death doth touch the resurrection.
We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ's cross, and Adam's tree, stood in one place;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace.
So, in his purple wrapp'd, receive me, Lord;
By these his thorns, give me his other crown;
And as to others' souls I preach'd thy word,
Be this my text, my sermon to mine own:
"Therefore that he may raise, the Lord throws down."

Some of the congregation leave Crewkerne parish church after the funeral on 1st August 2006.


Mary Beard excellent on Tacitus

This is a week old, but very good, so I copy it here now. Mary did let me know it was coming, and I looked for it but could not find it, and then a very busy Summer School came. Excuses, excuses. I know. The piece spawned many comments which you may find worth skimming here.

They make a desert and call it peace

I am usually suspicious of claims that understanding the history of the ancient world helps you understand the history of our own. When people tell me that antiquity was so like today, I tend to object that it was actually very different in almost every possible respect.

But two of the topics in Roman history that I regularly teach have recently come to seem almost uncomfortably topical – and raw.

The first is the whole theme of “native” resistance to the Roman empire. If you didn't have the military resources, how could you stand up against the ancient world’s only super-power?

Between the third century BC and the first century AD, Rome systematically extended its control over the world from the Sahara to Scotland. As with most empires, it was not without its advantages for at least some of the conquered. I’m not just talking about consumer goods, literacy, water and drains (which didn’t impact on as much of the Roman world as we often fondly imagine). Rome’s imperial strategy was first to incorporate the local elites and gradually spread citizenship, with all its advantages, throughout its whole territory. It was generosity, even if sprung from self-interest.

That said, what could you do if you didn’t fancy being taken over by Rome, having your self-determination removed and being forced to sing to the Roman tune (as well as pay Roman taxes)? The Roman legions represented an insuperable military force. In pitched battle they might occasionally be delayed (if you could muster vast numbers of forces while the Romans themselves were off-guard), but while their power was at its height they could not be defeated.

Barbarians were not stupid. They did not pointlessly waste their men’s lives in formal battle lines against the super-power. Instead they did what the disadvantaged will always do against overwhelming military odds: they ignored the rules of war and resorted to guerilla tactics, trickery and terrorism.

Much of this was ghastly and cruel. Our image of plucky little Asterix with his boy-scoutish japes against the Roman occupation is about as true to life as a cartoon strip would be that made suicide-bombing seem like fun. Boudicca’s scythed chariots (if they ever existed) were the ancient equivalent of car-bombs. In terrorizing the occupying forces she was said to have had the breasts slashed off the Roman civilian women and sewn into their mouths.

Roman writers were outraged at barbarian tactics in war, decried their illegal weapons and their flouting of military law. (In fact “terrorist” sometimes captures the Roman sense of the Latin word “barbarus” better than the more obvious “barbarian”). But in the face of invincible imperialism, they must have felt they were using the only option they had. Does it sound familiar?

My second teaching topic is the famous account by the Roman historian Tacitus of the career of his father-in-law Agricola. Agricola was governor of Britain in the late first century AD and extended Roman power north into Scotland. On one occasion the barbarians were foolish enough to risk a pitched battle – and, just before it, Tacitus puts into the mouth of the British leader, Calgacus, a rousing speech denouncing not only Roman rule but the corruption of language that follows imperial domination. Slaughter and robbery go under the name of “power” (we make much the same point about “collateral damage”). And, in a now famous phrase, he says “They make a desert and call it peace.”

This is often treated, and quoted, as a barbarian denunciation of Roman rule. Of course, it is nothing of the sort. No real words of Calgacus or of any British “barbarians” have survived. As with many imperial powers, the most acute critiques often came from within the Roman system not from outside it. This is an analysis by Tacitus himself, a leading member of the Roman elite, observing the consequences of Roman expansion and daring to put himself into the place of the conquered.

As such, it makes an even more appropriate message for us. Whatever forms our “deserts” take – whether it is the poppy fields of Afghanistan, or the ruins that will be left of Beirut, when Israel and Hezbollah (and our own culpable inactivity) have finished – we are still making them and calling them “peace”.

Posted by Mary Beard on July 24, 2006 at 09:41 PM

McCartney adopts Latin for album

From the press release (BBC report and full text follow):

Several ideas for lyrics occurred to him, but they only gelled when he took part in a concert of John Tavener’s music in the Church of St Ignatius Loyola in New York. “While I was waiting to do my bit, I was looking around the church and I saw a statue, and underneath it was written ‘Ecce Cor Meum’. I had done some Latin at school and I always had a fondness for it. So I worked it out. I believe it means Behold My Heart”.

From the BBC

McCartney adopts Latin for album

An inscription on a statue in a New York church inspired the album title

Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney has recorded a classical music album which is sung partially in Latin, a language he studied at high school in Liverpool.

Ecce Cor Meum – or Behold My Heart – was first performed in 2001 and will be released on 26 September.

The oratorio in four movements marks Sir Paul's fourth classical release.

The 64-year-old said he hopes the choral work “could be sung by young people the world over in the same way that Handel's Messiah is”.

Written for choir and orchestra, the text combines both English and Latin.

Sir Paul said he felt it would be “appropriate” to employ Latin at times during the oratorio as it was “known and sung by choirs all over the world”.

College commission

The work was commissioned by Magdalen College in Oxford in honour of its concert hall more than eight years ago.

The boys' choir from the college features on the album, which was made at Abbey Road Studios in London, where the Beatles recorded much of their music in the 1960s.

Other featured singers include soprano Kate Royal, boys from King's College Choir in Cambridge and members of London's Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

Sir Paul's three previous classical albums were Liverpool Oratorio (released in 1991), Standing Stone (1997) and Working Classical (1999).

Sir Paul's official pres release follows:


Paul McCartney To Release New Classical Work ‘Ecce Cor Meum’

Release Date: 25th September 2006

Paul McCartney releases his new full-length work of classical music Ecce Cor Meum through EMI Classics on 25th September 2006. Ecce Cor Meum (Behold My Heart) is Paul’s fourth classical album since his first released in 1991, The Liverpool Oratorio.

Ecce Cor Meum has been more than eight years in the making and its origins follow in the historic tradition of composers that have been commissioned to write music for the world-renowned Magdalen College Oxford. Paul was specially invited by Anthony Smith (President of Magdalen College 1998 – 2005) to compose something to set the seal on a new concert hall for the college. His hope was for ‘a choral piece which could be sung by young people the world over in the same way that Handel’s Messiah is’.

Ecce Cor Meum, an Oratorio in four movements, is scored for choir and orchestra. The text combines both English and to a lesser degree, Latin. Paul’s knowledge of Latin comes from his classical education at The Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, where he had learnt three languages by the time he was 12. Paul says: “Not all of this has been retained over the years as my path went in other directions, but my love of language remains, and as Latin is known and sung by choirs all over the world, I felt it would be appropriate to use at times during the piece.”

Like many great composers Paul, started with the music and then looked for a subject that fits. Several ideas for lyrics occurred to him, but they only gelled when he took part in a concert of John Tavener’s music in the Church of St Ignatius Loyola in New York. “While I was waiting to do my bit, I was looking around the church and I saw a statue, and underneath it was written ‘Ecce Cor Meum’. I had done some Latin at school and I always had a fondness for it. So I worked it out. I believe it means Behold My Heart”.

In November 2001, the first version of Ecce Cor Meum was given its first preview performance by the Magdalen College Choir, which was conducted by Bill Ives at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford. This was a great learning experience for Paul. “Eventually I made it all come together through correcting a lot of misapprehensions – a lot was learned before the Sheldonian performance, but a lot of it was learned afterwards. An experienced choral composer knows that children can’t be given huge sustained passages; they don’t have the energy and the stamina. At the Sheldonian there was some quite hard stuff that I didn’t realise because I’d done it on the synthesiser (which has endless stamina!), but during that first performance, the solo treble couldn’t come on for the second half – I think I’d used him up in the first half! These are things that people either learn because they are taught them immediately at the first lesson or you learn through the years, so it was good to go through the piece a lot of times, and we took out huge choral sections and gave them to the orchestra. If it had been a Beatles song I would have known how to do it. But this was a completely different ball game.”

Produced by John Fraser, Ecce Cor Meum was recorded this year at the legendary Abbey Road Studios between March 13th and 17th. It was performed by EMI artist Kate Royal (soprano); The Boys of King’s College Choir, Cambridge; The Boys Of Magdalen College Choir, Oxford and The Academy Of St Martin In The Fields conducted by Gavin Greenway.