Classical Re-Conceptions

Amphora Front Cover 40.2

Melbourne Historical Journal 

40:2 (the Amphora Issue)


Classical Re-Conceptions

This issue is dedicated to the reception or ‘re-conception’ of the ancient world in different periods, genres and mediums. The theme arose from a conference held at The University of Melbourne in 2011, Straddling the Divide//Receptions Studies Today, which brought together Australian postgraduates and academics from a variety of scholarly backgrounds. The accessible and interdisciplinary nature of the field of reception studies, demonstrated by the conference, was an idea the editorial collective wished to embrace for the first ‘Amphora Issue’ of the Melbourne Historical Journal (MHJ). As a new addition to MHJ’s annual publications, ‘The Amphora Issue’ is concerned with all disciplines within Ancient World Studies, and the theme was chosen as one way to encourage engagement with the notion of reception from all fields that study the ancient world. It was also chosen because reception studies reminds us of the continuing relevance of the ancient world to modern society both within and beyond academia.

Front Matter [PDF]

Letter From the Editors [PDF]

Feature Articles

Dr. Rhiannon Evans (LaTrobe): ‘The ghost of old Rome’: Charles Dickens and the Nineteenth-Century Experience of Antiquity.’ [PDF]

Dr. Marguerite Johnson (U Newcastle): ‘What to Look for in a Mayor; or Classical Reception in the Coalopolis.’ [PDF]


Miriam Riverlea (Monash): ‘Icarus is seventeen, like me’: Reworking Myth in Young Adult Fiction.’ [PDF]

Jennifer Irving (Macquarie): ‘Restituta: The Training of the Female Physician.’ [PDF]

Damjan Krsmanovic & Dr. William Anderson (U Melbourne & Dr Vincent Clark and Associates): ‘Paths of the Dead—Interpreting Funerary Practice at Roman-Period Pessinus, Central Anatolia.’ [PDF]

Annabel Orchard (U Melbourne): ‘The Aegis and the Armour of Achilleus.’ [PDF]

Book Reviews

Susan McLeod (U Melbourne): ‘Croom, Alexandra. Running the Roman Home.’ [PDF]

Jeroen Wijnedaele (U College Cork): Mayor, Adrienne. The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy.’ [PDF]

Kyle Conrau-Lewis (U Melbourne): ‘Smith, R. Alden. Virgil. Blackwell Introductions to the Classical World.’ [PDF]


Transcript of the launch address for Classical Re-Conceptions given by Dr Gillian Shepherd from La Trobe University on Thursday 28 March at The University of Melbourne.

Melbourne Historical Journal: The Amphora Issue Launch 2013

We are here to celebrate launch of the Amphora Issue, and the publication of its inaugural issue, Classical Re-Conceptions. This is a new series published by the Melbourne Historical Journal, and represents a big and important step for the Journal: it will increase its output to two issues per year and the Amphora Issue, which will specialise in Ancient World Studies, will now stand beside the regular issue of Melbourne Historical Journal, which of course deals with modern history – so we have here a very significant expansion in the output and coverage of the Melbourne Historical Journal.

The new Amphora Issue is testimony not only to the vitality of ancient world studies in Australia and New Zealand but also to the energy and initiative of emerging scholars in both places. The editorial collective is run by postgraduate students and early career researchers, with aim of promoting original scholarship by their peers in a context which provides an experience of getting to grips with the process of publishing from the ‘the other side’. It is also an experience which matches the wider academic environment in terms of features in the issue such as book reviews, but most importantly in terms of a peer review process conducted by established academics, thus enabling early career researchers to benefit from contact with, and the advice of, prominent scholars in their field. Here we must congratulate all those who have been involved in the inception of the project and its fruition:  Jessie Birkett-Rees, Christopher Hale, Damjan Krsmanovic, Sarah Midford and Christopher Ransom – all members of the editorial collective – and especially the two head editors, Sarah Davidson and Sonya Wurster.

The idea for a regular peer-reviewed publication for postgraduates and early career researchers that went beyond the usual context of conference proceedings emerged after the publication of just such a set of conference proceedings, namely those of the 2009-10 Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Hellenic Or Roman Antiquities. More recently the Egyptologists have joined this venture too, so we now have the Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Hellenic Or Roman Antiquities and Egyptology. If you work out what the acronym for all that is, you end up with AMPHORA (or the plural, AMPHORAE, now that the Egyptologists have joined in). For our new journal, that title has been de-acronymed – so we now have the Amphora Issue.

A better title for the journal is hard to imagine – and I say that as an archaeologist who has spent rather a lot of time contemplating amphorae of the terracotta variety. An amphora is a type of vessel that was used very extensively in the ancient world; it came in various sizes, ranging from small to very big; and its usual purpose was the packaging, storage and transportation of goods all around the ancient world. Amphorae could supply people with all sorts of products – such as olive oil, garum, salted fish and wine, just to name a few. Amphorae contained both essentials and luxury items; they travelled the known world; and they reached countless numbers of people who enjoyed and appreciated their contents. They catered both for the nitty-gritty of life and its upper echelons: while many were functional transport vessels, those amphorae which were decorated, or made of expensive materials like bronze or silver, and graced the tables of wealthy Greeks and Romans were elite containers of high class goods.

An elite container of high glass goods is certainly what we have here in Amphora Issue. I refer not just to its externals – the superb cover illustration which shows Hiroyasu Tsuri’s work To Whom That Gong Tolls, with its illusions to the mythical minotaur and the famous Hellenistic bronze statue of a boxer – but also of course to its contents and theme, which arose from the Straddling the Divide / Reception Studies Today conference at Melbourne University in 2011.

Two of the papers – those by Rhiannon Evans and Marguerite Johnson – examine the relationship between the classical past and nineteenth- and twentieth-century experiences of place. Rhiannon Evans demonstrates how Charles Dickens’ fascination with the antiquities of Rome – especially the Colosseum –allowed him to create a world against which the present could be judged. Marguerite Johnson shows how even in a place like Newcastle in Australia – not a city which has always had a great press – classical architecture, as in the great cities of Europe and America, could be used to express sophistication and shared cultural values. This is especially seen through the building programme of Alderman Morris Light, who made a most splendid play on his own surname by modelling the tower of Newcastle Town Hall on the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The vitality of the ancient world and its continuing effect on the present is further explored in Miriam Riverlea’s study, which examines the deployment of the myth of Icarus in young adult fiction in Australia and America and the ways in which ancient myth can extract the wider cultural and social issues of the modern world. In contrast, the often surprising ‘modernity’ of the ancient world is revealed in Jennifer Irving’s article, which examines a commemorative inscription set up by one Restituta in honour of her teacher and mentor in medical practice – shedding new light on medicine, the education of women, and the relationship of women with male professionals in first-century-BCE Rome.

Restituta’s inscription reminds us how the dead can continue to have agency and elicit a response from the living: this is an important theme in Damjan Krsmanovic’s and William Anderson’s study of the Roman cemeteries of Pessinus in Central Anatolia, which reminds us of the importance of the funerary arena in understanding the concerns and priorities of ancient societies. Finally, Annabel Orchard’s article examines the flip side to death: immortality. She demonstrates the analogies Homer draws in the Iliad between magical objects designed to protect their wearers: the aegis which protects, defends and wards off evil; and the armour of Achilles, rendered magical by its similarities with the aegis and its physical structure, god-given gold.

In fact, what struck me most – as an archaeologist – about these articles is the emphasis on the physical, on the artefact, the object. In this I think we see one of the great strengths of this collection of articles, namely its interdisciplinarity. Although most of the pieces are text based, the role of the artefact is prominent. In Annabel Orchard’s study, those artefacts are imagined rather than real, but nevertheless described in highly visual, physical terms. In Rhiannon Evan’s work, it is the ruins of Rome and especially the Colosseum which act upon Charles Dickens; Marguerite Johnson focuses on the built city of Newcastle; Damjan Krsmanovic and William Anderson explore how the grave monuments of the Roman dead were placed and manipulated for best effect; and Restituta’s inscription, in Jennifer Irving’s contribution, is cut in stone and was displayed for all to see in Rome – and can of course still be seen. Even in Miriam Riverlea’s study of young adult fiction we see the importance of physicality: in one of the works she examines, concrete poetry is an essential tool, where the typological arrangement of the words on the page is fundamental to the transmission of meaning; in another different fonts are used, especially to illustrate the mental confusion of one of the main characters. These are not texts which can just be heard read aloud: they have to been seen and experienced visually as well.

So, an elite container of high class goods indeed. I think now it only remains to ask everyone present to raise their glasses to toast the Amphora Issue: long may it be the vessel which carries good things all around the world.

Gillian Shepherd

La Trobe University


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