A Wellcome blog: the sounds of science

As the winter solstice approaches, it is time to bring a bit of festive cheer by adding a few blogs to fire your spirits over the coming weeks. Janus-like, the blogs will offer an opportunity to revisit some of the talks and subjects discussed at the centre previously, while also highlighting new and exciting things to come.

This blog will discuss a recurring subject and theme of our various activities over many years: exploring the nature of spoken Latin and Greek verse. The society has been an important supporter of verse events stretching back to the mid-20th century with the annual schools verse competition. For the last ten years there have been various talks (by former Professor of Humanity at Glasgow Roger P H Green among others) in Glasgow on the vibrant early-modern tradition of public and educational Latin and Greek verse recitals – especially the Muses Welcome of 1618, and astronomy teaching at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. We have also had talks on the sounds of spoken verse in antiquity, in particular by Dr. Armand D’Angour, whose presentation of new evidence for the sound of Greek verse was without doubt one of the highlights of our recent programmes.

A recent event on Latin poetry and science at the Welcome library on November 22nd, at which members from the CAS and the Society for Neo-Latin Studies participated, brought together these two themes. There were a series of fascinating talks on literary and artistic spaces for science (Professor Claire Preston, Queen Mary, London), the verse promotion of contested scientific discoveries like Harvey and the circulation of the blood (Dr. Victoria Moul, KCL), and on the various uses of poetry as a formal educational tool, with particular emphasis on astronomy and mathematics. The Wellcome Collection then brought out some of their many treasures on these subjects to emphasise the quantity and quality of the literature.

Two rare editions of the poems of Serenus Sammonicus and Remmius Palaemon provided the classical foundation upon which the Wellcome Collection’s display (see above picture) of didactic poetry on science was arranged. These two poems, one on medicine generally, the other on weights and measures and their general scientific applications, highlighted how important the verse tradition had been for knowledge dissemination by educationalists in antiquity. While browsing the display of these rare texts, the public were then treated to a number of recitations of educational verse in the Latin language, with accompanying contextualisation by the specialists present on the subject of each poem  – moral and natural philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine.

The recitation of the poetry of 16th-century educationalist George Buchanan and late 16th-century doctor David Kinloch provided an opportunity for those present to hear how two excellent Latin poets shaped their verse to replicate specific ideas contained in their poetry (in Buchanan’s case, the rising of cosmic bodies articulated through verse manipulation). A wonderful discussion then followed with the collection’s staff, the public, and the guest speakers examining evidence of public lectures in verse in antiquity and early modernity, with many asking the extent to which these ‘songs’ contained a recognisable rhythm.

This question led to a general discussion on quantity and accent familiar to those who dabble in verse, during which talk turned to the work of Dr. D’Angour mentioned above, as evidence of new ways of approaching how verse sounded and was delivered. It was a happy coincidence that, thanks to a mesmerising taster video, which has just been released, and brings to life much of the research (see video below), it is possible to enhance our conception of the sound of hexameter poetry.

From a classical perspective, it is quite amazing to hear these sounds and marry them to the texts we have all read for so long in a particular way. It adds a dimension to the contours of the cultural landscape from whence the poetry came and also provides us with a greater appreciation of its function within it (not unlike seeing paint bring to life a bleached-white statue for the first time). As we heard at the Wellcome collection’s event, many of the paraphrase poems of George Buchanan were set to music. Indeed, they were set to music specifically for King James while he was still a boy. The process of setting them to music was an explicitly educational one, where the importance of memorisation was emphasised. This raises the question more generally: were the Latin didactic poems recited to King James also set to music? If so, how then should we understand the rhythmic nature of the elementary scientific verse taught by Buchanan and others in Scottish universities?

The fact that we know now that Latin and Greek poetry were used to teach science in the universities further highlights how erroneous our picture of dusty classrooms filled with the prose monotones of Aristotelian philosophy in the renaissance is. The quest now is to find out how much more colourful it may have been…

For updates on all up-coming blogs and events please follow us on twitter @casglawest.

Gilbert Murray Essay Competition 2017-18

It is once again time to distribute details of this year’s exciting Gilbert Murray Essay Competition; and let you know the results of last year’s competition.

Here is a link to this coming year’s exciting new competition: GilbertMurrayEssayComp2017-18. Here you can also see details of last year’s winners: GMEssayCompListofPrizeWinners2017.  Included in last year’s winners was the special prize of 2017, where Mira Mansfield of the High School of Glasgow was once again the outstanding entry: MiraMansfieldSpecialPrizewinnner2017.

 

Here is an overview of another excellent year for the Gilbert Murray Competition, in the report from the GM chairman: GilbertMurrayChairmansreport16-17.

 

As ever, if you have any questions, please respond to this blog, or email the secretary of the society.

 

All the best and good luck!

In Memoriam

Those who knew him will be sad to learn that one of our members, Dr Mick Morris, has died.

As a student of the Open University, Mick wrote a thesis on the history of classics in Scotland, which remained unpublished, although he did contribute to a number of books, including the collection of essays on Gilbert Murray (Gilbert Murray re-assessed), for which he wrote a chapter on Murray at the BBC. Mick also interviewed Douglas MacDowell about his life and career near the end of his (Douglas’s) life.

He had a dry sense of humour and was always good company.

Here is a link to a brief obituary of Mick in The Herald, accompanied by Hadrian’s Farewell to his Departing Soul.

The Classical Association of Scotland sends its condolences to his family. He will be missed by all who knew him here at the Classical Association of Scotland.

Ave atque vale…

 

Up-coming Events and Features

This month sees the third talk of 2017, when Professor Lynette Mitchell (Exeter) will visit the centre to deliver the Douglas MacDowell Memorial Lecture on ‘Kingship, Law, and Democracy’. We are very much looking forward to this event.

In addition to this, the centre will be supporting two further talks at this year’s Renaissance Society of America conference in Chicago. The first talk will be on a subject  that various members of the CAS (Glasgow and West) have developed over the last few years: the classicising Latin literary culture of the early modern period. This panel, organised by our honorary secretary, explores the ways in which other countries across Europe can approach national collections of Neo-Latin literature in light of the fascinating discoveries made in Scotland by the Glasgow-based Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum project and its team. Those not in attendance in Chicago can keep up-to-date with discussion from the panel through a live twitter feed (and perhaps some first-time Periscoping on the CAS account), and a retrospective blog here on our homepage. The second panel will deal with Latinate scientific culture. With support from colleagues at Edinburgh, this panel will provide the first opportunity to advertise to an international audience some of the great findings made by our Glasgow-based researchers on the Latin literary context of significant developments of the Scientific Revolution made in Scotland. Like the first panel, there will be live tweets from the event, and a retrospective blog.

The subject matter of the latter panel will also inform a blog that will be posted here on a particularly interesting aspect of the reception of Lucian in early modern Latinate Scientific culture. Johannes Kepler, the famed astronomer and mathematician, used Lucian’s work as a conduit through which to pass his pro-Copernican ideas in the early 17th century. It caused a bit of a stir amongst the scholarly community across Europe at the time. Our next blog will look at how a 17th century Latin teaching manual from Edinburgh tried to separate the science fiction of Lucian from the science fact of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo – a pointed example of when classical reception was a very dangerous business.

 

Until then, look forward to seeing you all at our up-coming events.

Gilbert Murray Essay Competition 2016-17

We are again delighted to announce the opening of the annual Gilbert Murray essay competition for schools in Scotland. The competition is open to all schools in Scotland – whether they have a Classics department or not (see letter for how to apply as an individual from a non-classics teaching school).

There will be a prize of £50 for the most outstanding entry overall.

Details of how to enter:  Gilbert Murray Essay Competition 2016-17

 

Good luck!

Gilbert Murray Essay Competition

We are delighted to announce the opening of the annual Gilbert Murray essay competition for schools in Scotland. The competition is open to all schools in Scotland – whether they have a Classics department or not (see letter for how to apply as an individual from a non-classics teaching school). The prize for this year’s winner is £50 worth of Amazon vouchers. Details of how to enter are here: Gilbert Murray Essay Comp2015-16

Good luck!