Greek in Italy

Project Research Blog

Power, Resistance and Proof-reading

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This post is by the project’s summer intern, Valentina Lunardi (University College London).

This summer I was lucky enough to work with the team for a few weeks. I knew (and, well, still know) very little about historical linguistics, but I have always been fascinated by the field and this was a great opportunity lo learn a little bit more about it. The main task James entrusted me with was to prepare a display representing the project for the Fitzwilliam Museum – which is now on! – as part of the Festival of Ideas. I was both glad and a bit worried to be assigned a job of such responsibility: I was left free to choose the objects to include and to set up the exhibition the way I wanted to. To be honest I didn’t even know where to start and clearly needed to fill the many gaps I had in order to be able to write something sensible about the topic, but James was always there to guide me.

Although I was occasionally busy with other tasks – I remember Katherine filling up my first week with proofreading

and Nick asking me to look for some specific words in a catalogue of Oscan inscriptions – I spent most of my time reading in the library, trying to find useful information for the display. After a very fervent hunt, the list of objects to include in it was finalised. It consisted of the all-important project mascot pot, an Etruscan mirror, two coins and a dish decorated with fish. What was most challenging about choosing these objects and writing their label was trying to relate them to this year’s theme for the Festival of Ideas, ‘Power and Resistance’, at the same time of course remaining in the area of interest of the project. In the end, though, I thought that was exactly what made the display engaging, since it allowed me to build a story for the potential readers. As a taster, below is the picture of one of the coins I have included.

It is one of the coins minted during the ‘Social War’. Coins were one of the main means of propaganda at the time, thus a coin by itself fits very well in the ‘Power’ part of the theme. But this one is part of a special set that represents ‘Resistance’ too. These coins were produced by the insurgent socii for a relatively short span of time (91-88 BC), and all of the various designs we are left with strongly imply their unity against the Romans. This one here is also one of the few that instead of presenting the Latin legend Italia, presents its Oscan translation, víteliú. The choice of language probably is not casual, in fact it has often been interpreted as a form of rebellion against the dominance of Latin – and indeed the socii were not originally Latin speakers.

The other coin I wrote about represents the other side of the coin (metaphorically speaking). It is from a Greek colony in Magna Graecia, Poseidonia. An image of Poseidon, the symbol of the city, is engraved on the coin. Again, the choice of image is very thoughtful. The god of the sea is pictured holding his trident, ready to fight, and it is most likely meant to convey the authority of the city.

Every object relates to the theme in a different way, and I tried to analyse different aspects of power – cultural, military, political, economical – through them. One might ask how a mirror fits in all this, but in fact it does so beautifully, and I hope you are now all eager to find that out if that’s true. I would love to include a picture of the display but, alas, I have not seen it myself yet, although I will do so soon. It will be exciting to be on the fast train from King’s Cross to Cambridge one more time, running through the lovely green landscapes.

I am very grateful to the team for this wonderful experience, which has really had a positive impact on me. I thank them for having let me sit in a seminar on Lycian, for having introduced me to the Oscan language and above all for having given me a chance to learn new things in the best possible way.

Here’s are some pictures of Valentina’s excellent display! But of course it cannot be appreciated fully without a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum. Thanks to the Fitzwilliam, the Cambridge Festival of Ideas and the Museum of Classical Archaeology for their  help with our contributions to the Festival of Ideas this year. And thank you to Valentina, who did a fantastic job on everything this summer.

The Cambridge Festival of Ideas, “Power and Resistance”, runs from the 19th October to the 1st November, with events for families, adults and young people – check out their website to get involved with this year’s inspiring events. 

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