Paul Nash and a classical education

Yesterday – actually last week now, but it's school holidays… – I was fortunate enough to visit the Paul Nash exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, originally at The Tate. It was a fabulous exhibition. Many thoughts occurred to me while perusing, but the most pertinent to this blog was to do with, unsurprisingly, the Classics.

Several of Nash's works allude to classical mythology. Lares (1929-30), for example, depicts a twentieth century fireplace. I wonder how many visitors would know without reading the text alongside the picture that the lares were Roman gods of hearth and home? I hope it goes without saying that hearth was once upon a time central to home; also, fascinatingly, our word focus is in fact a direct lifting of the Latin word for hearth.

Paul Nash, Lares (1929-30), Tate.

Knowing a little about the lares adds layers of meaning to this picture. The hearth, here, is overlaid with several objects of Nash's work – notably a set square, presumably to help him with the angles and parallel lines that pervade so much of his work. These items of Nash's everyday when placed in front of a fireplace burning with stylised fire make, arguably, quite a nice picture. The architectural elements incorporated into the picture are engaging and the design of the fire surround is attractive and interesting. The layers of the images are interesting too as Nash has created a trompe l'oeuil with some of the objects, the set square being partially transparent.

However, consider the name of the painting, Lares, and the composition takes on new resonances. The fireplace is transformed into the ancient hearth or figuratively the lararium at which the paterfamilias would leave daily offerings to the lares and penates to keep the family safe. Prayers were said daily and offerings were left, usually some food from the family meal, but given the superstition of ancient romans it is safe to assume that any object could be sanctified at the lararium. Nash's tools of his trade, then, placed in juxtaposition with the hearth and together entitled Lares, have become a kind of sacred offering to the household gods, or perhaps have received the blessing of the household to enable him to be a better artist. Given Nash's interest in mythology and mysticism which pervades the whole exhibition, this interpretation seems, to me at least, to be highly likely. How much richer do we become in appreciation of the art for some classical knowledge.

Image of a lararium from the House of the Vetii, Pompeii

Roman statue of a lar, in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

I was going to write more, but as I said earlier, it's school holidays and I have small people to drag me away from pleasing myself at my iPad. I shall end with a gentle reminder that society is richer for art, for learning for learning's sake, and for those who strive to learn, to understand and to share their knowledge with others.

The exhibition ends this week, but you can buy the excellent catalogue here, and see the captions that go with the exhibitions here.

PS I wanted to write about Leda and swans, but even as my kids totally unreasonably nag me for lunch, I can't resist this image from the Nash exhibition. It's by John Armstrong, a friend of Paul Nash, and usually resides in the Ferens Art Gallery, Hull.

Control, Fear, and Rage: Ovid on Linguistic Isolation

This excellent post from Peter Kruschwitz resonates with me on several levels. I too have been deeply saddened by the referendum fall out (though I am unlikely to be a victim of racist abuse myself). I too love languages for all their diversity; reading Peter’s selections from Ovid talking about his exile on the Black Sea reminded me of my own linguistic experiences on the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria several years ago.

I was travelling with a boyfriend, about whom I had had some misgivings, but we had agreed to go on holiday together. On the plane over I had spent a little bit of time reading my guide book’s notes on the language – and the Cyrillic alphabet – so that I could attempt conversation with the locals, read street signs and so on. Arriving in a small seaside resort one evening, my boyfriend was tired and anxious that we wouldn’t be able to find where we were staying. I started to read the street names, which being in the Cyrillic alphabet my boyfriend clearly couldn’t make head nor tail of. He expressed his discomfort with me by shouting at me in the street. I thought this was bizarre, but Peter’s post and references to Ovid very neatly explore and go some way to explaining some people’s fear of the spoken word and have crystallised my own experience for me.

I still embrace the foreign in my everyday life and have as little as possible to do with that particular ex.

Peter’s posts have also had the unexpected result of making me see my own country in a more interesting light. Admittedly I haven’t been to Reading in some time, but his blog makes me want to explore, makes me want to look more closely at often overlooked local sights, makes me want to appreciate towns in my own country more. It has taken a German to make me feel this way. Thank you, Peter!

The Petrified Muse

I moved from Germany to Britain in September 2005. I have made this island my home – I work here, I live here, I have my friends here. I don’t put my beach towel over chairs in the library, I do not wear socks with my sandals. I still can’t bring myself to enjoy real ale, I regret to say, but I try to make up for that by drinking cider instead. In complete denial of my identity as a Berliner, I apologise when someone inconveniences me, and I join queues whenever there is an opportunity. I’ve been working on my English, too, improving it from marks in the C/D range at school to at least a B- now. I live in Reading, a beautifully multicultural community, in which I very much feel at home, for all its faults and oddities.

Yesterday, however, on my way to work – I…

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I haven’t blogged on anything particularly teaching related recently, but this post is too good not pass on – a Bronze Age version of Monopoly!

Should you be so keen as to get your hands on one, dear reader, then read on to the end of the post.

It's All Greek To Me

It’s been an unashamedly nerdy ambition of mine for quite a long time to make a Bronze Age version of Monopoly, themed around the Mycenaean palaces of Bronze Age Greece – so now that I’m PhD-less, I thought I’d finally give it a go. Allow me to present: Mycenopoly – or, in Linear B, mu-ke-no-po-ru:


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