Counting down to Greenbelt

Heaven knows what fit of hubris inspired me to volunteer as a speaker at the Greenbelt Festival. As the date draws nearer I’m wondering not only what to say, but also whether anyone will want to come near enough to hear it. By 4.30 on Monday 29 August I will have spent five days camping in a field with a cold tap, portaloos and showers which have been described as  ‘Like trying to wash under somebody crying.’  Anyone bold enough to turn up may well suspect that I sent someone else to pose for the Author Photograph.

Still, the research for ‘Getting away with Murder – The Lure of Crime Fiction’  was a good excuse to get round to reading ‘The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher,’  Kate Summerscale’s fascinating look at Victorian crime investigation and the  fiction  that arose from it. It really is as good as everyone says.

Greenbelt’s headline literature speaker this year will be Stella Duffy, talking about ‘Theodora – Empress, Actress, Whore’.  I started reading it last night and had that feeling of anticipation and delight that you get when you know you are stepping into the world of a writer who really knows what they’re doing.

Mostly armchair archaeology

Several technological goodies have popped up this week, so I thought I’d put them all together in one post.

First – many thanks to Mark, who’s sent a link to details of a smartphone app through which visitors can explore the sites and streets of Roman Londinium. (His original comment is under ‘Welcome’ above.) This one does involve leaving the armchair, as I think you have to be in London to use it. It’s the work of the fine folk at the Museum of London and seems to include the chance to pinpoint the find-spot of those famous leather bikini briefs.

Sadly I’m unable to test it since, apart from not being in London, I have the wrong kind of phone.  If anyone can give it a try, do please let me know what you think of it.

The other three are all gleaned from the latest Roman Society newsletter.   “Identifact provides three entertaining quizzes for students to learn and test their skills in classical architecture, Ancient Greek pottery and Romano-British small finds.” Allegedly,” This is simple to use and fun to try out.” It’s certainly fun once you get the hang of it, so it’s worth persevering with the mysterious zoomy things all over the screen.  It’s been created by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies at Newcastle University.

The next goody isn’t as zoomy as the previous one even though it’s created by the same people. Inscripta is “an e-learning resource aimed at teaching students to transcribe, transliterate and translate Romano-British inscriptions.”  You see a photo of the inscription, hear it read out and see it typed. Then you have a shot at translating it yourself before clicking to reveal what the experts make of it.   (Warning – this one works fine in Internet Explorer but doesn’t seem to like Chrome.)

Finally, in celebration of their centenary in 2010,  the Roman Society have begun to put the best of their large collection of photos on the web. You can see the ones up so far, and offer them your own, at

That’s it. Now I’m off to play with them.  If anyone’s found anything else along these lines, please send it in!

Apollo reappears

How wonderful to see a wall mosaic of Apollo and his muses reappearing from beneath (ancient) Roman building work.

Apollo was the son of the Greek god Zeus, and his ‘numerous and diverse functions’  included healing, purification, prophecy, care for young citizens, poetry and music*.

Although the Romans could be sniffy about Greek doctors (Pliny the Elder declared  that there was ‘no greater reason for the decay in morals than medicine’) they don’t seem to have felt the same way about Greek gods. While Aesculapius is the famous ‘healing’ god, Rome also had a temple to Apollo Medicus – built in an attempt to avert a plague.

The video is here on the BBC website.


* all this and more is in the Oxford Classical Dictionary.