First thoughts on the conference

First thoughts on the Conference

‘Locating Popular Culture in the Ancient World’ brought together a diverse cast of characters from an impressive range of locations, representing the great variety of the classical disciplines: ancient historians, philologists and classical archaeologists. Subjects ranged from board games, through puppets, to skoptic epigrams, from classical Boeotia to late antique North Africa. It remains clear that when talking about “popular culture” in the ancient world we must remain alert to the huge geographical and chronological differences. However, what was really striking was how far we were able to appreciate, understand, and learn from such diversity.

Amongst this great diversity a number of key themes, questions and images struck with me at the end of the three days. Here is a small selection:

Key themes, sites and images

The barbershop as social space… bad jokes… bald men

Musical instruments: from water organs, to trumpets, to vuvuzelas

A wide range of religious practices, from chasing the moon, through tattooing, to divination with asparagus

Performers and puppets with penises

A whole cast of characters from abandoned women to accountants, shoemakers to scholastici

The mind-world from the non-elite as just as complex as that of the elite, though even harder to access: possibilities we considered included numeracy and theology


Do we in fact need a whole new vocabulary for talking about popular culture? (How about “authorised/unauthorised”?

Can we now return to talk, meaningfully, about class in the ancient world?

Does it make sense to talk about society and culture, from “elite” to “popular” on a continuum, rather than as discrete (or interlocking) sets?

Please add questions (answers) images and ideas of your own!


About lgrig

Lecturer in Classics at the University of Edinburgh, in search of popular culture in the ancient world
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