The 41st Australasian Society for Classical Studies (ASCS) conference convened at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand on the 28th of January, 2020. This year, the AAIA was represented by Brett Myers and Yvonne Inall. The ASCS conference has been building steadily year on year, and this year’s conference definitely lived up to that tradition. Dan Osland led an organizing team which managed to pull together a comprehensive program, showcasing the latest research in Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology.
The conference opened on the Tuesday evening with the 22nd annual A. D. Trendall Lecture, delivered this year by the artist Marian Maguire. Her lecture: ‘Straying from Myth’ offered conference delegates very personal insights into her creative processes in the production of her series The Odyssey of Captain Cook and the Labours of Herakles, and a preview of her series Goddesses. Marian’s work explores the Classical reception in a New Zealand context, investigating the interplay, contrasts and convergences between ancient Greek, colonial New Zealand and Māori cultures and imagery. Marian’s images are provocative, and her insights were well received by an enthusiastic audience. The lecture was complemented with a welcome reception at the Otago Museum that gave delegates an opportunity to meet, catch-up or get to know each other ahead of the first day of parallel sessions on Wednesday.
Wednesday morning brought a plethora of papers, with five parallel sessions covering topics as diverse as the Early Roman Republic, Art in the Ancient Greek World, Reception and Literature. The morning session set the tone for a day jam-packed with excellent papers from a healthy mix of established scholars, early career researchers and postgraduate students. The atmosphere was welcoming and audience questions were highly engaging. The parallel sessions were well-organised, and the chairs were very successful in keeping papers to time. This allowed delegates to slip between sessions to see papers, which was a tremendous boon. Papers were so engaging and diverse that it was challenging to decide which sessions to attend. This was especially important in the afternoon, when the programme broadened to accommodate six parallel sessions.
Each year, the ASCS Conference hosts a notable keynote speaker and this year was no exception. Campbell Grey, New Zealand native, currently Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, offered delegates new insights into the impact of seismic events in the late antique Mediterranean, exploring how communities might build resilience.
Thursday morning brought a fresh batch of parallel sessions, punctuated by lunchtime meetings, with the Association of Women in Ancient World Studies meeting, as well as a Museum Network Meeting. The afternoon brought further parallel sessions, with papers covering everything from Professor Elizabeth Minchin’s “Emotions, memory, and the wrath of Achilles: observations from cognitive psychology” to Hugh Lindsay’s exploration of “Strabo and Augustan Egypt” and Sonia-Ingrid Anderson’s “To ‘bee’ or not to ‘bee’. Innovation in Early Christian Imagery”. Thursday afternoon was rounded-out with the ASCS AGM, held each year at the conference, when the greatest number of members are congregated together. President Tom Stevenson reported that ASCS comes into 2020 in fine shape, with a positive outlook for the decade ahead. Professor Elizabeth Minchin offered a touching obituary to the AAIA’s late founder, Professor Alexander Cambitoglou, who passed away in November. John Martyn and Matthew Trundle were also commemorated with obituaries at the meeting, and drinks celebrating the life of Matthew Trundle were announced, with an invitation extended to all members.
Following the AGM, ASCS delegates headed to Etrusco for the conference dinner. Several hundred hungry delegates descended on the restaurant, where we were met with a warm atmosphere and fantastic food, for an evening of animated discussion, well-lubricated with local New Zealand wines.
Delegates were surprisingly chirpy on Friday morning, despite the revels of the previous evening, ready for Simon Perris’ Plenary Session: “‘Te Iriata’ and the Iliad: On Translating Homer in Māori”. Simon shared some of the challenges of translating the ancient Greek epic into the Polynesian Māori language, particularly when no correlating words currently exist. ‘Bronze’ was particularly challenging!
This final day of ASCS 41 included further parallel sessions covering themes from ancient philosophy, to concepts of genocide in antiquity, to representations of adultery in Greco-Roman literature. The AAIA representative, Yvonne Inall presented her paper during the final parallel session of the conference, sharing her research into ancient warfare.
The day concluded with the award of the Optima Prize, an annual award given to the best postgraduate paper delivered at an ASCS Conference. 2020 is the 10th year in which the Optima prize has been awarded, with the prize given to two postgraduate students this year – such was the quality of postgraduate papers! Both recipients hail from the University of Canterbury. Amanda Macauley was awarded for her paper “The ‘barbarian’ Other: Roman collective identity versus Maximinus Thrax”, analysing the use of ethnic stereotypes were deployed in the performance of popular justice during the political instability of Rome in the third century AD. Roswyn Wiltshire was awarded for her paper ““Receptacle of a Thousand Fantasies”: Victorian reception of Roman glass flasks” exploring Victorian misconception and romanticisation of small roman glass vessels as ‘tear bottles’.
At the final afternoon tea of the conference, ASCS President Tom Stevenson offered a vote of thanks to Dan Osland and his team of volunteers, for such a well-organised conference. Overall, the conference showcased the splendid research being conducted in the field of Classical studies, in all its diversity. The atmosphere was collegiate and there was a great sense that Classics as a discipline is in a very good place, with much to offer. Dan Osland has set the bar high for ASCS 42, which will be held at the University of Tasmania in February 2021. We can’t wait!!!
Dr Yvonne Inall is an archaeologist whose research focusses on Iron Age weapons and warfare, violence and the construction of martial identities in Britain, North West Europe and the Mediterranean. She holds an MPhil in Classical Archaeology from the University of Sydney and PhD in History from the University of Hull. She currently teaches archaeology at the University of Sydney.