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We’ve had a very exciting day over at the British Museum as our next major exhibition has been announced! From 24th September, Celts: art and identity will be exploring the truth behind our romanticised imaginings of the so-called Celts and discovering how this diverse group of people actually defined themselves.

Celts: art and identity

We at the British Museum Press have been working hard to produce a catalogue and giftbook that do justice to the beautiful objects on display, and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you!

Over 250 remarkable objects have been selected from the collections of the British Museum, National Museums Scotland and other key European institutions to illustrate the narrative and highlight the artistic accomplishments of craftspeople through the centuries.

You’ll see everything from jewellery to feasting accoutrements, weaponry to illuminated manuscripts – much of it decorated in those distinctive swirling patterns that, upon closer inspection, transform into images of fantastical men and beasts.

Stone cross

Come and join us on a journey tracing what it means to be Celtic. The more you look, the more you’ll see…

Defining Beauty at the Hay Festival

After a long hiatus, the British Museum Press blog is back!

Our summer got off to an exciting start when Ian Jenkins, curator of the Greece and Rome Galleries and the blockbuster Defining Beauty exhibition, was invited to speak at the Hay Festival at the end of May.

Founded in 1987, the Hay Festival is now an international phenomenon, with spin-off festivals bringing writers and readers together on five continents throughout the year. The original, held in Hay-on-Wye, prides itself on its community spirit and rightly so – we were welcomed at Hereford station by a local volunteer who ferries authors around the festival every year. He was happy to share all his stories about the area, the history of the festival and, of course the celebrities who’ve shared his car!

Festival-goers relaxing

Set against a backdrop of rolling green hills and blue skies, the festival site looked like an idyllic village fȇte – snowy white tents interspersed with flowering plants and trees, and all bedecked with 16 miles (!) of bunting. There were bookshops selling both new and secondhand books, and plenty of deckchairs to relax and read them in. There was food for the body as well as the mind – special mention goes to the red London bus selling oysters and cocktails!

Ian was introduced by history author Jerry Brotton, and took an enthusiastic audience of around 100 people on a verbal tour of the current Defining Beauty exhibition. They were amused to learn that the exhibition opens with a view of the Queen’s bottom – because Her Majesty owns the crouching Venus sculpture that beckons viewers into the gallery.

Ian takes the stage

He explained that the first room showcases the work of the three greatest Athenian sculptors – Myron’s iconic Discobolus (or ‘Discus Thrower’), which is a study of opposites; Praxiteles’ Doryphoros (‘Spear-bearer’), whose beauty comes from its perfect mathematical proportions, and finally, Pheidias’ river god Ilissos, made famous earlier in the year by his trip to Russia, but remarkable here for being the only Greek original, and the only one whose realism seems intuitive and effortless.

Next came the revelation that far from being the polished white figures that we are familiar with today, many Greek statues would originally have been brightly painted or even gilded, sometimes with metal accessories or weapons attached. Even the bronze statues could be embellished with copper lips and glass eyes, as with the amazing statue only recently recovered from the depths of the Croatian sea – named the Apoxyomenos, or ‘The Scraper’, after the fact that he is scraping the oil, dust and sweat from his skin after a long workout.

The exhibition compares and contrasts Greek art with that from other world cultures to show just how unique the Greeks’ perspective on nudity was. Scenes from the Parthenon Frieze, where the nude figures are the city’s noble warriors, are paired with an Assyrian relief, where the naked figures are defeated enemies being humiliated and killed. However, whilst nudity was a heroic signifier for a man, we see that it was altogether more problematic in the case of women, who were thought to be wild and uncontrolled. This aligned them with mythical groups such as centaurs, satyrs and Amazons – all represented in the exhibition, and all seen as ‘other’ – their representations symbolising the darker side of human nature.

The audience had plenty of questions, and many stayed to have their books signed by Ian. All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip and I’d recommend the Festival to anyone – I’m looking forward to Hay 2016 already!

The lives of others in runic inscriptions

A guest blog by Martin Findell

Call it perversity, but in my own research I’ve always had a taste for the unfashionable and the unglamorous areas of runic writing.  I get more excited about a name scratched onto the back of a brooch than about a large and richly decorated runestone; and as a historical linguist, I take more pleasure in trying to work out problems of the relationship between spelling, speech and the changing structure of language than in broader questions of cultural history and society.  Of course the two are interdependent, and while I concern myself with the troublesome nuts-and-bolts details of language, language is an aspect of culture and must be studied alongside other aspects of culture.  Even the briefest and most unattractive inscription is an instance of language use by real people who belonged to a community in which the act of writing had some purpose.  Rather than regale you with tales of unstressed vowels, I thought it would be more interesting to share my interest in some of the texts we find written in runes, and what they might tell us about the people who produced them.

One of the most impressive objects in the Vikings exhibition (if somewhat overshadowed by the great Roskilde ship) is a replica of the Jelling stone.  The original is at the large royal complex at Jelling in southern Denmark, and was commissioned by Harald Bluetooth to honour his parents and boast of his own achievements.  The inscription says “King Harald ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm his father and Þorvi his mother; that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway, and who made the  Danes Christian” (translation based on that in the Samnordisk rundatabas, which you can download here).

The memorial text is formulaic, and similar to inscriptions found all over Viking-Age Scandinavia (with a particular concentration in the Uppland region of Sweden, where several thousand have been found).  The stone is probably best seen as a political statement, particularly when it comes to Harald’s display of his Christian credentials; lest the viewer be left in any doubt, one face of the stone is carved with an image of the Crucifixion.

The Jelling stone is an inscription made for a king, but not by him.  The people who did the actual work – and importantly for linguists, these were probably also the people who made decisions about things like spelling – were craftsmen, possibly attached to Harald’s court, who remain silent in the historical record.

One of my favourite inscriptions lies at the other end of the scale:  a short, personal message, informally scratched on the back of a brooch found in a sixth-century woman’s grave at Bad Krozingen in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.  The inscription reads boba:leub agirike, “Bōba, dear to Agirik”.  Bōba is the name of a woman, perhaps that of the woman buried with the brooch (although not necessarily – valuable pieces of jewellery like this could be passed on as heirlooms, or looted and given to someone other than the original owner), and Agirik is a man.  It is likely that he wrote the inscription himself – it is not a work of professional craftsmanship (which the brooch certainly is), and the fact that the message is on the back of the brooch means that it would not have been visible when worn.  We have no way of knowing what the relationship between these two people was.  They might have been husband and wife, father and daughter, brother and sister, or related in some other way; but this slender piece of evidence helps to remind us that these were real people, people who knew and cared for one another.  It might not tell us much about the large-scale political and religious trends of the society in which they lived, but it brings both the words and objects of the past to life as something familiar, human and all too short-lived.

Martin Findell is Research Associate at the University of Leicester. His particular interests are in the problems of understanding the relationship between spelling and sound change in the early Germanic languages, and in the uses and abuses of runes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

His book about runic inscriptions has recently published and can be found on our website

9780714180298
Runes
Paperback with flaps, £9.99
Part of The British Museum Press series on ancient languages

A selection of excerpts from African Textiles Today by Chris Spring.

A book that illuminates the living history of Africa through the making and trading of cloth.

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Advertisement and reality
During the Third Sansa workshop in 2009
(pictured right) organized by the Ghanaian
artist Atta Kwami (see p. 61), the Iranian
photographer Tooraj Khamenehzadeh took
the two images below as part of a sequence
of works examining the gulf between
advertisements – in magazines, on bill
boards, on TV – and the realities of life for
women in the city of Kumase, Ghana.
Beneath his own images he displayed
crumpled and discarded advertisements,
including one by the Dutch textile
company Vlisco which manufactures many
of the ‘wax’ print textiles that one of his
subjects carries in a metal bowl on her
head – and which she wears herself as a
walking advertisement.
Noblewoman’s tunic
Cotton, silk
Ethiopia, 19th century
110 x 167 cm
British Museum, Af,Ab.1

Textiles and trade:

four stories from global Africa

It is impossible to discuss African textiles without recognizing the central importance of trade – local, regional, long-distance and intercontinental – in the development of almost all traditions across time and place. In many parts of the world today we may encounter a variety of African textile traditions without necessarily being aware of their historical roots among the (often very small) groups of people who originally created and/or used these cloths.

I will briefly trace four such traditions and their ongoing global impact. Ethiopia and the Indian Ocean ‘Silk Road’ Our first story begins in the mid nineteenth century among the Christian noblewomen of the central and northern highlands of Ethiopia. These women wore tunics probably made of imported cotton sheeting (as likely as not manufactured in Manchester, UK), but which they embroidered around the neck and sleeves with complex and colourful patterns created from imported Chinese silk. Just as the overland Silk Road had brought this precious material from China across Central Asia to Europe and the Middle East, so the trade winds created a watery ‘road’ for silk and other textiles across the Indian Ocean to eastern Africa, a trade which continues to this day. One of the highest offi ces in the courts of the great Ethiopian kings and emperors was the Keeper of the Silk Caves, overseeing the cool, dark and moist environment that provided the ideal storage place for the vast quantities of raw Chinese silk used in creating garments, accoutrements and wall hangings for the complex hierarchies of church, army and state. Today, well-to-do Christian women in Ethiopia wear a version of this nineteenth-century dress, but the original pattern and variants, usually factory-printed, are worn by men and women all over the world as a signifi er of global Africa.

~

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Narrow-strip cloth (pano d’obra) (detail)
Cotton
Manjak people, Guinea-Bissau, early 20th century
115 x 206 cm
British Museum, Af1934,0307.195, donated by Charles A. Beving

When the Portuguese first navigated the Guinea Coast of West Africa they found that local people had a great taste for textiles of North African Amazigh (Berber) manufacture or inspiration, a taste which had been fed by access to textiles traded across the Sahara, or woven on the southern fringes of the desert by weavers familiar with the patterning of trade cloths from the north. The Portuguese initially set up workshops in Morocco to cater for this trade, though that of course meant shipping the fi nished products many hundreds of miles from the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Guinea. The Portuguese therefore enslaved Wolof and Manding weavers, from the regions which are now Senegal and Guinea Bissau, and took them to the Cape Verde islands. There they were taught to weave the intricately patterned cloths which were popular in the Hispano-Mauresque civilization (tenth to fi fteenth centuries AD) in southern Spain and North Africa. These textiles assimilated the patterning of Amazigh (Berber) cloths (woven by women on upright, single-heddle looms) but were woven by men on complex, multi-heddle ‘draw looms’ which required additional sets of pulleys to be operated by ‘draw boys’ positioned on either side of the weaver. Later this style of weaving, though adapted to the West African narrow-strip loom, transferred to the mainland and can still be found today among Manjak and Papel weavers of Senegambia, who use a small draw loom with just one ‘draw boy’ working with the weaver.

~

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Printed Cloth
Cotton
Democratic Republic of Congo,
late 20th century
116 x 179 cm
British Museum, 2011,2002.24

This textile is printed with the names of various Congolese newspapers. When Mobutu’s dictatorship finally came to an end in 1997, freedom of expression and of the press was enshrined in articles 27 and 28 of the transitional constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Despite ongoing violence and ethnic conflict, freedom of the press is passionately defended in DRC by organizations such as Journaliste en Danger and is nationally and internationally recognized as vital to a more settled and truly democratic future.

~

181_African Textiles_4c

Talismanic tunic (rigan yaki)
Cotton, leather
Northern Nigeria(?), early 20th century
91 x 88 cm
British Museum, Af1940,23.1

This talismanic tunic (rigan yaki), probably from northern Nigeria, also combines the power of written and painted inscriptions with leather packets containing various Islamic protective charms, though on these tunics, unlike the batakari (see p. 175), the amulets are sewn onto the inside of the garment. The written word, in the form of phrases and exhortations from the Qur’an, possesses a magical signifi cance to the peoples of Islamic West Africa, even to those who cannot read Arabic.

~

198_African Textiles_4c

Embroidered bark-cloth, Ekigaji (‘Aloe Vera’) by Proscovia Nabwami
Fig tree bark
Kampala, Uganda, 2008
100 x 120 cm
British Museum, 2008,2021.4

This embroidered bark-cloth is titled Ekigaji (‘Aloe Vera’) and was made by Proscovia Nabwami of the Nalumunye Women’s Group, Kampala, Uganda in 2008. This work celebrates the many benefi cial uses of the aloe vera plant. It was created through the Design, Health and Community project, a collaboration between Northumbria University, UK, Durban University of Technology, South Africa and Makerere University, Uganda. Women from different craft groups in Uganda explore the ancient tradition of bark-cloth making to communicate contemporary concerns, particularly over HIV and AIDS.

All text and images taken from African Textiles Today by Chris Spring. This book  is available to buy from the British Museum Shop online.


‘Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience’

A guest blog by John-Paul Stonard

Last week the great literary critic James Wood gave a lecture at the British Museum, titled ‘On Not Going Home’. He spoke about the condition of exile, of living one’s life away from home, and of the strange unreality of this experience.

His own compelling account is based on the experience of having lived for the last two decades in America (he was born and raised in Durham) – a sort of voluntary ‘homelessness’ that he is at pains to distinguish from the wrenching experience of exile. ‘Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience’, he cites Edward Said, one of the great thinkers on the subject.

Wood’s brilliant lecture raised many questions that illuminate the works of art included in the book and exhibition Germany Divided: Baselitz and his Generation. The title might make you think of the Berlin Wall, and the political division that ended in 1989; but the sense of division is of something much deeper, much more personal and psychological.

All of the six artists included in the exhibition were born in eastern Germany, but sooner or later moved to make their lives in the West. Markus Lüpertz and Sigmar Polke were born in the eastern territories, lost to Germany in 1945, and were forced with their families west. Blinky Palermo moved with his foster family at the age of nine. Georg Baselitz transferred from East to West Berlin during his training (before the borders closed in 1961), just as Gerhard Richter completed his training as a Socialist Realist in Dresden, before moving to Düsseldorf and starting over again, working, as he (ironically) termed it, as a ‘Capitalist Realist’.

The most dramatic case was that of A.R. Penck, who crossed the East-West German border on foot in 1980, after years of working underground in opposition to the East German State. He had already made a career in the West, thanks to the dealer Michael Werner, who would smuggle his paintings out (by car), and showed them in his Cologne gallery. It seemed inevitable that one day Penck himself would follow.

The lives and works of all these artists were inflected in different ways by this experience of migration, and by the political division of Germany. I think of James Wood’s comment on his own experience of living in America, and the ‘light veil of alienation thrown over everything’. I wonder if this ‘veil of alienation’ might explain the way in which those such as Baselitz and Richter saw West Germany, somewhere apart from their ‘heimat’ – that untranslatable German word which suggests the intimate connection with the landscape in which one was born and raised.

For the philosopher and critic György Lúkacs (cited by Wood), the modern novel was an expression of the ‘transcendental homelessness’ of the modern age. Modern life was defined by the experience of exile, and the novel was the most direct expression of this experience. ‘Transcendental homelessness’ seems to float over the images created by Baselitz in his early series of drawings, prints and paintings of ‘heroes’, lonely figures walking through desolate landscapes. It is a feeling of restlessness that I also sense in the way Markus Lüpertz and A.R. Penck made drawings, producing vast quantities, as if constantly searching for something, some form of resolution. Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter’s early works are marked by a cool irony, and a feeling of keeping a distance from ‘art’ itself — Richter used photography, Polke an absurdist humour, as a way of avoiding ‘going home’ to older ideas of making art. And the myths that have gathered around the life and work of Blinky Palermo, whose name is itself a token of not-belonging (he was born Peter Stolle, and went through a number of change of surname, before alighting on the pseudonym as a student at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie), make of him one of the most romantic, and elusive artists of all the ‘Baselitz generation’.

Listen to James Wood’s lecture via the London Review of Books website

Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation is on show at the British Museum until 31st August 2014.

Read more about this period of art and history by John-Paul Stonard in the beautifully illustrated catalogue which accompanies the exhibition.

Love Poetry ~ from the Vikings to Haiku

If you’re feeling romantic, why not share a verse with your loved one? Here we offer you the best of the British Museum’s collections of love poetry,
with a historical twist!

~

p43

From Viking Poetry of Love and War edited by Judith Jesch

Viking culture valued poetry highly and rewarded poets handsomely. The language of Viking poetry is colourful, intricate and is often light-hearted, even in the face of death and tragedy.

The pure, white headband-Nipt
of forearm-snow brought us wine;
the guys could see Ermengard’s
beauty when we met.
Sharp swords swing from scabbards
now, as the staunchly bold
guys get ready to attack
this castle here with fire.

Rognvald Kali Kolsson, Earl of Orkney (12th century)

~


From Medieval Love Poetry edited by John Cherry

The quest is the essence of medieval romance, whether it is for the Holy Grail or for the jewel of Love…

I know of a beauty, a beryl most bright,
As lovely to look on as silver-foiled sapphire,
As gentle as jasper a-gleam in the light,
As true as the ruby, or garnet in gold.
Like onyx she is, esteemed on the height;
A diamond of worth when she’s dressed for the day;
Like coral her lustre, like Caesar of knight;
Like emerald at morning, this maiden has might.
My precious red stone, with the power of a pearl.
I picked for her prettiness, excellent girl!

Anonymous

~


From Classical Love Poetry edited by Jonathan Williams and Clive Cheesman

From the first stirrings of passion to the true torture of unrequited love, from the lifelong bond between husband and wife to the pain of being left behind, the subjects of Classical poetry differ little from our preoccupations with love and romance today.

Great Aphrodite came to me once in my sleep
Leading little Eros by the hand – he
Stared shyly at the ground. She spoke,
‘Dear rustic swain, take this lad, and teach him to sing.’
She goes, and I, fool, teach Love my songs,
How Pan invented pipes, Athena the flute,
Hermes the lyre, weet Apollo the harp.
So I taught him, but he pays no heed.
He sings his own songs, of the loves
Of gods and men, his mother’s works.
What I taught him then I now clean forget,
But what he tauught me stays with me yet.

BION. 5

~

From Indian Love Poetry edited by A. L. Dallapiccola

Love is widely celebrated in Indian poetry, whether mystic love for the divine or the passionate and affectionate feelings between loves, husbands and wives, parents and children, family and friends.

He left me saying he would return tomorrow,
I covered the floor of my home
Writing repeadedly ‘Tomorrow’.
When dawn returned, they all enquired:
Tell us, friend,
When will your tomorrow come?
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I lost all hopes,
My beloved never returned.
Says Vidyapati: Listen beautiful one,
Other women lured him away.

Vidyapati, Girl playing with peacock

~

From Haiku Love edited by Alan Cummings

Although haiku poems are usually focused on the natural world, many poets have used haiku to capture the fleeting human experience. Elegant haiku poems explore all aspects of romantic love with humour, satire, wit and compassion.

over my shoulder
I saw her under her umbrella
just a glance

Nishiyanna Soin


a shooting star—
in love, not knowing
where it will lead

Mayuzumi Madoka


don’t cry, insects!
lovers must always part
even the stars

Issa

~

If you’d like to find out more about any of these books simply visit our website

p43

Inspirations from China ~ Happy New Year

As we look ahead to a new year on the Chinese calendar, we look back at some of the wonderful Chinese art that inspired our recent book.

Modern Chinese Ink Paintings

Modern Chinese Ink Paintings

by Clarissa von Spee

An informative and elegantly illustrated introduction to Chinese ink paintings and calligraphies from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries


Modern Chinese ink paintings spreads_Page_1

The British Museum came to house one of the largest collections of classical and modern Chinese paintings in Europe. Many of these entered the collection in 1753 through Sir Hans Sloane who had acquired prints and paintings throughout his travels in many parts of the world.

9780714124704.PT02

In 1903 the Museum acquired it’s most famous painting The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies, an eighth-century copy of the earliest and finest painting attributed to Gu Kaizhi.
~
Drawing on the British Museum’s rich collection, this book explores the development and diversity of Chinese ink painting in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United States through the twentieth century to the present.

admon_l
1. The Admonitions Scroll
To celebrate the Chinese New Year Modern Chinese Ink Paintings will be on sale at an exclusive discount on The British Museum online shop. Find out more about the book here


Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation

By John-Paul Stonard

With the British Museum’s receipt of 34 works by 20thcentury German artists from Count Christian Duerckheim, we are publishing an exhibition catalogue written by John-Paul Stonard to accompany this significant collection of work.

GD final layouts 44

The book includes drawings and paintings by contemporary artists, such as Georg Baselitz, Blinky Palermo, Sigma Polke, that have never before been published. Starting with a fascinating introduction to the context of these works, Stonard delivers detailed biographical essays on each artist showing how the division of Germany into separate states affected their work.

GD final layouts 31

The free exhibition of Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation opens on February 6th and the exhibition catalogue is available to buy now

Highlights for Spring 2014

Preview some of the books we are publishing later this year!

9780714126906

Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation

By John-Paul Stonnard

Explores the previously unpublished and unseen works by some of the leading names in contemporary art.

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Vikings latest cover

Vikings: life and legend

Edited by Gareth Williams, Peter Pentz and Matthias Wemhoff

A rich and vivid account of the impact of the Vikings throughout the world.

Now available

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9780714128313

The Vikings in Britain and Ireland

By Jayne Carroll, Stephen Harrison and Gareth Williams

A fascinating illustrated introduction to the cultural influence and legacy of the Vikings in Britain and Ireland.

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9780714123448

The Tale of King Herald: The Last Viking Adventure

By Thomas J.T. Williams

An illustrated adventure telling the story of King Harald Sigurdsson, the last king of the Vikings.

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9780714128337

Icons

By Robin Cormack

A beautifully illustrated introduction to the history and power of Byzantine and Russian icons.

Now in paperback

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9780714126913

Thomas Bewick: Graphic Worlds

By Nigel Tattersfield

A new approach to the celebrated naturalist engraver Thomas Bewick, highlighting his brilliant engravings designed for the world of the Industrial Revolution.

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BM watches jkt

Watches

By David Thompson

A beautiful and intriguing illustrated history of watches.

Now in paperback

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Lewis Chessmen front cover

The Lewis Chessmen: and what happened to them

By Irving Finkel

A charming and original illustrated story for children, following the adventures of the world’s most famous chessmen.

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View all of our recent titles here

Author David Stuttard at the Heffers Classic Festival in Cambridge

The Heffers Classics Festival in Cambridge

Saturday 2nd November 2013, 9:30-18:00

Parthenon cover low-res

Heffers are hosting the annual Heffers Classics Festival with a wealth of celebrities from the worlds of Classics Fact and Fiction.

Be transported back to the ancient world with experts, historians and comedians, as we explore everything from long-forgotten cities, heroes and gods, detectives and villains to current exhibitions

This dynamic day long Festival celebrates the Classical World. The programme is a diverse celebration of all that the Classical world has to offer. The programme this year runs over three streams: facts for the academic historians, philosophers and students; fiction for those of you who like your history stories set in the Classical period and, finally, something for our younger friends with storytelling and interactive fun.

Talking at the event is David Stuttard, author of Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Olympic Games and co-author of AD410: The Year That Shook Rome and 31 BC: Antony and Cleopatra and the Fall of Egypt.

David will be talking about Greek Tragedy at the Classics Festival, from 3:15-4:15.

David’s new book Parthenon: Power and Politics on the Acropolis is published by British Museum Press this month. Parthenon takes the reader through the dramatic story of the conception and creation of the Parthenon, setting it against a turbulent historical background and rooting the building firmly in the real and mythological landscape of Athens. Written as a pacy, narrative history, the text features a cast of memorable characters, including Themistocles, the general whose decision to evacuate Athens led to the Persian sack of the acropolis; Pericles, visionary statesman and mastermind of the Athens’ building project; and Pheidias, who created the cult statue of Athene, and narrowly escaped impeachment for embezzlement.

Beautifully illustrated with evocative site photography, details from the Parthenon sculptures and other related artworks from the superb collection of the British Museum, this book explores the Parthenon as the spiritual heart of a network of commanding buildings, devised by Pericles and continued by his successors to promote the power of Athens as leader of the Greek world.

Visit the Heffers events page for further details about the Festival and how to book.

Or you can go straight to the ticket page here.

Click here to pre-order David Stuttard’s Parthenon on the British Museum’s website now.