Monthly Archives: July 2013

Interview with a Classicist – Part 1 Christian Brady


Christian Brady is a 2nd year MA Classics student at UBC and recently took part in Prof. Siobhán McElduff’s class on Roman Spectacle. As part of the course, each student had to produce a digital humanities project on some aspect of Roman Spectacle. Christian chose to produce a podcast called “Prometheus Unbound“. In his own words, he is using Lucan’s Pharsalia  “as a gateway into the Roman Empire…[covering] everything from political partisanship, war lit, family feuds of epic proportions, intertextuality, the macabre, remakes of Golden Age Latin epics, political resistance through art, atheism and much, much more! All while looking at ways the modern world can help inform us about what was going on with forays into Canadian PSAs and mashups of 80s action movies.”

First, can you give a brief description of your project?

The podcast is the culmination of hours and hours of assiduously documented and aggressively organized fooling around with friends. I wanted to make a podcast that showed people how classicists and academics talk to each other when they think no one else is listening.

What led you to this particular topic? Did you have a prior interest in the subject or did you choose the topic based on what could best be presented digitally?

The first three episodes of the podcast are on the way that an epic poem by a Roman Spaniard from the 1st century CE intersects with pop culture. But it’s sort of bloomed into a show about the crossroads between pop culture and the classical world, especially the early imperial era. I like the story because it defies a lot of the stereotypes of what I think people think of when they imagine classical literature in the abstract. Lucan is gritty, gory, and subversive. He comes at a wonky time in Latin literature, after all the greats have already written their best hits and the Romans are stuck in the rerun phase of artistic development, the whole sequel/prequel dysfunction of summer blockbusters. There are some great people at UBC who are working on him like Andrew McClellan (PhD) and Prof. Susanna Morton-Braund.

What resources did you use? Did you have prior knowledge of these resources?

I scoured the web for awful out of copyright sword and sandals films—the more badly dubbed, the better—found artists who’d put up their work for creative commons on and SoundCloud, and put it all together on GarageBand. After tinkering with everything, I put it back on SoundCloud and iTunes for distribution. I’ve been fooling around for years with GarageBand to record my friends and me when we used to be in a mock country reggae rap band in undergrad. But I started composing music mashups for the first time with this podcast. I’m not saying that I’ve acquired the skills to DJ house parties, but I wouldn’t be surprised if after this interview goes on the Web I’m booked up for the year.

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

Part of the nature of making this podcast was that I didn’t have anyone to foist it off on when things got dicey—I scripted a lot of it myself and then after recording the show, there were dozens more hours of editing. So there were times when I was unsure about whether or not I was beating a dead horse, but I think this happens with any artistic pursuit. You have that fleeting sense of doubt before you come up with a finished product.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of the project?

Scoring the podcast. Figuring out when something musical can add to the feelings you’re trying to produce is a lot of fun. Having guests on the show is also really neat, because the more people you have on, the more spontaneous everything is, the more surprising the conclusions you reach are. Having a bunch of really smart people in a room together is loads of fun.

Would you undertake a similar project again, now that you are familiar with the process?

Yes, podcasts are a really fun media to work with. It’s like painting. With sound. And you don’t have to wash your hands afterwards.

Do you intend to maintain the site you created, or add content in the future?

Yeah, since the first trial episode, I’ve worked on two others and tried some new things out, like varying the number of hosts or the style of delivery from a narrative form to something more conversational. I’m experimenting with different formats, but I also want to broad the scope of the show from the original purpose of relating Lucan’s Pharsalia to pop culture. I think there are other avenues we can look at with respect to the Roman world in order to breathe life into classics. I’m trying to find ways to do this with ancient philosophy and Vancouver politics, at the moment.

Do you think this project was an effective way to study/teach about your topic?

I’m not sure, but it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve gotten some very positive reviews from academics and the general public—enough to be encouraged to keep going.

Any final thoughts or comments?

Thanks so much for your interest!

And finally, if I’ve learned anything from tv over the years, it’s that every great interview ends with these 10 questions. Take it away, James.

What is your favorite word?

Lachrymose is pretty good. Or malinger. Possibly haberdasher.

What is your least favorite word?


What turns you on?

Neil Gaiman,Wonder Woman, and goldfish crackers.

What turns you off?

Cabbage, Oxford, and Sandra Bullock.

What sound or noise do you love?

Chicken being deepfried.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Goodbyes in most forms.

What is your favorite curse word?

Hellsbells. Is that one word?

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

When I was little my dad would ask my brothers and me this question and we would say, “A piece of toast!” because we kept expectations low, but not too low. We weren’t going to be bread, for crying out loud.

What profession would you not like to do?

A bartender.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

My turn! 

Christian, thank you for answering our questions and for your very entertaining podcasts, which are available free on iTunes. You can also check out Christian’s thoughts on philosophy and pop culture at In the Agora.



Filed under Digital Classics

Project update and new features

When we began the project, we had no idea how many squeezes were in the collection, and we really did not know what condition they were in. One of the first steps has been to determine exactly what we have in the collection, and how many of the squeezes should be scanned. As we sorted through the collection, we realized that there are multiple copies of most of the squeezes.


We have come up with scanning criteria that greatly reduces the number of squeezes we will initially scan, which also hopefully reduces the cost. We  have decided to scan only the clearest examples for each inscription, rather than the entire collection. This makes the most sense both financially and in terms of time – we can provide a digital library of the clearest squeezes in the collection, and will not be spending our time scanning multiple copies of the same inscription. In most cases, there are only minor differences in the copies. Where there is a great discrepancy, we are choosing the inscription that is the most intact. For the squeeze pictured below, we decided not to scan it because thought the letters are clear, the squeeze itself is very fragile and there was another copy of the same inscription that did not have holes in it.

photo 2We also chose not to scan squeezes that are discoloured or where the inscription is very faint, as below.

photo 1The majority of our work on the project at the moment is both dull and repetitive; we spend one afternoon a week sorting through the squeezes to determine which ones are clear and intact enough to be scanned, and typing metadata into an Excel spreadsheet. In light of that, we have decided to use this space to highlight other interesting work in digital humanities, starting with a series of interviews with UBC students who created their own digital classics projects this past spring. The projects included websites, interactive mapping, text analysis and podcasts. We look forward to sharing their innovative work with you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Epigraphy, Greek Inscriptions, Project Planning, Squeeze

Tablet Transliteration and Translation

Cuneiform Clay Tablet in the George T.H. Fuller Collection,

Dept. of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies, UBC

Cuneiform tablet2 Cuneiform tablet1



Provenance: possibly Puzrish-Dagan (ancient Drehem, southern Iraq)

Date: Ur III period, c. 2100-2000 BCE

Subject: receipt for the delivery of livestock (and oil?).

cuneiform tablet

Cuneiform Tablet






TRANSLITERATION                                 TRANSLATION

Obverse                                                              Obverse

1. ? udu                                                                1. 3? sheep

2. 1 maš                                                               2. 1 goat

3. u4-30-kam                                                    3. the 30th day

4. ki ab-ba-ša6-x-x                                          4. from Abba-sha-? (place-name)

5. x i-x-u4-x-x                                                   5. …oil?…

Reverse                                                                Reverse

6. i-dab                                                                 6. he received

7. iti ezen?-x                                                       7. The month…

8. mu ša-x-ki ba-ḫul                                         8. The year the city…was destroyed

For other examples of cuneiform tablets found in the same area and dated to the same period, check out the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative at UCLA. They have 3 tablets from the region in their digital library that are housed at Charles University in Prague.

Further reading:

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago published the 499 tablets in their collection in 1998, and can be downloaded from their website.

Lluís Feliu and Adelina Millet published a paper titled “An Ur III Tablet from Drehem and Three Clay Cones of Lipit-Estar” in Aula Orientalis; the issue can be downloaded here.

Transliteration and translation by Dr. Lisa Cooper. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Cuneiform, Near Eastern, Pottery

Squeeze Making in the Athenian Agora

Have you ever wondered how an epigraphic squeeze is made? This summer we got a first-hand demonstration right in the heart of ancient Athens. A scholar from Berlin, Sebastian Prignitz, was visiting to take a squeeze of an inscription near the Royal Stoa in the ancient Agora of Athens – this happened to be only a few metres from where myself and another project member are excavating this summer. Sebastian was kind enough to not only allow us to take photos of the process, but showed us the steps necessary to create a squeeze from an ancient inscription. First, he cut the filter paper to fit the words, then wet the paper and placed it directly on the rock on top of the inscription. Then came the hard part: using a special brush, we carefully hammered the paper into the cuttings in the rock, trying not to rip the paper or leave any air bubbles between the stone and the squeeze. This is a short video which shows this process.

After letting it dry in the sun for about an hour, we returned to the inscription and slowly peeled off the paper, revealing our very own (beautiful, might I add!) squeeze:

Now our squeeze is safely stored and ready to be brought back to the collection in Vancouver.

Thanks to Sebastian Prignitz from Inscriptiones Graecae , Laura Gawlinski, and John Camp for giving us the permission to record this inscription and retain it for our collection.

1 Comment

by | July 15, 2013 · 7:22 am

Cuneiform Tablet

Cuneiform tablet1

This cuneiform tablet is dated to the Ur III period, circa 2100 – 2000 BCE. The tablet is small, measuring about 3.5 cm in height, 3 cm in width and about 1 cm in thickness. It is inscribed on both sides with the cuneiform script, which has been used to render Sumerian.

Cuneiform tablet2

The tablet itself is a receipt for the delivery of livestock and possibly oil. It almost certainly comes from the site of Purzis-Dagan, located in southern Iraq. Check back soon for the transliteration and translation of the tablet.

Leave a comment

Filed under Artifacts, Cuneiform, Near Eastern

Quick up date on the progress so far:

We met with Dr. Phillip Harding at the end of June, and he spoke to us about the history of the collection and epigraphy in general – look for a post on that soon.

Squeeze sample 

We’ve begun going through the squeeze collection to determine how many of them are legible and intact enough to scan for the website. So far, the majority of the collection is in very good condition, considering their age.


UBC graduate students Chelsea Gardner and David Assaf, who are excavating in Greece this summer, had an opportunity to make a squeeze. They have a short video of the process which will be posted soon.

And finally, we have dates set at the end of August to photograph our artifact collection with LoA, and look forward to having the translation and transliteration of our cuneiform tablet available soon.

Leave a comment

Filed under Artifacts, Cuneiform, Epigraphy, Project Planning, Squeeze Collection