I teach Greek and Latin literature (sometimes in Latin and Attic Greek, using the Active Method) at Jesus College Oxford, where I’m a Professor of Classics. I research and write about the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome.
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My recent areas of interest include ancient Greek music, ancient Greek innovation, the biographies of Socrates and Aspasia, and the life and loves of the Roman poet Catullus. I am currently working on a book about Homer the bard, informed by new thoughts about how he sang his epic songs to music, and how something of that music is recoverable from the texts.
Outside my academic work I perform as a cellist, formerly my profession.
My work on ancient Greek music spans my interests in Classics, music, poetry, psychology, and innovation.
In 2019 I published Socrates in Love. The revelation, based on neglected but compelling evidence, that Aspasia was not a ‘prostitute’ or ‘courtesan’, but a thinker and influencer of greater weight than most have recognised, should be widely known and celebrated.
In Oct 2021 I published How to Innovate: An Ancient Guide to Creative Thinking. It draws on themes raised in my Greeks and the New (CUP 2011).
I used to write a clog i.e. an intermittent blog; posts are listed on the left.
Jan: Archimedes: History of Inventions: Patented podcast.
Feb: Burning Sappho.The great woman singer from Lesbos.
Mar: Alexander the Great: review of Richard Stoneman.
Apr: Joining the Dots: a musical puzzle on an ancient vase (right).
May: Marching on Rome. Sulla – and Yevegeny Prigozhin.
June: The Ancients Loved Dogs Too. Man’s best friend.
July: You can call me Al. A Wimbledon story, and a name.
Aug: Ancients Abroad. What did ancients do for holidays?
.. Book Review: Mad Dog Diogenes (right).
Sept: The First Great Escape Odysseus and the Cyclops.
.. Death of a Sycamore Destruction of a noble tree.
.. An ancient Greek graffito – and pun Carved in 591 BC.
Oct: The Sorrow and Pity of War A parallel from Thucydides.
Jan: Make it new: the pursuit of literary originality.
Feb: Succession: commercial empires and their ancient echoes.
Mar: Review of Mary Beard’s Twelve Caesars.
Apr: Musica linguae, lingua musicae (‘The music of language, the language of music’). A talk in Latin about ancient Greek language and music delivered at a panel on ancient languages at the Delphi Economic Forum 2022.
May: Ode in Greek epic hexameters for Michael Wood and Rebecca Dobbs.
June: Review of Dominic Perring’s enthralling book London in the Roman World.
July: Ancient Creations: from the Antikythera Mechanism to Western Music
Nov: Cato v. Caesar: review of Josiah Osgood’s Uncommon Wrath
A burst of digital outputs during Covid, on Socrates and Aspasia, Catullus and Lesbia, music in Greek tragedy, Horace, and active Latin….just click the hyperlink:
- Catullus and the agony of infatuation: odi et amo
- Will the real Lesbia stand up?
- Town or Country mouse? Horace the poet.
- Queen of the Athenian salon: Aspasia of Miletus
- Socrates the lover.
- The music of Sophocles’ Ode to Man.
- The joy of speaking active Latin.
- Do you really want to live for ever?
- The Song of Seikilos: a musically notated ancient Greek poem.
- The truth about Archimedes’ Eureka-moment.
Oct: Publication of How to Innovate: An Ancient Guide to Creative Thinking.
Video interview here with Nasos Papadopoulos of Metalearn.
Jan: two videos with discussions of the themes of Socrates in Love:
The rest of the year was lost to Covid…but I was asked to write this piece on the plague of Athens and what we might learn from it.
Mar: Socrates in Love: The Making of a Philosopher published.
An article outlining one of the main themes of the book in The Conversation.
Reviews in Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Telegraph, Times, Literary Review, Mail Online, Guardian, Spectator, Standpoint, Classics for All, Times Literary Supplement, BBC History Magazine, Bookanista, Confer, and Australian Book Review.
An interview with History Girls about the book, thanks to Caroline Lawrence.
Aeon: Was Socrates more worldly and amorous than we knew?
27 Aug: Interview (15 mins) about ancient Greek music on ‘Top of Mind’ with Julie Rose (BYU Radio).
8 Aug: Two articles linked to the film ‘Rediscovering Ancient Greek Music’. One in the Conversation (Now we finally know what Greek music sounded like), the other in Aeon magazine (Can we know?). Article in the i-magazine (The Independent) by Anna Behrmann.
5 Jul: Talk about the Public Engagement project of recreating ancient Greek music, with wonderful performances from Stef Conner and Barnaby Brown.
1 Jul: OUP blog and JACT article describe the breakthroughs in the reconstruction of ancient Greek music of the past few years, as heard on the viral video ‘Rediscovering Ancient Greek Music‘.
29 Mar: Co-edited book (with Tom Phillips) published by OUP.
28 Jan: BBC R3 Early Music Show: 55 mins of ancient Greek music, some heard for the first time, with explanations about its reconstruction. The culmination of research that I argue pushes back the history of Western music by some 1500 years to the eighth century BC.
26 Nov: 15-minute film of concert of ancient Greek music: click here.
10 Nov: Today Programme with John Humphrys on the music of the ancient aulos. Interview with Dan Damon on BBC World Service (from 46.22 mins). Great aulos-playing by Callum Armstrong, who describes how he works here.
2 Oct: Lecture to the Hellenic Soc: ‘Can Greek texts be sung to their original music?’: Click here.
27 Jul: In preparation for a trio concert featuring Piazolla’s Four Seasons, I translate the Four Seasons Sonnets by Vivaldi which may have inspired his famous music of that name. The poems and versions are here on my clog.
21 Jan: Interview on Greek Channel ERT 1 for around 10 mins available on this link.
13 Dec: The first performance of my musical reconstruction of a chorus from Euripides’ Orestes in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, with three singers representing the chorus accompanied by aulos played by Barnaby Brown.
Hearing the first musically convincing performance of Ancient Greek music is an indescribable privilege. You have the good fortune to have produced results of real significance.
23 Jul: Oxford awards me a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship 2016-17 to reconstruct and film a chorus of Euripidean music preserved on papyrus (left).
16 Jul: A research-driven performance of ancient Greek music in the magnificent Nereid Gallery in the British Museum. Performers from the UK and Europe played reconstructed double-pipes (auloi), flutes, and kitharas, captivating a 300-strong audience with sounds of the kind that might have been heard thousands of years ago.
4 July: Keynote Lecture at King’s College London Conference: Sounds of the Hellenic World.
5 April: Radio programme on the history of vegetarianism: Pythagoras and the basis of musical intervals, with a sung line of an Orphic Hymn at 22 mins 10.
Sep 2015: My TED lesson ‘The Ancient Origins of the Olympic Games’
Jul 2015 In memoriam Martin West
May 2015 BBC4 Sappho: I speak at 26.30 mins about the music of Sappho’s songs.
Mar 2015 TEDed lesson Archimedes’ Eureka moment
A podcast of my talk on innovation at the Oxford Business School event (4 March) ‘Engaging with the Humanities’.
July 2014 BBC Online: 10 mysteries from ancient Greece.
Oct 2013 I translate into Latin a motto on a rock band T-shirt.
July 2013 My article Plato and Play in American Journal of Play, spurred by a misattribution to Plato by Sarah Palin of the idea that ‘you can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation’.