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Ancient Images, Modern Eyes : The Classical World in Modern Media and Advertising

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An exciting day of interactive workshops, discussions and activities on the theme of Classical Antiquity as it appears in modern media and advertising

Beginning with the Renaissance and happening as recently as Ariana Grande’s video for the hit song God is a Woman, the ancient – and most often the Classical – world has been a constant source of inspiration for the visual media we create. Whether we reference it allusively or borrow from it directly, the Classical World has never gone out of fashion when it comes to art, advertising and design – and shows no sign of doing so.

Why does modernity seemingly have such an obsession with all things ancient and mythical? In what ways has classical imagery been used to be persuasive, beautiful, aspirational or evocative? How might our continued reliance on this imagery serve to enshrine negative or derogatory ideas concerning race, gender and aesthetics?

On Wednesday 6th March 2019, the Dept. of Classics and Ancient History and the Warwick Classics Network welcomed over sixty pupils and teachers from President Kennedy School in Coventry, The Kingsley School in Leamington, and the Sir Christopher Hatton Academy in Wellingborough, Northants, to the University's Westwood campus for the event 'Ancient Images, Modern Eyes.' The pupils who attended were from Y9-Y12 and included those studying Classics, Art and GCSE English.

The project was the idea of our Warwick Classics postgraduate student Kathryn Thompson, who organised the event and funded it with the money she was awarded by the WATE (Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence) which recognised her contribution to undergraduate teaching and work with the Sutton Trust Summer School.

KintroKathryn Thompson

The day began with an introduction by the Head of Dept., Prof. Zahra Newby, who welcomed the students and teachers, and introduced them to the work of the Classics Dept. and the Warwick Classics Network. After this, our Warwick academics led three interactive session, Kathryn Thompson on Antiquity and Fantasy in modern media; Nick Brown on Gender and Sexuality; and Dr Joanna Kemp on Antiquity and Race.

k2 n1 joanna1

The aim of these sessions was not only to introduce classics and the ancient world to those who might otherwise not have much interest or exposure to these things, but to reveal the continuing use of classical images and themes in modern media, and to use these to discuss issues of race, identity, and sexuality.

Over the course of this event, the sessions explored:

  • a variety of media which has utilised imagery from, or reminiscent of, the ancient world and the purpose or intentions behind the usage of such imagery;
  • what the modern use of images designed to look ancient or classical says about our relationship with our ancient past;
  • the ways in which images and ideas from classical antiquity are in fact reconfigured or manipulated – both consciously and unconsciously – for modern media purposes, and the effect this has on our perception/understanding of classical antiquity itself;
  • the ways in which the depiction of classical antiquity participates in wider issues surrounding the portrayal of race and ethnicity;
  • the part the depiction of classical antiquity in media and advertising has played in both establishing and reinforcing long-held ideas concerning gender and sexuality;
  • the ways in which evoking classical antiquity has been used as a tool for sexualisation and to reinforce certain aesthetic/bodily ideals;
  • the ways in which, in recent years, classical antiquity has in fact been increasingly invoked in order to repurpose/reclaim imagery which previously signalled the disenfranchisement of certain groups, or to spotlight issues concerning social diversity and thus provoke conversation as to how to better achieve diverse representation in modern visual culture;
  • the very benefit of looking at both the ancient world and modern media through this lens.

Following the success of these sessions and the enthusiastic response from both pupils and teachers, we are creating resources and teaching materials based on these sessions. While these will be of interest to teachers of classics and ancient history, above all, we hope that these resources will be used by teachers of English, Art and Media Studies, who will be able to use classical examples to discuss challenging topics such as social injustice, sexuality, race and identity.

‘Brilliant! I am now going to ensure, when teaching social injustice, that examples and conversations around classics take place.’ - Emily Darke, Associate Teacher of English, President Kennedy School. (For more feedback click here)

During lunch break, Dr Paul Grigsby introduced the pupils to ancient Athens via our VR headsets. These always provide a readily accessible and exciting introduction to the ancient world.


This event culminated in participants designing their own advertising campaign inspired by an aspect of ancient society. The day allowed young people to engage with Classics and Ancient History in a way that was purposeful and strongly relevant to them – not just as students, but also as consumers of modern media, and as members of a diverse modern society.

pks1 draw group

For more detailed about the topics covered in this event, see our attached report. You may also be interested in our Teachers' Booklet. Please also feel free to use our teaching resources.