Simonides and the War on Terror

Monday, February 6, 2012 - 5:00pm
Robert Crawford (Professor of English, St Andrews)
Norman McBeath (photographer)
Auditorium, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Photographs by Norman McBeath and texts by Robert Crawford. Robert Crawford reads and discusses his Scots versions of Simonides to accompany the exhibition; Norman McBeath will also be present. Organized by APGRD with generous support from the Corpus Christi College Classical Society and The Corpus Christi College Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity.

Two and a half thousand years ago the poet Simonides wrote epitaphs for western soldiers killed in conflicts that involved the territories of modern Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. The greatest poems of Simonides are body bags; zipped inside them are the remains of human lives.

This installation juxtaposes new versions of texts by Simonides with the timelessness of black-and-white photography. Using the Scots tongue, poet Robert Crawford takes the language of Simonides away from generals and politicians, bringing it closer to the speech of vernacular Scots. This also raises questions about dead or dying languages, as well as about what language is fitting for remembering the dead. Norman McBeath’s black-and-white photographs are meticulous in their combination of timelessness and contemporaneity. They show not battlefront carnage, but quieter images that resonate alongside the poems to communicate a profound meditation on death, losses, and remembrance.

Arrestingly aligning Classical culture with modern-day atrocity and conflict, Simonides is at once stark and memorably subtle.

Ootlin, tell our maisters this:
We lie here deid. We did as we were telt.

Selected for the 2011 Edinburgh Art Festival, and commissioned by the University of St Andrews as part of its 600th anniversary, Simonides has been the focus of a BBC Radio 4 programme and Easel Press of Edinburgh have published an accompanying book, Simonides, which includes all the photographs and texts as well as Robert Crawford’s essay, ‘Simonides and the War on Terror’ (available via

'There is a wonderfully tangential relationship between word and image so that unusual associations are created by mere juxtapositions.' -The Times, 3 September 2011

The event will be followed by refreshments.