Barry McNamara  |  Published November 02, 2020

Sienkewicz Lecture

Fourth annual event, presented by SIU’s Mont Allen, to shine light on depiction of play at death.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – The largest source for scenes of games, contests and play in Roman art is one a person might not expect – coffins and sarcophagi.

That bizarre truth will be detailed by Southern Illinois University professor Mont Allen, who will present Monmouth College’s fourth annual Thomas and Anne Sienkewicz Lecture on Roman Archaeology at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12.

MONT ALLEN: Will present Monmouth's fourth annual Sienkewicz Lecture on Roman Archaeology via... MONT ALLEN: Will present Monmouth's fourth annual Sienkewicz Lecture on Roman Archaeology via zoom on Nov. 12.Titled “Dicing with Death: Games, Contests and the World of Play on Roman Sarcophagi,” Allen’s lecture will be presented via Zoom at this link.

“The public face of Roman art is painfully sober,” said Allen, who teaches courses in Greek mythology and Greco-Roman art at SIU. “In the privacy of their tombs, however, free to cast off their stern public personae, Romans surrounded themselves with art of a different nature. Here, on the elaborately carved sarcophagi that dominated the Roman visual imagination of the second and third centuries, the imagery does something entirely different: it plays.”

Allen said that among the imagery are diminutive Pans wrestling with wee goat kids, sirens facing off against muses in singing competitions, and Cupids role-playing as charioteers, “giddily racing their carts around the Circus Maximus.”

“Scenes of games, contests and play appear with astonishing frequency here – on the sides of coffins, in the face of death – as nowhere else in Roman art,” he said.

Allen’s talk will detail what forms the depiction of play took on Roman coffins, and he’ll discuss why Romans integrated play so deeply in the domain of death, as well as what would soon occur with the coming of Christianity.

After winding through three separate undergraduate degrees — in geography, the history of religion, and modern European history – Allen said the study of classics and ancient Greek and Roman art sank its claws into him for good. He earned his Ph.D. in ancient art history from the University of California, Berkeley in 2014, and he hasn’t looked back since.

The Sienkewicz Lecture series was created by an anonymous donor to honor longtime Monmouth classics professor Tom Sienkewicz and his wife, Anne.

“The generous donor who has endowed the Sienkewicz Lecture series has allowed Monmouth to bring in some of the most prominent Roman archaeologists in the field to share their fascinating research,” said Monmouth classics professor Bob Simmons, who succeeded Sienkewicz as chair of the department.

Sienkewicz was the Monmouth Minnie Billings Capron Chair of Classics from 1985-2017. During his first year on the faculty, he founded the Western Illinois Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, which has hosted scores of archaeological lectures on campus. From 2012-17, Sienkewicz served the Classical Association of the Middle West and South as its chief executive and financial officer.

Anne Sienkewicz has been a loyal supporter of archaeology and over the years has hosted countless speakers.

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