Society Events

This is a list of all upcoming events in chronological order. Events which have already taken place can be found here.

December 12th 2021    Cosimo de' Medici

Cosimo de' Medici was born in Florence to Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici and his wife Piccarda Bueri on 10 April 1389. At the time, it was customary to indicate the name of one's father in one's name for the purpose of distinguishing the identities of two like-named individuals; thus Giovanni was the son of Bicci, and Cosimo's name was properly rendered Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici. He was born along with a twin brother Damiano, who survived only a short time. The twins were named after Saints Cosmas and Damian, whose feast day was then celebrated on 27 September; Cosimo would later celebrate his own birthday on that day, his 'name day', rather than on the actual date of his birth. Cosimo also had a brother Lorenzo, known as 'Lorenzo the Elder', who was some six years his junior and participated in the family's banking enterprise.

In the realm of philosophy, Cosimo, influenced by the lectures of Gemistus Plethon, supported Marsilio Ficino and his attempts at reviving Neo-Platonism. Cosimo commissioned Ficino's Latin translation of the complete works of Plato (the first ever complete translation) and collected a vast library that he shared with intellectuals such as Niccola de' Niccoli and Leonardo Bruni. He also established a Platonic Academy in Florence in 1445. He provided his grandson Lorenzo de' Medici with an education in the studia humanitatis. Cosimo certainly had an influence on Renaissance intellectual life, but it was Lorenzo who would later be deemed to have been the greatest patron.

January 17th 2022    Offa's Dyke

The best known relic associated with Offa's time is Offa's Dyke, a great earthen barrier that runs approximately along the border between England and Wales. It is mentioned by the monk Asser in his biography of Alfred the Great: 'a certain vigorous king called Offa ... had a great dyke built between Wales and Mercia from sea to sea'. The dyke has not been dated by archaeological methods, but most historians find no reason to doubt Asser's attribution. Early names for the dyke in both Welsh and English also support the attribution to Offa. Despite Asser's comment that the dyke ran 'from sea to sea', it is now thought that the original structure only covered about two-thirds of the length of the border: in the north it ends near Llanfynydd, less than five miles (8 km) from the coast, while in the south it stops at Rushock Hill, near Kington in Herefordshire, less than fifty miles (80 km) from the Bristol Channel. The total length of this section is about 64 miles (103 km). Other earthworks exist along the Welsh border, of which Wat's Dyke is one of the largest, but it is not possible to date them relative to each other and so it cannot be determined whether Offa's Dyke was a copy of or the inspiration for Wat's Dyke.

The construction of the dyke suggests that it was built to create an effective barrier and to command views into Wales. This implies that the Mercians who built it were free to choose the best location for the dyke. There are settlements to the west of the dyke that have names that imply they were English by the 8th century, so it may be that in choosing the location of the barrier the Mercians were consciously surrendering some territory to the native Britons. Alternatively it may be that these settlements had already been retaken by the Welsh, implying a defensive role for the barrier. The effort and expense that must have gone into building the dyke are impressive, and suggest that the king who had it built (whether Offa or someone else) had considerable resources at his disposal. Other substantial construction projects of a similar date do exist, however, such as Wat's Dyke and Danevirke, in what is now Germany as well as such sites as Stonehenge from millennia earlier. The dyke can be regarded in the light of these counterparts as the largest and most recent great construction of the preliterate inhabitants of Britain.

February 3rd 2022    Sanssouci - An Illustrated Talk with Wine

Sanssouci was the summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, in Potsdam, near Berlin. It is often counted among the German rivals of Versailles. While Sanssouci is in the more intimate Rococo style and is far smaller than its French Baroque counterpart, it too is notable for the numerous temples and follies in the park. The palace was designed/built by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff between 1745 and 1747 to fulfill King Frederick's need for a private residence where he could relax away from the pomp and ceremony of the Berlin court.

The palace's name emphasises this; it is a French phrase (sans souci), which translates as 'without concerns', meaning 'without worries' or 'carefree', symbolising that the palace was a place for relaxation rather than a seat of power. The name in past times reflected a play on words, with the insertion of a comma visible between the words Sans and Souci, viz. Sans, Souci. Kittsteiner theorizes that this could be a philosophical play on words, meaning 'without a worry/concern' or it could be some secret personal message which nobody has interpreted, left to posterity by Frederick II.

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May 16th 2022    The Sutton Hoo Helmet

The Sutton Hoo helmet is a decorated Anglo-Saxon helmet which was discovered during the 1939 excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial. It was buried around 625 and is widely believed to have been the helmet of King Raedwald of East Anglia, and its elaborate decoration may have given it a secondary function akin to a crown. The helmet is 'the most iconic object' from 'one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries ever made,' and one of the most important Anglo-Saxon artefacts ever found. Its visage features eyebrows, nose, and moustache, creating the image of a man joined by a dragon's head to become a soaring dragon with outstretched wings. It has become a symbol of the Dark Ages and also 'of Archaeology in general.' It was excavated as hundreds of rusted fragments, and was first displayed following an initial reconstruction in 1945-46, and then in its present form after a second reconstruction in 1970-71.

Cultural impact

A wicker copy of the helmet on display at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading, Berkshire

The 1971 reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo helmet was widely celebrated, and in the five decades since it has come to symbolise the Middle Ages, archaeology, and England. It is depicted on the covers of novels, textbooks, and scholarly publications, such as The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell and The Anglo-Saxons by James Campbell, and has influenced artists, filmmakers and designers. At the same time, the helmet has become the face of a time once known as the Dark Ages, but now recognised for its sophistication in part because of the finds from Sutton Hoo and referred to as the Middle Ages. It gives truth to a period of time known from depictions of warriors and mead halls in Beowulf, once thought fanciful, and personifies the Anglo-Saxons in post-Roman Britain. Considered 'the most iconic object'  from an archaeological find hailed as the 'British Tutankhamen,' in 2006 it was voted one of the 100 cultural icons of England alongside the Queen's head stamp, the double-decker bus, and the cup of tea.