Victorian Passions: the Bible and Antiquity in the Nineteenth Century

May and June, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The relationship between the Classics and Christianity has always both vexed and inspired thinkers. In the nineteenth century that relationship came under unprecedented scrutiny. New scholarly discoveries had unsettling implications for the literal truth of the Bible, while the ideal of a ‘classical education’ at once flourished and was questioned as a guide to behaviour and morals. Travel and technology brought faraway places closer than ever before, but encounters with the lands of Plato and Socrates, the pharaohs, Moses and Jesus brought home the exotic strangeness of places Europeans had always assumed ought to feel familiar. Yet the past was a popular pursuit as well as an academic one.It filled exhibition halls and museums and provided rich subject material for replicas, reproductions, epic paintings, novels and ‘toga plays’. To an extent that we find hard to appreciate, the Bible, Antiquity and the issues they raised about one another were ubiquitous in nineteenth-century culture. These talks explore why.

A Passion for Travel: Victorian Collectors, Travellers and Tourists
17 May, 2pm

A Passion for Manuscripts: 'the borderlands of the Bible'
31 May, 2pm

A Passion for Things: the Bible and Antiquity on the Victorian Mantelpiece
7 June, 2pm

An Evening in the Victorian Parlour: the Bible and Antiquity at Home
8 June, 7pm

Join lecturer and broadcaster Professor Simon Goldhill and his colleagues for an evening of music and readings from the Victorian parlour including work by John Keble, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Heinrich Heine, Felix Mendelssohn, Arthur Sullivan and Charles Stanford, performed amid a special display of rarely seen art and artefacts.  The evening will conclude with one of the ghost stories of M.R. James, scholar and onetime Director of the Fitzwilliam.

Talks free; evening event £8 (£5 concessions and Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum).Booking is essential for both.

For more information as it becomes available, visit

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