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  4. An Archaeology for the Five Senses: A Lyceum Evening

This talk was organized by the St. Stephen’s Lyceum, our Institute of Roman Culture which organizes guided tours of cultural sights led by current faculty and lectures given by visiting scholars.

The talk was entitled, “An Archaeology for the Five Senses: Sniffing Around the Ruins of Pompeii, Ostia, and Rome.” Professor Kolosky-Ostrow’s research on this topic is part of her forthcoming publication, Making Sense of Pompeii and Herculaneum: Daily Life and the Sensorium of the Roman City (Cambridge University Press.)

Through her research, Professor Kolosky-Ostrow has discovered that excavating the smells of the Ancient World can tell us a lot about how Roman cities functioned and what it was like to live in cities such as Rome, Ostia, Pompeii, and Herculaneum. The talk was full of surprises. For example, we know that the Romans embedded finely constructed sewer systems in many of their cities and we, modern people, might assume that these sewers were used for sanitation. The archaeological evidence, however, tells a different story. The sewers’ primary function was to drain water from low lying areas of the city when the rivers flooded (which happened frequently in Rome), providing protection from flooding.

While it would have been easy and perfectly legal for the Ancient Romans to connect their private toilets to the public sewer system, most opted for private septic tanks that had to be regularly cleaned. Perhaps they chose this option because it meant they could recycle their own waste and use it as fertilizer in their gardens or sell it to farmers. Professor Kolosky-Ostrow also suggested that another reason Romans resisted connecting their toilets to the public sewer system was that the sewers had no traps so there was no telling what might climb through the pipes, out of a toilet, and into your kitchen (where toilets were frequently located). One Roman writer tells a frightening story of a giant octopus that climbed through the house’s copper pipes every night and emerged from the toilet to eat all the pickled fish in the pantry. After having an experience like that, you might think twice about connecting your toilet to the public sewer.

An Ancient Roman city was far from a sanitary place. On the same block, you might have residential villas belonging to upper-class families, shared apartments housing poorer families, a goldsmith, a leather tanner, a carpenter, a baker with a stable next door, and a particularly smelly fullery where clothes were laundered in urine and sometimes even in sulfur.

In an Ancient Roman public market, smells of fruits from the countryside would have mixed with the smell of animal sacrifices at nearby temples and meat at the butcher stands. There were no zoning laws in these cities so it was not unusual to build a bakery attached to a house attached to a stable across the street from a Thermopolium, a kind of fast food joint where the stench of old meat was masked with a popular fish sauce known as “garum” and sold to hungry Romans. Everyone wanted their shops in the center of the city so they could attract the most customers and families built their houses by the markets to maximize convenience, making an Ancient Roman City quite the melting pot of sights, smells, and sounds.

The Roman Colosseum must have had a particularly pungent odor during the 100 days of gladiator fights, executions, and re-enacted naval battles that accompanied its opening in 80 CE. Over the course of those 100 days, we are told that 9,000 animals were killed. Today, you can visit the physical evidence of these spectacles (such as horse and bear skulls) in the Colosseum Museum.

So, what was it really like to live in an Ancient Roman city? According to Professor Kolosky-Ostrow, “Ancient Roman life stimulated all five senses...Roman cities were colorful, smelly, somewhat confusing places.” One attendee, Professor Valerie Higgins from the American University of Rome, wondered aloud if disgust is a universal trait? Professor Kolosky-Ostrow considered this question and answered that there are few if any, universally disgusting smells, at different times in our lives we may find a particular odor unbearable only to become used to after days or months of exposure.

Each city has its own sensorial profile. Just think of Rome; here, whirring motorini engines, ambulances, and shouting food vendors, blend with cigarette smoke, the smell of espresso, and freshly baked bread, creating a concoction of smells and sounds that are unique to this city. And when we leave we Rome, these noisy, aromatic features of the city are often what we miss the most.

Environment After CoVid 19
Chapter 1: The World Around Us

Opinion: A New Perspective on the Environment After CoVid-19

There are ducks in the Barcaccia, dolphins inquisitively approaching Italian harbors and weeds colonizing urban spaces where human feet no longer tread: nature reconquering lost spaces is one of the short-term effects of this pandemic.

By Jan Claus Di Blasio, Gardens and Sustainability Coordinator

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Chapter 1: The World Around Us

Some Notes from Isolation

Who else has begun to think of their lives as divided into the BC (Before Covid) and DC (During Covid) eras? Oh, those simple things we took for granted: catching some fresh air during a short afternoon walk in the park. Having a coffee at the corner bar. A long, leisurely weekend lunch with a friend. A spontaneous decision to go and see a movie. For that matter, a spontaneous decision merely to go and pick up milk and laundry soap at the grocery store.

By Moira Egan - Creative Writing Teacher
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us

I’m 15 and Quarantined in Italy—You’d Be Surprised What I Miss

I was in Latin class when the Italian government announced the closure of schools two months ago.

By Anthony Avallone '23
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us

Romance in the Time of Coronavirus

Right-wing populists are romantics. I know; that sounds strange. You probably imagine romantics staring out over misty moors, their hair blowing at an attractive angle, but make no mistake—Orban, Trump, Bolsonaro, Salvini, Le Pen? They’re romantics too.

By Jen Hollis - Former St. Stephen’s IB History Teacher
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Chapter 1: The World Around Us

How a Virus Interrupted the Daily Routine at a Day and Boarding School

On Thursday, March 5th 2020, an unusual silence settled into the hallways, classrooms, and dorm rooms of St. Stephen’s School.

By Natalie Edwards '14 - RA and Dean's Office Assistant
Chapter 2: Creative Writing

Winners of the Keats-Shelley House Poetry Contest

In May, two St. Stephen’s students, Leila El-Zabri and Isabella Todini, won both of the prizes in the Upper School category of the Keats-Shelley Poetry Contest. This year’s judge was Jackie Kay, award-winning poet, author, and the current Scots Makar (the Scottish Poet Laureate). Ms. Kay was extremely impressed with the technical facility and emotional depth of our students’ work.

By Moira Egan - Creative Writing Teacher
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Chapter 2: Creative Writing

Creative Writing

Ms. Egan is proud to present work that has been done in her Creative Writing Classes in the Fall and Spring Semesters. Enjoy!

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Chapter 2: Creative Writing

Children of the Red Dragon

By Ilaria Chen, Grade 10
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Chapter 2: Creative Writing

The Golden Children

By Sofia Ghilas '21
Chapter 4: Fall Trips 2019

Fall School Trips 2019

Welcome to our interactive Fall trips 2019 photo galleries. Click the albums for a visual journey through our adventures!

Chapter 3: Short Stories in Italian | Italian language

Viaggio intorno alle nostre camere

By Rossano Astremo - IB Italian Teacher
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Chapter 4: Fall Trips 2019

Why We Take School Trips

When students enter St. Stephen’s as 9th graders, they will attend eight trips in the course of their career. Trips are an integral part of our identity, and one of the most frequently cited distinctions when Head of School Eric Mayer speaks with parents and students.

By Cortile Staff Writer
Chapter 5: Departments | Molecular Genetics

Molecular Genetics, a Flagship Program

The Molecular Genetics program at St. Stephen's was introduced in 2018 in partnership with Adamas Scienze as a five-year initiative. Adamas Scienze is part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Monterotondo, Italy that specializes in bringing university-level science to high school students.

By Fiona Leckie - Science Department Chair, Chemistry Teacher
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Chapter 5: Departments | Classics, The Lyceum

An Archaeology for the Five Senses: A Lyceum Evening

On Monday evening, a group of students, teachers, alumni, and friends of St. Stephen’s gathered in the library to explore the sights, sounds, and, most importantly, the smells of Ancient Roman cities with Ann Kolosky-Ostrow, a Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Brandeis and recent Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Rome.

By Natalie Edwards '14 - RA and Dean's Office Assistant
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Chapter 5: Departments | International Baccalaureate (IB)

The Benefits of an IB Education

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is well respected and globally recognized as a very intensive, yet highly rewarding academic programme which is offered in high schools, like St. Stephen's. If you wish to pursue higher education in Europe, such as in the UK, Germany, or Finland, then the IB will be incredibly beneficial towards taking your first steps into university.

By David Rosales '16
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Chapter 5: Departments | Classics

Discovering Our City with the City of Rome Class

One of St. Stephen’s’ signature courses, Roman Topography, got an upgrade this year. The new course is called City of Rome. In the past, students were required to take either Roman Topography or Latin 1. Beginning in Fall 2019, all ninth graders take City of Rome and choose between three classical languages: Latin, Classical Greek, or Arabic.

By Natalie Edwards '14 - RA and Dean's Office Assistant
cortile sofia peng
Chapter 6: Student Life | Student Ambassador Program

Hi, I'm Sofia Peng, and I am a Student Ambassador!

I think that being a Student Ambassador made me grow so much. As a student, I concentrated mainly on my academics, yet I was never a talkative and outgoing person at school because I thought I wasn't a fluent English speaker. As it is not my first language, I have never really managed to speak comfortably around people other than my friends without feeling nervous about being judged. I always had a hard time dealing with my self-esteem and I doubted myself.

By Sofia Peng '22
Chapter 6: Student Life | Students Love Tech!

The iLab is the Place to Be at St. Stephen’s!

I think it would be safe to say that the Innovation Lab, the ILab for short, is my favorite place in the entire school. It allows for anyone with an interest in tech, design, or anything similar to enjoy themselves while also learning at the same time and pushing themselves beyond what they thought they were going to be able to do, ever.

By Valerio Pepe '22
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Chapter 6: Student Life | Students Love Tech!, Formula 1

Life in the Fast Lane

When you think of Formula 1, you probably don’t think of engineering, aerodynamics, economics, marketing, and design yet these are just a few of the components that go into building the sleek race cars that characterize the sport.

By Natalie Edwards '14 - RA and Dean's Office Assistant
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Chapter 6: Student Life | Student Clubs, Chris Smalling

Tackling Inequality

AS Roma defender and Manchester United legend Chris Smalling was invited to talk to students of St. Stephen's School about equality in sports, his vegan diet, and, of course, football, on 2 December 2019.

By Laith Zehni '20
writing awards
Chapter 7: Scholastic Writing Awards

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, 2020

Again this year, St. Stephen’s Creative Writing teacher Moira Egan is delighted to present the work of her students, who achieved wonderful success in the Scholastic Art & Writing Competition for 2020. This year, students in Grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 garnered 10 Honorable Mentions, 6 Silver Keys, and 2 Gold Keys.

By Moira Egan - Creative Writing Teacher
Grade 9 award
Chapter 7: Scholastic Writing Awards

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards 2020

By Moira Egan - Creative Writing Teacher
Grade 10 award
Chapter 7: Scholastic Writing Awards

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards 2020

By Moira Egan - Creative Writing Teacher
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Chapter 7: Scholastic Writing Awards

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards 2020

By Moira Egan - Creative Writing Teacher
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Chapter 8: The Arts

Winter Arts Show

Enjoy a visual showcase of our Winter Arts Show highlights.

By Luigi Fraboni - Photography Studio
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Chapter 9: Alumni | Alumni Spotlight

The Next Frontier in Health Care: A Review in Regenerative Medicine

Regenerative medicine (RM) is an emerging and very exiting multidisciplinary field aimed at restoring, maintaining or enhancing tissue and, consequently, organ functions.

By David Rosales '16
Wahiba Sands
Chapter 9: Alumni | Alumni & Friends, Health & Wellness

Alumni & Friends in Oman

Our fearless leader Dr Helen Pope lead in October our 5th edition of Alumni & Friends Trip. A group of 10 alumni followed Dr Pope in Oman, The Land of Frankincense.

By Cortile Staff Writer
Chapter 9: Alumni

DC, NY & Boston Alumni Events

Images from St. Stephen's Alumni events across the North East last Fall.

Painting by Cate Whittemore 1972
Chapter 9: Alumni | Class Notes

Class Notes

Welcome to our first-ever digital 'Class Notes.' Enjoy the posts and images collated by Class Ambassadors from their respective years!