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ZAZH – Zurich Center for the Study of the Ancient World

The Presence of the Ancients

The first open evening of the new Zurich Center for the Study of the Ancient World proved extremely popular. Visitors gained insight into diverse research projects, and learned about the relevance of antiquity for current issues.
Marita Fuchs


Visitors at the ZAZH’s open evening on 4 October could immerse themselves in the ancient world.


Traces of the ancient world are all around us. For example in language, with so many words having Latin and Greek roots – such as politics, populism, fantasy, culture. The fields of philosophy and law also stretch back to antiquity. To understand the present, it helps to know about the foundations of our society. The UZH Center of Competence for the Study of the Ancient World (ZAZH) has made it its mission to raise awareness of this importance. The ZAZH is an academic interdisciplinary and inter-faculty network comprising various UZH departments, and is dedicated to researching all aspects of ancient Greek and Roman culture of the Mediterranean.

At the open evening on Friday, 4 October, Christoph Riedweg, professor of classical philology and Greek studies, gave a warm welcome to the large number of visitors in his opening address. Today especially, he said, there were many insights from the ancient world that could help us better understand our own current situation. It was a scandal that today only one percent of Zurich high school students taking the Matura school-leaving certificate studied Greek in any depth, he continued – Greek, the language of Plato and Aristotle, and of the New Testament! “I am sure that in the future, studying classics will enjoy a huge renaissance,” said Riedweg, adding that there were already signs pointing in this direction. There certainly seemed to be a lot of interest from the general public: People of all ages, including many children, took part in the varied program which included tours, workshops and short lectures.

Parallels to the present

Andreas Victor Walser, assistant professor of history and ancient cultures, said in his introduction that the ZAZH was helping different disciplines to work together and thus better harness their potential. Subject areas including history, ancient philology, theology, law, archaeology, pre- and early history, Indo-European studies, philosophy, art history and Asian and Oriental studies find a home at the ZAZH. The first fruit of the cooperation was the organization of the new public “Ringvorlesung” lecture series on the topic of migration, now and in antiquity. “We want to carefully consider the particular characteristics of the ancient world, before drawing parallels with the present,” said Walser.

In 2019, the center is concentrating on the topic of migration; in 2020, the focus will be on democracy and populism. The threads running through all of the center’s activities are drawing links between the ancient and modern worlds and entering into a dialogue with the public, said the founders. At the open evening they did exactly that.