We're delighted to announce that the judging process is now completed and winners have been chosen! Many thanks for all the people who entered the competition – we enjoyed reading every one of them,, and there were many interesting and fun interpretations of our theme, the “locked-out lover”.
Below are some words from Madeline Miller about her chosen winners, and experience of the judging process. The winning entries can be found beneath!
“When the Iris Project asked me to be the judge of the competition, I was delighted: Roman love poetry is some of my favorite ancient literature, and I was thrilled to see students try their hand at it. What I didn't know was just how well they were going to succeed. Reading through the entries, I was deeply impressed time and again by the enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and classical chops I saw on display. Who knew that there were so many new stories of exclusi amatores waiting to be told?
Another happy surprise was just how many entrants there were under 14 years old. So, in consultation with the Iris Project, we decided to split the entries into two categories, choosing one winner for the 14 and under group, and one for 14-18.
The winning pieces were quite different from each other, but each demonstrated that good writing is timeless. Verve, passion, humor, empathy, a good ear: these things never go out of style. Or, as the Romans might have put it,nihil sub sole novum.
In the 14 and under category, the winner was Louis Thompson, age 11, for his "Oh, Dear Lover, Please Do Let Me In." Congratulations, Louis!
In the 14-18 category there was a tie between "Innocence Destroyed" by Amy Down, and William Corbyn's homage to Ovid, "O! O! What a Fickle Mistress You Are!" Congratulations to them both!
And to all the entrants: It was a pleasure and a privilege to get to read your work and I very much hope that you'll keep up your engagement with both writing and the Classics. Bravo, and thank you!”
Winning entries: under 19s
My name is Amata. I am sixteen years old and I am about to die. I was given to the temple of Vesta as a baby, when my parents no longer wanted me and have lived here ever since, training to be a Vestal Virgin, one of the greatest positions for a female in Rome. The other women here are kind and gentle but so very, very dull. Apparently my red hair, along with my outlandish name accounts for my unpredictable and wild nature. Before, I was proud of my difference, my outgoing curiosity which endeared me to the Vestals whilst I was young, even if they despaired of ever making me respectable. Now however I would give anything to have been blessed with a quiet and compliant nature. Maybe then I would not have been tempted to slip out of the temple precinct and into the main city. Maybe then I would not have ended up inebriated and clueless on the temple steps the next morning with little recollection of the previous night. I vaguely remember a man, beautiful and strong, loving me over and again, his dark eyes burning into mine. He carried me back to the temple and I loved him. A man whom I had never seen before and never would again, left me outside a locked door, fully aware of the punishment I would face for my impiety. So there I was, stranded outside my home, unable to get in; a disgusting parody of the exclusus amator. Even so, I would not give him up. I have loved my first love and no infatuation could ever be as strong as that which I feel for the unknown who left me with nothing except a torn palla and smears of dried blood down my legs. The next morning of course the Virgo Maxima had no choice but to hand me over to the Pontifex. Half the city must have seen me, sprawled in a shaming state of undress, fouling the temple and purity of Vesta. I must die to avert the wrath of the goddess and save Rome: I disregarded my duty and now, going to my death is the only duty I have left. I have been told I will die tomorrow, or at least, that is when my funeral and burial will be held. I will be entombed but will not die for some time. I do not know how long it will take me to give myself to the goddess. Because no one, not even I, knows who my lover is, I am the only one to be punished for this outrage. I myself am not certain that I would know him again and find myself wondering whether he will come to my execution. Whether his liquid eyes will meet mine as I descend to the underworld, giving me strength and the courage not to flinch. I can comfort myself with the thought that he will be there; that I will have the memory of his eyes to cling to in my despair. He might even rescue me. Like the
lover standing outside the locked door, pleading for his lady to give him access, my lover will have to power to dig me out and spirit me away. The power to give my story a happy ending.
This poem is intended as a ‘sequel’ to Ovid’s Amores 3.2. Here, Ovid’s persona finds
himself calling to his girl, who is standing on the balcony of her house, after a night of
O! O! What a fickle mistress you are!
Forcing me to beg and plead at your door.
At the races you promised with your eyes,
Sweet and small, to give me the rest elsewhere.
But now you renege on your unsaid pledge,
Despite my own fine legs and face and hair
In aspect like those Athenian youths,
Whom Aegeus sent garlanded to doom
In Daedelus’ trap without escape.
Like Theseus, handsome son of Neptune,
I am, utterly ensnared by Love’s trick.
No! Instead like fair Ariadne I am,
Abandoned on some spit of land, alone.
Or still yet like King Aegeus himself,
Hurling himself to Hades for want of
That fateful white sail promised but forgot.
So now from your balcony right this wrong
By lifting the hem of your snowy dress
And giving it a brief and lively shake:
A fair deed to complete a bargain struck.
Or else I might too test my mortal fate
And cast myself among the sea of gangs,
Perusing the dark city ways at night:
Wearing my best suit and flow’ry garland,
I might attract unwanted attention.
Therefore, I plead, perform this task, I beg.
Have mercy on your pleading suppliant,
Who longs to clasp your knees and kiss
Your hands. She’s gone now. To open the door?
No. I leave, but with hope for tomorrow.
Under 14s winning entry:
by Louis Thomson
Oh, dear lover, please do let me in,
For I am in sorrow, and I am in sin,
I request repent for all I have done;
I know I have partied but the night is not gone!
Oh, dear lover, oh when you do smile,
I would run through the snow, mile after mile,
Chasing you round till Christmas day dawns,
I wish to sit with you, eating chicken and prawns.
Oh, dear lover, I do dream of thee,
In the cold, dampened nights, I wish we could agree
That when we are together, we are so much happier;
You must agree to this, thou I am still a gambler…
Oh, dear lover, I am losing my mind!
I can hear thy threshold talk to me as I get declined
I want not your anger, O threshold of awe,
I wish not to be treated like an outlaw.
You-filthy beggar-are not worth my mistress,
You pretend that you love her, but you’re just like an actress!
Oh, you have no idea in what state you are,
You still have not noticed that the door is ajar!
Oh, I give my thanks to you, O threshold that speaks,
You guard the door well, week after week.
I think now that I shall walk into this home,
And through these dark hallways I shall roam,
Until I find my beloved fiancée,
And when I do find I shall shout ‘Hooray!’