In a central position on the Bay campus stands the Great Hall, a building of titanic proportions funded by BP to house conferences and concerts. And you’ll never guess: it looks like a Greek temple.
The neoclassical feel of the building derives from the vision of its architect, Demetri Porphyrios. Born in Greece but with a PhD from Princeton and now working in London, he has written several books on Classical influences on architecture, and his blending of Classical structures with modern utilitarianism is clear in other buildings he has designed, for example the colonnade of Selwyn College in Cambridge.
Lastly, the pediment – the triangular structure at the top – and the frieze underneath, both so strongly defined, have been left entirely empty. In antiquity, these were the parts which would hold depictions of gods and heroes. The Parthenon, for example, depicts the battle of Poseidon and Athena for patronship of Athens.
How different things are on the Singleton campus. As you enter the campus, Fulton House which greets you may be a Grade II listed building, but it doesn’t shout identity or heritage at you. In fact, the Classical heritage of the Singleton campus is much quieter than that of the Bay campus. Presumably most of the famous scientists and politicians after whom the buildings along the mall are named studied Classics as part of their education. John Fulton did Classics at Balliol in Oxford before he became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales. The geographer Alfred Wallace presumably studied ancient languages at Hertford Grammar School, and politician James Callaghan must have done too (Keir Hardie seems the exception). The buildings themselves, however, have no Classical aspirations, though Fulton's architect Percy Thomas used Classical elements in some of his other buildings, such as the Temple (!) of Peace and Health in Cardiff.
Greek and Roman objects donated to the University by Classics professors in the past are in storage in the Egypt Centre, and Keir Hardie 021 has long housed two – broken – casts of Parthenon friezes which are apparently too heavy to move.
Vive revicturus means 'live, being about to live again'. It seems this was the family motto, which may explain why it's present twice on the frieze.
'you will be ashes, a shade, and a story. cinis et manes et fabula fies.
Live mindful of the Lethe, the hour flies.' vive memor Lethi, fugit hora.
The Lethe is one of the rivers of the ancient underworld. In Greek the word means 'oblivion', and it was from this river that the souls of the departed would drink before they entered the underworld, so they would forget their earthly life. So 'live mindful of the Lethe' is a metaphor for living mindful of death. Cheery bunch, those Greeks...
Vivit post funra virtus has a typo: funra should be funera, and the phrase means 'Virtue lives after burial/death'. It seems a common motto but I can't find a distinct connection with the Vivians.
Vive deo et vives means 'live for god and you will live'.
Finally, vive anima deo has another typo (our Latin students will be delighted to see that people in the past didn't always translate correctly either!): deo should be dei, as the phrase means 'live in the spirit of god'. This was another motto particularly associated with the Vivians.
There's also an odd English quote among the Latin: 'Do right and fear not'. It seems to have been designed at the same time as the others, so I'm not sure why it's not there in Latin.
This blog post is partially inspired by sitting in the Council Chamber during meetings and conferences, and looking up at those quotes. I love the pun they make on the name of the Vivians, which connects them with the Latin verb vivo, ‘I live’. It's interesting that all the mottos are connected to the afterlife and service to god. Henry Vivian at least was Church of England, and the family was clearly devout. Being mindful of death was a normal part of life, even for upper class families - Henry himself lost two wives before he was able to build a family with his third wife in 1934.
I love the Classical quote among the 'modern' mottos, though. As I already said, the Greeks' traditional view on the afterlife was quite different from the Christian idea of redemption, and there's a sadness in the 'oblivion' that contrasts with a more optimistic approach to the afterlife in the other quotes. Interestingly, the Vivians only added these quotes in the middle of the 19th century. Before then, there were heraldic shields, as you can see on this drawing:
Between Abbey and Hall: from past to future myth
I feel quite bad liking the Abbey building while I am ambivalent about the Great Hall, for there are strong similarities between the two. Aesthetically, indeed, both buildings aspire to a heritage and history they don’t actually possess. Both exude power: the Abbey through its grandeur, the Hall through its simplicity. As the Hall juxtaposes its STEM surroundings, thus the Abbey stands a little forlorn, at the end of a line of modern buildings. Moreover, as oil has funded the former, coal funded the latter, and indeed the creation of both buildings - while they brought employment and opportunities to the area - were built on exploitation of workers and the environment.
Heritage is always problematic, as it reflects an idealized past in a way that conveys meaning to the present while raising aspirations for the future. Wales has always had an ambivalent relationship with the Classics. On the one hand, the Romans were labelled as invaders whose culture and literature should not be embraced. On the other hand, through the grammar school system, miners' libraries, and autonomous learning, Classics in fact provided opportunities for working class men in Wales to rise through the ranks. While the Abbey’s Classical heritage strongly conveys the power and aspirations of its upper class Vivian owners, the Great Hall, in spite of its industrial context, is a blank canvas. Here's a chance for staff, students, and visitors to write its new mythology.
Written by Evelien Bracke
 You can find most of them on their online catalogue by searching the term ‘Classical’: http://www.egyptcentre.org.uk/index.asp?page=concept.
 See http://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/welsh-history-month-singleton-abbey-7869626.
 More information on its 18th century shape here: www.coflein.gov.uk/pdf/CPG252/.
 T. Nicholas, Annals and Antiquities of the counties and county families of Wales, 646 (available on google books).
 B. Burke, The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, 1059.
 For examples of Wales' ambivalent engagement with Classics through the ages, see Ceri Davies' wonderful book Welsh literature and the Classical tradition (Cardiff, 1995).
 For examples, search 'Wales' on the wonderful 'Classics and Class' website. Robert Roberts, y sgolor mawr, is but one example: http://www.classicsandclass.info/product/113/. Incidentally, why can't we have a 'Dirty Dick' building in the University? http://www.classicsandclass.info/product/116/