Helen King

Helen King

I'm Professor Emerita in Classical Studies at The Open University. My main research interests are in the history of medicine and I'm passionate about extending access to learning for everyone.

Location Milton Keynes, England



  • Sorry about the lack of moderators, Michael - it's a great pity that FL no longer offers this.

  • @KhinMyintMyatWin Thanks, I definitely need to read up on this area!

  • I like the theory too, but I’m not sure whether that’s just because it looks like one! Except for being a sponge not a brush... @GiuliettaClark

  • Sorry the link is broken. You may instead enjoy this one on the stones, https://youtu.be/le72YWjwExM or this one, https://youtu.be/24coYKPga9o

  • Wow, that is so interesting @KhinMyintMyatWin - where are you from?

  • Helen King made a comment

    Just a note to say that we won’t be able to share your learning on this course after it closes to new joiners in a few days’ time - but for those of you continuing the journey, thanks for coming and we hope you have fun!

  • How very interesting! Can you tell us any more?

  • It’s extraordinary how long beliefs last, isn’t it? @JaneWarren - and of course bloodletting was still being carried out centuries after William Harvey discovered blood circulates rather than being made in the liver and drawn out in a one-way system to places needing it!

  • Thanks Christine - we just felt we had to write that article as the myths out there were so very dodgy!

  • There’s a very interesting approach to ancient Greek colour terms here: http://kiwihellenist.blogspot.com/2020/05/ancient-greek-colours.html

  • @BHARTIC @JayneTreasure I've just done a little series of videos for the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh and the first one is up on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdyzY1TL2jg&feature=youtu.be

  • Hmm, you could try the 'Support' button at the bottom right of the screen?

  • You’re never too old, Annie! Open University students are right across the age range. As for the IT skills, you seem to be doing fine and I’m glad you enjoy the FutureLearn method.

  • Sorry if you run out of bookshelves @RobertElliott. But thank you for your enthusiasm!

  • It would be lovely to do one @DavaCastillo but it costs many thousands of pounds in people’s time so I don’t think it will happen...

  • Sorry to have missed this query, @NinaBaker - but I can’t help! I wonder If Sutcliffe had something like trachoma in mind?

  • Thank you, Dava. Delighted to read your comments. On the ‘hours’, I probably add in too many See Also links, but I don’t want anyone to miss anything - and then the learners come up with even more, so there’s even more wonderful material to read...!

  • I never cease to be amazed at the range of courses on offer!

  • It's very tempting to diagnose these as something that we recognise today but it's possible they conflated several conditions under that label.

  • There have been some challenges to the identification of these remains, and questions over whether the DNA evidence is as conclusive as it is claimed, https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/was-the-skeleton-in-the-leicester-car-park-really-richard-iii/ And I’m not sure how the discovery, even if it is Richard, changes our view of the period.

  • At least you were spared the expletives when I got my finger stuck in the armour at one point!

  • Alcohol... and fainting! @RitaEgan

  • @MaggieEliana there’s a little more detail on some of the plants on the news story from when the garden opened, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/7631249.stm

  • @SophieG Great question - I can't answer it! I think I've read suggestions that those showing the whole of someone's head could be about such problems, but then there's the question of where the seat of consciousness was supposed to be. Not everyone answered 'the brain'; it could be the heart, the breath, the diaphragm area (in ancient Greek called the...

  • My gran, born 1888, used to say “You’ve got to eat your peck of dirt before you die”, @RandalOulton - which made me even more determined not to eat dirt on my food!

  • by the way, since I wrote this course, I've become obsessed with 'Nydia the blind flower girl of Pompeii' - a fictional character, who appears in the novel The Last Days of Pompeii - to the extent that I have a chapter about her in a book due to come out in 2021; if you want a bit more about her, read the novel (free online) or look at...

  • yes we have!

  • Hmm, Metrodora in English... that could be a problem. There's some useful information about her in a PhD thesis you can download on...

  • There are plenty of stories from different ancient cultures about babies being suckled by animals - e.g. Romulus and Remus and the wolf - and often these involve them imbibing qualities, like strength, from the animal @CynthiaBurton

  • That's very interesting about botulism - thanks for the links!

  • Miscarriage is one potential source of knowledge, sadly.

  • We look at this in week 6

  • I hope you and your students find lots of interest - due to lockdown we have more than the usual number of school and university students here.

  • You haven’t missed it! Very interesting topic and you may be interested in the book Right Hand, Left Hand, which includes a website for all the footnotes which the book couldn’t include, http://www.righthandlefthand.com/

  • lovely film - my favourite moment was that first little tinkly music box playing of 'You are my sunshine'... And I loved the version of English which reminded me of Russell Hoban's post-apocalyptic novel 'Riddley Walker'

  • It's easy to get to Ostia from Rome by public transport - highly recommended!

  • The story is even worse than just abandoning the babies - it's about throwing them off the mountain if they were considered 'not worth the rearing'. However archaeological excavations show no evidence -https://www.abc.net.au/news/2007-12-11/study-finds-no-evidence-of-discarded-spartan-babies/983848

  • Well, it's partly that a drunken nurse is likely to neglect the child - by 'overlaying' it (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25115673/) or just by sleeping off the alcohol and not paying attention. But also, as they believed the liver made blood out of food, and that milk is a form of blood, they would logically connect what the wet nurse eats and drinks with...

  • thank you for the recommendations - especially Richard Lehman!

  • @KarynDon Yes, everyone knew what 'stay at home' meant (well, except for Dominic Cummings) but the replacement slogan 'stay alert' doesn't seem to be understood at all.

  • Me too

  • ooooh yes, another variant with which I am all too familiar, @DianeSpink!

  • Very odd - it's working fine as far as I can see @AnnDaws - if you continue to have trouble try the Support button at the bottom left of this screen

  • Helen King replied to [Learner left FutureLearn]

    Just wondered, @ThomasStuartBridge, if you know the work of the ancient satirist Lucian which includes a reference to an imaginary people who plant right testicles in the earth and grow new people from them?!

  • Well, @YvonneWilliams, you are so right about how in modern times the diagnosis of hysteria was used for very dodgy purposes... hystera is one of the Ancient Greek words for womb, also meaning ‘lower’ or ‘rear’, and although lots of words then moved into Latin, there aren’t any Roman writers who use a noun version of it either. It comes in at the end of the...

  • Thank you @DonnaKing!

  • excellent motivation there!!

  • Ah, @SophieG, *that* is the really big question. To us it makes no sense - it's so obviously a good way of gaining knowledge. From criticisms of dissection voiced later in the ancient world, I wonder if it is because knowing about dead bodies doesn't always help you when you're faced with a living body telling you how it feels?

  • Definitely not unique! I’ve encountered this in parts of Italy too. Feels very odd...

  • No, I don't, and no, I wouldn't! I love modern architecture, simple lines, plenty of light.

  • Love the novels. I liked the way that this article picked up that Mantel never goes into gratuitous detail on e.g. clothing - I hate historical novels where the author goes off on a tangent like (Roman example) 'He put on his toga praetexta, the one with the broad purple band that was derived from the costume of the ancient Etruscans and... etc etc'. Mantel...

  • Wolf Hall. Not least because, in lockdown, it's as near as I'm going to get to the historic houses of England... But also because of the superb acting.

  • There is a useful link to the Tilbury speech in the British Library's archive: http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item102878.html

  • I wrote a short piece on this a while back: https://theconversation.com/faecal-transplants-not-the-first-prescription-of-medicinal-poo-27292. May be of interest!

  • yes indeed, which is why it's also important that such trials use different genders, ethnic groups, age groups...

  • Fascinating reference - do you have the episode title as I'd love to follow that up!

  • Oh, I'm very sorry - it can be hard to get the tone on electronic communications @AlexanderRoc. The exclamation mark was intended to indicate light-heartedness (as was yours maybe?) and I regret that it didn't communicate that.

  • Refers back to Step 2.3

  • Ann Koloski-Ostrow, who is the expert on this, writes that it is probably only the very lowest class women who would have ventured into these toilets...

  • There's lots here that's really good, but I'd just take issue with that opening sentence about the Romans 'taking hygiene seriously' - raises questions about the different use of the word 'hygiene' today, now that we know about germs etc? @RandalOulton

  • I love these details of the dangers of print - thank you!

  • There's a bit of a thing about white animal poo as something used in ancient medicine, @YvonneWilliams - absence of strong odour compared to animals fed on meat?

  • more on this later in the week

  • fermentation was the answer...

  • It's just as good as the others, IMHO @JessicaRosenthal

  • This is the part I am most looking forward to - so I read the See Also link. No mention of the Hilary Mantel novels, which have been praised by the historian Diarmaid MacCulloch; she has taken account of his research. See https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/13/diarmaid-maculloch-thomas-cromwell-a-life-interview-hilary-mantel

  • Finished the third Hilary Mantel novel and wanting to increase my knowledge of the period

  • Thanks for the link - I thought that was excellent!

  • Yes, wouldn’t that be great? But we are reliant on our evidence, and that means almost exclusively male voices.

  • Quite fancy a day spa *anywhere* at the moment!

  • Shudder....!

  • I always sit through the credits even if other people in the cinema are getting to leave - it’s about paying respect to all the team. And there could of course be an Easter egg at the end...!

  • Helen King made a comment

    I love cinema, and love watching films with friends, and I’d just like to take that further. My dad was a movie buff and the first film I ever saw was Fantasia. The power of the imagination and the relationship between music and film really struck me.

  • I did it too, @GiuliettaClark, and I would also recommend it - I’m signed up for the revised version as well

  • You should be ok on the squeamishness issue - the step on cataract surgery in week 2 divides people into those who can’t watch anything to do with eyes and those who are just amazed at what was possible, while the week on excrement also has its fans and its haters...!

  • Lovely to have you along for the ride, @PAULINEMARYHSTUART