Sol Day

Sol Day 27Oct2013 – Grammar School of thought

“I am surprised they still teach Classics. I mean why bother; there’s no point.”

Words, or words to that effect (and frankly I was so shocked I would not have been able to remember his exact words), was uttered by a middle-aged father on the corridor outside the Classics showroom, in a respectable Grammar School within the home counties. There were a lot of things that happened on this Open Evening, but over above everything this was the nadir. What could Latin have done to provoke such a strong hatred?

Open Evening

Let me begin by comparing our humble Classics room to the other subjects on this Open Evening. In a rather large and dispersed school site the Classics showroom, normally an English classroom, was situated on an “arm” of the school that contained the library, religious education, drama and geography. The main body of the school contained all the sciences, MFL and English. With a layout such as this the Classics room would pick up passing traffic to geography and drama; if things are favourable the Classics room may have even been a destination for some prospective students.

The reality is that, while the science rooms have strobe lighting, some sort of pyrotechnic display and a “hooked” crowd, the Classics team were on the corridor “strongly encouraging” passers-by to enter our room – whatever passers-by there were at the quieter part of school. Credit to the sixth-formers and a sole year 9 student who applied all sorts of English and body language persuasive technique; they even used their own money to buy sweets so that the Roman quiz within the room would be supplied with prizes. So while science played with fire and MFL offered help to write your own name in Chinese, the Classics department employed persuasion and sweet offering.

It wasn’t always enough. Some parents offer excuse; some parents do not offer excuse. Some parents enter reluctantly and betray that reluctance in the body language. There were also some very supportive parents who felt sad that Latin would not be offered to all new students in this school; equally some parents ask why Latin is necessary and is open to any impassioned promotion. But for the parents and children that came by this part of the school and entered into this part of the school it was necessary for the department of students and staff to be enthusiastic and armed with facts, grit and persuasion.

But why?

I do wonder: are we the only subject that has to justify our use and existence so often? It may be true that you could do a subject out of the pure interest and intrinsic value that it offers, but I do not see any sense that the parents accept that, at least as they enter the room.

Classics, the father of humanities subject (just as mathematics is for the field of science), is now merely one of many humanities subject. Others may consider in the following ways. It is not a science subject, which in the minds of parents and students are practical, useful and conducive to some jobs or others. History and geography are main stream subjects. Psychology also kind of useful. Politics is relevant to the real world. English… well at least we speak it. Therefore we don’t really need MFL, but just in case we have to speak to some Spaniards at home or abroad… So what about Classics?

From another angle and analysing Classics purely, is it that Latin and Classical Civilisation are all about something of the past? It’s pointless because it’s outdated and therefore serves no function to the modern day life, except to sound clever and for a few more points in the pub quiz. No one speaks Latin any more and they are all translated anyway. In short, no one cares and so why bother?

These are not my thoughts. Whenever any parents or students in the Open Evening showed hints of such thinking, indeed whenever anyone I spoke to showed hints of such thinking, I apply my facts, grit and persuasion that as a Classicist, and therefore as a defender of the Classics faith, I have honed to near perfection. “You learn to think, to analyse. You have to detach yourself from a modern context and view things from a Classical context. It’s challenging but thankfully it is also logical. It’s the bedrock of civilisation and of many modern languages. It teaches you to be precise” et cetera. And now, added to my arsenal of facts, grit and persuasion, a quote from a student that states “Latin is the first subject we do in life entirely for its own sake. A degree at university in Classics leads to almost any job in the world. It gives one a disinterestedness in the study of any subject. Disinterestedness is NOT being uninterested. Quite the opposite: it is a love of studying without any practical result intended – and it gives the soul a peace, an inner control, a quiet joy beyond words.” Are you convinced?

Open season

And the answer for some will still be no. Those who are never to be convinced remain stubborn and steadfast to their views that Classical subjects are impractical and serves no wants, needs or purpose. At which point, as Classicists, it could be a little distressing and soul destroying. Perhaps it may just be better that those who study Classics are the really keen ones, since this would make the teachers’ lives easier. But then one realises that, on an Open Evening such as this, a lot of the opposition is from parents. Consider it in terms of Latin: if the parents object to it early on in the school, there will be no chance for this student to pick it up from other points. Indeed a year 10 student I shadowed within the school lamented as much.

With this strength of feeling it is as if some of the parents were scarred by Latin. In fact, the parent who rushed by our classroom at the beginning of this post, leaving behind a trail of painful words in his wake, may be just that. He said he was a grammar school boy (at which point my colleague uttered “so was I”, but the man seemed so scarred by memory that he was further away without reply). One wonders, did he have a bad experience? Was he unable to tackle the prose composition exercises? Did his Latin teacher snap whenever the class, or he, didn’t get the right answer? Maybe he even had the cane for it. Yet most, most fundamentally, considering all this hardship, maybe he never saw the point of Latin. If you are a teacher, how often do you make clear to your students the case of studying Latin? Is it the myth? the rigour in translation? the literature? Caecilius or Quintus Horatius Flaccus? is it “This is Spartaaaa!” or Gladiators? In fact, should we make the case of Latin to our students at all? Or we can just leave it, as in maths and English – if maths and English do not need to offer an apology for itself, a defence of its own subject, then neither should Latin or Classical Civilisation.

Open every Classical Door

It was a hectic Open Evening. In between bad cups of tea that arrived overdue, fire alarm evacuating all school prospective and current, seeing the librarians argue the route visitors should take to leave the library and one of the Classics prefects mostly MIA, the department was able to apply facts, grit and persuasion. Yet for me, I will be applying facts, grit and persuasion all the time and ensure my students “get it”, get why we should study Latin, Greek or the Classical cultures. There may be different reasons for different student, but I cannot bear there to be a reason for someone to be scarred by Latin, just as the man-in-a-rush seemed to have been.


Sunday 27Oct 2013

Garum seems to be the flavour of the week – although I am sure there have been many items on garum being reproduced or rediscovered as eastern fish sauces. In other news, two Gauls have landed a new book based in Scotland.

Sunday 27Oct2013

“Asterix embarks on first adventure in eight years with new artists” Guardian , and you can see a preview here: Guardian 

“Fish Sauce: An Ancient Roman Condiment Rises Again” NPR – the salt: 

Armand D’Angour reports on his research in this great article: “How did ancient Greek music sound?” BBC News: 

“Meet Caesar, man of letters, says Stanford’s Christopher Krebs.” The article argues for the literary merit of Caesar’s work. Stanford News: 

“Mysterious Roman child’s coffin unearthed in field near Tamworth” Tamworth Herald 

“Nail down the tongue’: Ancient magician’s curse found in Jerusalem” NBC News: 

“The Palace of Circe Found in Preveza?” Greek Reporter: 

“Historian discovers in a 5th century poem the first description of Galicia” The article is in Spanish. It writes about how the first text that describes Galicia has been found. La Opinión A Coruña: 

“A Sicily Trip Isn’t Complete Without Visiting Agrigento” Contains great photos. Huffington Post: 

“The Wrong Way for Pompeii by Ingrid D. Rowland” The article summarises the recent events in Pompeii in terms of its preservation. The New York Review of Books blog: 

We reported earlier this week that “Grammars will axe classics to cope with cuts, says head” The Times (paywall):  and you can read our summary of the article under “Classics under threat at grammar school” Classics Collective: The Times was the only media agency that picked up on it, so I thought we might reassure people by saying that it may have been a bit scaremongering.

But fear not! “Good news for Classics” says Mary Beard (A Don’s Life: ) as “It’s classics for all as free public centre is launched” Oxford Mail: . We wish East Oxford Community Classics Centre well in their mission to spread Classics, Greek and Latin.

In the article “The Iliad or the Odyssey? Some Answers from Plato to Google Trends”, it tries to answer the age-old question with some period evidence and modern statistics. Where Old Meets New blog: 

Edith Hall blogged on “Why Peter Cook and Diodorus agree about mining.” The Edithorial: 

*The post was edited at 5:10pm on the day of publishing. A correction was made to correct the description of an author, and we do apologise for such errors.


Sunday 20Oct2013

The Cambridge Greek Play double bill of Prometheus and The Frogs seemed well received on our Twitter feed – it certainly attracted more positive opinions than Atlantis and Hercules: The Legend Begins.

Sunday 20Oct2013

The Cambridge Greek Play – Prometheus and The Frogs is now ended but you can read a review of the play in the  Cambridge News: 

The trailer has been released for the film Hercules: The Legend Begins, which sees Twilight star Kellan Lutz “going Gladiator.” Metro 

A new exhibition on Augustus to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of his death has opened in Rome.  ANSA English: 

The East Oxford Classics Community Centre is to officially open this Thursday. Oxford Mail 

“Highest-Paid Athlete Hails From Ancient Rome” and the sums of modern footballers just do not comapare. Italy Magazine 

“Imperial Temple in Stratonikeia ancient city being restored” <Hurriyet> 

A really interesting article in Spanisg on “Property speculation in Ancient Rome”. Anatomía de la Historia: 


Review: of Holland’s translation. “The father of history: Translating Herodotus” <Economist> 

Revew: “‘Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations,’ by Mary Beard” <The Washington Post> 


Some very interesting blogs were published this week, and we have listed them all below:

Read: “Sarah Bond: The Power to Divorce in Antiquity” Dorothy King’s PhDiva: 

Read: “Herodotus, the father of history or blogging?” Love of History blog: 

Read: “An Ode for the Road” Horatius, vademecum! Excellent by Llewelyn Morgan. Lugubelinus blog: 

Read: “Westcountry provincial exhibtion” Our Sol Day weekly blog post from last week, on Roman exhibitions. 

Read: “The Man Who Never Was?” Neville Morley on Boudicca, Jesus and other pseudo-existential crises. Sphinx blog: 

Read: “What is it with these guys?” Interesting view on Cartledge’s narrow world view. Squinches blog: 

Sol Day

Sol Day 16Oct2013* – Westcountry provincial exhibtion

Pompeii and Herculaneum is no more. The blockbuster exhibition has run its course. Yet this is not the end of special exhibitions on the Romans just yet.


I still remember when the exhibition was announced and the anticipation and excitement I was trying to contain within me back then. Many months thence and many trips to the British Museum later, I would admit to being a little fed up of “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum”, the extremely popular special exhibition.

It was oversubscribed and overcrowded. People smile and frown at the initial video documentary, are welcomed by the statue of Eumachia, admire the punch-up at the tavern, wonder why Caecilius is not very modest, had their hair on end over the burnt-out cradle, giggled over Pan and goat, wondered what the compartment is for in the garden paintings, got confused over which period of Pompeiian painting they were looking at, rembering all the fish, tracing the route of the dormice in the jar and made the pugilist post.

As an exhibition, it generated wide-interest and succeeded in bringing Classics to the fore. I wonder if the recent series of series and programme, by Michael Scott, Mary Beard, Bettany Hughes, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and Margaret Mountford would have been comissioned. I wonder whether we would have Atlantis without the exhibition. The newspaper coverage has been good. It will be a challenge to Classicists how to keep that interest going.

Nor was the exhibition that bad either. There were many artefacts that I have studied, that tells us so much. I can now see where the publishers’ got their book cover image from: Oxford Latin Course Book I and its fish mosaic, Cambridge Latin Course and its Caecilius (the modest part), Balme’s The Millionaire’s Dinner Party with its skeleton. Did you spot any others? Though visitors collected bruises by elbows and souvenirs and the grouping and arrangement of exhibition does not have universal approval, I feel that Classicists and the general public come away from the exhibition interested, inspired and informed, aided by the audio guide.

Now that the exhibition is over, there will be a struggle to keep museum-goers interested in Classics. The tag Pompeii and Herculaneum appeals at a very high level, as does an exhibition at the British Museum. The very good exhibition on Nemi at Nottingham Castle also had some very good artefacts that are of import to the study of Classics, but it is unlikely that it had anywhere near the impact of the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition. Sadly, even that exhibition is over.

Fear not. On a recent visit to my hometown I popped into the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery to see its Roman Empire: Power and People exhibition. There would be no bruises, no overcrowding here, nor have the artefacts here been on many (if any) book covers. But it was an interesting exhibition

Exhibited are a series of artefacts from a wide geography – Egypt, Italy and Blighty. The bust of a German lady, the helmet of a legionary person, Oxyrinchus papyri and many other objects share a same space. It lacks a little uniformity, but to an inquisitive visitor it presents many facets of Roman Empire that the British Museum didn’t because of their different foci. Seeing an Oxyrinchus a visitor would realise how delicate they are and how easily they could have been thrown away. The imperial images of emperor suggests a show of power across the empire as a means of keeping citizens in order.

I can only recommend you to visit, and recommend others to visit. Bristol, though not Roman in provenance, is a lovely city. It is also 15-minutes away from Bath on the fast train; there you can bathe in the modern baths and admire the ancient baths. But significantly, the exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery can also weave a narrative on Rome and its empire. It may even spur Classicists to learn more about the periphery of Roman occupation, which is not the same as the periphery of Roman civilisation.


Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum:

The Treasures of Nemi: Finds from the Santuary of Diana:

Roman Empire: Power and People:


Personal P.S.:

I set up this blog as a parallel to the regualar Classics Colletive blog, when I was expecting to have lots of time to write blogs. On this site I hoped to post one comment blog per Sunday. Sadly things have gotten busy and I have often not posted. Do keep our blog in mind though, for our weekly round-ups!



Sunday 12Oct2013

The Cambridge Greek Play is about to be performed next week and King’s College London has just announced that they will perform Aristophanes’ Wasps in February next year. Be sure to look out for these productions!

Sunday 12Oct

The most interesting piece of the week comes from Algeria, where one of BBC’s correspondent toured the country and tells us about the Roman sites. The photos of several ruins and a functional Roman Baths alone merit a click on the link, but it is also a well-written piece on the condition of the sites. BBC News: 

A double bill of Prometheus and Frogs is on show at Cambridge from Wendesday to Saturday, in Greek with surtitles in English. Cambridge Arts Theatre: Cambridge News 

KCL Greek Play 2014 will be Aristophanes’ Wasps. The Classics Library: 

There will be an evening of Sappho hosted by Margaret Reynolds, with Edith Hall, Josephine Balmer and Richard Parkinson present. 7pm, 31Oct, Bloomsbury Theatre, UCLondon. £ 

Andrew Sillett compares “Cicero, Bankers and the Topless Tribune”. Plus ça change. whatwouldcicerodo: 

An excellent piece by Ken Pickering on “Teaching Classical Civilisation, once Modern History.” His story of converting the school’s history department to offering Classical Civilisation may not be the model for all, but it is an interesting and inspirational read. The Classics Library: 

Edith Hall writes about dangers facing builders throughout the ages. The Edithorial: 

“Rediscovering archaic colors” of statues from Athens, now on exhibition in Athens. ekathimerini: 

“So I Bought A Papyrus on eBay …” On papyri smuggling. Dorothy King’s PhDiva: 

There was the interesting find of “The Apollo found that divides Gaza” La Repubblica 

The “Bolsham Head” was found to be a bust of emperor Hadiran. BBC News:  Heritage Daily: 

“Roman villa found near Devizes” in Wiltshire. BBC News: 

In the conspiracy theory of the week, we have “Story of Jesus Christ was ‘fabricated to pacify the poor’, claims controversial Biblical scholar” The Independent: 

On a marginally less conspiratorial notes, “‘Roman’ roads were actually built by the Celts, new book claims” Daily Telegraph: 

“Greek archaeologists demand that old Roman road be kept at site of a new subway station” <Washington Post> 

“‘Speake Latine Alwayes’ and Other Rules for Cambridge Students in 1660” <Atlantic> 

“Ancient Sidon: Sifting through the city’s deadly history” <Independent> 


Sunday 06Oct

A washed-up story line and bad mythology abound on Twitter to greet the arrival of Atlantis. The opinion on Classics Collective’s Twitter feed is generally negative. Let us have a look at the reviews and other news of the week.

06 October 2013

You can find reviews of BBC 1’s Atlantis on the Den of Geek ( ), Pop Classics ( ) or Classics Closet ( ). Bettany Hughes has also written a piece on what she considers the real Atlantis ( ). In other words, one that doesn’t have one hero doing the deeds of every single Greek hero past, present and future… I must admit that I haven’t seen it yet, so I shall reserve judgement.

A major exhibition on Sicily has opened at Cleveland Museum of Art (NewsNet5: ). Uncertainties of whether Sicily would relent from demanding the artefacts were eventually allayed, but some of the exhibits might have uncertain origins. The Sun News considers the debate over authenticity of . The official site for the exhibition can be found here: .

Apparently, the sound of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language has been recreated. You can listen to this attempt, involving a story of sheep and horses, on Huffington Post: .

As the fire is lit for the Sochi Olympics, the site of Nemea is threatened by cuts: ( .

Tom Holland writes about his love for, and the importance of Herodotus as the first non-fiction. Guardian 

Why You Might Want to Read the Odyssey. Stephen Mitchell writes succinctly in a great article. Huffington Post: 

What can we learn from Roman graffiti?” Harry Mount asks and answers. <Daily Telegraph> 

Another construction site yields Roman finds in Central London as Crossrail tunnellers find Roman skulls: (Construction Index) , (BBC) .

The team at Classics Confidential has released another video. Tim Whitmarsh interviews Bettany Hughes on “Socrates on Trial“: 

Barbara Graziozi reviews Geogre Nagy’s Mooc-linked 24-hour Odyssey. Times Higher Education 

Museum closed by shutdown disappoints Greek delegation in D.C. for art exhibition debut. <Washington Times>