‘Keeping Classics current? Surely that’s a contradiction?’ These are not uncommon objections to the study of this discipline. So, what is the point of studying a dead language, dead civilisation? Well the point is that Classics is not dead at all. The inventions, ideas and social movements founded in classical times live on into modernity, and what Classics and classicists have to say about the world today is as relevant now as it has ever been.
Mary Beard, a well-known classicist who also teaches at Cambridge, is no stranger to misogyny. An opinionated and forceful political commentator, and a widely respected academic, Beard has been outspoken in the debate about online trolling, after receiving a barrage of abusive messages about her appearance via Twitter. In its brief history, social media has often been used as a forum for hate speech and prejudice, and women in particular have often had to endure aggressive and offensive remarks. Beard has suggested that modern misogyny may to some extent be rooted in the views of the ancients. How might modern day gender stereotypes derive from the social conventions of classical civilisations? Are the sentiments expressed ultimately similar to the views of ancient times, just through a new forum? Is Twitter a utopian expression of Athenian democracy, or a twisted mutation of that ideal? You can find a recording and full transcript of the talk she gave to the London Review of Books here.
If you have been to the British Museum, you will doubtless have sought out the Elgin Marbles, the magnificent sculptures which adorned the Parthenon in Classical Athens. If you haven’t, we recommend doing so. The treasures were controversially removed and brought back from Athens to England by the Earl of Elgin in the early 19th Century, and in recent years, Greece has been calling for their return, even completing a state of the art museum in which to house the pieces, situated under the acropolis in Athens. Journalist and art critic Jonathan Jones, who has previously argued for the monuments to remain at the British Museum, has been convinced by a recent visit to the acropolis that Greece is their rightful home. The issue has been given more mainstream coverage following the release of Hollywood blockbuster The Monuments Men. Is it correct to claim that the marbles ‘belong to’ Greece? Some argue that the Parthenon sculptures are an item of global rather than solely Greek significance, and as such they should stay in a museum which is both free to visit, and located in one of Europe’s most visited cities. What is the basis for this assertion? And what does it say about our attitudes to classical art and artefacts, and classics more broadly? Find out more here.
Two poems, believed to have been written by enigmatic Ancient Greek poet Sappho, have been discovered by an Oxford University papryologist. A famously elusive and mysterious poet, Sappho is believed to have hailed from the Greek island of Lesbos, and her work is characterised by her emotional outpourings of love and desire, often for other women. The two new poems came to light when an anonymous art collector in London showed the fragments to papyrologist Dirk Obbink, who has said that the poems are “indubitably Saphho’s”. This assertion is based on the fact that not only does the subject matter of the new fragments link to poems already known to be by her, but the metre and dialect are of a style that points to Sappho. Have you read Sappho’s poems? What do they tell us about ancient attitudes toward homosexuality? What factors lead to the loss or destruction of ancient writing? What role might the subsequent homophobia of Christian Europe have played? Find out more here.
Below are some other useful websites and resources for those considering applying to study Classics or other related subjects.
Euripides’ Medea at the National Theatre – From ancient art to ancient drama: the National Theatre’s production of Euripides’ Medea starring Helen McRory (Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films) is sold out (why study classics indeed!). You can queue for tickets on the day of the performance; alternatively cinemas nationwide are screening the final night live on the 4th September.
Suda Online – around a thousand years ago, an encyclopedia of knowledge of the ancient Mediterranean world was assembled. With 31,000 entries, the Suda is in part a dictionary of grammar, and in part a collection of articles on classical literature that includes descriptions of, and quotes from, works that have long since disappeared. This great lexicon has recently been made available online.
Numen: The Latin Lexicon – this is a great site for supplementing your school language classes, or for taking your first steps in the language. With an online dictionary, video tutorials and various other interactive resources, the website is engaging as well as informative.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt – not strictly an online resource, but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to encourage you to read one of our favourite novels. A dark tale of evil and intrigue, the story follows Richard, who, taken in by the strange and charismatic classmates of his Ancient Greek class, is dragged further and further into their insular and fantastical world, where the boundaries of reality and mythology are sullied, and a terrible secret awaits. This novel alludes to some of the great mysteries of the ancient world, and is a brilliant read.