Thursday, 5 December 2019

Studying Classical Civilisation and Latin with the National Extension College (NEC)

by Rea Duxbury

The National Extension College (NEC) is a pioneer of online and distance learning, existing to transform lives through education.

Our online A level Classical Civilisation and Latin: A Course for Beginners enable learners of any age and background the opportunity to access tutor-supported courses. Students are able to step back in time to explore the Greco-Roman world wherever they are and at any time, widening access to these dynamic subjects.

A level Classical Civilisation

Students enrolled on A level Classical Civilisation with NEC study poetry, plays, comedy and themes such as cults, rituals and religion. Along the way, they make fascinating connections to the politics, culture and society of ancient Greece and Rome.

Homer’s Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid and the works of Euripides, Sophocles and Aristophanes transport students to the ancient world.

NEC student Julia: “Classical Civilisation A level wasn’t offered by the last school I went to...It’s down to NEC that I was able to go to university, and that I studied the subject I have loved since being a child...I’m sure my life would have taken a very different course without NEC.” - Julia went on to study for a BA in Classical and Archaeological studies with French at the University of Kent. She then completed a Masters in Ancient History at King’s College London.

Through this course, students make an informed analysis of the issues and values that shaped classical civilisation. They learn how to develop and present coherent, well-evidenced arguments and also sharpen their analytical and critical thinking, skills that are vital for higher education and the workplace.

NEC students achieved a 100% pass rate in A level Classical Civilisation in 2019, with 25% of students achieving an A* or A grade.

Studying A level Classical Civilisation opens up a wide range of opportunities. Many of our students go on to study a classics course or other subjects at university and pursue varied career paths.

NEC student Miranda studied Classics at the University of Cambridge and then an MSc in the Evolution of Language and Cognition at the University of Edinburgh. She says: “What my educational journey has taught me is that life is not limiting in terms of what you can learn and how you can go about learning it. Further, the need to work does not inhibit study if you choose the right support networks. NEC has, thus far, been the best institution to understand this.”

Latin: A Course for Beginners

NEC’s ‘Latin: A Course for Beginners’ enables students to develop their language skills and read Latin texts in their original.

Students on the course are given the opportunity to study and translate extracts of texts originally written in Latin; these sources include extracts from the Aeneid by Virgil, letters written by Caesar, fables by Phaedrus and a ghost story from the Letters of Pliny. Working with these extracts gives students a true sense of the language and, coupled with the additional background topics on Roman history, provide a rich beginning to a fascinating area of study.

NEC tutor Ed: “Learning Latin (and Greek) and being able to read the literature in the original has been the most rewarding and enriching experience of my life. If you’re interested in literature, of any kind, literature that excites the imagination, strikes awe into the soul and invites you into some of the most fantastic minds ever to record their thoughts in words, it’s all there. Virgil, Catullus, Cicero, Tacitus, Livy: these are incomparable writers...but by heaven when you know the original you see so much more...So, if you want a challenging, intellectually satisfying, life-enhancing opportunity, studying Latin is it.” - Ed is our lead tutor in Economics, Classical Civilisation and Latin. Ed studied Classics at Trinity College Dublin and then at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge, where he conducted research into the narrative technique of Greek epic; he later studied economics and linguistics at the Open University.

Latin is also a springboard for students to understand other subjects more deeply:
Humanities - studying Latin helps students gain a deeper understanding of the English language, with Shakespeare and Milton drawing extensively on their knowledge of Latin literature. Moreover, the foundational ideas of history, philosophy and theology are often based on works written in Latin.
Other languages - students wanting to progress to study other languages find Latin a great option as it is the root of European languages such as French and Spanish. Showing an aptitude for languages through Latin extends to computing, where programming languages are used.
Law - not only do many legal terms derive from Latin but by studying the subject, students showcase their ability to analyse information and learn a new language.
Medicine - like law, much medical terminology derives from Latin, enabling students to understand the roots of words they come across.
Art - an understanding of the artworks of the ancient world is enhanced through knowledge of Latin. A pairing of arts and languages can prepare students for work in conservation and curation, or aid their travel experiences.
The ancient Greeks and Romans created a legacy that has shaped literature, language, arts, politics and philosophy. We are proud to be able to offer Classical Civilisation and Latin to learners across the UK and beyond.
About the National Extension College
Co-founded in 1963 by Michael Young as a forerunner for the Open University, NEC is a long-standing independent educational charity.
NEC provides both a solution for schools wanting to maintain a broader curriculum and for adults and young people wanting to engage in lifelong learning.
Features of studying with NEC include: flexibility, personal tutorial support, bespoke course materials and an exam booking service.
Rea Duxbury is Marketing & Research Assistant for the National Extension College

Friday, 22 November 2019

‘The Song of Arms and a Man’ at Charterhouse

by Sheila Conway

When one of our members suggested to the committee that we find a local venue to host The Latin Qvarter’s production, ‘The Song of Arms and a Man’, we didn’t know what we were undertaking. As we understood it, we were being asked to find a venue and book hotel accommodation for the performers, then advertise the event locally and to Guildford Classical Association (GCA) members. This was what generally happened when we arranged for speakers to come and talk to our local audiences.

We contacted local schools who often host our events for us. As expected, since the performance was scheduled for a Saturday evening, day schools were unable to help. However, Charterhouse very kindly offered to host the event in their beautiful Great Hall. Their Head of Classics, Jonathan Nelmes, was enthusiastic and planned to organise a whole ‘Virgil week’ at school prior to the performance, which was to be the culminating event.

We booked accommodation nearby for the performers and thought our part in the organisation of the event was largely over, bar a bit of advertising. How wrong we were! Our real work was only just beginning. It was at this point that it dawned on us that we were responsible for pricing and selling tickets as well as all the publicity, and, most scarily, responsible for footing the bill if the event made a loss! 

As we began to comprehend just what we had undertaken, we had serious misgivings. After all, a performance of the Aeneid, much of it in Latin, has very niche appeal. How many people these days still study Latin, or feel up to a whole evening of it? Many of those for whom Latin was a fundamental part of their education are now so elderly that they think twice about going off to a performance at night, particularly at a distant venue in the countryside. On the plus side, Virgil’s Aeneid is a central part of the syllabus at GCSE, A Level and university, for both Latin and Class Civ students. And how better to get an understanding of the whole story than by watching a live performance, hearing the beautiful sonority of the Latin and experiencing at first hand the depths of emotion in this very human story? We couldn’t deny this opportunity to our local students, teachers and classics enthusiasts.

Having decided to go ahead with the venture, our next job was pricing the tickets and working out what concessions we could offer. This was much harder than it sounds. We had good estimates of costs from The Latin Qvarter and Charterhouse, but how many of our members would come? And how many local schools would arrange to bring groups of students? Would university students travel all the way from London, Reading and Southampton? In short, would we have an audience of two hundred, or only forty?

It is at this point that we were helped enormously by the Classical Association and the Roman Society, who both gave us generous grants towards the costs of the performance, and by the businessman, Richard Balfour, who very kindly agreed to underwrite the event. We are extremely grateful to all three, without whose generosity we would probably not have dared to go ahead.

It was hard work finding and approaching contacts at different universities and local organisations who might be willing to help publicise the event, as well as distributing posters and leaflets and informing our own members and local schools. George Sharpley at The Latin Qvarter was very helpful, providing an eye-catching leaflet and making sure we didn’t miss a trick on the advertising.

The performance was due to take place at Charterhouse on Saturday, 5th October. As the day approached, we were increasingly worried. Several schools which had originally wanted to bring large numbers of students were, for various reasons, unable to come. A fortnight before the performance we had still only sold about seventy tickets; we were on course to make a loss of over £2,000. Then ticket sales started to improve, and finally some schools confirmed bookings. On the night, we had an audience approaching a hundred and seventy – a record for this event. Our finances were safe, but we sold right out of programmes and had to disappoint some. 

At last the players: George Sharpley (narrator), Emma Kirkby, Victoria Punch (standing in at short notice for the indisposed Elizabeth Donnelly), Matthew Hargreaves, Llewellyn Morgan and Eileen Zoratti, assembled and the performance began. The audience was hushed and expectant as the piper, Callum Armstrong, got everyone’s attention. How exciting to hear a real aulos player! The English narrative beautifully echoed the original Latin and set the scene for the Latin extracts. It was entrancing seeing such well-known passages brought to life - acted out and performed in impressively fluent and expressive spoken Latin. 

There was a real buzz during the interval while everyone enjoyed welcome refreshments before settling down to the emotional finale of the tale. All too quickly, the performance was over, bows and curtain calls were taken, and the audience departed. As they left, we heard a huge number of compliments about the production. The audience were obviously thrilled by the performance and very glad that they had come. In that moment we knew we had been right to keep our nerve, and all the work beforehand seemed worthwhile.

Sheila Conway is the Hon. Secretary of the Guildford branch of the Classical Association.  See here for further details of  the branch.

See here for further information about The Latin Qvarter and 'The Song of Arms and a Man'. 

Friday, 1 November 2019

A summer full of Classical Civilisation

by Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson and Professor Edith Hall

From 22nd to 26th July 2019, seventeen heroic teachers participated in a summer school at KCL which included lectures and curriculum-linked activities on *every* component of the OCR GCSE, AS and A Level Classical Civilisation qualifications. Led by Professor Edith Hall and Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, the week-long professional development course attracted teachers of English, Modern Languages, Drama, History and Citizenship from England and Wales. There was a range of prior experience: one participant was about to begin her teacher training degree, others were qualified teachers of non-Classical subjects and some were Classics teachers who felt they would benefit from some specialist input. 

Our KCL colleagues were exemplary. Everyone had read the OCR teaching materials carefully and delivered perfectly bespoke talks and activities. Ellen Adams showed for Homeric World the importance of thinking about the size and setting of early Greek towns; Nicola Devlin managed to pack the entire history of Greek vase-painting into 90 lucid minutes for Greek Art; Emily Pillinger enthralled on Sappho and Catullus for Women in the Ancient World and made the Aeneid’s message on migrants compelling for World of the Hero.

John Pearce showed how the Colosseum can reveal almost everything we need to know about Roman City Life; Lindsay Allen got everybody thinking like an Achaemenid Persian in Invention of the Barbarian; for Imperial Image Dominic Rathbone got us looking at Augustus in new ways; Pavlos Avlamis won the prize for Most Popular Activity when he got everyone to draw Achilles’ shield from Iliad XVIII for World of the Hero; Mike Trapp made Plato comprehensible for Love and Relationships; Hugh Bowden sorted out myth and religion for both GCSE and A Level; Edith enthused on Greek Theatre and the Odyssey, and did a double-act with Roman historian James Corke-Webster on War and Warfare. Arlene led sessions on curriculum content and resources and Roman rhetoric for Politics of the Late Republic.

There will be a legacy in the form of films of the presentations for the KCL website made by Big Face Art, with Tom Russell in charge, and in due course these and all the powerpoints and handouts will be made available on the ACE website too.

But the real efforts were made by the extraordinarily committed teachers who attended, either the whole course or parts of it: Charlotte Cannon, Will Dearnaley, Edda-Jane Doherty, Jenny Draper, Laurence Goodwin, Chandler Hamer, Rob Hancock-Jones, Pantelis Iakovou, Susan Jenkins, Jo Johnson, Lidia Kuhivchak, Jo Lashley, Lottie Mortimer, Judith Parker, Alex Rooke, Saara Salem and Helen Turner. It was a privilege to spend the week with them, and we are going to hear far, far more from them in the future!

Feedback from the teachers has been resoundingly positive:

‘Both my knowledge and my confidence have been transformed this week. Filling gaps has been invaluable and will definitely benefit my students. The comprehensive approach across all units at GCSE and A Level has allowed for flow and connections which will enrich subject knowledge as a whole. The most important thing which I’ll take away from this week is the confidence to analyse sources and structure topics. The course will change my professional practice because it will help me to make my delivery of the course better quality and more relevant to my students.’

‘My confidence has increased hugely both in terms of subject content and effective delivery of it. Since the start of the week, I have much greater awareness of the expectations of exam boards as well as resources. This course has been the key factor in my school permitting the introduction of Classics in my school. I would absolutely attend another course.’

‘This has been tremendous CPD. I feel really confident after a brilliant week.’

The summer school was made possible through generous donations from the King’s Widening Participation Fund, the King’s College London Classics Department, The Roman Society and the Hellenic Society.

The support of the Classical Association is vital in facilitating the ongoing work of the ACE project. We are indebted to the CA for its contribution and look forward to further fruitful collaboration.

The Advocating Classics Education project was awarded a major grant by the CA in 2019.  Based at King's College London and led by Professor Edith Hall and Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, the project aims to extend the availability of Classical Civilisation and Ancient History qualifications in UK state schools.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Autumn Books 2019

by Philip Hooker

We have again studied the Bookseller’s Buyers’ Guide to pick out the new books on classical themes which publishers believe will be of interest to the general reader and have also called in some more from elsewhere.

We start with some of the more scholarly popular works.  Liz Gloyn’s Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture deals with the creations of Ray Harryhausen, the television opponents of Hercules, Medusa, the Minotaur and more.  In similar vein, Edinburgh’s Screening Antiquity series features Epic Heroes on Screen (Hercules and others), a set of papers edited by Antony Augoustakis and Stacie Raucci, and another set on Ancient Greece on British Television edited by Fiona Hobden and Amanda Wrigley.

Peter Wiseman offers The House of Augustus: A Historical Detective Story – the Palatine home of Augustus has often been called the Emperor’s palace, but close scrutiny of the archaeological and textual evidence reveals that he was no Emperor and it was no palace.  Jerry Toner with Infamy: The Crimes of Ancient Rome moves forward to the times of Tiberius and Nero, exploring not just the excesses of the emperors but also the chances of a citizen being mugged in the street.  Meanwhile in Troy: myth and reality, which accompanies the forthcoming British Museum exhibition, Lesley Fitton and others explore how Troy has inspired the storytellers and the classical artists over the ages.

Mary Norris in Greek to MeAdventures of the Comma Queen explains how the New Yorker copy editor became an enthusiast for the Ancient Greek language and literature.  Nicola Gardini, who teaches Italian in Oxford, has Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language (a best seller in Italy in 2016), which explores its history, authors, essential role in education and enduring impact on modern life.  David Stuttard offers Roman Mythology: A Traveler’s Guide from Troy to Tivoli, which takes the reader on a tour of 18 ancient sites and the stories which accompany them (following on from a similar work on Ancient Greek sites).  Dilys Powell’s An Affair of the Heart, a classic 1955 account of the 1931 Perachora dig undertaken by her husband and her later return to the site, has now been reprinted.

Daisy Dunn, already highly praised for her work on the two Plinies, now has Of Gods and Men: 100 Stories from Ancient Greece and Rome (and also a Ladybird Expert book on Homer).  Bettany Hughes offers Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess, while Asa Bennett (a Classics graduate and now Brexit commissioning editor at The Telegraph) is publishing a Romanifesto: Modern Lessons from Classical Politics - what can Boudica teach us about Brexit, what could Emperor Hadrian teach President Trump about walls? We also have a good number of works of fiction, the latest by Robert Fabbri and Simon Scarrow among others; the most entertaining may be JM Alvey’s Scorpions in Corinth, the second in a series about a Greek comic poet turned detective.

Teachers should note Teaching Classics with Technology, edited by Bartolo Natoli and Steven Hunt, which reviews new developments in the US, the UK and elsewhere.  In addition, Andrew Wilson (who previously produced an Ancient Greek version of Harry Potter) now has Avem Occidere Mimicam, a translation of Harper Lee’s “best-loved American novel”.

Among more substantial academic works we note Pindar, Song, and Space: Towards a Lyric Archaeology by Richard Neer and Leslie Kurke, a feat of “lyric archaeology” which considers both the poetry and the sites referred to therein; Author Unknown: The Power of Anonymity in Ancient Rome, an exploration of anonymous works of literature by Tom Geue; The Spartans (a very short introduction) by Andrew Bayliss; The Scythians: Nomad Warriors of the Steppe by Barry Cunliffe; Magic in Ancient Greece and Rome by Lindsay Watson; The Great Fire of Rome: Life and Death in the Ancient City by Joseph J Walsh, which examines the fire of 64 AD with the aid of modern forensic techniques; The Ruler’s House: Contesting Power and Privacy in Julio-Claudian Rome by Harriet Fertik; Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity by Walter Scheidel; and a different view, Imperial Tragedy: From Constantine’s Empire to the Destruction of Roman Italy AD 363-568  by Michael Kulikowski.   Julia Hell’s The Conquest of Ruins: The Third Reich and the Fall of Rome describes the way in which subsequent European rulers were fascinated by the history of the Roman Empire. There is also Postclassicisms by The Postclassicisms Collective: nine prominent scholars map a space for reflecting and theorising on the values attributed to antiquity and offer suggestions for a discipline in transformation structured around 12 concepts.

There are also several new texts and translations.  Peter Liddel’s Decrees of Fourth Century Athens (403/2- 322/1 BC): Volume One describes the literary evidence.  The latest Cambridge Green and Yellows include Virgil: Aeneid Book XI, Euripides: Ion, Aeschylus: Suppliants, Homer: Iliad Book VI, Longus: Daphnis & Chloe, and Greek Elegy and Iambus: A Selection.  The Oxford series has Sophocles: Electra and Aristophanes: Wasps.    Aris & Phillips has Terence: The Girl from Andros and Herodotus: Histories Book V.  The latest Oxford World's Classics include Diodorus Siculus: The Library, Books 16-20 and Artemidorus: The Interpretation of Dreams (with a separate monograph from Peter Thonemann).  Martin Goodman has also provided a monograph to accompany the recent edition of Josephus: The Jewish War.  The latest Loebs include Appian: Roman History (three volumes) and Livy:  History of Rome, Volume 5.   We also note translated selections from Cicero (How to Think About God: An Ancient Guide for Believers and Nonbelievers) and Plutarch (How to Be a Leader: An Ancient Guide to Wise Leadership) as well as Pamela Mensch’s version of Theophrastus: Characters (An Ancient Take on Bad Behaviour), commended by A E Stallings as “a perfect gift for the person in your life who mentions Plato’s cave or Zeno’s paradox or wears a bow tie or uses a fountain pen or enjoys a bit of harmless armchair misanthropy”.

Philip Hooker is the Hon. Treasurer of the Classical Association, and writes regularly for the CA Blog on Classics in the Media

Monday, 12 August 2019

Decompartmentalising Thucydides

Dr. Maria Fragoulaki (Cardiff), Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies (2018-19), reports on a day on Thucydides’ modern reception hosted by the ICS earlier this year.

(this blogpost is reproduced here with kind permission of the ICS, having first been published on 28 June 2019 on the ICS Blog, which can be found at

What do an analysis of the ‘chain of participles’ in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War and its implications for the text’s translation and poetic qualities, online games based on the Melian Dialogue and ‘Thucydides Trap’, the International Relations catchword, have in common? The answer is that they belong to the diverse and dynamic space of Thucydides’ modern reception. These and other themes, such as Thucydides’ role in the life and work of twentieth-century politicians, modern theatrical adaptations and performances of his History, and his re-invention as International Relations guru by modern American politics of the 1950s and the 1960s, were explored at the international workshop on ‘Thucydides Global: Teaching, Researching, Performing Thucydides’, which took place on 30 April 2019, hosted by the Institute of Classical Studies. The event aimed at a ‘global’ approach of Thucydides’ modern reception through a variety of themes and media, with participants from within and outside the academy, from the UK, Germany, US, Brazil, and Greece. The workshop was a collaboration of Cardiff University and Ruhr Universit├Ąt Bochum in Germany, and was supported by the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies and the Classical Association, UK, who subsidised Cardiff University students to attend the event. The papers themselves, the interaction between the speakers, and the involvement and comments of the audience, all contributed to the day’s ‘global’ success. The day opened with a welcome address by the Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, Greg Woolf, followed by a brief introduction by me in which I aimed to present the rationale and scope of the workshop.

Thucydides’ text has broken the boundaries of its time, having had a formative influence on political philosophy, International Relations (IR), history writing, philosophy of history, art and literature. In an increasingly interconnected world in financial, cultural and political terms, the historical lessons of this ‘difficult’ and long historical narrative from ancient Greece appears to be a source of inspiration for groups and individuals in the academy and beyond. Thucydides is a staple of any introductory course to IR theory, and is often quoted (or misquoted) in modern political debate and less expected contexts, such as mindfulness training or new age wisdom, as Neville Morley reminded us. In addition to IR and politics at large, the day also comprised papers on the poetics and politics of Thucydides’reception, through the themes of translation and performance, two under-explored areas.

The term ‘global’ in the title of the workshop was used to signpost the text’s prismatic quality and our aim to explore the potential of breaking boundaries which traditionally tend to divide the field: one ‘compartment’ can be described as ‘mainstream reception’, with special focus on political science, IR, anthropology, social science etc; and another is occupied by the so-called ‘traditional approaches’, largely text-centred, and heavily pre-occupied with the problems of philological and historical scholarship from different perspectives. Both ‘compartments’ were represented in the workshop by experts who have devoted considerable amounts of time, energy and care to this ‘global’ author and are open and committed to continued dialogue and exploration.

There is something paradoxical about Thucydides’ work: on the one hand it is a text that famously resists easy interpretation (and translation), containing abstractions and ambiguities (especially in the speeches), and on the other it has been used a lot for maxims or crude historical analogies and interpretations. Christian Wendt discussed Thucydides’ ‘labelling’ and itemisation in relation to the idea of ‘Thucydides Trap’, an IR maxim of global buzz, and the text’s suitability for inspiring political analogies. The problem of crude interpretations in the area of IR theory was also touched on by Neville Morley, who concentrated on the famous Melian Dialogue and its potential of providing means of interpreting situations in real life (see Neville’s blogpost reflecting on the day). Undeniably, one real-life analogy in the light of Yanis Varoufakis’ engagement with game theory could be the ‘Parallel [to an extent] Lives’ or rather ‘Parallel Dramas’ of Grexit and Brexit; although on the day we all appeared to have tacitly agreed not to engage head-on with these words. Another ‘false myth’ was deconstructed by Liz Sawyer, who demonstrated that Thucydides entered the field of IR theory as ‘founding father’ later than is often assumed, namely in the 1950s and early 1960s, as a result of a combination of factors related to US educational policy, ideology and rhetoric, the end of WWII and the start of the Cold War.

Thucydides as source of inspiration and subject of study for two politicians and men of letters of the modern era of different backgrounds was the subject of two papers: one by Hans Kopp, who examined the case of the Danish Minister of education and classical philologist Hartvig Frisch (1893-1950) in the 1930s and 1940s; and another paper whose subject was the Greek Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos (1864-1936) and his translation of Thucydides’ History, delivered by Sir Michael Llewellyn Smith, himself a man of letters and political action, with a long career as a diplomat. In both papers the question of translation of Thucydides’ text also emerged; this also took centre stage in the paper of Sandra Rodrigues da Rocha. By concentrating on markers of oral language in Thucydides, namely ‘chains of participles’, Sandra explored the oral, poetic and emotive qualities of the text in the framework of the act of translation.

Lessons of War I’, performed at the European Parliament,
Yehudi Menuhin Space, March 2019.
Photo copyright: George Tziampiris 
Translation is a creative process and delivers a new text. The boundaries of creativity are explored even further when translation is combined with adaptation for the stage, which was the theme of John Lignades, member of the ‘Dramaticus’ team (bringing ancient Greek history on stage) and the Hellenic Education and Research Center (HERC), an educational organisation facilitating study abroad programmes in Greece focusing on interdisciplinary classics. John presented the ‘Lessons of War’, a theatrical play based on Thucydides, which was created in the so-called Greece of the crisis (post-2010 Greece) and was staged in major venues in Greece and at the European Parliament in March 2019. The symbolism of this modern political forum hosting a performance related to the Athenian democracy of C5 BCE is unmissable. Paul Cartledge, a ‘global’ ancient historian and expert in the reception of ancient political thought and institutions, also familiar with the work of the ‘Dramaticus’ team, introduced the presentation.

Left: Acropolis playbill image; Right: Theatrical review, The Daily Herald, 25 November 1933

The last part of the workshop comprised short responses-comments by three interdisciplinary classicists. Dan Tompkins presented us with an alternative and intriguing panorama of IR perspectives and experts.Peter Meineck, also a theatre practitioner, concentrated on the theatricality and experiential-cognitive-therapeutic dimension of Thucydides’ war narrative. Sara Monoson commented on crisis and Thucydides’ use as source of inspiration in such moments, considering how we might think about what makes a particular point of reception significant. The idea of Thucydides’ cherry-picking surfaced again and the criteria which might lead our choices. Sara’s comparative examples drew on American political oratory and the play ‘Acropolis’ (1933) by the American playwright Robert Sherwood. The day generated vibrant dialogue and exchange of ideas, with which we hope to continue. Thucydides’ de-compartmentalisation in progress…

Maria Fragoulaki

Thursday, 6 June 2019

GCSE Essay Prize 2019 (Westminster School GCSE Classics Conference)

by Andrew Mylne

The essays submitted for the GCSE Essay Prize 2019 (funded by the Classical Association) were written in response to three of the four titles set by the speakers at the annual GCSE Classics Conference held at Westminster School. It is clear that what the speakers had said at the conference had resonated with the pupils’ own studies of the texts concerned and had prompted them to conduct further research on these texts. The three titles that prompted submissions were: “‘More theology than history.’ Is this a fair criticism of Herodotus account of Croesus?”, “Do Caesar and Tacitus in portraying druids care more about making an impact on their readers than about historical reality?”, and ‘“The great female characters of the Aeneid… refuse, in various ways, their traditional roles of passivity, domesticity, and subordination” (Nugent, 1999). How far is this true of Virgil’s Dido?’. As previously, the essays were assessed anonymously by a panel of judges who put them in a ranking order: the essay which was thereby awarded the most points was adjudged the winner.

There is little opportunity in years 10 & 11 – the target audience of the conference – to undertake any piece of writing more ambitious than practice for the ‘10-mark’ mini-essay questions offered by the GCSE set-text papers. The judges were interested therefore in work that had taken the bold step away from this familiar ground – to embrace wider reading, both of the text itself and of secondary material, and to develop a nuanced argument. The essays titles were set by the academics from universities across the UK who gave the lectures, and, quite properly, they reflect, in sophistication and challenge, the style of essay that a university dept would itself require its students to respond to.

The submissions revealed yet again just how well intelligent, engaged pupils from the pre-6th Form years can and will rise to this sort of challenge. The writing was uniformly mature and articulate, and it was clear that each of the entrants was well aware of how to structure and compose a formal essay. Our congratulations go to all of them for this.

However, the winner was adjudged to be the submission of Katharina Stott, a year 10 pupil from St James Senior Girls’ School. Her essay on the Dido title – ‘“The great female characters of the Aeneid… refuse, in various ways, their traditional roles of passivity, domesticity, and subordination” (Nugent, 1999). How far is this true of Virgil’s Dido?’ was a first-class piece of writing. Katharina really engaged intellectually with the title and wrote with verve and intelligence as she moved clearly and articulately through her argument. We were particularly impressed with the selection of references that she made in support of her points: both their range (she had taken the trouble to investigate Book 1, as well as parts of Book 4 outside of the prescribed lines) and the mature way she marshalled them (for example switching appositely to Latin where the point she wanted to make arose from the Latin word ‘culpa’). It was an essay that reflected well both her intellectual and emotional response to what she had read, and we thought was a remarkable piece for someone in Year 10. It is worth adding that the extracts from Bks 4 & 6 that were this year’s prescribed text will not actually be Katharina’s set-text when she comes to do her GCSE in 2020!  It was good to see that the Conference had done precisely what it is hoped that it would – inspired Katharina to think, research and read more widely around the interest that had been sparked by her contact with the primary text at School.

Many thanks, as ever, to the pupils who submitted their work, and also to their teachers for encouraging them to do so. Thanks also of course to the Classical Association for their generosity in supplying the prize of £100 in book tokens which will be awarded to this year’s winner, Katharina Stott.

Andrew Mylne is Head of Classics at Westminster School

Friday, 5 April 2019

The CA Guildford Branch

by Marian Wernham

The GCA was set up over 40 years ago with the aim of fostering interest in the Classics in our community. We are an active branch, offering a range of activities throughout the academic year for students, teachers and those with a general interest in Classics.  We have about 90 members, many of whom are current or retired teachers as well as students and interested members of the public.

Our annual programme begins with an Opening Lecture, which is free to anyone and always well attended. A notable speaker (often the author of a recently-published book) is invited to talk about his/her subject. We have been privileged in the past to welcome such famous names as Mary Beard, Michael Scott, Natalie Haynes and Tom Holland, amongst others, and this year our President, Professor Edith Hall, spoke to us about how Aristotle’s ‘Ethics’ can guide us through 21st Century life. A second public lecture is arranged for the summer term.

Professor Edith Hall addressing the GCA at the
Opening Lecture © Ian Peel

In October Dr Mary Harlow from Leicester spoke engagingly to pupils in Years 6-9 on ‘Unravelling the Roman toga’, and in November sixth-formers were fascinated to hear Professor Tim Whitmarsh from Cambridge explaining the evidence he had found for the ways Homer might have been performed in antiquity.

In January we organise a half-day conference for about 100 GCSE students, providing them and their teachers with the opportunity to learn from academics covering the wider context of two of their literature set texts. This year we welcomed Professor Matthew Leigh of St. Anne’s College, Oxford (a long-standing friend of GCA), who gave us his insights into the Virgil text, and Dr Dunstan Lowe from Kent who talked about Boudicca and The Druids.

A major event each year is our popular Classical Reading Competition, at which about 100 students ranging from Years 6 - 13 from local schools battle it out in playlets, dialogues and solo recitations in Latin or Greek, according to their age group.  Four experienced judges have the unenviable task of awarding prizes and certificates based on accuracy and expression.

We are indebted to the CA for the generous grant that they provide for this event, which enables us to give worthwhile prizes and a welcome tea to all attending, and similarly for another competition which we have inaugurated in recent years - a Classical knowledge ‘Certamen’ run on the lines of those in the USA. This, too, is proving increasingly popular with students.

Occasional self-help Teach Meets enable teaching staff to share ideas and issues about developments in the syllabus and good teaching practice.

We were delighted this year to support the Surbiton High School Parthenon Casts project, and soon we hope to offer a bursary to a deserving student wishing to attend one of the summer schools.

More details of our activities can be found at Do come and join us – you’d be very welcome!

Marian Wernham
Membership Secretary, GCA

For information about your nearest branch, see the CA website:

Monday, 18 February 2019

Spring Books 2019

by Philip Hooker

Once again, we have studied The Bookseller’s Buyers’ Guide and picked out some of the new books on classical themes which publishers believe will be of interest to the general reader.   We have called in a few more from elsewhere.

The one highlighted work is Daisy Dunn’s Pliny: Life, Letters and Natural History in the Shadows of Vesuvius, a literary biography based on the letters of the younger and the natural history of the elder.   Armand D’Angour’s Socrates in Love: The Making of a Philosopher may be more notable; it focuses on his little-known early life as a heroic warrior, an athletic wrestler and dancer, and a passionate lover – and it identifies ‘Diotima’ in the Symposium as Aspasia of Miletus, the consort of Pericles.

Among works of fiction, Natalie Haynes is back with A Thousand Ships, an all-female retelling of the Trojan War, the latest in a long line of recent feminist fiction - “This is the Women’s War”.  In contrast, Harry Sidebottom’s The Lost Ten is very much a boy’s book. “A Crack Squad.  An Impenetrable Fortress.  A Desperate Mission” behind enemy lines in Mesopotamia, with a traitor in the group.  “Bravo Two Zero in Ancient Rome” the publisher shouts. There are also numerous additional volumes of historical fiction set in classical times by other established authors, too many to mention.

A new one, which promises to be entertaining, is J M Alvey with Shadows of Athens, about a comic playwright who finds a murdered man outside his front door.   “A new detective in the Agora – move over Falco”.  Lindsey Davis, meanwhile, has A Capitol Death, the seventh tale featuring Falco’s adopted daughter in the time of Domitian.   More intriguing is David Barbaree, a Toronto lawyer, with his second work, The Exiled.   It is AD79, ten years after the fall of Nero, there is trouble in Parthia with someone claiming to be Nero, Pliny the admiral is sent out – and then Vesuvius erupts.

Among books for children, we note Andy Stanton’s The Paninis of Pompeii, the first in a new series by the author of Mr Gum, and Gary Northfield’s Grapple with the Greeks! (which follows Rumble with the Romans!) – both for the 7-9s.  For the 9-12s, we have Maz Evans with Against All Gods, number four in the Who Let the Gods Out series, and Nicholas Bowling with In the Shadow of Heroes, about a 14-year old slave who travels the Roman world at the time of Nero in search of the Golden Fleece.

Jonathan Bate has a major work: How the Classics Made Shakespeare, which shows how steeped Shakespeare was in the classics, notwithstanding Ben Jonson’s gibe that he had “small Latin and less Greek”. Violet Moller’s The Map of Knowledge describes how the works of Euclid, Ptolemy and Galen survived, focusing on seven cities in the Mediterranean, centres of scholarship in the post-Roman world.  Simon Critchley, moderator of the New York Times philosophy blog, has Tragedy, the Greeks and Us, arguing that ancient Greek tragedy holds a mirror up to us.   David B Small’s Ancient Greece: Social Structure and Evolution applies social scientific theories from Minoan and Mycenean times all the way to the middle years of the Roman Empire.  Vassiliki Panoussi has Brides, Mourners, Bacchae: Women’s Rituals in Roman Literature, and Soultana Marie Valamoti presents Cooking with Plants in Prehistoric Greece: An Archaeobotanical Exploration of Ancient Cuisine, complete with recipes.

Chris Carey has written Thermopylae for an OUP series on Great Battles, Barbara Graziosi has provided Homer: A Very Short Introduction, and Catherine Wilson tells us How to be an Epicurean.  Books for a classicist’s next Christmas stocking include Alexander Tulloch’s It’s All Greek: Borrowed Words and Their Histories, Peter Parker’s A Little Book of Latin for Gardeners and Philip Matyszak’s 24 Hours in Ancient Athens, describing the life of 24 ordinary Athenians over the course of one day, which follows a previous work on Ancient Rome.

Among more substantial works, we note The Cambridge Grammar of Classical Greece by Evert van Emde Boas and others, The Cambridge Companion to Roman Comedy, edited by Martin T Dinter, Army of the Roman Emperors by Thomas Fischer and M C Bishop (lavishly illustrated), and two from the Metropolitan Museum, New York: Art of the Hellenistic Kingdoms from Pergamon to Rome, edited by Sean Hemingway and Kiki Karoglou, comprising 20 essays following its 2016 exhibition, and The World Between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East by Blair Fowlkes-Childs and Michael Seymour.

There are also several new translations and texts.  How to Think About War: An Ancient Guide to Foreign Policy is a selection from Thucydides translated by Johanna Hanink.   How to Keep Your Cool: An Ancient Guide to Anger Management is a selection from Seneca translated by James Romm.    The War for Gaul is a new translation of Caesar by James O’Donnell.   Ancient Peoples in Their Own Words is a highly-illustrated guide by Michael Kerrigan, based on ancient writing from tomb hieroglyphics to Roman graffiti.  Ancient Philosophy: A Companion to the Core Readings by Andrew Stumpf is a complementary undergraduate guide to the texts.  There are three new Cambridge Green and Yellows:  Plato/Xenophon’s Apology of Socrates, edited by Nicholas Denyer, Lucan’s Civil War Book 7 edited by Paul Roche, and Seneca’s Selected Letters edited by Catharine Edwards.   Aris & Phillips have Minor Greek Tragedians, Volume 1: The Fifth Century, a collection of fragments edited by Martin J Cropp.   The latest Loebs are Fragmentary Republican Latin Oratory (three volumes) edited by Gesine Manuwald and Menander Rhetor. Dionysus of Halicarnassus, Ars Rhetorica edited by William H Race.

Philip Hooker is the Hon. Treasurer of the Classical Association, and writes regularly for the CA Blog on Classics in the Media.