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Posts Tagged ‘classics’

One of the (probably innumerable) ways in which I irritate my wife is by going round claiming to have a classics degree, despite having studied no Greek or Latin at university. Actually I feel this characterisation is slightly unfair, as I do have a bona fide classics degree, 100% legitimate according to the rules of the university at the time, despite the lack of any language, and it’s not as if I have ever actually attempted to pass myself off as a ‘proper classicist’ with a permanent fear that someone might ask me to translate Vergil, revealing my deception and leading to summary dismissal in disgrace. On the contrary, I’m more likely to go to the other extreme of describing myself as not a classicist but a historian who happens to do ancient stuff; some of my best friends are classicists etc., but that’s not generally what I do. Still, I occasionally wonder how many of the colleagues who wearily tolerate this ideological pose do so in the belief that I actually have the grounding in ancient languages that would entitle me to the status of ‘proper classicist’ if I only chose to claim it, and might therefore look at me differently (or break out the pitchforks) if they knew the truth. (more…)

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Has Boris Johnson ever given a speech without throwing in a classical reference or two? It’s part of the brand, clearly – and always reminds me of Josh Ober’s classic study of Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens. Ober noted the surprising readiness of wealthy Athenians, especially those who’ve chosen an active role in public life, to parade their wealth and their difference from the mass of the citizens, even when faced with the task of winning over several hundred jurors drawn from the ordinary population. The ancient equivalent of a modern British politician taking off his jacket and tie, rolling up his sleeves and dropping a few aitches is conspicuous by its absence. (more…)

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Part of the joy of holding any sort of position of academic leadership is the need to respond quickly and imaginatively to unexpected bits of randomness appearing out of a clear blue sky. This week it was our student newspaper publishing a story about whether arts students get value for money for their student fees; they’d acquired some figures from the university under a Freedom of Information request, and divided a total for teaching expenditure in each department by the student numbers, yielding a figure for ‘spend per head’ that could be compared with the standard £9000 fee. Not surprisingly, arts students were revealed by this calculation to be ‘subsidising’ scientists to the tune of many thousands of pounds per year – with one striking exception: Classics students appeared second in the table, just after Clinical Dentistry, apparently subsidised by everyone else by more than £6K pa.

Once we’d got over the hysterical giggling, it was imperative to work out what on earth was going on so as to demand a correction, in hope of preventing the appearance of an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob of disgruntled English and History students from marching on the department. (more…)

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We’re now 25% of the way through Bristol’s Deep Classics conference (which I’m also erratically live-tweeting), and some key over-arching themes and questions are already becoming clear. One is of course focused on the cultural connotations and possible subliminal messages of the name itself: is this intentionally or unintentionally referencing Deep History, or the Watergate mole, or a 1970s porn film, or the Bee Gees? Another focuses on the nature of the project and its possible hidden agenda: is Deep Classics effectively Queer Classics, as Sebastian Matzner seemed to suggest in his paper this morning? Or is it Anti-Classics, as implied by Helen Morales in her passing discussion of the conference in a review in the TLS earlier this year? Anti-Historicism, Post-Historicism or the New New Historicism?

A third theme, inevitably suggested by Deep Classics’ emphasis on the fragmentary nature of our knowledge of the classical past and “the very pose by which the human present turns its attention to the distant human past” (Shane Butler’s now much-quoted phrase), is that of its relation to Reception Studies – is this an alternative, or a development, or even a repudiation? (more…)

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There was a surprising amount of laughter at an otherwise fascinating conference at Leeds this week on Classics and Classicists in WWI. Nervousness at the subject matter, perhaps, or at the idea that we’ve decided to make sense of the appalling slaughter by spotting classical allusions in modernist poetry? Or just historical distance, as the events are far enough in the past that we don’t feel we have to empathise with these people or understand their intellectual positions properly but can observe their (by our standards) naivety and idealism with scholarly detachment? Gauging the quality and intent of laughter is of course a wholly subjective matter; it’s probably just my own prejudices that led me to hear the response to Rupert Brooke’s description, say, of travelling to the eastern Mediterranean on a troop ship as an all-expenses-paid cruise to view classical sites, as indulgent and nostalgic laughter, ‘oh those silly but heroic doomed youths’, while the claims of German classicists in 1914 that they were fighting to defend the heritage of Hellenic civilisation were laughed at scornfully. (more…)

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The Classicists email list is having one of its periodic flame wars; in classic horror movie style, a softly-spoken, genteel little email list, which normally spends its days politely relaying conference announcements and information about studentship opportunities, is provoked by a casual remark and transforms into a raging monster.  Clearly some sort of mutant DNA was spliced into the discipline in its past, because this does keep happening in one way or another. “I’m getting pedantic. You wouldn’t like me when I’m pedantic…”

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