What’s the point in Classics?

Classics at Downe House offers a wealth of opportunities which enrich the curriculum but of course, in the wider world, its value is often questioned. To address this issue, English Scholar and Classicist, Mary Beard delivered the John Donne Lecture on ‘What’s the point of Classics?’ at the Sheldonian Theatre which a group of girls studying GCSE and A Level Latin attended. 

13 May 2019

Upper Fifth girl, Poppy reports, 

“This lecture provided the perfect balance of education and entertainment, delivered with brilliant wit and wisdom in equal measures. It was revealed that Mary Beard’s love of Classics was sparked when she visited a museum exhibiting a slice of 2,000-year-old cake! The predominant theme of the lecture was how Classics continues to influence the world today in both positive and negative ways. As in the past, the subject was a prerequisite for Oxbridge and only offered at private schools, it was often considered a major factor in differentiating social classes.  

Indeed, the word, ‘Classics’ itself is synonymous with elitism, though nowadays it is studied more widely in schools. However, the subject is often used by white supremacists and dictators to justify their political beliefs, although Mary Beard warned the audience that often, the ‘facts’ they use to support their fascist ideals are completely made up. This was particularly well demonstrated when she recounted how, in the new BBC adaptation of the ‘Trojan War’, Achilles is depicted by a black man. This triggered an influx of rage from the fascist elements on Twitter, as many people angrily stated that the BBC was ‘stealing their culture’. Mary Beard then reminded the audience that Achilles was ‘about as real as Paddington Bear’. 

  Whilst the study of Classics is integral to grasping an understanding of the current socio-historical landscape, it is out of the question that we model our modern governments on the Roman Empire. Beard often referred to a poem called ‘Autumn Journal’, written by the celebrated poet, Louis MacNeice. In this poem, MacNeice reminisces about the Roman Empire whilst firmly reminding the reader that ‘it was all so unimaginably different. And all so long ago’. To regard the Roman Empire as a society we should aim to emulate is madness. If Classics really is an old-fashioned way of upholding ancient misogynistic values, then Mary Beard is a walking contradiction. Everyone gained a fascinating insight into the life of a Classicist following the lecture and we were all deeply inspired by it. We all hope to hear more from Mary Beard in the future.” 

Find out more about studying Classics at Downe House

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