For all press enquiries about Classics for All, or for more information about our work, please get in touch at [email protected]
- Peter Jones
This year, in its annual Supreme Court moot trial of a famous ancient figure, the charity Classics for All charged the consul Cicero with illegally ordering the execution of five traitors working with the failed politician Catiline to bring revolution to Rome (63 bc). In his history of that crisis, Sallust composed speeches for Julius Caesar in defence of the conspirators, and for Cato the Younger for their execution, followed by a character assessment. This package may prompt reflections on our times.
Caesar argued that men facing difficult questions ‘should clear their minds of hatred, amity, anger and compassion… success is achieved by applying judgment; but your passions will rule you, if you let them, and your judgment will go out of the window’. If the man in the street was furious, so what? But those in power were constrained by the fact that they had to make the decisions; if that meant the death penalty without trial, however popular, a dangerous precedent would be set.
Cato argued that, with Catiline’s army ready to strike, this was a moment of crisis. The senate should forget the past and take precautions against what these men were about to do now, since ‘with a crime of this sort, unless you take measures to prevent it being committed, it is too late: appealing to the law achieves nothing, because once the city has been captured, the victims are left with nothing’. It was ‘liberty and lives’ that were at stake, and the real question was whether Rome belonged to Romans or to public enemies planning massacre and arson.
Sallust then evaluated these two ‘brilliant but very different’ men: Caesar, known for his giving, helping and forgiving, hard work and desire for great power and war ‘where his brilliance could shine’, Cato for his upright life, firmness, restraint, propriety and most of all austerity, ‘preferring to be a good man than to seem one, and so the less he sought fame, all the more it pursued him’.
Does any of this represent a world we recognise?
The moot can be found at https://classicsforall.org.uk/news-and-events/events/moot-trial-cicero
- Craig Simpson
Lawyer and orator was accused of wrongfully executing conspirators who had plotted to overthrow the Roman Republic in 63 BC
[Full article is behind paywall]
- Patrick Kidd
He was the greatest legal mind of his generation, perhaps the best courtroom orator in Rome’s history, but Marcus Tullius Cicero had to sit quietly in the dock of the Supreme Court on Thursday night and rely on the skill of a British silk before he was acquitted of murdering five opponents.
It was a close-run thing, the 50-strong jury deciding by 28-22 that the consul had acted legally in 63BC to defend Rome’s republic from an attempted coup led by Lucius Sergius Catilina, known as Catiline, a failed politician with a grievance who had plotted to take power by force.
Cicero chose not to represent himself in this moot trial for charity, trusting his defence to Ali Bajwa KC, who began by expressing surprise that it had taken 2,086 years to reach court. “We are well aware that there is a backlog in our criminal justice system but this is taking it a bit far,” he said.
Cicero was also cleared of misconduct in public office, with the jury rejecting the prosecution’s claim that he had embellished Catiline’s conspiracy to further his own ambitions. “O tempora! O mores!” sighed Lady Rose of Colmworth, the presiding justice, quoting Cicero’s words of dismay against the morals of his day, which some have translated as: “O Times! O Daily Mirror!”
In a stellar legal career, Richard Whittam KC, who led the prosecution, has secured the conviction of the hate preacher Anjem Choudary and the murderers of Fusilier Lee Rigby and Jo Cox MP. He was unable, however, to convince this jury of classics enthusiasts that Cicero had acted unlawfully in having five friends of Catiline executed without trial.
Whittam said Rome’s senate had been leaning towards Julius Caesar’s call for the five men to be exiled until Cicero, aided by Cato the Younger, won them round in a non-binding debate on December 5, 63BC.
As consul for the year, Cicero’s opinion carried weight but Whittam said Roman law still required a trial. After the five were secretly strangled in prison that night, Cicero announced “Vixerunt” to the mob, or “they have lived”.
“He swiftly executed them so there would be no appeal,” Whittam said. “Did he fear that they may have been acquitted and able to continue their support of Catiline unabated?” After their deaths, Catiline, who had been camped north of Rome with an army, poised to invade the city, fled and was killed in battle in 62BC.
Bajwa argued that Cicero’s actions as consul were the “lawful act of a head of state in defence of the public in a time of war”. Recalling the previous two decades of bloody political fighting in Rome, in which thousands had been killed, including relatives of Cicero, Bajwa said it was the consuls’ duty to defend the citizens.
The plot was “very much a case of the enemy within”, he argued, with the Catiline Five coming from powerful families, and Cicero could not risk a public trial, especially when bribery of jurors was common. The evidence of an armed plot was “overwhelming”, Bajwa added. The five men had confessed and supplies of weapons had been found. There had already been an assassination attempt on Cicero. It was imperative to remove all threat immediately.
As Cicero later wrote: “My country demanded sternness for a short time.” Salus populi suprema lex, he concluded. The safety of the people is the highest law.
Cicero also faced a charge of elaborating the risk of the conspiracy to boost his own standing. “Good governance makes no headlines. He wanted a victory: the repression of a revolution,” argued Kwaku Awuku-Asabre, pointing to inconsistencies in Cicero’s orations to suggest it was a “fabrication”.
Polly Dyer said her client was simply “driven by a love of Rome” and that Catiline was an embittered politician who, having twice failed to win election to the consulship, plotted to take control of Rome by force. “When will you cease abusing our patience?” she asked, using Cicero’s remarks against Catiline to attack the prosecution, which on this count won the support of just two jurors.
This was the eighth moot trial in aid of Classics for All, a charity that supports the teaching of Latin, Greek and classical civilisation in state schools. Almost half are in areas of deprivation such as Alexandra Park School in Haringey, north London, which since 2016 has sent 21 students to read classics at university — five at Oxbridge, including a boy who came as a refugee from Myanmar.
It was Cicero’s second victory in the Supreme Court. In 2018, a jury ruled against Gaius Verres, governor of Sicily, who argued that his corruption trial of 70BC was an abuse of process. Cicero was found to have handled the prosecution correctly.
A jury has also acquitted Alexander the Great of war crimes, ruled that Boudica was not a terrorist and accepted Lysistrata’s argument that withholding sex to stop war between Athens and Sparta is not grounds for divorce.
- Jack Blackburn
Two leading classicists issued a rallying cry at the Cliveden Literary Festival to save the humanities and, in doing so, perhaps protect our democracy.
Independently of each other, Dame Mary Beard, the Cambridge don, and Tom Holland, the author and history podcaster, issued an appeal to find ways in which the classics can be sustained in an era of limited school resources and concentration on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem).
“If we throw away our study of the humanities, be it the classics or philosophy or whatever, we’re at risk of losing democracy,” Beard said.
Recent reports have suggested that the number of students taking English degrees fell by a fifth between 2012 and 2019. A report last year by the Higher Education Policy Institute suggested that as few as 8 per cent of students were enrolled in humanities degrees, down from 28 per cent in the 1960s. The decline has gathered pace since tuition fees rose and follows a greater emphasis on Stem subjects. Humanities teachers are fighting back, however.
Beard put her case at a promotion for her new book, Emperor of Rome. Teenagers sat on the floor to hear her answer for the humanities in general.
“Humanities teach us to argue cogently and responsibly and intelligently and with integrity about a series of questions to which there are no right answers,” she said. “And if we say, ‘What’s democracy about?’ Democracy is about making serious decisions, responsibly and with integrity.”
This was likely to please the crowd at a literature festival and a rapturous reception duly ensued.
Holland, preparing for a talk on his latest book, Pax: War and Peace in Rome’s Golden Age, was not aware of the preceding debate.
Asked separately about the importance of teaching the classics in the state sector, Holland said: “The demands of Stem are so overwhelming that I think it’s a struggle just to keep the humanities vaguely alive.”
The eminent historian resisted the urge to call for the classics to be taught in schools but suggested that education should aim to teach pupils how to educate themselves.
“The knowledge itself is less important than teaching people that you can go out and source the knowledge,” he said. “If you want something, go and get it. It is better to be curious than to be stuffed with facts.
“That has to be the future for humanities in a school and education system where the emphasis on maths and science and engineering is going to be so great.”
Holland studied Latin at school but taught himself ancient Greek. He set himself the task of translating a paragraph of Herodotus a day. His words received an ovation similar to that given to Beard. Both had other, more romantic and personal reasons for defending the classics.
Beard said: “There has not been a day since 19BC when someone somewhere hasn’t been reading Virgil. That gives it a bit of a special cachet.”
Holland said: “I have benefited so deeply from studying these ancient languages and I feel that my life would be immeasurably poorer without having done that.”
Holland welcomed the news that Latin was the fourth most studied language in primary schools behind French, German and Spanish. He praised the charity Classics for All, which supports the study of Latin and Greek in state schools.
- Dominic Bliss
Latin is now the fourth most popular language taught in UK primary schools, behind French, Spanish and German, however some argue that primary school students would be better off learning a modern language such as Mandarin.
Those who predicted the death of Latin in state schools may have to perform a mea culpa. A revival of the language is under way, according to a report that says it is now the fourth most taught language at primary level in England.
Amo, amas, amat and all that is more popular than Chinese, the British Council has found. And Caesar’s declaration of veni, vidi, vici could soon apply to German, as Latin is on course to overtake that as well.
“French continues to be the most taught language in primary schools but our data shows some diversification of the languages being offered, with Latin appearing in the top four for the first time — this will be welcome news for classicists,” the report says.
Almost 600 schools responded to the survey. Nearly 73 per cent of primaries said they were teaching French, down slightly from last year, while 28 per cent offered Spanish. German was taught by 2.7 per cent and Latin was the language of choice for 2.3 per cent. Mandarin was fifth, taught in 2 per cent of schools.
Some schools reported receiving resources from Classics for All, a charity that is working to boost Latin in state schools, particularly in deprived areas. It gives primary teachers training in a four-year course that guides children through the adventures of Minimus the Mouse.
Hilary Hodgson, its chief executive, said: “Latin has a lot of benefits. It’s the foundation of romance languages and it helps with pupils’ grammar, vocabulary and spelling in English.”
So few pupils are now taking German that a new government campaign has been launched to address the problem and GCSE language courses are being overhauled to make their content more relevant and attractive to teenagers. German is offered by far more private schools than state, and many state sixth-forms say they cannot afford to run language classes at A-level.
The report recommends more sharing of teachers and resources between secondary and primary schools to ensure greater continuity. Just 3 per cent of secondaries who responded to the British Council survey said they could teach all pupils the language they learnt at primary school.
Primary teachers are given resources and training by Classics for All and follow a four-year course that either takes children through the adventures of Minimus the mouse or other materials that teach pupils to decode words.
The charity has networks that, particularly in the north of England, help pupils who want to take Latin to GCSE level and supports those hoping to study classics at university.
The report said there was a clear north-south divide in the teaching of Latin.
Latin is also the most popular language taught in the first three years of independent secondary school, after French, Spanish and German, whereas for state schools it was Mandarin. However, Latin was the most popular extracurricular language offered at state schools.
Experts say primary children should be taught languages for a minimum of an hour a week to ensure they make progress, but lessons in some schools were less than 30 minutes.
The report shows the gap between state and private remains. In state education, French is the most popular language, offered by 89 per cent of secondaries for GCSE, compared with 76 per cent offering Spanish and 38 per cent German.
Almost all private schools — 97 per cent — taught French at GCSE with 96 per cent offering Spanish and 80 per cent German.
Numbers taking French GCSE have halved since 2005, from about 251,700 to 123,000, while German is only a third of its 2005 number — falling from about 101,500 to 35,000. The number taking Spanish has almost doubled from 57,700 to 107,500 but this is not enough to make up for the decline in other languages.
Dr Ian Collen, author of the report, said the two consistent barriers to languages were the content of the exams and how they were marked and graded.
The government wants 90 per cent of pupils to take a foreign language GCSE in 2025. Collen said this equated to an extra quarter of a million pupils choosing this as an option in the next two years.
Spanish A-level entries have already overtaken French and he predicted that the same would happen at GCSE within the next three years.
However, more secondary schools are offering German at A-level and GCSE today than are teaching it to new pupils, raising concern about numbers coming through the system.
Universities were struggling to fill their trainee language teacher courses, he said, adding: “There’s a recruitment crisis for language teachers in England.”
- Nicola Woolcock
Forget watching The Apprentice — budding tycoons should study ancient philosophers and read classic novels if they want to flourish in the cut-throat world of business, a new book suggests.
The wisdom of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates underpin successful leadership and can help entrepreneurs find better arguments to justify their decisions, according to its author, the head of a business school.
Santiago Iñiguez, the Oxford- educated president of IE University in Madrid, which teaches MBAs in English and in Spanish, told The Times that he was also a fan of more modern philosophers and “lives by Wittgenstein”.
Best of Times
Our flagship newsletter featuring our top stories and analysis, delivered every morning.
Sign up with one click
Iñiguez, a professor of strategic management, has a degree in law and a PhD in moral philosophy and says in his book that managers should be wary of charismatic job applicants, and “love” their employees. He writes that “philosophy does not provide categorical, one-size-fits-all solutions to the problems we face as managers but it can help us articulate our thoughts better, make sense of our intuitions and find better arguments to justify our decisions”.
Iñiguez cites John Locke, the 17th century Enlightenment thinker. He writes: “Rather than the carrot and the stick, says Locke, it is better to praise children publicly when they do well, while criticism, often simply through a look, should be made in private. I have found this approach works well with adults over the course of my career.”
He draws parallels between the analogy known as Plato’s cave — which examines the nature of belief versus knowledge — and modern-day marketing techniques, and questions what Thomas Hobbes would have made of Mark Zuckerberg and what Wittgenstein would have thought of Siri, the voice-activated artificial intelligence tool, and ChatGPT.
Iñiguez said: “Behind any key management decision, there are always values and principles, even if you don’t reflect about them.”
There has been a sharp decline in the number of students studying English literature and some humanities subjects in the UK, while the popularity of business degrees soars.
Iñiguez said this was worrying and that entrepreneurs in the US had often benefited from taking liberal arts degrees. He said: “They become architects or engineers only at the second phase, when they have very solid bases in the humanities. That makes them good managers and leaders. What we’re missing is precisely these bases of education in the humanities.”
The cost of living crisis and spiralling student debt was encouraging increasing numbers of students to take degrees that they believed would lead to better paid jobs, he said.
- Andrew Clowes
Writing exclusively for The Leaders Council, Andrew Clowes, headteacher of Hey with Zion Primary School in Oldham, Lancashire, explains why he is bucking the trend and teaching classics at his state primary school.
I am introducing classics at my state church primary school in Oldham.
Why? What relevance has the ancient world for today’s children?
There are so many reasons. The study of classics- their languages and civilisations- has so much to offer our society and by marginalising it as we have, we are the poorer.
There is a wonderful charity called Classics For All which offers free support to state schools throughout the country to introduce and build upon any current classics provision they offer. My school will be teaming up with it.
- Oliver Webb-Carter
At The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in London, on 26th October 2022, Alexander the Great stood accused of terrible crimes against humanity, the indictment of which can be found here. I witnessed the televised proceedings as Alexander III of Macedon sat, making no sound but shaking his head sadly, as the four counts were read out:
Count 1: he ordered the extensive pillaging and/or destruction by the Macedonian Army of the city of Persepolis, which was not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, in violation of the laws and customs of war;
Count 2: he ordered the wilful killing en masse by the Macedonian Army of those Persian civilians present in the city of Persepolis;
Count 3: he ordered or permitted the enslavement en masse by the Macedonian Army of female Persian civilians present in the city of Persepolis;
Count 4: he ordered or permitted the destruction of the palace complex, a historic monument, when this was not imperatively demanded by the necessities of war and was not a military objective.
Alexander, looking somewhat bedraggled, unshaven and dressed in a lumberjack shirt, sat impassively for much of the proceeding. The temptation to settle the matter in his customary way must have been strong, but it is to his credit that he remained calm throughout.
The eminent Philippe Sands KC, author of The Ratline, led for the Director of Athenian Prosecutions, but the case did not seem strong against “Mr the Great”. Using legal argument from 1946 Nuremberg trials was a brilliant move – had Alexander been living in 1946. Unfortunately for Sands, though luckily for Carthage and Rome, he had died 2,344 years earlier in 323BC.
Now it was the turn of Patrick Gibbs KC, and piece by piece he dismantled the case presented by the prosecution, using their own argument; no eyewitnesses, unlike at Nuremberg; no contemporary evidence, unlike at Nuremberg. There was the rather difficult fact that all the evidence relied on writers from 400+ years after the event. These eyewitnesses “read books…written by people who had spoken to people who may have been there…” Gibbs was keen to see these books, but sadly the prosecution had to admit they had been lost. “An ancient excuse.” responded Gibbs, mournfully.
The argument the prosecution had employed against Alexander, was that the four counts constituted a war crime. Even taking into account the flimsy evidence, Gibbs asked the jury to imagine being in the Macedonian soldiery. Having described the traumatic events of the Battle of Persian Gates, when the roles at Thermopylae were reversed, and then the struggle to enter the city of Persepolis, Gibbs had constructed an emotional piece of rhetoric, which brought a tear to the eye of at least one viewer.
When the not guilty verdict on all four counts arrived, it was overwhelming – and this was despite a last minute attempt at steering the jury the other way by Supreme Court Justice Leggatt.
What a hugely entertaining and educational exercise, not only in ancient Greek history, but in modern day legal debate. All participants performed their roles admirably (even Lord Leggatt), and Classics for All has continued the moot trials as is their tradition – previous accused have included Socrates, Antigone, Boudicca and Lysistrata. The trials can be replayed here.
Classics for All was established to reverse the trend of the subject in state schools. In 2010, only 25% of state schools taught Classics (the figure is 75% in private schools), and the charity’s mission is to reverse that decline. Classics for All encourages the teaching of Latin, Greek, Ancient History and Classical Civilisation in state schools across the country, with many in the most deprived areas. You can find out more about Classics for All’s great work here.
Oliver Webb-Carter is the Editor of Aspects of History.
- Patrick Kidd
Alexander T Great, a 2,377-year-old former Macedonian politician, walked free from the Supreme Court in London last night after a jury acquitted him on four counts of war crimes during the sack of Persepolis in 331-30 BC.
The verdict surprised Lord Leggatt, the Supreme Court Justice, presiding, after the jury chose to judge the defendant by the standards of his own time rather than modern customs of war in the annual Classics for All moot trial.
“I cannot help but feel some regret that you found deliberate extermination and enslavement not to be war crimes but so be it,” Leggatt said.
Alexander had pleaded not guilty to ordering the pillaging of Persepolis, the capital of the Persian empire in what is now Iran, the killing of its civilians and the enslavement of women in violation of the laws and customs of war and of ordering the destruction of the palace, a historic monument. Between eight and 18 members of the 100-strong jury found him guilty on each charge.
Leading for the prosecution, Philippe Sands, KC, argued that it would undermine the principle of universal jurisdiction to judge Alexander by ancient standards when there had been no mechanism in the 4th century BC to punish a general for the infliction of unnecessary suffering and pain.
“There was no military justification for the actions,” he said, pointing out that the Persian Empire had been substantially defeated over a three-year campaign and that the defendant had accepted the peaceful surrender of other cities. He called the sacking of Persepolis “an act of revenge” for attacks on Greece 150 years earlier.
On the destruction of the palace, the prosecution said the lack of any gold or silver in the archaeological remains proved premeditation. They quoted one Parmenion, Alexander’s adviser, who had told him not to burn it, since it would only alienate the Persians.
In Alexander’s defence, Patrick Gibbs, KC, argued that “only an anachronist would see it as a war crime”. As a commander who slept with Homer’s Iliad under his pillow, Alexander’s actions had been consistent with those of the victorious Greeks at Troy. Gibbs also questioned the prosecution’s reliance on historians who were writing centuries after the event. “Where was Diodorus Siculus in 330BC?” he said. “He was 250 years unborn. “Where was Quintus Curtius Rufus, or Plutarch, or Arrian? They saw nothing. They spoke to no one who was there.”
The defence said that the Greek army had entered Persepolis “with their fighting heads on” and felt entitled to take the spoils of war. They were given motivation by the sight of a pitiful group of their countrymen, whom the Persians had held captive and tortured. “It would be no surprise if some bloody work followed,” Gibbs said.
The destruction of the palace, the defence argued, was merely the result of a drunken evening that went wrong. Cleitarchus, Alexander’s court historian, reported that a courtesan named Thaïs had dared the commanders to burn down the building at a banquet. Sands called this a “tabloid” excuse, but it convinced most of the jury.
This was the seventh moot trial held at the Supreme Court by the charity Classics for All, which supports the teaching of ancient languages in state schools. In 2021, the charity raised £100,000, which it has spent on working with 94 state primary schools, many in areas of high socio-economic disadvantage. They include Cambrai Primary, based at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, where the headteacher believes that Latin will give the school’s highly transient population the best grounding for learning languages at future secondary schools.
Previous trials have featured Boudica, Socrates and Brutus. The trial can be watched at classicsforall.org.uk/alexander
- Patrick Kidd
The judicial backlog must be getting bad: the Supreme Court is to hear a case this month against a Mr Alexander T Great, who is charged with war crimes during the razing of Persepolis some 2,350 years ago. Philippe Sands, the human rights barrister, will argue for the prosecution on October 26 that Mr Great committed atrocities as a deliberate political act, while Patrick Gibbs KC, will argue for the defence that it was merely the tragic consequence of drunken behaviour. Who hasn’t overdone the pillaging after one Metaxa too many? Precedent in this annual moot trial for the charity Classics for All holds out hope for Mr Great. In previous years, Boudica was found to be a freedom fighter rather than a terrorist, Socrates was acquitted of corrupting the young and Brutus got away with murdering Julius Caesar.
- Rachel Cunliffe
In 2013 Boris Johnson took the stage at the Melbourne Writers Festival and broke into an impromptu two-and-half-minute recitation of Homer’s Iliad in the original Greek. The audience reaction – laughter, clapping, rousing cheers – was clearly exactly what the then Mayor of London had expected. In videos from the event you can watch him bask in the applause and see on his face the expression of a man who knows he’s just achieved something hugely impressive.
But had he? Leaving aside the fact that Johnson’s Homeric monologue was littered with errors, many of us would probably be able to recite a speech or poem we learned at school. Even those who can’t could manage a song. Learning things by rote isn’t difficult, and even memorising lines in another language is fairly straightforward if it’s drummed into you over and over again. But Johnson was declaiming in ancient Greek – a magical, arcane tongue which, along with Latin, somehow has the power to render the speaker a genius in the eyes of people who, had they had the opportunity to study classics, would be able to do exactly the same.
I thought about Johnson’s performance when I read about Roehampton University’s plans to scrap its classics courses from September – the university is also cutting back on philosophy, drama, creative writing and other arts subjects and making over 100 academic staff redundant. There has been an outcry – and understandably so. Roehampton’s classics department is widely respected, ranking fifth in the Guardian’s 2021 league table for the subject. The reasons for the closures are unclear – the university has cited “student demand evolving” and made vague reference to “financial challenges” – but whatever they are, the decision comes at a time when the higher education sector is scrambling for funding and universities are being encouraged by the government to focus on courses with simple-to-measure graduate outcomes. It’s easy to see why administrators might not consider teaching dead languages that don’t lead to an obvious career path to be much of be a priority.
Of course, “education isn’t just about money – it’s about changing the way people think”, as the esteemed classicist Mary Beard pointed out when invited onto Times Radio to discuss the cuts. Studying classics has a number of benefits beyond being able to read a text that’s two thousand years old in the original language. Latin and Greek are not simply useless dead languages – studying them at school has been shown to boost grammar learning ability in general, making it easier to pick up modern languages and improving English proficiency and vocabulary. A recent study in Blackpool found that learning Latin increased baseline literacy scores. And if you want to make sense of European history or modern philosophy, an understanding of the ancient world is invaluable. As Hilary Hodgson, chief executive of Classics for All (a charity which aims to expand access to the subject in state schools) puts it: “The study of classics opens the door to a rich 2,000-year legacy of language, literature, history and culture which underpin much of the way we frame our lives today; a cultural treasure trove to which we return to shed light on contemporary issues.”
It’s not an easy case to make, however, at least not if you want to avoid accusations of elitism. Just a few months after Boris Johnson was delighting the Melbourne audience, Michael Gove was being derided for his attempts as education secretary to boost Latin in state schools. The implication in the criticism was very much that there were more important things pupils should be learning, and that trying to widen participation in a subject primarily taught at elite boarding schools was in itself a form of snobbery. Seven years later another education secretary, Gavin Williamson, faced similar backlash.
Classics occupies a paradoxical space in the British psyche. Latin is a shorthand for privilege or academic uselessness. Yet at the same time, those who are comfortable quoting it enjoy a reputation for intellectual superiority. There is no basis for this: the ability to read Latin is less a marker of intelligence than a sign of where someone went to school. A 2020 British Council report found that Latin was taught at Key Stage 3 (when pupils are aged 11 to 14) in just 2.7 per cent of English state schools. The lack of access to classics can be seen in the figures for A-levels (in 2019 76 per cent of Latin and 92 per cent of Greek candidates came from independent schools) and university admissions (fewer than a quarter of Oxford classicists in 2019 came from state schools).
Efforts to reverse the trend are under way. Universities are trying to make courses more accessible to those who haven’t had the chance to study the subject before, undoing some of the stigma. Networks of teachers and academics have been fighting to increase participation in state schools, as have groups like Classics for All, which has worked with more than 1,100 state schools since 2010. “For young people, engaging with classics can help to develop critical thinking skills and raise aspirations as part of a broad and balanced curriculum,” says Hodgson. “Why, then, should this rich resource be restricted to a lucky few when it can benefit everyone?”
I’d argue there’s another reason for trying to expand the study of classics. As long as Latin and Greek remain inaccessible, confined to the upper echelons, they’ll retain their disproportionate power to dazzle and awe. An aspiring politician can deflect attention away from his personal inadequacies and glaring lack of ideology or integrity by peppering a speech with a few choice quotes from Pericles or Cicero. He can even use a debunked theory of ancient history to justify his warped immigration policy. It won’t tell us any more about his character or ability than a line from Shakespeare or the Beatles or Twilight would, but it enables him to avoid scrutiny and keep people under the illusion that he possesses some mystical wisdom of the ancients. Someone shouldn’t need a classics degree from Oxford – or Roehampton – to be able to see through the scholastic smoke and mirrors. If the study of classics is still considered elitist, it’s only because we’ve chosen to make it that way.
- Deborah Hall
A Hull mum is staging a "bit of a rebellion" against the state school curriculum by holding free workshops for kids from any background in Ancient Greek and Latin classical studies.
Jenny Porter has funding from a national charity and will open Hull Classics Club in September – a long-held dream of hers. The lessons will appeal to children passionate about Roman history and ancient Greek heroes like Heracles.
- Rahmah Ghazali
Latin, once thought to be a dead language, has been given new life after a Sheffield school adapted it to assist students improve their word knowledge.
Woodlands Primary School has become one of few schools in Sheffield that use it to better their language comprehension as many of the terms used today have their origins in the vocabulary that Roman centurions would have used on a daily basis.
Assistant Headteacher Sarah Bustamante, who spearheads the project, said the school is embarking on teaching Latin to all Key Stage 2 children from September for 30 minutes a week.
- Sophie Watson
A Sheffield Primary school has announced that they will start teaching their Key Stage two students Latin from September 2022.
Woodlands Primary School on Norton Avenue in Gleadless will provide 30 minute Latin lessons every week to children aged seven to 11 in the hopes to improve literacy skills at their school.
The Gleadless Primary will be one of two known schools in Sheffield to provide their pupils with Latin lessons. Arbourthorne Community Primary School on Eastern Avenue in Arbourthorne is the other primary school to do this and has been teaching Latin to their students since 2018.
- Patrick Kidd
It seems quite appropriate that the subject of Tom Stoppard’s latest work is used to long waits. For ten years Penelope of Ithaca lived as a single mother while her husband waged war on Troy. Mission finally accomplished, the other husbands returned home, but Odysseus took another decade to meander his way round the Mediterranean, killing or sleeping with everyone he met as Penelope sat at her loom, fobbing off 100 suitors with the promise that she would marry one of them once her craft, which she unpicked at night, was done. A masterful stitch-up.
Now she speaks again in the British and online premiere of a long monologue that Stoppard, 84, has adapted from a musical collaboration he was writing with his old friend André Previn when the conductor died in 2019. That production was performed four times in the US and has not been heard since, until Stoppard was asked by the academic Peter Jones to dust it down, unpick the music and put it on in aid of a charity that seeks to revive the teaching of classics in state schools.
Like Odysseus’s return, it has taken a long time. “It was about ten years in the making,” Stoppard says as he reflects on how his Penelope came about. “Renée Fleming [the American soprano] kept nagging André to nag me to write something with him for her to sing. I kept putting him off, saying I had nothing to write about. Finally, I committed myself just to stop feeling guilty.”
But who to write about? “Renée was eager for a work that would depict a woman of substance, a heroine,” he says. He considered Joan of Arc or Virginia Woolf; at one stage Emily Dickinson especially interested him. And then a distant memory from childhood, of studying Homer at school and writing his own “pretty appalling” Greek verse, came to the surface. Stoppard had his muse.
This, however, would be a different sort of Penelope. “I had this fixed idea that she might rather resent being remembered as an exemplary, patient little wife staying home and faithful,” he says. Stoppard married the television producer Sabrina Guinness, 66, his third wife, in 2014. They live in Dorset and Notting Hill. Near the start of the half-hour monologue, performed in this new version by the actress Hattie Morahan, he makes the abandoned queen wonder: “Where should I lay my curse for 20 lost years of housekeeping and chastity?”
The gods? Her husband? No, the primary source of her anger is with her cousin, whose flightiness had sent all the men dashing off to Troy. “Round-heeled runaway Helen of the bee-stung lips and ‘who-me?’ eyes, not known for her weaving, knitting or needlework,” Penelope spits. “From her ponytail to her gold-strapped sandals she had the glow of a goddess and a bottom like a cleft peach.”
Stoppard knew that he could find the words. What gave him concern was how they would fit to music. “I generally don’t know what it means to write for a singer,” he says. “In the end, André said, ‘Look, just do it as if it were a long speech in a play and let me worry about how to make it sing.’ ” So began a happy few years of bouncing ideas between themselves whenever they met.
Previn was unwell while they worked on it, but Stoppard had no inkling that he would die at 89, just five months before their work had its debut at the Tanglewood festival in Massachusetts. “He was tremendously lively when he was sitting at the piano and his conversation was always effervescent, but if he had to go from the piano to the bookshelf it was quite a business,” he says. “Maybe I was naive, but I didn’t look on him as dying.”
After four performances in the US, the production was put away — “just in a box file as a memory” — until Jones, who advised Stoppard on Latin translations for The Invention of Love, his 1997 play about the classicist AE Housman, asked if he fancied reviving it as a piece of prose.
When we spoke in early November, before a rehearsal with Morahan, Stoppard had never heard it performed without music. It was filmed by Hat Trick Productions, whose founder, Jimmy Mulville, is the chairman of Classics for All. Mulville fell in love with Latin and Greek at his comprehensive school in Liverpool, saying it took him to Cambridge and beyond and saved him from a career working on the docks. “It was an engine for social mobility,” he says.
Stoppard read various takes on Homer to find inspiration, including Emily Wilson’s iambic pentameter version in 2018, the first translation by a woman. His Penelope is the equal of her husband in wits and sexual assertiveness. I am struck by one line in the monologue when she recalls her young husband coming home early in their marriage, “his blood hot from the chase”, and Penelope undresses and bathes him: “[I] empty a pitcher over his steaming back, his breast, his hard thighs, and serve him till I was sated.” I, note, not he.
Stoppard is in his eighties. His latest play, Leopoldstadt, has received glowing reviews (The Times was a dissenting voice). When it came out in January 2020, he told Radio 4 that it might be his last, but he is having second thoughts. “I meant it might turn out to be my last play,” he says. “I felt quite spent at the time. However, that was a couple of years ago. I would very much like a play to write now, but I haven’t got a play to write.
“More recently, I’ve been thinking that once I’ve got Penelope behind me I’ll think about this more than anything else, where to go next.” He has turned down offers to write for television because they would require a couple of years — “and I don’t know if I will have that time” — but still feels an itch to write for the stage.
“There are big subjects to write about at the moment,” he says. “Refugees, climate change, Brexit . . . but I can’t get a handle on it.” I suggest that he might return to his ancient texts and write a modern play set in antiquity. After all, Oedipus Rex begins with people suffering under a pandemic. “Your instinct is absolutely spot on,” he says. “I can only approach my subject through metaphor rather than head on. I can see vaguely that there is a play to be written that is placed in the past but is a comment on the 2020s, but one has to find the right metaphor.”
The problem, as ever, is time, which seems to be passing more quickly for him these days than it once did. “I tend to take a long time getting started,” he says. “Usually I’m thinking about plays for an awfully long time, for two or three years. And it turns out that at my stage of life, that’s not a very long time."
The UK premiere of Tom Stoppard’s prose poem Penelope, performed by Hattie Morahan, will be broadcast on December 6 at 6pm. Tickets £10. It is preceded by a discussion between Stoppard and Dr Emma Greensmith, an Oxford academic, chaired by Martha Kearney. classicsforall.org.uk
- Patrick Kidd
A mother of two from Norfolk walked free from the Supreme Court last night after being acquitted by a jury of committing terrorist acts involving the death of some 80,000 civilians and the sacking of three cities. By a margin of ten to one, the 50-strong jury accepted the argument that her trail of carnage down the A12 was a justified act of self-defence against “a rotten and illegitimate Roman government”.
- Rebecca Beardmore
Blackpool Sixth is celebrating recognition for teaching classics subjects to youngsters at Fylde coast schools, and four of its students have been given special bursaries to study classics at university.
The college won acclaim from London-based charity Classics for All, which has a mission to increase the study of Latin and Ancient Greek, plus other aspects of the classical world.
- Emma Yeomans
Every Saturday morning Tara Jackson would take two trains from her home on the Wirral to a weekend school with a difference: one offering several hours of ancient Greek grammar.
Jackson, 21, who was then on her gap year, was one of thousands of state school pupils taking up classics, Latin and Greek. Teachers see it as a way to help pupils to improve their language and confidence, and catch up with privately educated peers. The classes she attended were a project in Liverpool where teenagers could take an extracurricular GCSE in ancient Greek, a subject dropped in 2015 by the last non-selective state school to teach it.
Jackson said: “I hadn’t got any university offers due to my predicted grades but I did better than expected so I took a year out to work and save, and reapply.” She wanted to study theology and began teaching herself ancient Greek to help with her future studies, before a family friend told her about the classes. At the end of her gap year she went to Durham and hopes to go into academia as a theologian.
Classics for All has introduced Latin to more than four hundred primaries and is developing teaching materials for primary and secondary schools that would like to expand into Greek. The charity’s work has paid off. In 2010 2,625 children at state schools were studying classical subjects with the charity’s help. By 2020 that figure had increased to more than 17,000. At one primary, St Matthew’s in Birmingham, Classics for All trained 11 teachers in Latin, which was introduced to year 3 and 4 pupils in 2018. It proved such a success that last term all children in years three to six were learning some Latin every week. The school, where 79 per cent of children are eligible for free school meals and many speak English as a second language, even made it the language of choice.
Hilary Hodgson, the programme director at Classics for All, said: “Latin is so logical and structured that it gives [pupils] an understanding of grammatical concepts. Pupils from all backgrounds, interestingly, find it a very neutral language to learn, whether they’re Bangladeshi, whether they’re French, and they’ve never come across the language before. They feel special because they learn it.”
Peter Wright is a tutor in classics and ancient history at Blackpool Sixth Form College and co-ordinates the Classics for All programme across the city. At A-level, many students were astonished that they had not studied the ancient world sooner, he said, while younger students would quickly spot the links between classics and books they enjoyed, for example JK Rowling’s Latin spells in the Harry Potter books. He said: “You’re opening their eyes a little bit to this amazingly rich history . . . [Students] ask what else they can be reading or learning around it. Literally the other day I gave a couple of kids some extra Suetonius to read.”
Wright introduced the classical civilisation A-level at the college in 2012. At the time the college did not routinely send students to Russell Group universities but in 2018 two students went to Oxbridge to study classics.
He oversaw a pilot project to see whether primary school children’s vocabulary and literacy could be improved by studying Latin. The teachers in the schools had no prior knowledge of Latin and many did not even teach modern languages but he taught them the basics, enough to lead students through a popular textbook. “The results were really impressive,” he said. “Seventy-three per cent of the boys improved their scores, around 65 per cent of the girls and 55 per cent of children on pupil premium. And that was just based on, say, 45 minutes delivered by a non-specialist.”
The Blackpool Classics Network supports the subject in ten primary schools, four of which teach Latin now, plus three secondaries.
Wright added: “We have kids routinely who have no university background in their families, many receiving universal credit, just changing things: going off to fantastic universities and then, very importantly, getting great jobs. So one of our students is just finishing Oxford. He’s just got his apprenticeship for Deloitte.”
Although nearly 70 per cent of Oxford’s offers this year went to state school pupils; between 2018 and 2020 the figure for classics was half that, at 35.6 per cent.
The classicist and author Peter Jones said: “The fact is that if only private schools teach Latin and Greek that could be the sole source of Latin and Greek for universities. It’s vital that there are universities that ensure the learning of those languages. If you learn Latin and Greek, you’re getting as close as you possibly can to the mentality of people 2,000 or 2,500 years ago, through the language they spoke.”
Our very own Exeter Network Coordinator, Jasmine Elmer, appeared on Teachers Talk Radio on Sunday 13 June 2021 to chat about her work for Classics for All. The conversation covered everything from reasons to study classics (‘it is such a varied subject, there’s something for everyone in it’) to why it should be taught in state schools. Among other things, Jasmine contested the challenge that classics is an ‘elitist’ subject that holds no relevance in the 21st century, argued why we should not shy away from uncomfortable aspects of antiquity – such as slavery, violence, misogyny, and empire – and answered caller questions on learning Sanskrit and why the ancient world is a valuable framework for thinking about modern issues.
- Melanie McDonagh
Surprise! The one bit of the report from the Social Mobility Commission about class in the civil service — apparently at the top it’s posher than in 1967 — that caught the attention of the pundits was the part about Latin. According to one of the 300,000 respondents to its survey called Kristine, “senior staff would sometimes break into Latin”. That’s how the BBC put it anyway. “You’ll be in a ministerial meeting and they’ll sort of talk in Latin, but they’re making what you’ll realise later is a sort of joke about Brussels that everyone sort of understands, and laughs.”
Oh yes? I doubt that a single permanent secretary would be able to “sort of talk in Latin”. I’d be glad if they could. What Kristine may mean is that in discussion someone will come up with a Latin tag, maybe along the lines of “Quis custodiet . . .?” Or “Timeo Danaos . . .” The reason you might do that is that there’s a lot of meaning packed into those tags. “Quis custodiet” sounds leaden if translated as “who will guard the guardians?” (Juvenal), but it gets to the gist of the problem of monitoring the people who monitor everyone else. “Timeo Danaos”, or “I fear the Greeks, even bearing gifts”, is about the Trojan horse, but usefully suggests that if an opponent is being nice, mind your back.
It’s part of civilised discourse to use terms of reference that we’ve got in common but it assumes an education that can’t now be taken as read. The problem isn’t with the Latin, which is as terse and useful as it ever was. It’s that far fewer people have a very basic grounding in it than was the case in 1967, when 67 per cent of top civil servants came from privileged homes, as opposed to 72 per cent now. In grammar schools you were quite likely to have Latin lessons.
In 2019, only 12 per cent of A-level Latin candidates were from non-selective state-maintained schools. “Classics poverty” is an actual thing. It’s why Mary Beard, who’s allergic to class-based classics, has funded a couple of places for students to study classics at Cambridge. Latin shouldn’t be a class privilege; Kristine should have had the chance to learn it too and join in the jokes.
There’s one obvious person who has the power to make this change happen: step forward that well-known classicist Boris Johnson who, as London mayor in 2010, said it was “absurd” for Latin to be left out of the state school curriculum. He was right.
Letters to the Editor
The Times (24 May 2021)
Sir, At Classics For All we wholeheartedly agree with Melanie McDonagh (“Latin shouldn’t be the preserve of the privileged few”, Thunderer, May 21), which is why since 2010 we have been making a tangible difference to the health of classics in state education, giving access to the subject to more than 90,000 pupils in 1,000 schools. This successful strategy is co-ordinated by 17 regional networks largely based at Russell Group universities, which target schools in areas of low social mobility. Last year more than 100 of our pupils went on to study classics at university. The subject not only strengthens their grasp of language, grammar and syntax, improving their command of English and generally giving them confidence in other subjects, but also crucially provides a clear route to good higher education.
Chairman, Classics For All London SW5
Highlights from the Comments:
I never thought I came from a 'privileged background' - working class family, State school education, started work at 17 rather than go to Uni but the year I spent learning Latin, when about 12 years old, has proved to be amazingly useful. I now support a charity called "Classics for All" which promotes the teaching of Latin & Greek. It's a brilliant idea especially for those of us born without a silver spoon. – Westiod
One of the main benefits that I gained from learning Latin at grammar school arose during the first six weeks of lessons. The Latin Master began by ensuring that we had a thorough understanding of the structure of the English language. Grammatical constructions, such as “adverbial clauses of time, manner, place and reason”, as well as verb forms, cases et cetera, continue to serve me well - even if most of the Latin itself is long gone. – CPR
I have always been interested in languages and I did get a respectable pass grade for Latin 'O' level, much to the surprise of my teacher who told me I would certainly fail. I did French and Spanish for 'A' level . I have lived outside England now for half my life and I transitioned over from Spanish to Portuguese. I have found that having some knowledge of Latin has been really useful throughout my life. – Nigel Brown
Latin is a useful key to understanding the structure and vocabulary of English and a number of other European languages. It is also important in understanding our history and culture. The opportunities to study it should be widened, not curtailed. – Camelot
I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to study Latin at school. I have used it on so many occasions, particularly as I developed a career using modern foreign languages. Latin gives you a good grounding in grammar and etymology. One of the many reasons why there is less take up of languages particularly at A level year on year, is because students have never heard of things like (for example) 'accusative' and 'dative' and so learning a new language becomes difficult since there is no foundation already in place, on which to build knowledge. It's like building a house, roof first? I taught Latin at key stage 2 (primary) and it provides a rich educational seam, covering many areas of the curriculum. It's so simple getting children involved at that age, with a whole host of hands-on activities which are fun and accessible. Latin should be a part of the English primary curriculum. – Crashcentrel13
- Peter Barron
A North-East school took a step back in time as children explored the culture and history surrounding the language of Ancient Rome.
Pupils at Polam Hall School, in Darlington, donned sandals and togas for a special Latin Afternoon as they learned more about the legacy of the Roman Empire.
Teacher Emma-Jo Blundy, who organised the event, said: “We believe there is great value in keeping Latin in the curriculum. Many English words have their roots in Latin, so studying it improves our pupils’ grasp of grammar and supports their understanding of their own language.
– Dr Peter Jones MBE
The woman from Ofsted asked, her voice rancid with contempt: “Why are you teaching Latin to pupils from Pennywell?”…
– Andrew Percival
Could your students benefit from exploring the ancient language? Andrew Percival offers five pointers on how to do it
– Patrick Kidd
Not for the first time the Spartans left the Supreme Court frustrated. So did the Athenians as a jury defended a woman’s right to end political deadlock by withholding sex.
Perhaps Lysistrata offers a way to resolve Brexit?
At a moot trial held by Classics for All, a charity that supports the teaching of Latin and Greek in state schools, the Supreme Court rejected the petition of an unnamed Athenian for divorce against his wife, Lysistrata, a classical feminist about 2,460 years old.
The appeal was on the grounds of her unreasonable behaviour, as outlined in a comedy by Aristophanes written in 411BC. A jury of more than 60 men and women voted by five to one on Thursday night in Lysistrata’s favour.
They heard that she had stirred up the women of Athens and Sparta to go on sex strike to bring an end to the Peloponnesian War that had been fought between their cities for 20 years. All pleasures would be refused, according to Aristophanes, especially the popular, if contorted, “lioness on the cheese grater” position.
Hannah Markham, QC, representing the husband, said that this was “the epitome of unreasonable behaviour”.
Nonsense, Damian Garrido, QC, replied. He said that Lysistrata had acted in the national interest.
The aptly named Baroness Arden of Heswall, one of the Supreme Court justices who recently ruled against the prime minister, said in her summing up that this was “a very modern dispute”.
Setting out the husband’s case under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which normally applies to England and Wales but was temporarily extended to ancient Greece, Ms Markham told the jury that “the facts may make you feel as frustrated as their poor husbands”.
Lysistrata and her friends had sought to make their men “cave under the strain” and act contrary to their oaths to defend their cities. The women had even cruelly inflamed the men’s desires, she said, by wearing see-through gowns and sexy make-up so as to render them incapable of fighting through “erectile hypertension”. Furthermore, they seized control of the Athenian treasury on the Acropolis.
In an argument seldom heard in English courts, Ms Markham said that Lysistrata had risked bringing the wrath of the gods upon her household by defying their will. “Greek gods are not well known for their mercy and understanding,” she said.
Mr Garrido suggested that the husband had cynically chosen to have the case heard in an English court rather than risk being ordered by an Athenian jury to return his dowry of €11.5 million adjusted for inflation.
He said that Lysistrata not only accepted her husband’s version of events but was proud of it. “She makes no apology for her creative approach to breaking the political deadlock,” he said.
“Any short-term priapic pain led to long-term universal gain.” As well as shortening the war, she had saved many men’s lives in a city where the male population was already critically low.
Mr Garrido pointed out that women in ancient Greece could not vote or hold office. Refusing sex was one of the few powers they had.
Referring to the nickname for pro-Brexit Tory MPs, he observed that Britain had its own Spartans. “One can only imagine the benefit if their wives had withheld privileges,” he said.
He concluded by saying that there was no evidence that Lysistrata’s actions had any impact on the petitioner’s reputation. Indeed, Aristophanes does not mention his protagonist’s husband at all. The roles of Lysistrata and her husband were played by Judith Tyrrell and David Hogg, two teachers at Kelmscott comprehensive school in Walthamstow, northeast London, which has built a classics department from scratch in six years after getting support from Classics for All. Five students took Latin at GCSE two years ago, one of whom is now reading classics at university. There are 60 studying Latin and 55 Greek in year 8 this year.
They come from Chinese, Romanian, Caribbean and Turkish families as well as British. “Far from being elitist, it is a great leveller,” Mrs Tyrrell said. “They are fascinated by the issues raised. Love, death, sex, honour: these are all very human themes.”
– Julia Wills
Nowadays the Mediterranean diet often makes the news and it’s widely accepted that eating all those good fats from olives and oily fish boost your brain big-time.
But guess what?
The Mediterranean diet has always been good for us – except that I’m not talking about feta cheese and salad in the sunshine here. I’m talking about the Classics, those much older gifts from Greece and Italy that have always built better cognitive health and are guaranteed to boost children for life.
– Daisy Dunn
How did a jury at the British Supreme Court recently come to absolve Julius Caesar’s assassins of murder? Brutus et Cassius absolvuntur!
This, the trial of the millennium, held only two millennia late, was organized by the charity Classics for All, for their Lawyers Group.
The deceased were represented by legal heavyweights: Lord Hughes, Justice of the Supreme Court, was the judge; William Boyce QC and Arabella Macdonald were the counsel for the prosecution, and Tony Peto QC and Maya Lester QC counsel for the defence. The witnesses included Virgil, Plutarch and Shakespeare.
– Nicola Woolcock
Thousands of children in deprived areas are learning Latin thanks to a pioneering programme to introduce it to state primary schools. Ancient Greek could be next on the curriculum as the passion for Classics gathers momentum.
Minimus the mouse has been the figurehead of much of the Latin teaching, with children as young as seven learning the language instead of French, German or Spanish.
The charity Classics For All has helped 300 state schools to offer lessons in the language, and aims to double this in the next two years.
[Full article is behind paywall]
– Daisy Dunn
Today, few teenagers learn Latin or Greek. But would we understand the world better if we read and studied classics?
On a blustery evening in November, more than 2,000 people flocked to Central Hall in Westminster, London, to watch a debate between Boris Johnson and Mary Beard about classics.
The “Greece v Rome” debate was never supposed to have been that big.
– Jill, Duchess of Hamilton
Last month, The Times started running a Latin crossword on its back page; November’s debate of the Greeks (Boris Johnson) versus the Latins (Mary Beard) at Westminster Hall was sold out; and two of David Beckham’s tattoos are Ut Amem Et Foveam (“So That I Love and Cherish”) and Perfectio in Spiritu, (“Spiritual Perfection”). On top of this, the estimated number of schools teaching Latin is now 1,000 in the state sector alone – and growing.
– Callum Keown
A CASH boost is set to create a classics hub so that the city’s children have better access to GCSE and A-Level Latin courses.
Cheney School has been awarded a grant to run the courses from its East Oxford Community Classics Centre.
The money will also be used at a primary school level to teach classics – Latin, Ancient Greek and Classical Civilisation.
– Josephine Quinn
The ancient Greek A-level is dying out in British state schools: only 37 offered it in 2013, alongside 223 independent schools. Now it is under threat at Camden School for Girls, thought to be the only non-selective state school in the country to offer the subject at A-level, and whose pupils regularly go on to study classics at universities including Oxford, Cambridge and UCL.
But neither Greek nor Latin A-level – or indeed any foreign language – is a prerequisite for the study of classics and the classical languages at any UK university. And while there are other good reasons to study Greek and Latin at school – these rigorous, highly grammatical languages teach their students to think straight, and make them better at other subjects, including English and maths – the study of classical languages at elementary levels is booming, thanks to the remarkable efforts of dedicated teachers and charities like Classics For All, with government support. So why should we care about the demise of a dead language at A-level?
– Bettany Hughes
Here’s a challenge for you. Name your top 10 battles of antiquity. Marathon and Salamis probably spring to mind; perhaps too the Bronze Age Battle of Kadesh (after which the world’s first ”peace treaty’’ was published; a copy now sits outside the UN building in New York). Constantine I’s epoch-forming victory at Milvian Bridge, Alexander’s Gaugamela and Hannibal’s Cannae might well be contenders.
But I would stick my neck out and say that I doubt the 5th-century BC Battle of Artemisium is on your list. Yet this Friday Artemisium, and its unlikely heroine Artemisia, will almost certainly become household names – and on the lips of every self-respecting teenager – when the action film 300: Rise of an Empire hits our screens.
[Full article is behind paywall]
– Sarfraz Manzoor
This group of comprehensive pupils are mad for Latin. And it has nothing to do with pushy parents.
Kira Copland was 6 when she first became fascinated by the prospect of learning Latin. Her interest was triggered by a TV documentary about Ancient Rome, which she watched with her dad. ‘I loved the idea of being able to translate things from thousands of years ago,’ says the 12-year-old, but thought she’d never get the chance to study it at ‘a normal school like mine’.
[Full article is behind paywall]
– Marie Woolf
Latin, a moribund subject in most state schools, is experiencing a surge in popularity, thanks in part to modern technology. Where once students chanted amo, amas, amat by rote and trudged through Caesar’s Gallic Wars, today they are being taught declensions via video link and using iPad apps.
The number of children entered last year for Latin GCSE, or equivalent exams recognised under the English baccalaureate (EBacc) system, soared from just over 10,000 to almost 11,500.
[Full article is behind paywall]