Thursday, April 8, 2010


Latin is set to be returned to the school curriculum following an official review.

By Robert Winnett, Deputy Political Editor
Last Updated: 9:05AM GMT 27 Dec 2008

Ministers believe it is an "important subject" and may help school pupils to learn modern languages.

Fewer than 15 per cent of state schools teach Latin and the number of qualified teachers is falling.

However, the Department for Education is understood to be considering adding Latin to the new Languages diploma, which will run alongside GCSEs and A-levels from next year. Baroness Morgan, the schools minister, has indicated that the Government wishes to see Latin regain its status as an important language. She said it was "an important subject and valuable for supporting pupils' learning of modern languages". She added that the Language Diploma Development Partnership was "considering the place of Latin".

Well-placed sources said that the language was expected to be reinstated as an official curriculum language next year.

Baroness Morgan made the comments in response to calls from another Labour peer, Lord Faulkner of Worcester who said it helped students to learn other languages. "Each year, 35 new Latin teachers are trained but over 60 are leaving the profession,'' he said. "Isn't it time that Latin was reclassified as an official curriculum language and was given the same encouragement as other languages?" Over the past 20 years, the teaching of Latin has rapidly declined in state schools and classicists have predicted that it could disappear altogether in the next decade.

In 1988, 16,023 students were entered for GCSE, with 53 per cent from state schools. However, since 2000 only about 10,000 pupils annually have entered for GCSE Latin, with only 37 per cent from the state sector. Lady Morgan said that the number of younger children studying Latin had already risen sharply over the past decade following Government investment in computer software and other teaching tools. There are only two teacher-training courses in Latin, at Cambridge University and King's College London. Therefore, the number of Latin teachers is falling rapidly as staff retire.

Bob Lister, a lecturer in classics education at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC: "Unless someone at a senior level comes up with serious ways of supporting Latin I fear that within the next generation it will pretty much disappear."

He added: "We don't want to be seen to be dumbing down the classics but for an average school student who doesn't start to learn Latin until they are 13, GCSE Latin is extremely hard work." Meanwhile, peers have also asked to be given access to Latin lessons in the House of Lords. Baroness O'Cathain, a Conservative peer, asked for Latin courses to be added a list of 10 modern languages on offer to peers.

2009 January 25th: SIR MICK JAGGER AND LATIN

From the Sunday Telegraph, January 25 2009
Richard Eden

Sir Mick was looking around Latymer Upper School recently with Gabriel, his 11-year son by Jerry Hall, when he was shown into a classroom where a Latin lesson was taking place. The singer looked at the words on the board and found to his delight that he could understand them.

"He was thrilled that he could read it all," says my man at the school, at which Gabriel may start in September, subject to passing an exam.

The fees for the west London school, which has been fully co-educational since 2004, are £13,470 a year. Sadly for Sir Mick, who is known to keep a close eye on the purse strings, Gabriel is unlikely to qualify for a means-tested scholarship.

Last year, Mandrake disclosed that Alan Rickman, who played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, was paying for a bursary at his alma mater. The actor followed in the footsteps of Hugh Grant and Mel Smith, his fellow Old Latymerians, who already fund bursaries.


Charlotte Higgins blogs in The Guardian

Paul Cartledge, the first ever professor of Greek culture at the University of Cambridge, aims to promote the public understanding of the Greek world

If Mary Beard is Cambridge University's doyenne of ancient Rome, a vigorous promoter of the understanding of Roman culture and history and a brilliant blogger, Paul Cartledge does a similarly effective job for the Hellenes (bar the blogging). The author of many scholarly and extremely approachable books (I recommend The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others, but there are many more), not to mention an adviser on the swords-and-sandals film 300 , Cartledge has just been made the first AG Leventis professor of Greek culture at Cambridge, and yesterday I popped over to hear his inaugural lecture (to be podcast in due course, and published in old-fashioned print). I nearly fell off my chair when I read the bibliography on the lecture handout – among Eagleton T, Leigh Fermor P, Osborne R and Scruton R, sat proudly Higgins C, although as I suspected I was there to provide at least partial evidence for the perpetrating of various "myths" about ancient Greece which he then took care to take apart.

These myths numbered four.

First, that there was any such thing as "ancient Greece". (I am certainly innocent of peddling this one.) Cartledge has been at the forefront of classicists' growing understanding of the cultural diversity of the poleis (city states) of the ancient Greek world, which numbered over 1000, and were dotted over a wide area from Marseille in the west to modern Turkey in the east. Though united (according to Herodotus), by religion and language, they had different customs, political systems and even calendars – and only a handful of them united against the Persian empire in the 480s BC.

Second, that the Greeks were technologically backward (I also plead innocent, but only because I made no claim either way). They may not, according to Cartledge, have had a word for wheelbarrow - but they certainly invented the amazing Antikythera Mechanism, object of much recent research and excitement from classicists and scientists alike.

Third, that the ancient Greeks resemble their Hollywood impersonators (not guilty, or not entirely - I do point out that the Spartans didn't wear leather knickers like they do in 300). Cartledge was fairly uncompromising on this one. Such movies, he said (despite his own involvement in 300) "can be dangerous as well as enjoyable and provocative. They can pander to or influence cultural attempt or hatred." He thought the Iranians were right to see 300's depiction of the Persians as "an example of cultural denigration".

Fourth (probably a bit guilty), that the Greeks invented democracy in anything like the way that we recognise it now. Radical democracy was government by, for, and crucially of, the people, unlike our modern representative democracies. Ancient Athenians would probably have regarded the British and American political systems as oligarchic.

All good stuff, but my favourite part was when he pointed out that the Greek word "borborygmos" has been excluded from the new Ancient Greek-English Lexicon being prepared in Cambridge. Since none of the assembled classicists at last night's lecture seemed prepared to tell me what this word meant, I had to email Prof Cartledge today, who replied that it refers to an "ominous rumbling in the bowels", a precursor, frankly, to a fart. Which proves, ladies and gentlemen, that you learn something new every day, particularly if you happen to make a visit to Cambridge university.

2009 March 8th: GAIL TRIMBLE

This piece was written before the University Challenge final and the shambolic events that overtook the contest.

The Corpus Christi captain has trounced all opposition on University Challenge almost single-handed. Will she do it again in tomorrow's final?

Jeremy Paxman has gazed at her in rapt admiration, awestruck opponents have repeatedly been beaten to the buzzer, and the student blogosphere has turned her into a controversial cult figure. Tomorrow Gail Trimble, captain of the Corpus Christi College, Oxford, team is set to confirm her status as the greatest University Challenge contestant ever.

If form is any guide, when Corpus Christi take on Manchester University in the final, Trimble, 26, will wipe the floor with them, ruthlessly amassing starters-for-10 and cowing the competition with what one contestant described as a form of "intellectual blitzkrieg".

In the Oxford college's run to the final, Trimble has scored more points than her three team-mates combined. In their semi-final, Corpus Christi defeated St John's College, Cambridge, 260-150. Trimble's personal haul was 185. In the quarter-finals, Trimble racked up a record 15 starters-for-10 as Corpus Christi raced to 350 points. Opponents Exeter University limped to 15 points, the equivalent of one correct starter and bonus. It was the lowest score since 1971 and only five points more than the worst of all time.

When Trimble, a Latin literature student from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, finally got a starter-for-10 wrong, interrupting Paxman and costing her team five points, a TV blogger was shocked into posting the exact time of the incident - 16 minutes eight seconds into the semi-final.

Paxman is often left shaking his head in admiration. "My God! You're laughing because they're so easy," he exclaimed on one occasion during the quarter-final.

The eulogies have come thick and fast. She has been called a "TV quiz phenomenon", "the female Stephen Fry", "a one-woman knowledge factory" and someone who has a "breadth of knowledge that has crushed all opposition like a panzer squadron racing across the countryside". Men have been captivated by "hot lips Trimble" and "tasty Trimble", and she has been described as "a fine young lady, beautiful in a scholarly sort of way".

But not everyone has warmed to the Trimble manner. One irate viewer felt compelled to blog: "Not for some time have I been so angry at a complete stranger as I was with this Trimble character. Each answer was met with a smug grin or a cocky smirk. My normally placid girlfriend ended half-poetically seething: 'Not a friend did she own at school', before physically turning her back on the screen so she didn't have to bear this odious little smug specimen."

Speaking to the Observer yesterday, Trimble said: "I've been aware of the attention and the things that are being said. It makes me realise how people see you as a person and how you come across on TV, as opposed to how you have always imagined yourself to be in real life. I don't know quite how some people can get an impression of who you are having only been on a couple of half-hour TV programmes. I don't feel I would have been treated the same way were I a man. Part of it is also to do with the fact that I am the captain, who is always giving the answers."

She is no stranger to success. Educated at Lady Eleanor Holles in Hampton, Middlesex, Trimble won a place at Oxford in 2000 after achieving 11 GCSEs and four A-levels in Latin, Greek, English Literature and Maths - all at grade A. She won a declamation prize at Oxford for Latin recital in 2001, gives recitals in her lunchtimes at college as a soprano singer, lectures on Ovid, Hellenistic poetry and, a favourite of hers, Catullus 64: Ariadne's Lament (a sophisticated miniature epic of Greco-Roman mythology written for a cultural elite in the first century BC).

Stephen Follows, a former University Challenge winner who sang with Trimble in a choir for several years, said she is certainly one of the best contestants to appear on the show.

He said: "People should be celebrating her achievements, not sniping at her. She is an extremely nice, kind person who would be mortified at the thought that anyone would find her condescending. The faces she was pulling in the Exeter match were very English ones of embarrassment over doing too well, rather than triumphalism. They need to get over their own inverted intellectual snobberies."

The 38th University Challenge final should prove her sternest test to date. Manchester won the competition in 2006 and swept away Lincoln College, Oxford, in this year's semi-final by 345-30. Whatever happens, Trimble has fulfilled a lifelong ambition simply by being on the show.

"I always wanted to be on University Challenge, ever since I began watching it with my family when it returned with Jeremy Paxman in 1994. Corpus Christi have had some very strong teams on in recent years, so I was really looking forward to the opportunity to be on.

"I've had a really good time. It's very competitive and that's what is such fun about it. Everyone at Granada made us feel welcome, as did Jeremy. Winning matches meant we travelled back and we were able to meet Jeremy again, so we hoped he would remember us the more he saw us. He did say he was impressed with my performance."


From The Guardian April 16 09

A mouse called Minimus, who was created to encourage Latin lessons in primary schools, has chalked up 100,000 sales of a textbook describing his adventures on Hadrian's Wall. Pupils on the national Primary Latin Project will celebrate the milestone this week at Vindolanda, the wall fort where Minimus lives in the household of the commander, Flavius, his wife and children and a cat called Vibrissa (Latin for Whiskers). The book's author, Barbara Bell, said she was delighted that so many children had found out that "contrary to popular belief, Latin is an extremely useful subject".

Martin Wainwright

2009 April 30th: THE CLASSICS FOR ALL

From The Guardian, April 30 2009
By Charlotte Higgins

The classics and class have always been ­uncomfortably linked. In this country's education system, knowledge of the classics was traditionally the gatekeeper of privilege. If you acquired the classics (even as a humble stonemason's son, like Thomas Hardy you gained a passport to the establishment. Fail (like Hardy's character Jude) and the corridors of power remained out of reach. And, ­ despite a vigorous history of auto­didacts such as one Alfred Williams – born in 1877, he taught himself Latin and Greek by chalking up irregular verbs in his forge – the gate has remained largely shut to the working classes. It is no ­coincidence that the high-watermarks of the British ­empire and British classical learning were more or less coterminous.

Even the words classics and class derive from the same root, a point made by Professor Edith Hall at the ­Classical Association's conference earlier this month. The Latin classis comes from the verb clamare, to call out. A classis is a group of people "summoned together". It is a word associated with Servius Tullius, one of Rome's early kings, who is said to have conducted the first census. The men in the top six classes were classici. By the second century AD, the term came to be used of the most distinguished authors – the scriptores classici.

However, the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. The impulse in the latter half of the 20th century was, instead of broadening access to the study of ancient languages, to slowly strangle it, at least in state education. The result is that Latin and Greek have become more, rather than less, the preserve of independent and public schools, their inevitable poster boy the Eton-and-Balliol man Boris Johnson. With splendid paradox, the government does not recognise Latin – the progenitor of most modern European tongues – as a language as far as the curriculum is concerned. Just 27 PGCE places are available to would-be Latin teachers each year, and a mere eight places in graduate on-the-job training schemes.

But classics won't be killed off. Like that other classical thing close to my heart – music – its demise has been often predicted. But instead of falling on its sword, like a good Roman Stoic, classics has just kept on going. The huge public appetite for knowledge of the ancient world can be seen in the popularity of Roman Mysteries, Caroline Lawrence's brilliant stories for children, or grown-up history such as Tom Holland's Rubicon and Mary Beard's Pompeii.

As the classics professor Richard Seaford pointed out at the Glasgow conference, in 2009 there are more university departments devoted to the subject, more students, more conferences and more productions of Greek plays in the UK than there were 100 years ago. This is not to mention the web, which has transformed access to ancient texts and academic materials. There is even a Roman villa in Second Life, where Latin is spoken. And there are, believe it or not, teachers who tweet students their Latin tests.

Meanwhile, on the frontline in state education, a fierce guerrilla war is being fought by passionate individuals and organisations. The Iris Project is a charity that offers access to Latin to primary-school children in London and Oxford. The Cambridge School Classics Project has found a myriad ways, from video conferencing to e-learning, to support Latin in secondary schools. The Classics Academy teaches Latin and Greek to state-school students in various (but too few) locations in London, fast-tracking them through GCSE and A-level. Many of these last are funded by their schools as part of the government-sponsored Young, Gifted and Talented programme. Evidence from the ground suggests that there is huge demand for these services.

This month Boris Johnson, in his capacity as mayor of London, hosted a round table to examine the provision of Latin in state schools, and to investigate ways of improving it. Three conclusions leaped out. First, the heroic efforts of individuals and small organisations are largely uncoordinated, with no clear path to guide a student from a primary-school love of Minimus the mouse (the hugely popular textbook for younger learners) to A-level. The availability of their work is patchy and atomised; too few children can access it.

Second, there is no substitute for students having face-to-face contact with brilliant teachers who know their gerund from the gerundive. The quota system does not replace all the teachers who leave the profession or retire – and it must be removed.

Third, a more dynamic relationship must be fostered between independent schools' classics departments and local state schools. The private sector's ­expertise must be better shared.

Let us be clear about this. The problem is not about teaching classics in translation. From 1484, when Aesop's Fables rolled off Caxton's printing press, to 1946, when EV Rieu's translation of The Odyssey was published as the first Penguin Classic (and went on to sell 3m copies) there has been no shortage of access to classical texts in English. Twenty or so years ago, the answer to the problem of classics was to teach it in translation: classical studies. Of course not everyone will want to study Latin or Greek (and, in a country where, shamefully, one in four children reach secondary school unable properly to read or write, clearly there will be more pressing priorities for some schools). But the fact remains that denying students the languages themselves denies them the potential to play the game at the highest level. It is a form of inverted elitism.

The history of the study of classics, and of its intertwining with notions of class, is increasingly a subject of academic interest, with Hall and Mary Beard, a professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, undertaking particularly interesting work. Their research, and that of others, will ­untangle some of the myths and prejudices that tag along with Latin and Greek. The value of classics today is incalculable, but it is nothing to do with turning out nice Oxbridge chaps to run the civil service. Classics no longer unlocks a world of privilege, but it does give us the keys to an intellectual playground of breathtaking beauty, wonder, and rigour; it gives us the tools to help us understand who we are. It is wrong that so many schoolchildren are denied that opportunity.

2009 June 24th: THE LOVELY STONES

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Lovely Stones, by Christopher Hitchens

The essay below by Christopher Hitchens on the Parthenon, the new Acropolis Museum and the issue of the return to Greece from Britain of the Parthenon Marbles appears in the July issue of Vanity Fair. Hitchens is a long-time critic of Britain's refusal to repatriate the marbles – Hitchens calls Britain's arguments for keeping them in London 'boring' and 'constipated' – and indeed, he has written a book on the subject, The Elgin Marbles: should they be returned to Greece?

The great classicist A. W. Lawrence (illegitimate younger brother of the even more famously illegitimate T.E. 'of Arabia') once remarked of the Parthenon that it is 'the one building in the world which may be assessed as absolutely right'. I was considering this thought the other day as I stood on top of the temple with Maria Ioannidou, the dedicated director of the Acropolis Restoration Service, and watched the workshop that lay below and around me.

Everywhere there were craftsmen and -women, toiling to get the Parthenon and its sister temples ready for viewing by the public this summer. There was the occasional whine of a drill and groan of a crane, but otherwise this was the quietest construction site I have ever seen – or, rather, heard. Putting the rightest, or most right, building to rights means that the workers must use marble from a quarry in the same mountain as the original one, that they must employ old-fashioned chisels to carve, along with traditional brushes and twigs, and that they must study and replicate the ancient Lego-like marble joints with which the master builders of antiquity made it all fit miraculously together.

Don’t let me blast on too long about how absolutely heart-stopping the brilliance of these people was. But did you know, for example, that the Parthenon forms, if viewed from the sky, a perfect equilateral triangle with the Temple of Aphaea, on the island of Aegina, and the Temple of Poseidon, at Cape Sounion? Did you appreciate that each column of the Parthenon makes a very slight inward incline, so that if projected upward into space they would eventually steeple themselves together at a symmetrical point in the empyrean? The 'rightness' is located somewhere between the beauty of science and the science of beauty.

With me on my tour was Nick Papandreou, son and grandson of prime ministers and younger brother of the Socialist opposition leader, who reminded me that the famously fluted columns are made not of single marble shafts but of individually carved and shaped 'drums', many of them still lying around looking to be re-assembled. On his last visit, he found a graffito on the open face of one such. A certain Xanthias, probably from Thrace, had put his name there, not thinking it would ever be seen again once the next drum was joined on. Then it surfaced after nearly 2,500 years, to be briefly glimpsed (by men and women who still speak and write a version of Xanthias’s tongue) before being lost to view once more, this time for good. On the site, a nod of respect went down the years, from one proud Greek worker to another.

The original construction of the Parthenon involved what I call Periclean Keynesianism: the city needed to recover from a long and ill-fought war against Persia and needed also to give full employment (and a morale boost) to the talents of its citizens. Over tremendous conservative opposition, Pericles in or about the year 450 BC pushed through the Athenian Assembly a sort of stimulus package which proposed a labor-intensive reconstruction of what had been lost or damaged in the Second Persian War. As Plutarch phrases it in his Pericles:

'The house-and-home contingent, no whit less than the sailors and sentinels and soldiers, might have a pretext for getting a beneficial share of the public wealth. The materials to be used were stone, bronze, ivory, gold, ebony and cypress-wood; the arts which should elaborate and work up these materials were those of carpenter, molder, bronze-smith, stone-cutter, dyer, veneerer in gold and ivory, painter, embroiderer, embosser, to say nothing of the forwarders and furnishers of the material It came to pass that for every age almost, and every capacity, the city’s great abundance was distributed and shared by such demands.'

When we think of Athens in the fifth century BC, we think chiefly of the theater of Euripides and Sophocles and of philosophy and politics – specifically democratic politics, of the sort that saw Pericles repeatedly re-elected in spite of complaints that he was overspending. And it’s true that Antigone was first performed as the Parthenon was rising, and Medea not all that long after the temple was finished. From drama to philosophy: Socrates himself was also a stonemason and sculptor, and it seems quite possible that he too took part in raising the edifice. So Greece might have something to teach us about the arts of recovery as well. As the author of The Stones of Athens, R. E. Wycherley, puts it:

'In some sense, the Parthenon must have been the work of a committee It was the work of the whole Athenian people, not merely because hundreds of them had a hand in building it, but because the assembly was ultimately responsible, confirmed appointments, and sanctioned and scrutinized the expenditure of every drachma.'

I have visited many of the other great monuments of antiquity, from Luxor and Karnak and the pyramids to Babylon and Great Zimbabwe, and their magnificence is always compromised by the realization that slaves did the heavy lifting and they were erected to show who was boss. The Parthenon is unique because, though ancient Greece did have slavery to some extent, its masterpiece also represents the willing collective work of free people. And it is open to the light and to the air: 'accessible,' if you like, rather than dominating. So that to its rightness you could tentatively add the concept of 'rights', as Periclean Greeks began dimly to formulate them for the first time.

Not that the beauty and symmetry of the Parthenon have not been abused and perverted and mutilated. Five centuries after the birth of Christianity the Parthenon was closed and desolated. It was then 'converted' into a Christian church, before being transformed a thousand years later into a mosque – complete with minaret at the southwest corner – after the Turkish conquest of the Byzantine Empire. Turkish forces also used it for centuries as a garrison and an arsenal, with the tragic result that in 1687, when Christian Venice attacked the Ottoman Turks, a powder magazine was detonated and huge damage inflicted on the structure. Most horrible of all, perhaps, the Acropolis was made to fly a Nazi flag during the German occupation of Athens. I once had the privilege of shaking the hand of Manolis Glezos, the man who climbed up and tore the swastika down, thus giving the signal for a Greek revolt against Hitler.

The damage done by the ages to the building, and by past empires and occupations, cannot all be put right. But there is one desecration and dilapidation that can at least be partially undone. Early in the 19th century, Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, sent a wrecking crew to the Turkish-occupied territory of Greece, where it sawed off approximately half of the adornment of the Parthenon and carried it away. As with all things Greek, there were three elements to this, the most lavish and beautiful sculptural treasury in human history. Under the direction of the artistic genius Phidias, the temple had two massive pediments decorated with the figures of Pallas Athena, Poseidon, and the gods of the sun and the moon. It then had a series of 92 high-relief panels, or metopes, depicting a succession of mythical and historical battles. The most intricate element was the frieze, carved in bas-relief, which showed the gods, humans, and animals that made up the annual Pan-Athens procession: there were 192 equestrian warriors and auxiliaries featured, which happens to be the exact number of the city’s heroes who fell at the Battle of Marathon. Experts differ on precisely what story is being told here, but the frieze was quite clearly carved as a continuous narrative. Except that half the cast of the tale is still in Bloomsbury, in London, having been sold well below cost by Elgin to the British government in 1816 for $2.2 million in today’s currency to pay off his many debts. (His original scheme had been to use the sculptures to decorate Broomhall, his rain-sodden ancestral home in Scotland, in which case they might never have been seen again).

Ever since Lord Byron wrote his excoriating attacks on Elgin’s colonial looting, first in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) and then in The Curse of Minerva (1815), there has been a bitter argument about the legitimacy of the British Museum’s deal. I’ve written a whole book about this controversy and won’t oppress you with all the details, but would just make this one point. If the Mona Lisa had been sawed in two during the Napoleonic Wars and the separated halves had been acquired by different museums in, say, St. Petersburg and Lisbon, would there not be a general wish to see what they might look like if re-united? If you think my analogy is overdrawn, consider this: the body of the goddess Iris is at present in London, while her head is in Athens. The front part of the torso of Poseidon is in London, and the rear part is in Athens. And so on. This is grotesque.

To that essentially aesthetic objection the British establishment has made three replies. The first is, or was, that return of the marbles might set a 'precedent' that would empty the world’s museum collections. The second is that more people can see the marbles in London. The third is that the Greeks have nowhere to put or display them. The first is easily disposed of: the Greeks don’t want anything else returned to them and indeed hope to have more, rather than less, Greek sculpture displayed in other countries. And there is in existence no court or authority to which appeals on precedent can be made. (Anyway, who exactly would be making such an appeal? The Aztecs? The Babylonians? The Hittites? Greece’s case is a one-off – quite individual and unique). As to the second: Melina Mercouri’s husband, the late movie director and screenwriter Jules Dassin, told a British parliamentary committee in 2000 that by the standard of mass viewership the sculptures should all be removed from Athens and London and exhibited in Beijing. After these frivolous and boring objections have been dealt with, we are left with the third and serious one, which is what has brought me back to Athens. Where should the treasures be safeguarded and shown?

It is unfortunately true that the city allowed itself to become very dirty and polluted in the 20th century, and as a result the remaining sculptures and statues on the Parthenon were nastily eroded by 'acid rain'. And it’s also true that the museum built on the Acropolis in the 19th century, a trifling place of a mere 1,450 square meters, was pathetically unsuited to the task of housing or displaying the work of Phidias. But gradually and now impressively, the Greeks have been living up to their responsibilities. Beginning in 1992, the endangered marbles were removed from the temple, given careful cleaning with ultraviolet and infra-red lasers, and placed in a climate-controlled interior. Alas, they can never all be repositioned on the Parthenon itself, because, though the atmospheric pollution is now better controlled, Lord Elgin’s goons succeeded in smashing many of the entablatures that held the sculptures in place. That leaves us with the next-best thing, which turns out to be rather better than one had hoped.

About a thousand feet southeast of the temple, the astonishing new Acropolis Museum will open on June 20. With 10 times the space of the old repository, it will be able to display all the marvels that go with the temples on top of the hill. Most important, it will be able to show, for the first time in centuries, how the Parthenon sculptures looked to the citizens of old.

Arriving excitedly for my preview of the galleries, I was at once able to see what had taken the Greeks so long. As with everywhere else in Athens, if you turn over a spade or unleash a drill you uncover at least one layer of a previous civilization. (Building a metro for the Olympics in 2004 was a protracted if fascinating nightmare for this very reason). The new museum, built to the design of the French-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, has had to be mounted aboveground on 100 huge reinforced-concrete pillars, which allow you to survey the remnants of villas, drains, bathhouses, and mosaics of the recently unearthed neighborhood below. Much of the ground floor is made of glass so that natural light filters down to these excavations and gives the effect of transparency throughout. But don’t look down for too long. Raise your eyes and you will be given an arresting view of the Parthenon, from a building that has been carefully aligned to share its scale and perspective with the mother ship.

I was impatient to be the first author to see the remounted figures and panels and friezes. Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis, the head of the museum, took me to the top-floor gallery and showed me the concentric arrangement whereby the sculpture of the pediment is nearest the windows, the high-relief metopes are arranged above head height (they are supposed to be seen from below), and finally the frieze is running at eye level along the innermost wall. At any time, you can turn your head to look up and across at the architectural context for which the originals were so passionately carved. At last it will be possible to see the building and its main artifacts in one place and on one day.

The British may continue in their constipated fashion to cling to what they have so crudely amputated, but the other museums and galleries of Europe have seen the artistic point of re-unification and restored to Athens what was looted in the years when Greece was defenseless. Professor Pandermalis proudly showed me an exquisite marble head, of a youth shouldering a tray, that fits beautifully into panel No. 5 of the north frieze. It comes courtesy of the collection of the Vatican. Then there is the sculpted foot of the goddess Artemis, from the frieze that depicts the assembly of Olympian gods, by courtesy of the Salinas Museum, in Palermo. From Heidelberg comes another foot, this time of a young man playing a lyre, and it fits in nicely with the missing part on panel No. 8. Perhaps these acts of cultural generosity, and tributes to artistic wholeness, could 'set a precedent', too?

The Acropolis Museum has hit on the happy idea of exhibiting, for as long as following that precedent is too much to hope for, its own original sculptures with the London-held pieces represented by beautifully copied casts. This has two effects: It allows the visitor to follow the frieze round the four walls of a core 'cella' and see the sculpted tale unfold (there, you suddenly notice, is the 'lowing heifer' from Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn). And it creates a natural thirst to see the actual re-assembly completed. So, far from emptying or weakening a museum, this controversy has instead created another one, which is destined to be among Europe’s finest galleries. And one day, surely, there will be an agreement to do the right thing by the world’s most 'right' structure.


From The Daily Telegraph, Thursday August 20 2009

Thousands of students will receive their A-level results today, only to have their achievements questioned by the It-Was-So-Much-Harder-In-My-Day brigade. But how much did previous generations really learn, how much can they remember now and is there actually any benefit to a classical education? Take our quiz, and see if you can tell your Tantalus from your Tacitus...

1 Why did George Bernard Shaw call his play Pygmalion?

2 What is a ziggurat?

3 Name three Latin phrases beginning with "ad" that are in common currency.

4 Boris Johnson used the phrase res ipsa loquitur as a justification for learning Latin in school. What does it mean?

5 Zeus (Jupiter or Jove), lord of the skies, was prone to throwing thunderbolts at anyone who displeased him and to changing himself into a variety of forms in order to have sex with anything that moved. Name two of the creatures he inhabited in the interests of seduction.

6 Poseidon (Neptune), god of the sea, is always depicted with what threatening accessory?

7 In the Underworld, Tantalus was doomed to perpetual hunger and thirst in because the water he stood in receded whenever he bent down to drink and the fruit above his head remained out of reach. What adverb denoting frustration is taken from his name?

8 To get into the Underworld, classical mortals had to be rowed across the River Styx by the boatman, Charon, who charged a fee, which explains why corpses were buried with a coin in their mouths. They then had to get past a monstrous three-headed dog. What was the dog's name and how was it tamed?

9 Orpheus, musical son of Apollo, was grief-stricken by the death of his wife, Eurydice, and successfully blagged his way into the Underworld to beg for her return. He was granted his request but still managed to lose her. How?

10 The Vestal Virgins were priestesses whose virtue was inviolable. They were buried alive if they were caught with a man in their room. What was their main duty?

11 The Campus Martius, the scene of Roman chariot races, was dedicated to the god Mars. What common military term derives from his name?

12 Apollo inherited the libertine tendencies of his father, Zeus, and spent a lot of time chasing nymphs. One of them was Daphne. How was she able to avoid his advances?

13 Aphrodite's son, Eros (Cupid) is generally portrayed as a chubby baby who mischievously shoots arrows at people to make them fall in love. What sexual term is derived from his name?

14 Hermes (Mercury) was a messenger of the gods, famed for his cunning. How did he get about?

15 The Gorgons were a group of angry old crones who had serpents in their hair and girdles. What was the punishment for anyone who met their gaze?

16 The phrase "Herculean task" can mean anything from mastering a new software programme to washing up after a dinner party these days. The original twelve Labours of Hercules – imposed as a form of purification after murdering his wife and children - were rather tougher. One of them is often invoked to describe political anti-sleaze efforts. Which is it?

17 Jason and the Argonauts made a long and arduous sea voyage, at the end of which Jason had to perform a number of ludicrous tasks – to recover what treasure?

18 To have the Midas touch means finding it easy to make money. But King Midas had reason to regret wishing that everything he touched turned to gold. Why?

19 The first woman in mythology, Pandora, was given a mysterious box by Zeus and told never to open it. Tempation was too much for her and when she did open it she released all the evils that have since afflicted the world – from rheumatism to jealousy. But there was one thing left in the box to comfort us. What was it?

20 In Athens in 508 BC, the father of democracy, an elder statesman called Cleisthenes, devised a way of banishing unhelpful people from the Ecclesia. Voters could write the names of the unpopular ones on piec4s of broken pottery called ostrakon. If at least 6,000 votes were cast, the man whose name came up most often was exiled for 10 years. What was the name of the punishment still in use today?

21 The Roman republic was essentially an aristocracy, in the original sense of the word, which means that it was ruled by toffs, formally known as patricians. What were the rest of the Roman citizens, the common people, known as?

22 Between founding an empire and fighting off political rivals, Julius Caesar found time in 45BC to reform the calendar. His advisers worked out that a year should be 365 and a quarter days long – and he instituted the leap year to make up the extra day every four years. Before the Julian Calendar, how many days were there in a normal year?

23 The poorest Roman citizen might own a slave or two and rich households had them in droves. Slaves - who made up at least 25 per cent of the population of Rome in the time of Augustus (30BC-14AD) – could be freed by their masters in a process called what?

24 Despite being "so weak in understanding" as to be ridiculed by his own household, Claudius (41-54) was the emperor who finally made Britain a province of the empire. In what year?

25 Even the British Museum's exhibition on Hadrian (117-38) couldn't fail to note that he stayed in power despite spending almost no time in Rome. What was the name of the boy lover so tenderly depicted there?

26 The Roman historian, Tacitus, was sharp on character analysis. He described a long-forgotten emperor called Galba as omnium consensu, capax imperii nisi imperasset – "by general agreement capable of performing the top job until he was given it". A damning expression revived recently to describe which senior British politician?

27 For many years, scholars believed that the city of Troy, celebrated in Homer's epic, the Iliad, was a mythical place. But in 1870 the obsession of a self-made German millionaire, Heinrich Schliemann, proved them wrong. His archaeological dig discovered a fortified city that had existed where Homer said it did. Where?

28 Sappho is the only female writer of classical times whose name means anything to most of us. What was the name of the island where she lived?

29 Moralistic fables such as The Hare and the Tortoise and The Fox and the Grapes come down to us from which sixth-century BC writer?

30 Tragedians abound, but Aristophanes (c448-388BC) is the only comic dramatist of the period whose work survives. In his Lysistrata, the women on both sides of a conflict between Athens and Sparta refuse to do what until their husbands end the war?

31 Greek drama almost always had a religious background and often a god was brought on at the end to sort things out. The actor playing the god was carried by a crane (mechane in Greek, machina in Latin) to give the impression that he was descending from the sky. What was the expression meaning an unexpected intervention that resolves an apparently hopeless situation?

32 Horace mostly wrote odes but has given us many of the Latin tags still in currency today. Such as: nil desperandum (never despair), carpe diem (seize the day) and the one that the First World War poet, Wilfred Owen, called " the old lie" - dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. What does it mean?

33 Pliny the Elder (c23-79AD), a natural historian, wrote 37 books about life, the universe and everything. His other claim to fame is that he died in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum. Not to be confused with his nephew, Pliny the Younger, who wrote what?

34 There are three principal styles, or orders, of classical architecture, defined by the type of column they use and the style of the top, or capital. They are the Doric, the Ionic and the Corinthian. Which is the one inspired by the opulent leaves of the plant Acanthus mollis?

35 Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, The Pharos of Alexandria, The Colossus of Rhodes, The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, The Statue of Zeus at Olympia and The Great Pyramid of Cheops – only one is still in existence. Which is it?

36 The Parthenon, the temple on the Acropolis in Athens, was looted down the years, never more spectacularly than by the British Ambassador to Turkey, who inveigled the Turks (who controlled Athens in the early 19th century) into giving him permission to take a few souvenirs. Large parts of the frieze ended up in the British Museum. Who was he?

37 The Pantheon in Rome is probably the best preserved building of its age (almost 2,000 years) in the world. It has the largest unreinforced concrete dome, weighing more than 4,500 tons. Who commissioned it and why?

38 Septimus Severus won his great victory over the Parthians, a people of southwest Asia who could twist round in the saddle and fire their arrows backwards while they were retreating. Hence the expression "a Parthian shot", meaning what?

39 Archimedes (c287-212BC) was the first man in hstory to have really bright ideas in the bath. When he climbed in, he noticed that the water level went up - that is, his body had displaced a volume of water and so the volume of his body could be calculated. This turned into the Archimedes Principle. But he also invented the Archimedes' Screw. What is it still used for?

40 Hippocrates (c460-c377BC), the father of medicine, based his practice on the belief that all matter was made up of four elements. What are they?

41Roman Baths: the focal point of social intercourse. The most important element was a form of underfloor heating. What was its name?

42 Aristotle (384-322BC) dominated Western philosophy for a thousand years. His followers were known as Peripatetics. Why?

43 The original Olympics, which may date from as early as 776 BC, were part of a festival in honour of Zeus. They took place every four years at Olympia, on the Peloponnese. But although every Greek state had a temple with a sacred flame that was never allowed to go out, and they held torch relay races, these were nothing to do with the Olympics. The idea of an Olympic torch came much later. In fact, we owe it to the Nazis. Which one in particular?

44 Roman Games had as their main feature a chariot race, and later gladiators (condemned men, prisoners of war, slaves) fighting wild beasts. The name of these expendables comes from gladius, meaning what?

Extract taken by Elizabeth Grice from 'A Classical Education' by Caroline Taggart, which is available from Telegraph Books for £9.99 + 99p P&P. To order, call 0844 871 1515 or visit


1 In mythology, Pygmalion sculpted a statue of a woman so beautiful that he fell in love with her. Like Professor Higgins in Shaw's play, he spent a lot of time admiring the brilliance of his own work.

2 Babylonian stepped tower with a temple on top

3 Ad infinitum, ad nauseam, ad lib

4 The thing speaks for itself

5 A swan (to seduce Leda) and a bull (to snare Europa)

6 A trident

7 Tantalisingly

8 Cerebus was quietened with a drugged cake, thrown to him by the prophetess and escort, the Sibyl.

9 Disobeying instructions, he looked back at her before they "reached the upper air"

10 Guarding the sacred fire; it was never allowed to go out

11 Martial (as in martial law)

12 Her father turned her into a tree – the daphne is a member of the laurel family

13 Erotic

14 With the help of a winged helmet and winged sandals

15 They were turned to stone

16 To clean out the Augean stables. Hercules had only one day to muck out stables that hadn't been touched for 30 years. He diverted a couple of rivers to do so.

17 The golden fleece of a ram

18 His food, the water he tried to wash in and even , in some versions, his daughter turned to gold.

19 Hope

20 Ostracism

21 Plebians

22 355 days, with what were called intercalary months inserted every now and then to bring the calender in line with the solar year

23 Manumission

24 43AD. He visited the island for 16 days to preside over the capture of Colchester before returning to Rome in triumph

25 Antinous

26 Gordon Brown

27 North-western Turkey

28 Lesbos

29 Aesop

30 To have sex with them

31 /Deus ex machina/

32 It is sweet and honourable to die for one's country

33 Volumes of letters

34 Corinthian

35 The pyramid

36 Lord Elgin

37 The first Pantheon was built by Marcus Agrippa in 27BC to commemorate Octavian’s victory over Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium a few years earlier. The current building was commissioned by the Emperor Hadrian in the second century AD

38 A final remark to which the hearer has no chance of replying

39 To draw water from the Nile

40 Fire, earth, air and water

41 Hypocaust (from the Greek meaning "burning below")

42 From his habit of walking round and round the garden while lecturing

43 Carl Diem, who was in charge of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, started the tradition. The PR man for these Olympics, incidentally, was Josef Goebbels.

44 Sword


Latin translation comes to Facebook

by Caroline McCarthy

So just how do you say "poke" in Latin? It's "puncti," according to Facebook's newest language translation. The supposedly "dead" language--O.K., so the Others on "Lost" speak it sometimes --debuted as an official translation on the social network on Friday.

"Latin has joined the more than 70 languages we've made available on the site in the past two years, including some which have launched just today--Azeri, Faroese, Georgian and Nepali," a post on the company blog by Facebook's Elizabeth Linder read. "Some of these are languages that millions of people speak across the globe. Others are dialects that specific communities use in select geographic areas. Still others are just for fun: 'Pirate' may not appeal to everyone, but for those nostalgic for the days of Blackbeard and Captain Hook, it's there for you."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg notably studied both ancient Greek and Latin in high school; interviews have said that when he enrolled at Harvard, which he ended up dropping out of to run Facebook full-time, he considered studying classics rather than computer science.

Most of Facebook's translations have been "crowdsourced" by users. Latin was a volunteer effort, too, according to the blog post, which must have been quite the operation considering the likes of Cicero and Ovid probably didn't use the term "news feed" colloquially.

"To students of Latin, the availability of the language on Facebook may be just what's needed to narrow the distance between themselves and the venerable language," Linder's post wrote. "While students of 'living languages' practice on subtitled films and in conversation groups, on vacations and with exchange students, Latin scholars soak in rare living breaths of their studied language, satisfying themselves with the occasional legal phrase, nursery plant, benediction or school motto."

Conveniently, that ubiquitous Facebook term "status" is the same in English and in Latin.

2009 October 3rd: HEAD COULD BE NERO

From The Daily Telegraph, October 3 20009

By Andy Bloxham

Head found at Fishbourne Roman Palace in West Sussex, Nero head: Mystery head could be rare statue of Emperor Nero The damaged head will be scanned and recreated to see if it is a rare marble statue of Nero as a young boy Photo: SOLENT

The chunk of stone, which is the right side of a boy's head and his lower face, is to be scanned using sophisticated technology and the remainder generated by computer to suggest what he may have looked like.

Archaeologists suspect the sculpture, which was found at Fishbourne Roman Palace in West Sussex, is of Nero as a young boy.

The only other known statues of Nero are in the Italian National Museum of Antiquities in Parma and the Louvre Museum in Paris.

One of the reasons that so few survive is because he was declared an enemy of the state after he was pushed from power in a military coup and images of him were ordered destroyed.

According to ancient historians, Nero was the emperor who "fiddled while Rome burned" during the city's Great Fire in 64AD and ordered the deaths of his mother, stepfather and pregnant wife, among others, to keep his grip on power.

As ruler of the Roman empire, he controlled Britain and his forces put down the revolt led by Boudica, also called Boadicea, and her tribe, the Iceni, in 60AD.

He committed suicide in 68AD.

The latest find was actually discovered in 1964 but until recently it was always believed to be that of a king called Togidubnes or a member of his family.

Now similarities have been found between the Fishbourne statue and the only others in Italy and France.

The rounded cheeks, full, curving lips, rounded lower face, slightly protruding ears, curling locks of hair and almond-shaped eyes are all very similar.

As a man, the Roman historian Suetonius described Nero as "about the average height, his body marked with spots and malodorous, his hair light blond, his features regular rather than attractive, his eyes blue and somewhat weak, his neck over thick, his belly prominent, and his legs very slender".

Although this would only be the third statue of him, busts and coins bearing his image are more common.

Dr Rob Symmons, curator of archaeology at Fishbourne, will work with Bournemouth University lecturers Dr Miles Russell and Harry Manley to produce 3D scans of the head.

The scans will recreate the face, which was damaged with an axe, to test the theory that it could in fact be the emperor.

Dr Symmons said: "This is very exciting as the scan will allow us to see for the first time what the boy really looked like and may also reveal his identity.

"We have always assumed he was related to the Royal family who lived here but it may be that it is even more special and is a rare depiction of Nero."

Dr Russell said: "They tried to eradicate the fact that Nero ever existed.

"This particular head is extremely well made in a very expensive type of marble and someone has taken an axe to it and smashed it almost to oblivion.

"Why else would they do that?"


From The Independent, Sunday, 4 October 2009

Alexander was less than Great, and the Spartans were little more than thugs, says new book

By Paul Bignell

Spartans! Prepare for, well, embarrassment. It seems that far from being elite, noble warriors, each worth 1,000 of any rival soldiers, King Leonidas' crack troops were a bunch of bullying thugs. And Alexander the Great? A mummy's boy: in fact, his mum was a better fighter by a long chalk and died a soldier's death on the battlefield.

They and other figures from antiquity are to have their reputations shattered by a new British study which reveals the "truth" behind long-established legends. Michael Scott, a classicist at Cambridge University, points to evidence that could change the way we think about our classical heroes.

The heroic Spartans of Thermopylae, whose valiant standoff with an enormous Persian army is immortalised in the Hollywood film 300, are unmasked by Dr Scott as little more than war-mongering bullies of the ancient world who policed Athens with near-mindless violence, destroying anything they took a dislike to.

Alexander the Great, remembered for his conquests across the known world and spreading Greek civilisation to the east, is dismissed was a "mummy's boy" whose endless stream of letters from the battlefield to his mother Olympias infuriated his generals.

Despite the fact that Alexander was recently voted the greatest Greek of all time by in a poll in Greece, Dr Scott charges that his successes were merely opportunistic exploitation of foundations laid by his father, Philip II.

Olympias, sympathetically portrayed by Angelina Jolie in the film Alexander, was a violent and fearless warrior to put her son to shame, according to Dr Scott.

It's even suspected that she may have murdered her husband, Philip of Macedon. She was finally captured in battle and put to death in 316BC by Macedonian comrades of those whom she had slain in battle.

The Greek philosopher Isocrates also suffers under scrutiny. Until now he was thought a steadfast believer in democracy in Athens and is widely believed to be one of the greatest orators and political commentators of his time. But, late in life, Isocrates realised democracy no longer worked in Athens and threw in his lot in with Philip of Macedon when Philip became king.

Even the great "Golden City" of Athens itself is not spared a kicking from Dr Scott. He argues that its early successes have, over time, obscured a darker history that mirrors societal problems in 21st-century Britain. Far from being a major world player, fourth-century BC Athens imploded under the weight of a crippling economic downturn, while politicians embroiled themselves in fraud. Meanwhile, they sent the army to fight unpopular foreign wars and struggled to cope with a surge in immigration.

"If history can provide a map of where we have been, a mirror to where we are right now and perhaps even a guide to what we should do next, the story of this period is perfectly suited to do that in our times," Dr Scott said yesterday.

"It shows how an earlier generation of people responded to similar challenges and which strategies succeeded. It is a period of history that we would do well to think about a little more right now – and we ignore it at our peril."

/Michael Scott's book From Democrats to Kings is published tomorrow by Icon Books

From The Daily Mail October 5 2009

The truth about Greek 'legends': Alexander the Great was a mummy's
boy, the Spartans were thugs and ancient Athens was corrupt

The myth of a democratic ancient Greece populated by fearless and enlightened rulers has been shattered by new research released today.

The Spartans were thugs, Alexander the Great was a mummy's boy and ancient Athens was corrupt and bankrupt, argues Cambridge University classicist Dr Michael Scott.

He also goes on to warn that the eventual collapse of Greek democracy 2,400 years ago took place in circumstances chillingly similar to modern Britain.

Dr Scott points out that Athens imploded in the middle of crippling economic downturn, while politicians fiddled finances, sent troops to fight unpopular foreign wars, and struggled to cope with immigration.

He believes the parallels between the ancient world's 'Golden City' and Britain's credit crunch, expenses' scandal and war in Afghanistan cannot be ignored.

Research by Dr Scott shows the classical heroes of that era as fallible mortals with a propensity to violence and political back-stabbing.

Alexander the Great, recently voted the greatest Greek of all time by a poll in Greece, is widely credited with spreading civilisation as he marched across what was then the known world.

But according to Dr Scott, he was little more than a mummy's boy who sent an endless stream of letters from the battlefield to his mother, Olympias.

His military successes merely built on the pragmatic foundations laid down by his father Philip II.

In fact, it was Olympias, sympathetically portrayed by Angelina Jolie in the Hollywood blockbuster Alexander, who was the true warrior in the family.

Dr Scott described her as a violent and fearless leader who is suspected to have murdered her own husband before being captured in battle and put to death in 316BC.

When it comes to the Spartans of Thermopylae, long famed as an elite band of noble troops, they are branded as nothing more than a bunch of warmongering bullies who policed Athens with mindless violence.

Even Athenian orators like Isocrates, traditionally remembered as one of the most enlightened politicians of his time, is exposed as ditching democracy in favour of Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander.

Dr Scott's book argues Athenian democracy did not fall as a result of being conquered by Sparta at the end of the fifth century BC.

Instead the stresses and strains of the fourth century BC, when Athens sacrificed its ideology in a last-ditch attempt to remain a player on the world stage, was the real cause.

It abandoned past allies and tried to forge 'slippery-fish' alliances with the new powers of Macedonia and the Persian king, all at the expense of its once flourishing democracy.

Athens committed itself to unpopular wars and its economy, heavily dependent on trade and overseas resources, crashed when conflict began to affect arterial trade routes.

This resulted in series of domestic problems, including an inability to fund a traditional police force, and democracy began to buckle under the strain.

The city started the century a flourishing democracy but by the end it was hailing its latest ruler, Demetrius, as both a king and a living God.

Dr Scott added: "In many ways this was a period of total uncertainty just like our own time.

"There are grounds to consider whether we want to go down the same route that Athens did.

'It survived the period through slippery-fish diplomacy, at the cost of a clear democratic conscience, a policy which, in the end, led it to accept a dictator King and make him a God.'
He said his new history of the fourth century BC should be read as a lesson for the challenges of our generation.

He said: 'If history can provide a map of where we have been, a mirror to where we are right now and perhaps even a guide to what we should do next, the story of this period is perfectly suited to do that in our times.

'It shows how an earlier generation of people responded to similar challenges and which strategies succeeded.

'It is a period of history that we would do well to think about a little more right now - and we ignore it at our peril.'
Dr Scott's book 'From Democrats to Kings' is released today.

2008 November 28th: MARY BEARD: BLOGGER

From The Scotsman 28 November 209

Interview: Mary Beard, blogger


IF I'M to begin this story at the beginning, I have to start back in 1960 with a five-year-old girl from Shrewsbury visiting London for the first time with her parents. They take her to the British Museum, where a warden notices that she's too small to see some of the exhibits. He opens the glass case and gets out a piece of 2,000-year-old Egyptian bread. "Jesus," remembers Mary Beard, "that was just gobsmacking." It probably is a wee bit simplistic to wonder if touching that ancient chunk of carbonised bread led her to become, 50 years later, a Cambridge professor and Britain's best-known classic st but I can't help thinking it all the same. And why not? That day, she'd also seen the Elgin Marbles for the first time. Even at five years old, they made an impression. She thought they were stunning. She didn't think that people so far back in the past could produce anything so beautiful. "Yesterday," she adds, "I visited Elgin for the first time. Bit of a sad place. I've written about it in the blog." Ah, the blog. It's called It's a Don's Life, and even though the blogosphere is a vast and ever-expanding universe (175,000 new blogs are being added every day, apparently) I can't imagine that there's anything else there quite like it.

What, it asks, are academics for? Why was Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech so ironic? What made Romans laugh? What did Greeks wear under their togas? Is Cambridge really impossibly elitist and out of touch? And while the blogosphere probably does have answers to all these questions somewhere (16 million posts per day: I haven't checked them), I doubt whether the discussion in cyberspace will be as civilised and ostentatiously knowledgeable as it is in It's a Don's Life.

About 50,000 people follow Beard's blog each day, and its flavour of Oxbridge high-table banter also flows through the book Profile has just published of its edited highlights. It's the book, not the blog, that brought me to Aberdeen University to interview her – she has just finished a series of lectures there on classical archaeology – although by the time we meet, that distinction has blurred. What I want to work out for myself is, quite simply, why there aren't more blogs like hers – blogs that any publisher would quite happily turn into a book without risking the accusation of dumbing down. Why, if university is supposed to train the mind, aren't there more academics like her, prepared to use their own special subject to filter through the issues of the day?

It helps, obviously, if they've already got a proven track record for readability: in Beard's case, most recently for her wonderful book on Pompeii – "a forensic adventure through the back alleys and mansions of a dead city" (Michael Pye on these pages joining in a universal chorus of approval last year). If they can shrug off academics' habitual fear of communicating enthusiasm for their subject – the thing that drove them to study it in the first place. If they can, just for a moment, leave the dry-as-dust approach behind, loosen up and generalise. If they could only, when blogging to a readership a long way from academe, be as outspoken in public as they are among their colleagues in the senior common room.

Beard scores heavily on all counts. "I do have form on being outspoken," she says. And of course she does: this is the woman who, the week after 9/11, went into print in the London Review of Books saying that, "however tactfully you dress it up, the United States had it coming". Cue mass outrage from across the Atlantic. The LRB even briefly withdrew her name and address from its list of subscribers "in case someone did something nasty".

She's keen to defend herself. That quote was preceded by the words "many people think that" – and indeed both in her local Cambridge newspaper and on Question Time she had detected precisely such feelings, no matter how much such people also sympathised with America's victims of terrorism.

"You always regret upsetting people needlessly," Beard concedes. "You regret when you've criticised a student's essay and you look up and see that they're very upset and you think, 'Perhaps I got that slightly wrong'. But I think I would say the same thing again. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury says much the same thing from the pulpit now. Admittedly, if I had been writing six months later I might have learnt how to rhetoricise it more appropriately so that it was less upsetting."

She spent ages, she says, replying to the shoal of antagonistic e-mails. But she's not the type to backtrack. What annoyed her about the discussion of 9/11 was its cant about describing terrorism. "However judicious academics may be – not like me – they are all taught to see through crap. Describing terrorists as cowards, for example: 9/11 was stupid, terrible, evil, murderous and despicable, but it wasn't cowardly. Unless you can say that terrorists are brave and have qualities that you can't just write off, you'll never solve the problem."

Agree with her or not, you have to admit there's a certain thrawn-ness about Beard's approach to debate. She's not afraid to stick her head above the parapet. Her blog last week about visiting Elgin, for example, hardly pulled its punches. While the boarded-up shops and others with ugly modern frontages made the High Street "a complete disgrace", she noted, one of its really interesting buildings, a Greek revival church with a replica Monument of Lysicrates on the roof, was closed to the public, its porticos occupied only by sullen teenagers and "No Skateboarding" signs.

The key here isn't the fairly standard attack on bog-standard Britain but that Monument of Lysicrates on the church roof. This far north, where Roman legions had never trod, the classical world had invaded all the same. Talk to Professor Beard about that, about what she's doing in the North-east, and you see a different side to her altogether – less of the "wickedly subversive commentator" as the Times describes her, and more of the passionate pedagogue.

When Beard was studying classics as an undergraduate at Cambridge, the subject was only just starting to turn itself inside out, applying the interrogative techniques of structuralism, feminism and sociology to both the ancient world and those who had studied it in the past. Beard's own work would soon bear that out, not least The Invention of Jane, her study of the Victorian classicist Jane Harrison, who was so famous a lecturer on ancient Greece that 1,600 people turned out in Glasgow to hear her talk about ancient Greek grave monuments.

Beard spent most of this month in Aberdeen researching and delivering the Geddes-Harrower lectures about Greek art and archaeology. And although the university now no longer formally teaches classics, Beard has set about uncovering the subject's perhaps surprisingly deep roots in the North-east. When Jane Harrison (like Beard, both a student and lecturer at Cambridge's Newnham College) was first awarded an honorary degree, for example, it was in Aberdeen rather than anywhere in England.

Because Aberdeen wasn't a residential university, she explains, it was far more open to the whole notion of having women studying classics than crustily collegiate Cambridge. It was open to other innovations in the subject too: while English classics dons kept a narrow focus on studying the language and literature of the ancient world, Aberdeen was pushing ahead in opening up the new subject of classical archaeology, learning from the German universities that were world leaders in the field. Oxbridge would catch up, but it would be a struggle: it was in places like Aberdeen that the modern discipline of classics was being formulated.

As she talks, my impression of her changes. I'd read an interview in which she had talked about herself – rather offputtingly, I felt – in the third person ("Beard says", etc); in our conversation, she does not do this. At the time, I'd thought her comments on 9/11 insensitive, without realising how she'd been selectively misquoted. Then there's the general suspicion our culture has of media dons: maybe at some slight level I'd shared this too.

I realised I was wrong as I listened to her piecing together a nexus of cutting-edge classicists in Aberdeen, explaining about how the public would, in 1871, flock to pay for (in Aberdeen!) the privilege of looking at an Alma-Tameda painting of a Dionysian celebration, about the onset of mass tourism to the ancient sites, or how the university's leading Victorian classicists, so dour in their portraits, were "fantastic radicals" in their day. Listen to all of that, catch how energised she is by her material, and an altogether different impression emerges.

It's of a woman – a feminist as it happens – who is totally engaged in her subject. Nowhere did I see that more than when I asked what it was about studying that she enjoyed the most.

"It's just finding things out, following trails," she says. "It's detective work. I'll give you an example. I'm very interested in how people in the 19th century travelled to Greece. John Murray produced a brilliant series of travel guides to Greece all through the 19th century. But there was one that came out in 1884 that is completely different to all the rest. It says don't just look at the classical stuff, look at the medieval stuff too because it's really interesting.

"So I went to the John Murray archives, found out who wrote it and it turns out that she was a woman and all the rest were blokes. A woman called Amy Yule. A North-east name. Then I found her address – Tarradale House in Ross-shire, and I Googled that and discovered that until 2005 it was actually owned by the University of Aberdeen.

"I talked to the people here and they said, 'We've got some of the stuff from Tarradale House in our collections, including watercolours.' And I thought, 'They're going to be by Amy Yule, aren't they?' I'm going to see them tomorrow. A chain of detection, you see?"

I do. Just like this has been.


From Times Online
November 12, 2008

Google Earth has recreated Rome as it was in 320AD

Mike Harvey, Technology Correspondent

The glory that was Rome is to rise again. Visitors will once more be able to visit the Colosseum and the Forum of Rome as they were in 320 AD, this time on a computer screen in 3D. The realisation of the ancient city in Google Earth lets viewers stand in the centre of the Colosseum, trace the footsteps of the gladiators in the Ludus Magnus and fly under the Arch of Constantine. The computer model, a collection of more than 6,700 buildings, depicts Rome in the year 320 AD. Then, under the emperor Constantine I, the city boasted more than a million inhabitants –- making it the largest metropolis in the world. It was not until Victorian London that another city surpassed it.

The project has been developed by Google in collaboration with the Rome Reborn Project and Past Perfect Productions. The computer graphics are based on a physical model – the Plastico di Roma Antica, which was created by archaeologists and model-makers between 1933 and 1974 and is housed in the Museum of Roman Civilisation in Rome. There are only 300 original ruins still standing today.

Rome Reborn: an ancient virtual city

A huge digital representation of Rome in AD320 may help scholars and enthusiasts get into the mindset of senators and slaves

Bernard Frischer, the director of the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia and also the director of the Rome Reborn Project, said: "The project is the continuation of five centuries of research by scholars, architects and artists since the Renaissance who have attempted to restore the ruins of the ancient city with words, maps and images.

“The partnership with Google Earth is another step in creating a virtual time machine which our children and grandchildren will use to study the history of Rome."

Rome is the first ancient city to be viewable in three dimensions in Google Earth. The feature uses satellite imagery, maps and search to show viewers a wide range of geographical information for the entire planet.

More than 400 million people have downloaded Google Earth since it was launched in June, 2005.

The Ancient Rome feature is designed for students and historians as well as people with a more casual interest in the city. Viewers can find out more through pop-up "information bubbles" for more than 250 sites identified in the ancient city.

The first bubble provides basic information for schoolchildren and a second click provides more advanced information including a topographical encyclopaedia, ancient literary sources and bibliographical information about each building. The information is available in a variety of languages.

Gianni Alemanno, the Mayor of Rome, said: "It's an incredible opportunity to share the stunning greatness of Ancient Rome, a perfect example of how the new technologies can be ideal allies of our history, archaeology and cultural identity.'

2008 November 2nd: COUNCILS BAN LATIN

From The Sunday Telegraph, November 2 29008

Councils ban 'elitist' and 'discriminatory' Latin phrases

They are phrases that are repeated ad nauseam and are taken as bona fide English, but councils have now overturned the status quo by banning staff from using Latin terms, which they claim are elitist and discriminatory.

By Chris Hastings, Public Affairs Editor
02 Nov 2008

Local authorities have ordered employees to stop using the words and phrases on documents and when communicating with members of the public and to rely on wordier alternatives instead.

The ban has infuriated classical scholars who say it is diluting the world's richest language and is the "linguistic equivalent of ethnic cleansing".

Bournemouth Council, which has the Latin motto Pulchritudo et Salubritas, meaning beauty and health, has listed 19 terms it no longer considers acceptable for use. This includes bona fide, eg (exempli gratia), prima facie, ad lib or ad libitum, etc or et cetera, ie or id est, inter alia, NB or nota bene, per, per se, pro rata, quid pro quo, vis-a-vis, vice versa and even via.

Its list of more verbose alternatives, includes "for this special purpose", in place of ad hoc and "existing condition" or "state of things", instead of status quo.

In instructions to staff, the council said: "Not everyone knows Latin. Many readers do not have English as their first language so using Latin can be particularly difficult."

The details of banned words have emerged in documents obtained from councils by the Sunday Telegraph under The Freedom of Information Act.

Of other local authorities to prohibit the use of Latin, Salisbury Council has asked staff to avoid the phrases ad hoc, ergo and QED (quod erat demonstrandum), while Fife Council has also banned ad hoc as well as ex officio.

Professor Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge said: "This is absolute bonkers and the linguistic equivalent of ethnic cleansing. English is and always has been a language full of foreign words. It has never been an ethnically pure language."

Dr Peter Jones, co-founder of the charity Friends of Classics said "This sort of thing sends out the message that language is about nothing more than the communication of very basic information in the manner of a railway timetable.

"But it is about much more than that. The great strength of English is that it has a massive infusion of Latin. We have a very rich lexicon with almost two sets of words for everything.

"To try and wipe out the richness does a great disservice to the language. It demeans it. I am all for immigrants raising their sights not lowering them. Plain English and Latin phrasing are not diametrically opposed concepts."

Henry Mount the author of the bestselling book Amo, Amos, Amat and All That, a lighthearted guide to the language, said: "Latin words and phrases can often sum up thoughts and ideas more often that the alternatives which are put forward. They are tremendously useful, quicker and nicer sounding.

"They are also English words. You will find etc or et cetera in an English dictionary complete with its explanation."

However, the Plain English Campaign has congratulated the councils for introducing the bans.

Marie Clair, its spokesman, said: "If you look at the diversity of all our communities you have got people for whom English is a second language. They might mistake eg for egg and little things like that can confuse people.

"At the same time it is important to remember that the national literacy level is about 12 years old and the vast majority of people hardly ever use these terms.

"It is far better to use words people understand. Often people in power are using the words because they want to feel self important. It is not right that voters should suffer because of some official's ego."

Several councils, including Aberdeenshire, and Blackburn and Darwen, have also prohibited the use of the French phrase in lieu, while many local authorities have drawn up lists of English words, which cannot be used as they are considered politically incorrect.

Amber Valley Council, in Derbyshire, has told staff it is no longer acceptable to use language "that portrays one sex as subordinate to the other".

Staff have been instructed to say "synthetic" rather than "man made", "lay person" instead of "lay man", "people in general" in place of "man in the street", "one person show" rather than "one man show" and "ancestors" instead of "forefathers".

Broadland Council, in Norfolk, has banned "housewife" and replaced it with "homemaker" and asked staff to refer to "staffing" rather than "manning" levels.

Several councils including Blyth Valley and Weymouth have banned the phrase disabled toilet and disabled parking because they imply that the facilities themselves are disabled. They have renamed them accessible.

2008 October 11th: THE BURIAL AT THEBES

From The Times October 11, 2008
Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney take on The Burial at Thebes

If, a couple of Mondays ago, on your way to pay your council tax at Woolwich town hall you happened to get lost and found yourself in its basement, you would have chanced upon not one but two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Seamus Heaney, the English language’s most-read living poet, should surely, I thought, be digging a sod somewhere or debating poetry over a Guinness. And, even at 78, his fellow grand old man of letters, the Caribbean author Derek Walcott, would have looked more himself striding from the waves on to one of the St Lucian beaches evoked in his great poem, Osmeros.

But here the two friends were in southeast London, scruffy jackets, crumpled brief-cases at their feet, up to their ears in a project that in itself sounds like a game of Consequences: an opera adapted from Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes, a version of Sophocles’ Antigone, to be directed by Walcott and staged at Shakespeare’s Globe. It is the Globe’s first opera, the first opera Walcott has directed and about the seventh Heaney will have ever been to.

The poets were having fun, or at least the thrice-married Walcott was, flinging his arms round his Antigone, the German singer Idit Arad, who remarked, in praise of Heaney, how unusual it was to sing arias containing thoughts more complex than “I love you, I love you. Don’t leave me, don’t leave me.” Heaney confined himself to reminding Brian Green, singing the part of the tyrant Creon, not to rely on the Faber edition of The Burial at Thebes, as he had changed some lines for the libretto.

The conductor, Peter Manning, whose company is producing the piece, eventually called lunch, and the laureates and I retired to a room where a dancer was rehearsing. As he flew around the space, we sat on plastic chairs, a pile of M&S sandwiches behind us.

Heaney seemed to regard this operafication of The Burial at Thebes as a fait accompli. Eighteen months ago, he had received a letter from the composer Dominique Le Gendre saying that she and Manning intended making an opera of his 2004 reworking of Sophocles’ tragedy of personal versus civic duty. He did not like to object, especially since Walcott was committed and he had long wanted Heaney to write a play he could direct.

“And this play is operatic in itself,” Heaney conceded. “On the Greek stage there would have been dance and songs, so there must have been some kind of music. And for me the great thing, and I am sure for the choreographer, is to have the poetry made physical.”

“Irene Papas, the Greek actress, said that the closest thing to a Greek play is an American musical,” interjected Walcott, who a decade ago directed one of Broadway’s great flops, Paul Simon’s Caveman. “I am from the Caribbean and I like to see physical movement. So I thought a dancer would be like an abstraction of what the chorus is saying. I didn’t want a whispering, Waspy treatment. I wanted it exultant.”

Heaney’s play had kept the action in Ancient Greece. For the opera, after toying with setting it in the Middle East, Walcott chose to place it in a Latin American dictatorship, unnamed, although he had in mind the Dominican Republic and that “son of a bitch Trujillo”. The journalist in him had considered Mugabe’s Zimbabwe or Saddam’s Iraq.

“Well,” Heaney said, “the play was commissioned in 2003 and came out in 2004. Creon says at some point, ‘I flushed them out. Whoever isn’t for me is against me.’ And, of course, they were trapped like the Democratic Party or the American electorate. If the people say anything against Creon, they are traitors. It is a terrific political play. It was the best play about Iraq you could imagine, or about the American situation of the time.”

Walcott added: “And our Creon will be wearing a suit. The suit is a lethal thing now. In Hollywood they talk about the suits and look at these dictators in their suits!”

“But,” Heaney objected, “the thing is he is not quite a dictator. He’s a head prefect. There’s something in me responds to Creon’s position, you know. He has to hold the line.”

“You are a natural dictator,” teased Walcott, leaving us to it.

“No, no, no,” protested the Irishman. “It is more that I would like to think myself as more Sophoclean in understanding the tyrant and understanding Antigone. I keep quoting this line in any interview I’m cornered in, but it covers everything. Yeats said he had attempted to hold in a single thought, reality and justice. I mean I did a song about Bloody Sunday which was sung immediately afterwards. I did a song about the first baton charge of the civil rights march in Derry and so on, and that is a form of political action but it’s not what I think of my calling to be, you know.”

Heaney was born in a farmhouse 30 miles northwest of Belfast in 1939 and held a British passport until he moved with his family to the Republic in 1972 and failed to renew it. I supposed that holding an Irish passport ruled him out of becoming our next Poet Laureate. He said it did not, actually, and that after Ted Hughes’s death in 1998 he had been informally sounded out. “But I didn’t think it was my job in any way. Someone said at that stage it would be a very good symbolic action. I said, ‘The time for symbols is past. What we need is action.’ ”

The pair met in the late Seventies when Heaney reviewed Walcott’s collection, The Star-Apple Kingdom, which includes his classic poem, The Schooner Flight. Walcott dropped him a note of thanks and they met in a New York pub. Then they found themselves teaching in Boston, Heaney at Harvard and Walcott at Boston University. They ate Chinese meals together in Walcott’s apartment, and, though they were already middle-aged, felt young in each other’s company.

Had they felt like accomplices in the minority activity of versification. “Not really, no. When you meet other poets, that disappears. No paranoia, no sense of minority. Nothing like that,” Heaney said. “The other thing that brought us together was a sense of humour, mockery and that again is young poets’ stuff. And I think there was a sense of sharing and being at an ironical distance from, if you like, the English tradition of English literature and of English culture. Because I’m doing English in Belfast and he’s doing English in St Lucia and we both know English and the English and we’re not English ourselves.”

Heaney is now in his 70th year. The cuttings record how many friends’ memorial services he has been speaking at recently (his first was Robert Lowell’s in 1977). Until now he had not spoken about his own ill health.

“I had a stroke a couple of years ago and I stopped running around. It wasn’t too bad in that I was paralysed down the left side. My speech wasn’t affected. My memory wasn’t affected and it took me five weeks to get back on balance and then, well, a pacemaker etc, etc. So I came back. But I changed my ways. I cancelled everything for a year. I mean, I’d taken on a lot.”

Was death creeping into his work? “Slightly more elegiac than before, maybe, but no. No. Funnily enough I wasn’t scared because I was very lucky at the time. Well, I didn’t know what the hell had happened. I woke up with . . .”

He paused. “I think that’s probably enough about that.” He did not like talking about it.

Back in the main hall the rehearsal was about to begin again and we noticed that the once great pile of sandwiches had one by one disappeared leaving us hungry.

I interrupted Walcott’s latest flirtation and asked about the vacancy for poet laureate. He pleaded that he needed to spend time in St Lucia. “But I do not think it is a joke job.” Yes, if the terms were right he would accept. Now Heaney and I noticed that Walcott was carrying two packs of sandwiches. Bad poets, we recalled, borrow; great ones steal. We should soon know Walcott’s intentions for the work he had taken from his friend. It was, I felt, a grand poetic larceny of which Sophocles would have approved.