Thursday, April 8, 2010


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

No comments:

Post a Comment