"Then he took off the dress of a Roman emperor and took to wearing a lion skin and carrying a club in his hand."This magnificent sculpture of Commodus as Hercules was discovered in 1874 in an underground chamber in the Horti Lamiani (the gardens of Lucius Aelius Lamia, which likely had become imperial property by the time of Tiberius). It was accompanied by two sea creatures in a composition symbolizing his apotheosis of the emperor. The statue of Lunense marble can be dated to the very end of the emperor's life, sometime between AD 191 and 192.Subjected to damnatio memoriae upon his death, which meant the destruction of all his images and citations, it might be that the bust was hidden deliberately and thereby preserved.
Herodian, History of the Empire (XIV.8)
I've had a couple of emails and I've been thinking about my imminent return to University so this post will ponder the meaning of the title above. The first was from a Facebook group who are currently campaigning to keep Classics in the Scottish curriculum.While this is a worthy fight (for reasons that will be explained later), my first thought was 'who are the lucky bastards who got to study it in high school anyway?'.Education in Scotland has always belittled the value of Classics as a subject and I certainly didn't have access to Classics, languages or literature during my education. This was most apparent at University were there were very very few Scottish Students in our department. The fortunate few who do have access to it are now in danger of having them expelled (!) from the curriculum during the changes brought in by the Curriculum for Excellence.
So it would appear amongst the many other problems that Humanities are facing financially and that funding is lacking generally at all levels. These two stories show that at both ends of the spectrum from the very beginnings of teaching Classics to the distinguished position of Chair, that no one is safe and the future looks dark indeed. At least people are prepared to fight and act. At the same time as I was thinking about both of these pieces another blog post came to my attention. A very good post that says it all really:
(Taken from ProvokingtheMuse)
5 Reasons to be a Classicist...
In this age, education is supposed to be “useful”. No one says this outright, but it is true. High school is nothing more than preparation for college, and college is nothing more than job training.
Because that is the dominant educational theory, I am constantly forced to justify my existence as a Latin teacher. Frankly, I’m getting a little sick of it.
On the other hand, this constant need for defense has helped me answer some important questions: why teach Latin? Why be a Classicist?
So, in the hopes of justifying myself to the world, and inspiring any budding Classicists, here is a list of reasons why you should study Latin and ancient Greek.
N.B.: In college and universities, Classics refers to the period of time in Europe and the Near East from circa 1194 BC until circa AD 476; i.e., the Trojan War until the fall of the Roman Empire. Obviously, there is a ridiculous amount of things to study between those dates, so this post will be limited to what you would learn by taking Classics courses in high school or college. Don’t think for a moment that one blog post can cover everything you can learn from studying Classics!
1. Speak English Better: because of Latin, my command of the English language is excellent and precise.
Learning Latin vastly increases your knowledge of the English language. By learning Latin vocabulary, you begin to understand from where over half of the English language originates. Thus, if you are taking the SATs or ACTs and you happen across a word you don’t recognize, you can use your knowledge of Latin (and Greek!) to breakdown the word into parts and to determine its meaning. Having taught some ESL students this past year, I can’t tell you how useful and important this skill is to have.
Furthermore, having to learn Latin grammar also helps you better appreciate English grammar. In order to translate Latin correctly, you must understand grammar concepts such as mood, tense, case, and person. Does any non-Classicist know what the subjunctive is? How about the pluperfect? Ablative? Perhaps some do, after they have studied a modern language for a few years. But in Latin and Greek, you need to know such things after the first SEMESTER. Learning the precise meaning of a passage in Latin helps you apply that same precision to your English.
2. Become a Better Student: because of Latin and Greek, I became a better student.
Latin students are accustomed to work hard and to spend a good deal of time studying; so, even if they give up the Classics when they go to college or graduate school, they are still ready and willing to work. I’ve seen Latin students in other classes less willing than their peers to give up on a difficult concept; again, I think this goes to the incredible work ethic a Classics student must develop, and which is soon applied to all their endeavors.
3. Become More Ambitious: because of Latin and Greek, I became more ambitious.
Suetonius tells the story that C. Julius Caesar, while quaestor in Spain, saw a statue of Alexander the Great and sighed. He wept because, by his age, Alexander had already conquered the world; so, Caesar soon left for Rome, and the rest is history. Studying Classics means that you also study the lives and history of some of the greatest men and women who have walked this planet. You cannot help but be inspired to work harder and to accomplish more.
In my own experience, I credit the Classics for helping me be more than a typical American college student. I know I studied and read more than my peers (so that I could get better grades), and also I participated in more extracurricular activities (so that I could become famous on campus) than most. I did much more in college than I would have done otherwise because of Latin.
4. Become Properly Ambitious: because of Latin and Greek, I didn’t become TOO ambitious.
In studying the Classics, you see the rise and fall of great men and women. You understand why Caesar was assassinated but Augustus lived to old age. You see the machinations of Cicero as he tried to steer Rome back to a republic while also becoming famous. You understand why Alcibiades ought to be criticized. In short, you understand the proper place of ambition, and that it should not be unlimited.
After a year of being Alcibiades and seeking nothing but honor and glory from my peers, I toned it down my senior year and became much more of a Cincinnatus figure. I quit a few things and focused my activity on what was important to me and to my alma mater. I was much happier, and I got along better with my friends and peers.
5. Become a Better Person: because of Latin and Greek, I am a better person.
The one constant in all ancient works that I have read is virtue. Fundamentally, I think every Classical work attempts to answer the question, how ought we to live? The philosophers answer this question obviously; but poets, dramatists, and historians also answer this question, in their own ways. You, too, begin to wonder about the good life: are you a Stoic? Platonist? Aristotelian? Epicurean? In The Iliad, who is more right, Agamemnon or Achilles? Why does St. John echo The Apology of Socrates in some of the language he uses in his Gospel? You wonder at these questions, you answer them, and then you begin to live them.