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4 Forward

5 Roman Soldiers

9 Titian Exhibition Review

10 The Hylocomian Society, Professor Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi:

Self-Improvement in the Classical World

11 Greek Club

12 Book Review: Natalie Haynes - A Thousand Ships

13 Book Review: Stephen Fry - Troy

15 Film Review: The Life of Brian

16 Why I chose Classical Civilisation at A Level

18 Why I chose Classical Greek GCSE

19 mundus senescit at gens maturescit

21 The Battle of Gaugamela

22 My Classical Seminar: Torture in the Ancient World

24 The Superiority of Mathematics and the Classical Languages

25 Classical Seminar on Boudica and the Celts

27 Evolution of the Roman Army from the mid Republic to

Imperial Rome

29 This is What a Hero Looks Like

32 Classical Reception in Shakespeare

34 The Homeric Question

2 3


Mrs V Ginsburg, Head of Department

Roman Soldiers

Ismael, First Form

If the everlasting influence and impact

of all things Classical could survive the

Fall of the Roman Empire, then there

was no way that current restrictions

would preclude the publication of vox

populi 2020-21.

The theme of this edition is the

continuing relevance of Classics.

Human nature is the same as it was

three thousand years ago; we have the

same fears, worries, desires, and needs

as an Athenian sitting in the agora many

centuries ago. And, as we navigate our

way through the complexities of life, it is

both helpful and reassuring to delve into

the past and explore Classical views of

love, conflict, and society. As unfolding

world events force us to re-examine

our society and the consequence of our

actions, so by exploring Herodotus’

depiction of barbarians, Athenian

superiority over foreigners and the cruel

imperialism of the Roman Empire, we

can navigate our world with greater

knowledge and understanding. Ancient

Greek debate on the different types of

relationships, can offer a much-needed

reminder of the many guises that love

can take. Our journey through life, the

universe and everything, is still on an

uphill trajectory and we might benefit

from pausing and reflecting on the wise

words of those who came before us, to

help us navigate what comes next.

I hope that you enjoy reading how our

students continue to flourish in their

Classical studies and forge their way

in the world of academia, the arts, and

politics with more than a passing nod to

Caecilius and his ilk. To use a Star Trek

analogy, the study of Classics will provide

the catalyst to

ire fortiter quo nemo ante iit.

I would like to thank all those colleagues

and students for their contributions and

extend special thanks to Rijkje for her

talented artistic flair in beautifying our


Last term, KS3 students engaged in a

virtual Roman Soldiers session, where

they gained an insight into aspects of

Roman daily life. This was demonstrated

using modern replicas of archaeological

artefacts like medicines, tools and

pictures. The equipment used by poor

slaves and rich Romans was intriguing.

The centurion wore Roman attire and

his background was a centurion’s office.

The session began with the role of servi

(slaves). The most expensive slaves were

Greek, as they were literate and coped

with the heat. The poorest were British

slaves who spoke Celtic as opposed to

Latin and were illiterate. They harvested,

farmed, fished and cleaned.

Slaves used equipment like chisels,

files for building work and lotions and

tweezers for their grooming work. They

had to wake early to work hard. Despite

sometimes being granted freedom

from their masters they would not be

completely set free. The ex-slaves retained

their masters name, would have to visit

regularly and would return to work for a

fixed number of days. If the slave-master

died, the two strongest or favoured slaves

would sometimes fight to the death.

Whoever was victorious would serve the

master in the afterlife.

Rich Romans had the freedom to wake

up as leisurely as they desired. They

went to the amphitheatre or bathhouse

to relax and be entertained. They would

watch gladiators [slaves in armour]

fight or chariot races. Usually, they

watched animals battle each other for

entertainment and enjoyed extravagant


Overall, the experience was interesting

and provided a historical insight into the

lives of Romans!

4 5

Alex, First Form

On Monday the 30th of November,

we enjoyed a talk about life in ancient

Rome. The presenter talked about the

differences between the daily lives of

rich and poor Romans.

In Roman times, everyone went to the

baths after work or school, where they

had cold and warm baths, gardens, and

libraries to rest in. To clean off all the

grime of the day, they covered themselves

in oil and scraped it off. The rich had a

better life, often having parties and feasts.

The Roman Empire was highly dependent

on slavery as they helped families, built

structures that the government needed

and carried out heavy manual work.

The slaves could gain their freedom for

good services or when their master died.

On rare occasions, they could buy their

freedom if they had accumulated enough

money. Slaves that were freed became

known as ‘freedmen’ and could then

make their own life.

Often prisoners of war, slaves and thieves

were given a choice between being

whipped to death (they would die) or

become a gladiator (they could die or

become famous and be freed). The slaves

mostly chose the gladiator option, and

the presenter revealed a gladiator helmet.

This type of armour was very elaborate

in its design but provided very poor

visibility to the gladiators because it

covered their eyes with an iron mesh. The

Colosseum was used for many gladiator

fights but on certain occasions it was

flooded which resulted in a battle on

water with warships.

Nathaniel, Second Form

I thought the Roman soldiers talk we

had online in the BLR on Monday 30th

November, was very interesting and

I learnt a lot of little details I did not

already know.

The man giving the talk was dressed up

as a Roman soldier from ancient Britain.

He showed us some ancient Roman

snacks such as a cup of wine and an oily

mixture which you dipped bread in to,

to enhance the taste. He was surrounded

by recreations of Roman artifacts which

were an oil lamp and an amphora. In the

talk we focused on Roman Britain when

it was conquered by Emperor Claudius

for legitimacy because he had a stammer

and the best way of gaining legitimacy in

ancient Rome was to conquer new lands.

We also learnt about Boudicca who

rebelled after the Romans confiscated all

her land after her husband died because

a Roman woman could only hold land

if she had less than three children. She

defeated one of the Roman legions

stationed in Britain at the time and was

defeated by the second legion which was

fighting the Druids.

We also learnt about Cartimandua, a very

crafty queen who was loyal to the Roman

empire, but had to leave her kingdom

behind because there was a civil war and

the Romans gave her a ultimatum to fight

them, or retire and live a life of luxury in

a villa in the bay of Naples.

Tim, Second Form

On Monday 30th November, Second

Form Latin students were able to catch

a glimpse of what it was like to be a

Roman soldier. This was because of our

online Roman session with Titus. He

helped all of us understand how hard

Roman life was as a soldier, and how

small the British tribes were compared

to the entire Roman army.

6 7

The Romans decided to come to Britain

because they had heard the myths about

all the riches that they would find here.

My favourite fact was the fact that it

took 3 years for the Romans to gather

their troops and get to Britain. This was

because they had to group legions from

all over their empire, then replace them.

Finally, they had to get across the British

channel. In my opinion, this is the best

way of learning. This is because it is

interactive and encourages everyone to

join in with the lesson.

Throughout this session, despite a few

technical difficulties near the beginning,

the Second Form were taught all about

how the British dealt with the Roman

invasion. Many of them stayed put and

did not put up a fight, however the Iceni

– lead by Boudicca – were one of the

very few tribes who were determined to

force the Romans out. Boudicca offered

the Romans a deal which accidentally

allowed them to easily take over her land.

We learned all this during the gripping

session, and we are looking forward to

next year’s Roman lesson.

Ehsen, Third Form

On the 30th of November 3rd Form

Latin took part in an adventure through

the world of the Roman Army and

medicine. From the gory and detailed

description of sophisticated Roman

medical techniques to the fascinating

world of Roman armour and weaponry,

my classmates and I thoroughly

enjoyed our virtual journey into the

ancient battlefield. We learnt about the

advantages and disadvantages of being

a soldier, and we also dove into the

reasons for someone joining the Roman

army in the first place.

One of the outstanding parts of the

experience was the feelings and emotions

that overcame us whilst learning about

Roman solutions to battlefield injuries.

An example of this was the fine detail of

the stitching and repairing of the skin

by using glowing hot metal tools after

having to perform surgery on a soldier’s

artery. Another highlight of the virtual

experience was the description of Roman

battle techniques and weapons, we were

taught about the effectiveness of the

Pompeian sword and how soldiers would

use their large shields to their advantage.

Overall, although it was unfortunate that

we could not experience the adventure

in person, the virtual experience was still

an eye capturing experience that I for

one will cherish. It was an informative

experience where we learnt about the

Roman army, yet it was still extremely

enjoyable. It was obvious to see that

nearly every aspect of the experience was

well thought out and had time, care and

effort put into it.

Lucas, Third Form

Last term, all Third Form Latin students

were excused from their fifth and sixth

lessons of the day to attend a workshop

with Titus from the Legio Valeria

Victrix. They taught us so much about

the Roman army in just fifty minutes!

They started with the different types of

Roman soldiers in the army, the benefits

of enlisting and other interesting

information about the soldiers who

joined the army to defend their empire.

Many of the facts they told us were

shocking, such as that the chance of

death in the British army today is lower

than the chance of surviving in the

Roman army! Just listening to what

Titus had to say gave me an idea of what

it would have been like to be a part of

the Roman empire, and I could really

understand why so many men joined

the army, and just how great empire it

really was! Subsequently, we had a talk

with a Roman medic about the methods

used to save the Roman soldiers on the


Perhaps the most amazing part of what

I learnt was how some practices from

thousands of years ago are still used

today! For example, the Roman doctors

and medics could perform amputations

and even early forms of brain surgery!

We learnt about the different tools

the Roman doctors and medics were

equipped with, and some were extremely

advanced for their time! Overall, I found

the Roman Soldiers Workshop to be

fascinating and I learnt so much within

such a small timeframe, despite having to

watch online!

Titian Exhibition Review

Oscar, Lower Sixth Form

On the 7th December, the Art,

Classics and Latin students of the

sixth form took part in a virtual

tour, and in-depth analysis, of the

universally acclaimed exhibition

‘Titian: Love, Desire, Death’ (which

was held in the National Gallery).


In the hour-long zoom call we delved

into a world of art and mythology and

explored seven of Titian’s incredible

paintings, originally made for King Philip

II of Spain in the early 1500s.

The first painting we looked at was

‘Diana and Actaeon’, a particularly

narrative and also beautiful piece. We

discussed how the vibrant red and blues

contrasted with the more mutual earthy

tones, and how Titian used this (as well

as light) to put emphasis on the two main

characters: Diana and Actaeon. As well

as looking at the origin of the painting,

we touched upon the use of painting and

art as a whole to tell such a story, and

how it is not uncommon for many iconic

mythological events to be portrayed in

such a way. It is interesting because while

painting only shows one split second of

a story and one viewpoint, it is much

more open to interpretation compared to

written work.

We then looked at ‘The Death of Actaeon’,

a piece which he worked on in the

final two decades of his life before he

died in 1576. This is a continuation of

the previous painting; however it was

interesting to find out that it wasn’t

actually included in the final showing.

This is because its colour and aspect

are somewhat different to Titian’s other

works and it was agreed that this lack of

sharpness, clarity and vibrancy detracted

from the other incredible paintings.

Overall, it was a great experience and

we are extremely fortunate to have been

able to get such a sophisticated insight

into the mind of Titian, especially how

he entangled the artistic composition

and the mythological ingenuity to create

extraordinary art.


8 9

The Hylocomian Society

Professor Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi:

Self-Improvement in the Classical World

Freddie, Upper Sixth Form

Earlier in the year, members of

the Hylocomian Society had the

opportunity to attend a talk by

Professor Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi,

a professor of Classics at University

College London (UCL).

Fiecconi, who has published a number of

papers particularly regarding Aristotle,

gave a talk concerning love, relationships

and self-improvement in the Classical

world. She began the talk by discussing

the ideas of Plato who, she said, lived at

a time of both phenomenal intellectual

curiosity and great political unrest. None

of Plato’s works were written in his own

voice – rather, he preferred the format

of dialogues, particularly involving his

mentor and initial inspiration, Socrates,

who himself did not write anything down.

Plato’s idea of the purpose of love was that

it provided a route to true enlightenment

in the “World of Forms”, which was only

accessible to virtuous individuals such

as himself. This, Fiecconi pointed out,

was in contrast in some regards with

Aristotle’s views, which were grounded

to a greater extent in what was tangible

and the betterment of the self through

specific and explicit virtues. She pointed

out the relationship between the word

erôs, meaning “love”, and erôtan, “to ask

questions”, to highlight the inextricable

link between Greek philosophical ideas

and love; in her words, “Socrates’ art of

love is the art of questioning”.

Fiecconi then presented a model of love

portrayed in the Euripides play called the

“Alcestis”, in which the titular Alcestis

gives her life in exchange for that of her

husband, Admetus. This kind of love – in

being deep and virtuous enough for a

lover to be willing to die for their partner

– would have been exemplary in the eyes

of Plato. Such a relationship, he would

argue, would allow one to “ascend” their

love beyond love for the individual in

stages until reaching a love for beauty

itself on a conceptual level – the so-called

“ladder of love” considered in Plato’s

Symposium. That said, she observed the

problems with this view: for example,

what if one’s lover was a bad person –

would one then be able to possess the

shared virtue Plato touts? Furthermore,

if one loves solely for the sake reaching

the World of Forms then surely, Fiecconi

pointed out, the lover is replaceable and

no more than instrumental, and therefore

of little real value. Such relationships

would be one-sided, with Fiecconi

likening the potential exchange as being

like “gold for bronze”.

Fiecconi concluded by pointing out

that Plato, in utilising dialogues to

communicate rather than simple

manifestos or similar, does not want

to push his opinions so much as he

presents them for the purpose of their

consideration by the reader. In having his

Greek Club

Freddie, Third Form

Since half term, the first Third Form

classical Greek Club has been taking

place on Wednesday evenings. Mr

Baker has started hosting this in

preparation for the looming GCSE

choices, and 11 eager pupils have

since come along to experience a

taste of this 2,800-year-old language.

The first week, some of us came because

we had a passion for Greek myths, some

because we’d dabbled in Greek before,

and others were exited to learn a new

language, with a new alphabet. I had

done Greek before, and was anticipating

furthering my knowledge, and learning

about its origin and myths.

Since then, we’ve learnt about the Greek

alphabet, with its 24 letters, and worked

through some singular and plural noun

endings, as well as the present tense. In

some cases, it’s quite similar to Latin or

other languages we’ve learnt, so that has

helped us remember them. In addition,

we have talked about the origin of the

language, from “linear B” in around 800

10 11

own ideas discussed through images of

the most prominent minds of his time,

Plato is able to consider and address his

own logical shortcomings. In a sense,

much of the philosophical writing of

contemporary Athens can be looked

at in this way – in writing to and for

a completely different people, we are

afforded a more liberal approach to the

application of such ideals to society today.

B.C., and many of its myths. So far, we’ve

looked at Perseus and Medusa, Theseus

and the Minotaur, and the Titanomachy

(the ten-year long war between the young

Olympians and the Titans). We’ve already

learnt 20 nouns, both masculine and

feminine, and 10 verbs.

I have really enjoyed classical Greek club

so far this term. The myths have been

really interesting, and the noun and verb

structure is similar to other languages in

some ways, but different in others, such

as the nu (ν) that is sometimes at the

end a verb. The alphabet is fascinating as

well! It has fewer letters than in English,

so some must be missed out, but more

importantly, only vowels in Greek (there

are 7 of them) form diphthongs, or

sounds made when put together. This

means phonemes like “th” and “ps” have

their own letter to represent them. It

is incredibly interesting, so if you’re in

Third Form, eager to try classical Greek,

or learn about some ancient myths,

please come to try it out on Wednesdays.

A Thousand Ships, Natalie Haynes

Mrs V Ginsburg, Head of Department

Natalie Haynes presents us with the

story of the Trojan Women, at the

close of the Trojan War, defeated,

having lost everything- fathers,

husbands, sons, homes, awaiting

their servitude, at the hands of those

who have already robbed them of


It is a story waiting to be told, a story

of those whose lives have been ripped

apart and changed irrevocably by male

decisions, by male stubbornness and

affronts to male pride. A voice for those

who are normally silent, overlooked,

forgotten, or simply shouted over by male


Natalie Haynes offers us an array of

females, each given their own chapter to

narrate their past, describe their present

and await their future with both fear

and inevitability, as they sit, huddled

on the Trojan shore, for their captors to

choose their spoils of war. Who will be

assigned as concubines, who as domestic

slaves or who simply as war trophies to

which murdering Greek? Which of the

rag-dressed, filthy Trojan women, who

have lived through ten years of brutality

will add more to the hierarchical status

of each Greek warrior? What better than

to claim the wife of aged King Priam as

your chattel, having first slaughtered her

sons and husband in cold blood, stabbing

them as they slipped in their own blood

at the family altar?

The story of Penelope punctuates the

book, and in a humorous nod to the

fictitious letters constructed by Ovid

from mythological heroines to errant

and unfaithful lovers in the Heroides,

we are given a series of futile letters

from the Queen of Ithaca to her absent

husband Odysseus. In these missives, she

gains greater awareness as, informed by

visiting bards who sing of her husband’s

latest epic adventures, she realises that he

would rather defeat Cyclopes and maneating

hydras, be the only man to resist

the enchanting call of the Sirens and

jump from the bed of Circe to Calypso,

than return to the bed of his faithful wife.

His desire for renown and glory would

seem to conquer his love for her and their

son, Telemachus, even to the extent of

prioritising revenge on the suitors than

revealing himself to his long-suffering wife.

The book gives a voice to less publicised

women such as Gaia, mother earth who

is feeling the strain of a growing world

and Themis whose actions are driven

by a desire to impress a former love.

Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons rides

into battles, confident in her prowess

and accepting of her fate; Eris’ winged

incarnation perfectly depicts her modus

operandi for stirring up strife and

contention. We also get more familiar

characters such as Andromache, who

as Hector’s wife is a valued prisoner of

war, and her mother-in-law Hecabe,

whose former royal status is now lost to

her older age. We see women who must

make dreadful decisions as mothers

and children, women who are impotent

in the face of orders barked at them by

the Greeks. Thetis provides a humorous

picture of a sea nymph forced to marry

a mortal she cannot bear and Laodamia,

a woman pining for the love of her

husband Protesilaus.

This book is Stephen Fry’s retelling of

the myth of the Trojan War and, as the

author tells us and makes sure is true,

does not require any previous knowledge

of ancient Greek mythology. From the

earliest origins of the myth starting with

the building of Troy and the birth of

Helen, right through to the gods looking

down on the burning embers of the city

and Aeneas, and a few Trojans managing

12 13

Particularly striking are the two Spartan

sisters, Helen and Clytemnestra: Helen’s

legendary beauty entrances all who come

into contact with her, even those Trojans

whose lives she has ripped apart and

those Greeks for whom she has been the

cause of ten years of fighting and death,

yet she is seemingly unconcerned and

unfeeling. Clytemnestra is presented with

sensitivity and empathy, especially in her

treatment of Cassandra.

This book invokes the muse, Calliope,

who sings “of the forgotten, the ignored,

the untold.” As she says, she has “picked

up the old stories and has shaken them

until the hidden women appear in plain

sight.” She presents the other side of war

and gives us characters who make us

question the traditional, male ideal of a

hero. As in Pat Barkers, The Silence of

the Girls, so in A Thousand Ships, the

women, girls, and goddesses, from the

most-enduring legendary war, are finally

given the spotlight.

Troy, Stephen Fry: Book Review

(or ‘All you ever wanted to know about the

Trojan War but were afraid to ask)

Mr D Rowland

to escape, Fry explains clearly who

everyone is, where they fit in and the

chain of events which will ultimately lead

to the destruction of a mighty city. All

for the love, or was it lust, for the most

beautiful woman in the world.

This book is incredibly well researched,

incorporating all the classical retellings

of the story with modern scholarship

and it leaves no stone unturned and

anticipates pretty much any question you

might have about the war. It covers the

birth of Paris, the wedding of Peleus and

Thetis, the marriage of Helen and the

attempt to hide Achilles, disguised as a

girl, as well as the sacrifice of Iphigenia

at Aulis. It reveals new aspects of the

story, previously unknown to this reader

such as Odysseus framing Palamedes

for spying for the Trojans because it

was he who placed baby Telemachus in

the path of Odysseus’ plough when he

was pretending to be mad, to get out

of going to the Trojan war (shockingly

Palamedes is stoned to death) and

Odysseus and Diomedes creeping into

Troy as dung covered beggars to steal

the Palladian from Athena’s temple.

Fry does acknowledge when there

are two versions of certain events and

there are a couple of very interesting

appendices which discuss the scholarly

aspects of understanding the story and

its transmission. Reassuringly when it

comes to covering the part of the story

covered in Homer’s Iliad Fry does not

deviate from the original. But what this

book really brings home is the fact that

the Homer’s Iliad only covered a tiny

part of the whole story (about 50 days in

the ninth year of the ten-year war) and

that there is so much more to the story

than the anger of Achilles and his duel

with Hector. Fry’s scholarship is applied

with a light brush which enhances the

story telling and in no way intimidates or

confuses the reader but helps to bring the

narrative to life. In conclusion I have no

hesitation in recommending this book as

a perfect retelling of the Trojan myth in

the twenty-first century.

Life of Brian: Film Review

Charlie, Upper Sixth Form

Life of Brian: ‘One of the most

intelligent comedies ever made’ or a

‘crime against religion which holds

the person of Christ up to comic

ridicule’? – a review by a student

who writes far too many geography

essays and doesn’t take English A

Level (so has no idea how to write a


The Life of Brian -released in 1979 about

how Brian of Nazareth, born on the

original Christmas in the stable next door

to Jesus Christ is mistaken for the real

messiah all his life- has had entire books

written both supporting and damning

its release and was banned in Norway,

Ireland and parts of Britain, with the ban

in the Cornish town of Truro only being

lifted in 2014.

It has a few good historical points such as

John Cleese’s Latin lesson and the ‘what

have the Roman ever done for us?’ scene

is brilliant in its accuracy, but it isn’t a

documentary- far from it; it was intended

as a comedic film and this has been met

with varying levels of agreement.

There were many protests outside

screenings of the film across the world,

with some religious groups branding it a

‘blasphemy’ and others a ‘crime against

religion which holds the person of Christ

up to comic ridicule’. Reading other

reviews online, Peter Bradshaw on Rotten

Tomatoes described it as an ‘unexpectedly

earnest, sweet-natured hymn to the idea

of tolerance’ and I agree. I simply believe

that the film does not mock religion,

either then or nowadays, but rather

lampoons attitudes to religion, laughing

at credulous crowds and the challenges of

being a tyrant with a speech impediment.

The film was originally going to be about

Jesus himself, but the Pythons could find

little to ridicule in his life, giving us the

film we know today which I feel has more

depth and has aged better than its first

draft, appealing to audiences today as a


‘Some [people thought this film was] bad,

[it could] really make you mad,

[sometimes it just] makes you swear and


and that is alright because if all humans

were the same the world would be a

boring place. This film was made to be

enjoyed and lots of people -including

me- have enjoyed it. It is through

tolerance that our society diversifies and

the media we consume only reflects this

diversification, hence why I think this

film is so brilliant.

14 15

Why I chose Classical Civilisation

A Level

Jacob, Upper Sixth Form

Whenever I am asked what A-Levels

I study – Latin, History and Politics

– I get a similar response: “that’s an

interesting combination”. If it weren’t

for Latin, I’m sure I’d get a different

response, since Latin is a very different

subject to History and Politics. However,

that is one of the many reasons why I

chose to study Latin. Moreover, despite

its differences, it creates a strong synergy

that has made my Sixth Form life far

more enjoyable and far more valuable.

While History and Politics both involve

learning lots of interesting information

and gaining a deep understanding of

various issues in order to apply that

information into writing, Latin provides

both an alternative way of applying

similar skills and an avenue to explore

another set of skills.

In our study of literature, I have greatly

enjoyed and valued developing my ability

to argue on the basis of literary technique

and content rather than simply on the

basis of facts. Not only has this added

some much needed variety to my sixth

form life, but it has helped me a great

deal in my source work for History and

Politics because it has helped to pay

attention to how authors in English use

language and to what effect. However,

most importantly for me, it has allowed

me to enjoy classical literature in its

original form and to appreciate the

impressive attention to detail of classical

authors and the detailed stories and

arguments that they created.

The study of language, in contrast, has

allowed to develop another set of skills

entirely and to do something that I enjoy

greatly, but which – unlike literature

essays – I couldn’t have done with any

other A-Level at this school. Translating

verse from Latin into English and

translating prose from English to Latin

requires a great deal of attention to detail

and logical thinking about those details.

This way of thinking, which I otherwise

wouldn’t have been able to exercise

through my A-Levels, is an important

soft skill for future careers, but, for me, is

one that I love to use. Translating Latin

has been a bit of a passion of mine since

I first got the opportunity to learn Latin

in First Form and being able to do so

with even more complexity and detail has

been incredibly fun for me throughout

the last year and a bit.

I have enjoyed and valued studying Latin

throughout my Sixth Form so much that,

since I have – with sadness – not chosen

to study Classics at university, I have

made it my intention to continue some

involvement with Classics as my life goes

on, perhaps by doing a course in Biblical

Hebrew GCSE or by joining university

societies. I am very glad that I chose

Latin A-Level because it has provided me

with significant enjoyment and skills.

Roman, Lower Sixth Form

The Classical Civilisation course is one

filled with excitement and detail. It

keeps all who are studying it captivated

and exhilarated. I made the decision to

do Classical Civilisation when I visited

the subject on the A Level choices night;

after Mrs Ginsburg delivered an enticing

speech on the course it was already

decided in my head that I would have to

partake in it. And in all honesty, I do not

regret my decision one bit, it is a subject

to study that is packed full of both

mythological and historical content that

creates a vast and diverse subject for its


For me personally I find the violent

and mythological side of the Iliad

to be interesting and there is

never a dull moment when I am

learning about it. As well as this

the historical aspects of Sappho’s

poetry and Herodotus’, “Histories”

which tells us more about ancient

literature and views on love, relationships

and people which are always intriguing

to learn about. Summing all this up,

Classical Civilisation subject is a must

do for any pupil that likes stories and

learning new and stimulating things.

Andrew, Lower Sixth Form

A Levels allow the opportunity for

students to explore new subjects that

were not available at GCSE and I have

taken advantage in choosing Classical

16 17

Civilisations as one of my four A Levels.

Before the choices evening early this year

in all honesty, I had not even considered

choosing Classics. Though my three

other options were cemented before

the evening, I remained undecided on

what my fourth and final option would

be. After visiting the Economics class

rooms I decided to see what the Classical

Civilisation course was like and what, at

the time, the current Lower 6th students

thought of it and from there I only heard

and saw good things. My interest was

peaked by the literature the curriculum

offered, especially by the Iliad as it was

something I had always been interested

in and without doing the subject I was

unsure whether I ever read it. But mostly

by the fact that all the students said how

impressed they were with the course and

how enjoyable the course was. These

things finally helped decide my fourth

choice and to pick Classics.

So far in my Classics lessons I have

not been disappointed by the what the

subject has covered and I’m enjoying

all parts of the course, but as I expected

I’m most enjoying the Iliad. The drama

that Homer’s epic creates has kept me

captivated and I am especially interested

in the aspects of his storytelling that have

survived until today.

Why I chose Classical Greek GCSE

Jonathan, Fourth Form

When I told my friends that I was

thinking of choosing Classical

Greek for one of my GCSE subjects,

I was asked a lot of questions:

mainly, “Why?” followed by, “but

the alphabet” and “but it’s a dead

language.” For me, these aspects are

a key part of the reason I wanted to

study Greek. Yes, it is in a different

alphabet, but that’s part of the

challenge and so part of the fun. Yes,

it is technically a dead language but

when we can read original texts in

the language, we have a connection

with people who lived around two

thousand years ago. That sense of

connection is overwhelming, both

for the similarities it might reveal

and also the differences which it

illuminates. I had always loved Latin

and, as both are inflected languages,

I hoped that this would help me with

learning Greek from scratch.

What I knew of the culture of the ancient

world also inspired me to choose the

subject. There are many parts of Greek

culture which feel modern, for example

the theatre and political democracy,

but there is also a challenge for us in

recognising that theirs was a society

built on slavery where women rarely

had a voice. I had also seen theatre

performances of Greek literature in

English and so was keen to be able to

read them in the original language as it

would give me closer proximity to the

intention and meaning of the writers.

On options evening I found that we

were likely to be reading Homer and

Herodotus, so I finalised my decision.

The first term of Greek has been swift and

exhilarating. We are a small class and so

we have moved at a rapid pace but one

of the benefits of being a small group is

that we support each other and progress

together. We are already reading passages

where we encounter mythological heroes

and towering historical figures and by the

end of the year we will be reading texts in

the original Greek: I can’t wait.

mundus senescit at gens maturescit

John Ellis, Fourth Form

Despite all the hardship it has

left in its wake, the COVID-19

pandemic has provided an almost

unprecedented opportunity for us

as a society to pause and reflect on

our past, present and future. Most

notably following the death of

George Floyd, the rapid expansion

of the Black Lives Matter Movement

has led to numerous institutions

across the world examining their

own diversity and/or links to slavery

and racism. However, there is one

key question posed at this time:

‘Is there validity in judging the

actions of the past in the eyes of the


Although many have pointed fingers

at the British Empire for its central

role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade

and colonialism, all of the world’s

most powerful empires were built and

sustained on the backs of slavery and

oppression and, therefore, it is important

to recognise this also. As a Classicist, I

take a keen interest and fascination in the

structure and civilisation of the Roman

Empire. Nevertheless, this does not go

without my own criticism of a leader

who often painted himself as the greatest

in history: Gaius Julius Caesar. Now it is

needless to say that Julius Caesar was one

of the most extraordinarily resourceful

and talented military minds that Europe

has ever seen but his integrity falls short

of his achievements. The mass genocide

committed by Caesar in the Gallic Wars

is completely and utterly unacceptable

in the lens of our modern society but,

just as Caesar and many of those around

him seemed to be very potent in clearing

their consciences, should we be able

to forgive and forget simply because it

happened so long ago? Likewise, the

role of slavery in the Roman Empire was

central to its expansive economy. On the

contrary to common argument, however,

this institutionalisation of slavery did

not go unquestioned or seen as normal

by all at the time. In Gaius’ Institutiones

(161 AD), he refers to the domination

of another person in the case of slavery

18 19

as being ‘contrary to nature’. Even the

Greek philosopher Strabo wrote about

how the extensive slave trade in the

Seleucid Empire led to its destruction in

63 AD and many members of the early

church recognised the inhumanity of

slavery and bondage. In this way, I see it

as unfair to suggest that those living in

ancient empires simply ‘did not have the

same mindset as us’. That being said, I

do recognise that the general consensual

viewpoint on slavery was very different

to what it is now but, just as with modern

and 18-19th century slavery, this should

not limit us from understanding the

destruction of so many millions of lives

to be wrong.

Unlike the way in which many are

calling upon the British Government to

recompense their former colonies across

the world, I believe that there is a better

way of going about reflecting upon the

legacy of those like Caesar. For example,

there is little that a reimbursement from

the Italian Government could do to bring

back the lives of the 1 million killed in

Gaul or to repair the centuries of Jewish

oppression catalysed by the Siege of

Jerusalem in 70AD. Even so, studying

Classics and understanding the most

ancient and deep-seated roots of racism

and division of society is, in my opinion,

the best way to learn from and analyse

the wrongs and injustices of the past.

Thus, mundus senescit at gens maturescit:

the world ages but the people mature.

The Battle of Gaugamela

Andrew, Lower Sixth Form

This Battle was fought between

the Macedonians and the Persian

Empire. Alexander the Great was

the commander of the Macedonians

and Darius III of the Persians. They

first fought at the Battle of Iussus in

333BC. Alexander won and conquered

western Persia, but Darius

fled and begun to pull together a

huge army made up of Persian empires


On the day of the battle the Macedonians

were vastly outnumbered 47,000 to

around 100,000. The Persians started

off on the defensive, Darius positioned

himself in the centre of the defensive line

with his infantry and on both flanks were

cavalry. The Macedonians were divided

in two, with a large phalanx in the centre.

(See image below)

in pushing them out of rank.” This was

described by Arrian. The aim was for the

infantry to break through the Persian

line whilst the cavalry made the Persians

break formation. It failed until Alexander

joined the infantry and led them himself;

they were then able to fight their way

along the Persian line handing Darius the


Alexander’s Macedonian victory effectively

marked the end of the Persian empire.

Alexander took the Persian crown

after Darius fled the battlefield; Darius

was killed soon after by his relative

Bessus. This victory allowed Alexander

the Great to push forward and conquer

all of Asia as far as India. The end of

the Persian empire allowed the Hellenic

empires to take shape. After the death of

Alexander the Great, power was divided

up which in turn enabled the Roman

Empire to come into being.

Alexander ordered the phalanx to attack

Darius and his infantry at the centre.

Whilst his cavalry rode to attack the

right flank, “Macedonians sustained their

assaults, and assailing them violently

squadron by squadron, they succeeded

20 21

My Classical Seminar: Torture in the

Ancient World

Roman, Lower Sixth Form

The topic of Torture in the Ancient

World was the presentation I decided

to deliver for my Classical Civilisation

seminar. The reason I made this

decision was due to the simple fact

that the ancient world had a much

smaller moral compass than we do

nowadays and so the methods they

would use would be far more macabre

and interesting to study.

In addition to this point, there is also

the concept that torture has slowly

disappeared in the modern world so

studying something non-existent always

provides an aspect of excitement as you

are learning about a brand-new subject.

The first of these gruelling methods of

torture was THE RACK; its origin being

antiquity. The victim’s ankles would be

strapped to one end of this device, and

his wrists to another. A mechanism was

then cranked during the interrogation

process, stretching the victim’s limbs.

Bones and ligaments made startling

sounds as the victim’s joints were

dislocated until he either confessed or

was torn apart.

If that was not bad enough imagine being

subjected to this device known as the

JUDAS CRADLE; origin – Ancient Rome.

Widely used during the Middle Ages in

order to obtain confessions, the Judas

Cradle placed fear into people’s hearts

throughout Europe. A victim was strapped

into restraints and lowered upon a chair

with a pyramid-shaped seat. With each

insertion the point of the “chair” slowly tore

at the human cavity, resulting in things such

as septic shock or death by impalement.

The closest thing to hell on earth may

very well be the BRAZEN BULL; origin

Ancient Greece. Made in bronze to

look exactly like a bull, the structure

was complete with a door on the bull’s

abdomen through which a victim was

forced. Once inside, the door was locked,

and the statue was heated like a pot on a

stove until the person was quite literally

cooked to death.

The HERETIC’S FORK originated

from Medieval Spain and was used

for confessions during the Spanish

Inquisition, the heretic’s fork was even

engraved with the Latin abiuro (“I

recant”). Bi-pronged on both ends, the

simple device was wedged painfully

between the breastbone and the throat.

The victim was unable to talk or fall

asleep; unless they wished to be impaled,

and delirium usually led to a confession.

The next method here actually has an

unknown origin, but I am sure that you

would not want to be on the receiving

end of RAT TORTURE. Despite the

numerous approaches to rat torture,

the most common was to start with a

restrained victim. A rat was set on his

body and covered by a container/cage.

Heat was then applied, and the rat would

desperately start clawing for a way out—

and the only way was down through the

body. The rat would dig and dig, slowly

burrowing into the person until death.

And, last but not least, was SAW

TORTURE, originating from various parts

of the ancient world. Everyone from the

Persians to the Imperial Chinese practiced

some form of death by sawing. Often the

victim was hung upside down, thereby

increasing blood flow to the head, and a

large saw was placed between his legs. The

executioners would slowly cut the person’s

body in half, drawing out the process to

make death as painful as possible.

22 23

The superiority of Mathematics and

the Classical Languages

Tom, Lower Sixth Form

The classical languages (primarily Latin

and Greek) may not initially appear to

be similar to Mathematics, but the two

are comprehensively linked.

Maths is in many ways a language, as

demonstrated by its compound nature

– everything that is taught builds off

what has previously been learnt. It

is impossible to integrate a function

without a firm grasp on differentiation

and a thorough understanding of algebra

and polynomials. Mathematics and Latin

are both systematic, organized, logical

and cumulative languages, as opposed

to being merely subjects. Subjects are

topical – you can love “Macbeth” without

understanding or even reading “Hamlet”,

you can master the intricacies of the

Russian Revolution without knowing

about the American Civil War. Subjects

do not build upon each other – they are

not as demanding as learning a language

to a high level of expertise, requiring and

achieving constant improvement.

While Modern Languages such as

French, Spanish and German may be

difficult to master, they are not classical

languages and are nowhere near as

logical and structured as Latin and

Greek. The classical languages have strict

and rigid rules, whereas most modern

languages tend to be more lenient.

Learning Latin can help with learning the

Romance languages – but not vice versa.

Some students find studying English

monotonous as it can seem pointless to

analyse a language that you can already

use and speak fluently and instictively -

ironically, classical languages can be more

effective at teaching English grammar

than English.

The sciences (notably Physics) are often

closely intertwined with Mathematics,

but they are simply not as demanding:

they are not languages. You can study the

effects of force on a spring without any

knowledge of the photoelectric effect. The

compounding nature of the subject, while

present, is not as significant.

Another key point is the idea of

metacognition – the ability to learn how

to learn. Both Classics and Mathematics

help to improve metacognition: being

able to pick up and understand new

concepts is an integral skill for both

subjects, as not understanding a certain

topic in either subject is likely to

detriment students in the future. This

enables Classics and Maths students to

achieve a greater learning capacity and

become more adept at understanding

new ideas more quickly.

Both Classics and Maths can open

many doors regarding to careers and job

opportunities. Classics can help with

Drama, English, History, Philosophy,

Politics and Law; while Maths is useful

Accountancy, Finance, Architecture,

Engineering, Medical technology and

Data science. The sheer diversity of the

opportunities provided by both subjects

is surely enough to merit themselves as

essential subjects.

Classical Seminar on Boudica and

the Celts

Lily, Lower Sixth Form

For my Classics seminar I talked

about Boudica and the Celts in

ancient Britain from 750 BC to 410

AD. I started off with an introduction

to who the Celts and Boudica were:

the Celts were ancient tribes from all

across Europe who fought between

each other often and only really

banded together when they were

fighting against Roman invasion

into ancient Britain, but were sadly

beaten. Boudica was a Celtic queen

who led a revolt against Roman rule

in ancient Britain in AD 60 or 61. Not

much is known about her early life

but the information that we have is

from the Roman historians such as

Tacitus and Cassius Dio.

I then went on to describe in more detail

who the Celts were and important groups

24 25

of people from their time, the Poets, and

the Druids. Poets were highly respected

in the Celtic world. They were a well-paid

group as they got to name their price for

their services. There were rankings for

Poets, with bronze meaning that they

were qualified to be a Poet at the lowest

ranking, then silver meaning that they

were experts and finally gold which was

the highest rank and meant they were

the best Poets around. To become a Poet,

you had to train for 12 years and learn

350 poems and if you upset a Poet then

apparently, they could curse you in a

multitude of ways.

I then spoke about the Druids and how

they were members of the learned class

among the ancient Celts and acted as

teachers, priests, judges, or advisors to

the king. They would enforce the laws

that the king made, meaning that most

people feared them. But the ancient Celts

were also wary of the Druids because of

the gruesome rituals they went through

such as skinning a slaughtered bull and

sleeping in the hide on a bed of rowan

branches to have a spirit answer their

questions in their dreams. To become a

Druid, they had to go through 20 years

of training and would act as village

wise men; if they helped you then they

expected your blood in return for their

services. They also took part in sacrifices

and the Roman writer Lucan said that

they even sacrificed humans.

I then talked about the key events for

the Celts and Boudica in ancient Britain

in the form of a timeline, ranging from

when the Celts were first recorded in

history in 750 BC by the Greeks who met

Celtic traders in Hallstatt, describing the

many battles between the Celts and the

Romans from 225 BC in Greece to 43

BC in Britain, which the Romans mainly

won. Then in 61 AD, when Boudica’s

husband, Prasutagus, the king of the

Iceni tribe, died without a male heir, the

Roman empire confiscated all the tribe’s

land and property which rightly belonged

to Boudica. For further humiliation

they then publicly flogged her and raped

her two daughters, Boudica then led a

revolt against the Romans along with

other tribes who felt that they had been

wronged by the Romans. They massacred

70,000 people in Colchester, London and

St Albans and it looked like they would

win easily against the small Roman army

of 400 against their 250,000 but due to

them creating a wall with their own oxcarts

the Celts had barricaded themselves

in and couldn’t escape. 80,000 celts died

and only 400 Romans and Boudica

killed herself with poison to avoid being

captured and that was my seminar.

Evolution of the Roman Army from

the mid Republic to Imperial Rome

Lukas, Lower Sixth Form

The military of ancient Rome is

recognised as one of, if not the

most effective fighting force found

anywhere in the ancient world.

Throughout its long and storied

existence, it has evolved from a conscript-based

temporary army, levied

in times of conflict and consisting

of largely untrained soldiers whose

main distinguishing factor on the

battlefield was their social class and

therefore combat role, to a highly

trained and disciplined professional

fighting force that became feared

throughout the ancient world as a

result of its fearsome combat ability.

The Roman army arguably underwent the

greatest changes during the mid-Republic

period, from around 290 BC to circa 110

BC, at the time of the Marian reforms.

Although the legion existed, rather than

being the highly organised unit we know

it as today, it was made up of a rather

more primitive system consisting of

around 20 full strength maniples and 10

half strength maniples of the triarii. This

meant that a pre-Marian legion would

generally be made up of around 4200

troops which could be reinforced up to

5000 in times of emergency, consisting

of, in addition to the maniples, around

1200 velites, light skirmishing units,

and 300 cavalry. The main infantry

units of the Roman army, which always

formed its backbone, unlike some other

contemporary militaries, consisted of 4

distinct classes: the velites, the hastati, the

principes and the triarii. An interesting

feature of the Polybian system under

which the Roman army was structured

up until the Marian reforms was that the

soldiers of the various unit types were

chosen not by their individual fighting

ability, but rather by their wealth. This

meant that the velites were made up of

the youngest and poorest men eligible to

fight, resulting in them being equipped

with little more than a small buckler

shield, throwing spears and a leather cap.

The hastati were swordsmen, carrying

a gladius and a shield, made up of 4th

class citizens. The principes were the class

of infantry that the famous legionaries

of the Marian legions were based on,

equipped with the iconic scutum shield

and gladius, along with pila. The last

resort for a Roman force in battle was its

triarii units. These were made up of men

who were veterans of the principes, and,

in contrast to the hastati, maintained the

ancient hasta, a type of long spear as their

primary weapon. Their role was highly

specialised, equivalent to shock troops. If

the other 3 lines could not break the enemy

battle formations, they would retreat,

and the triarii would emerge from their

positions kneeling behind the battle line

and charge with their spears. This gave

rise to the phrase “res ad triarios venit”

(it comes down to the triarii), meaning

to make use of a last resort in a desperate


26 27

The Marian reforms were a series of

military reforms initiated by Gaius

Marius, 7 times consul, in 107 BC. These

reforms were designed to transform

the Roman army into a force that was

effective enough to fight the much weaker

enemies that it faced locally with great

efficiency, into a force that was capable

of conquering the vast tracts of land that

the Roman empire encompassed at its

peak. To do this, a complete overhaul

of the manipular system was required.

This was achieved by the introduction

of a single, standardised class of heavy

infantry, the legionary. This meant that

in addition to greater battlefield effectiveness,

equipment could be produced

in greater quantities, and therefore faster.

To organise these new soldiers, the

cohort was created. A cohort consisted

of 500 men, divided into centuries, each

commanded by a senior soldier called

a centurion. This name possibly came

from the pre-Marian centuries, which

consisted of 100 men. By the time of the

reforms, however, each century consisted

of 80 men. Each century was further divided

into contubernia, which consisted

of 8 men who lived and fought together,

headed by an optio. The new cohort

system brought the total strength of a

Marian legion up to around 5000 men.

In addition, to expand the field which

recruits could be taken from, Marius

enabled the capite censi, men with little

or no land, to enlist in the army. Soldiers

also enlisted for a period of 25 years by

the time of Augustus, and those who

completed their tours of duty were granted

a plot of land in the province they

served in and a pension as a reward for

their service. To allow the poorer recruits

to have the same fighting effectiveness as

the richer men, all soldiers were provided

with weapons and armour by the state.

The most crucial difference to the earlier

legions, however, was the fact that the

army was now fully professional and as

such very highly trained, with rigorous

discipline and constant drilling.

This is What a Hero Looks Like

Mr M Davies

What Americans call “the Alt-Right” (or,

to give them their proper name, “racist

idiots”) have a big thing about Greece

and Rome. A common meme of theirs

is a paired picture of Roman buildings

and huts with the title “Rome 2,000

Years Ago – Africa Today”. In 2016, a

white supremacist group called “Identity

Evropa” announced on Twitter (where

else?) a campaign called #Project Siege.

They put up large glossy posters featuring

classical and Renaissance sculptures in

universities across America.

After all, Greek and Roman gods

and heroes were white, right? Well,

admittedly, those sculptures of them that

have survived are white. Not the colour

of pinkish flesh, however, but actually

white – white marble. The thing is that

this is not what Greek statues looked

like when they were made. We know this

because the pigments originally used to

colour them can be revealed by highintensity

and ultraviolet lights. Here are

recreations of the original appearance of

a statue of an archer (perhaps Paris) from

the Temple of Aphaea on Aegina and of

the Panathenaic procession frieze from

the Parthenon.











And there is a hero in Greek mythology

and literature – ‘hero’ meaning, for

the Greeks, not just a warrior but a

demi-god, child of one mortal and one

immortal parent – who is definitely not

white. He is called Memnon, the son of

28 29

the mortal Tithonous and the goddess

Eos (Dawn) and to the Greeks he was a

famous character in their most famous

saga. Why haven’t many people today

heard of him?

A big part of the answer is Homer. In

writing his poem of the Trojan War,

the Iliad, Homer had what was almost

certainly a radical new idea. He would tell

the story of a short episode in a way that

would make it stand for the whole war.

We are very familiar with how the

war started: Paris, one of the sons of

the King of Troy, ran off with Helen,

the wife of Menelaos, King of Sparta.

The Greeks were also familiar with an

episode towards the very end of the

war, which we now know only from late

writers who collected and summarised

myths. The Ethiopian Memnon came to

Troy after the death of Hector to fight

for the Trojans. He killed Nestor’s son

Antilochus, the youngest of the princes at

Troy, a lovable and sweet-natured youth

greatly loved by Achilles. Achilles came

looking for revenge and killed Memnon,

then continued to fight furiously, driving

the Trojans right back to the gates of the

city, where he was killed by Paris.

In his project to make a miniature

of the Trojan War, Homer was much

more successful in his ending than his

beginning. While the early books present

brilliantly drawn characters and moments

of great drama, the plot undoubtedly

creaks at times. It is all too easy to guess

that Chryseis daughter of Chryses from

the city of Chryse has been invented;

the quarrel of Agamemnon and Achilles

over the captive Briseis was never going

to rival Paris stealing Helen away from

Menelaos. The catalogue of ships in Book

2 obviously belongs to an account of the

start of the war. If Menelaos and Paris

were prepared to settle their quarrel with

a duel, why did they allow the war to

go on for nine years first? And why did

Priam, King of Troy, also wait nine years

before asking Helen to identify the Greek

warriors to him?

If you look closely, you can tell that the

ending of the Iliad is just as much a

remodelling as the beginning; in other

words, the story of Memnon, Antilochus

and Achilles is earlier than Homer’s

telling of the story of Hector, Patroclus

and Achilles. Knowing the earlier story

explains some curious things. Patroclus is

a lesser warrior than Achilles and softerhearted,

clearly the junior partner; a good

part of Achilles’ explosive reaction to his

death comes from his guilt over failing

to protect his vulnerable friend, and yet

Patroclus is older than Achilles. It makes

a lot of sense that Antilochus would

be the original: he is, uncomplicatedly,

the apprentice, the squire. (And Virgil’s

story in the Aeneid of Evander, Pallas

and Turnus – the old man, his young

inexperienced son, and the enemy’s

ally who kills him, clearly draws more

on Memnon’s killing of Nestor’s son

Antilochus than on Patroclus and

Hector.) Zeus’ lifting of the scales in Book

22 to see whether Achilles or Hector

will die seems odd – it is obvious that

Achilles, much the greater warrior, will be

the winner. But when Zeus does the same

thing before the fight between Memnon

and Achilles, it makes much more sense.

Memnon is very nearly Achilles’ equal

and their fight is a close-run thing.

But Homer has done a better job

with his ending. His changes work.

Patroclus being a lesser warrior but

older, wiser and calmer than Achilles

makes their relationship more complex

and intriguing; Hector, loaded with

responsibility but unable to protect his

family and city because he is simply

not good enough to defeat Achilles, is

a truly tragic figure. Above all, Homer

succeeds brilliantly in making us feel that

his ending really is a closure: he shows

Hector as so much the best of the Trojan

warriors that, once he dies, it seems now

only a matter of time before Troy falls.

Homer did not by any means kill off

the story of Memnon. It is the centre

of a later epic poem, the Aethiopis, of

Aeschylus’ play Memnon and Sophocles’

Aethiopes. But none of these have

survived: later Greeks found the epic

poems written after Homer’s time oldfashioned

and unsophisticated; few of

Aeschylus and Sophocles’ plays survived

compared to the number of surviving

plays of Euripides – they were more

popular than him in their own lifetimes

but less to the taste of later generations.

Does this matter? If the story was better

known, white supremacists might

celebrate it as the triumph of European

Achilles over African Memnon. But that

is the wrong way to look at it. Memnon,

we are told, was the handsomest of all

the heroes of the Trojan War except only

for Achilles (the ancient Greeks saw

dark skin as attractive), and the greatest

warrior except, again, for Achilles.

That means that he was greater than

Agamemnon, greater than Hector, greater

than big Ajax. And this great hero,

though he has almost disappeared from

literature, is prominent in the artistic

heritage of ancient Greece, it sculptures

and its pots. Classics is the heritage, not

of the white race (whatever that means)

but of the world.

30 31

Classical Reception in Shakespeare

Ciaran, Upper Sixth Form

Despite the many obscurities

surrounding Shakespeare’s life and

career, the fact that he had purportedly

little knowledge of the Classical

languages is often referred to, mostly

stemming from Ben Jonson’s famous

dedicatory poem in the 1623 First Folio,

in which he declared that his (late)

fellow playwright had only ‘small Latin,

and less Greek’. While the poem goes on

to honour Shakespeare amongst some of

the greatest Greek and Roman authors,

with Jonson calling forth ‘thund’ring

Aeschylus,/Euripides, and Sophocles to

us,/Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova

dead,’ the extent of the playwright’s

knowledge of Classics and the influence

he may have drawn from them has been

a subject for debate. While it is likely

that in his youth he attended the local

grammar school in Stratford-upon-

Avon, which would have provided him

with a humanist curriculum full of

Classical literature (albeit with a much

greater emphasis on Latin), scholars

have pointed to significant similarities

between the plots and themes of certain

plays, such as those between Euripides’

‘Alcestis’ and ‘The Winter’s Tale’, as

evidence that Classical Greek drama

was accessible to him, perhaps through

translation or performance in Latin.

Regardless of the true extent of

Shakespeare’s knowledge of Classical

languages and literature, it is

unquestionable that the works of both

Greek and Roman authors, poets, and

playwrights had a key influence in the

production of his plays. As mentioned

before, it has been argued that Latin

versions of Greek plays performed

in public playhouses in England may

have given inspiration for some of his

greatest works; some scholars have

argued that translations of Aeschylus’

‘Oresteia’ and Euripides’ ‘Orestes’, both

interpretations of the traditional myth

in which Agamemnon, king of Mycenae,

was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra

and she subsequently murdered by her

son Orestes, may have in some part

influenced ‘Hamlet’.

There are also some prominent instances

of the role specific works of Roman

literature played in inspiring Shakespeare.

First of these, is Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’,

the Latin narrative poem that chronicles

the history of the world from its creation

to the deification of Julius Caesar within

a loose mythological and historical

framework, the English translation of

such by Arthur Golding in 1567 proving

highly influential, read by Shakespeare

and the poet Edmund Spenser. One of the

most obvious instances of Shakespeare’s

use and reference to the different stories

presented in the ‘Metamorphoses’ comes

in his poem ‘Venus and Adonis’, a direct

reinterpretation of myth, but many more

references appear throughout the plays

for which he is best known. The influence

of the poem is so great, that in one of

his earlier plays, ‘Titus Andronicus’, the

playwright has a copy of it brought on

stage to allow a character to demonstrate

what has happened to her by finding

the relevant story (that of Philomela).

Other clear parallels, such as an obvious

adaption of Apollo’s pursuit of the nymph

Daphne in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’,

and a staging of the myth of Pygmalion

in ‘The Winter’s Tale’, whereby the statue

of a long-dead queen comes to life, much

like the original, where intervention

from the gods grant Pygmalion’s wish

for his statue to become a real woman.

Contemporaries of the playwright

also drew comparisons between the

32 33

playwright and his Roman source; in

1598 the writer Francis Meres wrote that

‘the witty soul of Ovid lives In mellifluous

and honey-tongued Shakespeare’, praising

both his poetry and drama and further

comparing Shakespeare’s comedy to

that of Plautus and his tragedy to that of


Another key Classical text that played

an important role in the conception of a

significant section of Shakespeare’s works

was Plutarch’s ‘Lives’, with the playwright

discovering Sir Thomas North’s English

translation (first published in 1579) at

some point in the 1590s. Three of his

so-called ‘Roman plays’, ‘Julius Caesar’,

‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and ‘Coriolanus’

owe a heavy debt to Plutarch, with

much of the overall plot and characters

drawn from the ‘Lives’, although certain

adaptions and emphases were employed

to increase the dramatic appeal of the

plays. Indeed, the influence of Plutarch

on Shakespeare’s conception of ancient

Rome can clearly be seen by comparing

the aforementioned earlier play ‘Titus

Andronicus’ with the other three ‘Roman

plays’ – the lack of historical source for

the former results in a much vaguer

sense of Rome than those presented by

the plays composed after his discovery of


Thus, Shakespeare did derive his

knowledge of Classical works and ideas,

the inspiration drawn from such which

can be seen in many of his plays and the

significant role played by specific Classical

texts in the playwright’s conception of

plots and themes, provide unquestionable

evidence for the importance of Classical

reception in his works.

The Homeric Question

Mr E Baker

‘Homer’s’ existence has been a

conundrum, which has perpetuated both

Ancient and Modern Classical debate,

from the 8th Century BC to today. Unlike

his contemporary poet, Hesiod, whom

we know flourished around this time,

there is equivocal evidence which verifies

Homer’s existence. Indeed, it is only

his surviving poems, the Iliad and the

Odyssey, which proffer some indication

of the authorship(s) of these works. I will

attempt to review the scholarly landscape

to determine whether these poems were

the products of the ‘founder of Western

Literature’ or of multiple sources.

During the 18th and 19th Century,

a school of thought argued that both

poems were composed by multiple

authors. The evidence for this ‘Analytical’

viewpoint concerned the many thematic

inconsistencies found in the poems.

Wolf and Rhodes, who were famous

analytical scholars during this period,

believed that books 2-6, 9-12, and 23-24

of the Iliad were interpolated and were

mere obscurities to Homer’s original

work. Moreover, a renowned nineteenthcentury

German scholar, Kirchoff, also

claimed that only a half of the Odyssey

could be attributed to ‘Homer’.

This argument was challenged by other

contemporary scholars of the 18th

and 19th Century, whose viewpoints

concerning the poems’ composition

were vastly more optimistic. These

critics believed that the ostensible

inconsistencies were neither as

complicated nor as arbitrary as had

been previously implied. Scholars, such

as Nitzsch, defended the ‘unity’ of the

poems (hence the name ‘unitarian’ for

this particular school of thought). Indeed,

rather than outrightly dismissing the

poetic discrepancies, Unitarians looked

towards the overall structure of the Iliad:

its circular design, with very similar

themes featuring at the poem’s beginning

and end, suggested a more refined and

diligent skeleton. Furthermore, the

Unitarians’ appreciation for the poet’s

artistic style, as manifested in the vivid

and often unformulaic detail of Homeric

similes and ekphrases, favoured a sole

authorship. Fundamentally, Unitarians

argued that the profound themes,

structure, and innovation of the poems

indicated that an original Iliad and

Odyssey were composed by one poet,

whose creations were then adjusted

somewhat by later writers.

At present, there is scholarly consensus

that both poems were composed as part

of an oral tradition. The works of Milman

Parry and Albert Lord in the South Slavic

regions in the 1930s and 1950s confirmed

two facts: firstly, the ability for poets to

sing verses continually, unassisted, and

for long periods of time. Secondly, that

the epic poems contained repetitive use

of language, known as ‘formulas’, which

were forms extracted from previous

rhapsodes. These repetitions, which are

located in epithets, ‘type scenes’ such as

in arming episodes, or frequent recurring

scenes were, according to Parry,

‘expression(s) to reveal an idea (but)

under the same metrical conditions.’ In

other words, these phrases fitted into

patterns, which facilitated the bard’s

recall. Furthermore, oralists have also

pinpointed the inconsistent dialect of

the Homeric texts, varying from Aeolic,

Ionic, and a more elevated ‘Homeric’

dialect. Following these conclusions,

‘oralists’ have argued that the poems were

formed through a random collection of

works from a plethora of ninth and eightcentury

poets, some who followed an oral

epic tradition and others who did not.

Based upon an enhanced understanding

of oral composition, a new school of

thought emerged, with ‘neo-analysis’

becoming a more prominent opinion on

the Homeric Question. These scholars

have alluded to the similarities between

other epic texts (such as the Cypria,

Aethiopis, Little Iliad, Nostoi, and Telegony)

with Homer’s original poems. Neoanalysts

have been able to create a bridge

between analytical and unitarian thought:

they accept that Homer adopted themes

from other oral poets, but used these to

establish a more contained and unified

form in his poetry.

34 35

While most favour the analytical and

‘oralist’ viewpoint, ultimately, the ‘orality’

of these poems renders their origins

as indeterminate. Alas, the identity of

Homer, where he was from, how the

poetry was written down, and from

whom it was produced, are questions

which will probably never be answered.

Notwithstanding this uncertainty, both

poems still have a continuous significance

and importance on today’s society. We are

still able to extrapolate key themes from

these poems: the suffering from war, the

justice or injustice of divine intervention,

the importance of the family, and the use

of language for personal gain are to name

a few. Indeed, both poems encourage us

to compare and contrast ancient customs

and ideas with those of our contemporary

modern society. Whether Homer existed

or not, we still possess the consolation,

or rather privilege, of being able to read

these ancient texts, analyse their subtle

nuances, and appreciate the creativity

within them.

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