Archive for February, 2009

Just a quick post before I go off to a lecture.

Sorry I’ve been so lazy about posting- every time I think of something potentially interesting to write work comes along and swallows it. I’m doing so many interesting topics in my course this year, and I would love to get the opinions of others on a lot of the issues they’re raising.

What changed my laziness into action? The radio. More specifically, an advert on the radio encouraging listeners to get more involved with science and maths in order to get higher paid jobs (a higher wage was explicitly mentioned as part of the attraction). Science was summed up in a few attributes like “unwind DNA” and “combat climate change” to make it more alluring, as well as the wage aspect I’ve already mentioned. The problem I had with it was that the advert challenged people to get into scientific studies to help change the world. To me it heavily implied that, unless you did science, you were fairly useless.

It’s not the advert’s fault, and I’m not denying that science is useful. In fact, I’m so utterly dependent on science it’s almost foolish. It’s just that I do not understand why what you study should be dictated by how “useful” it is.

When I had my interview for my beloved university, I was asked by my interviewer why he as a taxpayer should subsidise my degree, when it’s of no use to him. Classicists don’t build bridges, or do surgery, or sue people. In fact, he asked me what made Classics a valid subject when I dismissed stupid degrees like David Beckham studies and the like. I made a really stupid answer which I won’t repeat here, but I still cannot think of a totally satisfying answer to that kind of utilitarianism. It’s a fact I come up against whenever I tell people I do Classics- “Oh really? And what can you do with that?” I also notice that my friends who do History and English never get asked that.

In the UK, Classics is a highly-respected degree, thank goodness. Oxford and Cambridge were originally centres for the more or less exclusive study of Theology and Classics. Yet recently there has been a backlash against such apparently “useless” degrees, and Classics teaching in schools has taken a dive. Theology survives, however, in the name of teaching religious tolerance through education, of which I wholeheartedly approve.

Yet I wonder- people ask me why I bother reading “boring” old texts in “dead” languages, spending my time gazing at broken bits of marble, and yet these same people go to Rome, Pompeii and Greece and look at the remnants of these same civilizations. Classics and classicists frequently make the news, including our very own Mary Beard, whom Vogue has named as one of the top 30 most influential women in Britain. People care deeply about Classics without even realising it- classical monuments and sculpture influence our ideas of beauty and decor and elegance; Greeks are invoked in discussions of sexuality; we drive on Roman roads (and construct modern roads using Roman principles); cities are built on grid patterns; words have hidden meanings.

True, when I leave uni, I’ll probably never have to write about the Iliad again. But I know that I’ll use the tools the Classics has given me (and the foresight which comes from knowing about the past) in every aspect of my professional life. Who knows? I might just be able to change the world. The ancients did.

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