Let me guess: you have heard of ‘Classics’, you have seen the entry in the GCSE and A Level Curriculum Booklets, and you have passed it by, with the vague dread of something unattainably distant and difficult. Or, perhaps you have always felt the pull of its allure, yet were uncertain about its scope.
So, let us put the record straight. What is ‘Classics’? By definition, a ‘classic’ is ‘a work of art of recognized and established value’, while as a subject at school or university ‘Classics’ pertains to the study of Graeco-Roman Antiquity, its history, literature, philosophy and art. It is undeniable that the more common meaning of the word derives from the value that for centuries the Western world has been putting on the achievements of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
It is also undeniable that nearly every aspect of our modern civilisation lies on the foundations of these achievements, be it our ideals of beauty and harmony, our views on democracy, equality and fairness in society, the fundamentals of mathematics, science, architecture and engineering, or the sheer joy of aesthetic appreciation and philosophical discourse.
How does all this fit with ‘Classics’ at Ipswich High School and beyond? There are two different (not necessarily separate) routes one can take: through ‘Classical Civilisation’ or through the Classical languages (Latin and Greek):
In ‘Classical Civilisation’ we study a variety of sources in English translation within the framework of three major topics: ‘The world of the hero’, ‘Culture and the arts’ and ‘Beliefs and ideas’. Thus, our sources span from literature and drama to history and philosophy, and range from all-time literary masterpieces like Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus the King’, Aristophanes’ ‘Frogs’ and Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’, to Cicero’s private correspondence and fiery invective rhetoric against Verres.
We discuss these sources within their contemporary contexts and enjoy the process of fleshing out the image of the hero, through legendary or historical figures, such as cunning Odysseus, pious Aeneas, inquisitive Oedipus, idealistic Cicero or ambitious Caesar. But, more importantly, we use the events and personalities of antiquity to deliberate over the problems of our own reality, such as the moral dimensions of war, tyranny and the plight of refugees, the limitless power of the human mind and its consequences, feminism and equality, love and revenge, and above all, the gad fly of Socrates’ undying pursuit of truth, honesty and goodness.
Studying antiquity and its heritage in the original languages adds a dimension of immediacy. However, the opportunity to access this vast source of knowledge in English makes it just as appealing and popular.
To sum up, by studying the ‘Classics’, we anchor our turbulent modern issues in the safer waters of the distant past. We learn not the facts but through them.
Our Recent Destinations
Every year since 2012 a Classicist from the school has gone on to Cambridge to study subjects including Classics (x 3), Anthropology, Mediaeval and Modern Languages, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic.
Our students have also gone on to study Classics at the University of St. Andrew’s, University of Exeter, University of Nottingham, University of Roehampton, University of Birmingham and University of Bristol.
Classics Wall of Fame
Here are some inspirational personalities who did Classics at school or / and university:
Mary Beard, OBE, Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, ‘Britain’s best known Classicist’.
J K Rowling, OBE, novelist, philanthropist, film producer and screen writer.
Mark Zuckerberg, computer programmer and internet entrepreneur, best known for creating Facebook.
Tom Hiddleston, British actor who played Loki in the Hollywood film ‘Thor’.
Bettany Hughes, historian, author and broadcaster, awarded the Naomi Sargant Special Award for excellence in educational broadcasting.
Madeleine Miller & Caroline Lawrence, writers.
Peter Snow, television presenter and broadcaster.
If you are interested in your child studying classical subjects at GCSE or A Level, consider coming along to our next Open Day to have a tour of our 84-acre campus and visit the Classics Department.
By Dr Nevena Gilbert