Saturday Live -- the questions
As I said in the last post, we didn't have time on Saturday Live to get onto the questions and comments sent by email and texts, so I'm answering some of them here. I'm not sure that those people who submitted questions will know to look at this blog -- but it is better than nothing, and the least I can do.
So here goes:
1. More than one contributor wanted to know more about Athenian Democracy and Socrates. My crude view would be: Athenian Democracy -- nice but a bit over-rated (it' s easy to have a democracy when your citizen body is the size of an average student union); Socrates -- guilty as charged. But in general, have a look at my colleague Paul Cartledge's Ancient Greek Political Thought in Practice (Cambridge, 2009) or M. I. Finley's Democracy Ancient and Modern (1985)
2. Some recommended books?
Other than my own . . .
I think that all the classical volumes in the Very Short Introduction series (from OUP) are great (though one is by me -- sorry). Or try James Davidson's, Courtesans and Fishcakes (1998), or Paul Cartledge's The Greeks: a portrait of self and others (1993). I still love E. R. Dodds's, The Greeks and the Irrational (1951). If you are looking for a good classical read, then go for the Odyssey or Tacitus' Annals.
3. People we'd like to meet, and whether we are the same as the ancients? Well, the interesting thing is that it seems to me that we are BOTH like and unlike the ancients -- hence, in part, their fascination. As for someone to meet? Has to be Ovid, though I'm sure he's be a disappointment.
4. The invasion of the Cimbri and Teutones is a great 'what if?', as someone observed. Could they have destroyed Rome? I doubt that they really had a hope, Rome almost always won against 'barbarians" -- tough it remained a terror for centuries.
5. Why continue with Latin to A level instead of chemistry? I dont know about the "instead of chemistry" but I would argue that Latin (and the classical background behind it) gives you a unique glimpse into the cultures which have FORMED our own... any understanding of western culture is impoverished without Latin and Greek.
6. Favourite piece of Classical Literature?Depends a bit what you mean by 'favourite', but I'd go for Seneca's Apocolocyntosis ('the pumpkinification of the Emperor Claudius") -- a skit on the emperors deification, which makes me laught out loud.
7. OK -- most of the students we have applying to Cambridge Classics don't have Media Studies. And I have an innate suspicion about everything with "studies" at the end -- but that doesnt make any less true the idea that ace mathematicians would have difficulty with load of MS questions.
8. Sorry if I sounded patronising about the other subjects on the programme (though I think I have more familiarity with them than one writer-in suggested)...and it was not how I felt! As for the glottalstops, they are natural 'Shropshire', I fear.
9. On the Ivory Tower, one commenter suggested that scientists were much better at talking to non-specialists than people in arts and humanities. I'm not sure I agree actually. The best sort of classics is open to a wide public without dumbing down. I HOPE that goes for me, but it isnt for me to say.
10. One emailer compared A levels in Science with those in Arts -- and observed that those who got A's still had to be taught basic things at uni. I do sympathise, and the same goes for Classics -- but I still contend that they learn DIFFERENT things, and not always to do the kind of intellectual tasks we used to do.