The Future of Classics at New York Public Library
I've really got down to pulling together the big lecture I'm giving in New York on the 30th November (thereby -- all being well -- missing out on the strikes on this side of the Atlantic). It's at the New York Public Library, where I am ashamed to say I have never been -- but they have a wonderful website and loads of historic images online (really useful). And it's a lecture in honour of Bob Silvers, the editor of the New York Review of Books... who will be there. So I had better make it good!
Bob's idea (and mine) was for me to talk about 'the future of classics'... so it's called 'Do the Classics have a future?". The big issue is how to get a handle on the question, which amounts to more than an hour-long version of the one word "Yes".
One way to go would be to pull the obvious surprise. Answer "no" instead... "Mary Beard says Classics are dead" shock. But that would amount to an equally dreary hour, and wouldnt actually but what I think.
So I'm trying to find a way between and beyond the usual discussions of this -- you know the stand-offs in which the opposing sides slug out with the same old arguments: 'nobody knows Latin and Greek any more and Classic departments are closing down all over the place" vs "look at success of Gladiator and the number of kids learning Latin in a new program in the Bronx'.
It seems to me that you have to think a lot harder about what 'Classics' is; and I dont think that it amounts to Classics courses in univesities, or in the Bronx for that matter; and it isn't simply people liking Roman epics (which they have done for years and years--back to the 19th century and before). So what is it.
Well today I am going to spend a few hours on Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version (and two of the different attempts to make it into a movie) -- and think about that wonderful moment where the boy brings old Crocker Harris a present of Browning's translation of Aeschylus' Agamemnon (a marvellous moment of the enmeshment of the ancient world in modern culture, but handled rather differently -- with more or less intelligence -- in the different movies...). I think there might be an unexpected 'angle' there. We shall see; nice way to spend a Sunday, even if not.
Anyway the lecture is at 7.00 pm on the 30th at NYPL... and readers of a Don's Life can have a 40% discount on the $25 ticket price. Just enter the coupon code CLASSICS when you go to the online booking site. And for those who show up on the day (hope some blog readers will), there will be a free issue of the New York Review holiday issue.