Good news for Classics
There's an awful lot of gloom about "education" -- from almost every direction. But Latin and 'classics' is quite a good news story at the moment. A few weeks ago there was a great article in the Times by Sarfraz Mansoor (mostly reprinted here) about Classics for kids in Walthamstow.
Then just yesterday, I beetled across to Oxford, to do a Q and A gig at Blackwells home base (and yes, thank you all, I found that book I was looking for about Petitions in Roman Egypt in the OUP bookshop!) This was great fun: a discussion with my mate Armand D'Angour, really about how we do Classics, and why -- and a great audience.
Then we (Armand and moi) went on to Cheney School, where there was a great celebration to open the East Oxford Community Classic Centre which it is hosting, and masterminded by the Iris Project. Kids from all over the area will be able to go there to learn Latin and Greek and many other kinds of classically related things -- for free (there were some from Worcester at the opening events!). Even less reason now to say, here in Oxfordhire at least, that it is only in the posh schools you can learn classics.
There had been a really big celebration by the time we arrived, including Caroline Lawrence, author of the Roman Mysteries, who is always a huge draw to anyone under about 13, and a great may over. We had the final half hour, and about 250 people (from 2 to about 82).
Armand kicked off, with a hugely impressive bit of video showing exactly how a Sardinian windpipe player plays what looks like the modern equivalent of the ancient aulos. (You have to do, Armand says, "double breathing" .. so you keep the puff in your cheeks as you breath out through your mouth and in through your nose, and you look a bit puffed up. Armand has an ancient music project, so I think he knows...)
Then I came on to do the next bit and the "opening" itself. Terribly exciting, but for a speaker a nightmare-ishly diverse audience. Luckily I was handed a story on a plate, because it was the very day on which the new Astérix (and the Picts) was published. And there is a lot of meat in Astérix -- not just some silly puns on Romans names (in the English version "Marcus Ginantonicus" is my favourite, I confess).
So my talk was mostly about what Astérix shows us about why we still feel that the Romans are in our cultural DNA. And it wasn't just about the funny side(though there was a glimpse of Frankie Howerd as Lurcio, above).. I ended up thinking about how Roman debates about terrorism, national security and so forth fuel our own
So huge congratutaions to everyone in Oxford involved in this. And lets hope that the whole thing goes -- sustainably (as we now say) -- from strength to strength.The trouble with some of the most exciting classical initiatives is that they crumble, once the charismatic leader has gone.
This one ought to run and run.