Learning Classics is a bit like putting on a magic pair of 3-D glasses. Once you start delving into the language and the culture, you'll start to see it all around you. This blog is a record of the club's journey through the worlds and language of ancient Rome and Greece... and through modern times, too, searching for the influence of classics all around us. You'll also be able to find vocab, home tasks, links and generally enlightening info here, too.

31 January 2015

Lesson 14 - immersed in The Bacchae

We whizzed through our language work today to give us more time to get properly stuck into The Bacchae - we're on a mission to get through our readings as we'll be going to see the play next month at the Bloomsbury Theatre. After a quick test of our vocab home-learning task, we then carried on with our 'At The Doctor' translation. Poor spotty little Rufus, he's got measles. But he's a brave little soldier.

Then on to the genius that is Euripides. And the class definitely appreciated the killer line, "talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish." Today we read the scene where Pentheus first meets Dionysus (except he's masquerading a a priest of Dionysus - confused yet?). And brilliant textual analysis from the class who noticed that, yes, Pentheus was being a litle bit over-interested in his captive priest (sorry, told you this play could be, erm, complicated). Nailaa made a stern Dionysus, whilst Anna's portrayal of Pentheus definitely highlighted the confused fascination that this young, naive king feels in the god's presence. The themes of confusion, tension and power struggles were also highlighted by Prof. Edith Hall in her video synopsis of the play.

We also encountered a crucial term in Greek theatre: pathos. Pathos (from which we get the English word 'pathetic') is when a writer appeals to the audience's emotions. Some class members then astutely linked this to the term 'pathetic fallacy', the reflection of human emotion in nature often seen in the works of Romantic poets such as Willam Wordsworth, and novelists such as Thomas Hardy.

24 January 2015

Lesson 13 - still sick

eheu! mihi dole(n)t...
More matters medical today. We began with a Silent Quiz (well, mostly silent!) - point to the body part being complained about by our, poor afflicted friend to the left here (sore eyes, poorly back, bad nerves - this guy really needs a holiday). Afterwards, we recapped on our verb endings from last week (o, s, t, mus, tis, nt) by synthesising (i.e. 'putting together' - Greek!) verbs to complete Latin sentences. We then paid a visit to a Roman doctor, embarking on our first chunk of proper, in-paragraphs translation. Remember the golden rules: find the verb, look at the ending, then find the subject of the sentence. 

Language work done and dusted, we turned to sickness of a different kind. This term we'll be looking at Euripides' Bacchae, a fascinating (if grisly) exploration of human psychology, power and madness. In our first reading from the play, old (therefore wise) Tiresias and Cadmus warn Pentheus, King of Thebes against disrespecting the god Dionysus. They're getting outta here, they tell us, as they can see a storm brewing for the unwise, dismissive Pentheus, and it ain't gonna be pretty. This all sets up a lovely bit of dramatic tension for what's to follow.

Dangerous as Dionysus
Two interesting questions were raised in the course of our drama work: who's the guy on the front cover of the play, and what's the deal with wearing masks? We (eventually!) guessed right about the front cover being a picture of Elvis Presley, but what's he got to do with The Bacchae? Although he seems pretty tame nowadays, when Elvis first burst onto the musical scene, his music was seen as far to wild, driving teenages to all manner of naughtiness that their parents didn't want. Parallels with Dionysus were immediately picked up by the class. I'm not going to bore you with Elvis-worship here, but he's a really fascinating character, so if you want to find out more, have a look at this article on the Rolling Stone website

Epidaurus - Ma-hoo-sive (and no mics!)
The second question (why the masks?) is quite straightforward: have you seen the size of some of the ancient amphitheatres? They're enormous! To the left is a picture of the amphitheatre at Epidaurus.The audience members can be far away and need to see very clearly who the character is.

10 January 2015

Lesson 12 - Sick

The Greeks and Romans laid the foundations of modern medicine, so for a few weeks we'll be considering the classical influence on how we think today about the body and mind. 

Body Bingo
To warm up, we played a game of body bingo, using etymological detective work to find the meaning of Greek and Latin body-related words. Lai'larni raised an incisive question about what a cardiac arrest had to do with a police arrest. The answer? Stopping. And (of course!) it's from Latin: 'arrestare' meaning 'to stop' came into our language via our Norman conquerors in 1066. In modern French, it's 'arreter', which also means 'to stop'. 
Cerebral Sherlock
Delightful new English words we met today were 'cerebral' (brainy, from 'cerebrum', Latin for brain) and 'lachrymose' (tearful, related to 'lacrima', Latin for tears). And to answer the question about how to be a ventriloquist - someone who speaks ('loqui-') not from their mouth but their stomach ('venter') - have a look at this step-by-step guide. Fifty points to anyone who can convincingly throw their voice by the end of the term!

Verb formation as a competitive sport
Moving on to language work, we filled in all the remaining gaps in our knowledge of present tense endings. Through the wonders of velcro, we embarked on a thirty-second verb-making challenge (and, heavens, did it ever get competitive!!). In teams of two, we speed-assembled Latin verbs by ripping stems from the infinitives and sticking them next to the right verb ending. Then we did our first story translation, a tale of earache and a visit to the Roman doctor, which showed that the class had completely grasped the idea of looking at verb endings to discover the 'person' doing the action.

Don't annoy this god...
In the remaining few minutes of the session, we talked about our exciting/ambitious group project for this term: to stage some classical drama. In the tradition of Classics Club, we're not shying away from the gruesome and grisly, so we'll be reading highlights of Euripides' Bacchae. This also feeds into our topic work, as Euripides was one of the first ancient playwrights to explore the darkness of human psychology: what happens when people are too controlling, how do individuals exert power, what happens when someone comes round after an act of madness? It's going to be fascinating exploring these themes, which are just as relevant today as they were in Euripides' time thousands of years ago.