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.

23 May 2015

Lesson 24 - Can we really call this a lesson?!

Perhaps better described as a fun end to this half term, this 'lesson' we all made mosaics. Having said that, we did learn that:
  • the stuff in between tiles is called grout
  • mosaic tiles ('tesserae') do not taste nice, despite their startling similarity to sweets
  • it's best to duck when cutting tesserae
  • Max is a perfectionist
  • Classics Club should at no point enter the X-Factor
Here's some of the amazing artwork...
...for Slash (aka Kacper)
...for Jamellia
...for Nailaa

The stunning results of Max's perfectionism

16 May 2015

Lesson 23 - The Golden Mean

Today's session began with an exercise in translating present and imperfect variations of habere, and you're getting pretty quick and accurate. This served as a warm-up to our first totally unseen passage translation. There were a few unfamiliar words, but everyone kept an eye on the seven basic rules of translation (especially number 3 - find and parse the verb!). A new verb tense - the perfect - popped up to surprise us: more on this in the near future.

Then onto matters philosophical, specifically Aristotle and his notion of the Golden Mean. This idea is drawn from the ancient Greek idea of μηδὲν ἄγαν (meden agan), doing nothing in life to excess. In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle proposes that we should aim to tread this 'middle way', and explores the impact that this approach might have on our everyday actions. For example, in situations involving bravery, he argues, it's not a good idea to be too feisty, nor is cowardice helpful: instead, somewhere in the middle of the two lies courage. Here are all of Aristotle's 'golden means':

This 'extreme' (but honest!) person was guessed straight away!
The notion that personalities can be measured on a sliding scale persists in modern life, where there is a thriving industry in the development and application of psychological personality testing. So in the true spirit of mixing ancient and modern, the Classics Club took an Aristotelean Personality Test, marking ourselves against various Golden Means (gnothi seauton!), and then trying to guess from the numbers whose name was on the test. I have to say, you lot were pretty good at reading the tests!

I realised after the session that I hadn't filled in a test myself, so in the spirit of fairness, here you are:

Next week is our mosaics workshop, so come prepared with a design that will fit in the template I gave out. 

09 May 2015

Lesson 22 - Gnothi seauton

We opened up today with a class translation of our longest ever Latin text. We'll be working in the next few weeks at techniques for getting faster and more accurate, such as finding the subject, then the verb, and making sure we're parsing all the endings right before rushing ahead with the English translation. This was followed by some more work on the imperfect tense, including putting present tense Latin sentences into the imperfect.

Then on to matters more weighty in the shape of Aristotle. Here's a useful flying overview of the man and his work:

We then discussed the concept of 'gnothi seauton', or self-knowledge, which is a concept of fundamental importance to Aristotle's philosophy. Seneca (a Roman philosopher) claims that, "Other men's sins are before our own eyes; our own are behind our backs" - a statement that the class confessed was true. So in the spirit of Aristotelean self-knowledge, we explored the idea of cognitive bias (i.e. irrational thinking), a notion mentioned by Ken Taylor in last week's lesson.

We took part in a quiz that sneakily demonstrated the following biases from which humans unknowingly tend to suffer:
Attribution bias (science test question)

Using internal personality characteristics to explain others’ actions, but to ascribe our own failure to external factors only.
Overconfidence bias (Jakarta question)
The mistake of being more confident in your actions than experience or logic would dictate to be appropriate.
Ingroup bias (debating team question)
The tendency to favour or think better of members of one’s own perceived social groupings.
Primacy/recency bias (list question)
The tendency to remember the first and last things in a list/narrative.

Aristotle advocates understanding our weaknesses and excesses in order to correct them: fortunately the last century has seen an explosion in psychological research to provide evidence of these. If you're interested in this kind of thing, you can read more about them here.

P.S. Thanks to everyone for the loudest rendition of Happy Birthday I've ever experienced ;-) mihi dies natalis felix erat, gratias vobis ago!

02 May 2015

Lesson 21 - An imperfect world

Big strides in both our language and cultural learning today, and some debate topical to the upcoming general election.

I used to walk the dog ever day
Firstly, we tackled a new tense. The imperfect tense is used to describe past actions that are in some way unfinished or ongoing. We did a few quick-fire matching exercises on the board, then some of us had a go at writing our own imperfect tense Latin sentences such as 'deus Romanos non amabat' (Nailaa) and 'Romanus Romanum amabat' (Lorenze). We'll continue with some more imperfect tense work next week.

Not Plato's first choice
Next we explored human imperfection. In the last couple of weeks, we've seen how Plato postulates that people are irrational beings, and that democracy (i.e. 'rule by the people') is only one step up from anarchy (i.e. 'no rule at all'). We discussed the Platonic notions of oligarchy, timocracy and aristocracy (which, don't forget, means 'rule by the best': it could be argued that the word is mis-applied in its modern context!). We also explored some of the possible pitfalls in Plato's ideas. As we saw next, it is possible to reconcile the idea of human irrationality with a workable version of democracy, thanks to Ken Taylor of Stanford University:
The answer? To understand better our failings and biases as humans. We'll look at this notion more next week as we encounter Aristotle's important idea of 'γνῶθι σεαυτόν' ('gnothi seauton') or self-knowledge.