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.

16 June 2017

Lessons 18 & 19 - Good gods!

A slightly dysfunctional bunch
You can't study Classics without at some point coming up against the Greek and Roman gods. They seem to get involved everywhere in human stories, both ancient and modern. So, after a quick game of Name That Deity (bonus points for getting both Greek and Roman names), we had a go at filling in their family tree.

Devon's epic Gods research
Actually, we concentrated mainly on the Olympians (highlighted in green on the family tree, and named after their home on Mount Olympus), but we also explored the Titans (the generation before the Olympians). Devon astounded us with his knowledge of the Titanomachy ('Titan battle'), where Zeus and his brothers overthrew the previous generation. But hold up a minute, don't we know that sometimes myths tell us something about the world around us, including human nature? So a myth that talks about a younger generation getting angry with the older members of their family... perhaps this is one way the Ancient Greeks recorded and explained the natural phenomenon of teenagers rebelling against their parents. I mean, if Zeus got mad at his tyrannical father, isn't it normal that adolescent humans do, too? Mind you, from the evidence of this video, I wouldn't want to take on Kronos (I think I'd just get on with my homework/chores):

26 May 2017

Lessons 16 & 17 - Unmythable

Moving on from democracy (and psychology!), over the last two weeks we've been looking at another thing for which the Ancient Greeks are rightly famous:

Cyclops - some serious image rehabilitation
We kicked off with a quiz, identifying Ancient Greek mythological characters and their modern-day descendants. Then, always keeping an eye on the modern as well as the ancient, we investigated why these intriguing and often scary tales play such an important part in so many cultures. 

We all agreed on Mormo and Father Christmas as tales used to keep naughty children in check. There was also consensus on mermaids and the Taraxippi as myths that helped explain natural phenomena. However, the debate got very lively when it came onto the origins of UFO stories. Some of us bought into the fact that these stories tap into human physiology (sleep paralysis) and psychology (addressing our deepest fears), and perhaps even controlling the masses, but others argued that they weren't myths at all, but true accounts of actual events. 

Always listen to your dad!
In language work, we continued our mythological theme, looking at the 'Metmorphoses', Greek myths written down in poems by the Latin writer Ovid. Specifically, we looked at the myth of Icarus (which you already knew in such detail - awesome!). We played a game of Word Roots Challenge using a section of the poem, and then we translated a simplified Latin version of the myth.

And, as promised, if any of you want to re-watch that clip of Odysseus (a.k.a. Nobody) outwitting Polyphemus the Cyclops, here you go:

14 May 2017

Lesson 15: All too human

After a little bit of Latin language work (quick fire verbs, noun endings), we picked up on the serious business of Plato's idea that most humans are not fit for deciding their own government (i.e. democracy). Surely some mistake?

After listening (again!) to the excellent Ken Taylor (see last' week's entry), we considered the ways in which regular people are not always straight-thinking, rational beings. We dug deep into the Card Experiment (thank you, Isaac, for a wonderfully clear explanation!), which shows us that the human mind tends to look for confirmation of what it already believes to be true ('confirmation bias'). "So what?!" you may think. "What does a bunch of cards have to do with how people vote? Well, we then discussed the issue of fake news, and how people tend to look for stories that confirm, rather than challenge, their political beliefs.

We then took a quiz that illustrated some of the other human biases discovered by psychological research: attribution bias (when I do well, it's because I'm awesome, but if I don't it's because my external circumstances were to blame), overconfidence bias (I overestimate my ability to get things right), ingroup bias (favouring people in my group) and primacy/recency bias (remembering the first and last things you heard/saw, but not so much the bit in the middle). If you're interested, you can read more here.

So, bringing it all back to Plato, Ken Taylor ends on a note of optimism. Humans may be biased, but hey, at least we now know it. Maybe now we can try not to be like this and democracy will be a better system. What do you think?...

08 May 2017

Lesson 14 - Encountering the irrational

Half this lesson was devoted to translating Latin sentences (no warm-ups, straight in at the deep end).
Using vocab lists and tables to help with our sentence translations...

Each sentence started out with a verb, then added one or two nouns. The class had to 'squeeze' as much information as possible (who? what? when?) out of the verb, then decide whether the nouns were subject or object, singular or plural.

After that, time to philosophise... We've been thinking over the last few weeks about the best ways to govern a country (topical!), and it's safe to say that we all accept Plato's point that democracy's a less-than-perfect system: people don't always think straight when choosing their leaders.

But can we do anything to help this situation? We listened to Ken Taylor, who thinks we can:
Now, there are some complicated ideas in here (it's a TED talk, after all!), but the main thing that Ken Taylor is saying is that:

  • yes, humans make mistakes

  • modern science (psychology) helps us to understand these mistakes ('cognitive biases')

  • if we understand them, we are less likely to let them affect our thinking

  • we all need to become better philosophers (or psychologists, which boils down to the same thing for him - it's all about gaining and using wisdom).

 Next week, we'll have a fun look at some of the unexpected and biased ways your brain makes decisions.

01 May 2017

Lesson 13: Language recap

A session of language work this week, recapping everything we know about Latin nouns and verbs. 

After recapping this information, and warming our brains up by looking at how to squeeze verbs for as much 'who, when and what' as possible, we went on to translate some sentences, all containing the words 'regina' ('queen'), 'gladius' ('sword') and 'habere' ('to have').
Such tiny differences on the ends of words can make such a difference to the meaning of the sentence, as we discovered.

We finished the lesson with a recap - ahead of next week - of Plato's ranking of forms of government, with democracy pretty low down. Do you really believe, as Plato did, that people make stupid decisions when electing their leaders? If so, is there any way we can improve the ways that people make decisions? We'll find out next week...

24 April 2017

Lesson 12: How to rule

We warmed up this week by looking at some words and ideas important to Aristotle, and by thinking of English words that come from those words. 

Next, we moved on (or perhaps backwards!) from Aristotle to his teacher Plato, who had some very interesting thoughts about the best ways for society to organise itself. First of all, we matched up various ‘-archy’ (‘rule’) and ‘-cracy’ (‘power’) words to their definitions. 
Timocracy - rule by people called Tim?
Democrat? Plutocrat? Oligarch?

Plato had some very clear thoughts on which systems of rule were better than others, but pretty low down on his list was democracy (behind aristocracy, timocracy and plutocracy). 

Say what?!! Isn’t democracy what we all aspire to?!!

But, perhaps with recent elections and referenda in their minds, several of the class came up with exactly the argument that the great Plato makes: “Some people don’t know what they’re on about and make the wrong decisions.” (Talk about great minds thinking alike!)

Next week, we’ll explore some of the ways in which voters can be biased, and work out whether modern society has the answers.

24 March 2017

Lesson 10: Food for thought... and for eating

"Please don't tell me my existence is meaningless!"
After a quick entree of Latin verbs, we got down to more important matters i.e. solving the mysteries of the universe (with a little help from Aristotle). Recalling our previous lesson (how we use memory and experience to make sense of the world), we explored how Aristotle disagreed with his teacher Plato about how we perceive reality. In Aristotle's world, it's all about experience, and not about some mystical, pre-existing 'ideas' or 'forms'. "Ask questions!" Aristotle urges us. "Ask what things are made of! Ask how they got here! And most importantly, ask WHY they exist!" Cue an epic class debate on the nature of the universe (which Devon has 100% figured out, apparently, but which the rest of us are still struggling with). Anyhow, your "What's The Point Of Flies And Spaghetti Bolognese?" worksheets should make for some interesting dinner conversations this weekend...

Enough of food for thought, let's have some real food for eating. We started the second
Sorry, Romans, not for you
half of our lesson with a quiz to see just what a Roman might have had in his or her kitchen cupboard. No jacket potatoes, popcorn or ketchup for these guys, as all these ingredients were native to South America, a land unknown to the Romans. No sugar either. They had to sweeten their food with fruit juices, fruit syrups and honey. Which we then tasted, along with authentic Roman bread (not to everyone's taste, but Daniel couldn't get enough!), pomegranate, dates and a fresh cheese. On the way out of the lesson, more dates and a recipe sheet of authentic Roman recipes translated from the original Latin of Apicius. Enjoy!

03 March 2017

Lesson 9: Bants!

Lego actually means 'I read' in Latin!
Bants about the imperfect
We're back (finally!) after half-term and INSET, starting with a quick game of Wood Roots Challenge (score = 18), and refreshing our memories about Latin verbs. With boards and markers, we played Quick Fire Verbs, looking at the beginning of the verb to see what is happening, and the end to see who is doing it. If you ever liked Lego (I still do!), you'll love Latin. The two are really similar: just use different 'bricks' (word stems, word endings) to change grammatical information (e.g.person, number, subject/object). Today we learned about a new set of 'bricks' - endings that show the imperfect (the Tense Formerly Known As Past Continuous Or Past Progressive), which translates as 'was .....ing'. 'Imperfectus' in Latin actually means 'incomplete', giving you an idea of the action of the verb being ongoing rather than done and dusted. So, after a verbal run-through of the endings, we played a game of Imperfect Quick Fire Verbs before settling down to an exercise sorting and translating verbs in this tense.

Elephant? Sofa? Sofa made out of an elephant?
Next, a brain-break... or was it? In a visual quiz, we looked at close-ups of objects and tried to work out what the object was. Fun, sure, but what on earth did this have to do with Classics (an excellent question asked by one of the class!)? Well, in working out whether that blue scaly stuff was from a snake, a dragon or a shoe, and in assessing if the brown wrinkly material was a leather sofa or an elephant, we all had to do the same thing: go back into our memories and search through our life experiences. Next week, we'll look at how the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle came up with the idea (radical for its time) that all of our knowledge is based on experience.

09 February 2017

Lesson 8 - Number time

Today we looked at numbers in Latin and in Ancient Greek, and discovered that they're still all around us in the modern world. Firstly, Latin, where we played a game of Word Roots Challenge, trying to find as many English words that come from...
This then led to several of the students asking, puzzedly, "If 'octo' means eight, then why isn't October the eighth month?" Two reasons for the confusion: (1) Romans started their year in March, and (2) these guys inserted their not-immodest egos into our calendars and got rid of the names for months 5 (Quintilis) and 6 (Sextilis).
Julius Caesar (July)

Augustus aka Octavian (August)
For more details behind the months' names, click here. We then turned our attention to Ancient Greek numbers. This time, working in reverse, we used English words as clues to help us work out Greek numerals:

This then led to another discussion about words ending '-athlon' (e.g. triathlon, pentathlon, decathlon): 'athlon' means 'competition' or 'contest' in Ancient Greek, so the number before it denotes how many competitions, or events, there are.

02 February 2017

Lesson 7 - Putting it all together

Today we focused just on our Latin language work, drawing together all of the things we've learned since starting in October.

We know about nouns....

We know about verbs...

We know some vocabulary...

So now, we put them all together, to work with sentences. But remember the number one rule in translating Latin sentences: find the verb (usually at the end), see who is doing the action by looking at the ending, then see what is happening by looking at the rest of the verb. By the end of the lesson, we were happily translating sentences that were four words long.

17 January 2017

Lesson 6 - Dinosaur discoveries

ich bin ein Ohrwurm!
Quite a lot packed into our session today. We warmed up with a game of Quick Fire Verbs: look at the beginning of the verb to see what's happening and the end to see who's doing it. The class has got impressively quick at this - looks like the o-s-t chant has done its job of giving you an earworm! (For more information on earworms - also known as brainworms - have a look here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earworm).

After going through our verbs worksheet, we then talked
about dinosaurs. But this is Classics Club, right? What have dinosaurs got to do with anything? Well, you knew that the word 'dinosaur' meant 'terrible lizard'. We then discovered that this comes from the Ancient Greek 'deinos', meaning 'terrible' and 'sauros', meaning 'lizard'. Many dinosaur names are compounds with their parts coming from Ancient Greek (and the odd bit of Latin). 'Tyrannosaurus rex' means 'king-lizard-king', just in case there was any doubt that he's at the top of the food chain. 'Velociraptor' means 'speedy thief'. And my personal favourite, the brontosaurus, or 'thunder lizard'. We then had a go at synthesising (putting together) compounds to create new dinosaurs. There were some pretty terrifying creatures, with more than two compound parts in many cases! 

09 January 2017

Lesson 5 - verbs, verbs, verbs

Into 2017 with a gear change of time (Monday lunchtime), venue (AG04) and focus of study (verbs). After making extra sure we know exactly what makes a verb a verb ('doing' or 'being'), we took a look at how Latin verbs show you not only what is happening, but who is doing it. Next week, we'll take a look at those verbs in sentences.

What + who = Latin verb

We then took a look at the six present tense endings that tell you who is doing a verb:

Using this verb ending 'code', we then 'cracked' some Latin verbs:

Next week, we'll take a look at those verbs in sentences.