OU Classics: a Voyage of Surprises, by Sarah Burke


To my dear classics undergraduate,

If you are questioning your path, consider first the benefits, and all that you may have.  To transfer the history of the ancients, so that they are not forgot, whilst developing an analytical mind, and a broad based learning lot.

When you begin your education, you may start with Achilles’ wrath, and wonder at the itinerant bard: a civilisation inspired, he hath.  To stand at the walls of Ilium, and watch proud Hector fight; to kneel with Longley’s Priam, an Irishman and his plight.  You will meet Antigone’s Creon, and weep behind her walls, then sail to Robben Island, and watch apartheid fall.  In Italy Pompeii lies still, as you take young Pliny’s hand, and watch his uncle of great renown, die in the ash and the sand.

If you stay true, then at level two, you will see the Odyssey unravel: from Troy to Ithaca you may set sail, but far and wide you will travel.  To watch in terror as Charybdis swirls, and count the Scylla’s heads; then row a boat through the underworld, and converse among the dead.  Later it is Xerxes, filled with god-like pride, whom Aeschylus destroys again, as the mother queen kneels and cries.

The Dionysia carries lessons still, for those that care to learn: we thank the copyists for their diligence, and a place in history they earn.  Cato, Plutarch, Appian, all have their tales to tell, and we the avid students must listen and learn well.  For the Romans they were mighty, and they fought some dreadful fights, but among the wars, the victories and the losses, there were small and tender lives.  What of the wives and children, the silent voices of the slaves?  We look beyond the literary, for answers on their graves.

Level three, it comes upon us, and so we must prepare, to witness ambitious Icarus, and enter the Minotaur’s lair.  We touch the stars with nymph Callisto, as Ovid is our guide, and judge Apollo guilty: divine victim of male pride.  In Titian you will look on gods, and see their rage unfold; in Buffy too, you may enjoy what is bright, what is new, what is bold.  Are you curious as Ionians?  Do you reason like a Greek?  Tell me my dear Classicist, what answers do you seek?

Walk the city eternal, and watch the Caesars rise, as empire stretches around the globe, and then gradually declines.  In Tacitus we meet the Celts, and our very own Boadicea; we walk the same flat open lands, and see ourselves within her.  To stand inside the Pantheon, rebuilt in Hadrian’s reign, and watch helpless as Antinous drowns: the grief, the loss, the pain.  With Constantine there comes reform, but the old ways do not die: for every day we see around us, classical culture, you and I.

So my friend collect your scroll, and do what must be done, but with light heart remember now, that your journey has just begun.


Sarah Burke


Sarah Burke, BA (Hons) Class Studs (Open)

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