Weekend Reading: One Step Forward…?

What caught my eye this week

This week I’ve been reading Forward with Classics: Classical Languages in Schools and Communities, a new volume on the current state of Classics teaching which – through no fault of its own – has generated quite a bit of online debate over the last few days.

The argument was initiated by Peter Jones’ review of Forward with Classics, published this week on the Classics for All website. By referring to current British politics in his review, Peter Jones (who is mentioned several times in the book) has provoked a backlash from some contributors and readers. The recent Boris Johnson controversy, and the awkward position of Classics for All in relation to it, has exacerbated the issue, stirring up a sense of anxiety about the future of British Classics which shows no signs of dying down any time soon.

To return to the book itself: Forward with Classics is an eclectic collection of articles. It combines contributions from leading figures in classical outreach, like Mary Beard, Edith Hall and Barbara Bell, with studies conducted by school teachers and community practitioners from around the world, and its focus is firmly on the practicalities of teaching Classics in all sorts of different contexts. The case studies highlight things that have worked and – to my mind even more important – things that haven’t quite worked, like the library workshops in Spennymoor to which nobody came, or the objections to the interactive map in the OU module A340 (a familiar problem!). As such, the volume is impressively free of grandiose claims, and takes a cautious approach towards setting out examples of innovative practice.

If there’s one thing that bothers me slightly about this book, it’s the attitude towards working-class communities – and particularly towards adults. At times there’s a sense of detached astonishment that working folk actually seem to have an interest in (or even, believe it or not, some knowledge of) the ancient world. There are anecdotes of colourful characters, past and present, who have taught themselves outside of formal education, and these adult learners are held up as quirky marvels. Despite the stated view of many of the authors that Classics belongs to everybody, the tone of the volume sometimes suggests an underlying assumption that Classics is a gift to be bestowed upon a grateful populace by kindly academics.

Perhaps, then, I have my reservations about how some of the authors have approached and presented their initiatives. However, there are tales of extraordinary achievements here, from the modern language teacher who set up a whole Classics department from scratch, to the centre which brought real elephants onto a South African campus to teach about Hannibal. This book is full of enthusiasm, creativity and a commendable passion for breaking down barriers. It’s a book I’ll be returning to for inspiration and practical ideas (perhaps not the elephant bit, though!) and recommending to other teachers – and that says a lot about its value.


Click the image below for a link to the book on Amazon. If you buy it on Amazon through clicking the link, Amazon will give me a few pennies which go towards paying for this website. In fairness, though, I have to point out that you may be able to buy it cheaper elsewhere!

This week’s links from around the web


From Classical Studies Support

Spreading the word about the new doctoral loans – Classical Studies Support



A Roman temple near Norwich – Norwich Evening News 

Headless statue found in Bulgaria – Novinite 

Discovering rickets in Romans – The Guardian 

New artefact from Waldgirmes on display – National Geographic 

Roman villa putting Banbury on the map – Banbury Guardian 

Uncovering a chamber tomb – Keep Talking Greece

Laying low the head of Augustus – The Guardian 

The Elgin Marbles issue makes the news again – The Independent 

Announcing Mary Beard’s new programme – BBC Two 

Ancient Egyptian cheese – New York Times 

…and ancient cheese holds ‘a deadly disease’ – ABC News 

New US series Epic Warrior WomenTBO 


Comment and opinion

The importance of Troilus – Ancient World Magazine 

Mission: Impossible and the OdysseyPop Classics 

Reconstructing Pompeian faces – Laughing Squid 

Finding Pisa’s lost harbour – Cosmos 

The Shadow CV and the Iceberg of Success – History from Below 

Tiberius: unlucky in love? – The History Girls 

Considering mysterious whetstones – Cosmos 

Decolonizing the classical curriculum – Everyday Orientalism 

On writing a professional email – Inside Higher Ed 

Planning an underwater museum – Daily Sabah 

Talking about Catullus 64 – Los Angeles Review of Books 

The dangers of taking Juvenal seriously – Pharos 

Reception: Ajax in Iraq – Newcastle Herald 

Teaching Latin literature – Classically Inclined 

On Classics and Twitter – Classical Fix 

Reviewing the London Mithraeum – Country Life 

Important debate: how to say ‘Sharknado’ in Ancient Greek – Sententiae Antiquae 

Changing perceptions of the Mediterranean – JSTOR Daily 

Caepio the Corrupt – Classical Wisdom Weekly 

On being a female translator – Words Without Borders 

What can be learned from ‘Ancient Roman Poop’ – Forbes 

Reflecting on death and texts – Sententiae Antiquae 

Controversy within Greek warfare studies – Ancient World Magazine 

Advice to new Classics students – Twitter


Podcasts, videos and other media

Baking weird Roman bread – Total War Bake Off 

Violence and street politics in Rome – The Partial Historians 

On the Library of Alexandria – TED-Ed 

Don’t we all love an interactive map? – Heritage Daily 

Housing in Pompeii – When in Rome 

New episode in the History of Carthage – History Teller 

The Will of Caesar – Emperors of Rome 

Visiting ancient sites – That’s Ancient History

The Siege of Rhodes – Battles of the Ancients/ Kings & Generals 

Arranging ancient songs – Stef Conner

Aristophanes and comedy – TED-Ed 

Fancy listening to a Latin chat? – Quomodo Dicitur? 

Ancient health course, signing up now for January – FutureLearn 

Natalie Haynes on Livy – BBC Radio 4 

Take the Classics quiz – BBC Radio 4 [I’m relieved to report that I did get them all right!]


And finally…

Marking the anniversary of Vesuvius’ eruption [from 2016]Forbes 

…and an interesting discussion of whether today really was ‘Volcano Day’ – Kiwi Hellenist 



10 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: One Step Forward…?

  1. I had considered buying this book earlier this week, but thought I’d wait to see if someone reviewed it first. I think I will get it now, but I don’t like the sound of the parts you mention relating to adult learners etc. But I’ll read it before passing judgment!


    1. It’s not at all offensive – there’s just a slight feeling that educated classicists are on a different plane to Joe Public! I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in classical outreach – it gives a useful picture of the current state of play, not just here but also elsewhere in the world. And it has some interesting ideas!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “At times there’s a sense of detached astonishment that working folk actually seem to have an interest in the ancient world.”

    Far from it, one of the few things I can chat to my dad about these days is Romans. Saves me from trying to follow him on cricket at least! It hasn’t escaped my notice how hopelessly out of touch I am with all things British, (classics included).

    I’ll hold off commenting on the book since my copy has yet to arrive…🤞


      1. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the book, Steve, since quite a few articles are in your area of expertise. Might give you some ideas for the next step…!


    1. I quite agree, Leigh; Classics always gave me something to talk to my late uncle about. He loved to travel, and he talked to everybody wherever he went – and he never forgot a good story! I suspect he probably knew more about history than many academics I’ve met, without ever setting foot in a university.


      1. Thinking back it was probably reading my grandad’s homemade texts on the Battle of Hastings (lovingly rendered in his cursive penmanship) that instilled in me a curiosity about the past. Like your uncle he didn’t have the chance to go to uni, but was always full of intellectual surprises!

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s