In this blog I prefer to avoid political issues whenever I can. It’s not because I think the study of Classics isn’t relevant to current affairs; let’s face it, there’s no political situation that’s beyond the reach of Tacitus. No: it’s because I have enough trouble pretending to be an expert on Classics and Education, without throwing politics into the mix. When it comes to current affairs in the UK, everything I know I learned from Sir Humphrey.
However, sometimes the urge to comment is almost irresistible. When a conspicuous classicist becomes Prime Minister, what’s a girl to do?
The news coverage of Boris Johnson’s ascent to the PM’s rather uncomfortable position has been entertaining, to say the least. He’s an easy target, and journalists have been taking full advantage. But the most startling coverage of the week is a glowing piece by Toby Young, in which he attempts to counter all the negative press in a series of flamboyant anecdotes.
The feature of this article which has captured the interest of classicists online is this particular tale from the life of Young Boris:
As you can imagine, there’s been some fascination with the unanswered questions raised by this charming anecdote. Collectively, classicists are more concerned about what the professors were up to than about Young Boris’ abilities.
Now I’m wondering at what age it’s appropriate to encourage my little boy to challenge his classicist aunt and uncle at Scrabble. He certainly knows a lot of words that they don’t: but I doubt those particular words appear in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Of course, many publications have been running with the connection between Boris Johnson and Classics over the last few days. The New Statesman went with ‘What would Plato think of Boris?’; I’m still waiting for somebody to write the much more interesting article on ‘What would Tacitus think of Boris?’. The Australian went even further, with ‘Boris’ Greek Tragedy might reveal his Achilles’ Heel’. I don’t at all object to this article attacking Boris Johnson’s performance in his ‘Greece vs Rome’ debate with Mary Beard…
…but I do take issue with the rather provocative statement that ‘Of course, Greece bests Rome in anything other than a contest of arms, or perhaps an aqueduct building competition. You don’t have to be a classicist to realise that’ (followed up with the even more indefensible ‘the only thing the Romans did for us — to paraphrase the Pythons — was to preserve and transmit what they had learned from Greece’). Ouch. There goes my life’s work…
But perhaps the most intriguing Classics/Boris essay of the week comes from Indy100, which dusts off an old interview in which our new PM volunteered details of an unusual form of relaxation:
I desperately want to mock this as bizarre and disturbing: and yet, somehow I find myself looking around for my paints and a cheese box…
Elsewhere in the world of Online Classics…
Solving a glass mystery – The Guardian
Partying like a Pompeian – The Telegraph
Pompeii row – The Guardian
The secret of Greek origins – The Times
Badly spelled inscriptions – Haaretz
Important Iron Age settlement – BBC
CA July Newsletter – The Classical Association
Comment and opinion
Best mythology books? – Book Riot
Pliny on corns and bras – Mistaking Histories
Pre-conference papyri thoughts – Everyday Orientalism
Noseless statues – Mental Floss
What would Hippolytus do? – The Times Literary Supplement
Reading fiction as a historian – Society for Classical Studies
Podcasts, video and other media
Manifestations of power – Thucydiocy
Slavery in Ancient Greece – History Uncensored
Liz Gloyn on monsters and reception – Coffee and Circuses
Ruins reconstructed – Expedia
Mosaics in sacred spaces – Open Material Religion