Weekend Reading: The Prime Minister’s Cheese-Box

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




3 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: The Prime Minister’s Cheese-Box

  1. Funnily enough I was looking up some of the words the new Prime Minister used about the Leader if the Opposition…, jugulate and tergiversating. So my vocabulary is likely to increase over the next few months ….just need to be able to work them into a normal conversation…. !

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Not seen any classicists happy that one of their peers has taken on the arkhonship. Embarrassment rather than jealousy, me thinks!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to emf2757 Cancel 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