Weekend Reading: Competitive Classics

It’s happening again. Classics is popping up all over the place. The other day I checked Twitter and found that ‘quo vadis?’ was trending: not the movie, but people using (or inquiring about) the actual Latin phrase.

(You know, when thousands of people all across the UK start using Latin on social media at the same time, it’s like the Latinist equivalent of clapping your hands and saying ‘I do believe in fairies’…)

The question was used this week on Twitter by Donald Tusk, and aimed at Boris Johnson in relation to Brexit. It attracted a great deal of attention online, from people asking what he meant to people explaining the context in which the question has been used. Some brought up the Polish novelist who wrote ‘Quo Vadis?’; others weighed up the connections between Boris and Nero. For almost a whole day, Twitter was obsessed with Classics. It was an awful lot of fun.


A helpful explanation from The Express (I rather like the word ‘apocrpal’)



The most entertaining aspect, in my view, was the competitive element in Tusk’s Latin. As many people pointed out, in resorting to Classics to make his point he’s one-upping Johnson, playing him at his own game. I particularly liked the story below, of Boris capping someone’s Tacitus quotation with a rather tactless epigram often connected to Caligula (in interesting company, incidentally, since David Beckham apparently has a tattoo of this: just not in Latin, for fear it could lead to ‘dumb’ jokes…!).






Let’s just take a moment to enjoy this, shall we? From the President of the European Council right down to a random person on a train, everybody is using Latin to communicate or to argue with our Prime Minister – and then taking to social media to critique his Latin responses. There’s even Latin in the Daily Express. Does anyone else wonder whether this is all a dream brought on by reading too much Suetonius while drinking cocktails?

Finally (because I must get back to my horrendous pile of MA dissertation marking)… speaking of competitive classicism, let me draw your attention to a few Classics (or potentially Classics-related) competitions open at the moment. I’ll definitely be entering the Legonium photo competition, because the chance to pretend that I have a valid academic reason for a house full of cheap plastic toys is too good to pass up. I’m not entirely sure whether I can pull off an entry to the Dolus aut Dulce costume competition without embarrassing myself, but I’m tempted. Then there’s a myth competition for kids – and also a chance to name one of the newly discovered moons of Saturn (at least some of which should be classical, surely). Maybe they’re not as much fun as playing Latin oneupmanship with Boris – but at least there are prizes!





This week’s classical links from around the internet



Boris and Classics – The Guardian 

Medusa in the sky – SciTech Daily 

Fashion at the Temple of Poseidon – Vogue 

Deciphering the ‘curse of the dancer’ – Live Science

A provocative reimagining of Antigone – Variety 

Modern Stoicism in Athens – Greek City Times 






Comment and opinion

Kallos Gallery, London – Classical Studies Support

The Latin epigram – LA Review of Books 

Dealing with ‘hubris’ – Idle Musings

Pliny the wine critic – Wine Enthusiast

Anthropological horror in Doctor Who – Ancient Worlds

Recording a podcast – Michael Scott

Achilles on death – Kiwi Hellenist

Collaborating on a game design – Bellum Sacrum 

Latin phrases to sound smarter – Lifehacker 

Classics and public engagement – CUCD 

Exploring the Domus Transitoria – Society for Classical Studies


Latin grammar shock of the week



Podcasts, video and other media

Classical monsters – The History of Ancient Greece 

More monsters – The Endless Knot

Nemesis and oligarchy – Ancient Greece Declassified 

Interview with James Newhard – ClassiCasts

Childhood and health in ancient Greece – The Arch and Anth Podcast

Thucydides and sensory experience – OU: Elizabeth Webb

Rowing a Greek warship – BBC News: The Travel Show 

Dacia and Mithras – Coffee and Circuses



Public lecture on the Shefton Collection – The Great North Museum 

Ashmolean after-hours event – TORCH




2 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Competitive Classics

  1. I once heard a group of young academics indulging – (half?) good-naturedly; (half seriously, I fear) – in a bit of competitive Latin one-upmanship based on which grammar book they’d used at school. Kennedy’s Latin Primer seemed to get the seal of approval. The Oxford Latin Grammar was more grudgingly acknowledged. That one poor soul should have guiltily confessed to the Cambridge Latin Course Grammar was met with (mock, I think; I hope!) horror. I wonder what response my well-thumbed, dog-eared OU A276 Language Reference Book would have elicited… 🤔


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