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.
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
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”
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… 🤔
Sadly familiar…! I rather like the Cambridge- it’s nice and tidy. But I don’t know whether I’d fight anyone for it…!