The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with George Cornelius
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
For me, the greatest attraction is to the early archaeologists, who – with very little back-up such as is available today – paved the way for countless thousands to follow. So I revere Schliemann (Troy and Mycenae) Evans (Knossos) and Marinatos (Akrotiri, Santorini). Also, I have a soft spot for Humfry Payne (Perachora) and – very recently – for Robert Bittlestone, for his heroic efforts to prove that the Paliki peninsular on Cephalonia was once the separate island of Ithaka.
When did you first come across these sources of inspiration?
My eyes were opened when first visiting Roman Provence in 1975, and I have never stopped searching and researching since, in the time I have had available.
Though being lucky with my own education, I am effectively self-taught in the area of ancient history…between the age of 40 and 70. And, shockingly, I am 81 next month!
What is it about these early discoveries that appeals to you most?
For these troubled times, it would be lovely to go back in time and revisit the excitement of these discoveries. It would soothe the brows of all students if we could take a plane to see Perachora… the most beautiful site I have ever visited, dug around 1930 by Payne, who died so tragically young, after seemingly contracting a simple infection. And then we would visit Sharon (Shari) Stocker – the inheritor, with her husband Jack Davis, of Carl Blegen at Pylos – and persuade her to show us the tiny Combat Warrior Agate… arguably the most astonishing and perplexing find in the ancient world since WWII.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
I read prolifically. And still play tennis and lots of Bridge. I now think my skiing career probably had its finale in February, just before the dreaded lock-down.
George Cornelius is a keen supporter of – and fundraiser for – the British School at Athens. The book he wrote in 2012 (“From Ziggurats to Algebra: The Civilising of Western Europe”) is aimed at people without any particular Classical background who might be interested in “How IT all came to take place in the Mediterranean” [Not available on Amazon – but do get in touch if you’d like to purchase a copy directly from George!]. Its wide cross-cultural perspective challenges the myths of the perfect originality of classical Greece and the purely Western pedigree of the Renaissance.
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.