Comfort Classics: Ed Clarke

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 Ed Clarke

Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?

Invariably, Catullus. Petronius’ Satyricon has a pleasing Animal House vibe to it too, such as to lift the spirits.

When did you first come across Catullus?

By the time I began studying Latin at AS-Level, I was feeling unsure as to whether I wanted to continue with the subject. Reading (and writing my own translations of) Catullus reignited my love of the language which persists to this day.

Can you tell me a bit about Catullus and his context?

We still know little of Catullus’ life beyond his work; even the years of his birth and death are unknown to us. He died young, around his thirtieth year, but his Carmina were ground-breaking – said to have inspired Virgil and Ovid, among others – and remain a key example of Callimachean poetry.

What is it about his poetry that appeals to you most?

I came out as gay at seventeen and it was shortly after this that a friend suggested I might enjoy Catullus. It felt liberating, at the time, to read and translate the Juventius cycle, in which the passions of a same-sex relationship were depicted as the equivalent of their heterosexual counterparts. (The motif of thousands of kisses, most famously directed towards Lesbia in Poem V, is even repeated for Juventius’ benefit in XLVIII.) Of course, as many classicists can attest, there is a certain thrill in reading the more scurrilous parts of the canon – indeed, I wrote a translation of the notoriously fruity Poem XVI only the other day. Yet it was a serious oversight that led older commentators on the Carmina to place their prudery above the literary merit of the ruder poems. For that reason, I wrote my university dissertation around them and their significance.

And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?

Outside of Classics, you say?

Ed Clarke is an exam setter for Common Entrance Latin with ISEB and co-chair of the consultation committee for the new CE Classics specifications. He is Head of Classics at Highfield School as well as the author of Clarke’s Latin and Variatio: A Scholarship Latin Course, IAPS Classics Adviser and former editor of the SATIPS Classics Broadsheet. He has written for The Spectator, the TES, The Independent, Quinquennium and the Journal of Classics Teaching and has addressed conferences for IAPS and Keynote. He campaigns for traditional, knowledge-rich teaching, tweets at @ClarkesLatin and lives in Hampshire with two tabby cats and a piano. Also a part-time stand-up comedian, he remains available for weddings, bahmitzvahs etc.

Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.


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