It’s (Not All) Greek To Me

By Sienna Melki

 Classics is a subject which unfortunately is slowly dying out. With fewer schools offering classical subjects in their curriculums, universities receive fewer applications for the subject meaning fewer become qualified in Classics, generating fewer teachers. This dangerously cyclical cycle has lead to many never having heard of Classics at all, and those who have often believe it to be insignificant. The subject encompasses a study of the Greeks and Romans and their civilisations, from languages to philosophy, from literature to history, a whole world becomes readily available and, with it, great importance.

A common argument for the preservation of Classics is that Latin and Greek are the bases for many modern languages today. Whilst this is true and helps with the learning of new languages as well as new words in English, it is only one, small reason that Classics is vital in society today. Classics is a source for literary evolutions, inspiring many works today which are echoes and memories travelling across time. J.R.R. Tolkien, most famously known for his epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings studied Classics and English at university. His work includes intrinsically vivid descriptions which mimic the epic genre attributed to poets such as Homer and Virgil and so, without Tolkien’s knowledge of Classics, we may never have had such a beloved work or it may have existed in a different form. In turn, those inspired by Tolkien, such as G.R.R. Martin with his series A Song of Ice and Fire, would also be affected.

The significance of Classics within literature is too great to conclude decisively but another of note is J.K. Rowling. Having studied Greek and Roman Studies, Classics is heavily receptive in the Harry Potter series, not merely through the Latin spells, but through a multitude of mythological references. Many interesting parallels can be drawn from Rowling’s wizarding realm to the classical world. For example, Hagrid Rubes was a giant in Greek mythology who, after being framed for murder by Zeus, was banished from Mount Olympus and sent to take care of animals. This name and tale instantly evokes Rowling’s cherished Rubeus Hagrid who, after being framed for the murder of Moaning Myrtle, was expelled from Hogwarts and offered the role of the gameskeeper, later promoted to teach the Care of Magical Creatures class. Furthermore, Fluffy, the foreboding three-headed dog who guards the Philosopher’s Stone is reminiscent of Cerberus, the hound of Hades, who guards the gates of the Underworld. Fluffy’s parallel to Cerberus may perhaps reflect the dangers that Harry, Ron and Hermione were to encounter, and imply an impending possibility of death. There are an abundance of examples revealing the classical relevance within Harry Potter and what they serve to prove is that, through knowledge of classics, a greater understanding of the secondary work can be perceived.

Classics is not just a study in fiction but history, and this is another genre which is imperative to our society today. In Rome, the beginning of the first century AD saw a shift in the form of government, changing from the democracy of a republic to the imperial rule of the autonomous emperor Augustus. Nearly two thousand years later, the Weimar Republic, another democratic government, fell to Hitler’s seize of power. The result of these shifts meant that power was transferred from the many into the hands of an elite few. This meant that both periods were witness to an increase in dictatorial leadership as free speech and civil liberties were impeded upon and gradually wiped out. Of course, this similarity is drawn at a very basic level, however, what I hope it shows is that, regardless of the extensive passage of time, history can be seen to repeat itself. It leads to the question of, if greater attention was given to subjects within humanities as well as science, whether practical information could be sourced from our past to influence events today.

In our society today, there is a strenuous effort to enforce scientific focus above the humanities and creative arts but, ultimately, both areas are incredibly important. A feature that distinguishes humanity from other species is our intelligence, and without the appreciation of our culture and history, an intrinsic part of us is lost. Through subjects such as Classics, we are able to continuously appreciate former civilisations and, although they are in the past, a wealth of knowledge and joy can still be found in them.