Sunday, March 22, 2015

O tempora! O montem!

Harry Mount is depressed about the way Classics is going in British schools and, it seems, also about standards in Classics departments in universities.  Here is his piece setting out where, how, and why things are going wrong.

There are lots of ways you might respond to it.  Edith Hall has already had a go.  And there are lots of other ways you might reply to Mount's rhetoric.  E.g., he writes that Latin GCSE is depressingly easy:
As a part-time Latin tutor, I’m staggered by the low standards. One of my pupils – a bright boy, certainly, but with only two years’ Latin under his belt – got 97 per cent in his GCSE. Even Virgil would have struggled to get 97 per cent in the old O-Levels.
You can infer from this two things.  First, Mount is an excellent Latin tutor.  Second, that if indeed Virgil himself would have struggled in the Latin O-level then it is hard to imagine just what that O-level was supposed to evaluate.  Not a competence (brilliance even) in Latin, apparently.  

But here is another claim that I think I am able to speak to.  Mount writes:
Because the subject is now only properly taught in independent and grammar schools, high entrance standards would eliminate practically all comprehensively-educated applicants. And so they have to dumb down even further in order to admit those pupils. 
I really don't know what to do with that.  It will hardly help for me and various other people who are involved in university admissions simply to deny that it is true.  We would deny it, wouldn't we?  It will hardly help for me to point to various excellently-taught comprehensive school pupils and also point to the fact that there is a lot of fine teaching of Classics (and, yes, Classical Civilisation) in comprehensive schools that leaves students who do not go on to study the subject at university with an enthusiasm and interest for history, philosophy, languages, literature and the like. 
The shame is that deep down there is not really, I think, any serious disagreement about what we all want, those of us in the business.  We want there to be people who can go on to continue further detailed study and research into the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.  And yes, that means there must be people who know Latin and Greek really well.  And we want people who can do more than spot a deponent verb because we need people who can ask interesting questions of the Latin and Greek that they read.  And people who can read Plato and think about political philosophy or modern metaphysics.  And people who can read Lucan and think about Shakespeare.  And people who excavate Roman sites.  And so on.  What's more, we want there to be as many people as possible who have been exposed to these fascinating texts, times, places, and objects who don't make a career of it but who nevertheless carry that exposure with them in whatever else they do.  

So it isn't true that people either learn Latin and Greek 'properly' in Mount's terms or they do Classical Civilisation.  One will tend to lead to the other, in both directions.  What is the point of learning the verb tables if not to read the works and think about them?  Won't any enthusiasm for the classical world lead to a degree of interest in those ancient languages? 

Casting the debate as Mount does won't ensure the healthy future of the Classics he and I love.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Admission. And Finland for Eurosong 2015!

This term I have mostly been getting to grips with a new admin job looking after graduate 'affairs' (as the job title unfortunately has it) in the Faculty.  And I've learned lots of things many of which are beginning to make me depressed about the chances of good students, particularly from the UK, being funded to do Master's and then PhD degrees.  I wonder if in twenty years time we'll be looking round wondering where this generation of UK academics in the humanities has gone.  But I'll keep my peace on that for now, at least until I've seen enough of it to think I have something more to say than a general list of complaints.

I also get to spend much more of my time in meetings than I am used to.  Meetings are only sometimes useful, of course, and often the principal use of the meeting is to demonstrate that more than one person is responsible for a certain decision. I would much rather, of course, be talking to a student about some ancient philosophy or thinking myself about some ancient philosophy but so be it.  We all have to do our turn.

But term will end soon!  Hooray!

Things to look forward to then include a Philosophy 'Masterclass' (Open Day) thing at my college and the chance to think a bit more carefully about a chunk of Plato's Philebus I need to get to grips with before September.

And my mood hasn't really been spoiled by yesterday's news that the BBC has opted for this pile of poo as the UK's Eurosong entry.  Now, we all know that there is no point entering a song that's any good and that no one who actually fancies a career in music would go anywhere near this toxic competition, but come on, really?  I read somewhere that it was written by the same musical genius that gave us the theme tunes to Jim'll Fix It (you don't hear that very often anymore) and Challenge Anneka.  Finger on the pulse...

(If you stick with it up to 1m 53s it gets particularly bad.)

 Anyhow, all is not lost because we need to get behind Finland's entry: Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät.

Here is their song:

And here is a part of a documentary about them in which they get sweary about pedicures:


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Some of what the ancient philosophy yoot are up to...

Peter Adamson pointed me to this interesting page, collecting titles of some current and recent doctoral research projects in ancient philosophy in the UK.  The first thing to note is, I suppose, the number: more than 50 projects begun since around 2010.  I don't think that's too shabby, to be honest, and it suggests that the discipline in general is in a relatively good state. 

One point to bear in mind is that this is the list taken from the Institute of Classical Studies so it gives those projects that are in the main being done in Classics Faculties and Departments rather than in Philosophy.  So the total number in progress will certainly be higher.  And it also might account, I guess, for the fact that if you look down this list you'd be forgiven for thinking that Plato and Aristotle are not all that popular these days.  That can't be true, can it?  Would the picture be more familiar if we add in those projects being done also, say, in the Oxford Philosophy Faculty or in UCL and KCL Philosophy?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Studies in Ancient Moral and Political Philosophy

We take great pleasure in announcing the creation of a new series: Studies in Ancient Moral and Political Philosophy, to be published by Academia Verlag.

Besides the three co-editors, the advisory board includes: Gábor Betegh (Budapest, Cambridge), Marguerite Deslauriers (McGill, Montréal), Panos Dimas (Oslo), Susan Sauvé Meyer (U. of Pennsylvania), Pierre-Marie Morel (Paris I - Panthéon-Sorbonne), Jörn Müller (Würzburg), Ricardo Salles (UNAM, Mexico), Emidio Spinelli (La Sapienza, Roma), Teun Tieleman (Utrecht), Katja Vogt (Columbia, New York), James Warren (Cambridge).

The first volume - What is Up To Us. Studies on Agency and Responsibility in Ancient Philosophy (edited by P. Destrée, R. Salles and M. Zingano)-  offers 22 chapters on the notion “to eph’ hêmin” from Democritus to Proclus, with a posthumous paper by Michael Frede.

Table of Contents (pdf)

We hope to be able to publish one or two volumes a year. We are glad to receive any proposals for a monograph or collective volume; they may be sent to either editor of the series. Pierre Destrée (Louvain), Christoph Horn (Bonn) & Marco Zingano (São Paulo)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

And by March...

... the college gardens should be looking even better.  But if you can't wait for then, you can look at some photographs by Dave Barton, the Head Gardener posted on his Flickr page.

Corpus Christi College Taster Days...

... or 'Masterclasses' as they are now branded.  Through February and March the college is organising a series of days for Year 12 students to come and see what it is like to study various subjects here in Cambridge, meet some of the teaching staff and students and find out more about how to apply.  The full list of subjects, with dates and details of how to apply, is here.

I will be doing some sessions on the Philosophy day on 20 March.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Impact (literally)

I wonder if anyone else spotted that the bedtime reading of one of the character's in last night's episode of Silent Witness on BBC1 was Paul Cartledge's book Thermopylae (in Dr Alexander's left hand, in picture below)Now, without spoiling too much, it probably wasn't a great advert for the kind of effect that reading PAC's work might have on a young boy's psychology but nevertheless it's yet another sign of the excellent impact being made by the work of members of my Faculty.  Hooray for us.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Pleasures online

Well, I'm sure that are all sorts of interesting things you can find online.  But I've just spotted that the full text of my new book is available online if you or your institution has a subscription to the CUP 'Cambridge Books Online' site.  The direct link is here.  Of course, you should certainly buy a copy but this will no doubt be useful as a back-up...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Funded doctoral research positions in Munich

The Munich School of Ancient Philosophy (MUSAΦ) invites applications for funded doctoral positions. Dissertation proposals are welcome in all areas of ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy, the medieval reception in Arabic and Latin, and textual criticism. See the flyer, available here:

MUSAΦ is a joint program of the Classics and Philosophy Departments at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU). It is directed by Professors Peter Adamson, Oliver Primavesi and Christof Rapp. In addition, it boasts a substantial number of junior faculty and postdocs. Graduate students and visiting fellows round out the exceptionally large and lively ancient philosophy community, which provides an ideal environment for graduate study.

Doctoral fellowships cover three years, the period of dissertation research and writing. Complementing their dissertation research, doctoral students in MUSAΦ participate in a wide array of advanced seminars, reading groups and workshops. Doctoral students may also avail themselves of the opportunity to teach if desired. Since the number of fellowships is limited, we encourage applicants to seek out external funding as well.

Although based in Germany, most of the advanced instruction takes place in English and there is no formal language requirement. Dissertations may be written in German or in English.We welcome applicants with a sufficient working knowledge of one of these languages and a willingness to attain basic skills in the other.

We strongly encourage interested students to apply by February 15th, 2015 for full consideration. We hope to make initial offers immediately afterwards. Applications will continue to be considered on a rolling basis as long as places remain.

Please visit our website ( for more information about the program and about how to apply. Inquiries about the program may be directed to: Students who are not yet prepared to begin dissertation research might be interested in the Masters Program in Ancient Philosophy at LMU.

Monday, December 08, 2014

CFP: War and strife in ancient philosophy

Our excellent graduates are organising another of their successful annual graduate conferences.  This year the theme is 'War and Strife in Ancient Philosophy', to be held in Cambridge on 27-28 March 2015 and you can find the website with details of how to submit abstracts, accommodation etc. here.

This is the fifth in a series of annual conferences, all completely organised by our graduate students.  They are always fun and intellectually stimulating occasions. 

Monday, December 01, 2014


1. This is the best online advent calendar.

2. There are lots of sentimental songs about being a parent.  I'm not sure this is very sentimental but I think it's lovely.

3.If you are looking for Xmas presents for the scientist/philosopher/academic in your life, you can do worse than browse what's available here.  The goodies include, for instance, a set of Rorschasch ink-blot test coasters.

4. Winter's evenings are good for ghost stories.  The BBC's Remember Me is unsettling but I'm not sure why. It's got Robert Baratheon out of off of GoT/Hercules out of off of Atlantis in it as a slightly rubbish police detective.