Alastair Blanshard reviews 'Long Live Latin: The pleasures of a useless language' by Nicola Gardini and 'Vox Populi: Everything you wanted to know about the classical world but were afraid to ask' by Peter Jones
What is the value of useless knowledge? One of the by-products of the rise of artificial intelligence is that the realm of what one really needs to know to function in society is ever shrinking. Wikipedia makes learning facts completely redundant. Pub trivia competitions now seem a fundamentally anachronistic form of entertainment, like watching a jousting tournament in the age of artillery. One can appreciate the skill, but one also knows that its time has come and gone.... (read more)
Marguerite Johnson reviews 'How to Die: An Ancient guide to the end of life' by Seneca, edited and translated by James S. Romm
Studies of the ancient Mediterranean are increasingly popular. Once a privilege of the élite, whose schools prepared predominantly male students for tertiary study of Greek and Latin, Classics now has a much wider audience. This is partly the result of scholars such as Mary Beard (recently the recipient of a damehood) who ...... (read more)
The ancient Greek gods were a rowdy bunch. Adultery, theft, blackmail, and lies are all on the record, as are the usual confrontations between siblings, ranging from harmless banter all the way to aggravated assault – and worse. In short: rather than paragons of exemplary behaviour, Zeus, Hera, Apollo, and Aphrodite ...... (read more)
Re-visiting Delphi. The re-iteration is plain necessity: if Italo Calvino is correct and the classics can only ever be reread, then even a first-time visitor to Delphi is revisiting it. That evocative sanctuary barely clinging to the slopes of Parnassus is simultaneously place and commonplace (the Greek topos encompasses both ...... (read more)
‘They rose from nothing and changed everything.’ This fantastic, fawning, fallacious guff introduced a 2016 PBS documentary on ancient Greece, and the biography of the sentiment behind it forms the subject of this unusual social history. Irritated by the fact that almost every media report, political speech, and cartoon about ...... (read more)
Christopher Allen reviews 'Palmyra: An irreplaceable treasure' by Paul Veyne, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan
France’s higher education system can seem arcane to outsiders, especially those from the English-speaking world. Although the Sorbonne is coeval with Oxford and Cambridge, there is far greater prestige in attending one of the Grandes Écoles such as Polytechnique or the École Normale Supérieure, only accessible by notoriously ...... (read more)
At the very bottom of Hell, Dante represents Satan with three mouths, each of which endlessly devours a figure personifying treachery and rebellion against God. One of these, predictably enough, is Judas. What may be surprising to the modern reader is that the other two are Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar. In the medieval vision of the universe an ...
Father of democracy or nepotic would-be tyrant, corrupting the citizens with flattery and handouts? Brilliant orator, fearlessly committed to the truth, or dangerous sophist saying whatever the mob wanted to hear? Effective administrator of a complex and benevolent empire or cruel curtailer of the allies’ liberties? A model of sobriety and chastity or a lecherous ...
Creativity is always an exercise in recycling. Vision comes from revision. In the ancient world, such wisdom was institutionalised; the task of the poet was to powerfully exploit a cultural storehouse of existing plots. Thus the early Greek playwrights reworked the same complex of myths. However, stories are inexhaustible, something that Scheherazade, in another anc ...