Sunday 31 October, 1.45pm until 3.15pm, Courtyard Gallery
This year, cinemas screened Clash of the Titans and Agora in the wake of 300, Troy and Alexander. Historical novels set in Greece - let alone its myths - remain popular with all ages. Politicians call for the classical languages to be restored to the school curriculum. Is a classical revival underway? Certainly the classics retain a wide popular appeal. Merely scratching the surface of the glories of ancient Greece reveals how much they managed to create: drama; poetry; science and mathematics; history; architecture; philosophy and politics. The continuing ability of classical civilisation to speak to us can be reassuring in what are fearful times. We are uncertain about the value of many things - education, the arts, our humanity, truth itself - and the sense that there are giants in the past who grappled with these issues too is comforting maybe. Newton, after all, relied on three friends: Plato, Aristotle, and the truth.
When people reach back to Greece for inspiration, it is because of a sense that something is missing. Critical re-engagement with the Greeks has moved humanity forward through the Renaissance, Enlightenment and into Modernity - from Machiavelli to Rousseau to Marx - as people have taken inspiration from the breadth of their achievements, their universalism and their demonstration of the permanence of human nature. What though is the nature of today’s relationship with the Greeks? Do we value their rationalism, love of beauty, and freedom of expression? Or do we rather find in them what we look for? Neo-Aristotelians, including the think tank Demos, seem to view Aristotle as a precursor of today’s happiness economists: a psychologist of subjective well-being; Lord Layard in a robe. What then of the moral philosopher who thought ‘the life of the mind divine in comparison with mere human life’ and would surely have rejected today’s instrumental approach to knowledge? Is there a danger of treating the classics as a pick and mix grab bag of contemporary relevance?
To study the classics in depth can be an unsettling process in which, what appears so familiar at first sight, soon reveals itself as quite another, and very distant, world. The appeal, however, is that it can have the same effect on how we view today: forcing us to examine it from a fresh perspective. Is it once again time for us to rejuvenate human civilisation by drinking from the source?
Listen to session audio:
emeritus professor of sociology, University of Kent, Canterbury; author, Wasted, Politics of Fear and On Tolerance: in defence of moral independence
award-winning historian; author, Rubicon: the triumph and tragedy of the Roman Republic; winner, 2007 Classical Association Prize
president, Joint Association of Classical Teachers; broadcaster; author, The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the search for the good life
research professor of classics and drama, Royal Holloway University of London; author, Greek Tragedy: suffering under the sun
head of external relations, Institute of Ideas; convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination (forthcoming)
He was condemned to death for telling the ancient Greeks things they didn't want to hear, but his views on consumerism and trial by media are just as relevant todayBettany Hughes, Guardian, 17 October 2010
Beware Greeks bearing gifts of relevance. If we look for relevance everywhere to justify the classics, we risk finding what we look for—our ‘insights’ may be comforting and banal rather than surprising and challenging.Angus Kennedy, Prospect, 11 October 2010
"The Hemlock Cup" gives Socrates the biography he deserves, setting him in the context of the Eastern Mediterranean that was his home, and dealing with him as he himself dealt with the world. Socrates was a soldier, a lover, a man of the people.
Bettany Hughes, Jonathan Cape Ltd, 7 October 2010
In his endless, often exasperating pursuit of Truth, Socrates made many enemies. Yet his ideas and his questioning outlook remain invaluable to understanding the present.Angus Kennedy, spiked, 24 September 2010
Why is a classical Greek GCSE on offer at the progressive Hampshire school?Hilary Wilce, Independent, 23 September 2010
So much about the society that is now emerging in the twenty-first century bears an astonishing resemblance to the most prominent features of what we call the classical world - its institutions, its priorities, its entertainment, its physics, its sexual morality, its food, its politics, even its religion. The ways in which we live our rich and varied lives correspond - almost eerily so - to the ways in which the Greeks and Romans lived theirs.
Ferdinand Mount, Simon & Schuster, 27 May 2010
People power is messy – just ask a British politician. But they're in good company. Even the Ancient Greeks who invented democracy couldn't agree on what it meantPaul Vallely, Independent, 13 May 2010
How can we understand our world unless we understand the ancient world firstBoris Johnson, Daily Telegraph, 16 March 2010
Speaking last night in Glasgow, at the annual conference of the Classical Association, Richard Seaford, a professor at the University of Exeter, pointed out that the Greeks were the first people to use money, from about 600BC.Charlotte Higgins, Guardian, 7 April 2009
Whether they focus on the bewitching song of the Sirens, his cunning escape from the cave of the terrifying one-eyed Cyclops, or the vengeful slaying of the suitors of his beautiful wife Penelope, the stirring adventures of Ulysses/Odysseus are amongst the most durable in human culture. The picaresque return of the wandering pirate-king is one of the most popular texts of all time, crossing East-West divides and inspiring poets and fimmakers wordwide. But why, over three thousand years, has the Odyssey's appeal proved so remarkably resilient and longlasting?
Edith Hall, I B Tauris & Co, 11 March 2009
Why are some laws draconian? What is an Achilles heel? Why were the Spartans spartan? Charlotte Higgins answers all these questions in this indispensable guide to this great civilisation. A chunky, handsome book which like "Amo, Amas, Amat" enlivens the classical world.
Charlotte Higgins, Short Books Ltd, 2 October 2008
Bettany Hughes searches for the truth about the 'Golden Age' of Ancient Athens, investigating how a barren rock wedged between the East and West became the first democracy 2,500 years ago.Bettany Hughes, Channel 4, 22 July 2007
Why bother with the classics today? Our lack of knowledge about ancient civilisation leaves us blind to a true understanding of the modern worldAC Grayling, New Statesman, 31 July 2001