Durham Greek & Latin Summer School: St John’s College 2018
Where do I start? Well, when I first became aware of the Greek & Latin Sumner School in Durham I initially dismissed the idea outright and put it out of my mind. But, whilst working on an assignment I found my self procrastinating and having been directed to the link for the 2018 Summer School by my brilliant tutor (for which I’m eternally grateful) I decided to take a look and although I wasn’t totally convinced it got me thinking to the point that I was in two minds about attending. I asked myself, is it for me? Can I justify the cost? What will I realistically get out of this experience? I mulled the pro’s and con’s over and over for a couple of weeks and then one morning, out of the blue whilst at work, I thought why not! What have I realistically got to lose? So with a little apprehension but a great deal of determination I filled in the online application form, paid my deposit and booked the week off work so I could attend. As I write this, I’ve just arrived home from Durham and all I can say is that it really was the best decision I could have made. The week I have just spent at the Summer School learning Latin was without doubt the most enjoyable and rewarding experience of my student journey to date.
I booked my place quite early so had a few months to wait but as the day approached I made the appropriate arrangements. I bought a whole new stack of stationery to see me through the week, I bought some new Latin text books as advised, I got a new dictionary and booked my train tickets, as arriving by car was not practical given the location of the Summer School at St John’s College. The day arrived and I was a little nervous but nevertheless eager to get started. So after a rather fraught and somewhat traumatic train journey (owing to an excessively overcrowded train) I arrived in Durham and made it to St John relatively unscathed yet a little overwrought! I was greeted at reception, signed myself in and was shown to my room which was sizeable, comfortable and in a prime location within the college overlooking the garden. As I had arrived early I settled down for a relaxing afternoon. This is when the experience really started!
Now before I go on I must mention that St John’s is a fabulous college and the perfect location for the Summer School, but those of you who know the college will agree with me that it is for lack of a better word, a mish mash of old buildings linked by endless corridors, some of which lead to nowhere! The place is like a rabbit hole so careful exploration is a must! That being said over the week you get to know the layout and become privy to some essential shortcuts and peaceful study areas. After I’d found my way around I went to the dining room for the evening meal. This was officially the first time everyone was together in one room and I was surprised to see such a diverse selection of people both young and old who all had one thing in common and we were all in the same boat. Looking around there were of course so many different faces, non of which I had ever met, but I found the initial apprehension of being in such a large group of unfamiliar people eased by an older gentleman who quirkily arrived dressed in full Roman attire! He was certainly embracing the spirit of the Summer School and just seeing that made me chuckle which put me at ease. After a delicious evening meal we attended our first group lecture and met our tutors for the week ahead. This was a fun get together but there was no mistaking the purpose of the Summer School, the week ahead of us was going to be challenging and intense! After meeting some fellow A863 students, Liz, Linda and Leigh and after a quick catch up we ventured down to the bar for a drink before turning in for the night in preparation for lessons starting at 9.15 prompt on the Sunday morning. Given what was coming, I slept well and got up a bit earlier to get myself ready for the first day.
For me, the first day was as expected – daunting and a little overwhelming. Everyone seemed so prepared and knowledgeable, even the younger members of the course seemed very advanced and despite me being in the beginners Latin group I still found the initial experience a shock to the system. But I quickly came to realise I was not alone and the four others (yes – only four people) in my group were equally nervous. But after the first 10 mins following a chat with our great tutor – Chris, all anxieties were gone and it was all about the experience and of course the very important Latin. Now don’t miss-understand me, I’m not playing down the significance of the language, this was of course paramount, but in the very early stages it was more about getting to know the environment and our class mates, as a result this made the learning more accessible and the prospect of the week ahead a little less daunting. Having met Linda, Leigh and Liz already, the rest of our mealtimes were spent discussing the events of the day, what we had enjoyed and learned. As we were all in different groups a mix between Greek and Latin, we had much to discuss. Every day, after evening meal we were treated to a series of lectures (one each day) by guest speakers.
The first night was jovial! An ice breaker if you will. It kicked of with Alan Beale taking us on a literary and visual tour of depictions of animals in the ancient world. His lecture, ‘Animal Crackers’ was a hoot. Day 2 took us on an exploration of ‘Slaves and slavery in Ovid’presented by Jennifer Ingleheart and day 3 asked us to consider if we can recover the music of ancient Greece?Unfortunately the speaker – Armand D’Angour, was unable to make it in time due to a delayed train so we enjoyed a rather amusing YouTube video of a similar lecture! Suffice to say, I will not be taking up the Aulos anytime soon. Day 4 was all about reception where Emma Stafford gave a really engaging talk by asking ‘Why Classicists should watch Hercules Films’. Day 5 was not personally my cup of tea as it isn’t an area of particular interest to me but the lecture by Anke Walter entitled ‘Foundation Narratives in Ancient Greece and Rome’ certainly encouraged much debate. But, by far the best and most enjoyable lecture for me personally took place on day 6 when Richard Rawles talked in detail about – ‘New, old poems: Greek Poetry on Papyri’. I really loved this final lecture and I got the impression that many others did too. Richard was kind enough to answer lots of questions afterwards and I felt his talk was both engaging and relevant. Of course I’ve got to keep reiterating that the heart of the Summer School is language, whether that be Greek or Latin, but the supplementary activities complemented our learning and really enhanced the entire week. For me it was a week of total immersion in the Classical and Ancient World.
The morning of day 7 brought much of the same but after lunch we had a full free afternoon to do as we wished. Some people ventured out to explore Durham but many people, me included, were busy preparing for the evening event as there was no lecture. Instead the evening consisted of the so called: musical-historical-linguistical-dramatical-seriocomical-poetical-adlibical performance by members of the course. I had chosen not to attend the discussion on the previous day about who was doing what in the vain hope they’d forget about me, but to my horror, in my absence I was saddled with the role of narrator in a short Latin play. Not only was I expected to perform on stage in Latin, I had to dress up too. Luckily I achieved some dramatic flare with a number of white bed sheets and a towel which adequately Romanised me for the play. So I took to the stage with four others and gave my best Romanesque performance and although the play was more farcical than high brow Latin entertainment it was strangely enjoyable! Other students gave equally impressive performances which ranged in genre and the tutor performance of Aristophanes’ Frogs, was definitely worth the wait! After our entertainments and as it was the last night I ventured down to the bar with the others and talked about the past week and how I’d definitely be coming back.
The morning of day 8 did not get off to the best start. Having been woken up at 6am to a fire alarm (false alarm luckily) I found myself stood outside in the morning drizzle in a state of groggy indifference, bearing in mind I’d been in the bar until quite late the night before. Thinking about it, I was genuinely saddened that the Summer School was ending. Even though I still had another two sessions to enjoy that morning and although my head was full to the brim with vocabulary, nouns, adjectives, declensions and conjugations I would do it all again in a heartbeat and even stay for another week of study had there been the option! But unfortunately all good things do come to an end and we departed after our lunch, returning home having experienced an absolutely outstanding week.
As you have probably noted from reading this post, I loved the experience of the Durham Greek & Latin Summer School. Everything about it was simply outstanding and worth every penny in my opinion. I’ve come home with so much going through my head and no doubt in a day or so, I will have forgotten much of what I learned, but that’s okay because I took so many notes and once I consolidate that information I will slowly begin to build my ability in Latin. The key to learning a language is ‘little and often’ and as I follow this approach over the coming year I’ll be continually increasing my language skills. If anyone is considering attending a similar Summer School then I for one say do it! You will not regret taking the plunge.
In closing I leave you with this…
All good things must come to an end…. well, until next year!
See you at St John’s in July 2019