A brief re-introduction to ClassicalFix…
Over the past few weeks I’ve put a lot of thought into how I wanted to get my blog (ClassicalFix) back up and running after an unexpected hiatus, then it occurred to me – why not take the opportunity afforded by the peaceful surroundings of St John’s College to get back on the horse so to speak and get blogging! For that reason, the purpose of this post is twofold. It serves to reintroduce my blog & website – ClassicalFix, to both new and old visitors, all of whom are very welcome, but more importantly this post is all about the fabulous week that I’ve just had at the 2019 JACT Greek and Latin Summer School at St John’s college in Durham.
Before we get to the Summer School though, here’s a few thoughts on the purpose of ClassicalFix… From the outset I’d always hoped that ClassicalFix would be a place for discussion and debate for anyone interested in Classics and Ancient History, particularly the Ancient Greek & Roman World’s. Furthermore, I wanted to make my website different, and with that in mind I wanted to use it not only as a personal study diary of sorts, but also a place to share ideas on my current research interests and the goings on in the wonderful world of Classics. In addition to a blog, ClassicalFix is also a Classical Latin resources site and over the coming weeks I’ll be putting lots of resources up under the ‘Learning Latin’ tab on the home page which I hope will prove to be a great set of tools for anyone embarking on a beginners Latin course. In a nutshell I want ClassicalFix to be an open platform for like minded individuals and I really hope that through the site I can encourage others to get involved and engage with Classics.
Durham Greek & Latin Summer School 2019
I started thinking about writing this post on Friday 26th July, which was the final full day of the Greek and Latin Summer School, and in all honesty I did so with a pang of sadness given that after lunch on the following day it’d be time to leave Durham and go home. Although leaving the Summer School for another year left me feeling much like Euclio from Plautus’ Auluraria and therefore constantly thinking ‘O’ me miserum’, it did so only because the week had been absolutely outstanding in every way. This year’s Summer School was fun and engaging and well worth every penny and for that reason alone I knew that my short lived sadness was a small price to pay for what I had achieved. But enough of all that! What was this years visit to Durham like? Well, I suppose I should start at the beginning. Having experienced the carnage of arriving in Durham in 2018 knowing all too well that there was an international brass festival taking place in the city and therefore all the roads around St John’s college would be shut, I made the wise decision to arrive a day earlier this year. On top of that, I’d also managed to bag myself some cheap first class rail tickets, so I could arrive in style, and arrive in style I did! Who’d have thought you could cram a three course meal plus drinks into a train journey taking just over an hour! Anyway, after making my way ON FOOT to St John’s which I hasten to add is almost entirely up hill and not as close to the train station as I’d originally thought, I arrived at the college a hot and sweaty mess! Luckily I was shown to my room straight away and I quickly settled in. Last year I arrived at the Summer School quite late on the Saturday so I didn’t really have much time to explore Durham, but having arrived a day earlier this year I did, so I took myself off to visit the cathedral which is literally just over the road from St John’s. Following an enjoyable amble around the cathedral and grounds I popped over to the Durham Archaeology Museum which has a great collection on display and well worth the visit. Both the cathedral and archaeology museum are free (although donations are of course welcome), so I’d highly recommend a visit to both. Also, if you don’t already know, Durham Cathedral has a brilliant coffee shop / restaurant and the gift shop is superb!
This years Summer School was as always made up of an eclectic mix of like minded individuals of all ages and from all walks of life who had been brought together by their passion for learning Ancient Greek and/or Classical Latin. For me personally this is part of what makes the Durham Summer School so special because unlike some other similar events around the UK, there are no restrictions on who can attend; there are no age limits, no entry requirements nor are there any additional pre-requisites and because of this, in my opinion it becomes a more rounded, inclusive and wholesome experience for everyone involved. Everyone who attends the Summer School has their own story to tell and part of the enjoyment of the week is listening to all the different experiences that people have had, but perhaps more interestingly, what had attracted them to Classics and Ancient History in the first place. Now I hasten to add, not everyone at the Summer School is a serious classicist or historian, as many people attend simply for fun or to continue to develop their language skills as a hobby. You can have a serious academic debate with someone just as easily as talking about Love Island with someone else! Whatever your preferences, there is never a dull moment. As usual, there were lots of familiar faces and many of the tutors were the same save a few additions to the team. I have to say that hearing the bellowing laughter of Chris (beginners Latin tutor) on a night whilst frequenting the college bar brought some happy déjà vu moments back from the previous year! The time table of events was pretty much the same as it was in 2018, (if its not broken, don’t change it) and as always we kicked off with our first sessions on the Sunday morning. For me personally from the outset it was a steep learning curve and I’d questioned which level group I wanted to go into, but I have to say that all the consolidation and preparation I had done over the year had really paid off because I was beginning to get to grips and truly understand how Latin really worked as a language which for me created a bit of a buzz. In terms of the teaching I have nothing but praise for both of my tutor’s as they were just excellent in every way. Lizzie and Matt were fun, helpful, supportive and patient, but most importantly neither of them gave the group an easy ride which I thought was great because as far as I could tell no one had come to the Summer School with the intention of going home having not learned anything.
As the week progressed you really begin to feel part of a community, I have no doubt that this is mostly down to the nature of St John’s, which if you know the place is like a bubble of peace and tranquility in a bustling city! Aside from my day of arrival and an impromptu trip to the cathedral on the Tuesday with my fellow Summer School attendee, Linda to visit our OU tutor, Cora Beth, I was more than happy to stay put within the confines of the college, plus who doesn’t like to be fed three square meals a day plus coffee and cake in between. The weather this year was hot, hot, hot and was not always conducive to heavy study, many of us felt like just lolling around in the sun, but nevertheless study we did and it was lovely to see everyone embracing the week by squirreling themselves away in cool shady spots or retreating to their bedrooms to get on with some serious work. For those who wanted to go, there was a great opportunity to visit Hadrian’s Wall and Housteads on the Tuesday afternoon, a trip that was lead by Alan Beale. As always the planned series of talks on an evening were brilliant. There were a few changes to the timetabled speakers for various reasons but the ever ready tutors were ready to step in and deliver some really engaging lectures at short notice. There were in particular two highlights in the series of talks for me this week, the first was the talk on Sunday night which was given by Claire Stocks from Newcastle University about an exciting project to create a mystery game smartphone app in collaboration with the Vindolanda Trust, this was targeted at 7-11 year olds and proved amongst other things that Classics is a truly interdisciplinary subject. The second highlight for me came on Thursday night when one of the tutors gave an interesting talk on the relationship between the Romans and cult practices. There was a specific section on the treatment and attitudes towards Christians as evidenced in the literary sources that really opened my eyes to some alternative perspectives. But I can’t talk about this years Summer School without mentioning the events of Friday night and the so called ‘musical-historical-linguistical-dramatical-seriocomical-poetical-adlibable’ entertainment put on by members of the course. Wow! That’s the only word to describe it! This year we all really surpassed ourselves with a varied playbill consisting of singing, dancing, acting and instrumental interludes. Following on from my Oscar worthy performance as a ghost in 2018 I felt achieving such lofty heights this year would be unrealistic, so I took a ‘back stage’ role this time in a performance of the traditional fairy tale of the Gingerbread Man. Of course this had to be performed entirely in Latin which in itself raised some amusing issues. I suppose the term ‘lost in translation’ would be particularly relevant to our performance but then again any lack of understanding from our audience was made up for by the antics of the cast. Nevertheless we all put on a remarkable show given quite short notice with some show stopping arts and crafts to boot and it was a fitting and very upbeat end to an outstanding week.
But now, here I am sitting in one of the tutorial rooms on a wet and unpleasantly humid Saturday morning preparing for the final Latin session of the week. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still feeling sad that the Summer School was coming to a close, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I know I feel this way because the past week I’ve had at St John’s has been without doubt one of the best experiences ever, it was even better than last year’s Summer School. So I write this post with a smile on my face with the intention to reach out to anyone, be it the advanced Latinist, or the absolute novice, for anyone who has perhaps even the most fleeting of interests in embarking on a Classical Latin or Ancient Greek journey and encourage them to come to next year’s Summer School because you will not only learn a great deal more than just the languages, you’ll make some lifelong friends in the process. My advice is this – don’t overthink it, if you can spare the time and money get yourself booked because I promise that you won’t regret it for one second. I now end this post in the same way I ended my write-up about the Summer School in 2018…
‘All good things must come to an end… well, until next year that is!’
See you at St John’s in 2020.
P.S – I’d like to take this opportunity to personally thank the course director – Kate Addison & her amazing team for providing us with such an excellent week. As a distance learner with the Open University I often miss out on the student community experience and the Summer School really makes up for that. Also, I have to say a big thanks to the staff at St John’s College too, particularly for keeping us all fed and watered. That being said, I personally blame the catering staff for saddling me with an extra half a stone in weight!