Learning Classics is a bit like putting on a magic pair of 3-D glasses. Once you start delving into the language and the culture, you'll start to see it all around you. This blog is a record of the club's journey through the worlds and language of ancient Rome and Greece... and through modern times, too, searching for the influence of classics all around us. You'll also be able to find vocab, home tasks, links and generally enlightening info here, too.

03 December 2016

Lesson 4 - Stars in our eyes

Following the fascination we had last week in all things to do with stars, we had a special session today on celestial bodies and their links to both ancient mythology and modern science and belief.  

First of all, though, we tackled our language work, decoding the endings of Latin nouns to find out whether the noun was a subject (nominative) or an object (accusative). We then had a go at changing Latin words to show who was doing the action in a sentence, and who or what was having the action done to it.

Then onto things starry, and the VERY IMPORTANT distinction between astronomy (the branch of science which deals with celestial objects and space) and astrology (the study of the movements of stars and planets interpreted as having an influence on humans). Both contain the root 'astro-', which is Ancient Greek for 'star', but the class went on to discuss what the difference is between science and belief. Do you believe that all people born under the sign of Taurus are stubborn? Are all Virgos perfectionists? 

No matter what you believe, there are some amazing myths behind the constellations we can see in the night sky.
If you go to https://www.wwu.edu/skywise/greekmyth.html you can also see an extensive list of the myths of constellations. 

26 November 2016

Lesson 3 - Categories, scientific and grammatical

lots of derivatives
We warmed up at the start of the lesson with one of my favourite games, Word Roots Challenge. As Latin words (and their English meanings) appeared on the board, we all tried to think of as many modern words (English or any other European language) that have descended from these Latin 'root words'. There was no shortage of excellent answers, as you can see from the picture on the left. And, thanks to the amazing linguistic talents of Classics Club students, I now know the word for 'pig' in both Spanish (puerco) and Portuguese (porco, so very similar to its Latin root, porcus).

Next, we considered last week's challenge, and recalled how
felis domesticus (aw, bless!)
sorting things into categories can be very complicated. We then looked at how the eighteenth-century scientist Charles Linnaeus came up with a seven-part system for categorising everything that can be found in nature. We also saw how that system is still in use today, and how these category names are in Latin (and sometimes ancient Greek) as this was the shared language of European scientists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Then, using our powers of deduction, we matched some Latin scientific names up with various pictures.

Latin x exercise = Laxercise ?!
We then turned our that very important type of word, the noun. We played 'If It's A Noun, Sit Down', a game that cunningly blends grammar learning and physical exercise. The game initiated some fantastic critical conversation amongst the students. Is maths really a thing? What part of speech is 'yesterday'? You can't touch bravery, so can it be a noun? Learning Latin will make you a grammar ninja, guaranteed! So once we had established that we could all spot a noun at twenty paces, we then looked at how Latin changes word endings to show whether a noun is doing the action in a sentence (the subject), or whether it is having the verb done to it (the object). 

Tum nobis cenandum erat! (And then it was lunchtime!)

19 November 2016

Lesson 2 - everywhere you turn... Latin!

Latin in your pocket
Our mission in Classics Club today? To realise just how much Latin we already know. We're surrounded by Classical influence, from the coins in our pocket to the words that we speak. We emptied out our pockets in search of a particular kind of pound coin, one that read around its rim:


We found several! This inscription means 'beauty and security' (i.e. what money is supposed to be). And what language is this in? Latin! We weren't lucky enough to find:

NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT (nobody may provoke me and get away with it - motto of the kings of Scotland)... also Latin.
Language evolves...

We did, though, find the Welsh pound coin which Devon bravely read out loud:

PLEIDIOL WYF I'M GWLAD (I am faithful to my country)

We then moved on to an exploration of the English language, to show just how much Latin we already know in the form of modern words that have their roots in the ancient language. Students flew through the task of matching familiar English words to their etymological ancestors. 

We also explored the notion of language as an organic entity that is constantly changing, from the transition of Latin into French, and then the imposition by the Normans of their language on the English from 1066 A.D. onwards. And, of course, more l8ly, the impact of technology changing language 4eva.

Making a bold start in our Latin language work, learning the first and most important rule of Latin: it's not the word order that's important, but the word ending. Then, using this rule, and looking at two model Latin sentences, the class showed its amazing code-cracking skills to work out that 'a' shows that a noun is the subject of a sentence, and that 'am' shows that a noun is the object.

Mus musculus

Finally, we turned our attention to another way in which Latin lives on in modern times: scientific categorisation. We just about had time to have a go ourselves at sorting a diverse bunch of objects/creatures/plants into categories, just to prove to ourselves how hard a job it is (How do we group the objects? Size? Colour? Function? Intelligence?). Next week we'll have a look at how Carl Linnaeus tackled this problem, with the help of Latin and Ancient Greek, to create a scientific naming system that is still in use today.

13 November 2016

Lesson 1 - Here we go again!

A new term and a new crop of budding Classicists at Greig City eager to learn about the influence of Ancient Greece and Rome in our modern world.

We spent the first lesson taking a trip back in time, past the Victorians, past the Elizabethans, way, way back to the point where A.D. becomes B.C. On the way, we registered the fact that A.D. stands not for 'after death' but for anno domini, which means 'in the year of our Lord' in... Latin! We discovered how language is a living, breathing tool that develops and changes over time, which spreads across countries with conquests and learning. Most importantly, we found out how English is a mixture of words from two sets of invaders: the Vikings and Nordic raiders, who gave us Anglo-Saxon, and the Normans who brought the French language, which in turn was descended from Latin.

We also had our first look at the Ancient Greek alphabet (this word actually comes from its first two letters, alpha and beta). Then the class made wonderful name badges in Greek, so well done to Αρνϖ, Σεθ, Μαρια, Δανιελ, Κεϕιν, Στεϕαν and Δαϕιδ!

04 July 2016

Lesson 26 - Testing times

A very quiet lesson today: the end of year test. Whatever your score, top marks for the quality of your chicken representations.

26 June 2016

Museum of London trip

Only Max managed to identify this as a horseshoe
Last Friday saw us leave school behind and spend an amazing day at the Museum of London, experiencing life in Roman Britain.

A strigil, for scraping oily backs

First stop was an object handling session, where we played historical detective to work out the uses of the objects we were given. Some were easier than others. Mystery objects turned out to be an amphora, a roof tile (with an accidental pawprint), a glass makeup bottle and spatula, a brick from a hypocaust system, a key for a lock, and a strigil. A quick dress-up session followed, where the workshop leader made Jamellia up as a noble lady, complete with stola (dress), palla (cloak) and fibula (brooch). Adrian was transformed into a Roman soldier, with metal armour and helmet.

Then on to our next session, a dramatic retelling of the story of Boudicca and her revolt against the Romans. The storyteller left out absolutely none of the gory details, telling us all the nasty, certificate-18 behaviour of both Romans and Britons alike. Once we'd contemplated this outrageous behaviour, we divided into groups of Romans and Britons, each group tasked with giving a rousing pre-battle speech before the forces of Gaius Suetonius Paulinus clashed with the baying Britons, led by Boudicca. And look what I found on YouTube - not quite as good as you lot, though ;-)

Then, lunch and some free time to explore the museum. One quick photo opportunity taken, we then marched back along London Wall (guess why the road has this name?!) to Moorgate station and our homebound train.

dicite 'caseum' omnes!

20 June 2016

Lesson 25 - All together now

Since this was our last lesson before out end-of-year test, we spent the majority of it revising the language work we'd covered this year. And here it is:
Click to enlarge
Work on your revision sheets demonstrated that your grasp of the language is getting better and better...


So, the following weeks look like this:

Friday 24th June (all day): trip to Museum of London
Friday 1st July: end-of-year test
Friday 8th July: INSET day, no school
Friday 15th July: Y9 taster Cambridge Latin Course lesson

13 June 2016

Lesson 24 - Being and means

After putting it off for way too long, we finally encountered 'esse' (to be) in all its present tense glory. It was interesting to see how many European languages' versions of 'to be' have their roots in the Latin forms:

We then had a go at describing celebrities using the right part of 'esse', also remembering that the adjective has to agree in number and gender.

Then onto matters philosophical, specifically Aristotle and his notion of the Golden Mean. This idea is drawn from the ancient Greek idea of μηδὲν ἄγαν (meden agan), doing nothing in life to excess. In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle proposes that we should aim to tread this 'middle way', and explores the impact that this approach might have on our everyday actions. For example, in situations involving bravery, he argues, it's not a good idea to be too feisty, nor is cowardice helpful: instead, somewhere in the middle of the two lies courage. Here are all of Aristotle's 'golden means':

The notion that personalities can be measured on a sliding scale persists in modern life, where there is a thriving industry in the development and application of psychological personality testing. So in the true spirit of mixing ancient and modern, the Classics Club took an Aristotelean Personality Test, marking ourselves against various Golden Means (gnothi seauton!), and then trying to guess from the numbers whose name was on the test. I have to say, you lot were pretty good at reading the tests!

I realised after the session that I hadn't filled in a test myself, so in the spirit of fairness, here you are:

30 May 2016

Lesson 23 - Marvellous mosaics

I've come to four inescapable conclusions about mosaic-making, each confirmed again by today's session:

(1) It's almost impossible to make a mosaic without breaking into song. Jaszmine's grouting-themed lyrics were quite something.

(2) There's always someone who tries to eat a tessera (mosaic tile), thinking that they look like sweets/breakfast cereal.

(3) There's always one perfectionist in every mosaic class.

(4) For some reason, I can't remember the term 'tile cutters', and always end up calling them 'snippety-snips'.

Here is a selection of the amazing creations:

Earth and sun (Taiwo, I think)

Hannah's unicorn

Delina's Shrek

'A' for Ashantae

Shantay's owl 
Smiley (Ketsia)

Hassan's silver & gold pattern

'D' from Adrian

Rebecca's pattern

Lesson 22 - Gnothi seauton

We started today's class with language work that mixed the present and the imperfect tenses, culminating in creating our own 'sed nunc' ('but now') sentences. This was followed by some more work on the imperfect tense, including putting present tense Latin sentences into the imperfect.

Then on to matters more weighty in the shape of Aristotle. Here's a useful flying overview of the man and his work:

We then discussed the concept of 'gnothi seauton', or self-knowledge, which is a concept of fundamental importance to Aristotle's philosophy. Seneca (a Roman philosopher) claims, "Other men's sins are before our own eyes; our own are behind our backs" - a statement that the class confessed was true. So in the spirit of Aristotelean self-knowledge, we explored the idea of cognitive bias (i.e. irrational thinking), a notion mentioned by Ken Taylor in last week's lesson, and which we discussed in the context of Milgram's 'electric shock' obedience experiments.

We took part in a quiz that sneakily demonstrated the following biases from which humans unknowingly tend to suffer:
Attribution bias (science test question)
Using internal personality characteristics to explain others’ actions, but to ascribe our own failure to external factors only. It was interesting to see how many of you didn't succumb to this bias, but instead showed insightful (maybe overly-harsh!) levels of self-criticism.

Overconfidence bias (Jakarta question)
The mistake of being more confident in your actions than experience or logic would dictate to be appropriate. A useful bias, which helps us get out of bed in the mornings and face a day packed with problems.
Ingroup bias (debating team question)
The tendency to favour or think better of members of one’s own perceived social groupings. The root of much prejudicial thinking, but also a bias that helps us form strong social bonds.
Primacy/recency bias (list question)
The tendency to remember the first and last things in a list/narrative. Unless you have a photographic memory!

Aristotle advocates understanding our weaknesses and excesses in order to correct them: fortunately, the last century has seen an explosion in psychological research to provide evidence of these. If you're interested in this kind of thing, you can read more about them here.

13 May 2016

Lesson 21 - What's wrong with democracy?

We spent a whole lesson today contemplating human imperfection. In the last couple of weeks, we've seen how Plato explores the idea that people are flawed creatures, with a complicated relationship with 'truth' and 'goodness'. As a result of this human frailty, in Plato's ranking of government systems, democracy (i.e. 'rule by the people') is only one step up from anarchy (i.e. 'no rule at all'). We discussed the Platonic notions of oligarchy, timocracy and aristocracy (which, don't forget, means 'rule by the best': it could be argued that the word is mis-applied in its modern context!). We also explored some of the possible pitfalls in Plato's ideas. As many in the class protested, saying that people are too stupid to govern themselves in a democratic system can be argued as highly disrespectful.  Yet it is possible to reconcile the idea of human irrationality with a workable version of democracy, thanks to Ken Taylor of Stanford University and the application of the modern science of psychology:

We then spent the rest of the lesson discussing the idea of cognitive bias, the ways in which science has identified pervasive 'wrong thinking' in humans. This led to a very interesting debate about the following (controversial) experiment on why people can justify seemingly inhumane actions:

We'll explore this notion of human imperfection and cognitive bias more next week as we encounter Aristotle's important idea of 'γνῶθι σεαυτόν' ('gnothi seauton') or self-knowledge. 

07 May 2016

Lesson 20 - an imperfect world

used to walk the dog ever day
Today, after recapping the third declension, we tackled a new tense. The imperfect tense is used to describe past actions that are in some way unfinished or ongoing: so the ending on a Latin verb not only tells us who's doing it, but also when the action happened. We did a few quick-fire matching exercises on the board, then we tackled a worksheet, matching imperfect verbs to their English translations, and then turning present tense verbs into the imperfect.

Democracy: not Plato's first choice
Next week we'll be exploring a different kind of imperfection: the human kind.
In the last couple of weeks, we've seen how Plato postulates that humans are more complicated than we may at first seem on the surface: the reasons why we do 'the right thing' are debatable, as we saw in the tale of Gyges. In The Republic, Plato goes on to consider methods of rule and which one is the best. Next week, we'll consider the five systems analysed by Plato, and debating on whether we agree with his (some say controversial) ranking of them. In the run-up to next week's lesson (which has changed to P2, AF04 for Week 2), get busy Googling and see if you can identify the methods of government that Plato subjects to scrutiny. In the meantime, have a look at the brilliant Ken Taylor below, and hear his modern take on Plato's opinions.

29 April 2016

Watch this: Mary Beard's Ultimate Rome

If you're bored this bank holiday, have a look at this brilliant potted history of Rome presented by Queen of Classics Mary Beard.


Lessons 18 & 19 - Adventures in the Third Declension

leo infantem amat (and could probably eat a whole one)
The last two weeks have seen Classics Club ramping up the language work. We've put together our knowledge of nouns (number, gender, case), adjectives that agree with them, and verbs (o, s, t, mus, tis, nt) to parse and translate some tricky sentences. And just when we thought we had it sorted, along comes the third declension with its random endings and weird extra consonants popping up here, there and everywhere. We took a look in particular at leo (lion) and infans (baby) and how they change in the accusative and in the plural. These third declension nouns make translating sentences tricky, as the adjective won't always have the same ending as the noun it agrees with: we can have Romani boni, but also leones boni. This is why analysing each Latin word in a sentence (parsing) is soooo important.

Phew! After such hard work, we were all ready to change tack. Last week, we heard Plato's tale of Gyges and the Ring of Invisibility, which explores the issue of virtue (or good behaviour) and why people are either good or bad. Dr. Kyle Harper of Oklahoma University explains the tale clearly:

We followed Plato's enquiry up with our own line of questioning about virtue by considering some modern-day moral dilemmas. Here are some of the ones that got you thinking:
Rings + Invisibility = Trouble

Property developers have approached your parents – they want to buy your home and demolish it in order to build a research centre in which animal experiments will be conducted. They offer double the market value. What would you try to convince your parents to do?

You have a maths test in a week’s time. You think you’ll do OK in it as you’ve been working hard all term. Your mate is really worried as he’s been finding the work really difficult. Walking home on your own from school you find a brown envelope on the floor. You open it to discover it contains a copy of the test – your teacher must have dropped it. What do you do? Who do you tell? Anyone? 

You’re at a party. A girl comes over to you and tells you how much they love the (fake!) designer watch you’re wearing. They offer you £200 for it. It cost you £20. Do you make the trade? By the way, you don’t know this girl, where she goes to school, where she lives, nothing. 

After reading dilemmas like this, there ensued a lively class debate about how we'd act, thinking about the possible consequences of our actions. Could we turn a blind eye to animal testing, even if we opposed it, if it meant financial security? What's the best way to help a friend? Would it be fair to the rest of the class if they had an advantage in the test? What would happen if you sold that fake watch only to find out the girl had some big, angry brothers? No right or wrong answers, but plenty of food for thought about what drives us when we make moral decisions.

18 March 2016

Trip time!

An end-of-term treat today with a trip to the Arthouse Cinema and an exclusive GCA Classics Club screening of Clash of the Titans. A few diabolical liberties were taken with Ancient Greek mythology (who were those wood-faced people, exactly?!), but there was some stuff we recognised from our lessons. Here's my favourite bit (I do like a good baddie)...

A big thanks to the lovely people at the Arthouse (we got free popcorn, too!!!). Have a great Easter holiday, everyone, and see you in the new term.

13 March 2016

Lesson 17 - Sick

medicus nunc te videbit
In this last 'proper' Classics Club of term, we not only recapped the preposition work we did last week, but also recalled our present tense and noun endings - this week on a theme of illness and the body, given that so much medical terminology comes from Greek and Latin. Hence we conjugated nauseare (to be sick), curare (to take care of) and valere (to be well), and declined medicus (doctor), serra (saw) and remedium (medicine). We're pretty much there with our present tense and our nominatives and accusatives, so next term we'll be moving on to more tenses and cases.

The second part of the lesson took the form of a game of body bingo. Using picture clues
A big cerebrum makes him cerebral
given on the board, students had to guess the English for the Greek and Latin body/medical words on their cards. Some, like dentes were easy to guess (from the clue, dentist), but others were a little trickier. Now we all know, though, how venter (stomach) gives us ventriloquist (person who can talk without moving their lips), and lacrima (tears) gives us lachrymose (tearful).

Next week is our end-of-term treat, a trip to the cinema to see Clash of the Titans: don't forget to return your permission slips. I'll bring sweets ;-)

06 March 2016

Lesson 16 - In (on, around and under) the Roman army

Our language warm-ups are getting really slick now: well done! I think we can safely say that we all know our present tense endings pretty well, and those nouns are looking pretty healthy too. It'll soon be time to shake things up a bit and add new verbs (irregular and imperfect) and noun cases (maybe a spot of genitive or dative?).

However, our topic for this week was the Roman army. Many of us take it for granted that the Romans conquered the greater part of the Western World in the creation of their empire, but how often do we stop to think how or why? The reasons are many, but arguably the most important one (or at least the thing that gets a foot in the door) is the might that was the Roman army. We watched a few videos that demonstrated the techniques, equipment and psychology that made the Roman army one of the most dominant forces of all time:

We all now know what a quincunx is, and just how terrifying it must have looked to see coming toward you over a hill...
...and how equally effective an unseen rearguard manoeuvre can be in routing the enemy. And, of course, we got to see the famous testudo (tortoise) formation, that allowed a man-tank of soldiers to advance in relative safety.

miles est in, sub, pro, prope (he gets around)
We then took the opportunity to learn some prepositions (vital in any army manoeuvre!) with a certain Lego legionary. Following this was a written exercise in seeing how pervasive Latin prepositions are as prefixes in the English language. Just take trans (through), for example:

transport, transference, transit, transaction, transatlantic, transcend, transcribe, translate, transfer, transform, transgression, transpire.

Knowing Latin prepositions can give us a helping hand when we encounter English words we don't know, such as 'antechamber'.

14 February 2016

Lesson 15 - Masquerade!

As an end-of-half-term treat, we got all crafty and made some Greek comic masks. Inspired by the characters in Menander's Dyskolos, we designed some handsome young men, foxy young ladies, scheming parasites, wily slaves and wizened old crones. I'll let the pictures do the talking...

06 February 2016

Lesson 14 - What's Latin for velcro?

Making the accusative singular feminine
The session started off with a verb warm-up, translating from Latin to English, using three new verbs: amare (to love), dare (to give) and festinare (to hurry). You're all getting pretty quick and accurate. Good stuff. And so onto something similar with nouns. By the power of velcro, we took masculine, feminine and neuter nouns and conjured up variations in nominative and accusative cases, and in the singular and plural. Then, putting our work with nouns and verbs to good use, we tackled some pretty tricky translations on paper.

So focused were we that we almost ran out of time for our weekly dose of Dyskolos. We recapped Pan's prologue, which sets the scene for the play. It's the usual tale of boy meets girl, girl's father won't like it, boy is forced into all kinds of schemes to win the object of his affections. We looked at the (slightly complex) inter-relationship of all the characters in the play: 

Next week, we'll be multi-tasking, making masks for the characters in Dyskolos, while at the same time performing a read-through of the play. Ambitious: could this all go horribly wrong? Quodlibet*. I'm sure as long as we all end up laughing, the ghost of Menander will look kindly on our efforts. Anyway, if you want some inspiration for your masks, have a look here at some pictures of both ancient and modern ones.