When I studied Classics at university, it became my world. Especially so in my last year, where I worked towards my honours degree.
I ended up going on a field trip to Greece for a month. There, I saw artefacts upon artefacts, studied variations, styles, riffs on myths and stories that were their great foundations. Stood on the Acropolis and gave a presentation on architecture, studied in the British School of Athens, got drenched in a Greek rain storm. Walked ancient cities that were now just brick, stood on top of crumbling stones that used to be part of a retaining wall. Visited small rural towns in the winter, where shopkeepers were so happy to see us. I was completely immersed in it. I came back home and wrote my final essay for the trip, then kept continuing and continuing to do what I needed to finish the last of my degree. Wrote assignment upon assignment, kept building upon those stories of an ancient culture, wrote my honours thesis. And then I graduated.
After I left university, my love of Classics seemed to dissipate. During my study, I read pages and pages of scholarship every week. But it took me a year after graduation for me to even pick up a book related to Classics. Classics had once been a defining feature of myself. And as the months passed, my university years felt like a nebulous dream and I became cloudy.
I think part of the reason why this happened is because my world widened. My realm in the Classics department was narrow. Everyone in that department was so passionate, specialising in small details that sometimes meant nothing to others from different departments. I only had to wander into the Classics library to find a friend there. We would complain about missing papyri, artefacts that had been warped by their archeologists. And we would reminisce about our field trip too. The worst thing in our world was getting anything but an A for a presentation. And in that world, the greatest tragedy was the fire that burned the Library of Alexandria, that moment when so much ancient literature was lost. But such a belief also meant that there was nothing too big that we needed to worry about in the present. It meant that we were okay just where we were, because the greatest tragedy we would ever know had already passed.
It was a sweet and naïve world. And when I left university, the world became much more vast, with greater things to worry about. My graduate job was lacklustre. I was no longer following the values that were most important to me. And I had to find purpose beyond the ancient stories I loved.
Still, when I hear any mention of Classics, so many comforting memories of that old world push at my heart. Months ago, I was talking to a boy who was helping us out in the food caravan. He was around fourteen and I asked him what subjects he was taking at school. He went through the list and once he said Classics, I exclaimed, “I studied Classics at uni!” He talked about his love of those ancient battles and I talked about my own love of Greek tragedies. He casually said something about studying the play Antigone at school, and I could have just yelled the words at him. “Antigone! I wrote on Antigone for my honours thesis!” I was that past version of myself again, so naïve in passionate happiness. Then the conversation moved to Nero, and the boy made an offhand comment about how Nero was the craziest Roman emperor of them all. I could feel my skeptic classical training come up, and an explanation already running through my head (Nero exemplified Greek values and that could have been why he was portrayed so negatively—because the writers were Roman. You have to consider who’s telling the story).
But I didn’t say it out loud. I let him talk. And I immersed myself in that small moment.
Hagia Triada, Crete, 2016