07/03/2016 09:41 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 05:12 GMT

Classics for the Common Class


I am a current Classical Civilisation student. I consider myself a Classist. I am a mad, bumbling fanatic of the Classical world; I'll chat endlessly about it to anyone I can cohere into listening. I also do not know a scrap of Ancient Greek.

Shock horror, I hear the scholars cry! According to Harry Mount, I am just another shocking example of the state's 'intellectual baby food' fed student. Because how could I possibly understand the Classical world without an in-depth knowledge of Greek semantics? Well, in response, Mr Mount is to me, a predictable physical reminder of a subject still entrained with elitism. Or as Edith Hall, charmingly puts it, an outdated, snobbish 'elitist dinosaur'.

Now don't get me wrong, I am in awe with admiration for any language scholar. I appreciate the difficulty involved and I applaud their determination and envy their resolve, but I myself would rather spend my time researching other areas. Or watching 300 on repeat. Whilst I am keen to study languages in the future, for now, I am too busy exploring the vast variety of literature than painstakingly translating it.

And this is what I deem wrong with the Classics world. It is highly focused on language study and is often disparaging of subjects such as Classical civilisation. It is this sneer at the apparent 'softer' studies that leaves it grotesquely only available to the elite. State schools that teach Latin and Greek are alarmingly low in comparison to the luckier, privately educated.

Yet it is not the languages I advocate being taught in state schools, but the subject of Classical Civilisation itself. Now bear with me determined Latinists, I do not intend to dismiss language learning but I do agree wholeheartedly with Edith Hall that many would be "put off the ancient world forever by being offered a diet that is too heavy on language". Instead, what I do insist upon is the reversal of privileged perceptions, an acceptance of Classical Civilisation as a worthy subject, an admission that laborious language study is not prerequisite to the enjoyment of the classical world, but only a stimulating bonus.

Coming from a working-class background, my choice of degree is often met with confusion or disdain. For the 'common-man' their limited contact to the ancient world leaves my subject an alien selection; for the older generation who were forcefully taught Latin, it is met with eye-rolled disdain and proclamations of irrelevance. Only my middle-class acquaintances praise my choice of academic reading. The unfortunate fact of the matter is, that in my hometown, only one school offers the Classical Civilisation A-level and that institution is a £13,000 grand a year public school. Hardly seems fair does it?

This sorry state is mirrored throughout the country. It was only for sheer chance my high school closed down and I had to seek an alternative sixth form that I was lucky enough to stumble upon the subject. If it wasn't for this opportunity, I would have never gained access to a subject I love; a subject I now passionately devour and one I thoroughly enjoying studying day in and day out. It seems unfair to me, that the working-classes are denied this because of an obsolete concept of linguistically dominated elitism.

This is why I want to campaign for the Classical Civilisation subject's inclusion in every state syllabus. To me, it is not only a delightful subject but one that fits perfectly with the rigour of the syllabus and combines an immense variety of subjects perfectly. I wholeheartedly believe that exposure to the subject is key to its revival. It is not an intellectual inability that alienates working-class students, but a lack of opportunity.

The great breadth of the subject leaves little prospect of finding no interest; from Sapphic verse to the Spartans, to Greek mythology - there is scope for all curiosities. And I firmly trust that there is a curiosity, it just needs to be ignited (because come on, everyone's favourite primary school lesson was on the Romans!).

We need to squash the redundant notion that it is a subject purely for the linguistically capable elite, and open the doors to the less privileged. This subject is not limited only to language study; the ancient world is full of areas of exploration, so let's not pretend academic scholarship must be limited to linguistics. It's time elitism was shunned from the Classics community and Classical Civilisation is accepted and promoted to all.