Ever wondered why ancient prostitutes used to smear vinegar on the organs of prospective clients? Or where Roman generals sourced their underwear? Or what the Praepositus Camelorum did for kicks? Or why the Greeks had a verb for ‘to stick a radish up the fundament’? Chances are, probably not. The study of Classics, as a recent Education Secretary declared, is as outdated as the ancient universities that still bother to serve it up for a degree. The days of pipe-smoking, sex-starved dons peppering their conversation with Ciceronian bon mots are mercifully over. The very notion of the ‘classical’ has been debunked by decades of post-structuralism in the academy and cultural relativism in society. Who needs Sophocles when you can have Eminem? Why learn Greek when you can take Urdu?
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Hilary Mantel reviewing Margaret Atwood: a #BookerPrize double-header from the archive.
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