Tuesday, 10 January 2017
If I am sick from simply going out of doors, it was worth it, for yesterday I taught my first class in Ancient Greek and remembered how much I love teaching. Besides that, it's wonderful to be getting to grips with Ancient Greek, which is not as much a passport to the minds of the ancients--for their greatest works have been translated into English--as it is to the experience of those young men of the European ruling/educated classes who studied Ancient Greek as a matter of course.
Sadly, I told my pupils a whopper about Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor and the German general he kidnapped in Greece during the Second World War becoming firm friends over a shared knowledge of Homer. I have just looked up the story, and it wasn't Homer, it was Horace. From the Telegraph obit:
Gazing up at the snowy peak, Kreipe recited the first line of Horace's ode Ad Thaliarchum – "Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte" (See how Soracte stands white with snow on high). Leigh Fermor immediately continued the poem to its end. The two men realised that they had "drunk at the same fountains" before the war, as Leigh Fermor put it, and things between them were very different from then on.
Now I shall have to tell my pupils I misremembered. Oh, alas. I was also a bit vague on the location of Ancient Phoenicia. I was right that the Phoenician empire included Carthage, but it turns out Phoenicia itself was on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. Now I shall have to tell them that, too. Oh, for the dusty pull-down maps of the classrooms of my youth.
One splendid aspect of my new job is that my charges very much want to learn Ancient Greek. When I taught English writing skills at a community college, I was fortunate that the majority of my students really wanted to be there and desperately wanted to do well. They were usually mature adults who had struggled in high school and were glad to have a second chance. The most difficult students were permanently bored, time-wasting adolescents who wanted to get through their college educations ASAP and get jobs as cameramen for the CBC, or whatever.
How these graduates were going to be effective in media without learning from their mandatory "Communications" class was not a question they seemed to ponder much. Fortunately this was before the era of the smartphone, and even more fortunately, such students were in the minority and only appeared in the summer courses. They did make me question whether I wanted a life of teaching adolescents, however.
Highly preferable was each term's "class hard-ass", whom I always liked. I respected his or her attitude of "Prove to me you have the chops to teach me anything", and all I had to do to prove this was worst him or her in a bit of banter. The class hard-ass then used his or her natural high spirits to make class fun and he or she wrote his or her compositions with great energy and humour.
The biggest difference between teaching English writing skills and Ancient Greek is that the latter takes an awful lot of prep. However, it is worth it. I am determined that my students will ace their GCSEs and, what's more, get all the intellectual and spiritual advantages of a Classical education.