For many years the Classics community has been visiting Rogue Classicism, a hugely popular Classics blog run by David Meadows, a Canadian Classicist and school teacher. So we at Iris relished the opportunity to ask David some questions about his blog, Classics in schools, and more.
What was your very first experience of Classics?
In grade six we had a unit on the Ancient Greeks. I still remember tracing a picture of some Greek athlete doing the long jump holding a pair of 'halters' and thinking that it was a pretty silly way to jump. After that, though, I didn't really have any more contact with the ancient world until I graduated from high school and my father and I made a trip to Europe and our tour included Pompeii, which was interesting at the time, but in hindsight I suspect it would have appreciated it much more if I had had more background.
Did you learn Latin and Greek at school?
No -- sadly Latin and Greek were not part of the curriculum in Calgary's public schools when I was in them. I'm not sure if it is even now, although it is a feature in the numerous charter schools that have emerged over the past decade or so.
What did you enjoy best about learning the Classics?
I really love the immense variety of all the things one learns under the umbrella term 'Classics' and how much of it still resonates today in so many contexts. Just off the top of my head, I don't know anyone, for example, who would not identify with the plight of Horace in Satires 1.9 when he is trying to shake 'the bore' while wandering along the Sacra Via. Or the highs and lows of emotions expressed by a Catullus in his on-again, off-again relationship with Lesbia. I also love the fact that even though Classics is a discipline that's technically a few centuries old, there is still much to be gleaned from texts and, of course, incredibily significant things being dug up on almost a daily basis.
If you had to take one only one piece of Classical literature to that proverbial desert island, what would it be?
Probably a copy of either Pliny's Natural History or Aulus Gellius. Both of them have nice little short passages to stimulate the thinking processes. In a desert island situation, Pliny might have spin off benefits in terms of survival too.
And how about if you were given the chance to go back in time and meet one ancient character from history, who and why?
That's a really difficult question because there are so very many. I've always thought it would be interesting to hang out with the ones I've always considered to be 'ancient flies on the wall'. Imagine what Cicero's slave Tiro himself could tell you, not just about Cicero but all the things that were going on without them being filtered though Cicero. It would also be incredibly interesting to hang out with a pre-imperial Claudius and see how he really fit into the early Julio-Claudian environment. It would be interesting as well to see his interactions with his imperial nephew and see how close Robert Graves came to nailing it. And I've always wondered what the younger Pliny was really like outside of his letters. I'd love to see him on his official duties with some group or another hauling some neighbour up and accusing them of being a Christian. Far too many, though.
Your blog, Rogue Classicism, is very well-known and admired by Classicists across the world. Can you tell me a bit about how the idea came about?
The blog was another step in the evolution of an idea which grew out of the discovery of a mass grave of plague victims in Athens during metro construction in 1994. It seemed to me that there was a need somewhere on the web for dissemination of news coverage about the ancient world, not only because it was inherently interesting and a good outreach strategy, but in the hopes that trained Classicists would comment intelligently on what the popular press often glossed over. An early attempt to do this was a page at my website called 'Commentarium', which tried to cover the growing web-based news about the ancient world on at least a weekly basis. But in the days of 'old fashioned' coding of webpages, that proved to be incredibly time-consuming, and Commentarium evolved into an email-based newsletter called Explorator, which still goes out (for free!) to roughly 5000 subscribers every week. Its scope goes far beyond the world of Greece and Rome, though, and so when blogs became de rigueur and the technology existed to make publishing such a thing easily, I returned to my original idea and that's how rogueclassicism was (re)born.
Why did you choose that name?
The name was actually an outgrowth of my signature file on the Classics list in the late 1990s. I had been pursuing a PhD at McMaster (Hamilton, Ontario) while also being married with two young children. When the funding ran out, I took my wife's suggestion and put the graduate work on hold to attend teacher's college (my wife is a French teacher). Back in the late 1990s, everyone signed their emails with the long sig files, including their academic institution and since I technically wasn't in a Classical academic institution anymore, my sig file had to change. The usual thing to call one's self would have been 'independent scholar', which is what I considered myself to be, but was very uncomfortable with the term because on all the TV documentaries about the ancient world, the folks with the nutty theories were always given the title 'independent scholar'. And so I decided to call myself a 'rogue classicist' on the analogy of a rogue elephant. I figured I looked and sounded like a Classicist, but didn't quite act in the 'expected manner'. When the blog came about, it was natural to call what a 'rogue classicist' does 'rogueclassicism'.
What sort of things do you write about in the blog?
I try to cover anything that seems to me to apply to the Classical world, both from an academic point of view and a popular point of view. Whenever I can, I start the day by posting 'This Day in Ancient History', which is a popular feature among educators on both sides of the pond. Other than that I regularly post things I come across such job listings, conference notices, obituaries, and features about teachers and professors. I also try to post (and ideally comment on) recent archaeological digs and discoveries and other matters of ancient historical interest. Another thing I try to regularly comment on are passing mentions of politicians and the like quoting (often misquoting) ancient authors or (mis)interpreting some ancient event for their own purposes. Besides that, however, there are a number of other things attached to the blog which folks might enjoy --- as might be expected, I do monitor a huge number of rss feeds and I cull them for items of interest on a daily basis in my "Classical Blogosphere" sidebar. There are also rss links for Radio Finland's Nuntii Latini and the Ephemeris newspage. I also have footers which pick up rss feeds for book reviews, 'Classical Words of the Day', and Twitter feeds for reviews of Ancient Plays, Sword and Sandal movies, and the like. Pretty much any mention of the ancient world is fair game at rogueclassicism.
Why do you think it is important to have a Classical blog, and what sort of roles does it play?
As folks on the Classics list will attest, I have long been an advocate of the use of the web to promote Classics. In an increasingly 'unclassical' world (or so it often seems), what Classics is and what Classicists do becomes more an more a mystery to those who aren't in an academic milieu. I don't know if there's a connection between that and the regular reports of this or that Latin or Classics program facing elimination for 'budget reasons', but it does not seem unlikely. For reasons I have never quite been able to understand, as a group, Classicists seem to be somewhat reluctant to engage in self-promotion outside of the confines of academe and even the official organizations such as the American Philological Association or the Classical Association of Canada do not really promote Classics to anyone other than Classicists to a significant degree, near as I can tell. While I do have a number of regular readers from academe (but not as many as I'd like!), the statistics for the site suggest the majority of visitors come to rogueclassicism from other sites or via search engines. I'm not sure how many linger long enough to see everything that I cover, but I'd like to think that rogueclassicism helps to fill some of the outreach void.
What are the challenges of running it?
The biggest challenge is finding enough time to cover all of the 'Classical World' news and give it the justice I feel it deserves. If I have the time, it really isn't that difficult to come out with a dozen or more posts a day. Unfortunately, for the past few months I've been struggling mightily with assorted technological challenges at my school and those opportunities one might have had during the workday to quickly send out a post (e.g. on one's lunch hour) simply aren't as plentiful as they once were. Family commitments -- especially having two boys in high school -- also take up a lot of time. But even so I try really hard to put out as much as I can, and sometimes have to be content with sending out a link via Twitter or Facebook. Outside of that, though, my biggest challenge is trying to get professional Classicists to comment on items that I post. I really wish academics would be more willing to give their opinions in a public forum on why this or that news article isn't quite as sensational as the journalists say it is.
What plans do you have for the future of the blog?
I'm hoping it will continue to grow and thrive; it's currently getting 500-600 unique visitors a day even when I don't post! Something I've been working on for the past while is trying to figure out the best way to set up an 'associated blog' or perhaps a facebook page to link to videos and/or news reports about the ancient world. This is an outgrowth of my Ancient World on Television listings newsletter (another long-time project of mine, but now on hiatus) occasioned by the absolutely horrible state of documentaries about the ancient world in North America. Much of what is currently showing up on the History Channel and the like is over a decade old and just keeps getting repeated. There's better stuff available online these days. That's in the future, though.
Finally, do you think Latin and Greek have a place on the school curriculum, and what are your reasons (either way!) ?
They definitely have a place in the school curriculum, especially in the earlier years. Even at its most basic level, learning the grammar of Latin has huge benefits for students who have to try to learn English grammar in an educational environment where there isn't even grammar being formally taught any more. In Canada, students also have French as part of their regular curriculum and the whole notion of conjugating verbs has obvious benefits there. In other subjects, the vocabulary benefits that come from knowing Latin or Greek are immense -- I wish I had a dollar for every time in my Science and Math classes, for example, that I point out the Latin and/or Greek roots for terminology. Unfortunately in Canada, if students are exposed to Latin or Greek at all it isn't until the high school level and by then it is an 'add on' or 'interest' sort of thing rather than something considered practical. I get somewhat encouraged reading all of the stories in the US and UK about the revival of Latin in schools, but there isn't a similar thing going on in Canada, as far as I can tell.
You can find David's Rogue Classicism blog at rogueclassicism.com