Greek and Latin Teaching in Australian and New Zealand Universities: A 2005 Survey

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The study of Latin and Ancient Greek at tertiary level is crucial for the survival of Classics within the university sector. And it is not too much to say that the serious study of Greco-Roman antiquity in most, if not all, areas is simply impossible without the ancient languages. They are essential not just for the broad cross-section of philological and literary studies in poetry and prose (ranging at least from Homer to the works of the Church Fathers to Byzantine Chroniclers) but also for ancient history and historiography, philosophy, art history and aesthetics, epigraphy, and many branches of archaeology. In many Classics departments in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, enrolments in non-language subjects such as myth, ancient theatre or epic, or history remain healthy and cater to a broad public interest in the ancient Greco-Roman world. This is, of course, to be lauded. But the status of the ancient languages, at least in terms of enrolments, may often seem precarious compared to the more overtly popular courses taught in translation. Given the centrality of the ancient languages to our discipline as a whole, it is worth keeping an eye on how they are faring to ensure their prosperity and longevity.

This survey updates the 1994 survey conducted by Professor Greg Horsley, Dr Elizabeth Minchin and the late Professor Kevin Lee, which was published in Antichthon 29 (1995) 78-107. The following year saw the foundation of CLARU (Classical Languages Acquisition Research Unit) which held a conference at the University of Sydney in 1997 and addressed the issues of what should be taught a propos of the ancient languages, how they should be taught, and the problems encountered in the teaching process. While no formal motions or recommendations were passed at this conference, there were still a number of opinions expressed - which appeared to receive strong endorsement - about what the future should hold for the teaching of the ancient languages. An online copy of the conference report can be found at: As it turned out, some of the issues explored at the CLARU conference occurred independently to the authors of this 2005 survey when compiling questions (for example, at what stage should or in fact do students start reading ancient texts?). This confirmed in our minds that such issues were worth exploring again some eight years later. At the same time, however, this 2005 survey includes issues and questions not broached in the 1997 CLARU conference.

In early 2005 Patrick O'Sullivan and Judith Maitland were approached by the then President of ASCS, Greg Horsley, to conduct the current survey and were given a free rein to address some new issues and revisit some older ones from 1995. The current survey, conducted in the latter half of 2005, aims to offer an overview of the current state of play of the ancient languages (Latin and Greek) in Australian and New Zealand universities at least up to 2004-5, and is thus descriptive, not prescriptive. The current survey does not make any recommendations as to how departments should teach the languages. Nor do we see the current survey as a blueprint for major reform, or as laying the foundations for attempts to impose uniformity on various departments. Should such issues become the focus of general debate in the near future, one of our hopes is that the current survey may provide at least relevant data to enable informed discussion of the topic. One finding that does emerge is that there is both considerable variation within a certain overall consistency among the departments surveyed in their approaches to teaching the languages, which generally seem to be faring well, considering the circumstances confronting the Humanities in Australasia.

Scope of the Current Survey

A number of major issues arise when examining the status of Latin and Greek in Australian and New Zealand universities. …