Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

I never knew classicists could be so scary! Last week I wrote a Telegraph article saying classics exams had been dumbed down. It followed the news that Camden School for Girls -- the last comprehensive in the country to teach Greek A-level -- is planning to drop the subject in September. Soon after, the classics trolls came a-calling, on Facebook's Classics International forum. The insults were impressively high-minded. A classics student at King's College London called me an 'antediluvian ape'. A classics teacher at Durham Sixth Form Centre predicted my next book would be 'bowel-achingly derivative'.

My kind former tutor, Professor Greg Woolf, disagreed with my argument but flatteringly suggested I should become president of the Classical Association. That incensed Richard Wallace, a former classics lecturer at Keele. He compared the idea to the time he stopped Enoch Powell becoming the association's president. I'm not remotely as well-qualified for the job as Powell. After a double, starred first at Cambridge, he became Professor of Greek at Sydney University at 25. In 1938, aged only 26, he published an edition of Thucydides's Historiae and the lexicon to Herodotus. But this row wasn't about qualifications. The classics trolls instantly associate any dumbing down suggestions with far-right fogeyish snobbishness. One classics teacher said, 'Before we all panic too much, this was in the aspirational Telegraph , a paper marketed to people who would like to be thought of as posh.' Meanwhile, comprehensives are deprived of the wonders of Greek for ever. And posh apes with expensive educations -- like me -- go on benefiting from the dumbing down of non-selective, state education.

To the West London Synagogue near Marble Arch for its 175th anniversary. Two hundred descendants of the synagogue's founders gathered for a service. One founder was an ancestor of mine, Sir Francis Goldsmid: the first Jewish QC, in 1858, and the third Jewish MP, in 1860, two years after Lionel Rothschild became the first. Many of the people at the service had ancestors who came over here in the 17th century, when Oliver Cromwell readmitted Jews to the country. It was sad, but understandable, that security men had to be stationed outside the synagogue. Still, Benjamin Netanyahu's alarmist call last month that European Jews should migrate to Israel because of terrorism had never seemed so ludicrous. …

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