Greek Is the Word; Forget Modern Europe - Liverpool University Is Aiming to Be the Capital of Ancient European Culture, Reports Peter Elson

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), October 20, 2007 | Go to article overview

Greek Is the Word; Forget Modern Europe - Liverpool University Is Aiming to Be the Capital of Ancient European Culture, Reports Peter Elson


Byline: Peter Elson

SHOULD an ancient Greek soul fall through the space time continuumand find himself in latterday Liverpool, wandering alongMount Pleasant, reassuringly familiar sounds could assail his ears.

For the University's Greek Reading Group, which reads aloud ancient texts in their original Greek at its weekly meetings, is not only alive and well, but determined to expand its impact.

Founded in 1888, at the then University College Liverpool on Bedford Street, the Greek Reading Group was originally called the Thiasos, named after the ancient Greek revellers who were wild followers of the god of wine and theatre.

The Greek Reading Group in its modern anifestation has a more lofty goal of spreading the word, or rather the ancient words of the great Greeks such as Sophocles's Antigone.

The Thiasos boasted occasional Greek activities beyond reading.

A srviving programme from 1901 promises a "Greek Soiree" with "a representation of scenes from Greek plays and tableaux by the members of the Thiasos including tableaux of The Judgement of Paris, followed by Greek dancing made fashionable by the famous and glamorous American, Mrs Isadora Duncan."

The Thiasos group was founded by University College's principal, Gerald Henry Rendall, who thought a society should be set up for reading and discussing ancient Greek plays. This remains the group's ethos.

The reading group is currently led by Dr Eugenie Fernandes, of the University's School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, and the head of department, Prof Tom Harrison.

In 1920, the public (or demos, in Greek) was invited to join. Other university Greek reading groups exist, but Liverpool's could be the sole one that has a core public membership.

The Thiasos is the only university group that has run continuously in its original format, meeting weekly for nearly 120 years with only a brief interruption caused by the Blitz.

Post-war, the Thiasos was integrated into an extension course in ancient Greek language and literature, as an introduction to ancient Greece's history and literature.

"I don't think any other university Greek reading group welcomes in the general public as we do, except for one at the Sorbonne, in Paris," says Dr Fernandes, who comes from Heswall.

"We're also into our second year of running a beginners' course in ancient Greek, called It's All Greek to Me, which teaches people so they can join the main reading group, which I think is a unique offering.

"The groups attract a wide range of people from the ages of 18 to 80 who are interested not only in the language, but also the culture of the ancient world.

"They rightly feel this is a way of getting closer to it, through reading these world-famous texts in the original language, rather than through the filter of a variable and arbitrary translation.

"It's the difference between seeing a film in your native language and seeing a foreign film with subtitles.

"Nomatter howgood the translation, something is lost.

"Instead, you are hearing the voice of Sophocles or Plato from 3,000 years ago, like the light from a far distant star reaching out and illuminating you."

The subject remains important as ancient Greek culture made a huge impact on western Europe which is still felt today through not only politics, philosophy, architecture, literature and our language itself - as evidenced by the many Greekderived words in this feature.

"Obviously, we are discussing texts on a detailed linguistic level which you won't get anywhere else. …

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