This classics kick came about partly because my husband Richard managed after 40 years of looking to find and thank the drama teacher who encouraged his career on the stage. This teacher is called Mr Smith (which is mostly what made him hard to find) and he also taught English, History and Latin. My language dabbling on Duolingo turned to Latin around the time that we met him and he was hugely encouraging and gave me a great book that helped me get deeper into learning about Ancient Rome. We love Mr Smith!

Soon I was spending time every day on Latin using an amazing app called Legentibus which reads aloud while showing the words. I also watched (almost) as much sword and sandal drama as I could find and got into some good podcasts and documentaries.

I then began doing/engaging with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for the first time in 20 years. The book includes early on an invitation to reframe the messages of the inner critic into more empowering affirmations. I thought it might be fun to translate my affirmations into Latin, partly as an exercise and partly to give them oomph and gravitas.

At first I went to Google translate, then I bought used dictionaries, then I emailed Mr Smith. The process helped me think really carefully about what I was trying to say to myself and what I really believe about the value of art, life, cooperation, learning new disciplines, the ‘disco’ (‘I learn’) that is at the heart of ‘discipline’ (the practice of learning) and much more. I really enjoyed the translation and the collaboration.

As often as possible, after writing my morning pages (a kind of journaling that is a key part of The Artist’s Way process), I have written out my eighteen Latin affirmations - as well as a Latin translation of something nice about expecting nothing plus a bit of Seneca on daring and a line from Horace about balancing fun with function - which was very much Mr Smith’s watchword and modus operandi.

After writing them all out - which I like to do in a hand lettering style that’s informed by the Roman cursive style that they used on wax tablets - I choose three that feel relevant to the challenges of the day ahead and write them out again a bit bigger.

Am I going to write them all out here? I don’t think I am but here’s the first three:

I Essentiam artis essuriamus!
Let us hunger for the essence of art

II Ars vita verissima est non luxuria damnabilis
Art is the truest life not a wretched indulgence
(Or … Art is the opposite of self in-fucking-dulgent).

III Vivere artificis mirabilis est quicumque es
Art is a wonderful way for anyone to spend time

And I’ll add a photo of the flip chart from which we ended up doing a bit of a Latin/Art lesson with some ‘repeat after me’ and ‘what do you think it might mean’ … which I must say tickled me greatly. Well done, class!

Many classics-inspired works for the page, stage or screen that came up in the session and among those were …

“Circe” by Madelaine Miller. “Breathing life into the ancient world, Madeline Miller weaves an intoxicating tale of gods and heroes, magic and monsters, survival and transformation.”

“No Season But the Summer” by Matilda Leyser. “This novel did all of the things that I wish mythic reimaginings would do ... This one is heartily recommended. It’s masterfully constructed, moving, and strange in all the right ways. It’s carefully and poetically written ... There are very few writers who have succeeded in bringing an ancient myth into the contemporary world with such profound resonance for the issues which concern us. Matilda Leyser is one of them, and I’m very much looking forward to what she might do next.’” Sharon Blackie

A classicist by education, Charlotte Higgins is the author of three books on aspects of the ancient world. Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain (Vintage, 2014), was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction, the Thwaites Wainwright prize for nature writing, the Dolman travel-writing prize and the Hessell-Tiltman history prize. In 2010, she won the Classical Association prize. Her most recent book Red Thread: On Mazes and Labyrinths (Cape, 2018) was BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week.

Natalie's series, Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics is broadcast on BBC Radio 4. 36 great episodes!

Rome is a historical drama television series released 2005–2007 created by John Milius, William J. MacDonald, and Bruno Heller. The series is set in the 1st century BC, during Ancient Rome's transition from Republic to Empire

“Paradise” by Kae Tempest. The all-female company, with Lesley Sharp as Philoctetes: once a celebrated wartime hero, now a wounded outcast on a desolate island. When a young soldier appears, his hope of escape comes with suspicion. And as an old enemy also emerges, he is faced with an even greater temptation, revenge.
Kae Tempest, the astonishing writer, recording artist and performer forges an epic new take on Greek legend.

“Oresteia: This Restless House” by Zinnie Harris. “This Restless House is a ‘modern classic’.  We haven’t seen anything like this before, and it could not have been written by anyone else.  Yet, like all great tragedy, Harris’s distinctive vision is formed through a clever and creative dialogue with established texts, traditions and tropes of the genre.” Jon Hesk

Antigone is a 2019 Canadian drama film directed by Sophie Deraspe. An adaptation of the ancient Greek play Antigone by Sophocles, the film transposes the story to a modern-day refugee family in Montreal

De rerum natura (Latin: [deː ˈreːrʊn naːˈtuːraː]; On the Nature of Things) is a first-century BC didactic poem by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius (c. 99 BC – c. 55 BC) with the goal of explaining Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience.

John Bowen’s 1978 adaptation of The Bacchae by Euripides.

Lysistrata (/laɪˈsɪstrətə/ or /ˌlɪsəˈstrɑːtə/; Attic Greek: Λυσιστράτη, Lysistrátē, "Army Disbander") is an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BCE. It is a comic account of a woman's extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War between Greek city states by denying all the men of the land any sex, which was the only thing they truly and deeply desired.

The idea of polytheistic myth as having psychological value is one theorem of archetypal psychology as defined by James Hillman, and explored in current Jungian mythology literature. According to proponents of this theory, polytheistic myths can provide psychological insight

Here’s to indestructible classics and all those symbols and myths and ideas to keep playing with.

Thanks so much to everyone who came - including (but not exclusively): David, Loren, Ess, Cora, Tessa, Paul.