Some readers may have seen the current meme sensation sweeping the internet, wherein you take it upon yourself to describe a complex subject using only the most common English words. Or, as that task would itself have to be described: Can you explain a hard idea using only the ten hundred most used words? Needless to say, Classics doesn’t get a look in. Nor does literature. But then, I’m used to that squiggly red line appearing on Word every time I write intertextuality. (Not sure why I haven’t added it to the dictionary yet; I think I might be trying to keep it real?) And so, I thought, why not try to explain Classics? Or indeed my PhD, just as an example. This is what I’ve got:
Many years ago part of the world made a lot of things and had a lot of ideas. Everyone in the world has always made a lot of things and had a lot of ideas, but the ones we study became very important for the people from this part of the world, even hundreds of years later. These people loved the past and so did the people after them – and some of them did very bad things because they loved their past so much they thought they were better than the people they decided had other pasts instead. But some of them also did things we might say are good, because they used the past to think about thinking and came up with the ways of thinking we use to build things that make life much easier and stop us being sick and dying so much.
These days we are the people trying to understand what this past was that has been loved for so long – and why it might not be what people thought they loved. What might that mean for who we are today? I study the words, stories and books of this past and try to understand how they work to mean things, and so what that makes them mean. Most of the time I use ideas we have only had in the last few years for how to think about this.
For the moment I am looking at stories which have not much been loved for the last few hundreds of years, but which were loved for many hundreds of years after they were written. These stories also seem to love the past and use ideas and words in order to sound like the stories that were most loved of all in the time we study. Sometimes I think this will change how we think about the past as something easy to love as a whole, because these stories (and others too) did not think they were part of the same past as the other stories, but that there were several worlds of stories happening at the same time. Knowing this might make us think different things about our own stories and how they work.
How do you think I did? I’m very interested to see other definitions of Classics and summaries of people’s research!