There's something to be said for a Classics-inspired motivational phrase—we might even beat the public-schoolboy Latin tweeters at their own game...by Charlotte Higgins / April 2, 2019 / Leave a comment
When I was at university, studying Latin and Greek, I was often asked what on Earth I was going to do with such an obviously useless degree. I grew up in the modest purlieus of north Staffordshire, where there was a definite feeling that degrees ought, by and large, to be concrete, solid things, leading to jobs in concrete, solid professions, like medicine or law.
It turns out that a degree in classics can prepare you for more or less anything: I know classicists who work in television and film, classicists who are poets and novelists and playwrights, classicists at tech startups and NGOs, a bunch who have landed up in law and finance, and some in journalism, like me. The sky’s the limit, it turns out: you can use your magical Latin powers for good, like JK Rowling, alumna of Exeter University’s classics department, or go to the dark side and set about warping a country’s political culture, like a certain Homer-spouting blond.
Oddly enough, I have always earned money more directly from classics, in a modest way. Mostly from writing books, but long before that, my first job after my degree was working for a mail-order catalogue company based on a light-industrial estate in Witney, Oxfordshire (it was exactly as glamorous as it sounds).
The company sold history-themed gifts—silk scarves printed with vaguely arts-and-crafts designs, repro Georgian glasses, that kind of thing. Aside from editing the catalogue text, I was classicist-in-charge of digging up “humorous” Latin tags to emblazon T-shirts and tote bags; I also had charge of a desk calendar that required me to source 365 different uplifting quotes from classical sources, one for each day of the year. Stuff like Horace’s carpe diem (seize the day); per ardua ad astra (through hardship to the stars—the RAF’s motto); veni vidi vici (I came, I saw, I conquered, supposedly said by Julius Caesar after his swift victory in 47BC against Pharnaces II of Pontus, since you ask).
I’m not sure that motivational guff would cut the mustard today. The times call for something darker—or just weirder. Like this excellently practical advice from Hesiod’s 7th-century BC farming manual Works and Days: “Do not urinate while you are walking, on the road or off the road: it is crouching that the godfearing man, who knows wisdom, does it, or after he has approached towards the wall of a well-fenced courtyard.” Or perhaps we could use a bit of Ovid for the #MeToo era: melius sequerere volentem optantemque eadem which translates as, “You’re better off pursuing someone who is willing, who wants the same as you”—a very rare example of the Roman poet’s betraying even the faintest flicker of woke-ness.
Needless to say there’s now a Twitter account, @sentantiq, devoted to pithily quotable, often enjoyably twisted, Latin and Greek. Current favourites, to be used passim of absolutely everyone involved in pontificating on Brexit, include (from the largely lost Greek comic poem “Margites”): “He knows many things, but he knows them all badly.” Jacob Rees-Mogg is all over this classical quoting game (dies irae, dies illa, he tweeted on the occasion of yet another meaningless Brexit vote that turned not quite to be a “day of wrath” after all). But the public-schoolboy Latin tweeters can be beaten at their own game. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!