How Can Classical Civilisation Change Your Life?

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A-level Classical Civilisation By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Classical Civilisation » A-level Classical Civilisation
Last updated: 31/07/2017
Tags: a-level classical civilisation, cultural roots, enjoying poetry, homer

Part 1: Life, love, loss and grief in Homer’s poetry

The civilisation we now call classical was lived in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean, eventually as far as the boundary of the Roman empire in Britain, for a period of nearly 1000 years, from the time of the poet Homer in probably the 6th century BCE to the end of the Roman period in the 5th century CE.

The beginning of this period is heralded by Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, where you will encounter the stories surrounding the siege of Troy, tales of epic heroes such as Achilles and Odysseus who fight in wars and travel far from home, They deal with war, loss, anger, fear, despair. Homer also shows us the experience of loving families, parents, women and children. Here Andromache, the wife of Hector, the greatest Trojan hero, pleads with him not to risk his life:

‘Poor dear man, your own brave spirit will destroy you, and you have no pity for your baby son and for me your doomed wife…. I have no father now or honoured mother… The seven brothers I had in my home, all of them went down to Hades on the same day, killed by swift-footed godlike Achilleus as they tended our shambling cattle and our white-fleeced sheep.

At the end of the Iliad, Achilles is at last persuaded to relent by the father of the man he has killed in these words:

‘Remember your own father, great godlike Achilleus— 
as old as I am, past the threshold of deadly old age!
No doubt the countrymen round about him plague him now,
with no one there to defend him, beat away disaster.
No one—but at least he hears you’re still alive
and his old heart rejoices, hopes rising, day by day,
to see his beloved son come sailing home from Troy.

Homer’s characters are helped or hindered by gods and goddesses but by this he reinforces their humanity in contrast with the amorality and lack of responsibility of the immortals.  The hero Odysseus says:

Of all that breathes and crawls across the earth,
our mother earth breeds nothing feebler than a man.
So long as the gods grant him power, spring in his knees,
he thinks he will never suffer affliction down the years.
But then, when the happy gods bring on the long hard times,
bear them he must, against his will, and steel his heart.
Our lives, our mood and mind as we pass across the earth,
turn as the days turn.

Homer’s poems profoundly inspired and influenced Greek and later Roman ideas and beliefs, and are the basis of much of our present day culture. Studying Classical civilisation allows you to be inspired and touched by ancient poems which still illuminate our shared human experience.

Elizabeth Fairhead A-level Classical Civilisation Tutor (Tonbridge)

About The Author

I am an experienced classics teacher. I hugely enjoy engaging with students at all ages and levels, helping them improve and sometimes outperform their expectations.

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