November 6, 2015, by Oliver Thomas

Classical inspirations

This November each department in Humanities is running a Twitter campaign where members of the school post images representing themselves with a favourite aspect of their discipline.

In Classics, our hashtag is #itsaclassic, and our particular theme is what inspired each of us to take up studying the classical world at university. As Admissions Officer, I tried to pick a theme that would produce a wide range of responses, so that we can show potential applicants, and the rest of Twitter, all the ways there are to get into the subject, whether that be through an inspiring book, film, trip to the theatre, teacher, holiday, museum, or whatever else.

For this blog post I invited Judith Mossman, Professor of Classics and Head of School, to explain her choice in slightly more detail than Twitter’s 140 characters allow…


I was thoroughly hooked on classical studies as a small child by means of various illustrated books on Greek mythology. In fact my interest in Plutarch also dates back to a children’s book.

The Ladybird book of Alexander the Great, like many other Ladybird books, was written by Lawrence Du Garde Peach, an author and playwright who as a graduate student had had an interest in Dryden, who was a great translator of Plutarch’s Lives. The text was (I realise in retrospect) a highly condensed version of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, from Alexander’s taming of Bucephalus – the horse no one else could master – to his soldiers silently marching past his bed as he lay dying.

Plutarch’s anecdotes, with vivid pictures by John Kenney, made for exciting reading. Alexander’s journey into the unknown seemed as daring as the journeys into space which were happening around the same time I was reading it. (It appeared in 1963 – as did I, in fact – but the book was constantly reissued and the image above is of a copy from 1968.)

I found it very absorbing at the time, and even now the Ladybird book’s tagline seems to sum up some of the excitement of Plutarch’s Life, if not its moral complexity:

‘Alexander the Great, who lived more than two thousand years ago, was not only a great soldier who conquered the whole of the then known world, he was also a wise and just ruler. This is his story.’


You can follow all the different departments’ activities on Twitter @UoNHumanities.

Posted in ClassicsOutreach