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Wonder wall

How well do you know the classics? Five fun facts

Teaching and Learning

By Chad Pelley

It might not have taken as long to build as the Roman Colosseum, but a new Classics display was years in the making.

Dr. Roman showcasing the new classics display of various interpretive plaques.
Dr. Luke Roman showcasing the new classics display, located opposite room A-2056 in the Arts building.
Photo: Rich Belnkinsopp

Part of its purpose is to demystify one of Memorial’s least familiar degree programs.

Although classics is one of the world’s longest-running academic disciplines, many people couldn’t readily tell you what, exactly, classics is the study of.

“And I don’t blame them!” said Dr. Luke Roman, head of Memorial’s classics department.

“The terms “classic” and “classical” in everyday English, are used to refer to a wide range of things,” he said. “But classicists explore all aspects of the ancient Mediterranean world with particular focus on ancient Greece and Rome.”

The impressive new display is located opposite room A-2056. A quick read of its panels demonstrates how these ancient civilizations shaped our current society.

The selection of images and composition of the texts for the display was a collaborative project of the Department of Classics: Dr. Tana Allen, Dr. Brad Levett, Dr. Milo Nikolic, Dr. Luke Roman and Dr. Kathryn Simonsen.

David Racette-Campbell handled the project’s graphic design, production and frame construction.

Five Fun Facts

To pique your curiosity, here are five examples from the display.

We all speak Latin in Canada. Sort of.

Before there was English, there was Latin. There was a time when Latin was the common language of Europe, used to bridge different cultures and languages during the intellectual revolution of the Renaissance.

Today, English is heavily infused with Latin (and Greek) vocabulary, and many modern languages like French, Italian and Spanish have developed from Latin, explaining why we call these “Romance” languages.

In that sense, the influence of the classics on our daily lives is evident in every sentence we type or speak.

The Olympic Games that ended in February started in ancient Greece.

The ancient religious festival called the Olympic games began in Olympia, Greece, and included athletic competitions.

In the original Olympic games, all the Greek city-states came together to participate and compete in a common festival.

The modern Olympic Games might have expanded on the idea, but they continue to serve a similar purpose in providing a meeting ground for friendly rivalry among different, or even politically opposed, countries.

The classics have inspired movies, books and even video games.

Any modern student raised on video games will know of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, a main character is a Greek mercenary who has the choice of fighting for Athens or Sparta in the Peloponnesian War.

There are examples of classical architecture in St. John’s.

Does the Colonial Building beside Bannerman Park look a little otherworldly to you?

That’s because its architectural style is borrowed from ancient Greece. Its façade is inspired by an ancient Greek temple.

“Classical” architecture is quite common worldwide, and St. John’s is no exception.

Would we have plumbing without ancient Romans?

The classics really appeal to those of us who wonder where the things we take for granted today came from — like running water in our homes. We can probably thank the Romans for that.

A panel in the display depicting an ancient stop valve tells us that “Roman plumbing was of a quality that was attained again only in the 20th century. This bronze gate valve is a testament to the excellent workmanship of Roman artisans, as it required a high precision of manufacture to render it watertight.”

 Something for everyone

Like the display, the subject of the classics likely has something of interest for everyone.

“Classics is intrinsically multidisciplinary: it includes the study of history, language, literature, art, politics, philosophy, religion, science, technology, architecture, archaeology and the influence of Greco-Roman antiquity on later societies and cultures,” said Dr. Roman.

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