Peter Jones

The Spectator Classics Cup 2005

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Last year there was one Classics Cup on offer. This year there are no fewer than three: one for the Open competition (any 200-word piece from The Spectator in Latin or Greek prose or verse); one for undergraduates (200 words in Latin or Greek on the theme ‘Tony and Gordon’); and one for school pupils (200 words in Latin or Greek retelling the story of Homer’s Odyssey).

For the stars of the Open competition, it will be exquisite business as usual: the chance to take any passage from The Spectator and map the language and concepts of this world on to that of the ancient. Take Steyn: ‘If Rumsfeld were to say “Free Tibet? Jiminy, what a swell idea! The Third Division go in on Thursday”, the bumper-sticker crowd would be aghast’. How do you do ‘bumper-sticker crowd’?

Undergraduates and school pupils are given a freer hand. Undergraduates can play the old game of matching ‘Tony and Gordon’ to a comparable pair from the ancient world: Pompey and Caesar? Antony and Octavian? Tiberius and Sejanus? But it is equally acceptable to call them Antonius and (perhaps) Gordo (Gordonis), after the French place-name Gourdon or the French gort/gord (‘fat little git’). That should get you into the mood, and a Cicero Philippic will considerably increase the language of insult at your disposal.

The story of Odysseus (Ulixes) offers possibilities for school pupils from beginners to sixth-formers: simple (Ulixes domum redire vult, sed Calypso eum detinet) — or complex (detinente Ulixem Calypsone, Mercurium ab Olympo dimisit Jupiter ut eum liberaret): he will meet monsters, lose all his men at sea, return home, be disguised, kill the suitors and win back his wife. Jokes appreciated, the worse the better. Classics teachers have stores of dreadful ones up their sleeves. Students of Latin and Greek are probably the only people left in the country who are able to spell, punctuate and construe proper. That is achievement enough. Add to it the eternal fama of a prize entry in The Spectator, and the mundus will be your ostrea.

Full details can be found by clicking on ‘News: latest’ at www.friends-classics.demon.co.uk. The closing date is 23 April.