Greek Summer Schools I Have Been To

Here are my impressions of the Ancient Greek Summer Schools I have been to over the past 9 years and in four different places:  Lampeter, London, Durham and Edinburgh.  My memories of the more recent ones will be obviously be sharper.   The purpose is to give people who are interested some idea of what they are like, though it might be a little impertinent of me to call what follows a review.

In all of the groups reported on below, the basic procedure was that the students would take turns to read alound and comment on a piece of the text and then the teacher would…help.  Given the time constraints, the groups covered a certain portion of the texts mentioned, rather than the whole of them.

I believe that all of these summer schools will be running in 2010, and (irrelevant as it is to me) including Latin courses as well.  Update 03 May 2010: I’ve now located the following on the Edinburgh Classics Department sitePLEASE NOTE THAT NO SUMMER SCHOOLS WILL RUN IN 2010.

Lampeter 29 July to 9 August 2001


Old picture of Lampeter


I was doing Advanced Greek here and (from my records) we did two sessions a day of Works and Days in the first week and two sessions a day of Plutarch’s Life of Antony in the second week, together with one session a day of Pindar over the two weeks. There was also a prose composition class (something like one session per day?) that I went to.

The pupils in the literature classes comprised in the first week 5 retirees, a postgrad student (who I had in fact already encountered serving in Tlon Books down the Elephant) and me; or 2 Italians, a Japanese, a Portuguese and 3 Brits; or 2 people called Antonio and five who weren’t.

Before the first session on the first day I felt like running away and hiding (but then everybody does);  after that it was basically fine.

The tutor (another Japanese by origin) was very keen about Works and Days, and so was one of the Antonios, so this general level of interest spread to the rest of the class. But at one stage preparing Hesiod did feel like being crushed under 17 miles of plutonium.

We had somebody else to teach Pindar, and he chose people at random to read/translate, which led to a closer engagement with the text (also Pindar was and is a great deal more interesting).

In prose composition, we had the two Italians from the Hesiod class, a further retiree who was ‘really’ doing Latin [and didn’t approve of this literature nonsense when you could be doing grammar] and a young woman from an elementary class [who said she was just fired by curiosity and eagerness]. I think we may have had one prose per day to do and I actually did them (strange person), which took a lot of time and effort.

And there was somewhat of a change of personnel for the second week’s Plutarch, but we had about the same number and age range of students.

There was an examination you could do at the end (and I did), and a couple of excursions–I didn’t go to New Quay and did go to Laugharne, which was jolly nice.

I think that the best thing about this school was being in the middle of Wales, where I’d never been before, in the God-haunted landscape of hills, sheep and streams and the signs in a foreign language.

The worst thing was probably the eating arrangements, which may have been peculiar to this particular year. There was no place for all the participants to eat together–since on such exercises the clientele tend to be either A-Level/first year undergraduate students or retirees, these two groups do need some encouragement to mingle with each other!  And that’s surely the point of a summer school–ἡ δ’ ὁμιλία πάντων βροτοῖσι γίγνεται διδάσκαλος (being together is the teacher of everything for mortals–a remark of Menelaus in Euripides’s Andromache).

London 8 July to 16 July 2003


We were in the Institute of Archaeology


So the normal initial panic came when I was standing in a hall in UCL surrounded by crowds of people, many of them young.  Then a young  Modern Greek blonde woman came up and took a few of us away to do Advanced Greek–there were 7 of us in the end:  3 retirees, 3(!) people of working age, and one A-Level-ist.

The instructor had prepared some passages touching on Alcibiades from Plato and Thucydides with the idea that the students could compare and contrast, but this was really a bit beyond what the group felt able to do.  What was good was that she used overheads to show how complicated bits of syntax fitted together and also handed out extracts from Modern Greek textbooks on Ancient Greek with comforting diagrams and explanations.  She was very proficient (especially for someone not really a teacher) at dealing with the different levels of the class members and it was interesting that at the end we got to read the hypothesis of a (lost) play by Cratinus she was writing her thesis on.

So the good things about this were the syntactical explanation and the chance at the end to see some live classical research in action.  And all the groups were herded into one room to have tea and coffee which meant we had got to talk to other people (and had for instance an interesting conversation with a young woman who wished to study Latin at university rather than science as her family required).  I think the main problem was just being in London–I ended up trying to get some electrical work done and trying to retrieve some undelivered parcels and also going to a Russian class one evening after a day’s Greek…

Durham 22 July to 28 July 2007


St John's College--formerly some houses I guess

So this time I didn’t really feel any panic at all.  We had a class of 12(!) that first of all did a book of the Iliad I’d said on my application form I wanted to avoid because I’d done it recently and then Andromache.  Mostly it was retirees.

We had three sessions a day, and the group was probably just too large!  In the Iliad, the teacher kept people awake by asking random questions about grammar, but in the Andromache the (different) instructor even dispensed with reading aloud, and there was rather a lot of chat about what people thought the play ought to be about, rather than the text itself.

In the evenings we had lectures on classical subjects where attendance was…expected.  Even though many of the participants in the Summer School as a whole were ‘real’ students, they didn’t display an acceptable level of resistance to this idea (but we were housed in a theological college, which may explain it).  And we had an excursion to various sites on Hadrian’s Wall.

As for good points, we were very well fed and all in one dining hall, so mixing was promoted!  And we had among us a group mother, who exerted herself to make sure everyone was happy and getting along with each other.   I also enjoyed seeing some real scenery from the coach on the Hadrian’s Wall trip.

But the bad point is that I got seriously bored with the content of the teaching sessions…

Edinburgh 20 July to 26 July 2009


David Hume Tower

Well, this was different!  For a start, I was doing Intermediate/Advanced NT Greek.  Then the process of getting enrolled was interesting in itself–for months and months and months the Summer School website just sat there promising details for 2009, so I finally fired off an email and then for weeks and weeks nothing happened.  Then I suddenly got an email a few days before the start to say I could come if I wanted…

So I did, and the Summer School turned out to encompass 20 or so people in all.  There were three of us doing NT Greek and we proved to be at extremely disparate levels.  The instructor reacted to this with angelic patience and by doing an extra 7 hours of individual tuition on top of his scheduled 23.5 hours.  And I was most impressed–not only did he know and explain an awful lot about the ancient world at the time of Christ, he also interested me in grammatical explanations of things that I knew perfectly well by relating them to general structures and Indo-European origins.

In our organised time off, we had a trip to a surgical museum (since one of the girls from the Classics Dept was working there) and an hour or so of palaeography–a brief explanation of the manuscript tradition combined with trying to read some fairly old MSS.  And at the end there was an evening in a Turkish cafe given over to rembetika songs for the occasion.

And I liked it a lot–the rackety atmosphere was probably due mostly to do with uncertainty about whether the thing was going to go ahead this year, but I enjoyed it anyway–if something’s worth doing, people will try to prevent it.  And the idea of getting students to actually do things in terms of for instance very elementary palaeography (get them to try and read ancient MSS and see how difficult it is).  Similarly, I think it has to be right not to present Ancient Greek as a thing on its own but accompanied by and in the context of Koine, Byzantine and Modern Greek.  Otherwise you’re left with something like a story about invaders from outer space.

I’ve now posted some more on possibilities for studying NT Greek in particular here.

What I conclude from having written this posting

It’s probably time I desisted from these summer schools!  Of the 22 or so fellow-students alluded to above, maybe one knew as much Greek as me (or more).  So it’s not clear that I’m going to learn anything new–I think I got away with Edinburgh because of the particular circumstances.

As for teaching Ancient Greek and how it should be done I have come to some conclusions that aren’t necessarily what I started off with.  I think that the instructor needs to hit the students over the head with grammar quite regularly, even if they say they know it.  The way to make this interesting is to relate to to general structures and historical principles–for instance, the fact you have φέρω, οἴσω and ἤνεγκον isn’t a random act of motiveless malignity, it’s because the ancient Indo-Europeans had a system of suppletive stems.  One stem for each of their three tenses, so you can never have more than three stems for one verb unless different verbs got roped together in post-IE times (but I can’t think of any examples of this!)

I do think you need a text that can be finished in the time available, otherwise people feel disoriented by a collection of fragments…So that would be either poetry or a particular philosophical argument say. Or maybe someone like Herodotus who’s fairly episodic by nature.

I wonder what exactly people are doing sitting in a classroom reading and translating the text of a play that was originally delivered orally?  That’s what Byzantine schoolboys did under the spur of lavish punishment, but otherwise it’s a bit strange.  Should a Greek play be a text anyway?–Did the dramatist actually ever write it down and hand round parts or did he personally rehearse the actors and chorus and leave them to make notes if they wanted?

But anyway…I think it’s a very good idea if students get to do something in terms of ‘acting’ scenes from a play or extremely elementary palaeography or epigraphy–an inscription cut into a monument is a raw historical fact in a way that a carefully accented, punctuated, capitalised, word-divided modern text of an ancient historian isn’t.  And it’s surely possible to play at textual criticism on the basis of early texts of Shakespeare (or even of the NT) if ‘real’ ancient authors are too difficult.

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3 Responses to “Greek Summer Schools I Have Been To”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Most amusing and lively sketch – manages to be both personal and objective too. I do agree with your conclusions of course (in theory). So shall we start acting out the Eumenides next week? Probably I’m the one who would be most resistant to this idea! Barbara

  2. kim Says:

    Very interesting. Thanks for doing this. You have been lucky with some of your teachers – teachers who can manage so well with groups of mixed ability and interest are worth their weight in gold. I’ve just spent 9 weeks trying to do just that with an English class, and am quite worn out from my exertions.
    I would not have written about Durham in the same way. Was the age distribution so unbalanced that year? Half agree about the teaching, although I was finding the Andromache difficult, so I wasn’t bored. I have to say too that he has slightly changed his style since then. Didn’t notice a group mother!
    Now I’ll have a look at the Hebrew bit.

    • notesofanidealist Says:


      Thanks for your comments. Well as I say at the end the fault for being bored at Durham may rather lie with myself (for having overstrained the stick of Greek Summer Schools); I certainly found Leiden immediately afterwards (which was basically aimed at apprentice professionals in the form of first-year graduate students) much more my thing. I obviously prefer fear and the possibility of public humiliation to boredom.

      If you want, you’re very welcome to write about your views of Durham at more length here, or else email me some text and I’ll put it in as a separate posting.

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