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A Cambridge Comp Sci tries Classics for a day

What could be more productive than going to lectures for a degree you don’t do?


Today I will be trading out the programming languages for real languages (neither of which anyone actually speaks but that’s beside the point). Starting my day with 11am lectures instead of the usual 9am Maths or 10am Algorithms lecture was a nice change. The walk to Sidgwick site led me across the city centre, dodging tourists, rogue bikes, and countless Scudamore’s punting tour guides looking rather dapper in their waistcoats.

The exterior of the Faculty of Classics building. Image credits: Esme Hobbs

Arriving at the Faculty of Classics, I found a disappointingly boring brick building with no sign of the Greek and Roman knowledge hidden within its walls. At least Sidgwick site fashion was anything but disappointing, the corridor to the lecture theatre was a catwalk, no hoodie or sweatpants in sight. Although I had seemingly found all the women in Cambridge (it was interesting to not be in the minority for once), I was beginning to feel underdressed in my jeans and T-shirt. I chose to enter the lecture theatre a few minutes before 11am, early and ready to learn about Greek and Roman philosophy.

The lecture theatre, which really was more like a large classroom filled with rows of chairs, felt unusually small and intimate. The lecturer casually set perched upon a desk instead of hiding behind a podium, helping to create a chill atmosphere. Maybe this was further heightened by the entertaining bits of graffiti carved into the wooden desks. Some of the examples on my desk included “FML”, “bloody fantastic you imbecile” and “ew, Christians”.

An image of some of the graffiti on the desks in the lecture hall. Image credits: Frankie Hill

I would have liked to say I swapped out my laptop for a quill and scroll, but it turns out Classics students still live in 2023 with everyone else and mostly take notes on a laptop like normal people (despite the lecture giving us advice on what one should do in their day-to-day life as a shepherd).

A Classics lecture theatre. Image credits: Esme Hobbs

It seems like the reputation of Classics just being about reading books is (at least) partially deserved. The lecture started by highlighting slides of further reading we should be doing and how it would be covering all 10 books in Plato’s republic. They cover more books in one lecture than I read in all of last year! I had chosen to attend a lecture named “Introduction to Greek and Roman philosophy”, or specifically, the lecture was a Cliff notes summary of how the theme of justice was presented in Plato’s Republic. We discussed souls, education, happiness, and “a city with a fever”.  As within every lecture, there was a variety of attention being given, ranging from the keen girl sitting in the front row causing the lecture to overrun, and the guy sitting next to me who napped through the entire thing (how he managed that on the hard, uncomfortable seats I’m not quite sure).

Overall, I enjoyed the lecture, it gave me a sense of nostalgia for the good old days of doing GCSE English. I believe we can learn a lot from the past and I found it interesting to consider other perspectives on how societies should live. Although there is no clear real-world application for my newfound knowledge of Plato’s Republic, it definitely was enjoyable.

8/10 would consider going to a Classics lecture again.