October 30, 2016

Classics Department Resurrects History With Festival

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The department of classics’s weekend festival aimed to make an ancient topic more accessible to a modern public, according to Prof. Verity Platt, classics, one of the event’s organizers.

The event — which featured several lectures from professors and Latin declamation contest for students — was the first of its kind at Cornell to be open to the public, according to Platt. Students from Ithaca High School and Ithaca Montessori School joined Cornellians among the attendees.

“This is the first time we’ve done a big outreach event to celebrate what it is that we do,” Platt said. “I wanted to be able to share the exciting experience with school kids here in Ithaca. … We wanted to be as inclusive as possible.”

Platt said the idea for the festival was conceived when faculty members expressed concern about the lack of classics representation at Cornell.

“[Nowadays] there is a problem with the status of the humanities where fewer students are taking classes in the field,” she said. “So we wanted to publicize what we do to a bigger audience across and beyond the University, and celebrate what it is that interests us about the ancient world.”

Prof. Michael Fontaine, classics, another of the festival’s organizers, agreed that the department owes it to the public to “show them what [work it does].” He also emphasized the need to make the classics more inspiring to students currently taking Latin.

“My greatest hope [for the attendees] is that they’ll have a lot of fun … seeing that most of us are pretty passionate about what we do,” Fontaine said. “There’s now a groundswell of enthusiasm for treating Latin like a regular language instead of this mystical code that you decrypt.”

Platt agreed, sharing her hope that attendees left the festival with a better understanding of how classics can apply to the real world.

“I hope that it will help them see that the ancient world isn’t just a dead world, that it’s not completely consigned to the past, but that it’s still very relevant to many of the concerns we have today,” she said. “Making connections [between disciplines] is one of the most productive things that you can learn as an undergraduate.”

Derek Li ’17, a classics major attending the event, said he was excited by the festival’s success in bringing together the classics community.

“It’s intriguing to be able to listen to people talk about classics and see people come together,” Li said.

Platt added that the event also served to remind the classics department of their common goal of making the subject more accessible to the public.

“I wanted to remind everybody that we have more in common than what divides us,” she said. “We all care very much about making the ancient world live.”