I have just returned from the island of Chios, in Greece (just a few miles from the coast of Turkey), where each year I help with a conference on Homer run by an organisation called EUROCLASSICA, which consists of the Classical Associations of nearly thirty European countries. Course members are students, teachers, university faculty and people who are just interested in Homer. This is the 15th ‘Academia Homerica’ as we call it, and despite the economic problems in Greece today its great poet Homer still pulls in a lot of support for the conference. My job is to deliver a lecture or two to the whole conference, but mainly to run the student programme, in which we read most of a book of Homer in the original Greek and also have a few short lectures on Homeric topics. This year the student numbers were somewhat down because of the economic crisis, but five Greek students (i.e. students from Greece!) also joined us.
As any teacher knows, it is very satisfying, even exhilarating, to teach a group of very willing, eager students. This year my group of students ranged in age from 18 to 70+, and we had eight nationalities represented. At the end of the conference each year the students do a presentation to the whole conference which consists of passages of the original Greek read by students, followed by a translation into their own language. If you want to see some of our presentations this year, you can see video clips on the site called The Homeridae – The Children of Homer, videoed by Antonis Makrinos, who helps me with the teaching programme. The only instructions that I give students is that we want to hear the original text of Homer that I allocate to them and a translation into their own language. How they do it is up to them. The afternoon of the day before the presentation they were all sitting on the beach doing their translations and testing their pronunciation of ancient Greek and their own translations on their fellow-students. Several translations at the presentation were into verse of some kind, but this year our two students from Lithuania went a step further and translated their ten-line passages of Homer into Lithuanian poetry using Homer’s hexameter verse-pattern – no mean feat; I couldn’t even think of attempting to do this in English! I can’t claim that I teach the students using Charlotte Mason methods, but I think she would at least approve of the fact that we are reading a ‘big book’ (none bigger than Homer!), and that our particular form of ‘narration’ consists of the students actually creating their own translations of the great poet.
But even on the island of Chios Charlotte Mason was not far away. One of my students was actually a primary school teacher from Athens, and in a conversation over a lunch it was quite clear that she is a very enthusiastic teacher, and she mentioned that she was interested in ‘child-centred’ teaching methods. We had quite a lengthy conversation, and I suggested that she should have a look at the now numerous websites that give information about Charlotte Mason and her teaching methods, which I was sure she would find interesting. So we may yet have a Greek association of Charlotte Mason enthusiasts.
As I was being driven in an ‘airport taxi’ from Manchester airport back home to Milnthorpe last night, the taxi driver, who happens to know me from previous trips, told me that the headlines in the Westmorland Gazette last Thursday were ‘University U-turn brings joy to town’ – referring to the decision last week by the University of Cumbria to re-open the Ambleside campus and to develop it for up to 600 students. But before we get too deep into the ‘joy’, further reading of the article reveals that there may be problems, not least associated with the fact that the site has been mainly closed down for over a year and a lot of money will have to be spent to restore it. Nevertheless, the university’s intention is to re-open the site. We shall have to wait and see what happens in the next few months.
© Dr. John Thorley 2011