Parental aspirations and Classics

There’s a saying that children live out their parents’ aspirations. Sometimes that’s really obvious, because little Jilly has a pushy parent who put her on the stage at 3. But sometimes it’s more about parents and children just being similar.

I did Physics, that’s obvious. But I very nearly did a degree in Classics instead. In fact, I tossed a coin over the decision. That and the fact that with my background I knew nobody who got a degree, let alone something as clearly not-vocational as Classics persuaded me. So, despite the fact that I had studied Latin for 5 years and adored it, and got top marks in my exams, I stopped it in sixth-form so I could take A level Chemistry instead. And I took GCSE Statistics rather than AS Ancient Greek.

My oldest friend (and probably fellow Aspie) was much more sensible.

When I studied my master’s in astronomy I suddenly remembered that of course the old books (e.g. Isaac Newton’s Principia) were written in Latin or Greek and that actually, if I wanted, there was a possibility of me using my rusty Latin and Koine Greek (I took a distance-learning university course years ago for that one) to research one of the “greats” of history of astronomy. I might even be able to persuade someone to let me do a PhD in it.

By the way, there is another aspect to this. All of the astronomers before Newton were practising astrologers. I know! I said it, the dirty word, that no real astronomer can mention. But it’s true. This means that something funny is going on. Half the material that was churned out by the “greats” is ignored because it’s on the wrong side of the great astrology/astronomy divide. And if Galileo, Kepler, Brahe, et al. thought it important, then it would be very silly of me to think myself so much better than them and dismiss half their corpus out of intellectual pride. Anyway, as usual I digress.

I’ve long bemoaned my juvenile decision to drop Classics – although now with the benefit of hindsight and a fairly recently found desire to study history of astronomy texts in their original Latin, this looks actually quite helpful. I am currently revising my Latin knowledge with my old textbooks, the Ecce Romani series, and intend to advance onto A level material later this year. There are Latin textbooks and grammars all over the house.

My son has long been interested in myths and originally considered aiming for a career in computer games programming and design. He’s still considering that as an option, but games design is the sort of job where there are no fixed education paths you have to follow. So, he has recently decided to study Classical Studies at university and take as many myth courses as they’ll let him (he’s not as keen on the language side); hence there is a very strange sense of me watching him living out my dreams. But then he’s grown up in a family where deciding to do Classics at university would not be questioned as it might in other homes. Given the amount of flak I took for pursuing a Physics degree over hairdressing from some family members (how dare I have ideas above my station, don’t I know I’m only working class), I’m quite sure I would have faced a barrage of abuse if I had made the same choice. My son is also not entirely neurotypical. In fact he had some very obvious auditory sensitivities from infancy (I couldn’t use the vacuum cleaner in his presence without him screaming). Now I look back and go, well of course. But I just accepted it thoughtlessly at the time… Anyway the fact that autistic children are often classical myth nerds is widely known in the SEN community. AGAIN, WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME THIS!

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