Comedic Classics Lectures from Natalie Haynes
Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Classicist, author, comedian and broadcaster Natalie Haynes visited the Boys’ Division towards the end of term to deliver two fascinating talks about the ancient world. Natalie read Classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and in April 2010 was made a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association. She has published two books: The Ancient Guide To Modern Life in 2010 and her debut novel Amber Fury in 2014. She is currently recording a second series of her Radio 4 show, Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics.
During lunchtime, Natalie spoke to an audience of staff and pupils from all year groups about a variety of topics related to the Classical world. She opened her discussion with the three unities that define Greek drama, and showed that the unities of action, time and place are also used in and help to define modern-day soaps! This proved her point that elements from the Classics are still very much in use today.
She then encouraged her audience choose the rest of the topics for her lecture. By popular request, she began with religion, talking about the idea of Emperors turning into gods on their deathbeds and why this myth was popularised, particularly in the colonies. She also talked about Christianity, with reference to the works of Pliny the Younger, and Judaism and the Wars of Judea. She ended this section with the story of Josephus and the Josephus Problem, which is still used in computer science and mathematics today.
Moving on to women, she talked in great detail Agrippina the Younger, who was extremely well-connected and powerful with links to no less than five Emperors: she was the great-granddaughter of Augustus, the granddaughter of Tiberius, the sister of Caligula, the fourth wife of Claudius, and the mother of Nero. It was interesting to hear about the many poisonings and murders she had supposedly committed before finally being murdered herself on the orders of her son. Natalie also made an interesting case for the unreliable nature of the source material, which was written by people who considered her scandalous and dangerous.
Finally, she discussed money and the wealthiest fictional character in Classics: a man called Trimalchio. She also discussed what some of the very wealthy in Roman society did with their money, such as throwing dinner parties, and told some of the best anecdotes from these events.
Natalie then talked to pupils studying Classics and Drama about Greek Tragedy and Comedy. She gave another humorous lecture featuring Lysistrata by Aristophanes and Antigone by Sophocles, and also discussed the legacy of Greek drama in popular culture.
At the end of both talks, there was time for a question and answer session, during which Natalie was able to give honest, detailed answers to pupils’ wide-ranging questions. From answering why she thought the Roman Empire eventually fell to describing the ‘worst death’ in Classics, she offered her opinions on a wide range of subjects in response to the thoughtful questions.
The importance and relevance of Classics in the modern world was a theme that ran throughout Natalie’s two talks. Her fast-paced anecdotes about the strange and captivating lives of historical and mythological figures alike kept the audience interested throughout.