And that’s when it all came alive.
I was a straight A student – Latin, Greek and Ancient History. What most people don’t know is that I failed my Ancient History exams at Cambridge. I’d never been that good at history, which wasn’t helped by our excruciatingly boring ‘normal’ history classes: lists of kings, battles, parliamentary bills, more battles.
But my classics teacher had specialised in ancient history and was absolutely passionate about it. She made it come alive. She described the events graphically, conjuring the emotion of the characters, as if she was experiencing the history with all her senses: a movie in her head. She talked about Pericles and Plato, Cicero and Caesar, as if she’d known them personally. She urged me to read historical novels set in those times that she considered well researched and accurately documented.
However at Cambridge it was a different kettle of fish.
I learned that the stories my teacher had told me were the consensus of the scholars who had studied the sources – the differing accounts of ancient historians and other writers, inscriptions and so on. Now, as budding classical scholars, we were expected to go and read the sources for ourselves, to analyse and compare them and draw our own conclusions about what happened, didn’t happen, might have happened.
But I ‘knew’ what had happened. I couldn’t think outside that movie – those stories. More importantly, I didn’t want to.
I didn’t do the work required of me.
And so I failed my exams.
The moral of this is to exemplify how very powerful it can be to put over information as a living, emotion-packed story.