Australia: Big increase in the number of students opting for ancient Greek
Students studying Ancient Greek at the University of Melbourne have doubled (49% increase) since 2010. It is indicative that the interest in Ancient Greek and Latin language studies is growing in Australia, Asia and worldwide. Currently, at the University, 71 students have undertaken classical studies.
Dr Hyun Jin Kim, from the University of Melbourne’s School of Historical and Philosophical studies, was born in Seoul, Korea, and grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, before making Melbourne his home and furthering his studies and expertise in Ancient Greek. His love of the classics and history formed through the legacy of his father, who moved his family to New Zealand to study ancient Greece. Dr Kim now teaches the language and says numbers have been increasing steadily, peaking at 71 in 2014.
«Our ancient world studies program has been booming in recent years. The number of students in Ancient Greek and Latin has been consistent. It fluctuates over time but in recent years it has been very consistent and also showing signs of growth so, it’s pretty positive I think».
He believes both Ancient Greek and Latin extend beyond their influences on founding western civilisation, by stretching to the far eastern corners of Asia.
«If you look at Buddhist sculpture, we would think of that as quintessentially Asian, that it is the soul of Asia. Actually the art form derives from the mixing of Greco-Bactrian art. And there are many, many other things that we could claim goes back to Greeks as well – modern democracy, which has a home not just in the west but also in the east. The political language we use and also a lot of the quintessential features of civilisation go back to ancient Greece, so knowing the language allows you to enter into that culture and also interact with that culture much more effectively» he adds.
Accordingly, fluency in Modern Greek produces an immediate intimacy with the Greek culture, but Ancient Greek, he says, provides a deeper understanding of the origins of Hellenism and modern societal structures.
Despite their distinction, Dr Kim says the two languages are surprisingly similar, with differences found in pronunciation, phonetics and syntax.
One of Dr Kim’s students, Alex Arvanitis, whose father heralds from Lefkada, and his mother from Italy, has been studying Ancient Greek since he was a student in primary school, and has just completed three years at university, with plans to continue at a post-graduate level. He agrees with Dr Kim’s summation of the evolution and distinction of the two forms of Greek.
«When I was young I’d been to Greece and I had been to all these sites and it conjured a natural curiosity in me, and of course being of Greek descent I had a natural disposition to know about my ancestry. It’s important to say that being of Greek descent, it’s the thing that gives you the initial interest to study it, but to continue studying takes a lot of discipline and you can’t just be in it for nationalistic purposes, but that is an important part.»
For him the appeal was much more than just a cultural lesson, it was, he says, a study of the fundamental principles that form part of his culture and much of modern society.
«The appeal is that you’re getting to the root of the culture. You get a sense that you can get cut off from the source of Greek or Italian culture because what we have now is a subculture from our grandparents” generation and once they pass away it’s something that’s going to be lost along the way. Sure you can learn the modern language or you can learn the food or the music but that’s not getting to the core of the culture, there’s more to the Greek and Italian cultures than food or music, and if you maintain a knowledge and you have an appreciation of the ancient cultures that’s something that is at the core of the understanding.»