Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Anglican, the Atheist, and the Local Councillor


As the proposed redundancies in Classics at Royal Holloway tumble almost daily towards the zero mark, thus underlining the total pointlessness of the wounds inflicted on Royal Holloway’s collective psyche over the last seven months, it's time to take stock and offer thanks. Three staunch defenders of the previously beleaguered department particularly deserve our thanks this week. 

The Right Revd. John Saxbee
Allies can appear suddenly in unexpected guises, and on Wednesday night it was the turn of the distinguished Anglican  John Saxbee, former Bishop of Lincoln and one of the 26 Lords Spiritual in the UK Upper House. Saxbee was the Principal Paul Layzell’s guest at Royal Holloway Formal Hall. One of a large group of Classics undergraduates in attendance, finalist Matthew Hyder, gave me this account of the dinner:

‘During the course of a truly brilliant speech the Bishop struck a blow for the Save Classics group whilst recounting a story of his school days. He was telling us how he had been put in the bottom class of his school (2D) and drew an interesting parallel. “2D Latin class was the lowest of the low, sort of how Royal Holloway would have been if they had gotten rid of Classics.” This was met with almost incredulous silence, then a very well deserved round of applause whilst the Principal looked like a man unsure how to react.’ 

Lane Fox with Oliver Stone shooting Alexander

Just to show that Classical culture transcends all religious and spiritual divides, on Thursday the avowed Atheist, horseman, gardener and ancient historian Robin Lane Fox braved the M25 from Oxford to deliver a dazzling performance as the college’s annual Dabis Lecturer, a custom founded over a century ago in memory of Thérèse Dabis, one of the first Classics teachers at Royal Holloway. 

Comparing the role of Pericles, leader of Athens, with that of a modern vice-chancellor, Lane Fox proposed that what would have made Pericles a great leader anywhere and any time, including Egham in 2011, was not his charisma, nor that he habitually wore his helmet in public, nor even that he prized intelligence and stickability in women. It was his understanding of the importance of long-term planning, intensive consultation of all the citizens, a rigorous annual public scrutiny of his own performance, and vision of a beautiful, free community to which everyone wanted to give allegiance because it prized selflessness and the life of the mind. Quite.

Hugh Meares
The third hero of the week is Runnymede Conservative Councillor Hugh Meares, who sits on the College Council. He has supported Classics’ case since last September, when he turned up at the event Celebrating Classics at the Friends Meeting House at Euston, and listened to our arguments. On October 5th, he bravely put the case for Periclean values to the College Council, and has been hugely instrumental ever since in the department’s defence. As a graduate in the History and Philosophy of Science, Meares understands why ancient wisdom matters. I just want heartfelt thanks to all three gentlemen--the Anglican, the Atheist and the Runnymede Councillor--down on the public record.

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