‘Classical Creativity: How My Classical Civilisation Degree Inspired My Art’ By Izzie Heis

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I graduated from the University of Birmingham this July, aged twenty-one. With an undergraduate English and Classical Civilisation and Literature degree in hand, I turn to the world and I plan my next adventure in museum work.

But picture me a seventeen-year-old school student, sitting in one of several UCAS meetings in which I shyly told my supervisor that I had a dilemma. My explanation of my dilemma would have gone something like this: I love classics. I’m good at it, and I’m fascinated by the subject matter. But there’s so many dates to remember, and so many names, and some days I just hate the fact that Alexander the Great bought his horse, Bucephalus, for thirteen talents and other such impractical facts have been engraved into my brain as a result of my A-Level course. Now, I was looking at a list of university courses, and I saw this: Creative Writing. I have been writing stories, and poems and plays since I was five. It is what I spend almost all my free time doing. I could get a qualification, an actual degree, in something that’s recreational to me; that’s really cool, right?

My supervisor gave my teenage self the advice that I’m sure many of you would have given me. And that advice was that creative writing was something that I could continue as a hobby, I could get good at it through reading and writing, and practicing. But if I didn’t do classics, I’d probably never get a chance to learn more about it again.

What happened next is something that I had never anticipated. I followed her advice, pursuing a classics pathway and continuing to write, predominantly poetry, on the side. But as I continued to fall in love with Homer, with Virgil, with Euripides, the content from my degree slowly began to bleed into my art. Almost all of the poetry I now wrote was directly inspired by classics, and, consequently, it had evolved to become different and more mature than anything I had written before. Just last week, I plucked up the courage to read out a poem I wrote about Sappho at a virtual poetry reading to over one hundred people. The responses I received from the attendees as to my blend of classical illusion and modern poetry were far more enthusiastic than I had ever hoped.

Similarly, I allowed my passion for poetry to blend into my degree. For my assessment on my Suffering Sappho! module, I used my knowledge of poetry to analyse specific translations of Sappho and the techniques with which they engaged. As a result, I received the highest grade of my degree, a feat at which I was beyond delighted. For me, classics is not just a subject to passively read from textbooks, to idly study, but an all-encompassing fascination that bled into the world around me.

So, the message I leave you with is that sometimes, you simply don’t have to choose. If your interests are varied, this isn’t an embarrassment, an annoyance, as my seventeen-year-old self deemed it to be. It is a strength. All you have to do is find the right way to frame it. Thank you all so much for reading.



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