By Tristan Craig
At the high school I attended, Classical Studies was certainly not on the curriculum. In fact – and I’m somewhat ashamed to admit this – I didn’t actually take History beyond my first year; the allure of igneous rock and a week in the Swiss alps (via a 56-hour round coach trip) was seemingly too great, so I opted for Geography. Although I had some experience studying the likes of Socrates and Plato against the backdrop of The Truman Show during Higher Philosophy, I had no framing beyond that. The term ‘Classics’ hadn’t entered my vocabulary. It wouldn’t be until I began studying on the university’s Access Programme in 2018 that I would have my first real exposure to the ancient world, or least the Graeco-Roman one, and a brief introduction to the writing of Herodotus, Suetonius and Virgil. It was enough to convince me that a degree in Ancient and Medieval History was the route I wanted to go down and the rest, as they say, is history.
However, soon after entering this new world of academia and ancient history, I became closely acquainted with the term “imposter syndrome”. As an undergraduate student in their late twenties with limited exposure to history as a discipline, beyond Eyewitness Guides and the Horrible Histories books, I found myself trying to navigate a world that was rich and fascinating, but one that was entirely new to me. In fact, I was more concerned about being “outed” as a fraud, as someone unworthy of their place on their degree programme, than I was actually coping with the workload itself. I’m a first-generation university student who’s worked as everything from stockroom assistant, to barista, to florist and at times I found myself asking: is Classics really for me? I could put together a perfectly adequate thistle buttonhole, but I didn’t know my sestertius from my Septimius Severus.
Thankfully, it didn’t take me too long to find the answer to that question. Yes, Classics is for me. It’s for anyone. There is no one way to be a Classical Studies student, just as there is no right time to go to university. I’m a man of material culture, of coins and curios, and it’s the study of tangible ‘things’ that excites me more than anything else – more so than the linguistic and literary focus of straight Classics (Tacitus’ Agricola notwithstanding) – but that wasn’t an overnight realisation. I used to envy students who had it all mapped out before they had even begun high school and a degree by the age of 22. However, life isn’t always as linear as that, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As a 29-year-old trans man, I’m still very much on my Odyssean journey of self-realisation, but I’m grateful to have found my little nook, in sculptures, seals and, indeed, sestertii.
So my advice? Don’t let yourself hold you back. There’s a lot we can’t change regarding our circumstances, and we all have very different backgrounds and very different levels of prior knowledge, but that does not equate to your worth. If we’re going to ensure that the study of the classical world not only survives for years to come but really thrives, in a way that is both relevant and meaningful, it’s us that needs to make that happen. And I want to be a part of that.