Bright future for classics at ANU, says Schmidt

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AN OPTIMISTIC note was struck yesterday at the ANU Classics Museum when Vice Chancellor-designate Professor Brian Schmidt predicted a bright future for double degrees in science and arts at the University.

Professor Schmidt last night
Professor Schmidt last night

Professor Schmidt was on hand to launch the new Centre for Classical Studies at the ANU, formed out of the Classics and Ancient History program.

While some of the senior academics who introduced him echoed Cicero’s fears that the enemy might be at the gates —in regard to future support, that is — the Nobel Laureate professor promised that under his watch, the humanities would get a fair go.

Looking back on his own education at a school in Montana, USA, he said, he had very much benefited from the study, in translation, of classics like The Iliad, The Odyssey and the Attic comedies – he had found the tragedies too depressing.

An historical look at the world of learning revealed a profound debt to the civilisations of ancient Greece and Rome, he said, with Archimedes, as an exemplar of Greco-Roman rationalism topping the charts as his favourite scientist, closely followed by Pythagoras as the trailblazer in mathematics and Plato coming third and last for having thoroughly confused him.

After a brief rundown on cosmological calculations from which Ptolemy came off better than Copernicus, Professor Schmidt expressed regret that a trend toward downplaying the humanities in the present day had meant his own children had not enjoyed the same opportunities as he once had.

He noted  that the classics had been taught at the ANU since the 1950s, and  said he could see a very important role for the new Centre for Classical Studies and that “double degrees in science and classics and arts will be in my mind in January [when he takes over as Vice Chancellor].”

Times might be tough, Prof Schmidt said, but “We are an institution that provides people with a platform for life.”

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