Society Spotlight: DU Classical Society

Grace Fannon discusses the society that you haven’t joined, but should wish you had

To many, classics may seem something of a niche field. A subject reserved for waist coat clad and pipe smoking spouters of ancient languages, all of whom probably went to Eton. But, Jared Miller, Auditor (Chairperson) of Trinity’s Classical Society, is neither waistcoat wearing nor pipe owning. Barring the fact that he does study Ancient Greek and Latin, he seems to be a normal Trinity student, albeit one that can describe the etymology of essentially any word you require. In any case, a knowledge of classical languages is in no way a prerequisite to society membership. 

Founded in 1905, the Classical Society is one of the older of Trinity’s societies, though by no means the most venerable. Although Miller isn’t aware of any record of the exact reasons behind the society’s origins, he does have his own “personal theory.” He proposes that in earlier eras, classics (meaning Ancient Greek and Latin) was central to higher education, and therefore there was less need for a specific society, considering that ancient languages were still the bedrock of a traditional university degree. As this changed, and course variety increased, classics became another sector in the field of humanities degrees. It was an area of more specified interest, and thus a society of like-minded people was formed at Trinity. Currently, the society has around 200 members, though this is usually a little higher in a ‘normal’ year. 

“Certain committee members have been known to dress up in Classically inspired costumes to draw in browsing first years.”

The Classical Society may not be one that most Freshers “set out” to join, like the Phil or the Hist, but they often end up attracting people at Fresher’s Fair who might not have originally thought of becoming members. Miller says: “At Fresher’s Fair, that’s where we get a lot of our members, because we really reach out to people and we’re very personable.” Certain committee members have been known to dress up in classically inspired costumes to draw in browsing first years. Miller assures that the Classical Society is for anyone with an interest in all things classical, from mythology and ancient history, to theatre and architecture. Although some members are part of the Classics Department, a large proportion are not. “The big thing is providing a space for people who like classics, and give them an outlet for that and someplace to celebrate it, especially people who don’t study it.”

Miller’s own origin story with the Classical Society began during Freshers Week in his first year at Trinity. He remembers buying a burrito at Mama’s Revenge, and not knowing anyone but a few classics people, decided to hover near the Classical Society stand while eating his lunch. “I just kind of ate it there standing up so I didn’t look alone.” Anyone who has survived the first few weeks of first year can understand the fear of an entire campus full of strangers, and the desire to latch onto the nearest familiar face. In his second year, Miller was elected as an OCM (Ordinary Committee Member), and then became Chairperson the year after. He hopes to continue being a member of committee in his final year, but most likely not as Chairperson.

“People are just walking around with their bedsheets flung around them until it’s their turn with the one person who knows how to tie it.”

The society holds “all kinds of classically inspired events”. They often host a version of Saturnalia, the Roman precursor of Christmas; and Lupercalia, a kind of Roman Valentine’s Day, though “not quite as wholesome” as the Valentine’s Day we now know, says Miller. Each year they hold their traditional toga party in collaboration with the Archaeological Society, where, surprisingly, all attendees must wear a toga. “A fun highlight of the evening is everyone realising they don’t know how to tie a toga, and there’s always – every year – one person who knows, and a queue kind of forms around them. People are just walking around with their bedsheets flung around them until it’s their turn with the one person who knows how to tie it.” They also organise typical society events like pub quizzes and guest speakers, and have a Classical/Archaeological Society ‘Imperial Ball’ each year. These past few years the ball has been held at Sam’s on Dawson Street, though this year that was possibly to be changed. Of course, the likelihood of the ball going ahead, at least in person, is slim.

This year has certainly posed unique challenges to all societies. “It’s been tough,” says Miller. “It’s been a much more draining year for the committee.” Organising events, and thinking of new ways to engage members, is difficult, and requires constant creativity. So far, however, the committee has certainly delivered with this creativity, hosting mythology groups, a classically inspired dress up party, quizzes and the society’s first ever art exhibition. Miller, himself an avid baker, hosted a honey cake cook-along earlier in the year. He has found that in this virtual landscape guest speaker events work well. There is even a silver lining in that it has been possible to invite speakers who wouldn’t have been able to come in person. For example, they welcomed a scholar from New York City who is currently researching the relationship between Irish legends and Homeric texts. Asked whether he and the committee feel fatigued at the prospect of another term of virtual society events, Miller replies, “I think there’s two sides of the coin; there’s definitely burn out around what we can do and exhaustion of ideas, but there’s also a feeling of less pressure. Essentially, like, ‘you know what, it’s a weird year, its Ok if we do more pub quizzes then we usually do, or do a stranger toga party than usual.’”

Overall, what Miller misses most about a regular year is the social aspect. “Because, although we do have events this year, the society is about seeing people and interacting with them in person, especially in relation to a love of classics.” It is clear from the kind of events they hold, that the aim of the Classical Society is to create a place where people can approach and celebrate classics in a fun, social way, and encourage all kinds of interest in the classical world.