Glasgow students to revive university’s historic Latin contest

Hirushi Wickramaratne and Charles Figes at the seat ahead of the Cowan Blackstone competition. Picture: John Devlin
Hirushi Wickramaratne and Charles Figes at the seat ahead of the Cowan Blackstone competition. Picture: John Devlin
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Students at Glasgow University are to take part in an ancient Mastermind-style head-to-head competition for the first time in decades - which will see them sit on an historic chair and answer questions about Latin.

The tradition of the Blackstone chair dates back to 1839, when the Cowan Blackstone Medal - a voluntary public oral competition on Latin texts - began at the academic institution.

This year, for the first time in many years, multiple students have put themselves forward for the prize. Students Charles Figes and Hirushi Wickramaratne will take part in the ancient competition, with the best entrant awarded the medal.

Only students who have studied Latin at the university for just two years are eligible for the competition, which will see them answer a series of questions on Latin texts set by University academics in the presence of their lecturers and fellow students.

Professor of Latin Costas Panayotakis, who is organising the event, said: “It is quite daunting to volunteer and be tested in this way, especially if you bear in mind that the students are doing this on top of everything else they are studying at University.”

He added: “Having two students taking part this year shows how enthusiastic they are about the subject. It is exciting to see this and a fantastic opportunity for them to have fun with a subject they really love; at the same time they honour and continue the long-standing tradition of the Blackstone Chair competition.”

The three judges for the competition are Professor Panayotakis, Professor Catherine Steel, Professor of Classics; and Dr Adrastos Omissi, Lecturer in Latin Literature.

The students will be tested in extracts from Ovid’s epic poem Metamorphoses Book 3 and from Cicero’s treatise De Senectute (‘On Old Age’).

Professor Panayotakis added: “Latin offers much more than the detailed study of grammar and syntax. Yes, it is the mother of many modern languages. But it is also the gateway to a hugely important historical period that was highly influential in the shaping of the Western civilisation, as we have it. Latin connects us directly with an astonishingly rich culture and with remarkable people, who were surprisingly modern in their thinking.

“These societies can still teach us a lot about people (us) and life (our life), about art and architecture, politics and philosophy, literature and culture, sexuality and gender, class and social identity.”

The last recipient to be awarded the Cowan Blackstone Medal was in 2015.