Recently I was reminded about the strange circumstances that led to my being an Ancient Historian. The University of Nottingham Classics Department ran a Twitter hashtag #itsaclassic, which asked people to post a picture of a book, person, or site that influenced them to study Classics. As you can imagine there were lots of things about reading myths as a child, or historical fiction, and the like. I’m sure there are more than a few current undergrads who were influenced by movies like Troy, Gladiator, and 300.
I was never influenced like that. Growing up I intended to go to art school and be a painter. My last two years at school were all geared up for this. For various reasons that mainly had to do with being caught out in a year where government mandated admissions requirements were changed, I repeated the last year of school to boost my overall mark (what was then in Victoria called an ENTER score). One of the subjects I took was Classical Civilisation. It fit into my timetable, sounded interesting enough, and was weighted up. We studied Iliad 22, Trojan Women, and something political that I (embarrassingly perhaps) can’t remember.
At the end of the year, as I was putting my folio together I added a Bachelor of Arts at Monash University to my application. I had been to the open day to look at their Fine Art programs. I met Jane Griffiths, who was the convener of the Classical Studies program there. But my first choice was the Drawing program at the Victorian College of the Arts, and because of the way admissions to art schools work I ended up getting two offers. One from Monash, and one from the Drawing program at VCA. I had thought about this happening and decided that I would obviously go to VCA. I filled out the program acceptance form, but I didn’t post it. I don’t know why I didn’t, but the more I considered it the less sure I felt.
I reached the deadline, and I still couldn’t decide.
I flipped a coin.
I flipped a coin and twelve years later I have a PhD in Classics and I live in London.
I flipped a coin and I constantly wonder what would have happened to me if I had flipped differently. If I had posted that form.
I still have the form. Filled out. Sealed in an envelope. A parallel life that might have been mine.
This was a very strange post for me to write, and I considered not posting it because of the impression that it might give about my dedication to Ancient History. Which is nonsense, of course. Regardless of a person's original motivation for choosing a subject at high-school, or even at undergraduate level, you do not go on to do a Master's and a PhD in a subject you are not committed to pursuing.
In a way, I was more worried about the impression that the end of this post might send. That I long for that 'other life' or that I feel I made the wrong choice. I do not. To both. Keeping that envelope is a part of who I am. It represents passion, longing, gain, loss, love. All the things that are also represented in the other bits of paper, envelopes, drawings, found objects that I have kept over the years.
Unrelated to that, please note that the Australian twenty-cent piece (pictured above) is the best coin to flip in any given coin-flipping circumstance.
While in Australia over Christmas I pulled the acceptance letter out its box to take a look. I hadn't looked at it in a (very) long time. It was strange how detached I felt from it - I am a different person now, really. Not an artist, but an ancient historian. Perhaps writing this post has allowed me to let go of that alternative life?