Classics in Nigeria

A glimpse from the Nigerian Tribune:

The relevance of Homer’s works to Africa was the focus at the Fourth Biennial Constantine Leventis Memorial Lecture, which was organised by the Classical Association of Nigeria, in collaboration with the Department of Classics, University of Ibadan, last week. Adewale Oshodi reports on the lecture, which highlighted similarities between the ancient Greek and Roman cultures and that of Africa.

Is the study of Classics still relevant today? This is the question that made the Classical Association of Nigeria, in collaboration with the Department of Classics, University of Ibadan, to bring in Professor Michael Lambert of the University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, to speak during the Fourth Biennial Constantine Leventis Memorial Lecture at the Conference Centre, UI, last week.

The fact that the premier university is the only institution still offering Classics as a course tells a lot – either that the course is no longer relevant to modern day living, or Nigerians can’t simply apply it to their advantage.

However, a prominent business executive and graduate of Classics, Dr Gamaliel Onosode (OFR), believes the foundation of education itself has its roots in the study of Classics.

Dr Onosode, who was the chairman on the occasion, said Classics had made great contributions to the development of the country through its graduates. Citing people like the late Chief Bola Ige, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Ambassador JTF Iyalla, among others, Dr Onosode said the study of Classics definitely had a great impact on these lives, while calling on government to reappraise its stand on the study of Classics.

“If today, we can only find a Classics department at the University of Ibadan, then there must be something not right, or something seriously wrong with the nation in absorbing Classics in its education system”, Dr Onosode said, while admitting he had no regret he studied Classics.

In his submission, the Dean, Faculty of Arts, Professor Remi Raji-Oyelade, believes the study of Classics is relevant today as it was in the past. Professor Raji-Oyelade, who was represented by the Head, Department of Communication and Language Arts, Dr Ayo Ojebode, said at this period of global economic upheavals, it was important we went back to learn from the ancients, especially on how they also survived turbulent periods similar to the one the world is experiencing at the moment.

In the lecture entitled, Why Read Homer in Africa?, Professor Lambert highlighted the similarities in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures with that of the African culture.

“Through Homer, we can actually discover ourselves; since there are similarities of cultural values between Africans and the Greeks and Romans, then Homer’s works can solve some of the problems we are facing on the continent.

“Homer’s works deal with relationships, sexuality, compassion, rule of law, xenophobia, interaction, among others, and these are issues we are facing in Africa”, Professor Lambert said.

While also highlighting the similarity between the Greek and African culture, a former HOD of Classics, Professor Folake Onayemi, cited the work of Homer, Iliad 22. Ibid, 353, which reads: “Hektor, my child, respond to this and have pity on me, if ever I gave the breast to soothe your trouble…”, saying the passage reveals a common act among African women who use their breasts to appeal to their children on certain issues.

Therefore, from the submissions of the various speakers, it is clear that the study of Classics is still relevant in today’s world, and this is what the secondary school students who attended the lecture took away with them.

Earlier, the longest serving HOD of Classics, Professor James Ilevbare, had commended the support the Leventis Foundation had rendered the department in the past, and are still rendering.

“The Leventis Foundation has, in no small measure, been supporting the Classics department through the donation of books, award of undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships, as well as in the area of academic support for teaching staff.

“For more than 25 years, we have enjoyed all these from the Leventis Foundation, and we hope this will continue”, Professor Ilevbare said.

In her remarks, the current HOD, Dr Olakunbi Olasope, thanked the Leventis Foundation for its continued support for the department, saying it was definitely going a long way in sustaining the quality and standard of the department.

The lecture was attended by academics, students and officials of the Leventis Foundation in Nigeria.

FWIW, I’m often struck by how many articles my spiders bring back from Nigerian (and Ghanaian) newspapers which have passing Classical references in them … the sorts of things you couldn’t really just drop into, say, a Canadian newspaper and expect people to get the reference.

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