The Power of Word by Boyd Tonkin

During my sixth-form years, I studied Ancient Greek for the first and last time. It played no part in my A-level curriculum. My school, a suburban academic hothouse that liked to show off the breadth and balance of its teaching at the same time as it delivered those all-important grades, insisted that senior pupils should taste a subject that had no direct relation to the pursuit of qualifications and certificates. Nonetheless, this high-minded gesture towards the value of a purely liberal education was - in my case, at least - not quite all it seemed.

The headmaster himself took our Greek class. Like many high-achieving teachers of his generation, he was a promising scholar who had risen, or fallen, into administration. A recreational return to the world of Euripedes, Plato and Herodotus transported him back, for an hour or two, to a blessed place remote from problem pupils, wayward staff, building plans and pushy parents. So, on the morning of our lessons, he would stride back to his study from the morning assembly with a spring in his step. Our band of volunteer classicists would be sitting outside. 'Come along, my Grecians,' he would almost sing, as we followed him into the inner sanctum for a mind-expanding dip into antiquity.

I never learned all that much of the language. After all, I knew I need not try too hard. No tests or exams lay at the end of our ancient way: that was the point. Yet we did work from a book that consisted of easy-access extracts from canonical works, mostly drama and history - with a little light philosophy.