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15.2.11

A rare breed- the ancient greek in Australia



Neos Kosmos spoke to the long standing Australian, classical language teacher Michael Smee


7 Feb 2011

John-Paul Hussey
Ancient Greek is about as different to Modern Greek as Latin is to Modern Italian," said Classical Language teacher Michael Smee to Neos Kosmos.
It's been a few thousand years since both of these languages were spoken by the ordinary person on the street. What is extraordinary is that these two languages still remain, within the world's imagination and are proof enough of their longstanding influence.
Smee is from the University of Sydney, but has been teaching Classical Languages for as long as this journalist has been drawing breath.


"Ive been teaching since 1968, mainly in schools. Technically, I suppose, I'm retired from my main job which was as headmaster at Newington College," said Smee.
"Before that I was head of an Anglican boys School in South Australia for ten years, so that accounts for about twenty years of my career." Smee's own education is impressive with an Oxbridge-like trajectory reminiscent of a character in an Evelyn Waugh novel.
It therefore doesn't take much prompting to acknowledge that Smee is indeed a rare breed, considering he is not only fluent in both these ancient languages but also having taught them for so long.
"It would appear so," laughed Smee at notion of being considered a 'rare breed', but added with a practical note, "at the moment I'm back in full time work at a school in Sydney, just for a term, because they found it so hard to find a teacher who taught Latin."
For the last five years Smee has been tutoring at Sydney University and explained he found the transition from teaching young people to mature age students to be thankfully easy.
It has also been a source of personal bemusement and pleasure to him that there are people still out there interested in engaging in such specialised studies. These types of students Smee believes, "fall into three, perhaps four categories.
There are those who have theological interests who want to read the New Testament in Ancient Greek and those who did Latin or Ancient Greek at school and want to return to it.
Then there is an increasing number of students who speak Modern Greek and want to dig deeper into their own heritage. The fourth are retirees and want to take on something "intellectually demanding".
The age range is not what you think either, that is, the typical 40 years and over bracket. "Not at all, they can be anywhere from their 20s to their 60s," said Smee enthusiastically.
Smee course is now open for enrolement under: 'Classical Greek Courses & Classes' at


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