Classical Essay Contest

2017 Contest Details

September 5th, 2016

Important changes for 2017: We will award two $250 awards to participating students. To apply for this award students must have achieved a Gold Medal on any level of the Classical Literacy Exam AND a Silver, or Gold Medal on the Classical Scholar’s Exam and have submitted a brief 250-500 word essay. The topic of the essay will be announced on March 1. Check back later for more details!

2016 Essay Results

September 5th, 2016

We are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s CLE Cash Awards.  To be eligible for this award students had to have achieved a Gold Medal on the CLE and submit an essay on the relevance of classical literacy in the modern age.

Elena Bonetti, Arlington Catholic High School, Boston, MA.

Allison Cong, Valley Christian High School, San Jose, CA.

Anna Wimmer, Classical Ravens, Albuquerque, NM

Julianne Cuevo, Flint Hill School, Oakton, VA.

Jocelyn Robertson, Classical Cottage School, Waterford, VA.

We received 23 essays from 13 schools, and each of these essays our judges deemed worthy of receiving the award.  While we thunderously congratulate the winners, we want also to express our hearty appreciation to each of the other 18 participants.  Optime factum omnibus!

Jocelyn Robertson of the Classical Cottage School in Virginia has given us permission to publish her winning essay:

“History never repeats itself, but it does rhyme.”  Could there be a better reason for studying the classics?  Often attributed to Mark Twain, this eight-word saying describes the relationship between past and present wonderfully.  Like two lines in a stanza of the poem of human life, ancient events and modern struggles are alike in their roots and course.  Though we no longer use swords and scrolls, we still fight wars and communicate.  We still argue about religious differences.  We still harbor grudges.   We are still driven by ambition.   What we share is our human nature.  This shared nature is the root of the similarities between past and present humanity’s actions.

These similarities are many in number and still pertinent today.  For example, just last week in Latin class, my teacher drew a comparison between the beginnings of Catiline’s conspiracy and the current presidential primaries.  Much like some candidates, Catiline was faced with being shut out from the position of power in the election for consul.  Catiline proceeded to plot the murder of the Senate, the assassination of the consuls, and the looting of the public treasury.  Ultimately, he was defeated by Cicero’s powerful oratory.   Would that we had such an eloquent orator as Cicero in our modern age!   Again, the connecting factor between times is our faulty human nature.  That is the reason these examples from the ancients are still pertinent in our vastly different culture.  The same human nature that prompted Catiline to plot the destruction of the Republic for his own gain is present in modern times.  By studying and examining the results of events in history caused by the same human nature, we can predict how individuals might play out events in the present.

While classical history shows how human nature plays itself out in events, classical literature reflects on human nature.  The theme of many myths is how flawed human nature leads to tragedy.  When Odysseus blinded the Cyclops, his hubris led him to reveal his real name, permitting Polyphemus to curse him and prolong his voyage home.  Icarus allowed his reckless nature to override his father’s instruction, leading to his death.  The immortals were not safe from the flaws of humanity either.  Indeed, in many ways the gods were manifestations of man’s faults.  Hera embodied jealousy; Dionysus, excess; Aphrodite, love and lust; Zeus, pride and reckless love; and Athena, a cold, calculating pride.  Authors through history as diverse as Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton have explored and elaborated on these themes from classical literature and mythology: hubris, reckless ambition, doomed love, family discord, etc…  If readers have a thorough background in classical literacy, they can use that background to more deeply realize the themes the author is exploring through classical allusions.

Classical literacy is a powerful tool throughout life, enabling us to more deeply understand human nature.  This deeper understanding allows us to make predictions based on knowledge of classical history and enjoy more fully literary works that contain classical allusions.