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Meanders: Natasha Hershaw

I came to Classics almost entirely by chance.

It was 2007 and I was starting my first year at Sixth Form. I’d decided to take French, Maths, and History, and needed one more subject. I knew that I didn’t want to take anything that had lessons in the first period (a girl needs her lie-ins, after all) and I was left with two options: Chemistry or Classical Civilisation.

I never made it to Chemistry.

From my very first ClassCiv lesson I was swept away by my teacher’s enthusiasm and the brilliant, brilliant stories we read. I’d grown up near the Roman sites at Virocomium/Wroxeter and Deva/Chester and struggled to connect with the history side of the subject - but after spending two years studying four tragedies, three comedies, and two epics, I was hooked.

Golden, amphora-shaped earrings by Plato's Fire.
Chemistry's loss is very much our gain.

I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to study at university, so off I went.

I won’t lie: it was horrific. It was naive of me to think that it would be a breeze to study two ancient languages ab initio alongside students who’d begun learning them almost a decade before I had. I began skipping seminars out of embarrassment, was too intimidated to seek help directly from my professors, and generally made life even more difficult for myself than it should have been.

I struggled through and after graduating (still my proudest achievement!) I sold all my textbooks. Good riddance, Shelmerdine. I busied myself with moving to the west of Scotland and back again, trying to earn enough money to pay rent and claw my way out of my overdraft. I freelanced for a bit. I got a job. I started making jewellery. I sold enough of it to become self-employed.

And then the pandemic hit.

Like a lot of us, I imagine, I sought the familiar. I don’t know what it was that made me decide to turn to Greek again, at my own pace this time, away from a classroom full of clever, confident people, but I found myself buying a copy of Greek to GCSE and relished the small routine of sitting down for an hour a day to conjugate, read, and translate.

Things snowballed from there. I began rebuilding the collection of texts that I’d sold after graduating and started to explore aspects of the subject that I’d avoided in favour of literature (still my favourite). I bought a battered second-hand copy of Woodford’s Introduction to Greek Art and thought: wait a minute. These pots would make killer jewellery.

I spent the majority of the lockdown(s) learning new techniques, experimenting, designing, refining and working out what I really wanted to do with this kernel of an idea. And in February this year, I launched Plato’s Fire.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting much. I still can’t quite get over the reception I received. I’m constantly amazed by the open, diverse, and truly welcoming Classics community I’ve stumbled into online, and I wish I could have known so many people like me existed back when I was struggling at university. But we’re all here now. And I’m so, so grateful.

It’s strange to wonder what my life might have been like if I’d chosen Chemistry instead of Classics all those years ago, but I like to think that I still would have found my way to the subject and the community in some form or another. Maybe whilst wearing a lab coat.

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