‘Fun from the Classics’
Puzzling antiquity in The Boy’s Own Paper
in Pasts at play
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Even as the privileged status of Classics in education began to be questioned in the late nineteenth century, versions of Greco-Roman antiquity created for – and by – children proliferated. The Victorian press enabled some of children’s most sustained encounters with the past. As an article on ancient jokes in the Boy’s Own Paper recognised, ‘there are now countless writers who make the edification and amusement of boys their chief employment’, and antiquity was specially targeted for unconventional reinvention in periodicals.

This chapter examines how classical subject matter was exploited to exemplify the balance of entertaining, informative, and religious content to which children’s periodicals aspired. Latin classes were regularly mimicked and mocked in cartoons, stories and puzzles, while articles advertised the Classical Tripos at Girton to girls reading Atalanta, or explained ‘the advantages of a classical education’ in Boy’s Own.

In response to readers’ feedback, Boy’s Own during the 1880s and 1890s continually revisited the idea of ‘Classical fun’. Grammatical riddles and submitted anecdotes sat alongside anachronistic cartoons. Such interactive journalism reveals Classics as a powerful example of the fine balance between Victorian pedagogy and entertainment, as well as the inextricable entanglement of adult’s and children’s consumerism.

Pasts at play

Childhood encounters with history in British culture, 1750–1914

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