Return to the Academy

The Sterna family are just back from a holiday at the Hay Festival. This is a wonderful event with a very diverse range of speakers, in fact it was impossible to see everything that interested me. One of events I missed was Bettany Hughes talking about her book The Hemlock Cup, which is about Socrates and his city of Athens, though I have listened to excerpts of the book on Radio 4. However, the subject of the talk led me to think that the festival itself could be considered as a modern form of Plato’s Academy, where problems are posed and discussed in a group of like-minded people. Though of course unlike Plato’s academy, all events were open to the public, even non-geometers (famously above the door to the Academy a Greek phrase ‘let none but geometers enter here’ was inscribed).

However, the concept that discussion of ideas, culture, nature, and the rest of the world can revitalise and refresh is central to the festival (along perhaps with selling books).The natural environment also helps, with beautiful green countryside all around. Sometimes it felt like wandering back in time to a lost world, or at least one I hadn’t thought existed anymore. And then along came the next talk on the secret mathematicians (Marcus du Sautoy),secular philosophy (A.C. Grayling), the smartness of the corvids (Nicky Clayton), the process of aging (Lewis Wolpert) or even the biography of the Ordnance Survey (Rachel Hewitt)  to bring us back to earth.

My other personal highlight was Dara O’Briain, surely one of the funniest people around today? I last saw him many years ago as a student, and now here he is talking about how old he feels when he’s talking to students and the problems of young parenthood. Dara – we’ve grown up together…

There is much more to be written about the festival, which is held every year in the small village of Hay – On- Wye that straddles the English/Welsh border, but frankly, it’s all been said before and like the Academy probably much more interesting to attend than hear about. See you next year.

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