Monday, May 27, 2013

An Interview with a Classics Lecturer

My friend James recently did a short interview for a website about being a Latin Lecturer; here are some of his answers:

What is it about your field that is fascinating to you?

Reading ancient Roman literature is so thrilling to me because it is a way of communicating with people from the past. It is exciting to hear those ancient voices, and important too, since they wrestled with many of the same political and philosophical problems that we still do today.

What is it about the classics that means people still take the subject?

If people are interested in ancient history, archaeology, the history of literature, or Christian theology, then a grounding in Latin and Greek is important. But I also teach a popular course in Boston called 'The World of Rome' for students who have no prior experience in studying the ancient world, on day-to-day life in ancient Rome. Most of my students will go on to major in science or engineering or economics, yet they also love being immersed for a time in a world so different from their own. How did Romans protect themselves from malaria? What kind of insurance did Romans have? What were Roman views on educating women? These are some of the questions my students had this semester, and they all raise fascinating issues.

Do you encounter many people who think classics is not a worthwhile pursuit? How do you respond to them?

Classics is important not simply because it helps you to understand the origins of our language and culture. It also challenges you to understand the ideas and values of people distant from yourself, whom you will never get a chance to meet face-to-face. That kind of empathy and imagination is truly valuable in the 21st century world.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Comprehensive Compounds

In putting together a bit of a vocab list for Livy V, I noticed that Livy uses each of the following compounds of fero, ferre, tuli, latus in various forms at some point in the book:
  • affero: to bring to, report, announce
  • aufero: to take away, remove, steal
  • circumfero: to carry around, spread around, divulge
  • confero: to bring together, collect, discuss
  • defero: to carry down, transfer,
  • differo: to postone, delay, put off, scatter, disperse
  • infero: to bring in, carry in, import
  • offero: to offer, present
  • perfero: to carry through, endure, suffer
  • refero: to bring back, withdraw, return, report
  • suffero: to bear, endure, suffer
  • transfero: to transport, convey, carry across
In my cursory examination I couldn't find an example of effero, so he doesn't quite use every possible compound, but it seems like a pretty comprehensive list all the same. Are there any other compounds of fero which he hasn't used, and which haven't occurred to me?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Ambiguity of the Death of Turnus

My year 12 class have recently done an exam on Aeneid XII; to help them learn from the experience I wrote a sample answer to the extended response question I posed them. Any comments are, as always, welcome. I know the ending of the Aeneid has the potential to cause heated debate, so feel free to let me know if you think I've got it completely wrong.

'utere sorte tua. miseri te si qua parentis
tangere cura potest, oro (fuit et tibi talis
Anchises genitor) Dauni miserere senectae
et me, seu corpus spoliatum lumine mavis,                           935
redde meis. vicisti et victum tendere palmas
Ausonii videre; tua est Lavinia coniunx,
ulterius ne tende odiis.' stetit acer in armis
Aeneas volvens oculos dextramque repressit;
et iam iamque magis cunctantem flectere sermo                940
coeperat, infelix umero cum apparuit alto
balteus et notis fulserunt cingula bullis
Pallantis pueri, victum quem vulnere Turnus
straverat atque umeris inimicum insigne gerebat.
ille, oculis postquam saevi monimenta doloris                      945
exuviasque hausit, furiis accensus et ira
terribilis: 'tune hinc spoliis indute meorum
eripiare mihi? Pallas te hoc vulnere, Pallas
immolat et poenam scelerato ex sanguine sumit.'

“A difficult, complex, allusive, challenging end” (Horsefall, p.195)

Analyse how Virgil’s language and characterisation of Aeneas and Turnus contributes to the ambiguity of his poem’s ending.

In the final lines of the Aeneid, we see what appears to be a dramatic role reversal in the characters of Virgil’s two heroes. The out of control Turnus, now seems calm and collected in the face of his impending death, whereas piusAeneas seems to give in to the feelings of rage and grief which surge within him, showing the same excess of passion and lack of restraint which is condemned in both Dido and Turnus. This apparent reversal contributes to the poem's somewhat ambiguous ending, and forces the reader to carefully consider whether Aeneas’ final act can be justified within the moral framework of the Aeneid.

It is perhaps in Turnus that the more striking change occurs. Virgil gives him a nobility largely absent from his portrayal in Book XII, which comes primarily from his acceptance of his impending death. His acknowledgement of Aeneas’ victory is total, and conveyed through the polyptoton of vicisti et victumvidere (emphasised by alliteration), his renunciation of Lavinia (tua est Lavinia coniunx) and the way he calmly refers to his own death in grand-sounding language (corpus spoliatum lumine). Although he pleads with Aeneas (oro, miserere), he does not protest about his actual death, and Virgil gives his pleas a humble rather than desperate, tone through the use of elevated, poetic language, such as the framing of miserere by Dauni… senectae or the use of the poetic word genitor (rather than the more prosaic pater).

Moreover Turnus’ pleas reveal not just a calm acceptance of death, but a selfless concern for his father (cura… parentis, Dauni miserere senectae). This display of pietas, the virtue more usually associated with Aeneas, is surprising, but reinforces the nobility of Turnus, portraying him in a more sympathetic light. In a similar way we are surprised to find Turnus, the wounded lion, the out of control boulder, the bellowing bull, urging restraint upon Aeneas, advising him not to stretch his hatred any further (ulterius ne tende odiis). Like pietas, self-control or moderation was an important Roman value, and so Virgil’s choice to end Turnus’ speech in this way is significant, suggesting that he wanted his Roman audience to feel respect and even admiration for Turnus at this point of the narrative. The sympathy for Turnus which Virgil arouses in his readers through portraying his nobility and virtue is thus a prime source of the ambiguity we feel over his imminent death.

Aeneas on the other hand, appears in a much more negative light. Virgil associates him with words and images of intense grief and anger. At first he is merely fierce (acer), but as his attention is drawn to the stolen sword-belt of Pallas, Virgil describes him (or more accurately his grief) as savage (saevi), enflamed with madness (furiis accensus) and terrible in anger (ira terribilis). This is the kind of language more typically used of Turnus and even Dido to show their excess of emotion and lack of self-control. The image of fire (accensus) in particular suggests that Aeneas’ rage is burning beyond his control and that he is not behaving in a way consistent with the Roman ideals revealed to him by his father Anchises in the Underworld (Book VI). Aeneas’ killing of Turnus also requires a rejection of Turnus’ appeal to his pietas and the memory of Anchises himself (fuit… Anchises genitor), showing the extent of the change in Aeneas’ character.

Aeneas’ brief speech at the end of the extract also strengthens this impression. The outrage of his rhetorical question (tune… eripiare mihi?), the repetition of Pallas’ name, the framing of the final line with the violent verbs of sacrifice (immolat… sumit), and the hissing sound created by the ‘s’ alliteration in scelerato ex sanguine sumit all combine to create a speech seething with anger and rage, again suggesting to the reader that Aeneas goes too far in killing Turnus, contributing to the ambiguity of the poem’s ending.

And so it is clear that Virgil wants his readers to feel some sympathy for Turnus at the end of his life, and portrays Aeneas in a way which emphasises his anger. However it is not solely the fact of Aeneas’ anger which creates ambiguity; the ambiguity comes from the ghost of Pallas which haunts these lines. Virgil’s decision to make the belt of Pallas (infelix… balteus) the catalyst for the death of Turnus reminds us of the duty he owes to Evander and his dead son Pallas, and makes us ask whether the rage of Aeneas, intense and overwhelming as it is, is perhaps justified. Aeneas’ must choose between two loyalties; honouring Daunus and the memory of Anchises, by sparing Turnus’ life, or honouring Evander and the memory of Pallas by taking it. This choice is perhaps embodied in line 943, which is framed by Pallantis pueri at the start and by Turnus at the end. The ambiguity comes from Virgil’s characterisation and surprising role-reversal of both Turnus and Aeneas, but also from the conflicting loyalties felt by Aeneas, from the unanswerable question of whether his rage is ultimately justified, and from the knowledge that either choice is, in the end, fundamentally compromised.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

Centre for Latin Studies, Beijing

I sometimes half-jokingly tell people who ask me about being a Latin teacher that it's a growth industry. While Latin teaching is a small field, and student numbers are not likely to explode overnight, it's true to say that the study of the classics is having something of a revival, and that there is a wealth of opportunities for young teachers.
Nevertheless I was surprised to hear about the recent establishment of the Centre for Latin Language and Culture in Beijing of all places. It turns out some of the first Europeans in China were Jesuit missionaries, who recorded their thoughts and observations in Latin, much of which is both unpublished and untranslated (as far as I can tell).
Here's a bit of information about the centre (taken from this document, which is worth looking at for some of the pictures alone):

"Latinitas Sinica" (Centre for Latin Language and Culture in China) is the name of a study centre established at the prestigious Beijing Foreign Studies University, the Chinese university specialized in foreign languages and cultures and officially opened on June 15th, 2012...
The reason why the Sinology Center has a particular interest in Latin is due to the historical fact that much of the Western material about China, at least until the end of 18th century, was written in Latin.

In the last years some very significant Master and Doctoral Dissertations discussed at the Sinology Center were based on original material – often unpublished manuscripts – written in Latin.

Michele Ruggieri, Matteo Ricci, Philippe Couplet and innumerable other early sinologists wrote about China in Latin.

As the Sinology centre aims at a thorough knowledge of Western studies about China, it cannot neglect the vast amount of historical material produced in Latin.

For this it was necessary to have students and scholars specialized in, or at least familiar with, this language...

Latinitas Sinica is a specialized institution dedicated to the study and promotion of Latin Language in China by:
  • Supporting the learning and teaching of Latin Language in China;
  • Promoting research in China in the field of Latin Language and Culture;
  • Researching the area of Latin Sinology;
  • Researching the area of Early Latin to Chinese Translations;
  • Offering to Chinese society various services related to Latin Language and Culture, being a reference for institutions around the world interested in Latin Language in China;
  • Publishing every year an issue of a "Journal of Latin Studies in China".

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dido and Anna, Turnus and Juturna

Some notes from R.D. Williams on Aeneid XII.843f., interspersed with the relevant passages and translations. For more on the links between Dido and Turnus, I quite like this essay: Chaotic Passions; Turnus and Femininity in the Aeneid. It includes a chapter on both Dido and Juturna.

We are powerfully reminded of the scene in Aeneid 4 where Dido, another tragic victim of the events of the poem, visits her dead husband’s grave and is terrified by omens, voices and the hooting of owls by night

XII        postquam acies videt Iliacas atque agmina Turni,
alitis in parvae subitam collecta figuram,
quae quondam in bustis aut culminibus desertis
nocte sedens serum canit importuna per umbras—
hanc versa in faciem Turni se pestis ob ora               865
fertque refertque sonans clipeumque everberat alis.

When she sees the Trojan battle-lines and the troops of Turnus the Fury, changed suddenly into the form of that small bird which, sitting late at night on tombs and deserted buildings, often sings her ill-omened songs through the shadows - changed into this shape the fiend throws herself again and again into the face of Turnus, shrieking and beating upon his shield with her wings. 
IV         praeterea fuit in tectis de marmore templum
coniugis antiqui, miro quod honore colebat,
velleribus niveis et festa fronde revinctum:
hinc exaudirivuoces et verba vocantis                       460
visa viri, nox cum terras obscura teneret,
solaque culminibus ferali carmine bubo
saepe queri et longas in fletum ducere voces;
And furthermore, there was in her palace a marble chapel, sacred to her first husband, which she venerated with utmost love, keeping it decorated with snowy fleeces and festal greenery. Now from this chapel when night held the world in darkness she thought that she distinctly heard cries, as of her husband calling to her. And often on a rooftop a lonely owl would sound her deathly lamentation, drawing out her notes into a long wail.

There are other deliberate reminiscences of the story of Dido; Juturna’s position as a sister who cannot help is similar to that of Anna, and the repetition (871) of the line describing Anna’s grief (4.673) takes the thoughts back to that other tragedy.
XII        At procul ut Dirae stridorem agnovit et alas,
infelix crinis scindit Iuturna solutos                            870
unguibus ora soror foedans et pectora pugnis:

But when ill-fated Juturna, his sister, recognised the sound of the Fury's wings she tore at her untied hair, marring her cheeks with her fingernails and bruising her breast with her fists.
IV         audiit exanimis trepidoque exterrita cursu
unguibus ora soror foedans et pectora pugnis
per medios ruit, ac morientem nomine clamat:
'hoc illud, germana, fuit? me fraude petebas?          675
hoc rogus iste mihi, hoc ignes araeque parabant?
Her sister heard [the sounds of mourning] and the breath left her. Marring her cheeks with her fingernails and bruising her breast with her fists she dashed in frightened haste through the crowds, found Dido at the very point of death, and cried out to her: “O sister, so this was the truth? You planned to deceive me! Was this what your pyre, your altars and the fires were to mean for me?”
The complaint of Juturna that she cannot accompany her brother in death (880-1) recalls Anna’s words to Dido;
XII        quo vitam dedit aeternam? cur mortis adempta est
condicio? possem tantos finire dolores                      880
nunc certe, et misero fratri comes ire per umbras!
immortalis ego? aut quicquam mihi dulce meorum
te sine, frater, erit? o quae satis ima dehiscat
terra mihi, Manisque deam demittat ad imos?'
Why did Jupiter grant me eternal life? Why was the possibility of death stolen from me? Now indeed I would be able to put an end to such great suffering and to accompany my poor brother through the shadows! Why am I immortal? How will any part of my life be sweet without you, my brother? O what earth will gape wide enough to swallow me and to send me down to the deepest Shades?' 
IV         his etiam struxi manibus patriosque vocavi               680
voce deos, sic te ut posita, crudelis, abessem?
exstinxti te meque, soror, populumque patresque
Sidonios urbemque tuam. date, vulnera lymphis
abluam et, extremus si quis super halitus errat,
ore legam.'                                                                 685
“With these hands I built your pyre and cried aloud upon our ancestral gods, only to be cruelly separated from you as you lay in death! Sister you have destroyed my life with your own, and the lives of our people and Sidon’s nobility, and your whole city too. Come, let me see your wounds – I must wash them clean with water, and gather with my own lips any last hovering breath.”
and her wish to be swallowed up in the depths of the earth (883) is reminiscent of Dido’s words in 4.24f.
IV         Anna (fatebor enim) miseri post fata Sychaei           20
coniugis et sparsos fraterna caede penatis
solus hic inflexit sensus animumque labantem
impulit. agnosco veteris vestigia flammae.
sed mihi vel tellus optem prius ima dehiscat
vel pater omnipotens adigat me fulmine ad umbras,25
pallentis umbras Erebo noctemque profundam,
ante, pudor, quam te violo aut tua iura resolvo.
“Yes, Anna, I shall tell you my secret. Ever since the tragic death of my husband Sychaeus, whose sprinkled blood, which my own brother shed, desecrated our home, no one but this stranger ever made an impression on me, or stirred my heart to wavering. I can discern the old fire coming near again. But I could pray that the earth should yawn deep to engulf me, or the Father Almighty blast me to the Shades with a stroke of his thunder, deep down to those pallid Shades in darkest Erebos, before I ever violate my honour or break its laws.”
In the sympathy it evokes, this final tragic death in the poem is thus deliberately made parallel with the death of Dido, the other great opponent of the mission of Aeneas.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Trawling through the web, looking for something else, I came across an old (2005) statistic from England, pointing out that out 93 of their top 100 schools (ranked by Times according to GCSE results) had Classics department, and that, even more impressively, 24 of the top 25 offered Latin.

Out of interest, I thought I'd put together a similar list for NSW Schools, based on the Sydney Morning Herald's rankings from last year's HSC.

2. North Sydney Boys High School
3. North Sydney Girls High School
4. Sydney Girls High School
5. Baulkham Hills High School
8. Sydney Boys High School
9. SCEGGS Darlinghurst
10. Sydney Grammar School
12. Kambala
13. Frensham
17. Pymble Ladies' College
18. Abbotsleigh
19. SHORE - Sydney Church of England Grammar SChool
21. St George Girls High School
23. Presbyterian Ladies College Sydney
24. Ravenswood School for Girls
26. Meriden School
28. Ascham School
30. St Aloysius' College
37. Loreto Normanhurst*
39. Gosford High School*
40. The King's School
42. St Catherine's School
44. MLC School
45. Barker College
47. Queenwood School for Girls
49. St Ignatius' College
54. Santa Sabina College
64. Newington College
67. Cranbrook School
69. Canberra Grammar School
80. The Scots College
91. Trinity Grammar School

I think that makes 15 out of the top 25 schools (six of which are academically selective government schools, I proudly note), and 32 out of the top 100. If I happen to have left a school out please let me know. Schools with an asterisk have some Latin but don't offer it to the HSC (as far as I know or can find out). The only schools I can think of which offer Latin and aren't on this list are Redlands, St Josephs, Hills Grammar and Kinross-Wolaroi.

Disclaimer: I actually think ranking schools is pretty problematic, that the relationship between wealth, offering Latin and school success is a murky one and that it's not worth reading too much into this table. That is, schools which offer Latin tend to be those which attract students from wealthier families and so will probably get good academic results regardless of whether they offer Latin or not.