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Latin in the News

Excavating the Circus Maximus!

Archaeologists are discovering what some call the greatest shopping complex of the ancient world. I suppose this really shouldn't surprise us at all. Modern man is not really that different from ancient man. Visit any NASCAR or Formula One race track and you are likely to find a plethora of concession stands, clothing venues, souvenir shops, and large bathroom facilities. You might also find stories posted of the greatest drivers and the cars that set records. All this has been discovered at the Circus Maximus. Several shops have been found including ancient laundromats that would clean your garments with the preferred agent of the time: urine. Large latrines have been uncovered that used the nearby aqueducts to continually "flush" water and waste through to the sewers. Archaeologists have even found images of a winning race horse by the name of Numitor, who seems to have gained some measure of fame in the great city. Read the rest of this entry »

The Griffin Warrior: Amazing Archaeological Discovery on Pylos

On a drizzly May morning in an unremarkable olive grove two archaeologists made the discovery of a century. They found an ancient tomb rich in bronze, ivory, gold, and incredible stories. They found the tomb of the Griffin Warrior. For classicists around the world this may be the discovery of the century. For husband-wife archaeologist team Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, this is the discovery of a lifetime. The find certainly ranks with the likes of Heinrich Schliemann who found the legendary city of Troy and the remnants of the ancient Mycenaean culture, home of Agamemnon. It ranks with the likes of Carl Blegen who unearthed the Palace of Nestor on the Greek island of Pylos. Read the rest of this entry »

Loki Loves Latin!

I have always wanted to create a course on the classical origins of comic book heroes.  So many of them have strong ties to classical mythology.  The Norse themes of the Thor series are among the most notable. So imagine my pure delight to learn that actor Tim Hiddleston, who played Loki in the recent Marvel movies for Thor and the Avengers, holds a Classics degree from Cambridge!  What better training could there be for such a role?!  In the following clip Hiddleston offers a wonderful answer to the question, “what do you do with a classics degree?”

Be prepared to take notes.  You will want to write these answers down!

“Latin . . . Why Study It At All?”

A colleague recently shared an article by William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury College, titled “Latin . . . Why Study It At All?” I found the article intriguing. Professor Harris expresses his discontent with the usual line-up of reasons for studying Latin. He then goes on to offer his own reasons for the study, strong reasons which I think must seriously be considered not only by those who question the study, but also by those who seek to support it. A link for the article is provided along with my thoughts on two of his arguments in particular.

“Latin . . . Why Study It At All?”
William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury College

While I think the author oversimplifies his objections to the “usual arguments” for Latin (there are still many benefits in the usual line up) the author has made several good points that should be considered. The argument that resonates most strongly with me is the lack of authentic reading most programs provide. I too am frustrated by programs that view Latin grammar as both the means and the end of a Latin program. It saddens me to see students learn a language and then stop just short of reading. How can one not see the value of reading Vergil in the original? Or for Christian schools Augustine or Aquinas? It seems that is like taking a music class, studying the notes, learning “Mary Had a Little Lamb” but never learning to play anything of Gershwin or Mozart. What is the point?  The language in and of itself should not be the goal of study, but the opportunity to read and enjoy the masters in their element.  Reading original texts is the beauty of the Latin Alive! program.  We are having the students read adapted and then authentic passages as soon as they are able. This is vastly different from Cambridge, Ecce, Orberg, etc.  All of our work in each chapter from vocab, to grammar lesson, even to simple sentences is meant to prep them to read a passage. And the passages offered are just marvelous: Cicero, Vergil, Pliny, Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, even Newton.  There is not another program that offers the variety of styles and genres found in the LA series, particularly the reader.

Another fantastic point highlighted in this article is the case for reading Latin out loud. In my own classes, I always have students read the Latin out loud before interpreting into English and find that to be very important. Even the finest Roman orations and works of poetry were meant to be heard, not read in silence. The goal is to begin to follow Latin as a Roman would, to hear and feel the language not just look at it as a mathematical equation.  It is also important for students to understand the Roman mind as revealed in Latin grammar.  In many ways, their way of thinking and speaking makes more sense than modern English.  We are looking at the way two different cultures express thought and that is fascinating.  It ought not to be excluded in the classroom.  Both of these points draw attention to studying Latin as the beautiful expression of a language for a culture and a way of thinking. Let’s entice students to continue in Latin by engaging them in the joys of the beauty of this literature and the language in which it is contained.

Ancient Settlement Discovered Off Greek Island Of Delos

A collection of 16 clay pots found in shallow water off the Greek island of Delos.

Researchers knew there were ruins of some sort in shallow waters off the Greek island of Delos, assuming the structures were simply remnants of a port that had been submerged.

But a recent examination of the ocean bottom showed it wasn’t a port down there but the ruins of an ancient settlement dating back to the first century B.C., complete with its own pottery workshop and other buildings.

 

Divers from the National Hellenic Research Foundation and the Greek Ministry of Culture discovered large stones, columns, clay pots, and the remnants of a kiln at a depth of just six feet, according to English language media outlet the Greek Reporter.

“Similar workshops have been found in Pompeii and Herculaneum,” the ministry said in a written statement, as reported by Discovery News.

The researchers expect the discovery to shed new light on the history of Delos, which is an important site for Greek mythology. According to Greek myth, the sun god Apollo and his sister Artemis were born on Delos.

Delos was also a thriving cultural center from the 8th to the first century B.C., and it served as a bustling cosmopolitan port between the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C., according to UNESCO. The island was abandoned in the 6th century A.D.

Today, Delos consists only of ruins and is maintained as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

The Huffington Post  | By

 

Why everyone should learn the ancient languages.


November 2014

The Latin vote

Later in this issue, the Yale classicist Donald Kagan writes about Sir James Headlam-Morley, the man who occupied the position of Historical Adviser to the British Foreign Office in the 1920s. Headlam-Morley was a fount of good advice about all manner of strategic issues, not least the threat of German militarism. Headlam-Morley’s deep acquaintance with the past allowed him to predict the future with a gimlet-eyed clarity that, unfortunately for the world, most of those charged with steering the ship of state in the post-World War I years lacked. Headlam-Morley, Professor Kagan observes, was “a man with the only proper training for an expert in almost any field of human endeavor, but especially for the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy: I mean, of course, Classical Studies.”

We smiled when we read that, too. The “of course” was especially nice. A more charming example of disciplinary chauvinism would be hard to find. Except that it is more than disciplinary chauvinism. It is also the simple, pragmatic truth.

It is a truth whose practicality the industrialist and oil man Jean Paul Getty appreciated. Getty, widely reckoned to be the richest man in the world until his death in 1976, employed only classicists to run his worldwide business empire. He understood that mastery of (say) the passive periphrastic was a more important business qualification than an MBA. (Pecunia obtinenda est!) It wasn’t romance but competitiveness that underlay his decision. Asked why he insisted on employing classicists in key positions, he answered bluntly: “They sell more oil.”

We take the story about J. Paul Getty from the opening pages of Gwynne’s Latin, a new introductory Latin textbook by N. M. Gwynne, author of Gwynne’s Grammar, “The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English,” which was a surprise bestseller in England last year and has been making some headway in America since its release here a couple of months ago.

When it comes to grammar, Mr. Gwynne, himself a retired businessman, is a prescriptivist. Not for him the split infinitive, the cringing accommodation to feminists (s/he, using “their” instead of “his” after a singular pronoun like “everyone,” etc.), or the semi-literate but ever popular “between him and I.” The fact that people speak and write that way does not mean that they should speak or write that way. Shakespeare split no infinitives, neither did the scribes who gave us the King James Bible. We should, Mr. Gwynne advises, follow their example. (Incidentally, let us forestall the excitement of impatient readers who clamor “What about Sonnet 142?” Shakespeare there writes “Thy pity may deserve to pitied be.” But that is not a true split infinitive, in which an adverb is interposed between “to” and the verb—“to boldly go”—but is rather an inversion undertaken to preserve the meter.) Gwynne’s Grammar, which we have only begun to read, seems full of good things. If it is half as good as Gwynne’s Latin, it will be a masterpiece—an atavistic masterpiece, perhaps, given the drift of our culture away from the virtues of orderliness, precision, logic, and precedent that Mr. Gwynne advocates, but a masterpiece nonetheless.

Mr. Gwynne is an evangelist for the classics, especially for his chosen métier, Latin. Why learn Latin? Mr. Gwynne lists nearly twenty reasons, many of which will be familiar to anyone who has ever sat through an introductory Latin class. Nearly half the words in English derive from Latin (when they have not come down to us intact); a mastery of Latin grammar helps us better understand English grammar; so much of the jargon of the law, of science and medicine, of our political and civic heritage, is instinct with Latin; Latin is the language of one of the three great world literatures (the others being classical Greek and English); etcetera.

But Mr. Gwynne goes far beyond such familiar recommendations. “What a well-designed course in Latin provides,” he writes, “is a training and development of the mind and character to a degree of excellence that no other mental or physical activity can come anywhere near to bringing about.” Don’t believe him? Hark:

Specifically, it trains these: the ability to concentrate and focus; the use of the memory; the capacity to analyse, deduce and problem-solve; the powers of attention to detail, of diligence and perseverance, of observation, of imagination, of judgement, of taste. In fact, it trains the mind and character to the utmost extent in everything human that is valuable. It does all this as no other academic subject (other than classical Greek), or other activity of any kind at all, can come remotely close to doing.

Latin,” he writes, “is, quite simply, the most utterly wonderful . . . thing.” The ellipsis is in the original. Like the pedestrian abstract noun it precedes, it is occasioned by contemplation of an abundance, not a paucity, of riches. Does it sound extravagant, all this praise for learning a dead language? Just wait.

Mr. Gwynne reminds us of a few pertinent facts. For the last thousand or more years, up until about fifteen minutes ago, i.e., up until the 1960s (O devilish, shadow-casting decade!), Latin and Greek were taught much as Mr. Gwynne advocates and, what’s more, until the 1850s they were virtually the only subjects that were taught in any of the leading schools in Britain. The reason for this exclusive concentration on the classics was not that our forebears were unaware of the importance of other subjects: English, say, or mathematics, or history or geography or other foreign languages. No, schools and universities slighted other subjects because, in comparison with Latin and Greek, they were easy. “Picking them up,” Mr. Gwynne writes, “was something that could more appropriately be done during the school holidays and in other spare time.”

Possibly, but the classics aren’t practical,” you say. Really? Ponder this: the heyday of classical learning in Britain, from the seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries, was also the heyday of British intellectual, political, and economic supremacy. During this period, Mr. Gwynne points out,

Britain shone in every single human endeavour, academic and practical, to such an extent that, “single-handed,” Britain was responsible for the Industrial Revolution and most of the scientific inventions of that period that changed the world, and, for better or for worse, actually ruled about a quarter of the world—and, what is more, all this while producing one of the greatest literatures of every kind of all time.

What do you think, merely post hoc? Or was there an element of propter, of causation, about the contingency that brought a mastery of Latin together with worldly success?

It seems that, since retiring from business, Mr. Gwynne has devoted himself to proclaiming the gospel of the Latin language. Together with his teaching partner (who is also his daughter) he visits schools and even—via the Internet—homes to exhort, inspire, illuminate, and instruct. His method is based firmly on the tried and true example of Dr. Benjamin Hall Kennedy, D.D., whose first Latin primer appeared in 1871 and whose Shorter Latin Primer was known to generations of schoolboys as “Kennedy’s Shortbread Eating Primer” (you needed to be a dab hand with a pen nib to effect the transformation). “The difference in effectiveness between the traditional methods and those used by even the best schoolteachers of today is so astonishing, consistently so,” Mr. Gwynne claims, that the results speak for themselves.

So what can a neophyte who gets outside the material of Gwynne’s Latin hope to learn? One answer is “about as much Latin as a reasonably intelligent eleven- or twelve-year-old would have known in the days when I was at school” (ca. 1950). If that seems like small beer, he quickly adds. “Another answer is: many times more Latin than will be known, in almost all cases, by highly intelligent scholars of today who have passed all their Latin exams and are studying Classics at any of the top universities in Britain.”

For those of you tempted to respond as did the travel writer Alexander Kinglake, who wished to inscribe the legend “Interesting, if true” upon the lintels of churches throughout Britain, we suggest suspending judgment until you conjure with the book and Mr. Gwynne’s methods. You can start doing this today. There is a popular misconception that classicists tend to be enemies of innovation. Mr. Gwynne’s commitment to the traditional method of teaching Latin (the one, he points out, that generations of students have shown actually works) may at first reinforce that misconception. But Mr. Gwynne is not against innovation. He is only against innovation that experience has shown is unproductive where it is not downright destructive. Which is where the 1960s and its legacy of ruin come in. But one need merely look at the Gwynnes’ website gwynneteaching.com to appreciate their readiness to employ new technologies, when appropriate. The online videos show just how infectious, and how effective, the Gwynnes’ pedagogy can be.

It was and probably still is common among classics students to look askance at the Loeb Classical Library, that huge (521-volume) library of the Greek and Roman classics brought to the world by the wealthy Harvard alumnus James Loeb. Since its inception 102 years ago, the pocket-sized Loebs, with their distinctive green (for Greek) and red (for Latin) jackets, have been a familiar fixture in school and university libraries. But because they feature an English translation en face with the original, many students regarded them as slightly infra dig. (which is not to say that most of them did not gratefully avail themselves of the trots when need arose, which, typically, was often). In years gone by, the translations one found in the Loebs were hit or miss. The more glandular passages of Horace, Martial, and many other authors were typically rendered in Italian or (if the author was writing in Greek) in Latin. Translations of other writers were comically out of date. Augustine’s Confessions, for example, was rendered by the English translation of William Watts, 1631.

But for the last couple of decades, the Loeb Library has been undergoing a renaissance. There are new or revised translations of many authors, and, a month or two back, the entire library was brought online at loebclassics.com. There are other searchable classics databases, the Perseus project through Tufts University, for example, or The Packard Humanities Institute’s library of Latin authors, which contains nearly the whole of Latin writing down to 200 A.D. Yet there is still something glorious about having all 500-plus Loebs online. Free trial access is available and an annual subscription for individuals is $195 for the first year, $65 for subsequent years. It’s an extraordinary resource, one which we like to think the exacting Mr. Gwynne would be pleased to welcome to the world.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 33 November 2014, on page 1

Copyright © 2014 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com
http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/The-Latin-vote-7987

Janitor Graduates from Columbia

It is that time of year when senior students across the globe make that final push through semester exams, papers, and presentations to earn the honor of graduation.  Many of them have been infected for some time by that dreadful virus known as senioritis.  Graduation just can’t come too soon and the world beyond looks like their oyster, offering pearls of opportunity.  Sometimes, all too often in fact, they begin to lose sight of the true value of their education.  We all have at some point.

A recent article about a special graduate recently grabbed my attention.  A senior of another sort, Gac Filipaj (52), just earned his B.A. in Classics with honors from the University of Columbia.  Mr. Filipaj has worked his way through college working the night shift as a janitor.  This is a truly inspirational story. It reminds me how much I have to be thankful for, how blessed I am, and the true rewards of a wonderful education. Neither money nor position, but the richness within.  Equally striking is the reason why this student was drawn towards the study of Classics over any other major.  An immigrant from war-torn Yugoslavia, he was impacted the most by the writings of Seneca.  “I love Seneca’s letters because they’re written in the spirit in which I was educated in my family — not to look for fame and fortune, but to have a simple, honest, honorable life.”   It seems Mr. Filipaj does not have any plans for fame or fortune for himself.  He says the riches of his education lie within.  Learning for the sake of learning, enriching the soul.  We could all take a lesson from the class notes of such a graduate.

 

Read the Article:

Columbia U Janitor Graduates, Will Keep Cleaning

Leap Year and Julius Caesar

2,057 years ago the first leap year was celebrated.  It was the year 45 B.C. (or  608 A.U.C.) and Julius Caesar had been named Pontifex Maximus.  As the high priest of Rome he gained control over the Roman calendar; a very powerful office indeed as the High Priest had the power to interpret the omens and decide on which days public meetings, votes, and even declarations of war could be held.  The Roman calendar by this time, however, had some major problems.  The seasons were off from their assigned months.  The original calendar had been created by Romulus and was based on the phases of the moon and a ten month agricultural cycle.  Later rulers had added two more months, but by Caesar’s day they did not fall in the proper seasons.  Caesar hired Sosigenes, an Egyptian astronomer, to help him create a new solar calendar for Rome and for the world.  Caesar moved the first day of the year from March to January.  He balanced the lengths of the months with alternating days of 30 or 31, but left February with only 29.  He then gave February the Bissextile, which was the first leap day.  The bissextile came once every four years.  In these leap years, February had 30 days.  This gave the new Julian Calendar, as he called it after himself, 365.25 days.  The seventh month, the month of Caesar’s birth, was renamed July in his honor. After his adopted son and heir, soon to be known as Augustus, took control of the empire he decided to follow the lead of his predecessor.  Augustus renamed his own birth month August.  At that time, however, August had only 30 days.  It was not fitting for the emperor’s month to be shorter than July, so he took another day from February, leaving it with only 28 and giving August 31.

The calendar has remained relatively unchanged from Caesar’s day until this.  February is still shortchanged, with a little redemption only once every fourth year.  There has, in fact, been only one significant change since Caesar’s leap year decree.  In the 16th century A.D. the Church began to realize that something was terribly amiss with the calendar.  The Easter Holiday, whose date is determined by the equinox, was off by ten days. (1600 years later and only a ten day error!)  At the Council of Trent in A.D. 1545 Pope Gregory XIII commissioned the astronomers Christopher Clavis and Luigi Lilio to determine the problem and reform the calendar.  They discovered that the Julian Calendar was off by 11 minutes and 14 seconds.  That is a difference of just .0078 days!  Amazing.  In order to better align the calendar with the rotations of the heavens, they created the Century Leap Year Rule.  Three out of every four centennial years ( a year divisible by 100) are “common.”  That is, they are a leap year.  No centennial year, however, can be a leap year if divisible by 400.  For that reason the year A.D. 2000 was not a leap year.  Did you notice?  That centennial rule will not come into play again until A.D. 2400, unless another ruler decides to reform the calendar again before then.  For now, Pope Gregory’s mandate to tweak the Julian Calendar earned him the right to rename our calendar after himself.  But remember, while the modern Calendar may be called Gregorian, it has Roman written all over it.

 

Nota Bene:  If you find this post interesting check out the other calendar post titled “Happy New Year!

Latin Alive Book 1 offers a lesson and activity on the Julian Calendar in the appendix for the Teacher’s Edition.

 

Roman Helmet from Ancient Britain

Image: A Roman helmet is seen in an undated illustration handed out by the British Museum
Artistic rendering of a Roman helmet found in Britain.

Long covered by the sands of time, a beautifully ornate Roman helmet was unveiled today in Leicestershire, England.  A former teacher and amateur archaeologist stumbled upon the find nearly ten years ago.  Many treasures from the days of Roman rule in Britain have been unearthed, but this helmet may be the most unique.   It was so covered by dirt and rust that it seems it was almost overlooked.  It was used as a “rusty bucket” in which to gather the seemingly more valuable items in the area.  The iron helmet, overlaid with silver leaf, is now estimated to be worth more than $460,000.  The find is indeed extraordinary.  Very few helmets of this quality and condition have been found.

 
Archaeologists believe the helmet dates to the Roman invasion by the Emperor Claudius* (c. A.D. 43).

“The helmet doesn’t seem to be damaged, so it could have been taken in battle but I think that’s not terribly likely,” Peter Liddle, community archaeologist for Leicestershire County Council, told Reuters.

“I think two things are the most likely — this belonged to a Briton who has fought in the Roman Army and got back home in one piece or it was a diplomatic gift from the Romans to a local ruler to cement an alliance,” he added.

To read the full story of the helmet, its discovery, and its future in the modern era, visit the article “Rusty Bucket? Rare Roman Helmet found in UK.”  OR “Hallaton Helmet” on the BBC website.
Such stories make me want to put on my fedora and dig around in Europe.  What stories might this helmet have witnessed?  What other ancient tresures will the land of Britain yield?  How exciting to know that as you gaze upon this helmet, you are looking at a prize possession that an ancient man once wore with pride.  I feel a similar excitement each time I read an ancient Latin text.  I love unearthing the literary treasures this language holds and thinking, I am reading the very same words, the very same thoughts this person took pains to record so many centuries ago.  It is as if time dissipates for a moment.
I now feel a sudden urge to read Caesar.
 
 
*Students of the Latin Alive series can read an excerpt from Suetonius’ biography of the Emperor Claudius in chapter 7 of LA 2.

Classical Car and Driver?

Typically, I don’t read car articles.  Just not my thang.  This one, however, caught my eye and my admiration.  Who would have thought that a revival of classical literature might be found at Car and Driver?  OK, perhaps ascribing the title of “classical literature” to this article is a stretch, but it is enjoyable and appreciated nonetheless.