Tuesday, May 28, 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 04, 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 pius Aeneas 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.

Aeneid XII

Aeneid XII, as imagined by my current year 12 class

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.

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.

Thursday, February 07, 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

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


[Mt Athos]

I notice that one of the horses racing in today's Melbourne Cup is called Mt Athos. It just so happens I was translating this passage from Aeneid XII with my year 12 class today:

quantus Athos aut quantus Eryx aut ipse coruscis
cum fremit ilicibus quantus gaudetque nivali
vertice se attollens pater Appenninus ad auras.

Aeneas was as great as Athos, or as great as Eryx or as great as father Apenninus himself with his quivering pine trees, when he roars and rejoices in his snowy peak, lifting himself up into the sky.

Mt Athos is in Macedonia, Mt Eryx (these days Monte San Giuliano) on Sicily and Appenninus in central Italy. Here is a map. I recall a few years ago there was a horse in the Melbourne cup called Sirmione - I wonder if they're somehow related.

...it helps to know the language.

Apart from English, classical languages are the only subjects which focus on the study of great literature.
The books you get to read by the last year of high school are the best of their kind. (Over the centuries, the mediocre stuff just got lost.) Epic, history, tragedy, comedy, satire, oratory and philosophy - all yours to analyse, discuss and enjoy, not second-hand, but in the very words of the composer, speaking to you in 21st century Australia, to you, their cultural descendant.
All right, it's not for everyone. But for many intellectually curious teenagers, the ancient world is a fascinating place, and when you travel to a new place, it helps to know the language.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Livy's engaging style of history

In case anyone is interested, here is a sample extended response answer I wrote for the Livy extended response from my trial HSC paper this year. I welcome all comments, corrections or criticisms!

Sed dique et homines prohibuere redemptos vivere Romanos. Nam forte quadam priusquam infanda merces perficeretur, per altercationem nondum omni auro adpenso, dictator intervenit, auferrique aurum de medio et Gallos submoveri iubet. cum illi renitentes pactos dicerent sese, negat eam pactionem ratam esse quae postquam ipse dictator creatus esset iniussu suo ab inferioris iuris magistratu facta esset, denuntiatque Gallis ut se ad proelium expediant. Suos in acervum conicere sarcinas et arma aptare ferroque non auro reciperare patriam iubet, in conspectu habentes fana deum et coniuges et liberos et solum patriae deforme belli malis et omnia quae defendi repetique et ulcisci fas sit. Instruit deinde aciem, ut loci natura patiebatur, in semirutae solo urbis et natura inaequali, et omnia quae arte belli secunda suis eligi praepararive poterant providit. Galli nova re trepidi arma capiunt iraque magis quam consilio in Romanos incurrunt. Iam verterat fortuna, iam deorum opes humanaque consilia rem Romanam adiuvabant. Igitur primo concursu haud maiore momento fusi Galli sunt quam ad Alliam vicerant. Iustiore altero deinde proelio ad octavum lapidem Gabina via, quo se ex fuga contulerant, eiusdem ductu auspicioque Camilli vincuntur.

Analyse the ways in which this extract is typical of Livy’s engaging style of history.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Roman Sites in Northern Italy

I think I'm going to be in Munich towards the end of October for a friend's wedding (the wedding is confirmed, it's my attendance which is still a bit uncertain). If I go, I'd also like to visit some friends in Innsbruck, and spend a few days in northern Italy as well. I'd particularly like to see the Grotte Di Catullo. I'm aware that it's not the actual house Catullus lived in, but I feel the pilgrimage would be worth it all the same. I've been to Rome a few times, but have never made it very far north and this seems like a good opportunity to do so.

While I'm there are there any other nearby sites I should make an effort to get to? The amphitheatre in Verona sounds worth a visit, but I have no idea what else is around that part of Italy. Padua and Mantua (the birthplaces of Livy and Vergil respectively) aren't too far away, but in my brief internet investigations it doesn't seem like there's actually much to make it worth going there.

Any recommendations?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Martin Amis and Satire

I read a Martin Amis novel for the first time this year, and so this interview with him caught my eye. It's super long, and interesting only in sections, but there were numerous times when I was reminded of Juvenal's (and to a lesser extent Horace's) satires. Here are a few bits that piqued my interest:
...the book is a kind of satire of contemporary England—a member of its underclass wins the lottery and enters its tabloid class. Satire is—I wonder how helpful it is as a category. It was once defined in apposition to irony, in that the satirist isn’t just looking at things ironically but militantly—he wants to change them, and intends to have an effect on the world. I think that category just doesn’t exist in literature. No novel has ever changed anything, as far as I can see. And the great satirists, like Swift and Dickens, tend to write about abuses and injustices that have already been partially corrected—you write about it after it’s over. I would say I’m an ironist not a satirist. All you do is you take existing tendencies and crank them up, just turn up the volume dial.

Friday, June 29, 2012

lego, legere

The Nicholson Museum at Sydney Uni have a lego colosseum on display. It's amazing, and I will be taking my daughter to see it these school holidays for sure.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


I have to give a talk in a week (actually less than that - *panic*) to year 12 Latin students on how to prepare for and do the 'unseen translations' in their final examination. I have some idea of what I would like to say, but I turned to youtube to see if there was anything useful on there.

All I could find was this guy, who apart from being incredibly dull, was also (in my humble opinion) incredibly wrong. I couldn't bear to watch the whole thing, but he started off by saying how important it was to analyse every word - first deciding what part of speech it was, then working out the case/number/gender or tense/voice/mood/person etc., and, where more than one possibility existed, making a list of all the potential forms.

This kind of method would be ok, if you are a computer, but it has serious flaws. Firstly, from a purely pragmatic point of view, it is far too time consuming. It's not a sensible strategy for an exam context with limited time, even when you are only translating a short extract. And can you imagine (as my uni professor used to say) trying to read all 53 extant speeches of Cicero in this way? It would take forever, and it would be mind-numbingly, soul-destroyingly boring.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


One of my students asked me yesterday if the Romans had a word for fun. I didn't know. I still don't. The concept of fun is a... well, a funny one I suppose. Easy to recognise, but hard to define. Romans played and laughed and enjoyed themselves just like humans throughout history, I assume, but did they have a specific word for fun? I suspect that someone like Cicero would have been a bit scornful of the notion of fun (virtue is much more important), while for an Epicurean such as Lucretius pleasure had a much more nuanced meaning than simply fun. No doubt Catullus or Ovid appreciated the concept, but what words did they use to express it? How would you say 'This is fun!' or 'I am having fun!' in Latin?