Re-posted from the main Dickinson College website here, April 11, 2018
Dickinson College’s Department of Classical Studies recently explored everything from the Hercules cycle to Caesar and the Battle of Alesia during the national conference of the Eta Sigma Phi classics honor society. Hosted on campus—and attended by nearly 100 undergraduates and 15 faculty members from across the country—the three-day annual conference featured competitions, presentations and an exploration of the Trout Gallery‘s classical collections.
In her opening remarks, President Margee Ensign posited that the vast growth in classical scholarship over the past half century is a sign of the strength of the liberal arts as well as the foundation upon which Dickinson was built.
“Enlightenment intellectuals [like Benjamin Rush] who led our revolution and the creation of our new nation knew that the writers of Greece and Rome had thought and written so deeply and carefully about the polis(city-state) and about civitas (citizenship), had examined and explored those issues of morality, of psychology and of community, of civic responsibility and governance, which continue to engage and perplex us to this day,” she said. “It is no accident that the study of classical languages and literatures have been continuously taught at Dickinson over its entire history.”
The conference, organized by Assistant Professor of Classical Studies Scott Farrington, opened with a quiz-bowl style contest through which teams from various colleges put their knowledge of classical studies to the test in Allison Hall’s Great Room. Next, research took center stage, with student presentations:
John James, Hillsdale College: “Emotional Evocation and the Psychology of Sign: Gorgias’ Response to Questions of Communication in Helen”
Sophia Decker, University of Kentucky: “Dorians Are Allowed to Speak Doric: Theocritus’ Idyll XV in the Context of Panhellenization”
Aaron Romanowski, Beta Psi at Rhodes College: “The Use of the Cult of the Saints in the Milan Basilica Crisis of 385 CE”
Katie Hillery, Hillsdale College: “Developing an Eschatological Narrative: An Interpretation of Via Latina’s ‘Hercules Cycle’ Through the Eyes of the Late Antique Roman Viewer.”
Rounding out the activities were a Latin declamation contest, a vase-painting workshop led by Assistant Professor of Art and Art HistoryRachel Eng, lectures on Caesar and the Battle of Alesia as well as mythology’s connections to astronomy and a presentation of some of the “classical treasures” in the Trout Gallery’s collections—including a chunk of the Parthenon and a denarius of Septimius Severus.
To Marc Mastrangelo, professor of classical studies, the event does more than illustrate that the classics are thriving and growing; it places Dickinson at the heart of the movement. “Dickinson’s ability to attract such a conference,” he said, “reflects the fact that we have one of the leading undergraduate departments in the country.”
The following is a slightly edited version of Dickinson President Margee Ensign’s opening remarks at the Eta Sigma Phi National Convention, delivered in Allison Hall, Dickinson College, March 24, 2018.
Dickinson College was established in 1783, the first college founded at the close of the American Revolution. That was a revolution led by learned men, including our founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush, men who brought a classical education to their understanding of politics, of history, of philosophy, to the issues of their day. And Dickinson, like all colleges of its time, was careful to ensure that a study of classical civilization was at the core of its new liberal arts curriculum.
This was done because the enlightenment intellectuals who led our revolution and the creation of our new nation knew that the writers of Greece and Rome had thought and written so deeply and carefully about the polis and about the res publica, had examined and explored those issues of morality, of psychology and of community, of civic responsibility and governance which continue to engage and perplex us to this day. It is no accident that the study of classical languages and literatures have been continuously taught at Dickinson over its entire history.
Dr. Rush, a physician and university professor himself, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was steeped in ancient history and the classics, and indeed even went so far as to suggest that Spartan broth be included in the diet of all Dickinson students. I am glad this suggestion was never acted upon!
Our college’s very first faculty member, James Ross, was a classicist. He published a Latin grammar text in 1794 which remained a standard text for more than half a century. Further, at the time of our founding, our namesake John Dickinson and his wife, Mary, launched our college library by contributing nearly 2,000 books to the college. Among them were editions of Aristotle, Cicero, Euclid and many other classical works. These books from the dawn of our Western European civilization are still found in our library’s special collections today. This spirit of critical inquiry and remarkable insight into the human condition continue to be at the core of our mission as a liberal-arts institution, a mission which is to educate thoughtful, questioning and responsible citizens of our still new and evolving republic.
At the time of the formation of our chapter of Eta Sigma Phi in April 1964 there were 68 chapters nationwide. Today there are 219. Like you, I find this growth in classical scholarship heartening, as an affirmation of the very values of classical Western European Civilization, values of free inquiry, of debate, of democracy and representative government, of a vigorous humanism. We take pride in our own role in preserving that classical heritage, including our annual summer program of spoken Latin immersion.
I also draw your attention to our digital resources for Latin and Greek, including Dickinson College Commentaries, which serves thousands of users throughout the world. And now we have a website of resources for Latin and Greek scholars in Chinese, called Dickinson Classics Online.
As President of Dickinson College, I am very proud of the work of our classics faculty and students, grateful for all of their hard work in helping to bring you here, and so very pleased that you are all here on our beautiful campus to celebrate Eta Sigma Phi’s 90th convention.
May your time here be fruitful, and may it advance your education. As Plutarch reminds us (On the Education of Children7): “The very spring and root of honesty and virtue lie in good education.”
The Spartan ideals of duty and physical stamina are appealing, argues Claire Jeantheau (’21), but the society which the Spartans defended is one marked by the elimination of independent thought and the physically vulnerable.
Before the final, climactic battle of Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006), the Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler) sees Sparta-born Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan), who had been cast out of Sparta because of his physical deformities, and who betrayed to the Persians the pass over the mountains that sealed the doom of Leonidas and his men. As Leonidas, about to die, faces Ephialtes one more time, he offers parting words: “May you live forever” (1:38:27-1:38:30). This scene is wholly fabricated from Herodotus’s original telling of the battle of Thermopylae. There, Ephialtes is simply “a man from Malis” who shows Persian king Xerxes a way to reach the Spartans through the mountains, and never once converses with Leonidas (7.213-17). But for me, the alteration of his role to directly contrast with Leonidas creates an effective illustration of the values the Spartan system cherished.
While Ephialtes enters the tent of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and finds temporary wealth and physical pleasure (1:15:51), Leonidas’s last appearance finds him mortally wounded, but with a lasting legacy (1:46:19). When the two cross paths on the battlefield, the scene evolves from a clash between men to their opposing ideals they represent: duty on one side, the excess of life “forever” on the other. The Spartans’ emphasis on physical sacrifice, and its admirable result, is evident from Snyder’s depiction. Additional historical background from authors like Plutarch, however, brings to light another kind of sacrifice prevalent in Sparta, one where individuals could be eliminated as easily as the enemy for perceived divergence from physical perfection. Do acts of glory like Thermopylae justify this culling of difference?
The film, as well as Herodotus’s account, would say yes. Both place emphasis on the Spartans’ strict brand of battle valor. Herodotus takes care to list exact numbers of fighters and contributions from other Greek city-states at Thermopylae (7.202-3), but seems to distinguish the three hundred Spartans from the rest of these “Dorian Greeks.” He quotes the inscription placed after the battle that singles out the Spartans: “Go tell the Spartans, thou that passeth by, That here obedient to their words, we lie” (7.228). (300’s Spartan narrator Dilios, played by David Wenham, utters a similar phrase at the film’s end [1:46:42–01:46:45]). Herodotus also tells anecdotes about individual Spartans that drive home this point. One soldier, Pantites, finds himself at such “dishonor” at surviving that he “[hangs] himself” (7.232). Snyder takes a different approach, choosing to magnify Leonidas’s actions above those of the other Spartans and Greeks—perhaps to appeal to the individualist tastes of an American audience. Other Greeks are included in the script, but only representing Arcadia (0:28:12-0:28:16) and these are dismissed from the action with a simple “Hundreds leave” (1:28:40-1:28:43). Leonidas, on the other hand, receives an extended focus of attention. His final fight is backed with the dramatic weight of a score of battle drums (1:40:33); an aerial shot moves slowly over the resulting carnage (1:46:19 – 1:46:55). The closing shot of the last stand features him in sacrificial posture with arms outstretched, the lighting creating a halo-like aura behind his silhouette (1:43:18). The stream of Persian arrows that transition the frame into darkness lend a sense of finality, as though Leonidas has singularly ensured glory (1:43:22). Though different contributions are prioritized in each telling of the battle, each one on their own shows, to me, a powerful display of tenacity on behalf of the Spartans.
What is notable to me about the battle’s end in 300, beyond the sacrifice itself, is the depth added to it by Snyder’s depiction of the Spartan upbringing. The film begins with Leonidas, as Plutarch writes, taken from his family and “enrolled” with other Spartans “in various ‘herds,’ so that they became used to playing together and learning together under the same rules and regime” (16). This place of intense training, the agoge, “…forces the boy to fight. Starves them. Forces them to steal. And, if necessary, to kill” (0:02:52-0:03:02) in Dillios’s brief, lurid description. While the culmination of this training in 300—in which Leonidas fends off a wolf in a mountainous wilderness (00:03:55)—doesn’t seem to be historically consistent, it acts as important foreshadowing for when he faces a situation of equal intensity at Thermopylae. There is even a flashback to the moment in which he faces down the wolf as he stands before the full Persian army, reinforcing the outcome of the grueling physical regimen (1:36:25). Snyder differs from Plutarch’s account, however, in excluding from his depiction out a component of Spartan education I appreciate—their efforts to strengthen the intellect in tandem with physicality. Perhaps statements that the Spartans “were … interested in studying poetry and song” (21), or about their belief that “Good playing of the lyre counterbalances iron weaponry” (21), would be out of step with the aggressive tone Snyder adopts. I think, though, that they round out the real Spartans and show that their pursuit of combat was not a mindless one.
Another, more disquieting, aspect of Spartan education that Snyder doesn’t dwell on is the drastic influence the state had in controlling the individual’s path through life. The enforced removal of a child from his family and the prescribed brutal training runs counter, in my view, to declarations of “A new age…an age of freedom” (1:25:03-1:25:10) in 300. This has its advantages militarily—as Leonidas explains to Ephialtes in 300, “We fight as a single, impenetrable unit. That is the source of our strength” (0:43:03–0:43:08). But the regimented process doesn’t allow for any critical reflection on Spartan society, or individual pursuits deemed out-of-step. The Spartans’ charge at Thermopylae may show an admirable outcome of this kind of education, but I am equally interested in its other side, and the sort of individuals it excludes. Leonidas’s foil of Ephialtes in 300 provides an example which, while mostly fictional, is rooted in Spartan ideas.
By altering Ephialtes’s historical character so that his assistance of the Persians was a betrayal rather than only collaboration, Snyder depicts him as departing from the Spartan values Leonidas embodies. In emphasizing what the Spartans so greatly hate, what they truly value becomes more evident. In Ephialtes, it’s his hunchbacked appearance, a deformity not present on the historical man (7.213–17). The limitations of his body prevent him from holding a shield (00:43:25), causing Leonidas to turn him away from the force and motivating his betrayal. The scene builds on the standards established by other real Spartan rituals. Plutarch details how “a session of the eldest men of [a father’s] tribe” determined whether an infant was “sturdy and strong”; if not, they were to be abandoned on “ a rugged spot near Mount Taygetus” (16). This is dramatized in the opening scene of 300, with a chilling cut from the first shot of a blackened mountain of skulls to the vulnerable infant Leonidas (0:0:59-0:01:05).
Conversely, when 300’s plot finds Xerxes luring Ephialtes to the Persian side, the king emphasizes that he would find company; he persuades him that “The Spartans, too, were cruel to reject you. But I am kind” (1:16:38–1:16:48). Indeed, in Xerxes’s tent Ephialtes passes through others alike him in their physical deformities, including women with no arms (1:16:04) and facial burns (1:16:14). These figures contrast with the sparse costuming on the bare-chested, muscular Spartans fighting a few moments before (1:15:33). Elsewhere in the battle, Snyder veers into horror convention with the design of monstrous Persians, whether a giant-like soldier (1:04:57) or a man with claws resembling a crab’s (1:11:43). Physical oddity is associated with the enemy Persians, while the heroic Spartans are physically ideal, sending a clear visual message: physical weakness, even if unpreventable, is equivalent to moral decay. The monstrosities of the Persians may be historical distortion, but the same attitudes about physical weakness, as Plutarch shows, were foundational in Spartan society. This historical context lends a new tension to the earlier dramatization of Leonidas’s upbringing, making the consequences of any failure more obvious. In my view, the Spartans’ system operates on a cruel contradiction, one where death is preferable to dishonor and yet the abandonment of an infant deemed physically weak is still considered just.
I suppose, then, that my greatest issue with the Spartans’ values lies not in the values themselves, but in what they are used to fight for. The ideals of duty and physical stamina are appealing, especially when they allow for the kind of defense mounted at the battle of Thermopylae. But the society which the Spartans defend is one marked by the elimination of independent thought and the physically vulnerable. What is even more troubling is the Spartan view that these two concepts are inseparable—that such a level of courage can only be developed in a system to brutal to others. Leonidas and Ephialtes’s last confrontation in 300 represents this on a visual level as they stare from their respective sides, with no safe ground to cross between them. Maybe to occupy that middle space would represent a different kind of sacrifice—one that might lessen unifying strength, but would increase individual value.
ROTC cadet Thomas Forte (’20) reflects on Sparta, the film 300, and American military culture.
In the last few decades, the Spartan legend has come to be highly regarded in American culture, especially among athletes, gym-goers and military personnel. The image of an athlete or combat veteran sporting clothing marked with the infamous Corinthian helmet worn by Spartan hoplites, often colored red, white and blue, is an easy sight to picture for many: and why shouldn’t it be? The idea of a people who fought for freedom and rationalism, vowed never to retreat or surrender no matter the odds, and fought with extreme tactical, strategic, and martial prowess is one that has some level of appeal to almost anyone who supports America’s foundational values. Martial prowess, loyalty to the cause, and fearlessness in battle are all ideals that American troops hope to emulate, and one could easily draw parallels between the hoplite phalanx and the defensive line in football. Even the famous cinematic Spartans war cry of “Ahoo!” reflects US military culture, as each branch has its own unique call in a similar vein (to name a few examples, the Marine’s “Oorah!” and the Army’s “Hooah!”).
But are these ideals the reality? To put it simply, not really. Movies such as 300 and its corresponding graphic novel have taken the most appealing aspects of the Spartan system, amplified some and adjusted others to better fit with American warrior culture. The realities of the Spartan system, while still appealing in many aspects, are quite unappealing in others and often clash starkly with American values.
I would like to begin by first examining the ideal of martial prowess, both as seen in contemporary American culture and portrayed by the Greek historian Herodotus. For the American view, we look to the film 300 as the primary source of its inspiration. In it, we do see the Spartans depicted as a highly coordinated fighting force (46:45), but primarily as highly skilled individual warriors. One of the most iconic scenes of the entire film comes early on the first day of Thermopylae where Leonidas is depicted in slow motion, moving effortlessly through the oncoming Persians, slaughtering those in his path (48:04).
The realities, according to Herodotus and other historians, certainly bear similarities to the 300 depiction, but place far more emphasis on the Spartans as a cohesive fighting force rather than highly skilled individual warriors, at least by comparison to the other Greek city-states. Probably the most telling story illustrating this point is that of the battle between the Argives and the Spartans over Thyreae, in which both sides sent a force of 300 men to decide who would be given control of the territory (1.82). In the fighting that followed, in which neither side had any tactical or strategical advantages, the battle ended with two Argives and one Spartan remaining. Had the Spartans been the uniquely and highly skilled warriors that 300 portrays them as, one would have expected a more lopsided outcome, but this battle shows that they weren’t necessarily superior on a man-to-man basis.
On the other hand, when the Spartans fight as a cohesive unit using effective strategic and tactical advantages against their enemy, they gain massive success. We see this both at the battle of Thermopylae (7.211) and the battle of Plataea (9.62). In the Plataea excerpt in particular, Herodotus says that “Indeed, the spirit and strength of the Persians were not inferior, but they were without armor, untrained, and unequal to their opponents in tactics” (9.62). Here, we see Herodotus clearly stating that the Spartans did not have any superiority in physical strength or skill, but rather superiority in military thinking. This is further communicated by the fact that Spartan generals were put in charge of the Greek alliance against the Persians.
While talking about the Spartans as warriors, it is also important to note that the film and the ancient sources, namely Herodotus, differ on the actual motivations behind Spartan heroics. In 300, the film seems to show the Spartan’s willingness to fight to the death as coming from a love for freedom and a total lack of fear in battle; this is probably best shown through Stelios’ “beautiful death” speech (37:33). Herodotus, on the other hand, certainly acknowledges that Spartans have fear, but they stay and fight because their fear of shame is greater than their fear of death. Between 7.229 and 7.232, Herodotus mentions three different Spartans and their actions at the end of Thermopylae; the first two are Eurytus and Aristodemus. Both were away from the final battle because they were recovering from a “severe disease of the eyes,” which sounds similar to PTSD-induced hysterical blindness, a phenomenon alluded to during Herodotus’s coverage of the battle of Marathon (7.229). In modern times, this sort of thing would be a valid excuse for leaving the fight, but not for the Spartans. Eurytus’s fear of shame is so great that he returns to the fight, where he is soon killed, despite his previous PTSD attack. Aristodemus instead decides to return to Sparta and is treated with so much shame that his fellow citizens refuse to speak to him until he is able to redeem himself at the Battle of Plataea (9.71). The third Spartan mentioned is Pantites, who survived Thermopylae simply because he happened to be delivering a message during the final engagement. Still, he was shamed so heavily on his return that it drove him to take his own life (7.232). Through these examples, it is easy to see why Spartans chose to die on the battlefield rather than risk disgrace at home.
Probably the starkest differences between the American image of Sparta and its realities come in that of the city itself and its culture. The film 300, again being the catalyst for the American view, shows us only the aspects of Spartan society necessary for the story, but also plays with them somewhat to better fit with American ideals. The most prominent feature of Spartan society displayed in 300 is the Agoge, which the film gets right with the exception of a few key details. The harsh reality of the Agoge depicted in 300 is correct. At the age of 7, Spartan children were indeed taken away and forced to fight and steal as part of their training (2:35). This is confirmed by the story of one boy who, rather than be caught stealing, allowed a fox cub that he was hiding under his clothing to claw him to death (Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus 18). One key aspect left out of 300’s depiction of the Agoge was the practice of pederasty, where at the age of 12 the boys were given a young adult male lover, who would help guide their education, but also interact with them sexually (this practice was also a part of a girl’s education, but to a lesser extent) (Paul Cartledge, The Spartans [New York: Random House, 2003], p. 69). Although key to the Agoge system, it is obvious why this was left out, as the idea of militarized, state-enforced homosexual pedophilia is a repulsive one to the overwhelming majority of modern western citizens. It certainly is to me.
From a governmental standpoint, 300 also does a fairly good job depicting Spartan society, except when it comes to the Ephors. In the film, the narrator calls them “Diseased old mystics… worthless remnants of a time before Sparta’s ascent from darkness” (16:51). The reality of the Ephors, however, was much different. Rather than the “diseased old mystics” of the film, the Ephors were an executive council of 5 men in charge of upholding the laws of Sparta (Cartledge, 70) and, according to Plutarch, were “…the secret of Spartan success and stability” (7). Although this was done to enhance the film’s conflict between reason and religious fanaticism, I personally think that keeping the Ephors as a sort of Spartan supreme court would have better embodied western values. Then again, having Leonidas go against the wishes of the Ephors in that case would probably have been somewhat looked down upon by the audience.
The main differences between the film and reality are most apparent in the elements of Spartan society that 300 leaves out. Probably chief among these were the Spartan emphasis on conformity and classlessness, and its economic system. Under the leadership of King Lycurgus, Sparta did its best to economically isolate itself from the rest of Greece, as well as to eliminate both luxury and, consequently, class. The land surrounding the city was redistributed into 39,000 plots, of which 9,000 were divided evenly among the Spartans (Plutarch, 8). The rest were given to the Perioeci, which were peoples living in the vicinity of Sparta who were subject to Spartan law, but had no say in Spartan affairs (Cartledge, 73). The Spartans also had Helots, who were slaves usually captured during war (72). The Spartans all dined at common messes, which were groups of around 15 men that all ate together and took turns providing the food for the meal (Plutarch, 10–12). They even had their own currency, which was made out of iron, and thus unusable anywhere other than Sparta (9). Freedom certainly comes to mind when thinking of Sparta, but by looking at their economic situation it’s very clear to see how the Spartan idea of freedom differs from the American one. America’s focus on economic and social individualism leads to a view of freedom as “freedom to…”; freedom to own what you want, do what you want, etc. On the other hand, Sparta’s communist-like emphasis on classlessness and conformity creates more of a sense of “freedom from…”; freedom from class, freedom from the dangers of luxury, etc. This sense of “freedom from…” is also why they seem to be able to justify having both second class citizens and slaves in their territory.
Sparta also had a very relaxed approach to marriage. Although it was essentially mandatory to get married (you were publicly shamed if you didn’t), husbands and wives did not live in the same households and it was common for men to trade their wives around in order to create better and stronger offspring (Plutarch, 15). This runs highly contrary to western culture, which detests state incursions into the love life of its citizens and values the sanctity of marriage; hence the marriage of Leonidas and Gorgo followed western ideals in the film.
As a final note on Spartan society, it is important to remember that Plutarch, the primary source used for most of the above information, envies the Spartan system with its blend of both autocracy and democracy along with its emphasis conformity, sacrifice and obedience to the state. His example of the boy and the fox is used almost more as a way to exemplify the effectiveness of the Agoge rather than to criticize it. Plutarch’s praise of the Spartan system does an excellent job of informing the reader of the differences in thinking between the modern day and the time of ancient Greece.
Having now learned much about the realities of Sparta as compared to the Spartan legend in American culture, I feel I can provide coherent thoughts on the topic. As an ROTC cadet and someone who thoroughly embraces both traditional American values and our society’s view of the Spartans, I come from the group of people most influenced by this contrast. When it comes to the realities of Spartan military culture, I personally prefer the emphasis on tactical and strategical superiority over individual martial skill. As an officer in training, it is more important to me to be skilled in those areas, while still embracing the “never retreat, never surrender” attitudes that come along with Spartan military culture. This attitude also shares parallels with that of the Army’s code of conduct, which states in article II: “I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.” Even Herodotus’s words about the motivations behind Spartan heroics are ones that I can understand in some aspect, as group dynamics was an important factor in determining the sizes of the various levels of the Army’s chain of command; the fear of letting down or abandoning one’s comrades is certainly nothing to be taken with a grain of salt. The classlessness of Sparta and its ideals of conformity are where I start having problems. For the military, conformity is a good thing. If the culture and attitudes of the organization are shared among its members it is much easier to get everyone working together to achieve a common goal, but this is not the case for regular American society. We care very deeply about maintaining and expressing our individualism, and part of that is economic freedom and freedom of expression. For this same reason, I also don’t support the Spartan’s treatment of the Perioeci, or the taking of Helots.
To conclude, the Spartan legend as shown in the film 300 and the realities of the culture share similarities, but also contrast each other rather harshly the deeper one digs. While the Spartan idea of freedom may clash heavily with ours, as well as their emphasis on the collective rather than the individual, many of the basic tenants such as military prowess, fortitude, never retreating or surrendering, are maintained in both depictions and are highly beneficial to Sparta’s militarized society, the warrior culture of the US Armed Forces and, to an extent, regular American life.
Bret Mulligan (Haverford College) and Chris Francese (Dickinson College)
Place: Dickinson College, Tome Hall 115, 10:00 a.m. — 5:00 p.m.
Do you write your own notes on Latin texts for your students? Are you frustrated with the limitations of Microsoft Word when it comes to parallel display of text, notes, and vocabulary? Now you can create attractive, usable reading texts online with vocabulary lists and notes simultaneously displayed, and the ability to include hyperlinks and add audio-visual material. This workshop will demonstrate and provide practice with a new plugin for the WordPress CMS that mimics the easy-to-read format of Dickinson College Commentaries. In addition, participants will see demonstrations of and practice using a variety of online tools that are helpful in the creation and annotation of reading texts: The Bridge for vocabulary list creation; DCC core vocabulary; Pleiades for geography; digitized grammars and reference works for simplifying annotations; Johan Winge’s macronizer; and others.
This workshop will be of interest primarily to Latin teachers, but others are more than welcome to attend. The workshop is free of charge, but to order materials and food we need to have an accurate count of attendees. For pre-registration please contact Terri Blumenthal: email@example.com, by October 9, 2017.
Bret Mulligan is Associate Professor of Classics at Haverford College. He is a specialist in Late Antique Latin Literature, and a leading digital classicist. He is project director of The Bridge, the author of Life of Hannibal, Cornelius Nepos (Open Books Publishers and DCC), and a contributor to The Living Past: Recasting the Ancients in Late Latin Poetry (forthcoming, Winter Verlag).
Chris Francese is Asbury J. Clarke Professor of Classical Studies at Dickinson College. He specializes in Latin literature, and is project director of Dickinson College Commentaries. He is the author of Ancient Rome in So Many Words (Hippocrene 2007), and Ancient Rome: An Anthology of Sources (Hackett, 2014).
The Conventiculum Dickinsoniense is an immersion seminar designed for those who want to acquire some ability at ex-tempore expression in Latin. A wide range of people can benefit from the seminar: professors in universities, teachers in secondary schools, graduate students, undergraduates, and other lovers of Latin, provided that anyone who considers applying has a solid understanding of the grammatical essentials of the Latin language. A minimum requirement for participation is knowledge of Latin grammar and the ability to read a Latin text of average complexity – even if this reading ability depends on frequent use of a dictionary. But no previous experience in speaking Latin is necessary. Sessions will be aimed at helping participants to increase their ability to use Latin effectively in spoken discourse and to understand others speaking in Latin. After the first evening reception (in which any language may be spoken), Latin will be the language used throughout the seminar.
Participants will be involved in intensive activity each day from morning until early evening (with breaks for lunch and mid-afternoon pauses). They will experience Latin conversations on topics ranging from themes in literature and art all the way to the routines and activities of daily life, and will enjoy the benefits of reading and discussing texts in the target language. Activities will involve both written and spoken discourse, both of which engage the active faculties of expression, and each of which is complementary to the other. The seminar will not merely illustrate how active Latin can be a useful tool for teachers, it will show how developing an active facility in Latin can directly and personally benefit any cultivator of Latin who wishes to acquire a more instinctive command of the language and a more intimate relationship with Latin writings.
Prof. Milena Minkova, University of Kentucky
Prof. Terence Tunberg, University of Kentucky
We can accept a maximum number of 40 participants. Deadline for applications is May 1, 2018. The participation fee for each participant will $400. The fee includes lodging in a single room in campus housing (and please note that lodging will be in a student residence near the site of the sessions), two meals (breakfast and lunch) per day, as well as the opening dinner, and a cookout at the Dickinson farm. Included in this price is also the facilities fee, which allows access to the gym, fitness center, and the library, as well as internet access. The $400 fee does not include the cost of dinners (except for the opening dinner and the cookout at the Dickinson farm), and does not include the cost of travel to and from the seminar. Dinners can easily be had at restaurants within walking distance from campus. Please keep in mind that the participation fee of $400, once it has been received by the seminar’s organizers, is not refundable. This is an administrative necessity.
Registered participants should plan to arrive in Carlisle, PA on July 5, in time to attend the first event of the seminar. This first event is an opening dinner and welcoming reception for all participants, which will begin at about 6:00 p.m., in which all languages are acceptable. The actual workshop sessions (in which Latin will the exclusive language) will begin early the next morning on July 6.
For more information and application instructions write to: Professor Terence Tunberg:
Dickinson Latin Workshop 2018: Maffeius, Historiae Indicae
July 12–17, 2018
The Dickinson Summer Latin Workshop is intended for teachers of Latin, as a way to refresh the mind through study of an extended Latin text, and to share experiences and ideas with Latinists and teachers. Sometimes those who are not currently engaged in teaching have participated as well, including retired teachers and those working towards teacher certification.
The text for 2018 will be taken from the Historiae Indicae of Giovanni Pietro Maffei (1536–1604, Latin name Maffeius). This 16-book history tells the story of the Portuguese voyages of conquest and discovery in the sixteenth century around the coast of Africa, to the Malabar Coast of India, on to Malacca, China, and Japan. It was widely read and admired all over Europe in its time, and draws on a variety of sources, some of which are now lost. We plan to read the sections of the work that describe the wonders of China, Brazil, and the Indian Ocean.
Maffei’s Latin is elegant, but not difficult. Contemporaries compared his style to that of Caesar. Yet he is no humble imitator, and the hallmarks of his writing are clarity and variety. In the words of fellow historian Faminio Strada, “nothing anywhere unkempt or careless; indeed, elegant perfection from beginning to end—unless his only fault is that he has no faults.” His vocabulary is strictly classical, except when he needs terms for unfamiliar items, such as “tea” (chia) or “pangolin” (cabim); even so, for “chopstick” he manages to find an appropriate word in Varro and Pliny the Elder, paxillus (“small stake, peg”). Though no full commentary exists, the moderators will supply notes on such special usages.
The participation fee for each participant will $400. The fee covers lodging, breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Dickinson cafeteria, the facilities fee, which allows access to the gym, fitness center, and the library, as well as wireless and wired internet access while on campus. The fee does not cover the costs of books or travel, or of dinners, which are typically eaten in the various restaurants in Carlisle. Please keep in mind that the participation fee, once it has been received by the seminar’s organizers, is not refundable. This is an administrative necessity.
Lodging: accommodations will be in a student residence hall near the site of the sessions. The building features suite-style configurations of two double rooms sharing a private bathroom, or one double and one single room sharing a private bathroom.
The first event will be an introductory dinner at 6:00 p.m., July 12. The final session ends at noon on July 17, with lunch to follow. Sessions will meet from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. each day, with the afternoons left free for preparation.
Application deadline: May 1, 2018.
Fee deadline: June 1, 2018.
TO APPLY: please contact Mrs. Terri Blumenthal, firstname.lastname@example.org by the application deadline. The fee is due in a check made out to Dickinson College, by the fee deadline.
For more information please contact Prof. Chris Francese (email@example.com).
Seth Levin discusses the character of Palinurus in Vergil’s Aeneid
Cui vix attollēns Palinūrus lūmina fātur:
‘Mēne salis placidī vultum flūctūsque quiētōs
ignōrāre iubēs? Mēne huic cōnfīdere mōnstrō?
Aenēān crēdam (quid enim?) fallācibus aurīs 850
Tālia dicta dabat, clāvumque adfīxus et haerēns
nusquam āmittēbāt oculōsque sub astra tenēbat.
Ecce deus rāmum Lēthaeō rōre madentem
vīque sopōrātum Stygiā super utraque quassat 855
tempora, cūnctantīque natantia lūmina solvit.
Vix prīmōs inopīna quiēs laxāverat artūs,
et super incumbēns cum puppis parte revulsā
cumque gubernāclō liquidās prōiēcit in undās
praecipitem ac sociōs nēquīquam saepe vocantem; 860
ipse volāns tenuīs sē sustulit āles ad aurās.
Currit iter tūtum nōn sētius aequore classis
prōmissīsque patris Neptūnī interrita fertur.
Iamque adeō scopulōs Sīrēnum advecta subībat,
difficilīs quondam multōrumque ossibus albōs 865
(tum rauca adsiduō longē sale saxa sonābant),
cum pater āmissō fluitantem errāre magistrō
sēnsit, et ipse ratem nocturnīs rēxit in undīs
multa gemēns cāsūque animum concussus amīcī:
‘Ō nimium caelō et pelagō cōnfīse serēnō, 870
nūdus in ignōtā, Palinūre, iacēbis harēnā.’
Scarcely raising his eyes Palinurus says: ‘You order me to forget what I know about the appearance of the gentle salty sea and to forget the tranquil waves? To place my trust in this monster? For how could I entrust Aeneas to these fallacious winds, as I am often deceived by the guile of the serene sky?’ He spoke these words, and grasping and clinging to the helm, he never lost his grip and kept his eyes on the stars. But behold, the god shakes above both of his temples a branch dripping with the dew of Lethe, a branch stupefied with the power of the Styx, and although Palinurus tried to resist, his floating eyes weakened. Scarcely an unexpected sleep relaxed his first limbs, and reclining above him, the god threw Palinurus, who called out to his friends many times in vain, headlong into the peaceful waves with a plucked out part of the stern and rudder; and the god flying as a bird, carried himself along the thin breezes. The fearless fleet traverses the voyage on the sea in no more danger than was foretold by the promise of father Neptune. And now the departing fleet approached the crags of the Sirens, white with the bones of many men. Formerly it was difficult to traverse, (at that time the rough rocks were resounding from afar with the constant waves). When Aeneas felt that his wavering ship was wandering without a helmsman, he steered the ship himself on the waves of the night, terrified by the fate of his friend and lamenting much: ‘O Palinurus, confident too much in the sky and peaceful ocean, you will be thrown naked onto an unknown shore.’
Palinurus is an unlucky soul struck down by fate and the gods so that Aeneas might reach destined Italy. As Aeneas’ helmsman, he is visited by Somnus in the end of Book Five of the Aeneid, and is instructed to rest his eyes and let Somnus take over steering the fleet. However, Palinurus does not listen and is put to sleep by the god, and falls into the ocean. The reason why Palinurus dies in this manner is because earlier in Book Five, Neptune promises Venus that Aeneas will safely reach Latium on calm waters, but only if a single life in given in return. Palinurus’ main appearance is in Book Five, but he also makes an appearance in Book Six when Aeneas travels to the Underworld. During this scene, Palinurus begs Aeneas to give his bones a proper burial, and the Sibyl promises Palinurus that the people who discover Palinurus’ body “will appease your bones, will build you a tomb and pay your tomb due rites and the site will bear the name of Palinurus now and always” (Aeneid 6.379-80). But why is Palinurus unfairly chosen to die? Palinurus’ death fits into Vergilian pattern of death taking place at the end of books, or sections, of the Aeneid. In Book Two, Creusa dies in the final lines; in Book Three, Anchises does; and in Book Four, the final scene is the suicide of Dido. Not only do these characters all die at the end of these books, but their deaths in some way help Aeneas to arrive safely in Latium. They were all subject to fate and the intervention of the gods. This principle, as discussed by historian of religion Walter Burkert, is called pars pro toto, and it refers to “accepting the small loss in order to save the whole.” Vergil uses it because it “is highly rational [to employ] and highly emotional at the same time” (Burkert 51).
Through his use of pars pro toto, Vergil creates a rather eerie and somber tone in this passage. Although Vergil uses a lot of adjectives noting how peaceful the ocean and sky were during Palinurus’ death, those like placidi, quietos, sereni, and liquidas to name a few, Palinurus dies vocantem socios nequiquam, “calling out to his comrades in vain,” while he is thrown headlong into the ocean, drowning without any “indication that anyone heard the helmsman’s cries” (Fratantuono, 719). This eerie tone is especially present when Vergil writes about how the fleet approached the crags of the Sirens, which were white with the bones of many men. Sirens are mythological creatures, half human, half bird who lived on cliff-sides and would lure passing travelers to them by singing pleasant songs. Then, they would wreck the approaching ships, killing the sailors (Hinz). This detail about the Sirens could have been omitted, but Vergil cleverly writes about the Sirens to enhance the somber tone of Palinurus’ death, as “sleep had to work quickly so as to ensure that Palinurus could be cast overboard as a quasi-offering to the Sirens” (Fratantuono, 721).
Further adding to the eerie tone of this passage are Vergil’s final words in Aeneas’ epitaph to Palinurus at the end: ‘nudus in ignota, Palinure, iacebis harena’ (5.871). Palinurus will eventually wash up on the Italian shore, but Vergil notes that this shore will be ignota, or unknown. Palinurus is lost forever, and no matter how hard the Trojans search for Palinurus’ body, it will forever remain a mystery as to its whereabouts. Palinurus’ body is also nudus, or naked, stripped of its former Trojan distinction to whoever happens upon it. Vergil uses an eerie tone for this section because it complements the unfair fate of Palinurus. Everything seems to be going great for the Trojans after the games Aeneas holds for Anchises in Book Five, until Palinurus is unjustly chosen for death. The eerie tone in this passage also sends chills down your spine, forcing you to shudder at the dark fate of an innocent victim.
Besides the tone, another aspect of Vergil’s portrayal of Palinurus which I find interesting is the dichotomy between his brief speech in the beginning of this section and Aeneas’ at the end. Palinurus makes it very evident that he does not trust the calm waves and the clear sky. Palinurus is an experienced helmsman, and would not easily be thrown overboard by the worsening of conditions. However, “in the last lines of the book Aeneas laments the steersman’s fate and comments, pathetically inappropriately as it seems in view of Palinurus’ earlier indignant refusal to trust the elements, that Palinurus died through overconfidence in the calm sea and sky” (Nicoll, 459). It seems odd for Vergil to credit Palinurus with being a great helmsman, only to have Aeneas discredit this distinction a mere twenty lines later. However, it is not uncommon for Aeneas to be ignorant of the facts, contrary to other epic heroes. When Aeneas is fighting for Troy in Book Two, for example, Venus has to come down to show him how the gods were destroying Troy and there was no hope in saving the city. Similarly, in the Underworld, Aeneas sees Dido for the first time since leaving Carthage and has no idea she killed herself because he left. Fortunately for Palinurus, Aeneas eventually realizes that divine foul-play was involved when he meets Palinurus in the Underworld.
There are many instances in this passage which exemplify Vergil’s distinct style. He employs vocabulary in this section in order to generate a more epic emotion to the lines. In line 861, he uses ales (“bird,” literally “wing”) to describe Somnus flying away from Palinurus, instead of using more colloquial terms such as avis or volucris. Additionally, Vergil does not use mare even once to describe the ocean, instead opting to use the epic word aequor in line 862. For the other instances when Vergil mentions the ocean, he uses nouns such as salis, fluctus, and undas to describe features of the ocean, which further enhance the imagery of the scene, contributing to the epic feel.
Another stylistic feature present within this passage which is characteristically Vergilian is the repetition of an idea using different sets of words. In Palinurus’ short speech alone there are two examples of repetition of the same idea. The first is in line 848: mene salis placidi vultum fluctusque quietos. Palinurus references the ocean twice in the adjective-noun pair salis placidi vultum and fluctus quietos. The example in Palinurus’ speech is in lines 850-51: Aenean credam (quid enim?) fallacibus auris et caeli totiens deceptus fraude sereni? This time fallacibus auris and caeli sereni describe the treachery of the weather. These two examples of repetition allow the reader to better picture the scenery Palinurus is currently experiencing, adding to the vividness of the poem.
To summarize, this passage at the end of Book Five is dark, as it highlights the fated death of an innocent victim, while sticking to the Vergilian theme of death at the end of sequential books, or pars pro toto.
Burkert, Walter. Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.
Fagles, Robert, trans. Virgil: The Aeneid. London: Penguin, 2010.
Fratantuono, Lee, and R. Alden Smith. Vergil:Aeneid 5: Text, Translation, and Commentary. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Hinz, Berthold, “Sirens.” In Maria Moog-Grunewald, ed., Brill’s New Pauly Supplements I – Volume 4: The Reception of Myth and Mythology.
Nicoll, W. S. M. “The Sacrifice of Palinurus.” Classical Quarterly 38 (1988): 459–72.
Thomas, Richard F., Jan M. Ziolkowski, Anna Bonnell-Freidin, Christian Flow, and Michael B. Sullivan. The Virgil Encyclopedia. Malden: Wiley Blackwell, 2014.
Hugh Downs discusses the character of Misenus in Vergil’s Aeneid.
There are many stories in Roman mythology that involve mortals challenging the gods to contests. One of the best known is the tale of Arachne, the weaver who thought she was better than Minerva. Another less well-known story is that of Marsyas and Apollo. Marsyas was a satyr who challenged Apollo to a music contest but lost. More often than not, these stories do not end happily for the mortals. Arachne was turned into a spider and Marsyas was tied to a tree and flayed alive. This podcast will focus on another, more obscure character who challenged the gods and faced their wrath: Misenus, Aeneas’ herald.
Misenus’ death occurs towards the beginning of Book 6. Aeneas and the Trojans have finally landed in Italy at Cumae. Aeneas seeks out the Sibyl and, after performing the required sacrifices, entreats her to tell him what lays in store for his weary band. The Sibyl assures him he will reach Lavinium but warns him that he will find war upon his arrival. Aeneas then begs the Sibyl to show him to the Underworld so that he can visit his father Anchises. The Sibyl tells him that he must first seek out a golden bough sacred to Proserpina and bring it back with him; this is his key to the underworld. Before he leaves, she tells Aeneas that one of his companions lies dead and must be properly laid to rest before he can begin his descent. This is where Misenus appears. The original Latin is as follows:
Atque illī Mīsēnum in lītore siccō,
ut vēnēre, vident indignā morte perēmptum,
Mīsēnum Aeolidēn, quō nōn praestantior alter
aere ciēre virōs Mārtemque accendere cantū. 165
Hectoris hic magnī fuerat comes, Hectora circum
et lituō pugnās īnsignis obībat et hastā.
postquam illum vītā victor spoliāvit Achillēs,
Dardaniō Aenēae sēsē fortissimus hērōs
addiderat socium, nōn īnferiōra secūtus. 170
Sed tum, forte cavā dum personat aequora conchā,
dēmēns, et cantū vocat in certāmina dīvōs,
aemulus exceptum Trītōn, sī crēdere dignum est,
inter saxa virum spūmōsā immerserat undā.
Vergil spends the next 50 some lines describing the preparations the Trojans made for Misenus’ funeral. He concludes the scene with the following lines:
At pius Aenēās ingentī mōle sepulcrum
impōnit suaque arma virō rēmumque tubamque
monte sub āëriō, quī nunc Mīsēnus ab illō
dīcitur aeternumque tenet per saecula nōmen.
Here is my interpretation of the Latin:
But when they returned to the shore,
they found Misenus cold in undeserved death on the dry sand.
Misenus, son of Aeolus, second to none in rousing men
And inciting Mars with a trumpet’s call.
First a companion of great Hector, he was famous
For fighting around the prince with both horn and spear.
After Hector was stripped of life by victorious Achilles,
Misenus, most brave of heroes, fell in with Dardan Aeneas, equal of Hector.
But then, by chance while Misenus was making the seas resound
With a hollow conch, he recklessly challenged the gods to a contest of song.
Envious Triton seized the man, if the story is to be believed,
And among the rocks drowned him in the crashing waves.
…and Pius Aeneas established his tomb on a huge mound,
And lay down Misenus’ arms and oar and trumpet
Below the lofty mountain, which from that point on has been
called Misenum and will hold that name for all time.
There are some contextual notes that I’d like to make which I think will be helpful for better understanding the section. Aeolus, Misenus’ father, was the keeper of the winds, so it is fitting that his son should be a renowned trumpeter. The conch was Triton’s “special instrument” (Austin, 91). so it makes sense that he specifically would punish any mortal who dared to challenge the gods with it. The place referred to here at the end is the modern day Cape Miseno, the northwest headland of the Bay of Naples. During Vergil’s time it was a popular vacation spot for Rome’s elite and housed many luxurious villas (Ganiban, 833). It was also the site of an important naval base during Augustus’ reign (McKay, 8). The topography of the cape lends itself to Vergil’s tale of Misenus as it bears a striking resemblance to a burial mound. The sounds the wind makes as it travels across the landscape through caves and grass are said to resemble to some degree those of a trumpet, strengthening the connection to Misenus (McKay, 7). By placing the death of Misenus here, Vergil is providing a link between the mythical past of his poem and the present day (Austin, 108). His Roman audience would have been very familiar with Cape Miseno, and making this connection would help them visualize and connect with the story more.
These lines provide us with good examples of many stylistic features common to Vergil. For one thing, Vergil very often uses words that “are more at home in poetry than prose”; these “add to the grandeur” of the poem and serve to make it feel truly epic (O’Hara, 255). Sicco; peremptum; lituo; obibat; aequora; spumosa; and immerserat are all examples of words found much more often in poetry than prose.
Another common stylistic feature found in these lines are assonance and alliteration. Alliteration had been used in Roman poetry long before Vergil came onto the scene, and Vergil uses it sparingly so as not to appear archaic (O’Hara, 252). vita victor spoliavit in line 168 is a good example of alliteration with the v’s, and line 165 contains both alliteration and assonance in aere ciere…accendere cantu. The latter is especially interesting as Vergil uses the devices to imitate to some degree the trumpeting of Misenus (Austin, 90).
Epanalepsis can also be found in this section. This is the unnecessary repetition of a word or phrase from a previous line so as to linger over an idea to add pathos or emphasis (O’Hara 253). This is seen with the repetition of Misenum in the first 3 lines. There is also repetition with Hectoris…Hectora in line 166, which serves both as a reminder of “Trojan pride and sorrow” and to emphasize the honored position Misenus held (Austin, 91).
The reason I like the Misenus story (apart from the fact that he’s a literal blowhard), is the message it conveys about the relationship between gods and man. The story, like those of Arachne and Marsyas, shows that the gods thought themselves superior to man and did not take lightly to mortal challenges. Nor did they have any qualms about killing mortals who challenged their power. I think this humanizes the gods to a certain extent, because it shows that they could be petty too, just like humans.
Thank you for listening, and I hope you now understand more about the character and significance of Misenus!
Austin, R.G. P. Vergili Maronis Aeneidos, Liber Sextus. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
Ganiban, Randal. “Misenus,” in Richard Thomas and Jan M. Ziolkowski, eds. The Virgil Encyclopedia, vol. 2. (Chichester, West Sussex, UK : Wiley Blackwell, 2014), 833.
McKay, Alexander G. “Aeneas’ Landfalls in Hesperia.” Greece & Rome 14 (1967): 3–11.
O’Hara, James. “Virgil’s Style,” in The Cambridge Companion to Virgil, Charles Martindale, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.