Translating Catullus for a Student Audience

Catullus is one of the most frequently translated of Latin poets, but when it comes to English versions suitable for classroom use (that is, reasonably close to the Latin, not seriously dated, and widely available) there are three:

All three have introductions and notes. The versions of Lee and Green include the Latin on facing pages.

Mummy portrait girl British Museum

Mummy Portrait of a girl, AD 50-70, Roman Egypt. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

In my opinion Green’s is by far the best of the three, and this is also the verdict of Stephen Willetts in his long review article comparing the versions of Green, Lee, David Mulroy and Martin.[1] Green is an English-born classicist and writer, and a veteran translator of Ovid, Juvenal, and other classical authors. His version of Catullus is vigorous, frank, and often very clever. As some reviewers noted, however, both the translation and the notes assume an audience of advanced students or non-specialist scholars, and “will perhaps be less appealing to undergraduates or to the casual reader.”[2] It also leans heavily on sometimes outdated British slang, especially when it comes to the obscene poems (e.g., “little scrubber” for scortillum at 10.3, ditto for puella at 41.1, “whanger” for pene at 15.9, “rogering” for pedicare at 21.4, “one spent shag” at 10.22). While I myself love Green’s notes and extensive introduction—if you know some Catullus scholarship his treatments are masterpieces of concision and insight—I fear that students can’t always follow them. Some reviewers also came down hard on Green’s attachment to biographical interpretations, and his sometimes cavalier attitude toward scholars with whom he disagrees.[3] So those who wanted to use his introductory matter in a class on Roman literature, for example, would have to do some work to contextualize Green’s views.

Another aspect of Green that has to be reckoned with is his determination to imitate Catullus’ meters systematically in English accentual verse. He explains and defends this practice at length in the Introduction (pp. 24–32). His view, shared strongly by Willetts and Martin, though not by Lee, is that the Latin quantitative patterns both can be reproduced exactly using English word accent, and that the attempt to do so must be made, because “the rhythm, the beat, of a poem constitutes its essential musical core.” (27) To use a different meter is in his view “wholly misleading.” Willetts believes that all translators of Catullus must “lay out the exact forms of English rhythm and their variations that will represent quantitative meters,” and that “translators who fail that minimum requirement should not see print” (177).

While Green’s success in this endeavor is remarkable in its own terms, there is sometimes a cost in tone and word choice. His version of 1, for example, begins:

Who’s the dedicatee of my new witty

booklet, all fresh-polished with abrasive?

To render dono with “dedicatee” is to choose the wrong register. “Dedicatee” is a word from literary criticism, not from poetry, or even ordinary spoken English. But it helps Green get the metrical shape he insists on.[4] Martin, also striving to render the hendecasyllable in English, begins:

To whom will I give this sophisticated

abrasively accomplished new collection?

As with Green, the metrical imitation of the Latin is impressive, but the word choice problematic. To have Catullus begin by calling his own work “sophisticated” and “accomplished”— in his most literal meaning he is just referring to the elegant appearance of the physical book—is to make him sound self-satisfied and complacent. “Abrasively” for pumice is clever if you know the Latin, but unclear otherwise.

Lee’s version strives for a very concise, literal rendering, which often leads to a bland, rather dull effect:

Whom do I give a neat new booklet

Polished up lately with dry pumice?

This faithfully represents the sense of the Latin, but at a price. “Booklet” is technically correct for libellum, but hardly consistent with the main point, that the physical object looks lovely. In the name of economy and respect of the literal meaning of the text, Lee often under-translates in this way, as with “love neat,” for merum amorem (13.9), which is obscure if you don’t know the Latin, or “talent” for talentum in 12.8, also obscure, since the reference to the ancient monetary unit is unexplained. “Attend Thetis’ nuptial torches” is a typically over-literal rendering of Thetidis taedas celebrare iugalis (64.302). I can imagine assigning Lee’s version to students if I want them to know what Catullus says, but not if I want them to understand what makes Catullus enjoyable. And he too tends to rely on British slang in a way that may be off-putting for American readers (“I’ll bugger you and stuff your gobs, / Aurelius Kink and Poofter Furius 16.1–2; “give a toss” for faceret pili 10.13).

I can understand why Green, Martin, and Willetts want to insist on accentual, metrical renderings. Catullus is a deft metrician, it seems like a betrayal not to bring this out in translation. They would see a “free verse” version as a serious dereliction of duty. As Martin puts it, “if your author is a high-wire walker, you are not going to be able to convey the excitement he generates by tiptoeing along a piece of string stretched out on the floor” (p. xxv). As the metaphor implies, on this view metrical verse is high and exciting, unmetrical verse, low and pedestrian.

Yet metrical form as a constraint by no means enjoys the unchallenged position in English poetry that it once did, and it need not be treated as a sine qua non. Even apart from the practice of today’s poets, students are not now weaned on exclusively metrical verse as they once were, and I doubt whether today’s student audience is even capable of perceiving Green’s metrical virtuosity. More importantly, Martin and the others overdraw the antithesis between metrical verse on the one hand, and everything else. Language is not unpoetic, commonplace, or low, just because it’s not metrical, as the practice of many distinguished English poets working today will attest. It is a mistake to privilege meter at the expense of other factors that go to produce a sense of elevation and freshness: density, economy, avoidance of cliché, and careful attention to sound.

These goals, along with the getting the right tone and diction, attaining readability and clarity, and arranging for the right emphasis, outweigh the importance of accentual metrics, and must not be sacrificed to it. In my personal hierarchy of priorities tone and level of diction rank first, which is why a word like “dedicatee” or “booklet” bothers me. A second absolutely paramount value for me is clarity and readability. It is imperative to use natural English syntactical patterns, and not to use a given grammatical structure simply because it corresponds to a Latin one. One should simplify complex Latin constructions, so long as that does not do serious violence to the shape of the poem. Willetts has harsh words for translators who over-simplify syntax for the sake of readability.[5] But one can tread a middle path. Close behind tone and syntactical clarity comes the matter of emphasis. Which words in the Latin are highlighted by virtue of the word order, syntax, or just by being unusual or significant in the context? The last four lines of 101, for example, contain a violent hyperbaton:

nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum          

            tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias, 

accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,        

            atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale!

The purpose of this hyperbaton, as commentators point out, is to throw a spotlight on accipe, a crucial word that sums up the basic gesture of the poem. But the syntax is impossible in English. Lee moves the verb up for clarity:

But now, meanwhile, accept these gifts which by old custom

Of the ancestors are offered in sad duty

At funeral rites, gifts drenched in a brother’s tears,

And forever, brother, greetings and farewell. (Lee)

Martin keeps accipe where it is, but adds a new phrase, “I must celebrate grief”:

But now I must celebrate grief with funeral tributes

offered the dead in the ancient way of the fathers;

accept these presents, wet with my brotherly tears, and

now & forever, my brother, hail & farewell. (Martin)

Martin’s addition is an effective oxymoron, perhaps, but not Catullus. Green adds “here I offer,” which helpfully brings us back to the central point of the situation:

Still, here now I offer those gifts which by ancestral custom

are presented, sad offerings, at such obsequies:

accept them, soaked as they are with a brother’s weeping,

and brother, forever now hail and farewell. (Green)

In the version I wrote for the sourcebook on Roman Civilization published by Hackett in 2014, a book produced in collaboration with Scott Smith, I repeated the emphatic accipe, and broke the two couplets with a full stop:

So take these, at least for now, the dismal funeral gifts

            our ancestral custom has handed down.

Take them, wet with your brother’s tears, and in eternity

            hail and farewell, brother, hail and farewell. 

This version introduces repetition to the final line, in an attempt to bring out the emphatic solemnity of the traditional phrase ave atque vale.

Another problem in these lines is nunc tamen interea. Rather bland and colorless in literal translation, in Latin these words poignantly emphasize the futility of the gesture Catullus is making. Lee, literal as always, settles for “But now, meanwhile.” Martin ejects interea completely in favor of his added phrase, which is a real shame. He probably disliked the prosaic feel of “meanwhile,” which did not bother Lee. Green’s “Still, here now” is a good solution, since it brings the important tamen to first position in the line, and separates it with a comma, so it can be properly felt. “Here” adds vividness in keeping with the context. My own approach was to put even more emphasis on nunc tamen interea by giving it a four word phrase, marked off by commas, but only after the verb. Having the verb first both enhances clarity and reflects the importance of the word.

Part of the job of getting Catullus to make sense to students is equipping the text with an introduction and notes. Martin’s introduction is very much in the traditional of belles lettres: “To paraphrase Paolo Pasolini on Ezra Pound, Catullus’ love of the purely phatic aspect of language, its function as chat, is one of the most extraordinary phenomena in classical literature” (p. xi). This is a nice insight, but I can’t imagine an average student getting much out of it. Not being a classicist he is naturally not up on all the scholarship regarding Catullus’ life and times, so when it comes to that topic his introduction is quite thin.

Lee’s introduction is heavily philological. He leads with a discussion of text transmission and emendation: “A very beautiful correction was that of Scaliger in 1577 . . .” (p. x), “Those three insertions were ejected by Lachmann for his edition of 1829 . . .” (p. xi). Then he has three pages on the structure of the collection, a subject of much philological inquiry. “But, it is objected, why do ancient grammarians never refer to Book I, II, or III of Catullus?” (p. xiv). Next comes a discussion of what genre Catullus falls into. This is a good topic to broach, but he does it with too much name-dropping and unexplained reference to classical authors. When he finally gets to discussing Catullus’ life, the material is excellent, but the overall impression is one of immense scholarly apparatus standing between reader and poems.

Green’s Introduction is outstanding, as I mentioned, and foregrounds the life and times of Catullus, as one should. But here too there is the casual assumption of a level of literacy that I think it is unwise to assume. “Obviously we can’t take what Catullus wrote about Caesar or Mamurra at face value, any more than we can Byron’s portraits of George III and Southey in ‘The Vision of Judgement,’ or Dryden’s of James II and the Duke of Buckingham in ‘Absalom and Achitophel’” (p. 1). The most disturbing thing to me about this sentence is that he has not explained who Mamurra is. In my view students are turned off by this kind of writing.

Martin’s notes are extremely short, sometimes nonexistent, and tucked inconspicuously in the back of the book. On the fascinatingly obscene 16 he says simply “C.’s threat [to sodomize Furius and Aurelius and force them to fellate him] would have struck his Roman audience as an altogether appropriate response to a dastardly provocation [criticizing Catullus’ verse as effeminate]: extremism in the defense of one’s virility was no vice.” This is not only speculative, but a culpable failure to interpret and contextualize.

All three of these translations seem to me to omit much-needed explanations of cultural data. None of them, for example, explains what gout is at 71.6. Martin’s translation of notho … Luna as “counterfeit Luna” is unexplained, likewise “coneyed Iberia” for Cuniculosae Iberiae (37.18). “Bawdyhouse barroom” for salax taberna could use both a better translation and a note about the culture of Roman tabernae, an important piece of background for the poem.

I have loved Catullus’ poetry as poetry since I was a teenager, but I tend to view him now also through the lens of Roman social history. He needs to be appreciated as a literary craftsman, but also seen for the fascinating insights he can provide into Roman culture, especially when it comes to gender, sexuality, religion, and culture in general—to read Catullus really well one needs to be part poet and part anthropologist. This is the borderland where the most interesting work on Catullus has been done in recent decades, by scholars such as William Fitzgerald, David Wray, Marilyn Skinner, Brian Krostenko, and Chris Nappa. A really effective introduction and set of notes would try to take advantage of this work and present it comprehensibly to an undergraduate and general audience.

It would be churlish to critique so sternly the work of these excellent translators and scholars without exposing my own efforts to scrutiny, so for those without access to Ancient Rome: An Anthology of Sources (Hackett, 2014), here are a few of the translations printed there (pp. 24–33):


Here it is, my neat new collection

polished at the roll-ends with dry

pumice—but on whom to bestow it?

You, Cornelius.[6] For you always said

my foolishness amounted to something,

even as you were chronicling

the whole of history (three books!),

the only man of Italy with the guts to do it.

Gods! the learning and labor in that work.

So here, accept this, for what it’s worth.

Patron Muse, I pray, may it endure

for more than a single generation.



Fuck you both up the ass. Suck my cock,

Furius, Aurelius, you asshole faggots.

You dare to infer from my verse—

a little risqué and soft, it is true—

that I do these lewd things myself?

A good and loyal poet must be chaste

personally, but his verse need not be.

In fact, to have wit and a modicum of charm,

they must be a bit risqué and seductive,

the sort of thing to awake the loins,

and I don’t just mean in callow lads,

but in those old, hairy bastards

who normally just can’t get it up.

You two, you read of many thousand

kisses, and think I’m less than a man?

Fuck you both up the ass. Suck my cock.



Across many lands and across many seas I have traveled,

      here now, brother, for your grim funeral rites.

I have come to bestow those final gifts we owe to death,

      and to speak, in vain, to your silent ash.

Fortune has deprived me of your living presence, oh my

      wretched brother, cruelly stolen from me.

So take these, at least for now, the dismal funeral gifts

      our ancestral custom has handed down.

Take them, wet with your brother’s tears, and in eternity

      hail and farewell, brother, hail and farewell.


[1] “Translating Catullus,” Arion 14.2 (2006-07), 155–178, at p. 177.

[2] Elizabeth Sutherland, Classical Journal 102 (2006­­-2007), 137.

[3] Roger Rees, Classical Bulletin 82 (2006), 144-146.

[4] Other examples: “colleague” for sodalis in 10.29; “queening Arabs” for Arabesve molles in 11.5; “gallants” for moechis in 11.17.

[5] “In a poem as long, intricate, and verbally radiant as Catullus 64, there is no excuse for translators like Mulroy to break the poet’s verse periods into a necklace of stunted, independent clauses strung on a cord of newspaper syntax. It is time for translators to take a long step back from the process of extreme domestication and school themselves in the music of a flexible syntax that can breathe freely over a long sweep of lines and react in counterpoint with the rhythmic movement of the verse” (p. 167). Fair enough, but the goal must be a natural English syntax, not an imitation-Latin syntax.

[6] Cornelius Nepos, a fellow northern Italian, an intimate friend of Cicero, and a distinguished author in his own right.

Winter Break 2017-18 Accomplishments at DCC

2017-18 winter break was quite productive! Dickinson students Eli Goings (’18), Beth Eidam (’19), and Carl Hamilton (’21) worked on Caesar’s Gallic War, specifically on the text notes and vocabulary for Book 1, Chapters 8–54. This will soon give us a complete edition of Book 1. They made vocabulary lists using the Bridge, edited and added links in the notes (which had been previously gathered and edited by Jo Anne Miller from older school editions), edited the text to make it conform to the OCT, and created pages for notes and vocabulary.

Dickinson students Natalie Ginez (’21), Claire Jeantheau (’21), and Luke Nicosia (’21) worked on Wells Hansen’s commentary on Lucretius, De Rerum Natura Book 3. They completed the Bridge lemmatization of Lucretius 3, added dictionary definitions based on Hansen’s notes, and created vocabulary lists. They re-formatted Hansen’s notes and created draft pages for the notes. They added scroll bars. They proofread the notes and vocabulary lists. A contest to see who could identify the most errors in the others’ work was one by Claire, the prize being dinner for two.

Many thanks to Eli, Beth, Carl, Natalie, Claire, and Luke for all your care and hard work!

Horace’s Satiric Style

Horace’s satiric style is informal and conversational—so much so that he called his works not satūrae but sermōnēs, “conversations, chats.” There are often snippets of dialogue and quick changes of topic and tone. The vocabulary ranges widely and urbanely between high (epic, grand) and low (colloquial, humble, obscene). Horace is somewhat confrontational, frequently addressing and challenging the reader or another imaginary or named person, but never in a hostile or angry way. He is fond of quoting proverbial wisdom and recalling well-known stories. He invokes principles of philosophy, but is never dogmatic or hair-splitting. He uses some rhetorical techniques, but his imagined audience seems to be one of friends—people in the know, rather than the general public.

Here are some of the more noticeable stylistic features, with examples taken from the first two satires of Book 1. This does not include aspects of Latin metrics or Latin grammar and usage.[1]

Snippets of Dialogue (brusque questions and snappy interruptions) ‘nil fuerit mi’ inquit ‘cum uxoribus umquam alienis.’ / verum est cum mimis, est cum meretricibus “’I would never,’ he says ‘have anything to do with other men’s wives.’ But you do have to do with mime actresses, with courtesans.”1.2.57-58

Challenging questions: quid iuvat immensum te argenti pondus et auri / furtim defossa timidum deponere terra? “What pleasure does it give you to fearfully place a massive weight of silver and gold in secret under the excavated earth?” (1.1.41-2) quid inter / est in matrona, ancilla peccesne togata? “What’s the difference if you do wrong with a matrona or with a toga wearing slave-woman (prostitute)?” (1.2.62-3).

Direct address to the audience: hiscine versiculis speras tibi posse dolores / atque aestus curasque graves e pectore pelli? “Are you hoping that these little verses can banish the woes, passions, and grievous anxieties from your heart?” (1.2.109-110).

Generalizing direct address: num, tibi cum faucis urit sitis, aurea quaeris / pocula? “When thirst burns in your throat, you don’t look for a golden cup, do you?” (1.2.114-115)

Direct address to the satirized person: cum tu argento post omnia ponas “Since you put money before everything else” (1.1.86)

Lists: multae tibi tum officient res, / custodes, lectica, ciniflones, parasitae “Many things get in your way: chaperones, litter, sedan-chair, coiffeuses, entourage” (1.2.97-98).

Proper names: deprendi miserum est: Fabio vel iudice vincam. “Getting caught (in adultery) is awful. I could prove that in court that even if Fabius were the judge.” (1.2.134)

Fringe vocabulary: Ambubaiarum collegia, pharmacopolae, / mendici, mimae, balatrones, hoc genus omne “The guild of go-go girls, quacks, beggars, mime-actresses, buffoons, all those type of people.” (1.2.1–2).

Colloquial language: Fufidius vappae famam timet ac nebulonis. “Fufius is afraid of getting a reputation as a low-life spendthrift” (1.2.12).

Obscenity mixed with formality: ‘nolim laudarier’ inquit / ‘sic me’ mirator cunni Cupiennius albi. “’I should not like to be praised in this way,’ says Cupiennius, the connoisseur of aristocratic [coarse word for female genitalia]” (1.2.35–36).

Oxymoron/paradox: semper ego optarim pauperrimus esse bonorum, “when it comes to these riches, I hope I am always very poor” (1.1.79). transvolat in medio posita et fugientia captat, “he flies past what is freely available and chases that which flees” (1.2.108)

Wordplay: dum vitant stulti vitia, in contraria currunt. “The fools, while they avoid one fault, they run to the opposite (fault)” (1.2.24).

Metaphor: interdicta petes, vallo circumdata “you seek the forbidden, (a woman) hedged around by a palisaded rampart” (1.2.96). metiri possis oculo latus “you can get the measure of her flank with your eyes” (1.2.103). plenior ut siquos delectet copia iusto, / cum ripa simul avolsos ferat Aufidus acer. / at qui tantuli eget quanto est opus, is neque limo / turbatam haurit aquam neque vitam amittit in undis. “He who takes delight in a supply that is more than just, the swift river Aufidus carries him off along with the bank that has been ripped away. But he who needs only what is essential, he drinks water untainted by mud, and does not lose his life in the waves.” (1.1.57-60)

Well-known examples: ut quondam Marsaeus, amator Originis ille, / qui patrium mimae donat fundumque laremque “Like Marsaeus, the famous lover of Origo, who once made his ancestral farm and home a present to a mime actress.” 1.2.55-56.

Proverbial sayings: in silvam ligna feras “you would be taking wood to the forest” [i.e. doing something totally useless] (1.10.34).

Allusions to fables or plays: ita ut pater ille, Terenti / fabula quem miserum gnato vixisse fugato / inducit. “Like that well-known father in Terence’s play, who lived a wretched life after his son ran away.” (1.2.20–22)

Parataxis (“setting beside,” i.e. the omission of conjunctions): milia frumenti tua triverit area centum: / non tuus hoc capiet venter plus ac meus “Your threshing floor may grind down a hundred thousand bushels of grain a year. [But] Your belly holds no more than mine.” (1.1.45–46)

1. For details on those topics, see Emily Gowers, Horace: Satires Book I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 22–25 (“Style and Metre”), and J. C. Rolfe, Q. Horati Flacci Sermones et Epistulae (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1901), pp. xxvii–xxxviii (“The Language and Style of the Satires.”).

Videos on Homeric Dialect and Scansion

A few years ago I made some videos using the Showme app about the Homeric dialect and Homeric metrics. They are somewhat buried on the Showme site, so here are the two series, first on dialect, second on metrics:

Homeric Dialect 1 augments and endings: 

Homeric Dialect 2 the article:

Homeric Dialect 3 verbs:

Reading Homer 1 Long and Short:

Reading Homer 2 Quantity Exceptions:

Reading Homer 3 Dactylic Hexameter: 

I think I made a fourth installment for the grammar series about particles, but I cannot find that on the Showme site. Hope you find these useful!

Enablers and Servants

One of the things I learned at the SCS meetings this past weekend is that it is important to echo and amplify on social media ideas and voices you find important. My favorite notion this year came from Gregory Crane, in a talk about  the Open Greek and Latin Project: classicists should see themselves less as professors, experts, and authorities, and more as enablers and servants of the community of readers of classical texts. 

Here is his list of the OGL’s goals in full:

  • 2 or more editions for as much of Greek and Latin as possible
  • CC licensing (CC-BY-SA)
  • Smooth pathway from Images of text-bearing objects through an open-ended and evolving set of machine actionable annotations
  • Based on evidence rather than authority
  • Community driven
  • Paid professionals as enablers and servants
  • Multilingual emphasizing  global access and exchange

There is much in this list to discuss. A key piece of context is the imminent arrival of the new Perseus interface, the Scaife Digital Library Viewer, which is set to debut on the Ides of March. Those who attended the OGL pre-conference workshop, or the Ancient MakerSpace session by the developer James Tauber, got a live preview of this lovely new package for Perseus data and tools. Here is a screenshot, which, it should be noted, is a work in progress.

Pre-release draft of the new Scaife Viewer for Perseus 5.0

Pre-release draft of the new Scaife Viewer for Perseus 5.0

Notice the CTS URN in the upper right hand corner, a key piece of infrastructure. Note also the “Log in”: users will be able to contribute much more directly than is now the case. When individual words are highlighted the url will change, allowing a unique identifier that can be used as a stable peg to hang annotations on. Very exciting. The new Greek Word Study Tool will have several new features, including the ability to provide improvements and  “contribute to open philology” through things like treebanking and commenting on texts.

Feature list of the new Greek Word Study Tool for Perseus 5.0

Greek word study tool feature list

Crane’s presentation was part of the annual Digital Classics Association panel, which is always exciting, and this year was no exception. Sam Huskey gave an update on the Digital Latin Library, and tools he is helping develop that will partly automate the creation of TEI-XML encoding for apparatus criticus of Latin editions. The scholar creates a spreadsheet of variants attributed to certain witnesses, and a nifty Python script creates the appropriately tagged XML. This will get you only part way, of course. At certain junctures scholarly judgment has to intervene in the constitution of a text. The brilliance of this new tool is that it actually makes clear what is rote reporting of variants and what is actual scholarly intervention. It clearly and unambiguously marks out the intellectual labor that goes into the creation of a critical apparatus, something that every dean and tenure committee can use to give scholars appropriate credit. 

Peter Heslin gave a fascinating paper arguing, in apparent contradiction to Huskey, that TEI-XML is not the best way of encoding critical apparatus. Rather, we should be using as a model the version control of Github, which simply stores different versions of a document in parallel, until the user wants to know what the differences are between them. He pointed out that a traditional apparatus is a rhetorical device for supporting a single version of the text, but is quite unhelpful if you want to know how similar or different two versions of a text are (say, the Propertius texts of Barber and Goold). In the discussion it became apparent that the two approaches a complementary, but Heslin’s talk was quite the satisfying (to me) attack on TEI-XML as a data model. Here are his main beefs:

list of problems with tei for encoding app crit

Peter Heslin: The Problems with XML and the App. Crit.

Thomas Koentges gave an absolutely wonderful talk on the uses of distant reading techniques for Greek stylometry. Using the vastly increased corpus of Greek from the First Thousand Years of Greek project  he is able to use topic modeling to show quite clearly the in-authenticity of Plato’s Menexenus–only the most die-hard skeptic would disagree, it seems to me. The essence of the technique is to use the signature of relative frequency of extremely common tokens–the equivalent of our thes, ands, buts, and howevers–to group works and authors.

Cynthia Damon discussed her amazing success in getting students, ranging from high school age to undergrad to post bac to graduate, involved in that holiest of inaccessible mysteries of classical scholarship, textual criticism and the creation of the apparatus criticus. First, she teaches them how to read an app crit, leading them through the process of expanding into plain English what the apparatus is saying and what it is trying to do. Then she has teams of students transcribe individual manuscripts (of the Bellum Alexandrinum in this case) and note variants. These variants are placed into spreadsheets of the type Sam Huskey was describing, classifying and describing them, and choosing which should be displayed in the apparatus itself. Then information from existing apparatuses is integrated (in this case those of the Teubner and Bude texts). In addition to creating an entirely new text and apparatus for much of the Bell. Alex., the students identified 30 errors in the apparatuses of the Teubner and Bude editions. The electrifying effect of having students involved in the creation of new scholarly knowledge can be judged by the fact that three of the students made the journey to the Boston Marriott in freezing weather to attend the session. All told, 80 students have been involved so far. In one class, the students came to the final exam with a gift of a t-shirt for their professor: sine apparatu, sine honore

T-shirt made by Cynthia Damon's students at the University of Pennsylvania

Sine apparatu, sine honore: T-shirt made by Cynthia Damon’s students at the University of Pennsylvania

Crane’s vision for OGL is to “make Greek and Latin play the biggest possible role in the intellectual life of human civilization.” OGL aims not just to present Greek and Latin texts in a readable fashion, but to be the focus of communities of readers and citizen scholars like those that Cynthia Damon is cultivating, and like the ones centered around the Holy Cross Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents Club and its new off-shoot at Tufts. This philology is to be “community driven.” By getting students and others involved in the creation of scholarship through digital projects we prepare them for the future of work, he argues. Above all, philology must show its relevance if it is to survive in the competitive intellectual and institutional landscape of the coming decades. “We live in a world of fake news where truth doesn’t matter. Philology is an answer.”  

During the question period I asked how each presenter thought about their users, how they imagined the audience for their work. In most cases they said variations of “this  will be useful to scholars.” Crane’s answer was strikingly different. Professionals are “the least important audience,” he said. Rather, the proper role of the paid professional is to be the servant, the enabler of the community of citizen scholars and students. This is a vision that is profoundly important for our field, I believe. It motivates the scholars who contribute to DCC and to many other fine digital projects. Indeed, it has long been a part of the ideals of classical scholarship, for example in the late nineteenth century, when top scholars routinely wrote works for beginning students. Now, in what Crane called rather derisively the contemporary “print classics” world, this ideal has been somewhat forgotten. All too often scholars speak only to each other, and strive only to earn each others’ praise. 

This is not a call for “popularization” or “public facing scholarship,” both of which are quite valuable in themselves, but a call to find ways to create the kinds of scholarly and reading communities within and beyond the academy that will ensure the utility and contribution of our discipline in the coming decades. My intuition is that the way to do these things is to strive to broaden access to and understanding of the primary texts we love.


Support BMCR!

As any reader of DCC doubtless knows, Bryn Mawr Classical Review is the essential digital project in classics, arguably one of the most successful projects in the all the humanities disciplines in the history of the digital humanities. Most classicists cannot now imagine professional life without it–all the more remarkable because it runs on volunteer labor. I am passing on this email message from the good folks at BMCR, who have done so much for the fields of classics and archaeology, in hopes that you will support their efforts to upgrade their infrastructure. I know I will!


Dear colleagues, readers and friends,

The end of the year is nearly upon us, and we write to you with news of BMCR and also a request for aid.

BMCR is now engaged in a complex process of renewal. We will share more information in due time, but the short of it is that our systems are a patchwork whose core was first constructed nearly two decades ago. Nothing in the world of computing or digital humanities has stood still, and we are now contracting to build ourselves a better platform, to make our own work more efficient and to enable us to serve our readers and authors as fully as possible into the future.

The catch is that this work is expensive. What is more, as every one of you knows, BMCR has always been and remains committed to being open access, and relies nearly wholly on volunteer labor for every aspect of its operation. I need hardly point out that, if one gives away the product, one must live without a revenue stream.

For its day to day operations, BMCR has long survived on a combination of in-kind infrastructural support from Bryn Mawr College and income from the sale of Bryn Mawr Commentaries. This has generally been sufficient for our limited operational expenses. The scale of expenditure for a new platform and the migration of our historical data are another thing altogether.

We have embarked on a number of efforts to raise money for this process, and this will include—soon! —a direct appeal to you. We write today to ask you to assist us with an indirect and easy form of aid.

BMCR’s parent, Bryn Mawr Commentaries, is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. BMCR is thereby registered with both the Amazon Associates program and with Amazon Smile. This means that—with a tiny effort on your part—BMCR can receive a donation from Amazon every time you make a purchase. If you are in the US and using, you can do this in one of two ways:

(1) Select BMCR as your charity of choice via Amazon Smile: If you follow this link and have not registered, you will have the opportunity to select a charity. Enter “Bryn Mawr Commentaries.” Henceforth, every time you arrive at and make a purchase, BMCR will receive a contribution based on the sale.

If you have already selected a charity but want to switch to BMCR, you may do so via the options under “Your Account.” Simply look for the option, “Your AmazonSmile.”

(2) If you do not wish to register a charity in this way, you may also use/bookmark the following link: This directs a donation to BMCR via the Amazon Associates program.

Thank you very much for entertaining this appeal.

We will write again soon to announce BMCR’s annual break for the holidays. In the meantime, best wishes for the holiday season.


Camilla, Cliff, Jim and Rick


Latin, Chinese, and Baked Goods

A nice article was recently published by Concord Academy’s website about their successful collaborative project  to translate the DCC Caesar into Mandarin. The project was led by CA’s Latin teacher Liz Penland, with help from their Mandarin teacher and many students. The article quotes Liz saying some very nice things about DCC:

Penland believes a classical education should not just be the mark of the elite. “Anyone should be able to study Latin,” she says. With its peer-reviewed, crowd-sourced approach, DCC is leading a charge to make the classics accessible to anyone with an internet connection. And despite an international trend of declining study of the classical humanities, thousands of students in China are learning Latin and ancient Greek.

Many high schools, colleges, and universities rely on DCC commentaries, as does Penland. By aggregating generations of contextual notes, they reveal “a chain of interpretation, of teaching, and of use,” she says. “They help the text feel more like a cultural object that many people have read.”

A little further down we see how many people were involved, students, administrators, and teachers:

Once Penland had recruited students, Adam Bailey, head of modern and classical languages, and John Drew, assistant head of school and academic dean, offered their support. It seemed the perfect project to encourage research and independent thinking. Mandarin teacher Wenjun Kuai agreed to consult with students. “Wenjun is such a generous colleague and a wonderful teacher,” Penland says. “She did so much work on the Mandarin. The students had responsibility and a voice in how the project ran. Their group work was self-directed. It was a highly collaborative process, a model of linguistic research.”

And then there is the crucial role of baked goods:

 A friendly but intense competition emerged, thanks to weekly “brownie challenges” that earned baked goods from Penland. Lin, who completed numerous translations, says, “I’m not going to lie. It really motivated me.”

Liz put the fundamental purposes of DCC better than I could: access, community, intellectual inquiry. I am so proud of the folks at CA who used DCC in such creative ways, as a learning resource, but also as a way to share knowledge with others and have fun themselves. It shows the potential power of getting students involved in scholarly digital projects at every appropriate level. Here’s hoping DCC can be part of more wonderful projects like this in the future!

The Concord Academy Latin-Mandarin Project team. Photo (by Rebecca Lindegren, use only with permission): Top row from left: Ben Zide, Tenzin Rosson, Ken Lin (林鸿燊), Michael Qiu (邱阳), Anna Dibble, Lysie Jones, Elizabeth Penland. Bottom row from left: Nora Zhou (周安琪), Helen Wu (吴颖怡), Rebecca Yang (杨若祺)

The Concord Academy Latin-Mandarin Project team. Photo (by Rebecca Lindegren, use only with permission): Top row from left: Ben Zide, Tenzin Rosson, Ken Lin (林鸿燊), Michael Qiu (邱阳), Anna Dibble, Lysie Jones, Elizabeth Penland. Bottom row from left: Nora Zhou (周安琪), Helen Wu (吴颖怡), Rebecca Yang (杨若祺)

Spanish Publishers: You Had One Job

In the course of a review of an excellent Latin-Spanish bilingual edition of Frontinus’ De aqueductu, the distinguished Dutch classicist Vincent Hunink makes a welcome comment on the relative difficulty of obtaining Spanish classical books, including the one under review:

Perhaps I may take the opportunity to make a general point on Spanish books. In the world of classical scholarship, English, French, German, and Italian seem the dominant languages. Spanish, although a major world language, takes a much less prominent place, and I know many colleagues (to say nothing of students) who never open a book in this language at all. Several reasons may be adduced to explain the relative isolation of Spanish classical studies, but surely the lack of easy access to Spanish books must rank high. I have searched for Paniagua’s new edition online, but what I found was deploringly little, indeed: on August, 28th, 2017 there was one copy (!), without a cover image, available through Amazon, and one online shop in Spain that sells the title ( This means that this book is effectivelyunavailable to international readers, and that only dedicated specialists will take the trouble of purchasing it.

Spanish books on classics deserve more attention from the public, but for a start readers should be given the possibility to find Spanish books at all. I suggest that publishers, universities, and government institutions throughout the Spanish speaking world should unite forces and provide users with an easier way to become familiar with new Spanish books on classics, and to buy them if they are interested. A good Internet shop (or a serious Spanish department within an existing shop) might be an idea. Alternatively, an internet platform offering free PDFs of such books would be a great instrument to promote Spanish publications. As soon as information would become freely available, many of those who now decline to read any Spanish might be effectively tempted to change their behavior.

Much of what I suggest here on books in Spanish, also goes for books in that other important Iberian language, Portuguese. So perhaps a concerted Spanish-Portuguese campaign is due.

How is it that these publishers (or at least this one) are not doing the one thing they are supposed to to: publish, i.e., make their books widely available? Is this something more widely problematic in Spanish publishing, or is it a classics thing?

Dickinson Latin Workshop 2018: Maffeius, Historiae Indicae

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.

Christopher Francese (Dickinson College)
Leni Ribeiro Leite (Federal University of Espírito Santo, Vitória, Brazil)

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.

Jacques de Sève, “Le Pangolin,” illustration from Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, Histoire Naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roi (1749–1804). Source: Gallica

Jacques de Sève, “Le Pangolin,” illustration from Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, Histoire Naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roi (1749–1804). Source: Gallica

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. 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, 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 (


Conventiculum Dickinsoniense 2018


July 5-11, 2018

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.

head shot of Terence Tunberg

Terence Tunberg

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.

Head shot of Milena Minkova

Milena Minkova


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.

camp fire at the farm, Conventiculum farm dinner

camp fire at the Dickinson farm, Conventiculum Dickinsoniense

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: