Dickinson’s Marketing and Communications Office has produced a very nice short video about Dickinson College Commentaries, highlighting student involvement in the project. Thank you to all who helped make it, especially Connie MacNamara, who put it in motion, and to the featured students, Chloe Miller and Jimmy Martin.
Update May 23, 2013: How to Register:
Prof. Turpin writes:
We make progress! Anyone interested in participating (or “auditing”) should join the Google Plus “Community” for “Medieval Latin (Summer 2013): The Gesta Francorum. To do this:
1.Create a Google account if you don’t already have one.
2.Create a Google Plus account (just Google “Google Plus”, or click on the Plus sign on your Google page.
3. Go to “Communities” (in the left-hand column of your Google Plus home page) and search for “Medieval Latin, Summer 2013″
4. Send a request to join the community from within Google Plus.
If that doesn’t work please send and email to wturpin1 at swarthmore.edu. For assignments, texts, supporting material, refer to the original website; the link is in the original posting above.
Many thanks to Chris Francese for posting these announcements.
Update from Prof. Turpin May 9, 2013 on recordings and how to register:
It turns out that using Google hangouts in any kind of large-scale way means that the sessions get stored on Youtube automatically, unless we go in and delete them, which we presumably won’t. So I think we’re going to try to adjust to this brave new world and deal with that fact.
There’s no actual registration, in any formal sense; just keep an eye on the website for a signup for people willing to come online and translate and be in the discussion.
In the summer of 2013 Professors William Turpin (Swarthmore College, Classics) and Bruce Venarde (University of Pittsburgh, History) will be offering a free online Latin translation course, meeting on Google Hangout. The class will meet once a week starting on Monday, June 3, at 8-10 p.m. EST and will continue for perhaps ten weeks. We will be translating and discussing the Gesta Francorum, an anonymous first-hand account of the First Crusade written in relatively straightforward medieval Latin.
The course is intended for students who have completed a year or so of classical Latin at the college level, or the equivalent in high school. It should also be suitable for those whose Latin may be a little rusty, or for those new to medieval Latin. Google Hangout will allow eight active participants (i.e. people who may wish to translate a particular section of text) and an unlimited number of auditors (who will be able to submit questions and comments by email).
All are welcome, as active participants or as auditors. For more information, including a text of the Gesta Francorum edited for student use, go to:
July 11-16, 2013
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.
In 2013 we will read Ovid’s Fasti, Book 4, on the month of April. It includes Ovid’s celebration of Venus as the goddess of creation, a description of the festival of the Magna Mater, and the story of Claudia Quinta; Ovid’s discussion of the Cerialia includes his famous narrative of the abduction of Persephone, the wandering of Ceres, and the return of Persephone to Olympus. Book 4 also contains the account of the Parilia, and the story of the founding augury Rome and death of Remus. The final sections tell the story of Mezentius in connection to the Vinalia and include an agricultural prayer on the Robigalia.
Prof. Christopher Francese (Dickinson College)
Prof. Meghan Reedy (Dickinson College)
Participants must have a firm grasp of the basics of Latin grammar and a solid working vocabulary. But we aim at a mixture of levels and experience.
Deadline for application & fee is May 15, 2013. The participation fee for each participant will $300. The fee covers lodging, three meals per day, 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 $300 fee does not cover the costs of books or travel. The recommended book is Elaine Fantham’s Ovid: Fasti Book IV (Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics). Please keep in mind that the participation fee of $300, 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 or apartment near the site of the sessions.
The first event will be an introductory dinner at 6:00 p.m., Thursday, July 11. The final session ends at noon on Tuesday, July 16th, 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.
TO APPLY: Classics Latin Workshop Application Deadline May 15, 2013. Please make checks payable to Dickinson College and mail to:
Classics Dept, PO Box 1773, Carlisle PA 17013
For more information please contact Prof. Chris Francese (email@example.com).
Illustration: Woodcut illustration of Claudia Quinta, hand-colored in red, green, yellow and black, from a German translation by Heinrich Steinhöwel of Giovanni Boccaccio’s De mulieribus claris, printed by Johannes Zainer at Ulm ca. 1474. Source: Penn Provenance Project http://www.flickr.com/photos/58558794@N0…
One of the best aspects of the Digital Classics Association conference held recently at the University of Buffalo (April 5-6, 2013) was the way it was bookended by two veteran digital humanists who had rather different perspectives on what is needed in the future. Gregory Crane (Perseus) and Geoffrey Rockwell (Voyant Tools, TAPoR) offered trenchant but sometimes conflicting analyses of where we are now, and quite different prescriptions for the future of the larger classics DH enterprise. I’ll give my best shot at analyzing what they said, but would love to hear in the comments from others who were there and had different takes.
In his opening remarks, “Open Philology,” Crane described the nature of his new appointment to a Humboldt Professorship at the University of Leipzig, a job that comes with $12 million of essentially unrestricted start-up funds. His goals, he said, are two:
- to advance the role of Greco-Roman culture and classics Greek and Latin in human intellectual life as broadly as possible in a global world; and
- to advance philology (in the sense of the analysis of the ancient world in its entirety based on every scrap of written evidence) to support dialogue among civilizations.
This new position and its unprecedented funding prompted the question that hovered over the conference, and which was formulated by Rockwell later as an acronym: “What Should Crane Do?” WSCD, indeed? If the goal is to advance philology worldwide to support a dialogue among civilizations, what is the best way? Write another article for AJP, or a print monograph? No. we must a) get all our sources available as widely as possible, and b) help people deal with them. “Everything else,” he said, “is just us having fun.” The rebuke to the profession as more interested in “being invited to fancy talks” than in making the classics available and accessible to all seemed a bit unfair to those of who spend most of our energy teaching, but there was an uncomfortable degree of truth in it when you think about the culture of print academic publishing. “How do you support a reader in Indonesia who does not speak English or a European language? That’s the challenge,” Crane said.
His plans are threefold: an Open Greek and Latin project, somewhat similar in concept to the existing Perseus, but containing searchable .pdf multitexts of classical authors, aggregating and leveraging the many hard-to-access but high quality print editions in the public domain; a site that focuses on E-learning for classical languages (few details given); and the Scaife Digital Library, an open repository for peer-reviewed scholarship.
One of the most appealing elements of Crane’s vision is its catholicity. He has hired an Arabist to start integrating medieval Arabic texts into the new Open Philology project, and in theory it could embrace all historical languages. The reason for beginning with Greek and Latin, he argued, is not because they are “best,” but because they lie at the crossroads of many kinds of knowledge networks. This vision of philology embraces science, trade, intellectual and cultural history writ large, not just the venerated totems of classical literature (another dig at publishing norms in classics). Philology uses texts to understand the world of the past in all its aspects, and Open Philology aims to provide a massive new infrastructure to make it accessible.
Geoffrey Rockwell gave the concluding remarks to the conference. A philosopher based at the University of Alberta, Rockwell has been influential in the development of language analysis tools, most recently Voyant Tools. He offered some interesting historical context for Crane’s kind of universalist thinking. He traced the roots of the desire to use technology get access to many documents at once, “the dream of frictionless research,” all the way back to the elaborate reading machine designed by 16th century military engineer Augostino Ramelli. There has been a persistent desire for machines that will unify knowledge and send us “like greased lighting toward the truth,” he said, despite the fact that no machine has ever been shown to make us wiser. H.G. Wells had faith that getting all of knowledge into one place would lead to the unification of the human race—“not unlike Gregory Crane,” he said with a wink.
With this gentle satire he made it clear that he would pursue a more modest, incremental approach. What is needed at this point are infrastructure experiments, he said, rather than a new, totalizing system. He seemed to favor linking together different kinds of independent efforts, perhaps along the lines of one of his other major projects, TAPoR, which is a gateway to the tools used in sophisticated text analysis and retrieval. He argued that we should be focusing on a set “Primitives”—the broad types of data that we have about the ancient world: Places (space), People (prosopography), Periods, Passages, Citations, Things (buildings, etc.), and Perspectives. We have to start collecting these separately, then get them talking to each other. Pleiades does a great job aggregating information about places and making it readily linked with other kinds of data. Where is the Pleiades for prosopography? For historical periods? If we have a common, agreed vocabulary, then these different kinds of data can start being linked in very powerful ways. It’s a linked data concept of a kind being already aggressively pursued in other corners of classics DH.
Crane and Rockwell are in agreement that ivory tower elitism is a serious problem, and that one solution is to set up ways to foster participatory research and crowdsourcing. Rockwell favors exploring modeling, counterfactual history, and gaming as modes of research and teaching. Where they most differ, perhaps, is in their desire to engage the field as currently constructed and try to change it. Peer review, a topic not mentioned by Crane, is for Rockwell an important way forward. We must get beyond a world in which anything digital is automatically greeted with applause, he argued. While Crane seems generally happy to circumvent existing academic channels by acquiring outside funding, Rockwell would work DH into the existing academic prestige economy.
Crane’s e-learning initiative is very intriguing, in that Perseus itself has always been rather disconnected from actual teaching practices and pedagogy. The attitude of the profession more generally toward pedagogy he parodied as “teaching–that’s so sweet that you do that.” This may be true of the APA program committee, but certainly not of the profession as a whole. In fact Rockwell identified the interest of classicists in pedagogy as a key advantage we have over other fields. He pointed to many examples at the conference of projects with serious scholarly and pedagogical aspects.
Crane seems to place high faith in semantic mark-up as the key to e-pedagogy, and sees it as the litmus test for a truly digital textual edition. “Linguistic annotation is the basis for the digital edition, what distinguishes it from the print edition,” he said. Rockwell did not address this aspect of Crane’s remarks, but seems not to place the same emphasis on textual mark-up as sine qua non. At any rate, his Voyant tools is designed to analyze plain text.
I have ignored here the many other fascinating talks, posters, and workshop sessions that took place in Buffalo. The organizers received a loud and long ovation at the end, richly deserved. This was an extraordinary event. Neil Coffee has promised that full video of all the talks will be posted if the quality of the recording is sufficient, and I’ll add links as they become available. Thanks to the organizers for an extraordinary two days!
What is your favorite classical commentary? What place did it have in your intellectual development? Recently I asked the members of the DCC editorial board to write for the blog about these questions. Here is the response of Ariana Traill, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Sidney Gillespie Ashmore (1852-1911), Professor of Latin Language and Literature at Union College from 1881 to 1911, was the author of what is still the only complete commented edition of all six of Terence’s extant plays in English. A fine scholar and exacting teacher, Ashmore had little patience for the encroachment of non-traditional subjects into the college curriculum. According to Union’s Shaffer Library website:
He considered Latin, Greek and English literature and language far more important for a student than mathematics or the physical sciences and felt that Union was straying from the path of true education when it began offering programs in what Ashmore termed “pseudo-practical” fields such as electrical engineering.
His passionate nature also occasionally made “Ashy,” as students nicknamed him, a target of student pranks. In October of 1883, again according the researchers of the Shaffer Library, a group of sophomores got an organ grinder to play outside his classroom. Ashmore paid him to go away, but when the organ grinder was found playing at the back window, Professor Ashmore jumped out the window to chase him away, famously putting on his hat prior to doing so.
Whatever his failings as an appreciator of music, his Terence commentary is still very valuable, and I have retained a fondness for it first gained during my own days as an undergraduate student. It is an old-fashioned commentary in the nineteenth century style (you can find all of Suetonius’ Life of Terence in the introduction – in untranslated Latin), published by Oxford in 1908. What I liked about it as a student was Ashmore’s unerring sense of the stumbling blocks for novice readers. He supplies the missing words, without wasting any space about it (Eun. 666, “miserae: sc. mihi”), and will helpfully tell you when an ellipsis “was hardly felt” (as at Ad. 326, quis ergo: sc. fecit). He always names the construction (especially when it isn’t what you might think it should be, like facis at And. 322, “the pres. is more vivid than the fut.”) and he anticipates issues that stump first time readers (Who is subject of inquit at Eun. 581? Oh yes, Thais. The dum at Phorm. 512? “Purely temporal; ‘while’.”) Ashmore doesn’t miss much: it’s a rare line that does not have its own entry in the comments. You can count on him for admirably brief, but informative, definitions of unfamiliar vocabulary: frugalior (HT 681) “comparative of frugi; ‘more exemplary’”; depexum (HT 951) “combed down,” “curried,” hence “flogged.” The notes are sometimes amusing (e.g., perduint, “the form was archaic even in Terence’s time, and confined mostly to this curse”, HT 811).
And Ashmore did more than explain grammar and translation questions: he provided reminders of what one character knows that another doesn’t; he pointed out staging (HT 731, for instance, was “said in a loud voice, that Clinia and Syrus may hear”), explained characters’ motivation and noted ironies. Even more useful, he presented the information needed to follow the plot on a scene-by-scene basis. There were no long plot summaries to read (and forget) at the beginning of the play: just three to four sentences every few pages, throughout the commentary, where they helped most. Yes, you had to flip back to cross-references to find the first time a question was answered; you had to know Greek to get the point of the untranslated phrases that appeared regularly throughout the comments; and, despite the introduction and occasional notes, there was not enough help to elucidate the far-from-simple scansion of Terence’s iambo-trochaics. But there was never a lot of reading to get the essential information from Ashmore’s elegant, concise, and lucid comments, and it was never a waste of time to read his note on a line. He did what the Bryn Mawr Commentaries, and now the DCC, do: he helped students understand the Latin with a minimum of explanation.
What I came to appreciate later, as a scholar and teacher, is that Ashmore wrote with a view to teaching reading comprehension, not just translation. He glosses in the target language (HT 723 Syri promissa induxerant = Syrus promissis induxit). He explains much that is implicit, what we might call the cultural competence of a native speaker. For example, a note on cistellam, at Eun. 753, explains birth-tokens, infant exposure, and the implication here that “Pamphila had been kidnapped.” His comment on ridiculum at Ph. 901 explains what Demipho is not saying but clearly means, namely “that it’s absurd to ask such a question, as if their purpose in coming to him were not self-evident. Phormio must return the money, which (in their view) he is no longer entitled to keep.” Ashmore understood that there is much more to following a Latin conversation than simply glossing the grammar and the vocabulary. He translated frequently, but always with a view to elucidating the Latin, often juxtaposing a literal translation with a freer one. Eatur (HT 743) is a good example: “let a start be made (then),” “let us go.” After years of teaching myself, I recognize the scene summaries as a well-tested pre-reading strategy to promote comprehension of passages that are being read for the first time. Ashmore also integrated his scholarship so deftly that, to be perfect honest, I ignored it almost entirely as a sophomore reading Terence for the first time. I came to recognize later that this text and commentary was a substantial work of scholarship. Of course, recent and fuller commentaries on individual plays have superseded Ashmore, notably R.H. Martin’s Adelphoe, John Barsby’s Eunuchus and A.S. Gratwick’s Brothers. Yet Ashmore’s remains a model of a commentary with a keen awareness of what students actually need.
In an ideal world all vocabulary would be learned contextually, but when trying to learn Latin in a limited amount of time, we usually need flashcards. Guest writer Alex Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org) describes how to study the DCC Core Latin vocabulary using a nifty piece of software called Mnemosyne, and the electronic flashcards he made for it using the DCC Latin core. Mnemosyne allows for targeted and adaptive use of the cards.
One effective way to accomplish this is with flash cards. These days, however, we have the additional option of using special software that removes much of the tedium from the process. More importantly, such software can calculate the best time to present cards for review (using a spaced-repetition algorithm). In this way words can be committed to long-term memory as efficiently as possible.
The value of systematic vocabulary study?
One might reasonably question the benefits of systematic vocabulary study. Strong arguments have been made that vocabulary is better learned in context – that one really acquires new words through actual use. On this view, in which there is a clear distinction between the memorization of word definitions and the actual acquisition of those words, the memorization of vocabulary only helps insofar as it reduces the amount of time spent looking up words. The words thus memorized are not learned or acquired in the real sense, i.e., one is not able to understand and use these words directly and fluidly. Instead, one’s understanding of the word is mediated by the definition that has been memorized.
I’m actually very sympathetic to this view, and I think that any word that has been memorized must be reinforced by actual use, in a meaningful context. Indeed, in the post-beginner stages, new words should be acquired through extensive reading. At the beginner level, however, and when the words in question are core vocabulary words, the systematic study of these words will serve an important boot-strapping purpose. Students will expend less time and energy trying to figure out the meanings and forms of basic words, and they will be less overwhelmed in trying to understand the texts that they encounter. Because the memorized words appear so frequently, it shouldn’t take long before the initial “vocabulary-list understanding” of each word is converted into actual acquisition.
The software that I recommend to my students is called Mnemosyne. It is free, it runs on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux), and it has a fairly simple interface.
Mnemosyne keeps cards in a virtual deck. You can add new cards individually, or you can import them in bulk from some other source. Cards are organized according to tags. Each card can have multiple tags, and these tags can be hierarchical. For example, all DCC Latin Core Vocabulary cards begin with the tag CoreLatin, and under this grouping they are tagged according to frequency (CoreLatin::1-200, CoreLatin:201-500, and CoreLatin::501-1000) and semantic grouping (e.g. CoreLatin::Measurement).
In the remainder of this post I will describe how to set up and use Mnemosyne to study the DCC Latin Core Vocabulary. (There are similar software packages out there, such as Anki, but I am not as familiar with them.)
This is meant as a sort of quick start guide. For more details and explanation of other features, take a look at the Mnemosyne documentation.
Installation and setup
Go to the download page and fetch the appropriate package for your platform. The installation procedures for Windows and Mac OS X are fairly typical. (Linux users, however, might need to do some additional work, but I assume they will be able to handle that.)
When you run the software for the first time, select the Configure Mnemosyne… item, which is located under the Settings or Preferences menu. The configuration options are divided among three tabs: General, Card appearance, and Sync server. For options under General, I use the following:
I also recommend looking at the options under Card appearance and setting a larger font.
Now you want import the DCC Latin Core Vocabulary cards into your deck. Download the file dcc_core_latin.cards online here. In Mnemosyne, go to File → Import…, choose the file format “Mnemosyne 2.x *.cards files”, and for the file itself click on the Browse button and select the dcc_core_latin.cards file that you downloaded.
(The filename in the box will look different, depending on where the downloaded file is located on your system.) Leave the additional tags blank, and press the OK button. An additional information window will pop up; you can just click OK again.
The tags that have been attached to the cards make it possible for you to mark only a subset of cards as “active” at any given time. For example, go to Cards → (De)activate cards…, and in the right-side pane unselect everything except for 1-200. Click OK.
Now the software will only present you with cards with the tag CoreLatin::1-200, which means that you are studying the cards for the words that fall in the top 200 in the frequency rankings. (There are actually more than 200 such cards, but that is because I have split a handful of entries from the list into multiple cards, e.g., longus -a -um and longē.)
In fact, there are twice as many cards as you might expect, because each word can be presented in two ways: for recognition (Latin to English) and for production (English to Latin). The relevant check-boxes are located in the upper left pane, within the item labeled Vocabulary. Most people probably want to start with recognition only, so uncheck the Production box for now.
Learning new cards
At this point the software will prompt you with a Latin entry in the upper box. Try to think of the correct answer and then click the “Show answer” button (you can also press spacebar or enter). The answer will be revealed in the lower box.
Now you need to grade your response (you can click on the button or press the corresponding number key):
- If I had no idea about the answer, I typically select 0.
- If I did not get it right but am getting some vague notion of the answer, I select 1.
- If I think I knew it well enough to remember for a day or two, I select 2 or 3.
- If I knew the word, I select 4.
- If I knew the word immediately and with great ease, I select 5.
Cards that are graded with 0 or 1 will be presented to you again on the same day. If I am in the process of learning a new card, I usually have to grade it as a 1 several times, so that it keeps reappearing within the same session, until I have an initial knowledge of it.
Cards that are graded with 2–5 will be scheduled for subsequent days. The higher the grade, the longer it will be until you see that card again.
Cards that you have not yet learned sit in the “Not memorised” pile, while cards that you learned in previous sessions might appear in the “Scheduled” pile (see the status bar at the bottom of the main application window).
If you previously learned a card, the software might decide that you now need to review it. In this case the card will be “scheduled” for today. When you are presented with the card, you must once again grade your response:
- If I forgot the card, I select 1 (sometimes 0 if I totally forgot it).
- If I remembered the card, but just barely or with great difficulty, I select 2 or 3. This means the interval was probably a bit too long.
- If I was able to remember the card correctly, though perhaps with some effort, I select 4. This means the interval was just right.
- If I remembered the card very easily, I select 5. This means the interval was probably too short.
Mnemosyne will keep a record of your progress with each card. The goal is to show you a card just before you are going to forget it again, as this is supposed to be the best time to review a piece of information in order to promote long-term retention.
Try your best to set aside a chunk of time each day to (a) review previously-learned cards and (b) learn new cards (if you have any new cards pending). Mnemosyne will take care of all the prompting and scheduling; you just have to sit down and go through the cards!
Studying for quizzes (using the cramming scheduler)
Let’s say that you need to study for an upcoming quiz. In this case you want to see all of the active cards, regardless of when they are scheduled. And you don’t want your responses to each card to be recorded by Mnemosyne, because that would mess up the long-term learning schedule for those cards.
In these situations you want to use Mnemosyne’s “Cramming Scheduler”. Go to Manage plugins… under Settings or Preferences, and enable the “Cramming scheduler”. While this plugin is active, all cards will be shown, and no scheduling information will be saved. When you are done studying for the quiz, don’t forget to go back and disable the Cramming scheduler.
Long term memorization
At a little over one thousand words, the DCC Latin Core Vocabulary is a substantial yet manageable list. My hope is that with the aid of Mnemosyne, we can make it as easy as possible for students to start memorizing these words.
The use of tags allows subsets of the Core Vocabulary to be enabled incrementally. For example, students can start with the CoreLatin::1-200 group of highest-frequency words. Once those are learned, they can activate the CoreLatin::201-500 group, and after that the CoreLatin::501-1000 group.
After cards are learned for the first time, however, Mnemosyne will continue to present them again for review; but each card will be presented at appropriate intervals. If students are diligent about taking a few minutes each day to review cards, they can easily make steady progress toward committing these words to long-term memory
Alex Lee ( alexlee at fastmail.net) is a PhD candidate in Classics at the University of Chicago. He has a strong interest in Latin and Greek language pedagogy – in particular, the implications of language acquisition theory and the use of technology as an aid to teaching. His dissertation examines the argumentative and rhetorical function of images in Plato’s Republic.
update: 3/28/13: audio of part 2 of the workshop, on Latin hexameters, is now posted below.
Andrew Becker came to Dickinson for a full day workshop on Latin metrics this weekend, and it was a delight. His presentation was overflowing with the love of poetry, deep knowledge of the Latin grammarians, and best of all, lots of common sense in what is too often a contentious and captious area of scholarship.
Here’s a little taste, a section near the beginning where he argues for scanning lines orally, not on the page, and for the idea that word accent is primary, but that ictus still makes itself felt as an undercurrent. Scanning, i.e. reading aloud with an exaggerated ictus, is not wrong, he said, but just a preliminary step towards the actual performance of the verse, with the correct word accents.
Andrew Becker on scanning (1:50)
Here is a longer selection from the first session on scanning vs. reading, among other things. I’ll post more as I get it edited.
Andy Becker part 1.edited (15:40)
Here is an edited selection of part two of the workshop, which deals with scanning and reading hexameters, and the interplay of ictus and accent in some Vergilian lines (19:15):
Andy Becker part 2edited (19:15)
What is your favorite classical commentary? What place did it have in your intellectual development? Recently I asked the members of the DCC editorial board to write for the blog about these questions. Here is the response of Meghan Reedy, Assistant Professor of Classical Studies at Dickinson College. Her current research is on emotional display in Roman poetry, particularly in the moody love poems of Propertius.
I have a real fondness for David Mankin’s Green & Yellow commentary on the Epodes of Horace. As an undergraduate I loved Kenneth Quinn’s commentary on Catullus. It seemed to hold out the allure of Things Rare and Obscure, and I remember feeling drawn to its tiny fatness, and its densely printed pages—but it was in using Mankin’s Epodes as a graduate student that I came to appreciate something else: namely that an understanding of Rare and Obscure Things is a common goal, and not a trophy.
The first thing I learned from Mankin was that special, cool things need not be beyond comprehension, chilly or impersonal. A work in any genre of academic writing can give the impression, accidentally or on purpose, that it has been received from a higher plane of super-human erudition, rather than written by an insightful person. But the risk of giving such a false impression is especially high in a commentary. A commentator writing for students tends, for good reason, not to develop ideas at much length—which also means that there is not much opportunity to convey a sense of personality, of a distinctive point of view. The reader, on the other hand, tends to go to a commentary precisely for such succinct explanations, looking for aid in an encounter with the Real Author at hand, Horace or Livy or whoever, and not looking for an encounter with some commentator. But it happens anyway. Even with so little to go on, even without meaning to, one invariably trusts or distrusts a commentator, feels a kinship or a distance, ease or frustration. And with Mankin for the first time I felt a kinship. I had the sense as I worked through his Epodes that we were sharing an aim, and I appreciated his candor about what he thought Horace was up to and what struck him as difficult to interpret. It was a revelation to me that this was at all possible.
Which of course led to a knock-on revelation: I realized that commentaries could be controversial. If commentators were actually people, their work was thus something other people were entitled to form real opinions about, to engage with and turn over in the mind. Marvelous to consider, I found that I too had opinions, and could attempt to solve riddles.
Who would have thought a commentator, a mere commentator, could have such an effect? Who knew that commentators mattered in this way? But they do.
This spring, with generous support from the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, three UIUC students have been contributing to the Dickinson College Commentaries project. Pictured here are James Stark and Katherine Cantwell at a poster session last Friday, as they presented their work, which is being carried out under the supervision of Professor Arian Traill, a member of the editorial board.
James has done outstanding work creating complete vocabulary lists for the selections of Vergil’s Aeneid covered in the College Board’s AP Latin course, aligning those lists with the DCC core vocabulary in a way that will greatly ease the creation of a future DCC edition. This Vergil edition will eventually form a companion to the existing editionof the AP Caesar selections. Katherine has been working on the edition of Callimachus’ Aetia by Prof. Stephens of Stanford, making the existing content conform to the format and goals of the DCC. In both cases, the key activity is working on the vocabulary lists that accompany the (untranslated) Greek or Latin text. These lists are hand-designed and human-edited, not computer-generated. The expertise of the student in making these lists correct and properly targeted to the intended readership is a major part of what makes DCC distinctive and useful.
Wes Heap (not pictured) has been working with Prof. Mulligan of Haverford on his forthcoming DCC edition of Cornelius Nepos’ Life of Hannibal.
I would like to extend a big thank you to James, Katherine, and Wes for all their work, and to Prof. Traill for applying for the grant that is funding it, and for her expert supervision.
What is your favorite classical commentary? What place did it have in your intellectual development? Recently I asked the members of the DCC editorial board to write for the blog about these questions. Here is the response of James Morwood, of Wadham College, Oxford, author of many books, including the A Latin Grammar, The Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek, and most recently The Oxford Latin Course, College edition (Oxford University Press, 2012).
My favourite commentary is R. Deryck Williams’ Aeneid, which dates from 1973 and is now published by the Bristol Classical Press. I think that the main reason that I love it is that it is the work of a man who himself loved Virgil both wisely and well. This love shines on every page. It is a deeply civilized edition, constantly slipping into quotations from English poetry which set the Aeneid in its place near the font of European literature. It is odd that, as reception gains a more and more firm foothold, editors have become increasingly uptight about including literary parallels from the Renaissance and later in their texts. Williams read the Aeneid once a year – each time, he used to say, wondering whether Aeneas would bring himself to abandon Dido – and his understanding of the poem as a whole informs the edition throughout.
Of course, it is a work marked by its seventies vintage. It advances the “two voices” view of the poem that we identify with Harvard, and up to a point it tells us what to think. In fact, the two voices approach seems to have weathered well; and even if my own feeling is that editors should present the evidence objectively, giving their own view but not trying too overtly to influence their readers into accepting it, the passage of time has meant that we can regard Williams’ obiter dicta with a questioning sense of detachment. The thoughtful student of any age has nothing to fear and everything to gain from immersion in these pages.
It is not difficult to patronize Williams, as indeed Nicholas Horsfall has done. He wrote too much about this poet and was liable to repetition; his views could later slip into the banal. But he was a good scholar who lived and breathed Virgil, and that has made his edition an inspirational vade mecum for the Aeneid.