Core words not in the Aeneid

Vat.lat_.3225_0101_fr_0049r_lcroppedDiverting Latin parlor game: take a very common Latin word (in the DCC Latin Core Vocabulary) that does not occur in Vergil’s Aeneid, and explain its absence. Why would Vergil avoid certain lemmata (dictionary head words) that are frequent in preserved Latin? Sometimes the reason is simply metrical (celeriter, imperator); in other cases, perhaps a word sounded too prosaic (cibus, servusuxor, interim) for high poetry; sometimes a word just isn’t appropriate for the “prehistoric” period of the epic (provincia, praetor). Sometimes it’s a little hard to figure. Why not sapiens? Why not maiores? Why relinquo but not reliquus? Why vagor but not vagus? Check out the list below and let me know what jumps out at you. The Vergilian data comes from LASLA  (no automatic lemmatizers were used, all human inspection), as analyzed by Seth Levin. To check its accuracy, search the DCC version of Frieze’s Vergilian Dictionary, which includes definitions and citations, as well as (LASLA-based) frequency data for individual lemmata. At times there might be some lemmatization issues (for example barbarus came up in the initial list of excluded core words, since Vergil avoids the noun, though he uses the adjective twice. I deleted it from this version). Ok, here’s the list. Enjoy!

eo (adv)
mundus (adj)
solum (adv)

Image: detail of an illustration of Vergil’s Underworld, from  Fulvii Ursini schedae Bibliothecae Vaticanae (Vaticanus Latinus 3225), also known as the Vergilius Vaticanus or “Vatican Vergil” (49r), magnificent illustrated codex written in Italy in rustic capitals at the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century AD. Source: Digital Vatican Library.

Dickinson Latin Workshop 2016 Bede

Thanks for a great week to everyone who participated in this year’s Dickinson Summer Latin Workshop, reading selections the Venerable Bede for five days: Janet Brooks, Daniel Cummings, Michael DiMarco, Michael Erdman, Andrew Fenton, Jen Larson, Eli Goings, Jason Lalonde, Jacqueline Lopata, Kristen Masters, Hugh McElroy, Oliver Morris, Lauren Murphy, Julia Rhodes, Jonathan Rockey, Kitty Zackey, Ashley Roman, Clara Hardy, Rob Hardy, Peter Rook, and Louise Wesson.

Thanks also to everyone who helped make it possible: Terri Blumenthal (Classics Academic Department Coordinator), the staff at Conferences and Special Events, especially Dottie Warner, Jodie Bowermaster, and Sarah Ireland, and also the Dickinson drivers and dining hall staff, and to the Roberts family, whose generous gift to the Dickinson classics department helps us keep the costs low for participants.

Special thanks to Andrew Fenton for bringing his delicious home cured meats to share, and to Hugh McElroy and Jen Larson for bringing home made mead. What would reading Bede be with a good cup of mead?

Most of all, thanks to Rob Hardy for providing us with superb notes that will be the basis of his DCC commentary on selections from the Historia Ecclesiastica.

This was a delightful, rewarding, and rejuvenating week with a wonderful group of Latinists and friends. I hope to see everyone next year!

–Chris Francese

Workshop: Commenting on Latin Poetic Texts

I am both pleased and daunted to be leading a workshop on writing commentaries on Latin poetic texts, a full-day affair to be held on June 30, 2016 at the Guanqi Center at Shanghai Normal University. Here is an abstract:

Ut tibi sit legisse voluptas: Commenting on Latin Poetic Texts

This workshop will consider the art of commenting on Latin poetic texts, first as it has been done in recent years for English-speaking audiences, and then, in open discussion, considering how it might be done in the future for Chinese-speaking audiences. While scholars sometimes think of commenting on a text as an objective process of collecting the facts necessary for full understanding, in practice, the question of audience is paramount. Commentators mediate a text for an imaged reader, and must have a sympathetic awareness of what that reader needs, desires, and can process or understand. In addition to supplying felt needs, however, the commentator can actively lead and model humanistic practices: the precise appreciation of poetic language, close reading, cultural literacy, and skill in translation. The workshop will analyze some good examples of this kind commentary in English on Ovid, then invite a forward-looking brain-storming session on how best to enhance the experience of reading Ovid for Chinese readers of Latin literature. Topics will include the art of the interpretive paraphrase, gloss, and summary; some reliable resources for finding information about geography, mythology, grammar, Roman customs, and rhetorical and literary devices; and techniques of commenting on style and tone.

(The Latin tag in the title comes from the epigram to Ovid’s Amores.) The workshop is part of the festivities for the second annual Shanghai Normal University Guangqi International Center for Scholars Classics Lecture and Seminar Series, organized by the wonderful team of Jinyu Liu 刘津瑜 and Heng Chen 陈恒


Prof. Liu is the Principal Investigator of “Translating the Complete Corpus of Ovid’s Poetry into Chinese with Commentaries,” a multi-year project sponsored by a Chinese National Social Science Foundation Major Grant (2015-2020). She is collaborating with more than a dozen scholars from four countries A full conference with a very impressive roster of speakers will be held in Shanghai in May 31-June 2, 2017.

I am not directly involved with this project, but it served as a useful handle to think about a commentary-writing workshop in Shanghai, helping achieve a more concrete focus for what is a rather terrifying topic. My own activity as an editor on DCC has given me lots of particular ideas and preferences, but the last thing I would want to do is foist those on a Chinese audience. The really exciting thing here is the opportunity to reinvent the genre in a different context, taking the best aspects from the traditions of European commentary and liberating new energies. My goal is to show a few examples of what I think are particularly good recent instances in English, and let the discussion go where it will. Looking forward to a stimulating discussion!

–Chris Francese

Praise for Mulligan’s Nepos on DCC

Tip of the hat to Rex Stem for his kind words about DCC in a recent BMCReview of Bret Mulligan’s Nepos:

I have never taught from an online commentary, but I am persuaded that this text would be an effective way to do so. The different types of information that the student needs are easily accessible, the format is pleasing and intuitive, and the level of the notes is appropriate and rigorous. The printed version is successful in itself, but the appeal of the online version is manifest. My pedagogical habits would have to change somewhat if I were to teach from an online commentary (would we all have screens in front of us? would we also still want to have printed texts to annotate?), but this is precisely the sort of online teaching resource that encourages experimentation with new formats and methods. As a pedagogical platform for teaching Latin with digital materials, this text is visionary in its design.

If you are experimenting in this way, please leave a comment and let everyone know how it’s going!

Classicists without Borders

reaching hand

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski, via flickr

Classical outreach programs are proliferating. See, for example, the ones at Oxford, the University of Cincinnati, the Classics in Communities Project in the UK, and the variety of outreach initiatives at the SCS. The problem with the term outreach is the slight air of desperation. There must be people “out” there who have never heard our message, who need to be “reached.” Hands extend into a void, waving cheerfully at passersby, signaling for attention, anxious not to be ignored. I  believe we should think less in terms of reaching out and more in terms of service, of finding places where our skills are needed or welcome, even when those are not the places that our ordinary professional lives typically take us. Possibly the best current example of this is the series of workshops run by Classics in Communities, bringing support to those in schools with no Latin programs who want nonetheless to teach Latin. I can think of two other areas where there is a certain void, a space where the voices of Classicists without Borders would potentially be welcome, even useful, but have not so far been heard very much. The first is podcasting. The podcast medium is widely enjoyed as recreation be people as they exercise, walk, travel, go about housework routines, etc. This is an audience hungry for new content, eager to explore new ideas, and interested in all sorts of things. Perhaps they studied Latin at school, or have always had a love of mythology. The mechanics of producing and delivering podcasts to this audience are well within the technological competence of most classicists. Success in the medium, as with much teaching, requires a conversational style, a sense of humor, and an ability to tell stories. A second area is that of digital project reviews. The vast majority of people who are not professional classicists find their information about the classical world on the internet, and there is a heartening proliferation of good quality digital projects about the ancient world. Still, there is a good deal that is slapdash and ill-informed. Who can tell the difference? Classicists can. Where is there a reliable venue of critiquing, evaluating, and commenting on digital resources? Nowhere. The SCS Communications Committee (which I currently chair), among its other activities, is creating just such a venue as part of the SCS website and blog. When qualified review of open digital resources becomes as routine as it is for monographs, the prestige and the quality of open online publications will rise. The SCS Communications Committee has created a clear set of guidelines for such reviews, and is actively soliciting reviewers and projects to review. Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions for this, or ideas about other “Classicists with Borders” initiatives.

Reading the Romans: 7 Rules for Primary Texts

BasilConstAs classical teachers we often ask our student to read primary sources about the Greeks and Romans in English,and the ability to analyze them critically forms one of the primary learning goals in many courses. I have never seen formulated any explicit general guidelines for students on how to do so, or discussion of how these texts might differ from analogous types of texts they’re more familiar with, despite the fact that students often have a hard time interpreting unfiltered ancient sources. So here are some modest rules of thumb, much of it common sense, but some of it also reflecting some peculiar features of Roman literate culture. Hopefully these rough guidelines will help students to better appreciate what Roman texts have to offer: Please leave a comment if you have others to share!1

Consider the perspective of the author. Each author will have his or her own viewpoint and aims in a particular instance, which will be shaped by circumstances, status, family, education, life experiences, and so forth. It helps to keep certain questions in mind: Is the writer attempting to persuade, entertain, praise, inform, impress, draw some pertinent moral, or some combination of these aims? Is he talking about contemporary events or some remote period? Does he wholeheartedly endorse the views presented or propose them merely for the sake of argument or as something to think about? Is the author speaking in his own voice or through the persona of some particular character? Does he have any motive to be less than truthful or honest? Does his social position or economic circumstances or other factors predispose him to think in a certain way? Is he attempting to challenge received views or reporting what seems like a consensus? Is he attempting to shock his audience? The conventional wisdom is that Roman writing is less confessional and more influenced by models, personae, and what needs to be said on a particular occasion than is writing in more modern eras—though this generalization is debatable.

Consider the audience. Is the intended receiver a single individual, a friend, an enemy, a student, a group, or a god? A good deal of Roman writing is persuasive or hortatory (urging people to do something), and this includes poetry. Consider what a particular argument implies about the predisposition of the audience and its expected views.

What is extraordinary is not typical. We tend to remark on things that are not obvious or ordinary. What is surprising or noteworthy implies by contrast what is normal or average. Beware of inferring that, because some individual Roman is said to have done things in a certain way, or that somebody says that people should do things a certain way, that most people in fact did do it that way. The opposite is often more likely to be the case. By the same token, things that are said as if they had no special importance are often good evidence for common practices. All of this is especially relevant for anything to do with sexuality.

Ideas reflect controversies. Like any group of people, the Romans disagreed strenuously among themselves about many things. What counterarguments are stated or implied in the positions taken by a given author? Are the terms of the debate familiar from modern controversies, or do they seem to reflect peculiar Roman institutions, customs, blind spots, or preoccupations? What do the positions taken imply about values and priorities of the author and the audience?

Look for the evaluation. Roman authors, no less than modern ones, rarely describe things simply for the sake of describing them. Usually there is an expressed or implied evaluation, a position being taken that a particular fact or behavior is good or bad, right or wrong, or somewhere in between. These evaluations are key to the interpretation and assessment of what is being said, and are often foregrounded—something that has given Roman authors a well-earned reputation for being moralistic. But evaluations are often unstated, especially in historiography and letters. Attempt to figure out the implied position on what is being described.

Consider the genre. Put very simply, Roman love poetry is meant to evoke desire, pastoral to conjure up an idyllic landscape, oratory to stir the mind and emotions, and satire to attack vice. Every genre has its traditional goals and parameters, which can be followed or subverted by individual authors, and which are usually not coextensive with their modern relatives. Roman and Greek biographers were primarily interested in illustrating and evaluating character, rather than simply describing the facts and circumstances of the subject’s life (see further the introduction to Plutarch). Similarly, historical writing tends to be more exemplary (that is, offering a model for behavior) and moralizing than its modern counterpart. Philosophy can be cast as poetry (as with Lucretius) or as letters (as with Seneca). Epigram, a genre perfected by Martial but now rare, will always be short and have a sting in the tail. Try to get a sense of what genre an author is writing in, and what that implies about the kinds of things he is likely to say, and how he innovates. Roman authors were fond of playing with genre, as when Ovid humorously adopts the conventions of instructional literature in The Art of Love. The introductions in this book offer some guidance on this matter.

Consider what is not said. Many types of documents we would like to have either do not survive or were not written in the first place. We do not have personal diaries, church and municipal archives, or journalism of the sort historians of more recent eras take for granted. And there are many other gaps, due both to the vagaries of what was preserved in the Middle Ages, as well as to who could write, who chose to write, and what they chose to write about. A figure like Cicero looms large because he was so prolific and his Latin style so beloved in later ages. But the thoughts of even some very influential Romans, like Marius, Sulla, or Nero—not to mention countless ordinary people—are relatively or entirely inaccessible to us. One would like to have the memoirs of Roman priestesses, engineers, magicians, slaves, soldiers on the frontiers, or Gallic tribesmen who adopted Roman ways, but we do not. And even within the documents we do possess, many issues we would like to hear about are simply not discussed. These silences are themselves often significant.

1. What follows is excerpted from Christopher Francese and R. Scott Smith, Ancient Rome: An Anthology of Sources (Hackett, 2014), pp. xx-xxii.

Dickinson Workshop: Julius Caesar’s Art of War

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Julius Caesar’s Art of War: A Graphic Portfolio of the Battlefields and Tactics in the Commentarii de Bello Gallico:
Antonio Salinas
United States Military Academy, West Point, NY

Place: Dickinson College, Tome 115, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Salinas1.7-1.8While Caesar’s Gallic War presents a clear depiction of Roman military doctrine against Celtic tribes at all levels of war, very few detailed maps exist which illustrate the tactical and operational aspects. Antonio Salinas’ mapping portfolio maps the entirety of Caesar’s Gallic War, illustrating Caesar’s legions at both the operational and tactical level, using Google Earth imagery and NATO symbology to effectively follow Caesar’s legions during their campaigns in Gaul, Germany, and southern England. The portfolio seeks to assist classicists and military historians alike in bringing Caesar’s Gallic War to life in a way never before seen.

This workshop will take a detailed look at each year of Caesar’s campaign, highlighting Caesar’s strategy, operations, and tactics. We’ll spend time analyzing the major battles and explain how and why a handful of legions were able to conquer such a large expanse of land with a large population.

The workshop is free of charge, but to order materials and food we need to have an accurate count of attendees.

Registration Deadline: April 2, 2016.

To register: Email Mrs. Terri Blumenthal,

CPT Antonio Salinas is from Allen Park, Michigan. On high school graduation Antonio enlisted in the United States Marine Corps where he served as a martial arts instructor trainer and an intelligence chief. He attended Eastern Michigan University and received his Bachelors in History and Political Science. In graduate school he enrolled in Army ROTC and attained his Masters in History. He received his commission from Army ROTC in May 2007 as a branch detail Infantry – Military Intelligence officer and has served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He has published one book Siren’s Song: The Allure of War (Deed’s Publishing, 2012), describing his time as an infantry platoon leader in combat. Antonio continues to serve in uniform and currently teaches military history at West Point.

Summer 2016 Paid Research Internships in Classical Studies

Dickinson students are encouraged to apply for any of three 8-week paid research internships in Classical Studies in summer 2016 (the second of these positions is contingent on a pending funding decision by the Dickinson Research and Development Committee). The pay is $350 per week, plus housing on Dickinson’s campus. The work will be carried out under the supervision of Prof. Francese, and result in substantial credited contributions to the Dickinson College Commentaries and Dickinson Classics Online Projects.

Dates: May 30–July 22, 2016

Location: Carlisle, PA

Application deadline: March 11, 2016

Positions 1 and 2 Description: Digital Latin-Chinese Lexicon

Work on the digitization of the Latin-Chinese dictionary of Joaquim-Affonso Gonçalves (Lexicon magnum: latino-sinicum 1841, 779 pp.), which will eventually result in a mobile application, and a database that will form an essential part of the infrastructure of the project Dickinson Classics Online. Begun in 2015, DCO is intended to provide better access to the Greco-Roman classics to Chinese speakers. One student (position 1) will edit Gonçalves’ Chinese definitions to make sure they are properly transcribed and modernized; the other (position 2) will edit the Latin headwords to make them correspond to those of the base dictionary published by the Laboratoire d’Analyse Statistique des Langues Anciennes (LASLA). In many cases Goncalves’ headwords will have to be split or combined to conform to the LASLA headwords, and in every case the format of the Latin headwords will have to be expanded to meet modern lexicographical standards.

Positions 1 and 2 Requirements

Position 1 requirements:

  • strong written Chinese, familiarity with both classical and simplified characters
  • attention to detail
  • interest in languages
  • facility with Excel

Position 2 requirements:

  • upper-intermediate or advanced Latin
  • attention to detail
  • interest in languages
  • facility with Excel

Positions 1 and 2 Schedule

Week 1 (May 30-June 3): orientation to the project:

  • The basics of Latin lexicography, and the similarities and differences between existing dictionaries and their source material
  • Introduction to primary resources that will be used in this project: Joseph Denooz, Nouveau lexique fréquentiel de latin, Logeion, and Goncalves’ Lexicon Magnum Latino-Sinicum.
  • Explanation of LASLA’s working methods and their style of lemmata
  • Examination of the LASLA list of homonyms, and explanation of their labeling conventions and French abbreviations
  • Practice creating dictionary forms in Excel in the existing DCC style, based on
    • LASLA lemma
    • Goncalves’ lemma
    • Lemmas available in Logeion, especially Woordenboek Latijn/Nederlands (2011)
  • Practice typing Latin characters with macra (long marks over vowels) using the Maiori keyboard in Windows, and explanation of where that is necessary, and where to find accurate information about vowel quantity
  • Analysis of the Chinese OCR to determine the extent of the revisions needed to modernize it
  • Practice editing Chinese definitions to conform with edited Latin lemmata, splitting and combining as needed.
  • Practice formatting Chinese definitions to include Latin idioms as in Goncalves

Weeks 3-8: work on creating the database, going alphabetically.

Position 3 Description: Multimedia Edition of the Aeneid

Work on a forthcoming DCC multimedia edition of the Aeneid, which will include

  • Notes, drawn mostly from older school editions, that elucidate the language and the context
  • Images, art, and illustrations, annotated to make clear how they relate to the text
  • Complete running vocabulary lists for the whole poem
  • Audio recordings of the Latin read aloud, and videos of the scansion
  • A full Vergilian lexicon based on that of Henry Frieze
  • Recordings of Renaissance music on texts from the Aeneid
  • Comprehensive linking to Allen & Greenough’s Latin Grammar
  • Comprehensive linking to Pleiades for all places mentioned in the text

Positions 3 requirements:

  • familiarity with the Aeneid in Latin
  • attention to detail
  • familiarity with Adobe Photoshop

Position 3 Schedule

  • Weeks 1–3: gathering, editing, and posting of images medieval manuscripts of the Aeneid
  • Weeks 4–5: transcription, upload, and linking of Aeneid scholarship excerpts
  • Weeks 6–8: creation of RDF file for linked data synching with Pelagios Project, for all places mentioned in the notes

TO APPLY: please send a letter of interest with a curriculum vitae to by March 11, 2016

How far will core vocabulary get you?

One of the claims that scholars make about vocabulary acquisition in Latin and Greek is that a relatively small number of high frequency lemmas (dictionary headwords) accounts for a high percentage of word forms in a typical text. John Muccigrosso and Wilfred Major, for example, estimate that the number of lemmas that will generate 80% of a typical text in Latin is 1500, in Greek, about 1100. (Muccigrosso, 2004, p. 416; Major, 2008, p. 7). Of course it stands to reason that this figure will differ between texts, and within texts, since some authors use relatively simple vocabulary (Nepos, Lysias), while some do not (Juvenal, Aeschylus), and some passages within an author have more unusual words than others. I and others have long wanted a way to calculate the “core percentage” in a given piece of text, that is the number of word forms in a section of a text that derive from high frequency lemmas. This would be both interesting from the point of view of literary criticism, and helpful pedagogically. Some data on that is now emerging in the case of Latin, thanks to the work of LASLA, of Bret Mulligan and his Bridge application, and the Excel skills of Derek Frymark (Dickinson ’12).

If we take the 1000-word DCC core Latin vocabulary as the definition of high frequency lemmas, then 78% of Caesar’s Gallic War consists of core lemmas, excluding proper names. The core percentages by book in Caesar’s Gallic War (excluding Hirtius’ Book 8, for which we have no LASLA data) look like this:

Book      Percentage

1             0.80

2             0.78

3             0.77

4             0.79

5             0.77

6             0.78

7             0.75

Individual chapters range from a high of 91% (4.8) to a low of 57% (7.72). 44 sentences in the work consist of 100% core vocabulary (e.g. 1.8.3 and 1.10.4), while there are two sentences, 3.13.4 and 3.13.4, which tie for a low of 17%.

In the Aeneid (taking the chunks of the text as presented in Perseus) the average chunk is 70% core, with a high of 88% (7.1–4), and a low of 46% (6.417–425). The book by book totals are as follows:

Book      Percentage

1              0.72

2              0.73

3              0.70

4              0.72

5              0.70

6              0.71

7              0.69

8              0.69

9              0.71

10           0.70

11           0.72

12           0.70

Two Dickinson students, Seth Levin and Connor Ford, are working on visualizing the core percentage data for the Aeneid and the Gallic War as part of Dickinson’s Mellon-funded Digital Boot Camp, led by Patrick Belk, starting this week. I look forward to sharing the results in the next few weeks, and hearing what you think of them!


Major, Wilfred E. (2008). It’s Not the Size, It’s the Frequency: The Value of Using a Core Vocabulary in Beginning and Intermediate Greek. CPL Online, 4.1, 1-24.

Muccigrosso, John (2004). “Frequent Vocabulary in Latin Instruction.” Classical World, 97, 409-433.

Note: this post was edited Jan. 15, 2016, to take into account some corrections in the data, and to add the book by book figures for the Aeneid.