What is humanitas?

The general public’s humanitas performed some sort of funeral rites for the corpse of one unknown to them. (From a practice legal speech, ps.-Quintilian, Major Declamations 6.3)

Humanitas forbids arrogance towards associates, and it forbids greed. In words, deeds and feelings, it shows itself gentle and courteous to all men. (Seneca the Younger, Letters 88.30)

In these premises of Aurelia Faustiniana is the bath, where you can bathe in the manner of the city, and here every civilized refinement (humanitas) is available. (Inscription from Ficulea, ILS 5720)

Those who fashioned the Latin vocabulary and have used it properly intended humanitas to mean not what most people think, which is expressed by the Greeks as philanthropia and signifies . . . a certain benevolence toward people in general; rather, they referred to as humanitas more or less what the Greeks call paideia, and which we call learning, and education in the good arts. (Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 13.17)

No doubt the famous Scipio, a most learned and humane man, did not appreciate (Greek vases); but you, without any education, without humanitas, without talent, without knowledge of literature, no doubt you appreciate and judge them! (Cicero, Against Verres 2.4.98)

So exquisite was the humanitas of Crassus, that when they had bathed and sat down to dinner, all the bitterness of that earlier discussion had vanished. (Cicero, On the Orator 1.27) 

As an ethical virtue, humanitas is a disposition toward compassion and sympathy for others. It was particularly admired in the powerful: generals, judges, provincial governors and emperors. “(Pompey) is a man of such humanitas that it is difficult to say whether the enemy fears his courage when fighting against him as much as they love his mercy after they have been conquered.” “Caesar, those who dare to speak before you are ignorant of your greatness; those who do not dare are ignorant of your humanitas.” The emperor Constantius was addressed not as, say, “your highness,” but “your humanitas.” If you were a conquered enemy, a provincial, or an imperial subject, you hoped for humanitas, but took what you got. In ordinary people, humanitas is the quality that makes one bury a dead stranger, take in a guest or traveler, give money to a beggar, cry in grief, reject a suitor without arrogance, or treat an animal well. We do small favors not for a man but for humanity, says Seneca (non homini sed humanitati), that is, on principle, not expecting any return. Kindness, above all, is what it means to be “human” in Latin.

As an aspect of luxury, humanitas was urban refinement and comfort, such as that advertised for the country baths of Aurelia Faustiniana, and which allowed one to rise above the beasts and enjoy life a bit. It was what Nero had in mind when, after the completion of his vast new palace complex which demolished whole neighborhoods in the center of Rome, he said that at last he could begin to live like a human being (quasi hominem).

The notions of human sympathy and cultured refinement are joined in a peculiar development of the language in the first century BC associated with Cicero and his contemporaries. Here humanitas connotes not, or not only, the Greek term philanthropia—a benevolent attitude toward people in general—but also the Greek paideia, liberal education. Education in the arts, Cicero believed, leads to both aesthetic refinement and to personal charm and ethical sensitivity. As a cultural attainment, humanitas involves a broad knowledge of history, law, philosophy, literature and the arts. It is the virtue that allows one to diffuse even the most awkward situations with interesting conversation, to adorn a persuasive speech with effective illustrations, to act courteously in the face of insult, to win over a difficult audience with personal ease and charm, to settle a question with an amusing and apposite remark, to write a beguiling letter, to quarrel in a manner considerate of others’ feelings.

The idea that broad education in literature, philosophy and the arts is the keystone to humanitas, to “living like a human being,” is closely associated with Cicero (especially his treatise on the ideal orator). For some reason this educational definition of humanitas is not picked up by later generations of Roman authors, and in subsequent centuries the word usually means simply “kindness.” Perhaps the notion that  literary culture makes one humane seemed naïve given the sins of the highly literate Roman aristocracy. The emperor Tiberius, for example, had extremely refined literary tastes, but was also known for having people thrown off the cliffs near his seaside villa on Capri. As Seneca points out just after the passage quoted on humanitas, virtue has no necessary relationship to educational level.

At the center of the word is the hopeful idea that ethics and education and leadership might not be separate. When the emperor Valentinian fell ill in AD 367, the Gauls in attendance on him held a clandestine meeting and nominated as his successor the master of records Rusticus Julianus, a man, according to the contemporary historian Ammianus, whose bestial thirst for human blood verged on madness.  Luckily the emperor revived, and the plan to install Rusticus (whose name aptly enough means “boor”) was thwarted. Ammianus then writes a speech which gives the virtue of humanitas a civic turn. Valentinian is commending his chosen successor, his young son Gratian, to the troops. “Because he has been educated from the beginning of his youth in humanitas and the studies of ingenious disciplines, he will weigh with impartial judgment the merits of deeds done rightly, or the opposite. He will act in such a way that good men will know that they are appreciated. . . . He will risk his life for the companions of his labors and, what is the first and highest form of loyalty, he will know how to love the Republic as he loves the house of his father and grandfather.”  This Ciceronian dream of humanitas, in which literary and philosophical education makes us both better people and better citizens, was a powerful inspiration to Petrarch, Erasmus, and the other scholars whose devotion to classical learning shaped the European Renaissance.  They have been given the name “humanists” in homage to it.

References:

TLL 6.3.3075-3083 collects the evidence. See RE Suppl. vol. 5.282-310. Greg Woolf, Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 54-60. Pompey’s humanitas: Cicero, On the Manlian Law 42. Those who dare to speak: remark by Q. Varius Geminus, the orator and friend of Augustus, quoted by Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 6.8. Constantius: TLL 6.3081, lines 66-67. Small favors: Seneca the Younger, On Benefits 4.29.3. Live like a human being: Suetonius, Nero 31.2. Valentinian and Gratian: Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire 27.6.]

Adapted from the book Ancient Rome in So Many Words (New York: Hippocrene, 2007) by Christopher Francese.

How consistent is Latin punctuation in PHI?

Latin punctuation is one of those classicist trade-secret things. To understand it fully takes intense study, and most classicists have views, no doubt dogmatically held. I am no purist. The bottom line for me is that Latin punctuation is just not as rule-bound as punctuation in English. Not that that is a bad thing. It’s just a different tradition. School texts have far more punctuation than scholarly critical editions. Some of the I Tatti editions seem almost allergic to punctuation. Editing a Neo-Latin text has made me newly aware of this issue, since I am frequently having to make decisions about where to put commas (trying to keep them to a minimum consistent with clarity), whether to use semi-colons (almost never), and so on. Early modern printed editions are notoriously punctuation happy. It sometimes seems as if the printer loaded a shotgun with commas, colons, and periods and fired at the page. Here is a taste:

Latin text with lots of punctuation

Joannis Petri Maffeii Bergomatis E Societate Jesu Historiarum Indicarum Libri XVI (Vienna: Bernardi, 1752; orig. 1588), p. 6.

A more minimal, modern punctuation might be:

illud praesertim summo conatu pervestigare num quis ab Atlantico in Eoum Oceanum vel mari vel terra transitus foret. Quippe iam tum, praeter acerrimum propagandae Christianae fidei studium, ad beatas etiam Arabiae gazas et Indici litoris opulenta commercia mentem et cogitationem adiecerat.

Although as a rule I would rather not have commas around prepositional phrases like praeter .. studium, it seems useful for comprehension in this case.

Various authors have explained their practices recently. My main guides are Cynthia Damon, who has an excellent discussion in the preface to her Oxford Classical Text of Caesar’s De bello civili, and Milena Minkova, whose wonderful Neo-Latin anthology I recommend heartily to anyone who wants to sample the best Latin writing in the early modern period. They both recommend a restrained approach, but Minkova insists that ablatives absolute, for example, should almost always be enclosed in commas. Damon (wisely, in my view) reserves semi-cola for independent clauses in indirect discourse. Given the flexibility available to editors, the golden rule is: a well-punctuated text shows that the editor understands the text.

In investigating this issue I have been intrigued to see the degree of variation among the modern edited texts (mostly Teubners and OCTs) reproduced in PHI, and I have never seen any collection of instances of variation or consensus among them. So, for those who might be interested in such things, here is my working list. The second column represents my policy, based on my own intuition and observations from PHI.

non modo …, sed include the comma before sed
partim …, partim include the comma before the second partim
dubium quin no comma before quin in phrases like “neque erat dubium quin”
ea lege ut comma before ut? PHI examples go both ways
non tam X … quam Y usually no comma
adeo … ut
comma before ut? Editors seem to differ a lot on this point. Some religiously include it (e.g. Marshall’s Nepos), others tend not to. In the Livy editions on PHI they tend to leave it out, which I prefer in most circumstances.
 
primum … dein clauses usually separated by comma if short, semi-colon if longer http://latin.packhum.org/search?q=%5BLiv%5D+primum+~+Dein%23
his dictis no comma after this introductory formula
factum est ut comma after est? editors seem to vary on this
eo magis quod comma after magis? Generally not
vel … vel This seems to vary a bit, but generally comma can be omitted before the second vel
introductory ablative absolute These seem to go without a comma if they are only two or three words
x adiuvante no need for commas around this kind of very short ablative absolute
     
primo … ; dein or primo … dein, or primo …. Dein? Check out the examples from Livy
postremo,
make sure to use the comma if a subordinate clause (ubi, cum), or abl. abs., immediately follows.
 
     
ut fit, ut assolet
these parenthetical expressions are normally enclosed in commas, though sometimes ut fit is not in PHI
 
is cum no comma

The Fables of Elizabeth Jane Weston

Elizabeth Jane Weston (1582-1612; English, but active in Prague) was one of the most talented Latin poets of the early modern period. Much celebrated in her own time, she is rarely read today, though she has achieved some measure of gaming fame as a character in Assassins’ Creed. Donald Cheney and Brenda Hosington translated her collected works in a book published by Toronto University Press in 2000. A digitized transcription of her three-volume collection Parthenica (1606?) is available at the Neo-Latin site CAMENA, published by scholars at the University of Mannheim. This is how I first encountered her works. There are, as far as I know, no editions meant for students of Latin, with vocabulary glosses, notes, and so forth, with the exception of this interesting 2017 blog post, which discusses a poem by Weston addressed to Ovid in exile. As a small step in remedying this I asked the students in my recently concluded Ovid class at Dickinson to produce, as their final projects, individual editions of her fables, Quaedam Fabulae Aesopicae (Parthenica vol. 2) and here they are for your enjoyment. Each includes a Latin text, vocabulary list and notes, English translation, text and translation of kindred Aesopic material, a short discussion interpreting the fable (Weston gives no explicit morals), and suggests about how they might be relevant to the author’s circumstances.

young woman holding quill pen

Fan-made image of Elizabeth Weston from Assassin’s Creed wiki

Leo et Rana (The Lion and the Frog), commented on by Jocelyn Wright

Cassita Sola (The Captured Lark), commented on by Lexi Chroscinski

Sus et Canis (The Sow and the Dog), commented on by Nick Morris

Anseres et Grues (The Geese and the Cranes), commented on by Jack Tigani

De Pulice et Milite (On the Flea and the Soldier), commented on by Carl Hamilton

Columba et Tabula Picta (The Pidgeon and the Painting), commented on by Katrina Falkner

Those looking for more detail on her interesting and difficult life are directed to the excellent introduction in the book of Cheney and Hosington, or to J.W. Binns, Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England: The Latin Writings of the Age (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1990), pp. 110-114. Binns’ book is now hard to find, so here is a bit of what he has to say (p. 110): 

The writings of the Anglo-Latin poet best known on the continent in the early 17th century were never printed in England. Elizabeth Jane Weston is nowadays completely ignored by literary histories; but in her day, she was widely celebrated and earned for herself the sobriquet the ‘Maid of England’. A few details drawn from her own work and from later accounts may however be given. According to the traditional view she was born in England circa 1582 and left the country in her youth, along with her parents and brother, after her father, who fell into disgrace for political or religious reasons, had lost all his property. In 1597, when the Weston family was in Bohemia, Elizabeth’s father died, and the family seemed to have been saved from destitution by the unusual talents of Elizabeth Weston herself, who attracted the notice and patronage of various influential men, especially Georg Martin von Baldhoven, a Silesian nobleman with whom she corresponded. In April 1603 Elizabeth Weston married a jurist at the Imperial court, Johann Leon, and by him had four sons, whom she outlived, and three daughters. She herself died on 23 November 1612, and was buried in Prague in St. Thomas church. (p. 110)

After surveying the letters and verse she wrote to the Emperor Rudolph II and other possible or actual patrons, Binns continues (p. 113),

The verses which Elizabeth Weston wrote to such great men, known personally or by letter, are only part of her poetry. She can recount vividly incidents from her own life, such as the flooding in Prague and her recollections of the garden of Johann Barvitius. Some poems describe the effects upon her of poverty, and her emotional states: one deals movingly with her brother’s death, and in another she compares her own fate as an exile to that of Ovid. Some handle religious themes, for instance her verses on the life of Jesus. There are poems in which she gives moral advice, and epigrams on secular and sacred subjects, including love, friendship, greed, charity and the evils of riches. She writes occasional verses on St. Andrew’s day and on her own name day. In one poem she attacks the faithlessness and duplicity of the Jews. There are several verse paraphrases of some of Aesop’s fables, including these stories of the Lion and the Frog, the Eagle and the Tortoise, and the Sow and the Dog. Certain poems allude to her weaknesses as a writer of poetry. The accomplishment and sweetness of her verse was much praised … (p. 113).

My own personal favorites so far are her poems about printing, one an ingenious celebration of Gutenberg, the other an amusing account of her visit to the shop of some hard-working and hard-drinking printers. It reminded me of the final scene of the 2019 film adaptation of Little Women, in which Louisa May Alcott watches her books being produced in pride and amazement.

Dickinson Ancient Greek Workshop 2021: Against Neaira

Want to improve your reading fluency in Ancient Greek and learn more about ancient Greek culture? Please join us for the Dickinson Ancient Greek Workshop.

What: Dickinson Ancient Greek Workshop

When: August 9-13, 2021

Where: Zoom link to be provided to registered participants

Text: Ps-Demosthenes, Against Neaira

Fragment of a terracotta lebes gamikos

Fragment of a terracotta lebes gamikos, ca. 440 BC. Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Delivered sometime in the late 340s BCE, Against Neaira traces Neaira’s life from her youth as a sex worker and argues that her children with an Athenian citizen man are illegitimate. The speech is highly revealing of Athenian society, citizenship, religion, women, and law. Its Greek is straightforward and enjoyable to read, making it an ideal text to improve reading fluency. The text we will use (edited by Deborah Kamen) has notes and complete running vocabulary lists, so if you have mastered the DCC core Ancient Greek vocabulary of 500 words a dictionary should not be necessary.

Meetings: to accommodate participants from multiple time zones, the workshop will meet daily from 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m, Eastern Daylight Time US (UTC -4:00), with the rest of the day reserved for study.

Intended audience: Readers at all levels of experience are welcome, but knowledge of the basics of Ancient Greek grammar and familiarity with core vocabulary are expected. Letters of completion for purposes of professional development for teachers will be available, for 56 hours (including preparation time).

Moderator: Prof. Scott Farrington, Dickinson College. Scott is an ancient historian who earned his PhD at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His publications have focused primarily on the Histories of Polybius and the nature and development of literary prose in antiquity. His most recent article (Classical Philology, 2021) reinterprets the ancient proverb “Nothing to do with Dionysus.” He has offered classes in the Greek and Latin languages, the history of the ancient world and its reception, and Athenian law.

Registration and fees: to register, please email Mrs. Terri Blumenthal, Classical Studies Academic Department Coordinator (blumentt@dickinson.edu). A fee of $200 is due by July 23, 2021 in the form of a check made out to Dickinson College, mailed to Terri Blumenthal, Department of Classical Studies, Dickinson College, Carlisle PA 17013. 

 For more information please contact Scott Farrington (farrings@dickinson.edu)

 

2021 Dickinson Summer Latin Workshop: Ovid’s Little Aeneid (Metamorphoses 13.623–14.582)

Dickinson Summer Latin Workshop: Ovid’s Little Aeneid (Metamorphoses 13.623–14.582)

July 12-16, 2021

woman at beach at sunset

Meghan Newell Reedy

The Dickinson Summer Latin Workshop will be held online this year. While this situation is far from ideal, we hope it will allow those who could not normally travel to Carlisle to participate. We are delighted to have Meghan Newell Reedy with us as guest instructor. Meghan grew up in South Africa and the Pacific Northwest, and has lived in Boston, Texas, England, and, currently Maine. A graduate of Whitman College, she holds an M.A. from the University of Durham and a D.Phil. from Oxford University. She is a former Dickinson faculty member and is currently Program Coordinator with the Maine Humanities Council. Her scholarly work focuses on Propertius. Among other things she thinks a lot about how textiles and clothing get made and worn and usually has a knitting / sewing / weaving project on the go. Longtime attendees will remember Meghan from Dickinson summer workshops on Tacitus’ Germania (2011), Propertius (2012) and Ovid’s Fasti (2013).

Meetings

  • Online meetings will take place daily 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon, Eastern time US, with a break in the middle. Group translation will be carried on in two sections, one for the more confident (affectionately known as “the sharks”), one for the less confident (even more affectionately known as “the dolphins”) led on alternating days by Meghan Reedy and Chris Francese (Dickinson College).

Reading Schedule (Approximate)

Monday, July 12: Metamorphoses 13.623–808

Tuesday, July 13: Metamorphoses 13.809–968, 14.1–24

Wednesday, July 14: Metamorphoses 14.25–222

Thursday, July 15: Metamorphoses 14.223–444

Friday, July 16: Metamorphoses 14.445–582

Required Books

Neil Hopkinson, Ovid, Metamorphoses Book XIII (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 

K. Sara Myers, Ovid, Metamorphoses Book XIV (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). 

Registration Fee

$200, due by check on or before July 1, 2021. Make checks payable to Dickinson College and mail them to

Department of Classical Studies, Dickinson College

c/o Terri Blumenthal

Carlisle, PA 17013

Reading Ovid Aloud for Homework

O pandemic, mother of invention. I have started assigning my Ovid students homework of submitting a recording of 10-15 lines, which we read at sight in class, read aloud rather than translated. Moodle makes this easy to submit. It’s amazing how readily you can tell if they understand. I added a part that involves picking five key words and looking them up the dictionary and explaining why they think they are important, which gets in an interpretive element consistent with my learning goals. But that’s not essential, of course. The results of the first round are so good, the ability to hear if they get Ovid’s tone so cool, the interpretations they gave in the written part so perceptive, and the homework so damn easy to grade, I had to share. I emphasized that I was not judging their pronunciation, but rather their pausing and emphasis as it reflects comprehension. I may never go back to grading written translations.

Here is the prompt:

  • Read the passage out loud in Latin with emphasis and pausing that reflect comprehension. Submit a recording.
  • Find the five most important or emphatic words in the passage in your view;
    • write the location in Lewis & Short where the contextually appropriate meaning of each if these five words is listed
    • give the contextually appropriate translation of these five words
    • explain briefly why you believe each word is important in the context

And here is the example I provided:

Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.1–4.

In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas          

corpora; di, coeptis (nam vos mutastis et illas)    

adspirate meis primaque ab origine mundi          

ad mea perpetuum deducite tempora carmen!

nova: “new” (LS novus I.A), or “strange” (LS novus I.B): this is the first significant word, and separated a long way from the word it modifies, corpora, which gives it emphasis. What he has to say will be “new” and/or “strange.” Exciting!

mutatas: “changed” (LS muto II.A.1), going with formas. This whole poem is about change, so it makes sense to foreground this word in the first line. mutatas formas is pretty much Latin for the Greek title Metamorphoses (“Transformations”).

adspirate: “to be favorable to, to favor, assist (the figure taken from a fair breeze)” + dat. (LS aspiro I.A.2), governing coeptis meis (“the work I have begun”). Ovid is calling on the gods to favor his enterprise, so this is a key word, emphasized by being first in the line. It’s imperative, looking back to the vocative di in line 2. Tone is confident (?).

perpetuum: “continuous, unbroken, uninterrupted” (LS perpetuus I.A). Ovid’s song will be “continuous” and extend all the way from the origin of the world to his own time. Very ambitious! Also, if you’ve read the Metamorphoses you know it’s loosely organized, with one story after another in a continuous stream. So he may be giving us a heads up about that.

A few notes:

  • I grade these on a 1-10 scale, and they take under 5 minutes each to grade.
  • The due date is midnight on the day after we read the lines at sight in class. I don’t want it to get stale. Great way to review and reinforce, I think.
  • The students have as a textbook Peter Jones’ superb Reading Ovid. This helps the students by giving them context, interpretive summaries, vocabulary, macrons on the Latin, and excellent interpretive notes. I frigging love this book. This assignment asks them to go beyond it by investigating in the dictionary and saying what they think.

Is Owen and Goodspeed Worth Saving?

portrait of William Bishop Owen

William Bishop Owen

Generations of beginning Homerists have been asked to purchase the little book Homeric Vocabularies by William Bishop Owen and Edgar Johnson Goodspeed. I acquired it in college, and later, when I came to teach Homer, I also asked my students to buy it. It’s a mainstay. The blisteringly critical review by Wm. W. Baker in Classical Review of 1908, however, has convinced me, however, that it is a piece of junk from the student’s point of view. Originally published in 1906, it has been frequently reprinted, and is currently published by the University of Oklahoma Press in a revised edition, copyright 1969. It has lists of words in Homer, organized by frequency. The very first page has an impressive list of verbs occurring 500 to 2,000 times. There are 13 of them, all the greatest hits:

list of 13 common Greek verbs

The 13 most common verbs in Homer, from Owen and Goodspeed (1906 edition), p. 3.

Other lists include verbs that occur 200 to 500 times, down to ones that occur 10 to 25 times. Noun lists give those occurring 500 to 1,000 times, down to 10 to 25 times. There are (combined) lists of common pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions.

Baker first questions the whole approach of learning vocabulary from lists. Probably better to read fast and widely, he says. True enough. But if you must have lists, at least make the lists in a way that gives the student needed help and doesn’t mislead or make the student’s life more difficult. The review (full text below) points out a number of flaws, only some of which were rectified in the 1969 revision. The main version available on the internet is from 1909, and all these criticisms apply.

  • Greek words are not associated with English definitions, which are given only in the back of the book. They should be in parallel columns. Duh! This was fixed in the 1969 revision.
  • Related words, and even different forms of the same words, are widely separated (e.g. τανύω, τείνωμ, τιταίνω, which are nos. 151, 275, and 504 respectively).
  • Words of similar form but different meaning are not juxtaposed so the student may be put on guard not to confuse them.
  • English definitions were haphazardly taken (without attribution) from the English version of Authenrieth’s Homeric Dictionary (1891, now on Perseus), which was old-fashioned and clunky even back in the day. The results are frequently misleading, or just laughable (ἤαβάω, “Am at my youthful prime”).
  • Definitions for parallel forms of the same word (e.g. λανθάνω λήθω) are inconsistent.
  • Needless synonyms make memorization harder. ἔγχος, “Spear, lance.” Why spear and lance?
  • Attic forms, with which most students are more familiar, are not provided for comparison, for words like πρήσσω and θηέομαι. The same goes for words in which Attic meanings vary substantially from Homeric ones, like φοβέω, ἀρκέω, and ἀσκέω.

When I think how many brilliant, dedicated Homerists there are in the world, all the monographs and commentaries that have been published in the last 100 years, the enormous progress made in understanding Homer at an advanced scholarly level, and how no one has thought it worthwhile to create a more effective replacement for this potentially so useful book, it seems to sum up something basic to the culture of classical scholarship. The mind especially boggles at how easy it would be to solve all these problems and add countless improvements in a digital environment. I’m hoping to get my Homer students this spring interested in collaborating on an overhaul for DCC. Ok, here is the full text of Baker’s review in The Classical Review, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Jun., 1908), pp. 128–129:

Homeric Vocabularies: Greek and English Word-Lists for the Study of Homer. By WILLIAM BISHOP OWEN, Ph.D., and EDGAR JOHNSON GOODSPEED, Ph.D. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1906. Pp. viii+ 62. 50 cents, net.

To those who believe in the systematic study of vocabularies, the title of this little book has a hopeful sound. And doubtless the book itself may fulfil its purpose reasonably well in the hands of many teachers. Yet it seems as if it might easily have been made much more useful. The object of such a list should be to enable the student to fix the meaning of as many important words as possible in his mind with the least possible labour. And this can hardly be accomplished with the present book. First of all its arrangement strikes one as faulty. The Greek words and the English are in separate halves of the book, nor do the Greek and their meanings even occupy corresponding places on their respective pages. Much less laborious, certainly, for the learner would have been an arrangement of both on the same page in parallel columns. The words are further separated into three groups, verbs, nouns, and, thirdly, the other parts of speech together, and in each group its members are separated into a half dozen lists according to the frequency of their occurrence in Homer. This plan has some advantages, but, on the other hand, the labour of memorizing is unquestionably much increased: related words and even different forms of the same word are widely separated (e.g. τανύω, τείνω, τιταίνω, are Nos. 151, 275, 504 respectively); nor are words of similar form but different meaning placed in proper juxtaposition so that the student may be put on his guard and not confuse them.

The choice of meanings, too, is not above reproach. They are, we may say, almost entirely chosen from the English translation of Autenrieth’s Homeric Dictionary, as but a brief glance will show, and although meanings of words may not be subject to copyright, it might have been well if the editors had acknowledged their indebtedness. Unfortunately, also, they are not always chosen wisely. For example, τελέθω is ‘Am become, assume,’ where ‘assume’ is worse than useless; so with πειρητίζω, ‘Test, sound.’ For τρωπάω (a word which, so far as Ebeling’s Lexicon shows, does not occur the ten times the editors claim for it) we have ‘Change, vary’—entirely unsuitable meanings except for a single passage. Again one might reasonably expect to find identical meanings given for parallel forms of the same word. But quite the opposite is often the case. Thus λανθάνω is ‘Escape notice, forget,’ λήθω is only ‘Escape notice’; κεδάννυμι is ‘ Scatter,’ σκεδάννυμι, and σκίνδαμαι, ‘Scatter, disperse,’ for no apparent reason. And in general why should so many useless synonyms be given? Why should ἔγχος be ‘Spear, lance’ or θύρη ‘Door, gate’? It seems obvious that unless a word has more than one distinct signification, only a single meaning should be set down. For if the meanings are to be committed absolutely to memory one is easier to learn than two; if not, the method of wide and rapid reading would seem preferable to fooling with a word-list. Among other meanings susceptible of improvement are those of μεγάθυμος, ‘Great-hearted,’—a mere school-boy’s rendering—and ἡβάω, ‘Am at my youthful prime,’—enough to make even a school-boy laugh. All of which goes to show that the meanings must have been selected in a very haphazard fashion.

Additional information would be desirable in some cases: thus the meaning of active and middle of such verbs as ἅπτω and λανθάνω ought to have been differentiated. To have the Attic forms given in words like πρήσσω and θηέομαι would be helpful, though it may not be necessary; so also the Attic meaning, where this varies widely from the Homeric, as in φοβέω, ἀρκέω, and ἀσκέω. And none of these additions would overload the book.

I have noticed a few misprints: δύνω occurs twice (Nos. 46 and 201, and with varying meanings in the two places); No. 407, κορέω, ‘Sweep ‘—a ἅπαξ λεγόμενον— should be κορέννυμι, ‘Satisfy’; at No. 474, for ‘Cover,’ read ‘Cower’; at No. 521, for ‘place,’ read ‘plan’; noun Νo. 198 should be defined ‘olive-oil,’ not ‘olive, oil.’

Wm. W. BAKER.

Haverford College

Rules of thumb for commentary writing

Our commentaries are akin the the Bryn Mawr Commentaries: for first-time readers, whether students or advanced scholars who want to read the text expeditiously. Commentary authors are asked to keep the following considerations/rules-of-thumb in mind:

1. Respect the reader’s time
Stick to what a curious reader would want and need to know to help understand and appreciate the text at hand. Tangentially related material and ancillary texts can be handled in an introduction or in a close reading essay.

2. Look out for what is assumed
Readers frequently need to know what’s not there, or rather what’s there but invisible: the omitted antecedent of a relative pronoun, half of a compound verb form, or the explanation of some constitutional nicety, religious custom, or mythological detail that the author takes as common knowledge.

3. Use jargon only for a good reason
Technical terms are ok, but as a tool, not a substitute for explanation. Explain in a way that doesn’t simply rely on everybody being fully familiar with your own favorite terminology, at least the first time through.

4. Go easy on cross-references
Only use a cross-reference when it’s genuinely important for comprehension, or to spell out what is assumed. Avoid especially untranslated parallel passages.

5. Elucidate first, observe second
First make clear what is going on, whether by judicious translation, paraphrase, rearranging the word order. Then move to whatever comment you would like to make.

6. Look out for what is typical or atypical
It is sometimes useful to point out what is unusual or what is standard, what is distinctive or what is cliché, what is central or what is peripheral, interesting word order, or striking word choice. 

7. Separate interpretation from elucidation
When it comes to serving first-time readers, even expert ones, literary interpretation is out of place. If you advance a clever observation in a note that doesn’t help elucidate the language itself, you are likely to alienate rather than to enlighten. And there’s not enough time in a note to make a literary argument effectively, anyway. Save that for a close reading essay.

8. When the text makes no sense when translated literally, translate it idiomatically
Many commentators on classical texts see translation in a note as dishonest, allowing the reader to cheat. Think of it instead as modeling the sort of careful, close translation you’d like to see: not over-literal pseudo-English, but the real, satisfying mots justes.

9. Save space by linking to stable resources
Link to DCC grammars for grammatical points, to Logeion for lexicography, to Wikipedia for literary devices, to Perseus for classical texts, to Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology for those topics, and to Pleiades for geography. But don’t link to a news article or blog post that’s likely to be gone in a year or two. 

10. Model close reading practices
Humanists and scholars read slowly and carefully, alive to the precise meanings of words. They appreciate the beauty of the style. They read critically, aware of what’s left out, what’s partial or unfair. They want to take something away and apply it to life. The other rules flow from this central purpose.

Things That Drive Me Crazy about Plato’s Republic

In a few minutes I have to teach Plato’s Republic (Books 2 and 4) to a wonderful group of first-year students in a writing-based seminar. I dread this. Every time I teach this seminar, I struggle to find something valuable to justify its inclusion in the syllabus with so many great writers, from Homer and Thucydides to Achebe and Du Bois. Every year I investigate how other people teach it. Steven B. Smith’s discussion in Yale Open Courses is available as a free podcast. I find it infuriating, the special pleading, and assertion of the life-changing greatness of the work despite the turgid appearances. The star-studded cast assembled by Melvyn Bragg for BBC’s In Our Time plump for it during the entire program, then end up in the bonus material admitting that his psychology is bogus. I feel like there are not enough people out there just complaining about the Republic, and making this list was cathartic for me. I make absolutely no claim to philosophical insight or subtlety, quite the opposite. I just had to get this off my chest. With that defensive preamble, here is my list of

Things that drive me crazy about the Republic

  1. The narrowness of his political vision. No mention of the successful Persian model of a multi-ethnic empire next door.
  2. The assumption that most people should not and cannot exercise political leadership or know what is best for them.
  3. The exile of Homer. If you can’t see that Homer is humanizing, then something is wrong with you. His view of art as epistemically inferior seems absolutely outrageous.
  4. The assertion that justice involves above all everybody knowing their place and not meddling, staying in their classes or lanes.
  5. The idea that only the educated can have moderation (σωφροσύνη) required for leadership.

On the other hand (and here’s what I find valuable in the work) he does ask some fundamental questions:

  1. How can we create a concept of justice that is separate from what those in power happened to want to enforce?
  2. How do we get beyond a politics based simply on desire and force? I want this, you want that, let’s see who’s strong enough to enforce his will.
  3. What would it look like if reason-driven people, non-self-interested people, ruled and tried to bring about the maximum happiness for the whole?
  4. What are the psychological sources of political failure and corruption?
  5. What is the best kind of education for the elite?

Ok, that’s a non-philosopher’s two cents. If you love the work, please tell me why in the comments!

Chinese resources for the study of Latin

As readers of this site will know, the study of Latin attracts considerable interest in China, and many Chinese students studying abroad are learning the language as well. Until recently this had to be done almost entirely through English. An incoming first year student to Dickinson from Guangzhou is being forced to defer college for one year thanks to the pandemic. She asked me if I knew of any resources through which she could get started with her Latin during her unexpected downtime. I put out some feelers and received an excellent response. Here are some resources, some of them older and well known, others brand new.

Professor Li Hui (Rosina) at Beijing Foreign Studies University has translated Oerberg’s Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata:

  1. Familia Romana (《拉丁语综合教程1·课本》) in which all the contents of the original book have been conserved. For the convenience of Chinese students, we added the recording of text reading and the Key to Exercises.
  2. Latine Disco (《拉丁语综合教程1·学生用书》)contains Colloquia personarum, Enchiridion discipulorum, Exercitia Latina, Phonetica Latina, Syntaxis etc. 

Grammars: Gu Zhiyin has translated Allen & Greenough.

Cicero dixit, written by Liu Xun is also a very useful grammar book.

All of these books are available on JD.com and Taobao.

Shanghai Normal University is offering a summer Latin course in Late August:  (Application deadline: July 15)

Of course the DCC core Greek and Latin vocabularies exist in Chinese translation. More advanced students will want to visit Dickinson Classics Online, which contains various resources for Chinese speaking students of the Greco-Roman classics.

Please let us know in the comments if you are aware of other things. Thanks!