Medieval Latin Online Summer 2014: Malchus and Brendan


Whale, ink and pigment on vellum, anonymous illustrator from the Harley Bestiary, c 1235. Source:

In the summer of 2014 Professors William Turpin (Swarthmore College,
Classics) and Bruce Venarde (University of Pittsburgh, History) will
offer a second free online Latin translation course, meeting as a Google
Hangout. The class will meet once a week starting on Monday, June 2nd,
from 8:00PM to 9:15 or 9:30 PM EST, and will continue for perhaps ten
weeks. We will be translating and discussing Jerome’s “Life of Malchus”
and the anonymous “Voyage of St. Brendan.” Both texts are interesting in
themselves (at times they are downright exciting), and they are
important documents in the history of Medieval monasticism. 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
more accomplished Latinists with an interest in medieval Latin.

To participate or to receive updates on the course it will necessary to
have a Google account, and to join the Google Plus “Community” called
“Medieval Latin (Summer 2014): Malchus and Brendan.”

Google Hangouts 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 follow on YouTube and submit
questions and comments using the messaging function. The sessions will
also be archived on YouTube (sessions from 2013 can be found if you
search “Gesta Francorum”); this will make it possible for people to
catch up for missed sessions if they wish to, and of course it will make
the sessions easier for people in different time zones.

Anyone wanting to be an active participant will need a computer with a
webcamera and microphone, and perhaps also a quiet room. We will provide
a webpage for interested participants to sign up for particular sections
of the text; such participants will then be invited to translate and to
raise questions or comment as seems appropriate. The “instructors,” and
other active participants will offer assistance and comments as
necessary, just as in an ordinary class with participants sitting around
a table.

The basic intention of this course is to replicate to the extent
possible the experience of a student in (say) a college Latin class at
the early intermediate level, minus the quizzes, tests, and continuing
assessment; at present we have no mechanism for awarding credit or
certificates of attendance. The most immediate model, in fact, may be an
informal reading group devoted to a particular ancient or medieval text.
The basic premise, as with those reading groups, is that a small
community of interested participants can both encourage and enhance what
is essentially a private encounter with a text.

For texts and signup sheet go to

Questions may be addressed to

Medieval Latin Open Online Course

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  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.

William Turpin, Swarthmore College

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:


Favorite Commentaries: William Turpin

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 William Turpin, Professor of Classics at Swarthmore College, and author of the DCC edition of Ovid’s Amores, Book 1:

In practice the most important commentaries are simply those that help me with the language. Daniel Garrison’s editions of Catullus and Horace, for instance, explain the things that he believes students will usually find mysterious, and that frees up my mind to concentrate on everything else. If I can’t understand a passage after checking the commentary, at least I know that it’s my fault.

The transformative commentaries in my own life have been those of T. E. Page, on Vergil. The small red volumes of text and commentary published by Macmillan were as iconic for classicists of my generation as OCTs and Loebs, and not just because they are so wonderfully portable. Their authors are deeply learned, insightful, and stimulating, though even relatively modern editions were probably unrealistic in what they expected of their readers; Kenneth Quinn, in 1970, could expect students of Catullus 51 to profit from his quoting Sappho 31 in the original Greek, with no translation.

Thomas Ethelbert Page (1850-1936), spent 37 years as a master at Charterhouse, one of the great English “public schools” (or we would say “private boys’ schools”). He remained at Charterhouse despite offers of headships of other public schools, and even the chair of Latin at Cambridge. He is also the subject of a short biography by the distinguished Latinist Niall Rudd, (T. E. Page: Schoolmaster Extraordinary, 1981), which I have not seen, and there is apparently a portrait of him at St. Johns College, Cambridge.


T.E. Page

In his 1929 autobiography, Good-bye to All That (which is mostly about his experiences as an infantry officer in the First World War), the poet Robert Graves mentions the profound influence Page’s teaching had on him. English poetry, in those days, was rarely taught in schools, which concentrated on Latin and Greek, but Page’s love of poetry and poetic language had a profound effect on Graves, no doubt on hundreds of other boys, and on readers of his commentaries.

A good example of what I mean is offered by Page’s comments on the first two lines of Eclogue I:

Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui Musam meditaris avena
nos patriae fines et dulcia linquimus arva:
nos patriam fugimus; tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas. 

Perhaps I might have found these lines appealing without Page’s help; they are, after all, some of the most important lines in western literature. But Page can pull the language apart in a way that I have never found easy: he comments on “the marked antithesis between tu and nos repeated in inverse order, and the pathetic repetition of patriae and patriam.” And Page enriches our connection with Musam meditaris by quoting Milton in Lycidas: “and strictly meditate the thankless Muse.”

All of this is the standard stuff of commentaries, and Page is by no means a comprehensive guide to what we would now call the “reception” of Vergil. Moreover his taste in “modern” poetry would now be considered downright reactionary; I remember him as referring above all to Milton, to the Psalms, and I think also Shelley. But he was the first classicist I encountered in print who gave me a sense of what made Latin poetry, and English poetry, worth reading.

William Turpin

image source: Michael Gilleland (no known copyright restrictions)

Ovid, Amores Book 1

The DCC edition of Ovid’s Amores Book I, with notes and essays by William Turpin, is now up and ready to be used:

This is the first non-pilot, freshly authored and created digital edition in our series. I think it shows off nicely what can be done to enhance the reading experience of a classical text in the digital realm.

In addition to the notes, features include:

  • essays on each poem by William Turpin, with bibliography
  • images/illustrations for all poems chosen and annotated by Chris Francese
  • audio recordings for 1.1 and 1.5 by Meghan Reedy
  • vocabulary lists that gloss words not in the 1,000-word DCC core Latin vocabulary
  • an annotated Google Earth map of all places mentioned in the text, created by Dickinson student Merri Wilson

I am tremendously grateful to all who contributed time and advice and ideas. The list of acknowledgments will give an idea of how many people helped. Please let me know if you have any thoughts or suggestions.

–Chris Francese