Laudes Mantuano

Publius Vergilius Maro was born on the Ides of October, 2086 years ago last weekend. His work, the Aeneid in particular, is always with me—I like very much having a phrase or a verse pop up in my mind; I very much wish I knew more Vergil by heart.

Vergil is without question the reason I am still reading Latin. I read Vergil first in 1971-72, my junior year in high school, led willingly but slowly through the antiqua silva of the purple Pharr by Jack Lynch, a man who had been a Benedictine novice in Germany in his youth and who seemed older than Charon–iam senior, sed cruda deo uiridisque senectus. Jack wasn’t that old, of course; and his age was indeed green and fresh: he loved to run around and climb the furniture, dramatizing Vergil’s words. He certainly was old enough to have had his novitiate training in Latin, and he had many funny stories about it. Jack’s grading was interesting—really an old-fashioned recitation grade. He had a series of cards—8 and 1/2” by 11” inch card stock sliced in half the long way—and he would shuffle these and let the Parcae call on you. How well you translated and answered grammatical questions determined your grade for the class, which he recorded with a fountain pen in very cryptic symbols that none of us ever figured out.

Oblivious to the paleolithic methodology, being a talented student, I loved Vergil. The strangeness of the interlocking word order, transferred epithets, assonance and alliteration just held me spellbound. What I remember getting at the time was that here was a poetic voice who really understood that life was not for sissies: sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt. Since this was a year in which my parents separated, after some physical violence and a lot of alcohol, I got the part about the lacrimae rerum.

My next big Vergil moment happened in graduate school, when, along with a couple of other grad students, I was in charge of what we called The Classics Discussion Group at Cornell. We had some splendid plaster casts of the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia in the coffee house in the basement of the humanities building, and we used a photo that someone found of a group of northern European women in the Olympia Museum looking rather intently at Apollo’s midsection, clutching their purses quite protectively, as our group logo. This discussion group decided to hold an event to read the whole of the Aeneid aloud, in Latin, nonstop, in late September, 1982, in honor of the 2000th anniversary of Vergil’s death.

We managed to do it in about 10 hours, as I recall; we got volunteers from all over the university. I remember reading Anchises’ misguided prophecies in book 3, camping it up to make Anchises a doddering idiot (those of you who have heard Justin Slocum Bailey’s senex Romanus know what I was about, although Justin is a splendid actor and I am not). What struck me at the time, though, was the remarkable variety of ways that people read Latin verse aloud and how remarkably dull some of them were. This is a pity, because Vergil’s writing shines when read aloud with expression. We may not be able to recreate Vergil’s remarkable delivery, but any thoughtful expression is better than little or none.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I made my way in the degree mill through to the ABD-stage of things without learning anything about the GeorgicsTu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi finem di dederint. Now, as I find myself working in a small school dedicated to teaching students to understand what a life in harmony with the natural world really means, my hour has come. Haud facilis ascensus ad res rusticas (as if that were really what Vergil’s completed great poem is about). But it is nice to learn new things.

This modern and disjointed feuilleton is hardly the place to venture into serious criticism of Vergil’s work. But, speaking as one who was nurtured on the critical approaches of Michael Putnam, Ralph Johnson, and Fred Ahl, I don’t have a lot of patience for those who view the Aeneid as a masterwork of Caesarean propaganda. At floreant centum flores. Just please don’t tell me that you are in sole possession of a magic key to the meaning of the Aeneid. If you think you are, I shall cheerfully await you on the dark side of the gate of ivory, not of horn. I hope the shy Mantuan will be there to tell us.


Quid agitur? Monday, Oct 16th

●Visit the CANE News page, which lists CANE-sponsored events, events connected to Classics throughout New England, and events around the country of interest to students and instructors.
●The Boston Area Classics Calendar has a lot going on, and a weekly email digest of upcoming events.
●If you live in the western Massachusetts, northern Connecticut, or southern Vermont area, note Amherst College’s list of upcoming lectures in the Pioneer Valley.

●In the Boston area? Check out the Active Latin Meetup page for events.

●Central Connecticut State University is working to create a certification program for the teaching of Latin. Attached you will find the program of studies. In order to make this idea come to fruition we are seeking support from Latin groups. We need at least 10 students to sign up for this cohort in order to run the program. As an incentive to enroll into the program we are looking for funding to offer scholarships to help defray the cost of course work at the University level. If you are interesting in supporting this initiative in any way please contact me at the below email address. Gina Gallo Reinhard ginagallo@bristolk12.org

●Grey Fox Tutors is offering a free weekly Skype Conversational Latin Workshop for all current or former Latin teachers or TAs.  The Workshop is an opportunity for teachers to gain Latin speaking skills that they can then use in their own classrooms. It is currently held on Saturdays at 2 PM EST; additional times and days, however, may be added in the future as needed.  For more information please contact Katerina Ourgi at assistanthead@greyfoxtutors.com or call (212) 203-8734. There is also a survey to determine the best times to offer professional development over the summer.

●The MassJCL “Kick-off” is Saturday, Oct 21st, at Lanesborough Elementary, Lanesborough MA. Hosted by Mount Greylock JCL. Pumpkin painting, a catapult and ballista contest, and Certamen scrimmages.

Links to the New England states’ classical associations: NH, VT, ME, MA, RI, CT.  The Vermont Classical Languages Association’s annual meeting will be Saturday, October 21 in Montpelier City Hall, Montpelier, VT. No time given.