Feature Posts

Cibī Romanī

I love learning about Roman food and tying it into classroom activities. Therefore, I will take this opportunity to review a few websites on Roman food, which are accessible to all and you may find useful or simply interesting.

I. Pass the Garum – This is one of my favorite sites. It includes several examples of Roman recipes with helpful suggestions on how to make them. It was the first site that I ever found on the topic of Roman cuisine, and it kept me coming back.  The author discusses not only the food in question but also ties in history and ancient sources. The page also Tweets! As with many other modern renderings of Roman cuisine, the author takes recipes from ancient sources (like Apicius), which tend to be very vague with quantities, and gets more specific for the convenience of the modern home coquus. The citations are also helpful and illuminating, although I admit, I have not source-checked all of the ancient authors. New posts are not very frequent, but I think you will still find the content intriguing!

II. Ancient Roman Recipes – This article by Carla Raimer, which originally appeared for a NOVA program on the Roman Empire, explains a host of recipes tailored from various reputable sources. Raimer includes short but descriptive reviews of each dish as well as detailed recipes. She also offers some interesting modern twists on ancient favorites, for instance, this recipe for what I’ll term pho-liquamen:

Modern Garum Recipe

Cook a quart of grape juice, reducing it to one-tenth its original volume. Dilute two tablespoons of anchovy paste in the concentrated juice and mix in a pinch of oregano.”


III. Do you yearn to delve into the original Latin? Fear not! At least one version of Apicius’s works is online (through the Latin Library) and a full length ebook on the works attributed to Apicius and other Roman authors in the culinary tradition is available through Project Gutenberg (Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome by Joseph Dommers Vehling).

IV. Lastly, I will link this article by Stephanie Pappas: “Most Ancient Romans Ate Like Animals” It proposes interesting points about how common Romans ate, drawing from conclusions of modern forensic science and archeological research. Pappas points out that, rather than the sumptuous and complex recipes we know and love, most rural Romans subsided on grains, like millet, now commonly used for birdseed. While the title is clickbait-esque, and you could argue that millet is a perfectly good grain for humans to consume (not simply for birdseed!), Pappas makes the sound point that the written record of Roman food cannot tell the complete culinary history of Rome.

In Praise of Mnemosyne in the Classroom

Virtually all of us teach Latin, Greek, or both to beginning students. We constantly encourage and press these students (indeed all our students) to work at retaining both meanings and morphology for each word, as knowledge of these is essential for understanding a word in a sentence context. And we evaluate and grade their ability to accomplish this, often through quizzes and tests.

But many of us are acutely aware of the limitations of pencil-and-paper assessment tools. Vocabulary quizzes test words often without context and often through translation, and passage translation testing (15% of the total on the current Latin AP exam) encourages many students to maximize their knowledge of an English translation of what they have read at the expense of their knowledge of the original text.

I think anyone who has taught Latin to high school students for several years is well aware of these problems, and indeed of others, like the suddenly high frustration and burnout rate for students of traditional programs in third-year Latin. As teachers, we all want to do our best for our students. But the temptation to teach what you know and how you were taught is very great. Some very good teachers of elementary Latin are content to teach in the same way, with the same materials, throughout their career. Other good teachers have moments of insight and revelation that engenders change.

A true story: I often think of a teacher whose workshop at an annual meeting I attended many years ago (this was in another part of the country). This teacher was offering strategies to make third year Latin a happier experience for all involved. But first she told this story on herself: she had fallen asleep in class as she was teaching the First Catilinarian. She knew she really had been asleep because her head was on the desk, and all her students were staring at her in mute fascination. She maintained that she was so bored (and boring) that she had put herself to sleep. And she was honest enough to say that this moment forced her to really think about what she loved about Classics, and how well she was sharing that love with students.

Personally, I’m a big believer in memorization and recitation of notable texts, both on the level of the “quotable quote” and on the much more extended level of a dramatic soliloquy, as a graded assessment on a par with a test. First, it’s a great way for students to practice and develop good, consistent pronunciation habits in a way different from reading a text aloud (i.e. no visual processing). Second, it encourages students to think about and understand Latin words in their actual order, as they come out in real time, in the context of a whole phrase or sentence. This is something they should be doing in any case, of course; but not many students do. Third it encourages students to think about which words in a sentence are emphasized and which words are not.

I wonder how many state JCL meetings include Latin recitation contests in their academic competitions. I expect the issue is objective judging. I agree with someone who would argue that it is not fair to penalize a student whose Latin sounds like (is phonetically indistinguishable from) English because that’s how their teacher reads aloud. But it’s not impossible to come up with a list of consistent pronunciation features that would be the basis for judging (e.g. correct word stress, articulation of double consonants, distinction between long and short vowels).

I feel so strongly about the value of memorization and recitation because of the difference it made in my own knowledge of Greek. As an undergraduate, I was involved in two full-scale productions of Greek tragedy in Greek, playing the Chorus Leader in Sophocles’ Ajax and the Chorus Leader and the Second Messenger in Antigone. This required memorizing hundreds of lines of Greek for unison recitation–essentially choral performance in the modern sense without a composed melody. After learning and performing these roles, I knew Greek in a completely different way: first, reading a Greek text aloud was no longer a challenge; what Bill VanPatten and others call my “mental representation” of Greek was vastly richer and more sophisticated. In effect, I subconsciously “knew” where a word was going through a combination of silent reading and recognition of word patterns. And second, I really had assimilated a great chunk of vocabulary.

I’d also like to add a word for memorizing a number of maxims, as well as notable literary quotes. Learning sayings is a great way to absorb aspects of a culture.

I was lucky to have a formidable guide to Russian aphorisms when I was studying Russian, one Catherine Wolkonsky, who co-authored a very useful if unsystematic Handbook of Russian Roots published in the early 1960’s.
I met her the second-to-last year she taught, in 1984, when she was 88. Although her short-term memory was rather a mess, it hardly mattered to me, as Yekaterina Aleksandrovna, as we called her, was a living link to the Tolstoy family (she had been secretary and companion to Aleksandra Tolstaya, Count Leo’s youngest daughter). Madame Wolkonsky’s two unassailable assets were 1) irrepressible charm and humor and 2) the “Old Petersburg” accent, the Russian upper-class way of speaking before the Revolution. She also taught me that many Russian aphorisms, which almost always rhyme, are rooted in the barnyard and folk tale: “Love is mean (or evil)–you can fall in love with a billy goat!” “Sorrow awaits–swing wide the gates!”

Of course, a Roman Madame Wolkonsky would be awfully hard to find. But in compensation we have perhaps 2200 years of Latin aphorisms to delight in.

A Bold Move at Cornell 2

Game changers in Classics are a rare event. I remember very well the stir the Gallus papyrus fragment caused in 1979. Here, for perhaps the second time in modern history (the other being P.Herc 817, a papyrus from the Villa of The Papyri in Herculaneum, containing a poem on the Battle of Actium), we had a fragment of a literary text that was copied within a generation or two of the life of the author.

The Gallus fragment increased our corpus of the poet’s work from one line to about 10 total.

Such notable discoveries however often scatter confusion where we thought matters were pretty well understood. In the 38 years since its publication, the Gallus fragment has generated more heat than light–perhaps because it does not clearly support the esteem Gallus’s work received from subsequent Roman poets. An accusation of forgery has been leveled against it (and refuted). And the orthography found in it is surprising, to say the least. If we took the orthography as definitive, every Latin text would need republication. I for one like the fact that it spells cum the conjunction quom. Effecting this one change in orthography could save our students tantam molem of frustration. Sed satis de minimis.

Another event, which I also see as a game changer, has burst into the world of Classics in the last month or so. Cornell University has announced the appointment of Msgr. Daniel B. Gallagher as a “Professor of the Practice” in Latin, beginning in the fall of this year.

This last sentence needs unpacking. Professors of the Practice (the exact name varies from institution to institution) are a fairly new innovation which allows the university to offer a reasonably well-salaried but non-tenure-track position to persons of note and achievement in a particular field outside of academia. On the plus side, it allows universities to invite these noteworthies into their communities without expectation of writing and publishing academic research. On the minus side, it’s a way of circumventing tenured hires, which saves a lot of money. These P’s of the P have mostly come from IT, business, law, medicine and politics (Joe Biden has accepted a position at the University of Pennsylvania, for example). Hiring a P of the P in the humanities is very unusual.

Soon-to-be-Professor Gallagher is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Gaylord, MI. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan, the Catholic University of America, and the Pontifical Gregorian University. He has worked for more than a decade at the Office of Latin Letters at the Vatican Secretariat of State as the Pope’s chief Latinist.

The purpose of this hire is, quoting Gallagher, “to enhance pedagogy and the student experience.  My assignment isn’t just teaching them how to compose in Latin, but how to read better, how to speak, and how all those skills enhance each other.  I do intend to continue research and writing as far as I can, but my position is highly focused on the classroom; I’ll be helping students become as proficient as possible in Latin so that they can pursue their greater academic and career goals.” In other words, he will move the Cornell Latin curriculum for undergraduates substantially in the direction of the kind of four-skills competency that characterizes degrees in a vernacular language.

This is a major change for an Ivy League Classics Department, no question; and people active in the Living Latin community are paying close attention. Nancy Llewellyn just published an interview with Gallagher on the SALVI website; Cornell has promoted it here, and here.

I, however, am a lifelong “glass half empty” kinda guy. And I have what I think are some important questions:

  1. It would seem that Gallagher can switch, more or less, between restored classical and ecclesiastical pronunciations of Latin (see here and here). The late, much lamented David Morgan could do this flawlessly (compare here and here).  I very much hope that Gallagher will only use the restored classical when teaching at his new post.  If he doesn’t, then his students will be hearing a different sound system from that used by other Cornell Classics faculty, by a large section of the Active Latin community, and by the ancient Romans themselves. While of course one can learn to understand both pronunciations, this is an unnecessary hurdle for novice learners and speakers. If students are to be trained as specialists in Classical Latin literature and especially in Latin poetry, they need to be trained at least to read aloud with attention to vowel quantity and the whole range of sounds in the classical language. This is simply too important a part of what the poets were up to to be ignored.
  2. Msgr. Gallagher is, to assert the obvious, a Catholic priest, meaning he is trained to communicate and to defend the dogma of that church. If this article is any indication, Gallagher is utterly conventional in his Catholic view of marriage and would be satisfied to see civil marriage law changed back in this country and elsewhere to exclude LGBT persons. I cannot encourage people to read the above link to Gallagher’s article in Crisis strongly enough. It suggests to me that I am more than entitled to raise the question of what sort of teacher and mentor Gallagher will be to both LGBT students and also to women in a secular institution. Also, when Gallagher says he wishes to teach philosophy, will he teach from a Catholic or a secular point of view?

I am a firm believer that developing real ability to speak and understand Latin helps one to read and to write it more authentically and with greater facility. I have absolutely no doubt that Daniel Gallagher is uniquely qualified to help students progress along this path in a way that will continue to change approaches to teaching Latin in this country. But one of the reasons I enjoy teaching the Roman world is because it was much more tolerant of multiple, equally valid explanations and answers to important questions than we are today. Perhaps Daniel Gallagher has no intention of teaching about Greco-Roman culture. But if he does–and I imagine that he does–it is very much an open question what kind of teacher he will be.