in Uncategorized

How to be a Classicist, pt. 1

I’ve been shirking my duties here to focus on those of being a full-time Latin teacher, but now that I have a three day weekend, I thought I’d write up a little guide for burgeoning classicists trying to make their way through the academy. This is really very simple: success is adherence to a number of predictable formulae.

Our first installment: How to Choose a Title.

Never make the mistake of giving away a paper’s subject with an accurate title. Repeat after me: mystery invites interest, cleverness invites admiration, accuracy invites your reader to question your politics, or at least to yawn.

You have two ways to go here: (1) quotation + alliteration, or (2) the magical number three.

The first is probably the most popular (and successful) today, and consists of quoting a profound-ish line ripped from its context (though sometimes a ‘cleverly’ altered cliche will do), followed (usually) by a two-term alliterative phrase (…: x and y in the …).

You really can’t go wrong with ‘Blah blah blah blah: poetics and politics of such-and-such in whatchamacallit of so-and-so.’ Another winner (currently on the rise): ‘gender and genre in the such-and-such of so-and-so.’

Don’t worry if you’re unsure what poetics is, or how gender and genre can be manipulated to make a point. That doesn’t matter. Professional classicists will be so impressed by your cleverness that they’ll let such small concerns slide. Attention to detail is what led to the extinction of the Philologists, and good riddance.

The second option, the magical number three, has the distinct advantage of not being the number two. Two is such a small number, and binary opposition is frankly gauche. Let me explain:

If you were to write a paper on, say, motherhood and murder in Euripidean tragedy, your subject would appear to be just as arbitrary as it actually is. But along comes magical number three, and we suddenly have the suggestion of a theme. Anything will do, but how do we decide? Alliteration to the rescue again! Let’s say ‘myth.’

Plug them into the formula: ‘Myth, Murder, and Motherhood in the Tragedies of Euripides.’ That sure sounds like a paper!

If you simply begin arranging words according to established patterns, your papers will seem to write themselves. Here’s a term paper for one of our more adventurous readers: ‘Unmovable Feast: Symposium and Sin in the Poetry of Archaic Greece.

Half the fun is pretending that it makes sense.

Write a Comment


  1. Attention to detail is what led to the extinction of the Philologists, and good riddance.

    Thanks a lot! I’ll try to keep that in mind, when in a few years time, I’ll be the last philologist graduating from the dying classics department, of a shitty little provincial university in some obscure european country. :(

    I did like your post anyhow…