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I’ve been away from this world for awhile. The opportunity presented itself to move 2,800 miles away, and despite a good job teaching Latin in a good school, and being a year shy of tenure (with good prospects), we decided to go for it. It was a struggle for awhile, and I learned to become very sympathetic to the truly poor.
But I digress. I was away from Latin in the wilderness for a good long while. I still am, as it happens. I’m working on the web now, or rather in a cubicle in a tower high over Seattle. I do work on the web, dealing with content, graphic design, and the like. We’re pretty well settled now and have insurance and pensions, and count ourselves lucky, which is what we are, and what you are if you have the same. There’s still something missing, though.
Through it all, and very tenuously, we’ve able to keep our several-thousand-book library in a storage unit, stacked high on two pallets and wrapped carefully in waterproof tarps. We have a few dictionaries on the mantle, but all of our grammars and commentaries, our Cambridge green & yellows and OCTs and Teubners and so on, all of these are still there in those stacks, itching to get out and be read.
I think about it from time to time, and I think about the kind of scholar I tried to be, both in graduate school, when I was paralyzed by my lifelong battle with social anxiety, and as a teacher, when I came to terms with the old saying that le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. There was a transformation there that wasn’t quite complete, even when clung to Hermann’s dictum, est quaedam etiam nesciendi ars et scientia (Opusc. ii.288).
I was too fastidious, too concerned with minutiae, and it wasn’t (as one professor blithely said) because I was a positivist. It was because I lived with constant self-doubt matched by an abiding belief that everyone else was looking to catch me out. That sounds pretty grand now that I type it, but it’s true.
I was accused of wanting to be a textual critic, and told I could never be one because I wasn’t born at the right time (the nineteenth century?) or in the right country (the UK? Germany?). But that wasn’t accurate. What I wanted to be was right, because my most vivid memories were always of being wrong, embarrassed, bullied, or a disappointment. Struggling to master everything (even the unknowable) wasn’t conscious or deliberate, but a visceral, psychological need.
I wasn’t the kind of scholar I was because I wanted to be a particular kind of scholar. I was just trying not to be wrong.
I found myself just now thinking deeply about teaching Latin, specifically oral Latin. That part of my inner monologue isn’t important now, but it led me down a path to thinking about how one reads Latin, which led me to this rambling post. While thinking about the sources of oral Latin in the classroom—poetry and prose (from all eras), legal texts, inscriptions, graffiti—I thought of how wrong it was to spend hours or sometimes days on a few poems or a dozen pages of prose, armed with grammars and dictionaries, commentaries and monographs, and buttressed by preconceived ideas and teachers’ intimations. I started to expound to an imaginary audience in my head on the ways to achieve real fluency, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever had the nerve to do with Latin and Greek.
When I uncrate those books again, I’m going to leave the grammars and the commentaries on the shelf for a while. I’m going to read the literature less closely than I ever have before, and I’m going to read more of it. I’m going to read it, and then read it again. I’ll let the volume and the variety of words say more to me than the notes of scholars or my own narrow reading. And I’m not going to let my little demons stall me on every little word and question.
Posted by Dennis » 2 Comments »
We have certain ideas about Roman fathers, but those ideas are undoubtedly wrong, based on misunderstood bits of legendary history and legal codes.
Photo by Mary Harrsch (via flickr)
We all know about the patria potestas, and the right of life and death over one’s children. We know about the degraded role of women in society. And while Roman society had its flaws, we tend to ignore that Romans were as human as we are and capable of the same affections.
Terence has a few words that speak directly to fathers as we conceive of them. Were they tyrants?
hoc patriumst, potius consuefacere filium
sua sponte recte facere quam alieno metu:
hoc pater ac dominus interest. …
(P. Terentius Afer, Adelphoe, I. 1. 74–6)
“This is fatherly, accustoming a son to do right of his own accord rather than from fear of another: in this respect do a father and a master differ.”
Fathers, in the ideal at least, should be gentle, honest men, somewhat indulgent, and not at all like the popular misconception.
If you want more and better examples and a very nice argument for our misunderstanding of Roman fathers, I recommend Christopher Francese’s Ancient Rome in So Many Words, which you can get for free (at the moment at least) in the Kindle edition. (You don’t need a Kindle—you can get the Kindle App for your PC, Mac, smartphone, or whatever.)
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While exploring the teachers’ site for Ecce Romani I came across a brief presentation comparing the Roman and American senates, which included a very dubious claim:
The use of italics suggests that ‘filibuster’ is a Latin word.
Senators often stalled a vote using a tactic called the filibuster, in which senators made lengthy speeches to delay legislative action. The filibuster is still used by members of the United States Senate.
Now, it isn’t the notion that Roman senators did such a thing, but the suggestion that they did something called a ‘filibuster.’ I knew, of course, that the Romans had no such word (and you can easily find the etymology of this relatively modern term if you’re interested), but the use of italics (not to mention the wording) suggests that filibuster is a Latin word. Wikipedia and other sources talk in similar terms and leave the same impression, even if no explicit claim is made.
There was no single word for such an act, but there were phrases which Cicero has left to us in several places throughout his speeches and letters:
- diem consumere
- ‘to waste the day’
- diem dicendo eximere
- ‘to take away the day through speaking’
- noctem postulare
- ‘to ask for a night’
The first two are synonymous and correspond to the filibuster, but the third is considered a polite alternative. Imagine a respected senator informing the house that, in his opinion, ‘we should sleep on this.’ If his influence were great enough, the issue might not be raised again.