Call me a wet blanket, but while I appreciate the challenge of making Latin relevant and exciting for a high-school class, I often wonder what happened to the Latin in a story like this review of Latin classes at California’s Corona del Mar High school preparing exhibits for the California JCL Convention.
I’m hoping the article writer just glossed over the “boring” subject matter of the class, but since the article calls the catapult a “trebuchet", I’m left doubting the ancient authenticity of the weapon. And that would be a shame; events like the JCL convention should be used to cultivate students interest in a subject, not just whip up undirected enthusiam. I’d love to know, for example, how the students applied their study of Latin and Roman culture to the construction of the catapult and chariot–what ancient sources did they use, did the students study friezes/excavations to get their design, etc. For example, most people don’t know that (1) Greek and Roman chariots used only a single pole with a crossbeam for a yolk and (2) Greco-Roman catapults cast projectiles exclusively via the stretching of suitable materials, not by dropping a weight (there is an account in Caesar’s Civil War (III.9) of women cutting their hair to provide elastic ropes for catapults). It would be nice if the JCL projects illustrated these facts rather than perpetuating the popular myths of Roman culture.
Still, I wish the kids well–they obviously worked hard on their projects and for all I know they have done their classical homework. As for preventing their gravity-powered trebuchet from tipping over, put it on wheels that allow the base to shoot backwards slightly when the pith is cast. This causes the counterweight to drop in more of a vertical path (rather than along the circular curve of the lever arm), which not only improves stability but also transfers some of the force tipping the platform into the toss, making for much longer shots.
In my opinion staging myths from the Metamorphoses has always seemed like something an ambitious Latin teacher could develop with a little coaxing of the high-school drama club. The Fresno State drama department has taken that idea to the next level by augmenting their dramatic production of Ted Hughes’ “Tales from Ovid” with dancers, a natural given the author’s passionate lyric (which Hughes’ excellent 1997 translation preserves). There are time–rare to be sure–when I envy Californians.
No other ancient writer had the cinemagraphic eye for detail that Ovid did; parts of his long his mythological poem read IMO like a modern screenplay. Take these lines from the myth of Echo and Narcissus, the scene featured in the Fresno Bee article. Here Narcissus has admitted his, well, narcissism in a lengthy solilogy, and Ovid punctuates the scene with a familiar visual image:
Dixit et ad faciem rediit male sanus eandem
et lacrimis turbavit aquas, obscuraque moto
reddita forma lacu est; quam cum vidisset abire,
‘Quo refugis? Remane nec me, crudelis, amantem
“He spoke, and unnerved returned to that same face
and stirred the waters with tears, and the reflected image
was obscured by the disturbed pond; when he saw it disappear
‘Where are you going? Stay, cruel one, and do not desert me
The shot of a pensive or melancholy actor disturbing their own reflection in water (or that of a ghost) now seems a rather common film cliche–here’s an example from the 2004 Oscar winner Return of the King, another from the 1978 musical Grease (speed to the end if you can’t hack Olivia Newton John). I’m not suggesting any deliberate reference to Ovid in these scenes, just that Ovid’s narrative poetry often includes visual details that–2000 years later–match some of the basic grammar of film imagery; IMO he would have made a great director.
Contrary to the modern image of the bard as a gifted eccentric, classical poetry (at least after Homer) is usually a highly calculated affair. So four poems into his collection of seven bucolics, I’ve been forming a detailed opinion of Calpurnius as a poetic craftsman.
Text can be found at the Latin Library
Summary: After a lengthy discussion, Meliboeus coaxes Corydon to join his brother Amyntas and sing verses about a deus…qui populos urbesque regit.
At least one political website has linked the current worldwide credit crunch with one that struck Rome during the last years of Tiberius’ reign. The details of this ancient financial crisis can be found in Tacitus’s Annales(VI.16-7).
More on Calpurnius’ fourth eclogue in an upcoming post, but for now I had to share these few lines, an epitaph for almost any modern Latin poet…
“Certe mea carmina nemo
praeter ab his scopulis ventosa remurmurat echo.” (IV.27-8)
“True, no one repeats my poems,
except the windy echo from these rocks.”
Substitute hoc interrete for his scopulis, and you have a headline quip for just about any Latin blog
The excellent new film Watchmen has an obvious classical reference in the title quote from Juvenal, but sharp eyes may spot another parallel in this postmodern superhero tale.
…so expect lighter than usual posting. After the winter Chicago had, it’s time to spend a week somewhere that’s warm…
An old story by now, but if you weren’t aware the University of Georgia is the largest source of new Latin teachers in the US, you may want to look this one over.
The article also mentions Ginny Lindzey, who runs the excellentLatin Zone blog…though I’m not sure she’d agree with the focus on “back to basics” (her list is great if you want an alternative to the drone of “terra, terrae, terrae…").
Last time we looked at the framing device of Iollas searching for his lost heifer. Now we’ll look at central picture: Lycidas’ love poem for the return of wayward Phyllis (ll. 45-91). Iollas makes much of this, and promises:
Dic age; nam cerasi tua cortice verba notabo
Et decisa feram rutilanti carmina libro
“Sing then; for I shall write the words on a cherry bark
And carry (to her) a poem cut into the ruddy rind”
Now comes a lecture from professor Peggy Heller of the University of King’s College in Halifax (Nova Scotia) who sees parallels to the Aeneid in the TV series Battlestar Galactica. Guardian culture editor Charlotte Higgins agrees and amplifies the connection, while David Meadows at Rogue Classicism thinks the parallel was “obvious” even in the original version of the TV series.
I’ll agree that Battlestar Galactica and the Aeneid share a superficially similar plot structure. The complications arise when this thin connection becomes a rigid template forcing every detail to conform to the interpretation. From Ms. Higgins’ blog:
A leader leaves the destroyed wreck of his former civilisation (Troy/Caprica), which has been blasted into smithereens by an invading force (Greeks/Cylons). You might even see Gaius Baltar as a sort of Trojan horse. That leader is accompanied by his son: it’s Adama as Aeneas, and Apollo as Ascanius, if you follow me.
Tentatively, I’d suggest Starbuck’s return to Caprica to collect the arrow of Apollo as akin to the visit to the Underworld in Aeneid book six. The arrow of Apollo as the golden bough?
The unsuccessful stay in New Caprica, of course, recalls the settlement the wandering Trojans found on Crete in book three, in the mistaken assumption that this is the fated new land.
One might argue that Helena Cain is a kind of reversed Dido (Aeneid book four); the eventually destroyed Pegasus might be seen as her funeral pyre.
This, to be charitable, is nonsense; it ignores the details surrounding all these characters/events that are present in the drama itself in favor of a “top-down” interpretation that treats the series as a direct allegory of the older work.
My understanding of modern pop culture is that when allegory is in play, it isn’t that difficult to spot. The inconsistent use of Greek names/gods in the original Battlestar may have been a hint of the story’s Greco-Roman origins, or it may have been a quick & dirty way to follow the tradition of earlier space operas: Give characters odd or lofty names ("Flash” Gordon, “Buck” Rodgers, Luke “Skywalker") that immediately suggest heroic status (I find it interesting that the more recent BSG doesn’t fully commit to this convention. “Apollo” and “Starbuck", for instance, are explained as Lee Adama’s and Kara Thrace’s pilot callsigns, not their actual birthnames. Perhaps the writers see the first BSG’s widespread use of this earlier convention as too “corny” for modern viewers?). The series’ premise may involve a hero leading a group of unknown people because it’s mimicing the Aeneid, or it may be because such a story device is useful in an open-ended episodic series, since it allows the “rag-tag fugitive fleet” to encounter new planets each week (and hence new situations/protagonists), not to mention guest stars/extras who can be placed in real danger as the story demands (unlike the under-contract series regulars; wasn’t this the whole point of the “red shirts” on the original Star Trek?). I’d obviously argue for the latter in both cases.
It’s likely that modern TV writers are “re-discovering” ancient storytelling ideas in modern contexts; my post on Lost, for example, was essentially about how the sci-fi conceit of time-travel is a modern stand in for the ancient dramatic theme of “Destiny” with a capital D. But if you hear me start comparing characters on that show to characters in the Aeneid (Hurley = Achates?), be very, very suspicious. Literary/cinematic allegory IMO is fairly obvious when its there, and doesn’t need an inscrutable theory to explain it.
A sad follow-up to last weeks post about Gail Trimble and her Oxford team’s victory in the University Challenge: Her Corpus Christi college team was stripped of the title over the weekend. One of the team’s students (not Ms. Trimble) had left Oxford at some point during the competition and was therefore technically ineligible. For use of an ineligible player, the BBC had no choice but to disqualify Corpus Christi.
Manchester was elevated to University Challenge champions by default; no word if they have any Latin scholars on their team.
Text can be found at the Latin Library
Summary: While looking for a lost heifer, Iollas finds Lycidas lamenting over Phyllis, a former lover who is now with Mopsus.
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