Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Reader

Tonight I watched “The Reader” on campus with a friend because the author (Bernhard Schlink) who wrote the book upon which the movie is based is on campus for the next few days delivering talks and reading from his other book(s). While watching the movie, I noticed that the edition of the Odyssey which young Michael reads (supposedly in the 1950’s or so) is actually Fagles’ translation, which was first published in 1997. Someone needs to fire the props guy. They should have spent the money to find a 1940’s translation of the Odyssey so that Classicists can’t pick out things like this.


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Courses for this Summer and next Fall

One of my favorite times in the academic year is when the course listing comes out for the next semester. Since being at Notre Dame, I’ve noticed the problem is always that there are way too many good courses. I have yet to think to myself, “Sheesh, there just aren’t enough good courses. ” (and yeah, I say sheesh.) For this summer and next Fall, I’ll be taking:


    The Patristic and Medieval Interpretation of the Psalter-

With Dr./Sr. Ann Astell, who is an incredibly nice person as well as being a very serious Medievalist. I am taking a course this semester on Calvin’s interpretation of the Psalms, so it will be fun to jump right into another course on the Psalter from a different perspective.


    Roman History Seminar

I was going to take this course this Spring, but I changed my schedule around so that I could take a seminar on St. Ephrem the Syrian with Dr. Joseph Amar. I’m taking the course with Dr. Keith Bradley who utilizes sources that are not always read in other Roman history courses. He’s a great historian, so I’m really looking forward to this.

    Advanced Greek

Like last Fall, I’m going to take an advanced Greek course offered through the Theology department this Fall. Last semester’s course was on Christian Greek hymnody and this course will focus on Philo. It’s taught by Dr. Mary D’Angelo. It’s Tuesday afternoons from 3:30-6:00 and that’s a lot of Greek, but I’m pretty excited about actually reading Philo.

    Historical Jesus

This is a course on the historical Jesus with Fr. John Meier. Historical Jesus. John Meier. Enough said.

I’m also fortunate enough to be teaching my own section of Latin I in the Fall here at Notre Dame. I’m teaching the 9:35-10:25 MWF//9:30-10:20 R section. I’m really excited about the opportunity to get to teach a language that I really enjoy.

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This is how you win court cases

Pay no attention to that crime behind the curtain!

I’m currently writing a paper on the opening (exordium) of Cicero’s “Pro Flacco”, his defense of his friend Lucius Valerius Flaccus against charges of “extortion”, which, in Roman law, includes just about any sort of ill-gotten gains from the people of the Republic. What I find interesting is that although Flaccus’ crime is financial, Cicero mentions finances once: when he says that the foreigners over whom Flaccus has been governor were bribed to come to court to testify against him.
Cicero says that it’s not from the Lydians, Mysians, and Phrygians that the jurors will give their verdict because the foreigners have been bribed (qui huc compulsi concitatique venerunt).  I wonder: is this tactic still taught in law schools? Are lawyers taught to completely sidestep the main issue of a case? From what I’ve seen on Law and Order (the official source of my knowledge concerning American law), it seems that it’s always the bad lawyer who, instead of sticking to the facts, goes off on tangents.


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Cicero’s ‘tria genera dicendi’ (Three Types of Speaking)

In the Rhetorica ad Herennium (which is falsely attributed to Cicero), “Cicero” lays out the “tria genera dicendi” (three types of speaking):

Sunt igitur tria genera, quae genera nos figuras appellamus, in quibus omnis oratio non vitiosa consumitur: unam gravem, alteram mediocrem, tertiam extenuatam vocamus.

Which I translate as:

There are therefore three ways which we call “types”, in which all oratory that is without fault is found: the first is called Grand, the second is Middle, and the third we call Plain.

The near enemy of the Grand style Cicero calls “sufflata” (Puffed up). His example of a sentence that is sufflatum is really funny to me:

Nam qui perduellionibus venditat patriam non satis subplicii dederit si praeceps in Neptunias depultus erit lacunas. Poenite igitur istum qui montis belli fabricatus est, campos sustulit pacis.

Which I read as:

Now the one who by high treason offers for sale the fatherland will not have paid enough of a penalty if he is driven head first into the Neptunian pools. Punish therefore this man, who has built up the mountains of war, who destroyed the plains of peace.

What a ridiculous use of the Latin language. “Neptunian pools” (Neptunias lacunas)?! Who has “built up the mountains of war” while destroying the “plains of peace”?! How silly.

Then again, how much academic writing today would Cicero categorize as ‘sulffatus’ and not as ‘gravis’?


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Friday is for Funny Words

This week I don’t have a particular word, but a funny exchange from Aristophanes’ Clouds, one of my favorite plays. Strepsiades, whose name is related to the Greek word στρέφω, which can mean to turn back and forth, to twist, or to guide (in the case of horses), goes to the The Thinkery (φροντιστήριον) to meet Socrates. One of the disciples answers the door and begins to tell Strepsiades about all the wonderful things Socrates spends his time thinking about, one of which is whether a gnat buzzes from its mouth or anus. The disciple tells Strepsiades that Socrates has realized that it is through the anus (of course, we’re talking Aristophanes here) that the gnat makes its sound and Strepsiades replies thus:

σάλπιγξ ὁ πρωκτός ἐστιν ἄρα τῶν ἐμπίδων.
ὦ τρισμακάριος τοῦ διεντερεύματος.
ἦ ῥᾳδίως φεύγων ἂν ἀποφύγοι δίκην
ὅστις δίοιδε τοὔντερον τῆς ἐμπίδος.

Then the anus of the gnat is a trumpet!
Oh thrice-blessed is his ass-ray vision(1)!
Quite easily would the one seeking to flee from justice escape it
who can examine the intestines of gnats!

(1) The word used here by Aristophanes has to do with looking at entrails, but is used to mean ‘sharp-sightedness’ here, poking fun at the fact that Socrates the lofty thinker spends his time discerning such things as gnat intestines. If you have never read Clouds, you really should. You could read it this weekend in one sitting and laugh your πυγή  off.

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Perfect example of…well, I don’t know what to call this

In Apuleius’ Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass, we see a neat use of the subjunctive. In Book III.3, when the head of the nightwatchmen is giving his testimony about seeing Lucius supposedly kill three brigands, he uses the subjunctive in a cool way and I guess you could call it something like “the subjunctive of thwarted action” or something. I don’t know what its actual name is, but here you go:


Et ipse quidem conscientia tanti facinoris merito permotus statim profugit et in domum quandam praesidio tenebrarum elapsus perpetem noctem delituit. Sed providentia deum, quae nihil impunitum nocentibus permittit, priusquam iste clandestinis itineribus elaberetur, mane praestolatus ad gravissimum iudicii vestri sacramentum eum curavi perducere. (III.3)

My translation

But that one there, being rightly moved by the knowledge of such a crime, immediately fled into some house, having escaped by the protection of the darkness, he hid throughout the whole night. But by the providence of the gods, which allows nothing unpunished to the guilty, before that one could escape along clandestine paths, I, having waited for him in the morning, have arranged to lead him to the most grave case of your court.


Because the action never came to fruition, that is, Lucius was not able to escape before he was captured by the nightwatchman, the verb is in the subjunctive.  If anyone knows the actual name of this, please feel free to tell us in the comments.

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