What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? – Education in the Making.

Interviewees: Prof. Peter Kruschwitz, Dr. María Limón & Prof Xavier Espluga. Interviewer: Bunny Waring

Date: 30th April 2021.

Today the Classics Department of Reading is delighted to announce the release of a special video called What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? In this video Prof. Peter Kruschwitz (University of Vienna), Prof. Xavier Espluga (University of Barcelona) and Dr. María Limón (University of Seville) discuss the lettered world of ancient Rome and how ancient peoples interacted with the world around them. The video was filmed, directed and edited by James Rattee (https://vimeo.com/jamesrattee/videos) and includes digital footage from Prof. Matthew Nicholls’ Virtual Rome model.

Today we invited Peter, María and Xavier to discuss with us the motivations and methods of making this video and what is next for this interesting project on ancient inscriptions.

INTERVIEW

Bunny Waring (BW): Good Morning All. Thank you for joining us this morning to talk about your collaborative piece What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? The Classics Department are very excited to share this work and we wondered if you could explain a little bit about your motivations for this project?

Thank you so much for this – it’s great for us to be back for a little while, albeit virtually. All three of us share the same passion: our enthusiasm for Roman inscriptions, especially inscriptions composed in verse. To us, those inscriptions are not just stones or pieces of metal that happen to have some poetry inscribed on them. They are carriers of art. They are visible, tangible manifestations of a universal artistic practice of Roman times, spanning the empire across time and space, with thousands of examples surviving to the present day.

This art was produced by individuals from all runs of life, and it was produced in the city of Rome just as much as it can be found at Hadrian’s Wall, the shores of the Black Sea, or in the Roman settlement of North Africa. We can relate to these individuals very easily because they’re not just some remote elite: they are people with everyday occupations, everyday hopes and worries, everyday problems. Like (most of) us – the other 99%, so to speak, far away from the palaces and lives of the elite. What is more, these individuals inhabited the very spaces, geographically and socially, that we still inhabit today, along with all their challenges.

It’s neighbourhood poetry, it’s communal art. And it gives us the most direct, emotionally moving, and instructive access to the world(s) of ancient Rome.

Of course, we know how we ourselves, especially in an academic context, interact and engage with Roman inscribed material remains. But how did they do it? We were curious to find out! And then we got very lucky: the British Academy gave María the opportunity to get our joint research going, first through its visiting fellowship scheme, then through additional funding for this video. We are so grateful for their support, and we hope that this video will both repay them for their trust in our research and appeal and communicate to wide audiences just what incredible, valuable material we study in our desire better to understand the Roman world and its diverse cultures.

BW: How exciting to work on such an interesting topic! So I’m eager to know: why did you choose this particular inscription?

We wanted to make a number of strong, important points. About the way in which we perceive, in which we encounter the Roman world. About the way the ancient world is presented to us in museums, archives, exhibitions, and books. And we want to do so while racing a wide audience because what we have to say and offer is relevant to so many different audiences.

 

We want to enthuse new generations with our passion for Roman history, for poetry, for epigraphy. We want to give teachers the opportunity to expand the canon of teaching through the inclusion of poetry that students can easily relate to. We want to invite museums, collections, and policymakers to rethink their approach to the way in which these incredibly exciting, talking objects from the ancient world are displayed. What better way to achieve this than to choose a text that expresses, in such beautiful words, the grief of pet owners – whose faithful companion had died. We feel we all can relate to that, and we feel that this text alone opens up so many new ways of thinking about the Roman world and the people who “were” the Romans, than the ever-same repertoire of classical authors.

BW: There must be a lot of interesting stories out there?

There are several thousand inscribed poems surviving from across the Roman world. You find anything, from obscene graffiti on the walls of Pompeii, to epitaphs on funerary monuments, 110-lines long and erected in the desert of Roman North Africa. You find beautiful, outrageous, hilarious, thought-provoking pieces, but, of course, also the banal and uninspired. How else could it be: writing short(ish) poems was a shared pastime across the ancient world, and the pieces are just as varied as their authors – men, women, children. If you would like to see further examples, you may explore them in an easily accessible format here and here. The material truly is a hidden treasure waiting for its discovery.

BW: What was it like recording this piece? Would you recommend the process to others?

Haha, oh dear! Well… none of us are natural-born entertainers. We all were terrified and at first, we hated to see our faces and hear our recorded voices. But James Rattee, the producer and creative mind behind our video, did an incredible job to make us feel at ease, to make us look smart (within the limitations that we were painfully aware of), and make the video appealing to such a wide range of audiences. We hope that putting this video out there will make it available for generations to come – for pupils, teachers, academics, cultural managers, policy makers: it should entertain and be useful at the same time! It’s genuinely a piece of art.

 

BW: Well we all certainly agree with that, here in Classics at Reading University! Excellent work! Finally then, what is in store next for your project?

We want to do more. We want to reach out to schools, to those who design curricula, design teaching in schools and at university, to show them the potential and possibilities. And we want to transform the way in which inscriptions are presented and utilised in museums – there is so much potential wasted.

We are making first steps. But there’s much more work to be done. So, if you are interested, please do get in touch with us, and we will explore the potential for collaboration with you! And as we are still thinking about reaching larger audiences and improving educational materials we would be deeply grateful if viewers, students and teachers, from all over the world would send us their feedback, even in an informal way. And by all means do feel free to send us any kind of questions regarding how Roman communicate their feelings, emotions, fears, and concerns through their inscriptions.

 

Fear in Ancient Culture: A Call For Papers and a Virtual Tour as Classics UoR Hosts the 15th Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature (AMPAL).

Author: Dania Kamini. Edits: Bunny Waring.
Date: 19th March 2021.

Fear in Ancient Culture

The Department of Classics at the University of Reading is delighted to host the 15th Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature (AMPAL) on Thursday 17th – Saturday 19th June 2021. The theme for this year is Fear in Ancient Culture.

Given the current travel restrictions and social distancing rules due to COVID-19, this year’s meeting will be held online on Microsoft Teams. In these strange times, the Organising Team of AMPAL 2021 is determined to preserve the engaging and interactive character of the event. To that purpose, we aim to transform this online environment into a welcoming setup in which postgraduate students in Ancient Literature from across the world can gather again (albeit virtually) and celebrate another year of research on Classics. This event is described as AMPAL 2021 in shorthand, but it also stands as AMPAL 2020-2021 since it aims to bring together already confirmed speakers due to present in AMPAL 2020 and new speakers joining the conference in 2021.

Keynote Speech (18th June 2021, 5pm): Fear of Revenge in Euripidean Tragedy by Professor Fiona McHardy.

It is with great pleasure that we announce this year’s AMPAL Keynote Speech will be delivered by Professor Fiona McHardy (University of Roehampton). Professor McHardy will speak about the fear of revenge in Euripidean tragedy. Through the exploration of contemporary ideas about young children and babies as avengers, underpinned by comparative anthropology and psychology, this lecture unravels the dynamics of fear associated with children within both the plays of Euripides and their literary and social contexts.

Virtual tour of the Ure Museum

This year’s AMPAL also includes a virtual tour of the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, our departmental museum founded by Percy and Annie Ure. In addition to the museum’s permanent displays, we are proud to host an online presentation of an inaugural student exhibit, Fear Beyond Words designed specifically for AMPAL 2020-2021. To register for this, please visit: https://collections.reading.ac.uk/ure-museum/explore/online-exhibitions/fear

Call for Papers

Fear is a driving force behind human action, capable of pushing people to either exceed their own expectations or to prevent them from acting at all. As a powerful motivator, the emotion of fear had a pervasive presence in ancient life and thought. This is reflected in multiple ways throughout literature, juxtaposed with motivation, social interaction and power dynamics. Furthermore, as early as Aristotle’s Poetics, fear had already been understood as a ruling force and powerful notion for the construction of literary genres, especially tragedy. While evaluating the ancient literature as an integral part of understanding such a concept, the diverse influences of different fields of study, such as literary criticism, political theory, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, can add valuable insights.

In this context, AMPAL 2020-2021 invites presentations on fear from literary or interdisciplinary approaches. Questions as to how fear can be defined, the whos, how and whys of causing fear, how fear is related to other aspects of ancient thought, how the sense of fear grows or fades, how this notion forms the interaction among humans or between mortals and gods, and the role of language in the creation of a fearful or fear-free context, are all considered to be substantial aspects of this year’s theme.

Suggested topics on fear may include, but are not limited to:
– Fear and literary criticism, meta-poetical or reception analysis
– Fear and other emotions; fear disguised as other emotions; fear and the sense of respect; fear and related notions and experiences; fear and the five senses or other body reactions
– Cognitive and behavioural approaches to fear, and emotions in general
– Fear and the manipulation of memory
– Fear and the construction of myth and heroic profiles or/and social or political identity
– Fear and power play; the control of political dynamics; the promotion of political agendas and ideas
– Psychoanalytical approaches to fear; gendered fear; fear as a significant aspect of rites; fear as anxiety
– Fear of the other (Orientalism, Amazons etc.); philosophical approaches to fear; fear and the fundamental existential questions
– Depictions and illustrations of fear in ancient art and material culture
– Aspects, perceptions and depictions of fear in late antique and early Christian literature and thought; reception of the ancient concept of fear in early modern literature

The Department of Classics at Reading invites postgraduates of every level to submit an abstract of 250-300 words for a 20-minute paper followed by 10-minute discussion by the 25th of April 2021. Abstracts should be sent as an anonymous PDF to readingampal2020@reading.ac.uk. Please include your name, university affiliation, programme, and year of study in the body of your email and not in the abstract. AMPAL 2020-2021 is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students in any relevant discipline as well as to the general public. Details on the keynote speech will be announced in due time.

All Welcome!

Please note that although our website and email address will maintain 2020 in their titles, they will remain the main communication paths for AMPAL 2020-2021 as well.
Further information on AMPAL 2020-2021 and all relevant events can be found at its website: https://ampal2020.wordpress.com/. Please keep an eye on AMPAL 2020-2021 website for further announcements. Feel free to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and spread the word!

Inclusive Classics and Pedagogy: Teachers, Academics and Students in Conversation Towards a More Inclusive Classics.

Author: Bunny Waring
Date: 12th March 2021.

11am 6th April 2021 – 3:30pm 8th April 2021 (GMT)

Join Prof. Harloe, Prof. Goff and Joe Watson as they discuss how to make Classics more inclusive as part of The Classical Association’s Annual Conference. Alongside a host of students and specialists from across the UK this workshop will kick off the two-day, free, online conference event with a workshop entitled- Inclusive Classics and Pedagogy: Teachers, Academics and Students in Conversation Towards a More Inclusive Classics.

To register for the conference, please fill in our online form here.

PROGRAMME
Tuesday 6 April

11am – 12.30pm: Inclusive Classics and pedagogy: teachers, academics and students in conversation A follow up to the Towards a More Inclusive Classics Workshop held 25-26 June 2020.

Panel co-chairs: Professor Barbara Goff, University of Reading and Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis, University of St Andrews

OUTLINE

Spotlight 3-minute talks: ‘visions of inclusive classics’

· Lauren Canham, Trainee Teacher at Jane Austen College, Norwich: ‘Ancient Paradigms of Disability on the Curriculum’

· Hardeep Dhindsa, PhD candidate, Department of Classics, King’s College London: ‘Chromophobia: Recolouring the Classics’

· Dr Victoria Leonard, Research Fellow at the Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities, Coventry University: ‘Caring in Classics Network’

· Joe Watson, PhD candidate, Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Durham: ‘Queer Classics and Classics for Queers; or, Beyond Gay Men Reading Plato’

· Dr Bobby Xinyue, British Academy Early Career Fellow, Department of Classics and Ancient History & Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, University of Warwick: ‘Race, Inclusivity, and the Future of Classics’

Opening remarks:

· Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis, University of St Andrews

· Professor Barbara Goff, University of Reading

Panel discussion on inclusive classics in teaching and learning

· Tristan Craig, Undergraduate Representative for History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh

· Florence, a Classical Civilisation student, Runshaw College, Lancashire

· Dr Justine McConnell, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Literature, King’s College London

· Claude McNaughton, Teacher, Pimlico Academy, London

· Rosie Tootell, Teacher, Runshaw College, Lancashire

· Aaron, a Latin student, Pimlico Academy, London

Break out rooms: ‘turn to your neighbour’, 10-minute exchange of responses to the panel

Closing remarks:

· Dr Amy Coker, Cheltenham Ladies’ College and University of Bristol

· Professor Katherine Harloe, University of Reading

· Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, University of Oxford

· Professor Neville Morley, University of Bristol

· Professor Isabel Ruffell, University of Glasgow

· Professor Tim Whitmarsh, University of Cambridge

2.00pm – 3.30pm: Accessing Classical Civilisation and Ancient History in Britain, past and present perspectives (under the auspices of ACE)
Professor Edith Hall, Dr Henry Stead, Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson and Peter Wright

Wednesday 7 April

2:00pm – 2.45pm: Presidential Address by Mari Williams, winner of the Daniel Owen Memorial Prize at the National Eisteddfod of Wales in 2018, for her novel Ysbryd yr Oes (‘Spirit of the Age’)

2.45pm – 3.30pm: Presentation of the CA Prize for 2021 and the inaugural CA Teaching Awards by Natalie Haynes

7.00pm – 8.30pm: Greek theatre online: An evening of classics-inspired theatre, featuring new material from three UK-based groups, Out of Chaos and By Jove theatre companies, and film company Barefaced Greek, followed by a Q&A chaired by Professor James Robson

Thursday 8 April

11am – 12 noon: Developing Classics in the local community: CA Branches in 2021
Katrina Kelly (CA Branches Officer and Chair of Lytham St Annes CA) and colleagues from around the regions

2.00pm – 3.30pm: Classics in the marketplace: being a Classicist in public
Dr Liz Gloyn, Dr Jane Draycott, Dr Mai Musié and Professor Neville Morley

FAQs
When is the Conference taking place?
6-8 April 2021

Will there be any face-to-face events? –
No, everything will take place online.

Is there a fee? – No, all events are free. You can attend as many or as few as you wish.
Do I need to be a member of the Classical Association to attend? – No, you may attend regardless of your membership status.

Can I submit a paper/panel to be presented? – Unfortunately not, this year’s conference focuses on key issues facing classicists, including inclusivity, employability and the performance of classical texts in the online world, and we will have a limited number of invited speakers/panels.

How do I attend? – All delegates will be contacted closer to the event via email with links and instructions about how to join the sessions.

How do I get in touch with you for more information? – Please email CA2021@classicalassociation.org

You can view full details of the provisional programme here.
Abstracts are available here.

What a Year!

Author: Bunny Waring.
31st December 2020

As the end of 2020 draws near it is time to take stock of all that has been survived and learnt over the last 12 months. From Brexit to COVID19, 2020 has required us all to react, adapt and rethink the way we teach, learn, communicate, organise, care and progress. Here, some of the Classics community at the University of Reading have shared their most memorable experiences.

Barbara Goff – Professor of Classics and Co-Head of Department says:

“A shout-out to the colleagues who organised our thrice-weekly coffee mornings in the first lockdown, keeping us all connected and moderately sane; to the colleagues who experimented with different Teams backdrops, keeping us highly entertained as their hair flew about into various enthralling scenes; to the cleaning staff who went above and beyond; to the support staff with whom I was suddenly having conversations about interior décor; to the brave students who suffered through meetings in my (very spacious) office with the arctic gale blowing through my (virtuously opened) window; to the students who studied my module Transformations of Helen online, contending with dodgy mics and cameras, but nonetheless reading carefully and responding critically; to the students who persisted in coming on to campus, enduring the view of me teaching in my Jimi-Hendrix-headband-visor. Here’s to slightly less embarrassment in the New Year!”

Eleanor Dickey – Professor of Classics says:

“It’s been great fun! First, all the conferences I’d agreed to go to were cancelled because of lockdown, enabling me to get to know my family again and also to do some real research. (Okay, so I still did not completely finish my book. But I tried!) Then in the autumn, I was able to continue teaching in person by switching my first-year module ‘Texts, Readers and Writers’ from the usual lecture-and-seminar format to a seminar-only format. So we were able to do all kinds of fun, interactive activities such as ethopoeia, an ancient rhetorical exercise in which students tell the story of a literary work from the perspective of one of the characters. The students became very good at this, and some of them were very creative filling in bits of the minor characters’ stories; it was lovely to hear their productions. And the MA Approaches module had 12 students, twice as many as the most I’ve ever had in it before, and every single one was a fun person to teach!”

Jackie Baines – Teaching Fellow and Admissions Tutor says:

“With the coming of online teaching due to the pandemic, came the making of screencasts for our lectures and teaching. In response to this new teaching environment, I made some screencasts to explain grammar points for the students of the beginner’s Latin language module. In Microsoft Stream, these screencasts come with automatic captioning and these captions struggle to reproduce exactly what is being said, particularly with unfamiliar Latin words. The resulting captions were some of the funniest things I have read all year. A new view of Latin 1st and 2nd declension noun endings! Below is a sample of how a few minutes of grammar were translated.

Enjoy the adventures of Sir Warham dative and others!”

·(Timing)1:22 -First attention feminine puella.
· 01:25 -Accused him to Alam genitive plural. I dated through a lie
· 01:30 -ablative por la. It is actually along a dirt poor law. Plural
· 01:35 -nouns up well, I accused of porlas genitive por la room.
· 01:41 -Dative and ablative Hoooly Screw
· 01:44 -Elise. And the second attention masculine ending in US.
· 01:49 -Sadwith nominative singular said woman accused of said, we
· 01:54 -genitive said whoa and said, whoa, same endings dative a
· 02:00 – narrative singular plural nominative said we accused of
· 02:04 – said worst genitive plural. Sir Warham Dative, and ablative
· 02:09 – serwis serwis do look at any similarities so you can see in
· 02:16 – the date of inhabited plural ISI
· 02:19 – SIS. And I asked both the 1st and 2nd declension. There is a.
· 02:25 – A similarity is there not between the genitive plural? Who
· 02:29 – are Lauren and the genitive probe Sir war room our room, or
· 02:34 – am so just be aware of that poor Lisa and a stem-nouns, so that’s
· 02:39 – hence the A in there. Also note that there are cases where there
· 02:44 – they are the same as each other, but of course the case could be
· 02:49 – different. So if you got poor
· 02:52 – lie. Could be genitive singular plural, I could be
· 02:55 – dated singer, or it could be nominative plural.
· 02:59 – In the second collection, masculine said we could be
· 03:03 – genitive singular or nominative plural, so you’ve got to lookout
· 03:08 – for those kind of differences.
· 03:11 – This week we will look at nouns which have a slightly different
· 03:14 – ending. In the second
· 03:16 – declension. But nominative singular, like we’re poor.
· 03:21 – Lee, bear again.
· 03:24 – They.
· 03:26 – Look different there, but their
· 03:28 – endings. Immediately become the same. It just depends what you
· 03:33 – and add it onto. So poor boy, poor prayer room, Prairie.
· 03:38 – Libre. A book becomes Libre Libre, so sometimes it
· 03:43 – retains the E. Sometimes it loses the E and then the
· 03:47 – important thing to note is what is this the purpose of these
· 03:52 – cases? What do they do? We’ve already seen that the nominative
· 03:56 – is for the subject of the
· 03:58 – sentence. Accused of is for the object of the sentence. The
· 04:04 – genitive is for the possessor of
· 04:07 – an object. So the goals book or the book of the girl. The
· 04:11 – girl would have to go into the genitive case.
· 04:15 – In English, the genitive is often represented by of or an
· 04:20 – apostrophe, so just watch out what’s going on there, date if
· 04:25 – it’s two or four, the word dative comes from a Latin verb,
· 04:31 – which will be looking at this week, and it becomes a learning
· 04:36 – verb to learn. Doe Dorie I give.
· 04:40 – So give two SO two or four. You’re giving a book to the girl
· 04:47 – you need to put her Twilight into the dative, where lie to
· 04:53 – the slave said. Woe to the
· 04:55 – slaves serwis. And the ablative is used for by with or from,
· 05:01 – very often with prepositions, and sometimes without
· 05:05 – prepositions. So if we’re going with a sword gladi Yo, and you
· 05:10 – need the ablative case.
· 05:14 – So that also brought in at this point are the second attention
· 05:18 – neuter nouns. The majority of endings from genitive onwards
· 05:21 – are the same as second declension masculine, but what
· 05:25 – you need to note is that in normative singular ends in, Umm.
· 05:30 – And they could have similar. Singular is the same, UM then?
· 05:36 – In the plural, Bella Bella surrendered a so there could be
· 05:40 – some confusion with other nouns. So just be careful. You will
· 05:44 – have to learn a list of neuter
· 05:46 – nouns. Sometimes that’s all you can do, or most
· 05:50 – times all you can do you have to learn the list.
· 05:54 – And finally, this week will be looking at prepositions which
· 05:59 – take the ablative, and they’ve got our AB by or from.
· 06:05 – AOX from out of so the difference between R and AB or A
· 06:10 – at X if it’s just the R or the A, The next word begins with a
· 06:16 – consonant. If the next word begins with a vowel, will have
· 06:20 – to say AB or X come means with…

Reading Ancient Schoolroom 2017

Photo: Alex Wickenden

This year’s edition of the Reading Ancient Schoolroom ran for two weeks and welcomed several hundred schoolchildren to campus. Led by a team of specially-trained volunteers, some of them Reading students and others coming from as far away as Edinburgh to participate, the children experienced first hand what life was like in a Roman school. This year there was a focus on Roman mathematics (pictured above: maths teacher Dom O’Reilly with children from Dolphin School), but children also practiced reading from papyri, writing on ostraca and tablets, using quill pens, memorizing poetry, and studying Latin and Greek the way ancient children would have studied them. They also had the opportunity to sample Roman food made by our magnificent Roman cook, Reading undergraduate Charlotte Edwards, and special object handling sessions in the Ure Museum. For more information (and lots more pictures) see https://readingancientschoolroom.com/2017-schoolroom/. Schoolroom director Professor Eleanor Dickey was interviewed about the event on UKEd chat; you can listen to the interview at https://ukedchat.com/2017/07/17/ukedpodcast-episode-12/.

Watch: Naked From the Knees Up – Ancient Latin Textbooks Rediscovered (by Prof. Eleanor Dickey)

On 8 November 2016, Prof. Eleanor Dickey gave a talk to the Roman Society entitled ‘Naked From the Knees Up – Ancient Latin Textbooks Rediscovered’. You may watch her talk here, courtesy of the Roman Society:

Reading Classics in the News

The past few months have been exciting ones for the Classics department owing to a blitz of media attention covering the publication of Professor Eleanor Dickey’s book Learning Latin the Ancient Way as well as the annual Reading Ancient Schoolroom.

It started in February with an article in the Guardian and lasted until April, when the CBC Radio Canada broadcast a half-hour interview with Professor Dickey; along the way we featured on national TV and radio as well as the Times, the Telegraph, and numerous European publications. The final tally was (as far as we know) 3 printed newspaper pieces, 11 online newspaper pieces in 6 languages, 2 national TV broadcasts, 2 BBC South TV broadcasts, and 6 radio broadcasts (4 in UK, 1 in US, 1 in Canada).

Here is the full list:

Wednesday 10th February

Thursday 11th February

Friday 12th Feburary

Saturday 13th February

Sunday 14th February

  •  BBC 1 TV, 2:24 am

Wednesday 17th February

Saturday 20 February

  •  Announcement of Naples ‘Presentazione libro’ sent out on Notiziario Italiano di Antichistica

 Monday 22nd February

Thursday 25th February

Tuesday 1st March

  •  ‘Presentazione libro’ in Naples (public event in which book was discussed by a pair of Naples Classicists; in Italian)

Monday 7th March

Friday 1st April

For more information on the Reading Ancient Schoolroom, see http://www.readingancientschoolroom.com.

Learning Latin the Ancient Way – Reading research in the Guardian

Learning Latin the Ancient Way, Reading Classics professor Eleanor Dickey’s latest book published this week by Cambridge University Press, has been reviewed in the Guardian. The review can be seen at http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/10/ancient-greek-manuscripts-reveal-life-lessons-from-the-roman-empire The book explores how Greek-speaking students in the Roman empire learned Latin, using the fragments of their Latin textbooks preserved on papyri from Egypt and in medieval manuscripts. In some ways these ancient Latin learners had an experience strikingly similar to that of modern students: they used grammars, dictionaries, and commentaries; they read Cicero’s Catilinarian orations and Virgil’s Aeneid; they memorized vocabulary; they looked up the hard words and wrote translations into their Latin texts.

Prof. Dickey's most recent book: Learning Latin the Ancient Way (Cambridge, 2016)

Prof. Dickey’s most recent book: Learning Latin the Ancient Way (Cambridge, 2016)

But in other ways the ancient Latin learners had a very different experience from that of their modern counterparts. Some of these differences come from the fact that ancient learners came to Latin knowing ancient Greek rather than English. So they struggled to learn the Roman alphabet, but they had no problems with the distinction between nominative and accusative cases. Other differences come from ancient educational conventions: ancient beginners started off with bilingual texts, easy Latin accompanied by a running translation. Of course the students could not translate the Latin for themselves as a modern learner might do, since a translation was provided; instead they memorized the Latin, rather the way a student studying French today might memorize a dialogue about ordering croissants in a café in Paris.

Indeed the texts read by ancient beginners have much more in common with material read by modern French learners than with that read by modern Latin learners. Ancient students studied short dialogues and narratives about daily life: buying clothes, buying food, having lunch, borrowing money, and visiting sick friends. Of course, ancient daily life was not quite like modern daily life, so the dialogues also cover going to the public baths, winning court cases, making excuses, getting into fights, taking oaths in temples, and coming home drunk after a Roman orgy. Just like their modern counterparts, these dialogues were written to teach students about culture as well as language; therefore they offer us priceless insight into life in the Roman empire as Romans saw it.

Learning Latin the Ancient Way provides extracts from all types of ancient Latin-learning texts: bilingual dialogues, alphabets, grammars, dictionaries, annotated copies of Sallust, word-lists to Virgil, prose composition exercises, Aesop’s fables, stories about the Trojan war, letters of congratulation for sending to successful legacy hunters, an explanation of the Roman law on manumission, etc. Portions originally written in Greek have normally been translated into English, but the Latin remains in Latin; this means that modern students can experience and use these texts as their ancient counterparts would have done (or ignore the English and treat the passages like any other translation exercise). A few passages lack word division and punctuation, to make it clear what reading was really like in antiquity.

Professor Dickey hopes that her book will be used by modern Latin teachers and students (it is suitable for learners who have already done at least one year of Latin) and that it will enable modern learners to enjoy the ancient Latin-learning materials, which are now able to be used once more for their original purpose.

Copies can be purchased from Cambridge University Press (to whom Professor Dickey is very grateful for pricing the book at an affordable £18, a sharp contrast to most of her previous books): http://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/classical-studies/classical-languages/learning-latin-ancient-way-latin-textbooks-ancient-world?format=PB.

Reading’s Latin Inscriptions: New Book by Prof. Peter Kruschwitz

We are delighted to announce the publication of a new book by Prof. Peter Kruschwitz with Reading’s very own Two Rivers Press:

WotWThe book contains an anthology of 48 Latin inscriptions that are on display in Berkshire’s county town of Reading (as well as an extra four that have disappeared some time ago!) – covering some 1,800 years of Latin in use as a language of authority, of the church, of business, of learning, and – of course – as a language to honour the dead.

The book, showcasing the very finest examples of a body of some 200 inscribed Latin texts altogether from the Reading area, is the result of several years of fieldwork (about which Prof. Kruschwitz has occasionally blogged on his blog ‘The Petrified Muse’) – and if you wish to follow his walking routes, there is even a handy map that shows you the location of the various pieces that are covered in the book on Google Maps!

The book, beautifully designed and illustrated, is available from the publisher, Inpress Books, Waterstones, and – soon –  Amazon.

For anyone in and around Reading: Prof. Kruschwitz will be signing copies of his book at Reading’s branch of Waterstones next Saturday (12 September, 3-4pm) as part of Reading’s activities during the 2015 Heritage Open Days (further information can be found here).

The (Corrupting) Appeal of Latin

Prof. Peter Kruschwitz is a Latin scholar. One of his current projects covers the Latin inscriptions of Reading.

Reading’s Phoenix College, situated on Christchurch Road, recently put up a new sign at their entrance which drew my attention to their Latin motto:

Motto of Phoenix College, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Motto of Phoenix College, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Ad astra per aspira.

At first, it seemed to me as though this was a mere mistake, a corruption of the well-known Latin motto Per aspera ad astra, ‘through hardship to the stars’ (or its alternative version per ardua ad astra, as used by the Royal Air Force).

RAF headstone, Reading Old Cemetery. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

RAF headstone, Reading Old Cemetery. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Some further investigation into this rather curious motto, however, took me to the college’s webpages, where one finds the following statement:

“Ad Astra Per Aspira” in Latin means to aspire for the stars. Our school endeavours to help students reach up to their potential.

In other words, the college has adopted (and created?) the motto on purpose.

Now, there cannot be much dispute over the question as to whether or not the motto is in correct Latin: it is not. It is also rather obvious how this mistake will have occurred: the Latin for ‘hardship’ (lit. ‘hard things’), aspera, in its English pronunciation sounds just about close enough to aspira – so why not go all the way and change the spelling altogether, to produce the aspirational (if ungrammatical) claim?

Why then, one must ask, use a Latin motto, if one is not actually competent in that language? The answer is simple: Latin in a modern setting is a prestige language: ‘to aspire for the stars’ is a perfectly good motto, but stating the same thing in Latin lends the motto a whiff of dated venerability that can only come from a language that the majority of readers do not really understand. Moreover, it puts the school on par with other local schools that have Latin motti, such as the nearby Abbey School:

Motto of the Abbey School, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

In aedificationem corporis Christi.

‘For the edifying of the body of Christ.’

Phoenix College, however, is not the only place that displays a faulty Latin inscription in Reading. There are at least two more examples, both rather prominent. First, the statue of Lord Rufus Isaacs at Eldon Square. It displays the honorand’s coat of arms on its pedestal:

Statue of Sir Rufus Isaacs, Eldon Square, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

The motto scroll reads as follows:

Motto of Sir Rufus Isaacs. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Motto of Sir Rufus Isaacs. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Aut nunquam tentes aut persicei.

This meaningless text is a corruption of the Latin motto aut nunquam tentes aut perfice (‘either do not attempt at all, or complete it to perfection’), and one can be reasonably certain that the sculptor, when the statue was produced some eighty years ago, misread the phrase perfice! in an early 20th century handwriting and replaced the f with an s and the exclamation mark with an –i.

Secondly, equally venerable, there is a beautiful stained glass window in the Lady Chapel of Reading Minster of St Mary the Virgin. The arms on display here are those of the Yates family, who is also otherwise represented in this church. The motto reads:

Arms of the Yates Family, Reading Minster. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Arms of the Yates Family, Reading Minster. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Per rege et patria.

This is an obvious corruption of the Latin for ‘For King and Country’, which should of course read pro rege et patria.

It may not be much of a consolation to any of the concerned, but mistakes in Latin inscriptions have a long tradition: the hundreds of thousands inscriptions that survive from Roman antiquity, written at a time when Latin was still in active, everyday use, are in fact full of mistakes, many of which deserving of the famous treatment that Brian receives from the centurion in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. One may smirk at the fact that even the Romans could not get their own language right in writing. But these ‘mistakes’ now help scholars of the Latin language to develop a rather better understanding of variation and change in Latin, trends that eventually led to the emergence of Romance languages.

It is always easy and tempting to mock those who make mistakes. But in actual fact, even the mistakes – such as that in the motto of Phoenix College – may be indicative of something, and in this particular case, of the desire to express something beautiful.

Peter Kruschwitz