The United States was more than a century old before it saw its first play staged in Latin. What follows is a story about its producers’ struggle for recognition and the external factors that doomed it to obscurity. Beyond a footnote in theatrical history, the 1877 production of a Jesuit Latin play at Boston College offers a glimpse into the fraught politics of education in the United States in the late 19th century, the origins of the modern college elective, and a form of Classical curriculum that might have been—if an ugly fight in Boston had turned out differently.
In April of 1894, Harvard’s production of its first Latin play had set Boston buzzing. The event even rated a couple columns in the New York Times, which remarked:
The new Classics Everywhere initiative, recently launched by the SCS, supports projects that seek to introduce and engage communities all over the US with the worlds of Greek and Roman antiquity in new and meaningful ways. During the first round of applications, the SCS funded 13 projects, ranging from performances and a cinema series to educational programs and inter-institutional collaborations. In this post we focus on four programs that engaged audiences with the study of Greek and Roman antiquity and its connection to our modern world through the visual and performing arts.
In our fourth post from the SCS’ Committee on Ancient and Modern Performance (CAMP), high school Latin teacher Patrick Hogan explores how to bring Vergil to life through dramatic performance.
Teachers of Greek and Latin, no matter how experienced, are always looking for new ways to bring ancient language to life for their students, whether through basic oral conversation, reading passages of prose or poetry aloud, or translation from modern English into Latin or Greek. In my opinion, teachers should make more frequent use of a fourth option, i.e., public, staged readings of poetry. I have found success in performances of Vergil’s Eclogues at the private high school where I teach.
In our third ‘Letters from CAMP’ blogpost, Prof. Emily Jusino discusses the trials and tribulations of picking a translation of an ancient drama for live performance.
“People expect Greek tragedy to sound a little stilted and awkward.” This is a paraphrase of a comment made to me recently by a director planning on staging the Medea. It was his defense of the translation he had chosen when I said that I disliked his choice. What made this translation appeal to him was precisely what made it seem terrible to me: the stiltedness and awkward English that comes across both as “translation-ese” and as a refusal to update any references in the text for a modern audience. But, of course, he could get the rights to use this translation for free.
This blog entry is the first in a new series, Letters from CAMP, that will appear throughout the year and explore the various practicalities and benefits of the performance of ancient drama in its many forms.
Two years ago at the annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies, a Senior Scholar of great distinction stood in the middle of a room crowded with many of the finest minds in classical scholarship, looked around, and said loudly, “Look at all these f**king a**holes.” To the best of my knowledge, this was a first. Most scholars have been tempted to say the same when faced with a crowd of SCS conference goers, but most are a bit more circumspect in their language.