Can a computer understand the hendecasyllables of Catullus, the declamations of Seneca, or the letters of Pliny? Not yet, and maybe never in any conventional sense of this word. No one has succeeded so far in teaching a computer to comprehend language – that is, to reason about, generate, act upon and, importantly, communicate intentions through symbolic speech – let alone to appreciate texts written in a dead language with a sophisticated literary tradition. (Embodied cognitive science claims, in fact, that without a human body no computer can ever hope to achieve human understanding). But it is possible to represent the meanings of the Latin language in a way that can be manipulated and analysed by computers. The idea of training machines in these meanings forms the basis for the field of natural language understanding, which is a specialized kind of natural language processing (NLP) focused on modelling linguistic semantics.
The Scaife Viewer of the Perseus Project pursues a simple goal: to provide a clear and enjoyable reading experience of the Greek and Latin texts and translations of the Perseus Digital Library. It is the first installment of Perseus 5.0 and eventually will replace Perseus’ current interface, Perseus Hopper, as the primary means for accessing the texts and translations of the Perseus library. In its goal to simplify access to Perseus’ repository of texts, the Scaife Viewer is a success. Its layout is uncluttered, its texts legible, its design refreshing. As a result, the Scaife Viewer is a welcome re-imagining of how users read Perseus texts.
In the third post in our independent scholars series, Ann Patty discusses her late in life discovery of Latin and her love of learning, teaching, and promoting Classics.
I began to learn Latin as I approached the age of 60. After the recession of 2008 my highly leveraged company forced me into early retirement. I had been an editor and publisher for thirty-five years, an all-consuming career that kept my mind engaged and provided me with a community, a passionate purpose and a strong identity. Suddenly all those things were taken away. I retreated full-time to my country house, also forfeiting my identity as a New Yorker. I became an exile. I had participated in the chattering classes my entire adult life. On my rural plot of land in the Hudson Valley, the only chattering to be heard was that of chipmunks and squirrels. I needed words.
Co-authored with Richard J. Tarrant.
Editor’s note: The guidelines under review here, while publicly available for comment, represent a pre-release version.
New ideas customarily enter the classroom in a kind of scholarly trickle-down, from the university to daily educational practice. Think of the New Criticism of the 1950s, social history, or backward design. The phenomenon in Latin versification known as the “golden line” represents a striking example of the reverse: an idea generated in the classroom and resisted by the academy for decades, if not centuries, before becoming mainstream in erudite classical scholarship.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses has fared better than other Latin epic poems in modern Chinese reception. It has been rendered into Chinese twice: first, selected parts (about three-fifths) were translated in the 1950s by the renowned scholar of English literature, Yang Zhouhan (1915–1989), who supplemented the rest and published the complete translation in 1984; second, a Taiwanese man of letters, Lü Jianzhong, published a version of the entire epic in 2008. Each translation has its own merits: Yang’s version reads fluently and his style is natural, with tinges of archaic feeling, aimed at easy and pleasant reading. Lü’s version is more colorful and playful, more elegant in its choice of words and expressions.
Roman Inscriptions of Britain is a digitally-enhanced version of R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright’s Roman Inscriptions of Britain, vol. 1 (1965), and its 2,400 inscriptions. It includes all subsequent Addenda and Corrigenda to volume 1. Volumes 2 (1990–1995, instrumentum domesticum) and 3 (2009, more recent finds) are not yet available online, but all the major Roman inscriptions of Britain are included here. Since the work of editing, preparing, and composing commentary for the inscriptions had already been done, the site’s creator, Scott Vanderbilt, could focus the interface, and on applying TEI and EpiDoc markups.
Intermediate Latin students typically encounter Latin poetry for the first time with Vergil’s Aeneid. After a brief tutorial on the rules and patterns of dactylic hexameter, they plunge in with arma virumque cano. They learn scansion not only for the sake of tradition and proper understanding of the poem, but also so that they can appreciate its rhythms and artistry—the same reasons English teachers have for teaching their students iambic pentameter for Shakespeare. The symphony of “longs and shorts” can seem forbidding to students at first, and the remedy for this is most often simply practice. Today, given the convenience of phone and tablet apps, and their potential to transform idle moments of otium into more productive ones, the Pericles Group, LLC has created the Latin Scansion App to help Latin AP students practice scanning Vergil.
Latinists enjoy ready access to online texts collected under names like Perseus, PHI, and the Latin Library, collections which are now as much a fixture of scholarly workflows as OCTs, Teubners, and Loebs. Descriptive data and statistics about these texts are harder to find. How many times does Lucretius use the future imperative? How many ablatives absolute are there in Cicero’s De amicitia? Where does ensis appear in Caesar’s writings?
Catullus Online is a freely available digital edition of the poems of Catullus. It can be accessed simply as a Latin text of the poems—in editor Dániel Kiss’s own edition—or with each line linked to a full apparatus. Many poems can also be viewed in photographs from important manuscripts (such as O, courtesy of the Bodleian Library). This is a useful project for its intrinsic value as a new text of Catullus, for its ease of availability, and for the directions it implies for new tools in the study of very old texts. Here I will review it briefly as a text of Catullus, as a website, and finally as groundwork for the kind of online Catullus edition we can hope for in the future.