On a summer night in 64 CE a conflagration that would be remembered as the Great Fire of Rome began somewhere in the tightly-packed shops and streets around the Circus Maximus. “A disaster,” the historian Tacitus called it, “graver and more dreadful than all that have befallen this city by the violence of fire” (Annals 15.38). His account goes on to describe panic and destruction, followed by rumors, resentment, and rebuilding. Ancient responses to disasters like these are the focus of a new first-year studies course at the University of Texas at Austin, for which I am the teaching assistant.
August 2012: a Latinist, a scholar of Chinese martial arts novels, a classical Persianist, a historian of early Vietnam, a Renaissance literature scholar, an archaeologist of pre-modern Malaya, and a post-colonial literature specialist assembled in New Haven. It was just like a gathering of Marvel’s AvengersTM, but with less spandex. We gathered not to save the world, but to read it: in their Olympian wisdom (to mix mythological universes), President Richard Levin of Yale University and President Tan Chorh Chuan of National University of Singapore had decided to establish Yale-NUS College, a jointly founded small liberal arts college located in Singapore.
This article was originally published in Amphora 11.1. It has been edited slightly to adhere to current SCS blog conventions.
That sinking feeling when you realize you’ve completely underestimated the scope of a project? I’m far more familiar with it than I’d like to admit. It was what I felt when I began analyzing the data I gathered in the library and vaults of the American Numismatic Society on provincial coinage minted under the Severan dynasty. I’d received a grant from my home institution to place the images and legends on provincial coinage in conversation with that of imperial coinage. I thought by doing so, I could bring to life the negotiations of ideology between local concerns and imperial propaganda.
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.
The English academic term Classics has conventionally designated the study of Ancient Greek and Classical Latin. The department from which I received both of my academic degrees makes the point explicit: its official name is “the Department of the Classics.” The department focuses upon Greek and Latin and the addition of the definite article asserts that these are the only Classical languages.
Digital technology can support the emergence of a new kind of environment for reading, exploring, and thinking about classical texts—even those in unfamiliar languages. But realizing the ambitious goals for the new reading modalities, described in an earlier post, is a non-trivial task and requires research of various types.
War and games have much in common: multiple contestants compete to win within a physically determined set of realities, each using strategies that are frequently buffeted by interventions of chance and chaos. It is no surprise, then, that war games have been used as predictive tools by military leaders since at least the early 19th century (see the recent collection Zones of Control ). Less familiar is the idea of using games as reconstructive tools in academic military history, although the ancient historian Philip Sabin (Lost Battles ; Simulating War ) has done excellent work on this topic.
How do we support those who wish to push beyond what they can learn from the languages that they know? New developments in Digital Humanities offer some intriguing avenues for dealing with scholarly material in unfamiliar languages, even if present achievements only highlight more challenges. In the following visualization, David Mimno of Cornell and Thomas Koentges of Leipzig have identified recurring clusters of words in a collection of Greek Christian Church Fathers. The works of these men were produced over more than a thousand years and amount to more than 30 million words. I do not think many specialists in Christian Church history have read this entire corpus, and I do not believe that any human being has ever been able to read a collection this large critically—it is just too big.
The online Packard Humanities Institute’s Classical Latin Texts (PHI) makes freely available material that was originally included on the PHI’s CD ROM 5.3, issued in 1991. It contains the vast majority of Latin literary texts written before 200 CE, as well as a handful of Latin texts from late antiquity. It therefore offers an alternative to two other free online resources: The Latin Library and the Perseus Project. The former has already been reviewed for this blog by Ted Gellar-Goad, and some of his criticisms of it apply equally to PHI.