On a wintry day in 1996, I was thumbing through catalogues in a deserted corner of the library of Beijing Normal University when my attention was suddenly seized by some titles in a language strangely familiar. I could easily decipher them because of their resemblance to English words, and I knew the names of the authors as I had read them in translations. Latin! My instinct told me. I relayed this discovery to my teacher of Shakespearean plays, a BA in Classics who had just graduated from Oxford. The next morning saw us standing in front of a counter in the most secluded part of the library, after spiraling flights of gloomy stairs. A long silence ensued before the books were fetched from a bank ten stories above and presented before us. In a thrilled voice, my teacher began to read a Latin passage aloud to me. We had been the first in decades, the librarian told us, to borrow these books, and there were many more such books simply locked in some rooms, as no one had the expertise and the energy to catalogue them. I quickly found out, with the available catalogues, that the university had a substantially larger collection in Latin and Greek even than that of the National Library. Stunned, I tried to explain to myself this peculiarity. Then it dawned on me that most of these titles must have been acquisitions of Fu Jen Catholic University, out of which Beijing Normal University grew. At least five centuries ago, Italian missionaries, following Marco Polo’s footsteps, first brought that elegant language of Latin to Chinese scholars who were still writing in equally elegant classical Chinese. In the thirty years after 1949 when the Communist Party came to power, both languages were buried, the former suffering from the stigma of decadent bourgeois culture, the latter taken as a leftover of China’s monarchic past. Though I knew no Latin at the time, the very survival of these books was a miracle for me, considering especially the systematic demolition of ancient heritage in the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Motivated by a veneration for antiquity, I began to learn the language, although my efforts were continually interrupted by my other pursuits.
In September 2012, Joseph Epstein published an essay in the Weekly Standard called Who Killed the Liberal Arts? The piece provoked lively response on the Classics List and at least one rapid, articulate response, by Katie Billotte in Salon.
Epstein’s argument is of more than passing concern to academics, scholars, students, and members of the general public interested in current debates about the value and vitality of the humanities and humanistic education, not only because he claims that the so-called liberal arts are dead, but also because he accuses humanists themselves of the murder. Moreover, it is important not to let his ideas go unchallenged, both because they are so often flawed, and also because they are part of a broader pattern of similar laments that collectively seek to push back against what is really not a death of humanism, but an inevitable, and not at all undesirable, historic evolution.
Amphora invited Michael Broder and Daniel Tompkins to collaborate on a response to Epstein. In consultation with the editors, Broder and Tompkins decided on a dialogic approach. The following is the result.
Michael Broder: On one level, Dan, I think we can respond to Epstein by saying that nobody killed the liberal arts; they just updated the syllabus. But that kind of response does not really address the bigger and darker issues lurking, not always so clearly stated, behind Epstein's lament.
Daniel Tompkins: I agree, Michael, that to some degree, the syllabus has merely been updated. I also agree that there are darker issues afoot. But one thing that complicates any response to Epstein is that his essay is loosely organized to say the least. On the other hand, while he attacks the usual suspects and makes some uninquisitive claims, not all his ideas are bad. I was glad to see Paul Goodman appear, halfway through, like Alcibiades.
MB: I think you had more patience with Epstein that I did, and I’m eager to hear your assessment of his ideas, especially the ones you think are not bad. To me, Epstein’s lament for the liberal arts is less about college curricula than it is about a generational, even epochal change in cultural subjectivity. He’s really talking about a major transformation of the entire humanist project over the past century, although he doesn’t put it in those terms, and in my estimation he puts himself on the wrong side of history as far as these issues are concerned. But let’s start with what you refer to as Epstein’s attack on the usual suspects. What do you mean by that?
The Oresteia demands a large canvas. Its trajectory, from the end of the Trojan War to Athena's creation of the first trial by jury, is huge. It is the story of the movement from a tribal cry for blood revenge to a system of justice designed by a god but carried out by men. It addresses the struggle between male and female, chthonic and Olympian gods, tribe and polis, law and tradition, justice and revenge. When we first contemplated the notion of staging the Oresteia at Carleton College we were of course aware of the scale of this undertaking. But even so, the full magnitude of the production that resulted, and its impact on our campus and community, ended up taking us by surprise.
The Oresteia was performed in the inaugural season of Carleton’s new theater, and was one of the largest and most ambitious productions we have ever done. For the script we commissioned a new adaptation of the trilogy by Rob Hardy (classicist and poet, as well as Clara Shaw Hardy’s husband); the production incorporated an original score by composer Mary Ellen Childs, ten choreographed choral dances, video imaging, a World War II jeep and an ambitious and beautiful lighting plot that at one point flooded the stage with graffiti in ancient Greek. There were thirty-three students in the cast including three speaking and sixteen dancing members of the chorus, and more than ten students working behind the scenes, as well as those who worked on costumes, sound, lighting, props, set construction, and more. By the middle of the spring term, it felt to us like most students on campus were either working on the show or knew someone who was.
At the heart of this massive endeavor was a structure invented by Ruth Weiner, theater director and professor of Theater and Dance: the project course. This innovative system links a team-taught course (taught in this case by Ruth together with Clara Shaw Hardy from Classics) to the term’s production by the Carleton Players (directed by Ruth). The course focuses on material centrally related to the production, and students enrolled in the course are required to participate in the production in some capacity (acting, dramaturgy, stage managing, designing and executing associated events, writing essays for the program, etc.).
At the entrance of the maximum security prison where I taught Greek tragedy was a wooden plaque in the shape of a shield. It was emblazoned with a motto: Non sum qualis eram. Apart from its incongruity in this place of no Latin and less Greek, the motto struck me as equally a declaration of failure and of hope. The men inside were not what they once were. What were they now?
I knew very little about my students at Cheshire Correctional Institute. I’d been told that over 100 inmates had applied to take classes through Wesleyan University’s Center for Prison Education (CPE).* Only eighteen had been accepted after tests and interviews with Wesleyan faculty members, CPE staff, and prison administrators. The men had widely differing educational backgrounds, but had proved that they could succeed at Wesleyan course work: biochemistry, essay writing, sociology, and philosophy. By the second year of the pilot program, 2011, when I taught, the cohort had lost only two. Of the remaining sixteen, thirteen were African-American.
I’d been told that most of the men were serving long sentences for violent crimes. I didn’t ask for the particulars of who had done what. I would learn some details later, but for now that was enough. I wanted to think of them as students first and prisoners second.
All well and good, but that they were prisoners was both impossible and pointless to ignore. I was escorted through nine locked gates and doors to my classroom, where a guard watched outside. The men wore identical beige scrubs with immaculate white t-shirts underneath. They ranged in age from early 20s to mid 50s. They wore their hair in cornrows, or buzz cuts, or dreds. Even so, after the first four classes I was still confusing their names—Mr. Morris with Mr. Grey, and so on.§ I was embarrassed. When I apologized, one of them said, “That’s the idea, with the uniforms and all. It works. They don’t want us to stand out as individuals. We’re numbers here, not names.”
That response was typical of their courtesy, humor, and remarkable ease with me. Still, I was a bit worried that the atmosphere would become more heavily charged once we got past the Oresteia and into dramas of the individual. Ajax was next on the syllabus. How would they respond? After all, weren’t their lives the stuff of Greek tragedy—violence, suffering, punishment, misfortunes of birth, crushing regret?
I’d emphasized that the tragedies were not just entertainment, although the performances were assuredly spectacular. When we read the Oresteia, I’d talked about tragedy’s civic function as a representation of broken societies and ruling families. When we’d finished Eumenides, and Ajax was up next, one student asked, “What is the relevance of this play to what we’ve been talking about?”
In this issue of Amphora we are fortunate to have our Executive Director Adam Blistein’s account of his introduction to classics through a particularly gifted high school teacher and coach, Alfred Morro, and Adam’s comments on what that experience has meant to him. It was serendipity that Adam proposed his article to your Amphora staff for this issue, but his essay also fits nicely with another topic that has been under discussion among the APA’s Outreach division: thinking about our origins, about our path to classical studies, and what that tells us.
As I was getting to know social media a while back, and mindful of the colorful situations that people sometimes get themselves into with unfamiliar technology, I was looking for some safe, mild topics of discussion and posting. I got to talking with the smallish group of social media friends I had at the time about how they happened to reach the positions they held as adults—most but not all were college or university professors, and most of them were in North America. Was it a decisive college major? an accident of circumstance? a beloved teacher?
It’s true I had what the social scientists would regard as an iffy sample: it was of course drawing from only those folks who were active on social media, and whom I knew personally, and it was strongly skewed toward 1980s and 1990s MAs or PhDs in classical philology or classical archaeology from the University of Michigan. That is, really not a random cross-section of the APA, or classicists at large.
Since then I’ve tried to incorporate the same question in conversations with some of the many classicists I work with on a daily basis—authors, referees, series editors, scholars at nearby schools including big universities like Michigan State and Chicago, and smaller schools like Kenyon or Oberlin. I’ve managed to broaden the age cohort and school of origin a little, include those with recent PhDs, and involve people from more graduate programs.
But even so, many of the responses tend to fall into interesting and suggestive patterns, and we at Amphora are working to bring you a series of short biographies that we hope will illuminate these patterns. One of the most interesting characteristics we think you’ll see is just how young most of us were when we first thought seriously about the ancient world. Many in academia tend to regard capturing students as majors in the first semester or so of college as an important goal. Some investigation into these short biographies will suggest instead that the Aha! moment happens a lot earlier, and that probably those of us at the level of college or even high school should be working in much closer conjunction with middle school teachers, in order to create a thriving classical ecosystem.
“Zero to Hero, in no time flat … Zero to Hero, just like that!” The Muses’ song from the Disney film Hercules could apply equally well to the sudden, spectacular rise of Hercules in pop entertainment of the late 1990s. Those proved lively years for the hero in American film and TV, spearheaded by the 1997 Disney animated movie and by television’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, starring Kevin Sorbo (1995-99). The two quickly spun off more TV series: Disney’s Hercules: The Animated Series (1998-99, 65 episodes of 30 minutes each) and Young Hercules (1998-99, 50 episodes also of 30 minutes each) starring Ryan Gosling.* Both spinoffs reimagined the mythological hero specifically for younger viewers and gave him unprecedented exposure in children’s weekday TV.†
In terms of the target audience, grade school and middle school years are very impressionable times for encounters with cultural influences. Every spring I teach a large myth course, and my students often reminisce about their first contact with mythological stories: it almost always comes at that age and in the form of entertainment geared for children—books and, increasingly, film and television.§ These early interactions are often formative for how young people perceive and relate to mythological figures, so with that in mind, a closer look at Hercules: The Animated Series and Young Hercules becomes an illuminating excursion into often-unappreciated aspects of classical reception in children’s entertainment.
Both shows focus on the education of teenage Hercules before he becomes the famous hero of myth. Ancient sources mention his adolescent training, but there he mostly trains one-on-one with Chiron or a number of different tutors, each teaching a particular specialized physical skill.‡ Some accounts also note a moral aspect to Hercules’ education; the story of his choosing between a life of Pleasure or Vice and a life of Virtue is the most famous example, but again Hercules is on his own.** The animated series and Young Hercules reimagine the demigod in a different context entirely: readily recognizable school settings with courses, classmates, teachers, and modern campus events like Homecoming. The narrative emphasizes the challenges of being an awkward teenager; they are as much emotional, social, academic, and moral as physical.†† The “Hercules in high school” context imposes certain limitations on storytelling: he can’t complete his most famous canonical Labors, for instance, because he must perform them as an adult. On the other hand, the showrunners are now free to create new stories that creatively adapt Hercules to modern concerns. As he faces challenges, the audience learns with him: he is never presented as an infallible hero, and it is his foibles and struggles that make his moral education relatable and relevant.
The field of ancient cookery, as a scholarly and popular publication topic, has a long and proud tradition. Study of the subject works like field archaeology, in so far as the scholar must dig up (literally or figuratively) what information there is, recognize its usually egregious gaps, and fill them in as best he or she can. The latter is commonly achieved via comparison with better preserved examples from related fields or sites, with a lot of (usually) logical ratiocination to sew it all together. In this regard, the field archaeologist has a slightly easier row to hoe, in that irremediable gaps in the information can simply be left as unanswerable questions. Scholars of ancient cookery, in contrast, usually hope to recreate the cuisine of antiquity. Here a gap in the information can be disastrous, resulting in concrete, sludge, or flavors so abominable that not even the Romans could figure out a way to enjoy them. This powerful caveat must be kept in mind, since it explains why so much speculation, substitution, and invention are both justified and necessary. If we adhere strictly to available information, we would end up only with translations of terse ancient texts, few of which provide enough information to allow anything appealing to be cooked today.
The authors of this book are well aware of the challenges, of course. The division of labor between them exploits their respective expertise, the translations of ancient literature being by Andrew Dalby and the actual cookery the work of Sally Grainger. As far as functioning as an actual cookbook is concerned, therefore, this book is primarily the work of the latter. Grainger’s credentials certainly qualify her for this endeavor. She is a chef in her own right, as well as a historian of ancient bakery (in the substantive form of the word). Most of this review will concentrate on her contribution.
Vera Lachmann was born in Berlin in 1904 into a family of the German-Jewish aristocracy. She attended a private school for girls, following which she studied philology at the Universities of Berlin and Basel and received her Ph.D. from the University of Berlin in 1931. Although she expected to teach at a German university, the bias against women led her to take the examinations that qualified her to teach at the Gymnasium level. In April 1933, with Hitler in power, she established a private school that was held on the grounds of relatives. The Nazis closed the school shortly after Kristallnacht. With the aid of friends in Germany and the United States she was able to leave Germany in November 1939. On arriving in the United States. she taught first at Vassar. Soon after, she taught for two years at Salem College in North Carolina, one academic year at Bryn Mawr, and two years at Yale. Her most substantial employment was at Brooklyn College, where she taught large courses in classical civilization and Greek drama in translation, and smaller courses in Greek: Antigone, Oedipus at Colonus, and the Iliad. Castrum Peregrini Press of Amsterdam published three books of her poetry, German and English on facing pages. A considerable number of her poems are on themes from ancient Greece. She died in 1985. In 2004 I edited Homer’s Sun Still Shines: Ancient Greece in Essays, Poems and Translations by Vera Lachmann.
In the mid-1940s Vera Lachmann founded a camp for boys in the mountains of North Carolina, which she named Catawba. Although the boys played sports, rode horses, and swam in a spring-fed pool, Camp Catawba was distinguished by Vera’s gifts as a classicist.
Over the twenty-seven years of the camp’s operation Vera directed boys ages six to twelve in dozens of great plays, Shakespeare in the lead. Four plays, however, were by the Greeks, two tragedies and two comedies. The tragedies were The Persians by Aeschylus and Philoctetes by Sophocles (in her own translation). The comedies were The Birds and The Frogs, by Aristophanes.
For the plays she left crucial lines in the original or modified the English for the sake of her actors. The small grounds of Catawba twittered with the songs of birds: Toro-toro-toro-toro-tinx! They rumbled with the croaks of frogs: Brekekekex, co-ax, co-ax. Brekekekex, co-ax. As the chorus of Persian elders, the boys chanted a lament that, for the sake of her actors, Vera abbreviated to, “Where are our leaders . . . where?” They heard Philoctetes cry out in pain, “Papai! apappapai! papap-papap-papap-papai!”
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.
It was a good idea, an exciting new methodology. What I failed to realize is the quantity of data I had to consider in analyzing provincial and imperial coinage. My philologically focused graduate school training had not prepared me for this—in order to analyze the relationships in any systematic way I would need to keep an impossibly large body of data in my head.
I don’t remember whether I’d heard the term “digital humanities” in the fall of 2007 when I faced the mountain of unwieldy evidence I’d gathered, but if I had, my response was likely negative. Then, classicists might have used computers to gain easy access to ancient texts and journal articles. We might even have used technology to compile vocabularies from online texts and comprehensively analyze the contexts of particular words, but we did so in isolation. Ours is a solitary discipline. We work alone, wrestling with our ideas in the silence of our offices and only unveiling our analyses in paper presentations that sometimes echo through conference rooms without any satisfying response from our audience. We might speak to a colleague about an idea and I think we all dream of engagement with the profession once our conclusions are in print, but finding our evidence, testing our theses, writing our findings, these things we do alone.
I became a Classicist because of Alfred V. Morro (1920-2005, photo below left).
Almost everyone in the state of Rhode Island above a certain age would (a) recognize Al’s name, and (b) be surprised by my statement because he was almost exclusively known as a football and track coach of great success and rare ferocity at Providence Classical High School. If you can remember what college football fans outside of Ohio State thought about the late Woody Hayes, or, more recently, what college basketball fans outside of Indiana University thought about Bobby Knight in his chair-throwing days, you have some idea of Al’s reputation in Rhode Island.
In the background of the photo below right you can see him haranguing his troops in a pose that was familiar to all who knew him. In fact, that photo shows me becoming familiar with that pose because I was an assistant manager on the football team, and I am the young man in the gray sweatshirt with his back to the camera.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s Al was a legendary football player and track and field athlete first at LaSalle High School in Providence and then at Boston College. In consecutive years he played in the Cotton and Sugar Bowls for B.C., and he was captain of its football team in 1941. He went on to a successful career as a football and track coach in Providence and was athletic director at Classical for many years. The School’s athletic complex is named for him. His citation in the Hall of Fame of the Rhode Island Track and Field Coaches Association reads in part: “The State's most successful coach of all time. His Classical H.S. teams were virtually unbeatable over his many years of coaching.”
Amphora is a peer-reviewed publication of the Society for Classical Studies that aims to convey the excitement of classical studies to a broad readership by offering accessible articles written by scholars and experts on topics of classical interest that include culture; classical tradition and reception in the arts; and reviews of current books, films, and web sites. Sponsored by the Committee on Communications and Outreach and supported by the SCS, Amphora is intended for anyone with a strong interest in or enthusiasm for the classical world.
As of 2018 Amphora has been discontinued as a publication of the Society for Classical Studies. We thank the authors, editors, and SCS members whose tireless work made this publication possible.
PDFs for previous issues of Amphora are linked above. Any further questions about this publication should be directed toward firstname.lastname@example.org.
The conference "Contact, Colonialism, and Comparison" will take place over Zo
AMPRAW is an annual conference that is designed to bring together early-caree