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Five reasons why Latin should be taught in schools

I learned Latin in high school, I loved it, and now I’m a private tutor for high school Latin. But when I tell people what I do, the question that so often comes up is this: Why should schools still teach Latin?

I’ve heard many answers to that question over the years, and while they are good reasons, a lot of them involve things which have personally not affected me greatly. Latin is the mother of the Romance languages, so it should have been easier for me to learn French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. But I have not yet studied those languages, so I haven’t had the chance to benefit in that way. Latin appears a lot in law, but I’m not a lawyer. A lot of medical terms are Latin and Greek based, but I’m not a doctor. Some Catholic masses are conducted in Latin, but I’m not Catholic. I can read the species names of many animals, but I’m not a taxonomist.

So does that mean Latin has been wasted on me? Or on many students, for that matter?

Far from it. I believe that Latin is an excellent force for good in education. It’s more than just a party trick, or a hook to memorise technical vocabulary, or even a roundabout way to improve your Romance languages. Latin offers so much more.

1. It’s a language subject taught like no other

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Ovid’s mini-Aeneid: a hidden gem

aeneasandfather

A man great in war, second to none in piety,
Aeneas, oppressed by the hatred of hostile Juno,
Seeking Italy, went astray on Sicilian waves…
Ovid, Decastich arguments of the Aeneid, I.1-3

It’s not every day that we stumble across a beautiful, hidden gem like this work. In my head I call it the mini-Aeneid, because it is the only surviving poetic summary of the Aeneid which truly captures the epic proportions of the work in miniature. Ten lines of epic verse (dactylic hexameter) are dedicated to each of the twelve books of Vergil’s Aeneid – no more, no less. The work hits the highlights of action in each book, but sensitively, without being carelessly brief.

In honour of the work and the huge amount of creative energy that went into it, I’ve written the first publicly accessible English translation of this work (as far as I can tell, it doesn’t have any published English translations). Click here to read the Latin text alongside my English translation (link opens a small pdf document), which comes with its original preface – and as extra goodies, a set of monostich or single-line summaries of the books of the Aeneid from a separate author.

This work should properly be called Ovid’s Decastich arguments of the Aeneid, or in ordinary words, his ten-line poetic summary of the Aeneid. Tune in below for a quick summary of what we mean by ‘arguments’, the history of the work, and a discussion of why I am persuaded that the ten-line summary is a genuine work of Ovid and not a spurious attribution.

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Homer grabs you by the ears

For years I’ve been trying to get myself to read through the whole of Homer’s Iliad from start to finish. And lately I realised how to do it in the most painless way possible: I plugged in my earphones and listened to an audiobook of Homer’s Iliad on my half-hour daily bus rides to and from work. I was all the way through in about a month or two.

Jean-Baptiste Auguste Leloir, Homère. Oil on Canvas, 1841.

Jean-Baptiste Auguste Leloir, Homère. Oil on Canvas, 1841. (Source)

Listening to Homer on audiobook worked well for me, and I strongly recommend you take advantage of this audiobook format. As Classicists we’re prone to take reading for granted as the default method of absorbing literature. But it is good to remind ourselves that Homer’s great epics were probably passed down orally for centuries before they hit pen and ink. And even in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, most Greeks would have considered listening to be the default way of experiencing Homer, and would not have seen the Iliad or the Odyssey primarily as ‘books’ to be read silently off the page in your head.

But listening to Homer on audiobook does not just give you the fun of feeling more authentic. It offers a better aesthetic experience, too. As I will explain below, many of Homer’s characteristic literary devices are much better suited to the aural format than to the print book, and so listening to Homer rather than reading him gives you a better appreciation for Homer’s art.

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Saint Patrick in his own words

saintpatrick1

Today is Saint Patrick’s day. And yet for a long time, all I had associated with this saint was his holiday, drunken green-clad revellers, the Irish, leprechauns, and a story about snakes. He was more of a cartoon figure than a man, a cheesy one-dimensional character not really much more credible than Santa Claus.

But then some months ago I stumbled across his Confession, a fifth century work in Latin. (Here’s a free English translation, and here’s a Latin version.) I didn’t know any of his writings had actually survived. The Patrick of the Confession was a refreshing change from the Patrick of legend. It was a window into a world I had barely glimpsed before – the life of an early British missionary in Ireland.

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Saint Nicholas through the Ages

"Sanctus Nicholaus, Nautarum Protector" (Saint Nicholas, Protector of Sailors) Mosaic of St Nicholas in Westminster Cathedral in London. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew http://gcaptain.com/maritime-monday-dec-twentyfourth-twentytelve-christmas/

“Sanctus Nicholaus, Nautarum Protector” (Saint Nicholas, Protector of Sailors), Westminster Cathedral, London. (Source)

How did a Saint from Western Turkey become an elf-Lord driving reindeer around the North Pole? The journey of St. Nicholas through time, space and cultures has transformed this pious bishop of Myra into Santa: a secular, round-bellied, cheerful caricature of modern consumerism. How, exactly, did he get from there to here? And does anything of the original Nick remain in our Mr. Claus?

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The Melitan Miniature Dog: The most popular lapdog in antiquity

Chous, Melitan dog with grapes, ca. 450 - 435 BC (Source

Chous, Melitan dog with grapes, ca. 450 – 435 BC (Source)

There is something so disarming, so human, about reading that the ancient Greeks and Romans kept dogs as pets – not just as hunting hounds, but also as tiny companions. The Melitan, while it is not the only kind of miniature dog mentioned in surviving texts (a “Gallic miniature dog” was named once in Martial’s epigrams),[1] it is by far the most the most prolific miniature dog in artistic depictions and literary sources.

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My dearest subscribers,

Fished Up Classics will soon be known under a new name, Found in Antiquity.

The new site mascot. The old one, by the way, was taken from the Anchovy page on Wikipedia.

The new site mascot. The old one, by the way, was taken from the Anchovy page on Wikipedia.

It was a difficult decision to make, but I believe the long term gain will be worth today’s hassle. It feels scary, in a way, like I might be starting all over again. Has it only really been 4 months since I began this blog?

But I do feel much better about this new name. It makes more sense to me at first glance. If I mention the name to strangers or lecturers, I don’t have to hold my breath and hope they understand that it doesn’t have anything to do with fishing or eating fish or hooking things on fishhooks. It sounds silly, since most people who heard the name didn’t think of that. But I really did get sick of having “Fished Up” at the start of the title.

I’ve also taken this opportunity to buy the domain name, “foundinantiquity.com”.

Within the next few days or so I will also purchase a 301 redirect service, which will smooth this transition phase considerably.

Hold tight, update your bookmarks, and I’ll see you soon with another post – a post about Melitan or “Maltese” miniature dogs in antiquity!