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Classics Courses

Polis Greek and Latin at Ave Maria University

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Salve! χαῖρε! The faculty members of the Department of Classics & Early Christian Literature at Ave Maria University use this space to share about the life of the department. We also enjoy passing along links and quotations of general Classical interest.

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  • August 22, 2014 11:42 am

    Classics majors do well on the LSAT

    Yet another article on the value of the study of Classics in preparing students to pursue professional degrees after the undergraduate years. (H/t to the Society for Classical Studies.)

    The author of the article made mention of classical mythology courses, but as everyone who works in this field knows, it is the focus on philology that cultivates attention to linguistic detail in the close reading of Latin and Greek texts that prepares students to excel in analytical reading and writing.

    Another major that does well in this area is Philosophy. So we are fortunate to have at Ave Maria University frequent opportunities to study Latin, Greek, and philosophy in courses cross-listed as Classics and Philosophy. Recent offerings have included: De Finibus (Cicero’s Latin compilation of Epicurean and Stoic ethics) (syllabus), De Rerum Natura (Lucretius’ Latin epic poem of Epicurean physics) (syllabus), De Anima (Aristotle’s Greek treatise on the nature of the soul), and the Nicomachean Ethics (Aristotle’s Greek treatise on ethics). Our most recent addition to such courses is Metaphysics in Latin (course description and syllabus), which students with four semesters of Latin may take to fulfill one of the core curriculum requirements in Philosophy.

  • July 24, 2014 9:50 pm

    I was delighted to see the other day in a blog post that Mr. Charles Atkinson had so far taken our ten days together in Rome last summer to heart that he was exploring Rome’s churches this summer in precisely the way that we had then: with eyes and ears open to the Latin all over the City. He writes:

    Yes, Rome can seem a mute pile of incomprehensible ruins, maybe softened by nostalgia’s rose colored glasses (and at the end of the day are we really content with this view?). But if you look and listen closer (and perhaps borrow a Latin dictionary) Rome begins speaking with you: caesars, saints, polemics, popes, even the obelisks themselves. And what she says often runs deeper than just another species of historical artifact. What these Rovere brothers, buried here in the same tomb, want to tell us is an excellent example: the tenderness and concord that unites them cannot be communicated through a historical point on a timeline, but only through the form of this poem and its timeless beauty.
    Do visit his post for the poem and a brief video that he made of his visit.

  • June 17, 2014 11:25 pm

    Day 9: Wednesday, June 17, 2014

    The priest with whom we are standing in the photograph at top is Fr. Wojciech Giertych, O.P., who is the theologian of the papal household (appointed under the Benedict XVI). He is all sparkling personality and mirth, the kind (as it seems to me) that can only come from great intelligence and confidence. Since we were complete strangers to him, he was the more generous in receiving us into the Apostolic Palace. At first, I did not understand what he was saying when he brought us to his very large apartment with private chapel, for he kept describing himself as a prisoner in the Palace. When we left, I finally caught on: the luminous hall in which we stood in this photograph is locked on the far end (where it joins the public section of the Vatican Museums) and at the near end, where the photographer is standing, is a door, in size proportionate to the hall, that can only be opened by a Swiss Guard with an ancient-looking key. So Fr. Giertych cannot go in or out of this hall without buzzing for a guard to unlock the door for him. But if you must be a “prisoner”, this is quite the hall to have outside your “cell”! The light is incredible, even on a somewhat rainy day as this was. Latin funerary inscriptions—they so gleam that it is hard to credit their original purpose—line the hall from one end to the other. If you saw nothing but this hall in Rome, you would be impressed with how many physical artifacts had survived from the ancient world. I took away two thoughts in particular from our conversation with Fr. Giertych. The first was that he encouraged our students to choose a “master”—his own had been St. Therese of Lisieux—with whom, as it were, they could study intensively, reviewing everything that the master had written or said. And then, it may chance, that after ten years or so, it will be time to move on to another great light, but the period with the first master will not have been superficial and so the insights gained will be the more lasting and profound. The second thought was about Fr. Giertych’s manner of reading the Summa Theologica: he makes his marginal notes in Latin as he reads in the Latin text, desiring to hew as closely as he can to the thought of Thomas himself. Our many thanks to Fr. Giertych for an afternoon of pleasant conversation in the Apostolic Palace! Our thanks on this day also go to Fr. Eric Scanlan, who, after saying Mass for us in St. Peter’s Basilica, gave us a tour of the North American College. The panoramic view from the top of the main building is not to be missed!

  • June 16, 2014 11:35 pm

    Day 8: Tuesday, June 16, 2014

    Today we visited Ostia, which has been described as a better preserved version of Pompeii. This was my second visit to Ostia, but I had forgotten how endless the ruins can seem once one begins to walk through them. The possibility of getting lost is not so very remote! Our particular aim in coming to Ostia was to read from Book IX of St. Augustine’s Confessions about the death of his mother, St. Monnica, at Ostia. A special detail in St. Augustine’s account is that he seeks relief for his grief in a trip to the baths, of which one set, the Baths of Neptune, are easily reached upon entering the archeological park. So we found a sheltered spot in the baths to read and then we listened to the hymn by St. Ambrose, “Deus Creator Omnium”, that reminds St. Augustine of the gift that God has given us in sleep that luctus solvat anxios. Upon returning to Rome at the Porta San Paolo, we ascended the Aventine Hill and spent some time taking in the views of the city from the Giardino degli Aranci next to Santa Sabina as night fell. Strolling down the Aventine to the Tiber, we made our way to Ai Marmi, a bustling pizzeria in Trastevere where the outdoor seating and excellent food always make for a special night.

  • June 15, 2014 11:49 pm

    Day 7: Monday, June 15, 2014

    Monday was off to a momentous start after our audience with His Eminence, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. We are very grateful to Cardinal Burke for the time that he spent with us. He explained to us the rôle of his position within the larger judicial structure of the Church; he talked about the upcoming synod on the family; and he greatly encouraged our students in the study of Latin. Leaving the Palazzo della Cancelleria, we visited Sant’Andrea della Valle before making our way to Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Here we prayed before the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena and, after rain had pinned us within the building, we gathered in a quiet corner to read the saint’s biography from the 1910 Roman Breviary. Having provided ourselves with some umbrellas, we made our way around the corner to the Pantheon. After lunch, we visited San Luigi dei Francesi, reading from St. Thomas Aquinas on prayer for monarchs and indulgences for temporal benefits. The final church of the day was Sant’Agostino, where St. Monica’s remains now rest, and where we read from St. Augustine’s Confessions about his mother. On the way back in the direction of St. Peter’s and our lodging, though I had not planned to do so, I couldn’t let the students pass by Castel Sant’Angelo without an explanation of the angel sheathing its sword that crowns its top. So we paused under its walls to read from the Golden Legend about Pope St. Gregory the Great and a procession that ended a plague and gave the world the hymn, “Regina caeli, laetare”. Our singing of the same was not, perhaps, the greatest of performances, but we could not have asked for a better stage!

  • June 14, 2014 11:46 pm

    Day 6: Sunday, June 14, 2014

    To my mind, this Sunday morning was among the most special moments of the trip. We attended the solemn high Mass at Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, consecrated in 1616, where we beheld the glories of the ancient Roman rite of the Mass in their full splendor: Latin was the liturgical language; priest, deacon, and sub-deacon were ranged about the altar; other clergy were in choir in the sanctuary; the whole was beautifully sung by professional musicians; and all this took place in a building finished a mere forty years after the promulgation of the Roman missal after the Council of Trent by Pope St. Pius V with the bull Quo primum tempore. Once Mass was over and we had lunched with Eric Hewett, cofounder of the Paideia Institute, the rain coming down in buckets forced us to abandon our planned walk out the Via Appia to the catacombs. Instead, we resorted to the modern expedient of taxis (which the Vatican’s lexicon of recent Latin tells us should be autocineta meritoria), which took us to the Catacombs of Domitilla. Here we read an inscription by Pope Damasus about the martyrs, Nereus and Achilleus, before winding our way deep underground among the empty tombs of the early Christians at Rome. There in the dim light we better understood why St. Jerome quoted these words from Vergil in explaining the darkness of the catacombs: Horror ubique animo est, simul ipsa silentia terrent. From the catacombs, we set out, braving the rain, for the Ristorante Cecilia Metella. Well filled with its hearty fare, we felt the need of a walk and so decided to hike all the way back to the lodging. This was lovely at night, especially along the stretch of the Via Appia Antica that is completely free of auto traffic. The walk also amply illustrated how accessible the city is to exploration by foot: we covered more than the whole of its breadth in a couple delightful hours after dinner. On our way, we stopped briefly at the church of the Quo Vadis to read Pseudo-Linus on the story behind its name and at the Circus Maximus to appreciate Juvenal’s words panem et circenses in their original context.

  • June 14, 2014 11:02 pm

    Day 5: Saturday, June 14, 2014

    Saturday was dedicated to what I call, following Reginald Foster, the Loca Thomistica. For us, this meant an excursion by mini-bus outside of Rome to Monte Cassino, Roccasecca, and Fossanova. At Monte Cassino, we read from the opening paragraphs of St. Benedict’s Rule while taking in the amazing views from high above the surrounding valleys. Once you’ve driven up the very steep mountain to the abbey, it becomes that much harder to believe that during World War II Allied soliders attempted a frontal assault up such a mountain against crack German paratroopers. During lunch we sheltered in a gazebo in the village of Roccasecca while trying to decide whether the dark clouds would blow over or linger with rain and lightning for the afternoon. In the gazebo with views of the valley below and up above of the mountain where St. Thomas Aquinas was born, we read from William de Tocco’s life of St. Thomas Aquinas about a lightning bolt that struck a tower in which both he and a sister were sleeping. The lightning killed the sister and even the horses in the stable at the bottom of the tower, but St. Thomas and his nurse survived. In the end, we decided not to hazard the lightning test of our sanctity and ascended only as far as the first church in the world dedicated to St. Thomas after his canonization. We prayed there for his help in our Latin studies; though St. Thomas is not known for his Latinity, his profound knowledge of the language is obvious not only from his prose tomes but also from the beautiful Latin poetry that he wrote for the Feast of Corpus Christi, almost all of which we read in the course of the trip. The last stop of the day was at Fossanova where St. Thomas Aquinas died. M. B. Crowe in an issue of the Tablet in 1968 paints the scene well:

    In all the vicissitudes of its subsequent history Fossanova has been faithful to the memory of St. Thomas. The room in which he died, mourned by the monks, by the Franciscan Bishop of Terracina, by his Dominican confreres from Anagni and Gaeta and by his relatives, was enlarged into a chapel by one of the commendatory abbots of Fossanova’s decline, the seventeenth century Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini. The altar-piece of the school of Bernini and the humanistic verses Occidit hic Thomas lux ut foret amplior orbi  / Et candelabrum sic Nova Fossa foret are probably less to our taste than, say, Dante’s apotheosis of Aquinas in the Paradiso (X, 82-99) and Fra Angelico’s portrait. But as touching a reminder as any is the stillness of Fossanova, church, cloister, chapter-room and refectory, when the shuffle of tourist footsteps has died away.

    As we stood in this chapel and read the Latin couplets (Crowe has quoted only one), I must confess that, pace Crowe, I rather enjoyed them, even if they are somewhat more clever than solemn. (The second couplet runs thus: Editus ardenti locus est, non fossa, lucerna / Hanc igitur Fossam quis neget esse Novam? Still, I do not think that the author of a poem with the rhetorical force of Pange, lingua, gloriosi would have found them altogether wanting. Did Crowe ever consider the lines: “Verbum caro panem verum / verbo carnem efficit…” Yes, St. Thomas could enjoy a clever line, too!

  • June 13, 2014 11:59 pm

    Day 4: Friday, June 13, 2014

    We all remarked when this day had come to a close that it would have been impossible to have packed more into it. We saw the Vatican from the very top to the very bottom, beginning with Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at 7AM with Msgr. Daniel Gallagher of the Secretariat of State’s Office of Latin Letters. Msgr. Gallagher met us outside the sacristy and then offered Mass in Latin (for the Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua) at an altar very close to the mortal remains of Pope St. Leo the Great, who is, perhaps, the greatest Latin stylist of those who have worn the Fisherman’s ring. The students were delighted that Msgr. Gallagher gave his homily in Latin. Later in the morning, we met Msgr. Gallagher at the Gate of St. Anne and entered the Apostolic Palace after a few stops along the way to consider Latin inscriptions written by Antonio Cardinal Bacci. In a small chamber high up within the Apostolic Palace, Msgr. Gallagher explained to our students the nature of his work in the Office of Latin Letters and he gave the students a chance to look over the signed parchment of a recent papal bull for the appointment of a bishop. In the afternoon, we met an Ave Maria University alumnus, David Martinez, who took us on a tour of the excavations beneath the southern side of St. Peter’s Basilica. Here we descended to the first century street level and saw the vibrant colors that once decorated mausolea in the vicinity of St. Peter’s tomb. At the end of the tour, we were able to pray within sight of St. Peter’s relics. Having been on the tour before, I can say that Mr. Martinez did an excellent job; it was a privilege to be there with him and to learn from him. Dinner was a short distance away at Joseph Ratzinger’s favorite restaurant in Rome, the Cantina Tirolese, and we sat at the booth that is supposed to have been his particular spot. After dinner, we made our way to the Vatican Museums where David Martinez again guided our students our élan. Finally, after the Museums closed around 11PM, he lead us to his favorite gelatto place where we seemed to be the only ones who were not Italian. It made for a sweet finish to a long day!

  • June 12, 2014 9:59 pm

    Day 3: Thursday, June 12, 2014

    It is difficult not to notice the obelisks that tower over certain piazzas in Rome; for instance, the obelisk at the center of St. Peter’s Square is impossible to miss with its striking motto: CHRISTUS VINCIT / CHRISTUS REGNAT / CHRISTUS IMPERAT. One this trip, however, I made a point of stopping at these obelisks, not only to read their Latin inscriptions, but also to appreciate the incredible age—at least one we saw would have been contemporary with the prophet Isaiah! The photos above show our first stop of the day at St. Mary Major, one of the four patriarchal basilicas in Rome. Just across the street and around the corner, we visited Santa Prassede, a hidden gem, unimpressive on the exterior, but large and ancient on the interior. The afternoon brought a picturesque walk down the Clivus Scaurus to the Church of Ss. John and Paul, martyrs killed under Julian the Apostate. We could not enter the church itself because of a wedding, but we had the Case Romane, believed to have been John and Paul’s residences, almost entirely to ourselves. For me, the Case Romane were the happiest discovery of the trip: ancient in parts, with a number of interesting commemorative inscriptions to guide the way, they have something of the feel of the catacombs without the crowds or any need for a guide. The photo at the very top of this post shows Lauren Cronin standing in front of three hexameters by Pope Damasus in commemoration of Ss. John and Paul. Leaving the Case Romane, we walked back down the Caelian Hill in the direction of the church San Clemente, the excavations under which allowed the students a glimpse of the first century street level. After Mass, we ate dinner right across the street at I Clementini where the students had ready a bib for me decorated with two of my favorite books: Lewis & Short and Gildersleeve & Lodge!

  • June 11, 2014 9:37 pm

    Day 2: Wednesday, June 11, 2014

    This day was dedicated to St. Paul and two sites in commemoration of him at Rome. When we think of Rome, we may think first of St. Peter, but Rome has the special distinction of claiming a Christian foundation upon the two most important apostles, St. Peter the Rock and the head of the Church and St. Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles. In the morning, at Tre Fontane (“Three Fountains”), which tradition holds to be the site of St. Paul’s death, we read from the canonical record in the Epistle to the Romans and the Acts of the Apostles of St. Paul’s activities in Rome. Tre Fontane is a lovely place to visit because it is free of crowds and the noise of the city. We sat at leisure in the portico of an abbey church given by Pope Innocent II to St. Bernard of Clairvaux in 1140 AD (the original construction dates to Honorius I in 626 AD). In the afternoon, at the patriarchal basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, we read an account in Pseudo-Abdias about the matron, Lucina, who saw to it that St. Paul was buried on her estate, the site of the present basilica. Here, too, we read an apocryphal account (Pseudo-Marcellus, perhaps fifth century AD) of the encounter between Nero and St. Peter and St. Paul. It was great to see the students readily understanding the Latin text and taking delight in the rather fanciful narrative. The day ended with a stroll past the Colosseum on the way to dinner at La Taverna dei Quaranta.

  • June 10, 2014 11:59 pm

    Day 1: Tuesday, June 10, 2014

    Ave Maria University returned to Rome this June for ten days of intensive Latin language study amidst the glories, pagan and Christian, of the Eternal City. With ancient, medieval, and more contemporary Latin authors as their guides, students encountered the monuments of the past that continue to inspire us today. It was a pleasure to work with these students, both Classics majors and non-majors, all of whom had more than three semesters of Latin study, who were eager to understand every Latin word that we read and who were constantly drawing connections between the sites, the texts, and the ideas previously encountered in other courses at Ave Maria. On the first day, atop the Ianiculum hill overlooking the city from the west, we read Martial’s (d. 104 AD) words: “Roma / cui par est nihil et nihil secundum”, Rome, to whom none is equal and to whom none is second, a truth that we experienced immediately in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, lovingly cared for by popes through the centuries, which, among its other splendors, incorporates in its nave Roman columns once used in a temple of Isis on the nearby Ianiculum hill. In no other city of the world can one encounter—and touch, not just in imagination, but with one’s own hands—such a rich variety of cultural artifacts that are not only illuminated by authors of incomparable stature, but remain alive, well used and well loved to this day. Here we heard Mass and then read from St. Jerome (d. 420 AD) about the miraculous flow of oil, on the spot where the church now stands, which signified that the grace of Christ was offered to both Jews and Gentiles. On this day, students also visited the churches of San Benedetto in Piscinula and Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (see the images above). The evening concluded at the excellent Dar Poeta pizzeria in the heart of Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood.

  • April 13, 2014 1:47 pm

    From Homer to the law

    An interesting post at the blog Excess of Democracy entitled “The Best Prospective Law Students Read Homer”. An excerpt:

    As you can see [from the table in the post], the best prospective law students were the Classics majors. Even though there were just 190 of them, they achieved a 159.8 LSAT and a UGPA of 3.477—the highest in both categories.

    Among the rest, there is a pretty good correlation between LSAT and UGPA. As expected, some of the majors with disproportionately low UGPAs but high LSATs were in the sciences (I labeled Biology, specialization; Biology, general; Electrical Engineering; Mechanical Engineering; and Mathematics on the chart.) Among majors with disproportionately low LSATs but high UGPAs were Accounting, Law, Social Work, and Spanish.

    My trivial anecdotal evidence in addition: I know there’s at least one law school bound student, with a scholarship to boot, in our Homer course this semester.

  • April 10, 2014 4:58 pm

    This noon Daniel Whitehead shared with his peers and professors an intriguing paper on Horace, Odes I.14, “O navis”. Everyone remarked on the confidence of his presentation and the challenging nature of his thesis. We offer our congratulations to Daniel who will be graduating this spring! Before undertaking studies in the law this fall, Daniel will participate in the Classics Department’s Latin course in Rome.

    More photos from Daniel’s senior presentation are here.

  • December 23, 2013 1:18 pm

    CAMWS award for outstanding accomplishment in classical studies

    I enjoyed seeing Roxanne Perko’s name and Ave Maria University’s atop this list; this award was for work that Roxanne had done through the end of her junior year. More recently, Roxanne read her senior paper analyzing a homily by Pope St. Leo the Great to faculty, fellow students, and some residents of the town.

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  • October 30, 2013 9:05 am

    Patristics and classical education

    Many thanks to Joseph Shaw for bringing to my attention, through a recent blog post, a number of documents about the study of Latin in houses of priestly formation. Because of its general remarks on the Fathers of the Church and the study of the humanities and classical languages in today’s schools and universities, Inspectis dierum (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1990) caught my eye. A couple quotations from it:

    It is very noteworthy that many fathers had an excellent preparation in the disciplines of ancient Greek and Roman culture. From it they borrowed lofty civil and spiritual values and enriched their treatises, catecheses and preaching with them. By imprinting the Christian stamp on the ancient, classical humanitas, they were the first to make a bridge between the Gospel and secular culture, thus outlining for the church a rich and engaging cultural program that profoundly influenced subsequent ages and, in particular, the whole spiritual, intellectual and social life of the Middle Ages. Thanks to their teaching, many Christians during the first centuries had access to the various spheres of public life (schools, administration, politics). Christianity could also make the best use of what was valid in the ancient world, purify what was less perfect and contribute to the creation of a new culture and civilization inspired by the Gospel… .

    It is obvious that the study of the fathers also requires adequate instruments and aids such as a well-equipped library from the patristic viewpoint (collections, monographs, reviews, dictionaries), as well as knowledge of classical and modern languages. Given the well-known deficiencies in the humanities in today’s schools, everything possible will have to be done to strengthen the study of Greek and Latin in centers of priestly formation.

    While most of Ave Maria’s students will never enter the seminary, all those who study here have the opportunity to receive this formation. Our Classics majors, in particular, find themselves very well prepared to engage Patristic texts in graduate school and seminary. Besides elective courses that involve readings from the Latin and Greek Fathers, one of the required courses in our major is Latin Church Fathers. In this course we ask our students both to read extended passages of Latin prose as well as to write a term paper engaging a Latin text through an analysis of its theological and philosophical ideas combined with an evaluation of the word choices and Latin style of the author.

    One of my inspirations in teaching students at Ave Maria, even and especially in the first year of Latin, is that they will later, as parents, be the beginning of a new generation that will help to restore classical humanities to its proper place in education. One way this happens is when children are enabled and encouraged to undertake the study of the classical languages at a young age. The great scholars of the past came from such a formation and it can happen again through the good will of parents properly formed in the classical humanities at universities like Ave Maria.