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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.
  • September 10, 2014 3:30 pm

    Kevin Nolan (AMU Class of 2013) writes in with some reflections for those who are considering graduate school. He speaks here about his experience in graduate school for Classics, but what he says has a more general application, too.

    1. Age quod agis! To classicists, this saying may seem trite, but when actually applied, it becomes invaluable. You must do it in order to survive. There is no trick, there is no magic formula, there is only the difficult exercise of engaging one’s whole attention on a task for prolonged periods of time. It can be painful, especially when the text in question is less than stimulating, but it is the only way to excel in graduate school. The work load is heavy and the student must be efficient…which brings me to my next admonition.

    2. Tolle, lege! A graduate student’s schedule is always demanding and he will frequently make the choice (a choice that often times feels like one of life or death): “Do I read the text or the secondary literature? How can I do both?” Prioritize. Many times you cannot do both, but, at this stage, improvement in the languages is more important than knowledge of scholarly work. Rule: text first, secondary literature only if you have time. Life is better when you’re able to read the languages with facility. Hone your skills. Deficiencies will soon be revealed…work on them.

    3. Da operam! Take interest in whatever you are studying. Over the past year, I have developed a strong desire to study linguistics. However, I found myself in a course on Sparta in which we discussed anything but the linguistic aspect of the text. We read through the entire Life of Lycurgus, which takes someone of stout heart to work through that (in my opinion) laborious text. Being not particularly fond of the topics chosen, I struggled to find interest in class discussions and found the secondary literature rather dry. Yet, I began to realize that my time in graduate school is not about finding an area of interest and taking courses that pertain only to that. Graduate studies are meant to equip the student with the tools necessary to excel in any area of the Classics, whether it be the civil status of perioikoi or the use amens in Cicero’s Philippics. I realized that in order to be an excellent student of Classics I must be enthusiastic and devote my attention fully, regardless of the subject matter. To my surprise, however, after this change of heart, I found that Plutarch had a certain charm (his use of prepositions is most intriguing); I began to take interest in what I had previously considered mundane aspects of Spartan society; I even discovered some aspects that were very intriguing. For example, how the educational system in Sparta instilled virtue and love of valor in her citizens through competition and rivalry, which, as I have argued in a paper, culminated in the battle of Thermopylae. Some topics are boring, but the good student of Classics will approach all topics with zeal.

    4. Pecuniam habeas! Funding is key. If you do not have a funding package that includes tuition and a living stipend, graduate school will be very difficult, but not impossible. If you do not even have a tuition waiver, do not go. Since I did not have a living stipend I was forced to find work, and fortunately did so as a teacher. First I taught Latin to preK-8th students. Now I am an adjunct professor at a seminary. Being forced to work, I found and took advantage of some excellent opportunities that I would not have otherwise. So, although working as a teacher and studying full time is very difficult, I really appreciate the opportunity both to study and to hone my skills as a teacher.

    Thank you, Kevin!

  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.

  • October 28, 2013 2:52 pm

    Some new Classics apps

    There were a number of new Latin apps for iOS and Android that I saw mentioned over the weekend.

    My preferred Lewis & Short app for iOS is SPQR. When the latest version came out this fall, I wrote a review of it here. That same developer has now released SPQR for Android.

    There’s also a new app for iOS that has been available for some time as a website, Logeion. The UI is a bit messy, but it is fast and free; it also combines Greek and Latin in one search field. Finally, depending on your screen size, you may find Numen a useful web app; point your mobile browser to that site, and it will explain how to “install” the interface as a separate “app” on your home screen.

  • July 1, 2013 7:53 pm

    "An aristocracy of intellect should be the aim of democracy: not less Greek and less Latin for the few, but more Greek and more Latin for all."

    Joan Mascaró, letter to Irwin Bullock (February 18, 1946), in Correspondència de Joan Mascaró (1930-1986)

    I came across this quotation some weeks ago at the much loved Laudator Temporis Acti. It is certainly worthy of being posted again!

    I hope that the formation we impart in the classical languages at Ave Maria University inspires our students to take the message of “more Latin and Greek” out into the world, both in their own lives and perhaps most especially in the choices they make in the education of their children. The great scholars, priests, and educated gentlefolk of former years were amply blessed with an “early and often” approach to the ancient languages during their years of education.

    The study of the elements at any age instills in the student intellectual discipline, attention to detail, and perseverance. But the most savory fruit of the study of the Classics can only be picked when the knowledge of the elements is ripe; as we did in Rome this summer, we teach our students to read, understand, and enjoy in their original languages the authors whose compositions are timeless: (e.g.) St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Cicero, Pope St. Leo the Great, Pope Damasus, Prudentius, Vergil, and St. Paul.

  • April 28, 2013 11:36 am

    "Universities, he proposed, are failing students and hurting American democracy. Curricula are “individualized, unfocused and scattered.” On campus, he said, “I find a kind of cultural void, an ignorance of the past, a sense of rootlessness and aimlessness.” Rare are “faculty with atypical views,” he charged. “Still rarer is an informed understanding of the traditions and institutions of our Western civilization and of our country and an appreciation of their special qualities and values.” He counseled schools to adopt “a common core of studies” in the history, literature and philosophy “of our culture.” By “our” he means Western."

    From the Wall Street Journal's "Weekend Interview" with Donald Kagan of the Department of Classics at Yale University on the occasion of his “farewell lecture”.

    Fortunately, there are a number of universities still engaged in the project of educating their students in the ideas, texts, and virtues of Western civilization. Not only do we have a robust core curriculum at Ave Maria University, but most of our students fulfill the language study requirement by taking Latin. A very considerable number – especially in light of the fact that we are a Catholic, not a protestant university – do Greek as well. There are even an elite few who do ancient Hebrew with Dr. Gregory Vall of the Theology Department. This means that, besides the intellectual discipline imparted by the successful study of such languages, our students encounter some of the great minds of Western civilization in their own, original words.

    As Kagan says, the protection of liberty requires citizens educated in the classical ideas which enabled liberty to flourish in this country. May God continue to help us in forming such citizens for the future!

  • April 10, 2013 8:00 am

    "'In order to be educated,' said Mr. Pekkanen, 78, who is proficient in not only Latin but also ancient Greek and Sanskrit, 'it was once said that a real humanist must write poetry in Latin and Greek.'"

    Latin Makes an Appearance on Finnish Radio. News at VI.

    Which is one reason, among many, why Classics students at Ave Maria University are studying Latin verse composition this semester. The meter we are working on this week and last is the Alcaic, Horace’s favorite lyric meter. The students’ poem translation projects have also been moving forward. I asked them to select an English poem of their choice and to prepare a translation of it over the course of the semester, starting with the compilation of a miniature thesaurus for its words & expressions, proceeding to a draft in Latin prose, and next week to a draft in meter; most of them have chosen to use dactylic hexameter. Their topics range from Wordsworth to the west wind to baseball. I even heard tell that a couple weeks ago one student composed a Sapphic stanza for his fiancée on the occasion of their engagement. This is a practical application indeed!

  • March 6, 2013 12:15 pm

    Latin and Greek: a wealth of words

    In a recent article in the City Journal, E. D. Hirsch, Jr. discusses the evidence for the claim that “there’s a positive correlation between a student’s vocabulary size in grade 12, the likelihood that she will graduate from college, and her future level of income.” He goes on to sketch a plan of action for improving outcomes for children of all economic backgrounds in the light of this evidence.

    I read Hirsch’s article with great interest, but was impressed by his lack of discussion of training in foreign or even “dead” languages as a tool for vocabulary acquisition. I think that I can speak for my colleagues in Classics when I say that drawing connections between Latin and Greek words and their English cognates is a constant in the language classrooms at Ave Maria. (“cognate” is a great example of an English word susceptible to this sort of analysis!) Indeed, while I know that many students will leave off after only the one year of Latin mandated by the core curriculum, I hope that even these students will have acquired some facility in analyzing English words, discovering their meaning through a recognition of their Latin roots.

    At any rate, Hirsch’s article is another reminder (to my mind) of the value of the study of Greek and Latin, especially for children. But if the undergraduate years bring your first encounter with Latin and Greek, don’t despair; these numbers would seem to indicate that prospective Classics graduate students are reaping dividends on the vocabulary section of the GRE, and I know that many of us Classicists saw Latin and Greek for the first time as college freshmen!

  • February 22, 2013 7:54 am

    Classics student and aspiring pro baseball player, Gabriel Loweree

    Gabriel Loweree, Classics major, and currently enrolled in Latin Verse Composition, is featured in the El Paso Times. Everything said of Gabe’s character in the article is spot on: he is a gentleman and a scholar!

  • February 4, 2013 12:39 pm

    Vatican Manuscripts Online

    Roger Pearse shares some direct links to a few of the precious manuscripts that the Vatican Library has begun to digitize for sharing online.

  • January 22, 2013 9:01 am

    "The classical books are in general the books which have possessed for mankind such vitality of interest that they are still read and enjoyed at a time when all the other books written within ten centuries of them have long since been dead. There must be something peculiar about a book of which the world feels after two thousand years that it has not yet had enough. One would like to know what it is that produces this permanent and not transient quality of interest. And it is partly for that that we study the Classics."

    — Gilbert Murray, The Rise of the Greek Epic (1924). (With thanks to the ever wonderful Laudator Temporis Acti!)

  • January 12, 2013 10:53 am

    "[W]hen one contemplates all this from the point of view of Art alone one cannot but be grateful that the supreme office of the Church should be the playing of the tragedy without the shedding of blood, the mystical presentation by means of dialogue and costume and gesture even of the Passion of her Lord, and it is always a source of pleasure and awe to me to remember that the ultimate survival of the Greek Chorus, lost elsewhere to art, is to be found in the servitor answering the priest at Mass."

    — Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (1896-7)


  • January 9, 2013 3:58 pm

    Mr. Anthony Thomas, Class of 2012, was so good as to write to us with some thoughts about his time studying Classics at AMU. Tony majored in both Classics and Literature during his time at Ave Maria University.

    Studying Classics has opened for me a doorway not only to the classical world but also to my Catholic faith.

    The abundance and variety of classical texts was opened for me by studying the Classics at Ave: poetry, epic, comedy, philosophy, and theology. With Dr. Yarbrough, I explored the basics of Latin grammar and vocabulary. My understanding of Latin was deepened in the second year, especially by studying the poetry of Catullus, Horace, and Virgil.

    Junior year, I began my study of Greek with Dr. Ritter. That year, I was also able to revisit more fully and in depth the Aeneid at the same time as I explored the wisdom of the Church Fathers and their successors with Dr. Nodes. Aside from being moved by their deep spirituality, I also learned a great deal from their careful philological attention to the details of Sacred Scripture.

    The following semester, I had the joy and challenge of learning to write Latin prose. It’s not until you have to write your own sentences in Latin that you really appreciate its idiom and the beautiful flexibility of an inflected language. Senior year introduced me to classical comedy’s ability to reach people even in the present with its appeal to what is truly human. That year also brought with it a glimpse of the depth of Greek philosophy, with the skill of Plato in depicting the gradual development of understanding in dialogue and that of Aristotle in using particles and other stylistic elements to write with great organization and subtlety of meaning.

    Now, I in turn am teaching Latin to high school students. It is now my turn to bring the fascination with the classics that I received from my teachers to my students.

    Thank you, Tony! And we wish you all the best as you apply for graduate school and in your career beyond!

  • December 19, 2012 8:40 pm

    Kevin Nolan’s Senior Exam & Cicero’s De Finibus

    On Monday, December 10, Kevin Nolan successfully passed his senior examination. For the exam, he shared with the Classics faculty and many of his fellow students a very fine paper about Cicero’s attack on the Epicurean account of pleasure as the summum bonum. It was the unanimous feeling of those present that Kevin’s paper well captured the department’s aspirations for our undergraduate scholars: on display were Kevin’s knowledge of Greek and Latin, his engagement with the secondary literature, and his careful, clear prose used to express an incisive analysis of the original text and its ideas.

    Kevin continues to revise his paper in anticipation of using it as his writing sample for graduate school applications, so I won’t spoil the fun by posting it here. I will, however, share some of my remarks from that day, which were offered as an introduction to Kevin’s paper, but which also serve as a reflection on some the themes canvassed in LATN 415: Cicero’s De Finibus, which was the upper level Latin reading course this fall semester 2012.

    Three years ago when I first taught a Latin philosophical texts course, I chose a book which I thought would appeal to the Ave undergraduate mind: Seneca’s Epistulae Morales. This rich text, so close in many places to the Christian tradition, can be used nearly as lectio divina, besides being filled countless bon mots and t-shirt worthy quotations. Yet the course drew a grand total of one student!

    On the other hand, for a course dedicated to the reading of Cicero’s De Finibus, I was delighted to have six of the best students in the university. Now the title of this philosophical work, De Finibus, has all of the excitement of – just to take something at random – David Lewis’ 1991 book Parts of Classes. Yet when you press a little further and ask what these “ends” (fines) are, it turns out that the ends are ethical ends (i.e., “what is the supreme good?” or “what is the greatest evil?”), and that Cicero wants to tell us about the chief ethical systems of his day.

    The De Finibus has five books: the first two are dedicated to Epicurean ethics, the second two are dedicated to Stoic ethics, and the fifth book gives us something of an oddity (from our perspective): the ethical views of Antiochus of Ascalon, a syncretist if there ever was one, who saw a fundamental harmony between the ethics of Plato, Aristotle, and even the Stoics. The first four books have a similar structure: Cicero has chosen a worthy Roman of his day to speak on behalf of each school, and then in Books II and IV, Cicero (or the character called “Cicero”) offers a rebuttal.

    In Book III, it is Cato the Younger who expounds Stoic ethics. As you perhaps know, Cato went on to become, at least by Seneca’s day, something of a Stoic saint. In Book I, it is Lucius Manlius Torquatus who defends Epicurean ethics; Torquatus is the scion of distinguished house of Roman statesmen, which had included Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus, who lived during the fourth century B.C. and whose exploits included taking a necklace (torquis) from a Gaul whom he had killed in single combat and, on another occasion, having his own son executed for disobedience after a successful but unauthorized attack upon the enemy – both decidedly unepicurean (with a little ‘e’) feats!

    But are they Epicurean (with a big ‘E’)? The character Torquatus thinks that we can make sense of them within the Epicurean ethical system; the character Cicero, however, is inclined to think that such a philosophy disgraces the Roman name. Cicero doesn’t do much to veil his contempt for Epicurean ethics or, for that matter, for any part of Epicurus’ philosophical system. But in addition to various ad hominem sallies, Cicero uses Book II to offer his readers substantive reasons for thinking that Epicurus’ ethical system is, at bottom, deeply confused. It is this attack on Epicurean ethics which Kevin explored for us in his paper.

    Next semester will see Kevin and many of his classmates take up the challenge of Latin verse composition, but after this great semester with the De Finibus, I am already looking forward to the next opportunity to take up in the classroom one Cicero’s philosophical texts.