Tag Archives: teaching

Teaching Later Latin

Nothing says ‘Later Roman Empire’ like giving the Tetrarchs a hug

Before I get going on this post, I feel obliged to state that I have loved teaching the “core” canon of Classics this year — in Latin: Horace and Ovid, in Greek: Theocritus, in English translation: Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, and a variety of Greek authors for Greek and Roman Myth (Hesiod, the tragedians, Homer, the Homeric Hymns, Apollodorus, et al, et al.). Nevertheless, teaching one’s own narrower focus brings with it a special pleasure all its own.

Last term, I got to teach, as literature, a selection of Ausonius’ verse epistles to Paulinus in Latin class, and Claudian’s De Raptu Proserpinae in English in Latin Epic. For one week, all I taught was “later” Latin literature. I put “later” in quotation marks because very often, what we mean by “later Latin literature” ends in the Early Middle Ages, at which point Latin was still really only in middle age (ha). Anyway, it was an exciting week.

First of all, Late Antiquity is where I have been most thoroughly invested for many years now. My research may range as late as the 1400s, and my background has certainly prepared me for teaching Aeschylus or the world of Augustan Rome, but the world, history, culture, and authors of Late Antiquity are where I am most comfortable. It is a pleasure to teach from a position of being comfortable with the context and the material in a deep way.

Second, I can bring my research to bear on the texts. I can say that ‘such and such’ is a feature of later Latin without recourse to grammars or histories of Latin. I know it is because I have seen it with frequency in a number of different authors from the fourth through sixth centuries. I can comment on the piling up of superlatives, for example, as being part of contemporary courtesy. Amongst bishops, even your worst enemy is dilectissimus frater — ‘most beloved brother’.

The third point is likewise related: I got to share with people the things I have learned, and that itself is a great delight. So I talked about how the quotation from Paulinus in Ausonius, about the names of different kings, is itself an example of the jewelled style (and pointed them to Michael Roberts, The Jeweled Style). I talked about how allusion works in these authors, and the kind of learned game they are playing with their readers, especially Ausonius (referencing Aaron Pelttari, The Space that Remains). Teaching Claudian, I got to talk about the prefaces and what they mean poetically and metapoetically, and this was great. There was a certain amount of allusion and intertextuality throughout it all (says my wife, ‘Don’t you lecture on that all the time?).

The fourth point is pedagogical: I got to expand their idea of Latin literature. For the Latin students, they saw that grammar and vocabulary can remain ‘classical’ while style goes in new directions. They were thus given a window in both the difference and similarity of later Latin with its classical forebears. Most Latin students never read much of anything later than Apuleius (if that). Thus, they were exposed to a greater breadth of Latin than is usually on offer, and I think this will only help them, even if the rest of their lives they read nothing but ‘classical’ Latin authors.

For the epic students, it was much the same. They got to see that Latin literature doesn’t just suddenly stop. Indeed, one  of my wider aims throughout the course was tying together disparate strands of Latin and world literature. Not only did they read Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, and Claudian, they also had lectures talking about Livius Andronicus, Ennius, Statius, et al., and I tied in not only Latin epic’s relationship with Greek epic but also with themes in Gilgamesh and Mahabharata. In terms of reception, I brought Virgil to the early moderns. So Claudian was actually central to part of my wider pedagogy, which is: (although) Virgil is amazing (and you should know him), and these other epics area part of the same poetic tradition or human experience.

The back of my Oxford Classical Text of Ausonius boasts that there are over 100 volumes in the series. Later Latin literature, even when restricted to the later 100s to 800s, encompasses far more Literature than that. It’s worth introducing students to it.

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Reflections after a semester of lecturing

This past Friday I finished my first semester of lecturing. The day began with two hours of ‘The Emperor in the Late Roman World’, and in the afternoon an hour of revising Ovid, Metamorphoses 3 for Latin. These two courses constitute the bulk of the teaching I did this semester; I enjoyed all of it; it was fulfilling; it was also very busy.

I made sure to use this in class!

I made sure to use this in class!

‘The Emperor in the Late Roman World’ is a third-/fourth-year undergraduate course, and the only course the entirety of which I taught this semester (for the first two years of undergrad, Edinburgh likes team teaching). I greatly enjoyed it, discussing the emperors from Diocletian (284-305) to Justinian (527-565) and how the role and office of emperor changed over time, and the transformations the emperors wrought in the Later Roman Empire — and, of course, the Fall of the West. The main themes investigated, besides running through the history, were Christianisation, Ceremony, and Bureaucracy & Imperial Failures.

The students were engaged, interested, and invested. At least, those who came. By the end, only about 12 were turning up each Friday morning. The other eight will have to beg, borrow, or steal notes before the exam, I guess. Anyway, it was invigorating! I liked teaching this course to these students. I look forward to reading their essays.

I taught/read Ovid, Metamorphoses 3, to Latin 2A students over five weeks. This is the beginning of Ovid’s Theban cycle — Cadmus and the serpent, then the Spartoi, followed by Actaeon, leading to Semele and the birth of Dionysus, Tiresias, Echo and Narcissus, and closing with Pentheus and Bacchus. I enjoyed reading this, and I enjoyed reading it with the students. Their Latin is of a high calibre, and they are all very interested in Ovid. They seemed to enjoy Book 3 as much as I did, except for one fellow who dislikes the story of Echo and Narcissus. Along the way, I also delivered some lectures on Ovid and the Metamorphoses.

Only one came to the revision session. So she’ll have an edge over the others next week.

The rest of my teaching duties this term were a number of lectures as an outside lecturer on team-taught courses — a lecture on traditional Roman religion in the Republic; a lecture about rituals in Ancient Mediterranean Religions; a lecture/seminar on cities in the ‘long’ Late Antiquity; two lectures on chronicles in ancient historiography.

As I said, it has been busy. It has also been fulfilling. I enjoy the material that I teach, and I enjoy preparing lectures, even when I feel run ragged by the pressures of life.

Now we enter the season of marking: essays now (and more on Thursday), then exams next week.

And then in January, it begins again! ‘The Bishop and City of Rome in Late Antiquity’, ‘Crisis, Continuity, and Culture in the Fifth Century’, ‘Roman World 1B’, plus more outside lectures. It will be busy, I can count on it. But it will be fulfilling, worthwhile work. I look forward to it.