Congratulations to Hannah Mace

Hannah MaceCongratulations to Hannah Mace, who passed her PhD viva recently.

Hannah’s thesis is on the fourth century CE Latin astronomer, Firmicus Maternus. Hannah had already developed considerable expertise in Latin astronomical writing (such as Manilius and Ausonius) from her Undergraduate and Masters degrees. In her thesis, she explores Firmicus’ text to illuminate intellectual culture of the mid fourth century – a time when classical texts were being read, copied, redeployed, and canonised against a backdrop of the emerging Church. Astronomy/astrology was a particular case in point. Hannah discusses Firmicus’ expertise and his use of earlier writers and, specifically, his citation practice; this is compared with other late antique Latin prose didactic authors to argue that Firmicus had a distinctive, personal agenda.


Congratulations to Steve Nyamilandu

img-20151218-00145Congratulations to Steve Nyamilandu, Lecturer in Latin at Chancellor College, University of Malawi, for passing his PhD, ‘Contextualising Classics Teaching in Malawi: a Comparative Study’. In this work, Steve traces the history of Classics teaching in Malawi before presenting and analysing various measures of the subject’s contemporary health, purpose and reputation; the comparative element in the thesis draws on analysis of similar issues in a wide variety of other institutions, including some in the UK, the USA and Africa, some of which Steve visited in person. Steve was supervised jointly by his home University and the School of Classics at St Andrews, as part of the co-tutelle arrangement between the two Universities; Steve’s study included two spells at Swallowgate, where amongst other things, he was able to research the important contribution to Malawian classics made by the late Robin Ogilvie, Professor of Latin at St Andrews, who served as an academic consultant to Hastings Banda, President of Malawi (1961-1997).

Conventiculum Dickinsoniense: latine loquamur!

By Juan Coderch

I would like to give a short summary of my experience attending the Conventiculum Latinum at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA, at the beginning of July. This is another one of my experiences with Greek and Latin as live languages (two summers ago I attended a spoken Latin course at Rome, offered by the Polis Institute of Jerusalem in combination with the Università Pontificia della Santa Croce; I have also visited Vivarium Novum, the Latin and Ancient Greek speaking college in Rome.). I’m very interested in the renaissance in teaching Latin as a spoken as well as a written language within university classrooms: it is something I have found very useful for St Andrews Latin and Greek beginners in particular over the last few years.

This Conventiculum is directed by Prof. Terence Tunberg and Dr Milena Minkova. Both of them teach at the University of Kentucky and direct the Conventiculium Kentuckiense during the second half of July, but they offer also a similar one in Pennsylvania at the beginning of the month. As the beginning of July suited me better, I decided to attend this one.

The Conventiculum takes place entirely in Latin, and it is a combination of different activities aimed at activating your live usage of Latin language. It is not a Latin learning course: you are not supposed to go there to learn how to use the gerundive; you are already supposed to know Latin (almost all of us were teachers of Latin either at university or at secondary education); it is rather a course to make you gain fluency in its active usage, to make you exteriorise actively what you already know passively (although of course you will also learn new expressions, idioms, etc.).

The range of activities was very diverse: from commenting on the content of some texts that we had previously prepared (the texts had been sent to us by e-mail around a month before the Conventiculum) to talking about different themes (travelling, classical art images displayed in front of us, etc.)—of course all of it in Latin.

There were 34 of us there. Few of the sessions took place with all of us together, because for most of them we were divided, but in two different ways: sometimes we were divided into tirones (beginners) and peritiores, and the activities carried out in each of both halves were different. It must be stressed that the division between tirones and peritiores isn’t a division between people who know more Latin and people who know less. It’s more about the level of your experience with spoken Latin: you can be in the group of tirones and know more Latin than some of the people in the peritiores because they have more experience in using it as a spoken language. Moreover, you yourself decide in which one of the two groups you want to be.

At other times we were divided into smaller groups without any distinction between tirones and peritiores (in fact taking care to mix tirones and peritiores together), so that each of us could have more chances of joining in with the activity in our small group.

The day began with all of us meeting at the dining hall for breakfast, where our ‘only-Latin-spoken’ day began; then, after the ientaculum, we met in a large classroom that was a kind of ‘operations base’, where we received the instructions (latine, scilicet) from Terence and Milena) and then we went to our group and started the activities. Activities went on until lunch (latine, scilicet), with short breaks from time to time, and then in the afternoon until around 6 pm.

The ‘only-Latin’ technique was applied not only inside the classroom, but also outside. Arte solum latine loquendi utebamur non tantum in conclave sed etiam extra conclavem. All of us were living in the same building, a residence that during the academic year is used for students, and any conversation that took place when passing in the corridor etc. took place in Latin; also, ut supra dixi, during breakfast and lunch we spoke only Latin in the dining hall of the college. Even walking down the street and having dinner in town we went on talking Latin. In one restaurant somebody sitting at a table nearby asked us what language we were talking and was very surprised by the answer. Of course, we had to speak some English: Fer mihi, quaeso, Neapolitanam placentam probably wouldn’t work for ordering a Neapolitan pizza in Pennsylvania…

One of the nicest things of all was meeting in the evening in the common entrance of the residence (there was a kind of common sitting area with some armchairs) to read and comment on the text that we were supposed to talk about on the next day—not as part of the official activities of the Conventiculum: I think that’s a good sign of how committed everyone was.

Et, ut finem faciam, hoc dicam: at one point I asked Terence and Milena whether, in their normal professional contact apart from the Conventiculum they spoke between them in Latin or in English—for example during the winter at the University of Kentucky—they said that they have never talked to each other in English except when there are other people present: they have talked to each other in Latin only for years and years.

Sunt qui appellent linguam Latinam ‘linguam mortam’. Nonne oporteret ‘linguam immortalem’ eam appellare?

First, place the mole in the cask…

Bovine weather prediction the Highland way
Bovine weather prediction the Highland way

In 1977 farmer Robin Page, frustrated that “as the weather forecasting service has grown in size and expense, so its predictions seem to have become more inaccurate”, published Weather Forecasting The Country Way. The book, complete with its pleasant little wood engravings, provides ways of predicting the weather by observing natural changes in atmosphere, bird and animal behaviour, flowers, trees and insects. Probably the most widely known of these is:

Red sky at night, shepherd’s/sailor’s* delight;
red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning

*In this rhyme, shepherds tend to be favoured in the UK, sailors in the US.

By publishing this book, Page was connecting with a predictive tradition that stems far back in to the ancient world.

My research has looked at the history of these ‘weather signs’ in antiquity, how they came to be placed in formalised list structures, and how these lists may have been used. One of the main sources for their ancient existence and organisation is a 4th century BC Greek text called the De Signis, ‘On Signs’, which lists around 300 weather signs, arranged according to the weather they indicate: rain – wind – storms – fair weather. Another significant text is Aratus’ Phaenomena, a poem about astronomy and the weather from the 3rd century BC. Lists of these signs, however, crop up in a whole host of texts including Virgil’s Georgics, Lucan’s Civil War, Pliny’s Natural History, and Aelian’s On Animals.

The variety of signs they contain is impressive. Like Page, they predominantly cite birds and animals, some of which are certainly still around today. One such example is cows sniffing the air indicating rain. This is a sign the existence of which we can trace, through its appearances in texts, right back to our ancient sources:

(1)  It appears in Page in 1977…
(2)  In Richard Inward’s 1864 Weather Lore
(3)  In Digges’ A Prognostication Euerlasting of Ryght Good Effecte in 1555: “bestes…brethyng up to the ayre with open nostrels, rayne folowyth”…
(4)  In the 10th century Byzantine farming text Geoponica
(5)  In Pliny’s Natural History
(6)  In Aratus’ Phaenomena.

Other signs are completely lost to us now, such as the advice given in the De Signis to place a mole (or maybe a wood-cock, the Greek is troublesome) into a cask with some earth and listen to the sound it makes. If anybody knows of any tradition/practice similar to this, I’d love to hear about it!

Despite their volume and prevalence in texts, it is actually not clear how, or indeed whether, these signs were used on a day-to-day basis to make predictions. In the texts, we often find hesitation and caveats associated with them: some signs are known to be better than others; a single weather sign is rarely good enough – two or three are needed; signs can indicate a weather change at an unknown time in the future; spotting many of the signs is accepted as a matter of chance. These issues cast doubt over the possibility of weather signs acting as a stand-alone predictive method. Instead, it is likely that they had a ‘working relationship’ with another method of weather prediction, astrometeorology, which uses the movement of the stars to indicate forthcoming weather. The relationship between these methods has been a fundamental part of my research and it appears that predictions made through weather signs may have been compared against those made by astrometeorology to produce a more rigorous and adaptable system.

Texts that deal with ancient weather prediction (and, indeed, meteorological topics more generally) tend not to be widely-read and as a result there is still plenty of work to be done to try to understand how ancient civilizations predicted, used, and explained the weather.

– Michael Beardmore, PhD, University of St. Andrews

Life on research leave

Hello, I’m Alice König, a lecturer in Latin here in the School of Classics. It’s actually a good while since I have done any lecturing, though, because back in 2012 I was awarded a two-year research fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust to enable me to work on a book I am writing about the life and literary output of an important Roman statesman called Sextus Julius Frontinus. I’ve got about seven months of my research leave still to go, so the clock is ticking; but I have been making steady progress, and aim to have a first draft of the book finished by the end of 2015. (If you want to find out more about the book, have a listen to this.)

Research leaveOne of the wonderful things about research is the unexpected directions it often takes you in; and one of the wonderful things about research leave is that you have a certain amount of time to follow unexpected leads up. While researching my chapter on Frontinus’ treatise on military tactics, for instance, I have enjoyed delving into its reception in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, reading the likes of Christine de Pizan and Machiavelli, who were heavily influenced by Frontinus’ work. This has inspired some ideas for future research projects, on the development of military thinking and writing between the ancient, medieval and renaissance worlds. My research on Frontinus’ aqueduct treatise, meanwhile, has involved a lot of familiarisation with the physical landscape of ancient Rome (I may even try to take a trip before the book is finished, to look at some of the aqueducts’ remains for myself); and I have had to learn a lot about Roman law. As part of my approach to his treatise on land surveying, on the other hand, I have been reading quite a bit about conceptual geography, as well as grappling with the technicalities of this complex profession.

Research leave can be lonely. I love teaching, and miss the regular contact with students that it involves. I also find that my teaching often feeds into my research, and vice versa, so they partner each other in invigorating ways. But I have been enjoying the opportunity to concentrate exclusively on my research for an intensive period and the depth of immersion that that involves (also the chance to spend lots of time in the beautiful new Martyrs Kirk Research Library!). Research, of course, is also – at best – always a collaborative process. Much of the time, we collaborate with each other at some remove, by reading other scholars’ works and engaging with their arguments in publications of our own. There is plenty of scope (especially when on research leave) however for collaborating in person, and I have relished the opportunity that my flexibility of time has given me to talk at length with some of my colleagues (for instance, Prof. Jill Harries, who has been generously helping me with some aspects of Roman law) and also with some of our St Andrews PGs whose work overlaps with research interests of my own. I am also running a collaborative research project (funded by the BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grants Scheme) with a wonderful groups of scholars from lots of different universities on Literary Interactions under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian, and that has involved some really stimulating workshops and conferences, with more planned for the next couple of years. Because this collaborative project overlaps with the research focus of my own book, the two have been complementing each other brilliantly. For good measure, I also continue to be involved in a research project I am running with my colleague, Dr Emma Buckley, looking into aspects of our Latin language teaching at St Andrews – so I am keeping in touch with the teaching side of my job that way.

In no time at all, I’ll be back in the lecture hall, thinking about what exam questions to set, and helping my students to decipher Martial’s Epigrams or Tacitus’ Agricola. Thanks to my research leave, I will not only have written the best part of a new book by then; I will also have read and thought a lot about the texts and topics that I am going to spend much of the next decade teaching, so my students will benefit from my time away as much as I have. In the meantime, I have a lot to do! Research is one of those tasks that can expand to fill whatever space you give it, and there are times – when I realise there’s yet more I could/should look into – when I wonder if I will ever get around to putting down that final full-stop. When I do, I will be able to look back on an exciting couple of years in which I have grown as an academic. Research leave isn’t easy, but it’s a great opportunity to reflect on all the different things that one does as a university lecturer – and all the future things that one hopes to achieve.

Alice König, lecturer, University of St. Andrews

Oral use of Greek and Latin: one step further

Flickr: liikennevalo

Classical languages are usually labelled “dead languages” in the sense that they are not the official language of any country and in the sense that they are not spoken nowadays. As you know, teaching classical languages is usually a combination of grammar, practising grammar, and translating a given piece of text. There is often no or little emphasis on speaking Greek or Latin.

Maybe we ourselves, those who teach them, have to bear part of the responsibility for the lack of orality: teachers do not speak Greek and Latin in the class room and they do not make students speak them either.

My interest in the matter of Greek and Latin as live languages has not ceased: it has rather increased. Some of you may have heard that this summer I was in Rome attending a course of spoken Latin; it was a pleasant experience which helped me to give a new push to my desire of improving the knowledge of these two languages by making also an oral use of them.

I also visited Vivarium Novum, the school in Rome in which only Latin (and also some Greek) is spoken, and I spent a whole day with them, attending their classes, a seminar in the afternoon, etc. (it is a residential school, so students live there).

In both places, it was a pleasure to see people communicating in Latin.

Since my return, I have been making, in my two elementary courses (LT 1001 and GK 1001), some oral use of the languages, obviously at a very reduced level, saying only what I know they can understand, but it is a start, and I really feel some improvement among students with respect to former years. The improvement is not only linguistic, but also in the sense of making them lose the fear which written Greek/Latin usually produces in them.

All of us know that there are symposiums, congresses, etc. around the world in which Latin is the used language, and that there are some eminent scholars who can take the microphone and start improvising in Latin / Greek with incredible ease. Of course, we know that Latin and Classical Greek will never have the main resource that makes the learning of the language much easier: a country in which the language is spoken.

I have found that some people use this as an excuse to avoid practising the orality of Greek and Latin (“It’s not spoken in any country, we just have the texts”). We know, but if (as I have witnessed) making an oral use of it helps students to learn it and to lose their fear of it, it is worth trying this technique. British universities have a large and excellent tradition for prose composition, both in Greek and Latin; why not go just one step further?

Dr Juan Coderch, Senior Language Tutor in Greek and Latin, University of St. Andrews
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