A Gratuitous Display of Ignorance

“I had an experience in the Medieval Latin course which I used to relate to my students as a caution against giving more information than is asked for on an examination. Early in the course, I had written a paper on the late Latin poet Claudian. The final examination presented us with a considerable number of ‘spot passages,’ from which we were to choose a certain number, identify their authors and the work from which they came, and make any apposite comments. I looked over the paper, found that I could identify practically all the quotations, but was presented with a dilemma. One passage was from Claudian. I had exhausted my thoughts on that not very interesting gentleman in my essay, and had no desire to repeat myself. On the other hand, Rand might think it strange if, after writing about him, I passed over the passage. Once again, as in my Greek composition with Jackson, I tried to have my cake and eat it, too. So I wrote a brief note to this effect, ‘I shall not comment upon this passage from Claudian because I have already said all I have to say about him in my term paper.’ When I got back to my room, I checked and found to my chagrin that the passage in question was not from Claudian. I had gratuitously exposed my ignorance.”

-Alston Hurd Chase, Time Remembered p. 134

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