Let Aeneas Bee Worne in the Tablet of Your Memorie

Philip Sydney, Defence of Poesie: 

“The incomparable Lacedemonians, did not onelie carrie that kinde of Musicke ever with them to the field, but even at home, as such songs were made, so were they all content to be singers of them: when the lustie men were to tell what they did, the old men what they had done, and the yoong what they would doo. And where a man may say that Pindare many times praiseth highly Victories of small moment, rather matters of sport then vertue, as it may be answered, it was the fault of the Poet, and not of the Poetrie; so indeed the chiefe fault was, in the time and custome of the Greekes, who set those toyes at so high a price, that Philip of Macedon reckoned a horse-race wonne at Olympus, among his three fearfull felicities. But as the unimitable Pindare often did, so is that kind most capable and most fit, to awake the thoughts from the sleepe of idlenesse, to embrace honourable enterprises. Their rests the Heroicall, whose verie name I thinke should daunt all backbiters. For by what conceit can a tongue bee directed to speake evil of that which draweth with him no lesse champions then Achilles, Cirus, Aeneas, Turnus, Tideus, Rinaldo, who doeth not onely teache and moove to a truth, but teacheth and mooveth to the most high and excellent truth: who maketh magnanimitie and justice, shine through all mistie fearfulnesse and foggie desires.

Who if the saying of Plato and Tully bee true, that who could see vertue, woulde be woonderfullie ravished with the love of her bewtie. This man setteth her out to make her more lovely in her holliday apparell, to the eye of anie that will daine, not to disdaine untill they understand. But if any thing be alreadie said in the defence of sweete Poetrie, all concurreth to the mainteining the Heroicall, which is not onlie a kinde, but the best and most accomplished kindes of Poetrie. For as the Image of each Action stirreth and instructeth the minde, so the loftie Image of such woorthies, moste enflameth the minde with desire to bee woorthie: and enformes with counsaile how to bee woorthie. Onely let Aeneas bee worne in the Tablet of your memorie, how hee governeth himselfe in the ruine of his Countrey, in the preserving his olde Father, and carrying away his religious Ceremonies, in obeying Gods Commaundment, to leave Dido, though not onelie all passionate kindeness, not even the humane consideration of vertuous gratefulnesse, would have craved other of him: how in stormes, how in sports, how in warre, how in peace, how a fugitive, how victorious, how besieged, how beseiging, how to straungers, how to Allies, how to enemies, how to his owne. Lastly, how in his inwarde selfe, and how in his outwarde government, and I thinke in a minde moste prejudiced with a prejudicating humour, Hee will bee founde in excellencie fruitefull.”

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Imposing Professorial Titles

Mark Pattison, Isaac Casaubon:

“The title ‘Professor of greek’ has an imposing sound. But on closer inspection the reality is very simple, and more than humble. There is no room to infer with the biographers an unnatural precocity in Casaubon. When the age of the wandering native greek teachers was past — Franciscus Portus was one of the last of them, — men who knew greek at all were scarce, and men who knew it profoundly were not to be found. Young men fresh from the schools had at least not forgotten the rudiments. So Xylander (Holtzmann) became ‘Professor’ of greek at Heidelberg, set. 26, and Daniel Heinsius lectured on it at Leyden, aet. 18. The Academy of Geneva was far enough from ranking with the University of Heidelberg, and still less with that of Leyden.”

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If Only I Could Read Homer!

Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, LXVI:

“The most learned Italians of the fifteenth century have confessed and applauded the restoration of Greek literature, after a long oblivion of many hundred years. Yet in that country, and beyond the Alps, some names are quoted; some profound scholars, who in the darker ages were honorably distinguished by their knowledge of the Greek tongue; and national vanity has been loud in the praise of such rare examples of erudition. Without scrutinizing the merit of individuals, truth must observe, that their science is without a cause, and without an effect; that it was easy for them to satisfy themselves and their more ignorant contemporaries; and that the idiom, which they had so marvellously acquired was transcribed in few manuscripts, and was not taught in any university of the West. In a corner of Italy, it faintly existed as the popular, or at least as the ecclesiastical dialect. The first impression of the Doric and Ionic colonies has never been completely erased: the Calabrian churches were long attached to the throne of Constantinople: and the monks of St. Basil pursued their studies in Mount Athos and the schools of the East. Calabria was the native country of Barlaam, who has already appeared as a sectary and an ambassador; and Barlaam was the first who revived, beyond the Alps, the memory, or at least the writings, of Homer. He is described, by Petrarch and Boccace, as a man of diminutive stature, though truly great in the measure of learning and genius; of a piercing discernment, though of a slow and painful elocution. For many ages (as they affirm) Greece had not produced his equal in the knowledge of history, grammar, and philosophy; and his merit was celebrated in the attestations of the princes and doctors of Constantinople. One of these attestations is still extant; and the emperor Cantacuzene, the protector of his adversaries, is forced to allow, that Euclid, Aristotle, and Plato, were familiar to that profound and subtle logician.  In the court of Avignon, he formed an intimate connection with Petrarch, the first of the Latin scholars; and the desire of mutual instruction was the principle of their literary commerce. The Tuscan applied himself with eager curiosity and assiduous diligence to the study of the Greek language; and in a laborious struggle with the dryness and difficulty of the first rudiments, he began to reach the sense, and to feel the spirit, of poets and philosophers, whose minds were congenial to his own. But he was soon deprived of the society and lessons of this useful assistant: Barlaam relinquished his fruitless embassy; and, on his return to Greece, he rashly provoked the swarms of fanatic monks, by attempting to substitute the light of reason to that of their navel. After a separation of three years, the two friends again met in the court of Naples: but the generous pupil renounced the fairest occasion of improvement; and by his recommendation Barlaam was finally settled in a small bishopric of his native Calabria. The manifold avocations of Petrarch, love and friendship, his various correspondence and frequent journeys, the Roman laurel, and his elaborate compositions in prose and verse, in Latin and Italian, diverted him from a foreign idiom; and as he advanced in life, the attainment of the Greek language was the object of his wishes rather than of his hopes. When he was about fifty years of age, a Byzantine ambassador, his friend, and a master of both tongues, presented him with a copy of Homer; and the answer of Petrarch is at one expressive of his eloquence, gratitude, and regret. After celebrating the generosity of the donor, and the value of a gift more precious in his estimation than gold or rubies, he thus proceeds: ‘Your present of the genuine and original text of the divine poet, the fountain of all inventions, is worthy of yourself and of me: you have fulfilled your promise, and satisfied my desires. Yet your liberality is still imperfect: with Homer you should have given me yourself; a guide, who could lead me into the fields of light, and disclose to my wondering eyes the spacious miracles of the Iliad and Odyssey. But, alas! Homer is dumb, or I am deaf; nor is it in my power to enjoy the beauty which I possess. I have seated him by the side of Plato, the prince of poets near the prince of philosophers; and I glory in the sight of my illustrious guests. Of their immortal writings, whatever had been translated into the Latin idiom, I had already acquired; but, if there be no profit, there is some pleasure, in beholding these venerable Greeks in their proper and national habit. I am delighted with the aspect of Homer; and as often as I embrace the silent volume, I exclaim with a sigh, Illustrious bard! with what pleasure should I listen to thy song, if my sense of hearing were not obstructed and lost by the death of one friend, and in the much-lamented absence of another. Nor do I yet despair; and the example of Cato suggests some comfort and hope, since it was in the last period of age that he attained the knowledge of the Greek letters.'”

My Friends Are the Enemies of My Studies

Mark Pattison, Isaac Casaubon:

“The diary begins again to echo with groans over time running to waste. He tells Lipsius that he is driven to do his translation of Polybius as the sheets pass through the press, ‘from want of time. The greater part of my day is wasted upon wretched nothings in this busy capital, busy because all the men have nothing to do.’ Day after day the entry in the diary is, ‘This day, too, my friends have made me lose! amici studiorum meorum inimici.‘ [My friends are the enemies of my studies.]‘ Aug. 3, 1601, O woe, O wretchedness, all study is at an end for me, how much of each day do I spend in reading, each day do I say, a whole week is gone, a whole month, and I can hardly get to look at a book.’ The wailngs of Montpellier are revived, but upon a greater stage. Being a sort of court pensioner, Casaubon too is part of the court. He has to wait upon the king; to wait, a good deal, upon Rosny; upon various grands seigneurs, a little in his own affairs, much in those of his friends. He began to experience the annoyances which await one who is supposed to stand well with men in power. ‘This morning my friends ad proceres me rapuerunt negotiorum suorum causa!’ [They took me away to see some aristocrats for the sake of their advancing their own affairs.]”

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The Corrupting Influence of Translation

Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise:

“Another field for the Pre-Raphaelite influence was in translating. Homer and Virgil were the pillars of an Eton education; it would be hard to derive more pleasure then or now than we obtained from reading them. But we read them with the help of two official cribs, Butcher and Lang for Homer, Mackail for Virgil. Lang believed that Homer must be translated into the nearest English equivalent which was an Anglo-Saxon prose reminiscent of the Sagas. He tried to manage on a Bronze-Age vocabulary, and the Mediterranean clarity of the Odyssey was blurred by a Wardour Street Nordic fog. Homer, in short, was slightly Wagnerized. Mackail, who had married Burne-Jones’s daughter, gave to his Virgil an eightyish air, the lacrimae rerum spilled over and his Christian attitude to paganism, that it was consciously pathetic and incomplete, like an animal that wishes it could talk, infected everything which he translated with a morbid distress. Dido became a bull-throated Mater Dolorosa by Rossetti. His translations from the Greek Anthology, one of the sacred books of the inner culture, the very soil of the Eton lilies, were even more deleterious. They exhaled pessimism and despair, an overripe perfection in which it was always the late afternoon or the last stormy sunset of the ancient world, in which the authentic gloom of Palladas was outdone by that attributed to Simonides, Callimachus, or Plato. Meleager was the typical Pre-Raphaelite lover.

To put it in another way, a sensitive Etonian with a knowledge of Homer and Virgil through these translations and a good ear, would be unable to detect in poems like Tithonus, Ulysses, or the Lotus Eaters any note foreign to the work of Homer and Virgil. If he had been told that ‘a spirit haunts the year’s last hours’ was a word for word translation of Virgil, he would have accepted the fact. The two classics had been ‘romanticised’ for him, impregnated with the cult of strangeness, of the particular rather than the general and of the conception of beauty characteristic of the Aesthetic Movement as something akin to disease and evil.”

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Advice to Students: Give Terence a Good Thumbing

Mark Pattison, Isaac Casaubon

“Of his children in general the diary says, in 1607, ‘They are almost all great troubles to me, some of them because they are always ill, some because they make no progress either in virtue or in letters.’ He is in fear that more of them will follow John’s example. This grievous disappointment was not to extend to Meric. Meric, at the date when this wail was wrung from the desponding father, was only seven. In the following year, aet. 8, he was sent to school at Sedan, under Samuel Neran. Here he remained till 1611, when he rejoined his father in England. Isaac lived to see Meric confirmed, but not to see developed in him those learned tastes and accomplishments which might have consoled the father for the degeneracy of the rest of the children. The only letter which Meric preserved of those written to him in his school-days, is so characteristic of the writer that it is thought right to give it. It is dated Paris, September 18, 1609.

‘Meric, I am glad that you write to me tolerably often, and shall be more so if you do so oftener. I shall, however, expect each letter to show some progress since the one which preceded it. I see that you are beginning to compose latin themes, but not without bad mistakes. Learn something every day. Exercise your memory diligently. If Terence is one of the books you read at school, I desire that you will commit it to memory from beginning to end. No one will ever speak latin well who has not thumbed Terence. Write me word if you read Terence, and what it is you read at school. Above all, be good, fear God, pray for father, mother, brothers, and sisters. Honour your teachers, and be obedient to them. Be careful not to waste time. If you do this, God will bless your studies. I have written to the master, and to the person with whom you board, not to let you want for anything. Your mother sends her remembrances, and desires you will, from her; kiss Mrs. Capell’s hands, as I do also. Your father, Is. Casaubon. Remember me to the Hotomans.'”

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Post-Classical Intellectualism in the Latin Classroom

The following is a guest editorial submitted by Zachary Taylor, a middle and high school Latin teacher:

My Advanced Placement Latin students, in their third week into the Aeneid, just read Helen Bacon’s excellent article, “The Aeneid as a Drama of Election.”

Bacon interprets Rome’s most famous poem as a visionary epic of transcendence, wherein the hero, Aeneas, “is the bearer of a divine and specifically national mission, first resisted, ultimately accepted.” Unlike in the Iliad and the Odyssey, personal heroism and fulfillment take a notable back-seat to the predestined establishment of the Roman people, and thus Aeneas must constantly set aside his personal desires and ambitions to follow the decrees of Fate. As he slowly loses his “humanity,” as Bacon puts it, he simultaneously becomes divine. “Aeneas is a hero destined for immortality,” she writes.

For perhaps the first time in their academic careers, my students had encountered in Bacon’s article inscrutable ideas and concepts such as transcendence, metaphysics, deification, and election. They were at a loss to comprehend the notion that in the Aeneid, we encounter “not pure metaphysics but metaphysical poetry” that manifests a “poetized vision of the transcendent reality of the soul” articulated by Plato, the Neoplatonists, Plotinus, and Pseudo-Dionysius. Such philosophical and conjectural ideas went entirely over their heads, not because they were unable to understand them—my Advanced Placement students are extremely smart—but because never before had they been exposed to late antique intellectual history. While they can discuss quite competently the ideas of Socrates and Cicero, whom they encountered in history and literature classes, they had not, until our Latin class, ever heard of Plotinus and only vaguely knew of Augustine. I must have sounded like an utter quack.

Even when I tried to relate Bacon’s interpretation of the Aeneid to the letters of Saint Paul, my students were at a loss. In fact, I believe they mistakenly assumed that I had started to preach and that our discussion of metaphysics, the afterlife, and deification had taken an unwanted Christian turn in which I aimed to defend Paul and the notion of transcendence. I quickly realized that my attempt to approach the Aeneid, a classical first century BCE text, via the late antique lens of Neoplatonism and the Christian lens of Pauline mysticism had utterly failed. They did not have a clue what they could add to or even contest in Bacon’s thesis.

What explains this? It is far too easy to say that my students could not handle literary criticism informed by unfamiliar philosophical or theological ideas. They can. Had they been exposed to late antique history and the period’s philosophy and philosophical theology, and had they learned about the numerous connections between the late antique Roman world, Christianity, and the classical era they know so well, they would have participated in our conversation with aplomb.

I venture that our failed discussion stems from a recurrent lacuna in Latin curriculum in secondary schools and universities across the country. For quite some time now, “classical studies” has stood apart from “late antique and medieval studies,” and in particular the field has made a concerted effort to distance itself from the study of Christianity. Simon Goldhill, in a paper titled “Classics in the Providential Order of the World” presented at the 2017 Society for Classical Studies annual conference, noted how, after a close-knitted affair between classics and Christian theology, both of which the same nineteenth century practitioners often studied, the disciplines have taken radically different paths. “Modern classicists in general are loathe to give theology the attention it requires in the development of our discipline,” he added, “and such a repression has consequently hugely distorted the field of reception studies.” Beyond Goldhill’s more narrow critique in relation to theology and reception studies, I wish to call attention to the study of late antique intellectual history, and by connection Christianity, in Latin classrooms. While I by no means wish to advocate for the study of theology over and above or even in between the study of Virgil and Caesar in the Advanced Placement curriculum, I do want to promote a broader, more inclusive advanced Latin curriculum that exposes students to the complex intellectual (and entirely Roman) world of Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome in addition to that of Cicero, Caesar, and Virgil.

Why? Beyond the obvious fact that such a curriculum provides students with a more comprehensive portraiture of the ancient world and Latin literature, it also helps students understand and substantively interact with claims like those made by Helen Bacon. In other words, a Latin curriculum that has students read Augustine opens interpretative doors to the Aeneid they may not have opened otherwise.

Catherine Conybeare, in a paper titled “Virgil, Creator of the World,” which she also presented at the 2017 Society for Classical Studies conference, claimed that “the intellectual heritage of classicists is radically incomplete if we continue to ignore the pressure of the cultural divisions of the fourth and fifth centuries on how we write and read and, indeed, select our objects of concern today.” As Conybeare made clear in her paper, the study of classical Latin texts in the nascent Christian cultural milieu of the fifth century—she drew attention to Macrobius’s Saturnalia—incorporated new interpretive techniques molded by debates within Christianity itself. “Pressure from the cultural and intellectual ferment of Christianity in the Western empire,” Conybeare said, “tacitly shapes the work of Macrobius”; moreover, his description of the reader’s approaches to the “holy recesses (adyta)” of the Aeneid, which Macrobius calls “sacred (sacri poematis)” (Saturnalia 1.24.13), parallels Augustine’s approach to biblical hermeneutics in Confessions (3.5.9). Ultimately, Conybeare concluded that Macrobius’s Saturnalia “provides a model for readers of classical texts in . . . the twenty-first century.” Macrobius, while a non-Christian representative of an intellectual culture that revered Rome’s pre-Christian literary past, nevertheless adopts interpretive tools inflected by Christianity in his analyses of a canonical classical text.

We must also remember that, on the other end of the spectrum, non-Christian authors exerted a massive influence on the new Christian intellectual elite of the fourth and fifth centuries. Augustine, like many of his episcopal peers, received a standard Roman education that led him to a career at Rome as a professor of rhetoric. Evidence of his instruction in philosophy, rhetoric, and poetry abounds in his work, wherein he often explicitly discusses canonical texts, such as the Aeneid (Confessions 2.2) or confronts philosophical ideas from the classical Roman period, such as Cicero’s definition of the res publica, the focal point of City of God Book XIX. In fact, apropos rhetoric as it concerns the didactic role of the Christian preacher, Augustine was part of an entire movement, led by Christian bishops educated in the typical fashion for Roman elites, who accepted the authority of classical rhetoric yet abhorred its sophistic tendencies. In response, they tried to create “an oasis of literary culture,” in the words of Peter Brown, that was unselfconscious, unacademic, uncompetitive, and devoted to the comprehension of biblical texts, evidently in opposition to the non-Christian intellectual milieu. In short, just as Macrobius (perhaps unselfconsciously) employed Christian interpretive techniques in his literary analyses, late antiquity’s Christian thinkers appropriated what they found useful in classical literary culture and dispensed with what they perceived was harmful.

I do not think that secondary school Latin students should learn all this. I nevertheless call attention to this rich period of Roman intellectual history because, like Conybeare, I contend that late antiquity’s “cross-disciplinary approach,” as it were, to the study of classical texts like the Aeneid offers a model for Latin educators just as well as readers or scholars. Latin teachers more familiar with late antiquity can, in turn, expose their students in the years prior to advanced Latin to the philosophical, literary, and theological ideas of late antiquity, not merely because well-rounded future classicists should know this information, but also because such an approach aids them in their own comprehension and analysis of traditional Latin texts from the first century BCE and the early years of the Principate. Armed with such interpretive tools, students could more fully appreciate the finer points made by scholars such as Helen Bacon.

I should note that some Latin textbooks already take seriously the idea that Latin students should learn more about late antiquity and the post-classical life of Latin, if for somewhat different reasons. Most notably, Bolchazy-Carducci’s Latin for the New Millennium series, written by Milena Minkova and Terence Tunberg, introduces students to adapted Latin texts from Augustine, Boethius, and Ammianus Marcellinus as early as Level 1. Brief introductions to these authors’ lives, which expose students to the historical and literary contexts in which they wrote, accompany the selections students are expected to translate. The Level 2 textbook, which commences with an introduction to the subjunctive mood (trial by fire, Level 2 students!), takes as its thematic foci post-classical Latin in medieval and Renaissance contexts. Students therefore read selections from the Venerable Bede, Einhard, and Petrarch, and learn about medieval Britain, the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Renaissance reception of Cicero, respectively. Level 2 even includes excerpts from Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda on the New World and from Nicolaus Copernicus on “the revolution of the celestial bodies.” With a textbook series such as Latin for the New Millennium, which I use in my own Latin classroom, a Latin teacher can craft a curriculum extraordinarily rich in late antique intellectual history.

The alterations to the conventional secondary school Latin curriculum that I propose here may not be at the top of every teacher’s priorities. Many of us are concerned with Latin’s exclusionary and elitist reputation, with its whiteness and maleness, and with the appropriation of classical culture by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Others seek to transform Latin curriculum in other, more fundamental ways, such as those committed to comprehensible input. I, too, share these sociopolitical and curricular concerns, and have tried to address issues of race and racism, white supremacy, and sexism in my Latin classes. I have also tried to speak Latin more frequently, convinced that my students and I can truly benefit from comprehensible input. By no means, then, do I wish to imply that exposure to late antique intellectual history will radically transform our Latin classes in the most relevant or consequential ways. I do, however, believe that students can benefit considerably from a more inclusive Latin curriculum that does not shy away from Latin’s extensive post-classical, Christian life out of fear that such a curriculum would stray uncomfortably into non-secular academic realms. To conclude, I cite Macrobius once more—an excerpt from his Saturnalia that Catherine Conybeare quoted at the start of her paper at last year’s conference, which I shared with my Advanced Placement students after we dissected Helen Bacon’s “The Aeneid as a Drama of Election.” On the Aeneid, Macrobius writes:

Videsne eloquentiam omni varietate distinctam? quam quidem mihi videtur Virgilius non sine quodam praesagio . . . de industria permiscuisse, idque non mortali sed divino ingenio praevidisse: atque adeo non alium ducem secutus quam ipsam rerum omnium matrem naturam hanc praetexuit velut in musica concordiam dissonorum. Quippe si mundum ipsum diligenter inspicias, magnam similitudinem divini illius et huius poetici operis invenies.

Do you see the eloquence, distinct in every kind of variety? Indeed, Virgil seems to me to have mixed assiduously with a certain prescience that which he foresaw with a divine, not mortal talent: and thus having followed no other guide except nature itself, the mother of all things, he wove together this harmony of discordant sounds just as if it were music. Indeed, if you look carefully at the world itself, you will discover a profound similarity between the creation of the divine and that of this poet.

Saturnalia, 5.1.18-19, my translation.


Zachary Taylor is a new Latin teacher at an independent school in Delaware. In between his Latin classes, he draws up plays he hopes will help his middle school boys basketball team win a few close contests.

St Augustine Teaching Rhetoric (1)

“St. Augustine Teaching Rhetoric.” By Jan van Scorel. 1495-1562.


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