Give Your Money to The Sportula

Publilius Syrus, 78

“Generosity even devises an excuse for giving”

Benignus etiam causam dandi cogitat.

I am just going to get straight to it. This is a request for money. Not for me. Not for this site. There isn’t going to be a prolonged funding drive and there won’t be any cool canvas tote bags. But this is a plea for money.

I am asking you to support The Sportula. If you don’t know what The Sportula is, you probably have not been active on Classics Twitter for the past year or so, but it is, in my ever so humble opinion, one of the most original, important, and socially minded initiatives to develop in the disciplines of Classical Studies in a generation. It is a collective of graduate students who provide microgrants “ to economically marginalized undergraduates in Classics.” It is original because no one has done it before; it is important because it addresses an overlooked set of needs traditional fellowships and grants can rarely touch; and it is socially minded because it directly addresses issues of equity and inclusion that plague our field.

Big Heart

I don’t want to make this about me (although I will shortly). But Erik and I have never asked for money. We have run this site for the past eight years without support from anyone. We can do this because we are both lucky enough to have full-time, renewable, long-term employment in the fields of classics. If the founders of The Sportula are not inspiration enough for you, but you have ever been amused, educated, enraged, or otherwise distracted from the horrors of life by this website or its twitter feed, please give some money.

If you missed Amy Pistone’s virtual 5K, you can can donate through Go-Fund Me with a single payment; you can become a patron through Patreon and donate a small amount every month; or you can donate through the book auction book on by the phenomenal and dauntless Dr. Liv Yarrow. The twitter feed for our site has alone 23 thousand followers: if every one gave a single dollar a month, we could fund the next generation of Classics alone.

And let me be clear about this. I do not actually know the founders or directors of the Sportula. I have never even exchanged an email with them. But I believe so deeply in what they do and think that it is evidence not merely of great minds but also of great souls that I will gladly make some noise for them.

If we lived in a more perfect world, all students would have the financial means to attend school, buy books, get to class, pay rent. If we lived in a better world, the inability to do any of this would not be tied to historical, structural, and institutional racisms and prejudice. But we do not live in that world. That’s why we need revolutionary vision, a DIY aesthetic, and the courage to ask for help and give it whenever capable. This is why we need The Sportula.


Dicta Catonis 15

“Remember to tell the tale of another’s kindness many times
But whatever kind deed you do for others, keep quiet.”

Officium alterius multis narrare memento;
at quaecumque aliis benefeceris ipse, sileto.


Ok, here’s a story. As I have talked about before, I didn’t come from much money, but I could cut some corners and bend some rules here and there and I didn’t realize how much of that success depended on my race, gender, and sexual orientation until much later in life. The point is, despite this, funding and living in graduate school was hard. In 2001, I started at NYU on a stipend of 13,000.00 dollars a year with no health insurance. I hustled a bit: I worked in the Dean’s office; I was an editorial assistant for the Classical World; I took every tutoring job I could find; and then I taught every summer course they’d give me.

But even with long days which afforded just barely enough time to finish course work, my financial support was a shell game that required credit cards, student loans, and some willful denial. All this fell apart in my fourth year of graduate school when there was an electrical fire that burned out my apartment. I lost everything. No, I did not have renter’s insurance. No, I did not have savings. I had the clothes on my back, a cat who survived the fire (and needed $900.00 in medical treatment, thank you MBNA America), and an equally broke fiancee in dental school. Oh, and 18 thousand dollars in credit card debt. Those years of cutting corners had caught up.

My department bought me a new computer so I could continue my dissertation the very next day. When the red cross assistance turned out to be $200.00 dollars, some graduate student friends raised over 700 dollars at a party so my roommate and I could buy stuff for a renovated place. That was the community I had and it filled me with joy and well-being.

But I still had to face the fact that I was financially insolvent. My future wife and I were able to take out even more student loans (at 6.9% interest, a damn sight better than the 29% APR my credit card had ballooned to after I failed on my monthly payments). I was lucky enough to get a job in the last good year on the market in 2007—but even then we struggled for a few years (starting salary for a Homerist in 2007, 52K a year). I just paid off my final student loan this year at age 40.

When I think back on this ‘success story’, I don’t see a good plan or smart decisions, I see a series of close misses and dumb luck. We got health insurance as part of a graduate student union deal my second year: this meant I could have shoulder surgery. What if something had happened earlier or the insurance company had denied a pre-existing condition? What if there had been one fewer class for me to teach in the summer? What if I had gotten sick? What if I had been robbed while paying my rent for half a year in cash? (This happened to a classmate. And yes, I paid cash to my shady orthodontist land-lord in exchange for never facing a rent increase.) What if I had been arrested and had to pay legal fees (it was NYC, there were reasons)? What if I had not gotten a job right away or not had a supportive partner to help me bear the burden?

And all of these questions come after the question, what if I had been born looking like someone who isn’t me? As human beings, we have an insistent and necessary capability for denial—I mean, we walk around every day acting like we are not going to die and all. But this also means that we deny the essential precarity that attends each of our lives and take credit for the fact that bad shit does not happen every day. This is not a true view of the world. People slip on sidewalks and get concussions; people get cancer; people get treated like shit by other people; shit happens and too much of it is out of our control.

The Sportula is a force of good in the universe, designed and aimed at exerting just a little bit of corrective control. Microgrants may seem minor, but when you can’t make ends meet and need just a little help, they are the thing. This work is small in the every day, but aggregated over time it is transformative. The Sportula is that group of friends who threw a party for a kid whose apartment burned down. But they do it every day for people they don’t know.

Please, give some money to The Sportula. They make me believe in the basic goodness of humankind.


Seneca, De Beneficiis 4

“All generosity hurries—it is characteristic of one who does something willingly to do it quickly. If someone comes to help slowly or drags it out day by day, he does not do it sincerely. And he has thus lost the two most important things: time and a sign of his willing friendship. To be slowly willing is a sign of being unwilling.”

Omnis benignitas properat, et proprium est libenter facientis cito facere; qui tarde et diem de die extrahens profuit, non ex animo fecit. Ita duas res maximas perdidit, et tempus et argumentum amicae voluntatis; tarde velle nolentis est.

Figs in a basket, Fresco (Pompeii)

Classics, the Straight Road to Starvation

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship Vol. 3:

“On the 8th of April, 1777, he [F.A. Wolf] entered his name in the matriculation-book as Studiosus Philologiae. The Pro-Rector, a professor of Medicine, protested: ‘Philology was not one of the four Faculties; if he wanted to become a school-master, he ought to enter himself as a ‘student of Theology’. Wolf insisted that he proposed to study, not Theology, but Philology. He carried his point, and was the first student who was so entered in that university. The date of his matriculation has been deemed an epoch in the History of German Education, and also in the History of Scholarship. He next waited on the Rector, Heyne, to whom he had presented a letter of introduction a year before. Hastily glancing at this letter, Heyne had then asked him, who had been stupid enough to advise him to study ‘what he called philology’. Wolf replied that he preferred ‘the greater intellectual freedom’ of that study. Heyne assured him that ‘freedom’ could nowhere be found, that the study of the Classics was ‘the straight road to starvation’, and that there were hardly six good chairs of philology in all Germany. Wolf modestly suggested that he aspired to fill one of the six; Heyne could only laugh and bid farewell to the future ‘professor of philology’, adding that, when he entered at Gottingen, he would be welcome to attend Heyne’s lectures gratis. When he actually entered, Heyne, who was a busy man, treated him with a strange indifference. However, Wolf put down his name for Heyne’s private course on the Iliad, noted all the books cited in the introductory lecture, gathered all these books around him, and carefully prepared the subject of each lecture, but was so disappointed with the vague and superficial treatment of the subject, that, as soon as the professor had finished the first book, he ceased to attend. In the next semester, he found himself excluded from the course on Pindar. However, he went on working by himself; to save time, he spent only three minutes in dressing, and cut off every form of recreation. At the end of the first year, he had nearly killed himself, and, after a brief change of air, resolved never to work beyond midnight. By the end of the second, he had begun to give lectures on his own account, and, half a year later, was appointed, on Heyne’s recommendation, to a mastership at Ilfeld.”

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A Philologist, a Grammarian, and a Philosopher Go Into a Book…

Seneca, Epistles 108:

“When a philologist, a grammarian, and a philosopher read Cicero’s book On the Republic, each one applies his attention to something different. The philosopher marvels that so many things could be said against justice. When the philologist approaches the same reading, he notes this: that there were two Roman kings, of which one did not have a father and the other lacked a mother. (For there is doubt about Servius Tullius’ mother, and Ancus Martius is said to have been the grandon of Numa, but no father is remembered.) Further, the philologist notes that what we call a ‘dictator’ and read thus described in history was known among the ancients as the ‘magister populi’. That fact remains today in the Augural Books, and is proven by the fact that the one nominated by a dictator is called the ’magister equitum’. The philologist also notes that Romulus died during a disappearance of the sun; that there was a provocatio ad populum even from the kings – thus it is registered in the pontifical books and in Fenestella.

When the grammarian explains the same books, he first puts into his commentary that Cicero says ‘reapse’ for ‘re ipsa’ and is no less inclined to write ‘sepse’ for ‘se ipse’. He then moves on to those things which the custom of our time has changed, just as Cicero says, ‘since we were called from the chalk (calce) by his interruption’, for what we now call ‘chalk’ (creta) was called calce by the ancients.”

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Cum Ciceronis librum de re publica prendit hinc philologus aliquis, hinc grammaticus, hinc philosophiae deditus, alius alio curam suam mittit. Philosophus admiratur contra iustitiam dici tam multa potuisse. Cum adhanc eandem lectionem philologus accessit, hoc subnotat: duos Romanos regesesse quorum alter patrem non habet, alter matrem. Nam de Servi matre dubitatur; Anci pater nullus, Numae nepos dicitur. Praeterea notat eum quem nos dictatorem dicimus et in historiis ita nominari legimus apud antiquos magistrum populi vocatum. Hodieque id extat in auguralibus libris, et testimonium est quod qui ab illo nominatur ‘magister equitum’ est. Aeque notat Romulum perisse solis defectione; provocationem ad populum etiam a regibus fuisse; id ita in pontificalibus libris et Fenestella. Eosdem libros cum grammaticus explicuit, primum [verba expresse] ‘reapse’dici a Cicerone, id est ‘re ipsa’, in commentarium refert, nec minus ‘sepse’, id est ‘se ipse’. Deinde transit ad ea quae consuetudo saeculi mutavit, tamquam ait Cicero ‘quoniam sumus ab ipsa calce eius interpellatione revocati.’ Hanc quam nunc in circo

Shitting on Pope’s Homer

Adam Gopnik writes in a recent New Yorker piece, “Pope’s Homer read like Homer when it was published…” Pope’s Homer was undoubtedly a commercial success, but certainly it failed to impress those who were qualified to judge its merits relative to the Greek original. Pope’s translation is a testament to his thorough saturation in the spirit of the English Augustan spirit, but revealed to his contemporaries a failure to steep himself in the classical springs.

Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life:

“Before I left Kingston school I was well acquainted with Pope’s Homer and the Arabian Nights Entertainments, two books which will always please by the moving picture of human manners and specious miracles: nor was I then capable of discerning that Pope’s translation is a portrait endowed with every merit, excepting that of likeness to the original.”

Matthew Arnold, On Translating Homer:

“Yet it is strictly true that, for want of duly penetrating themselves with the first named quality of Homer, his rapidity, Cowper and Mr. Wright have failed in rendering him; that, for want of duly appreciating the second named quality, his plainness and directness of style and diction, Pope and Mr. Sotheby have failed in rendering him

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson:

“I remember also distinctly, (though I have not for this the authority of my journal,) that the conversation going on concerning Mr. Pope, I took notice of a report which had been sometimes propagated that he did not understand Greek. Lord Bathurst said to me, that he knew that to be false; for that part of the Iliad was translated by Mr. Pope in his house in the country; and that in the mornings when they assembled at breakfast, Mr. Pope used frequently to repeat, with great rapture, the Greek lines which he had been translating, and then to give them his version of them, and to compare them together.”

Sir Leslie Stephen, Alexander Pope:

“It is needless to say that he never became a scholar in the strict sense of the term. Voltaire declared that he could hardly read or speak a word of French; and his knowledge of Greek would have satisfied Bentley as little as his French satisfied Voltaire.”


“But he could say with perfect truth that, ‘thanks to Homer,’ he ‘could live and thrive, indebted to no prince or peer alive.’ The money success is, however, of less interest to us than the literary. Pope put his best work into the translation of the Iliad. His responsibility, he said, weighed upon him terribly on starting. He used to dream of being on a long journey, uncertain which way to go, and doubting whether he would ever get to the end. Gradually he fell into the habit of translating thirty or forty verses before getting up, and then “piddling with it” for the rest of the morning; and the regular performance of his task made it tolerable. He used, he said at another time, to take advantage of the “first heat,” then correct by the original and other translations; and finally to “give it a reading for the versification only.” The statement must be partly modified by the suggestion that the translations were probably consulted before the original. Pope’s ignorance of Greek—an awkward qualification for a translator of Homer—is undeniable. Gilbert Wakefield, who was, I believe, a fair scholar and certainly a great admirer of Pope, declares his conviction to be, after a more careful examination of the Homer than any one is now likely to give, that Pope ‘collected the general purport of every passage from some of his predecessors—Dryden’ (who only translated the first Iliad), ‘Dacier, Chapman, or Ogilby.’ He thinks that Pope would have been puzzled to catch at once the meaning even of the Latin translation, and points out proofs of his ignorance of both languages and of ‘ignominious and puerile mistakes.’”

Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestley, January 27th 1800:

“To read the Latin and Greek authors in their original, is a sublime luxury; and I deem luxury in science to be at least as justifiable as in architecture, painting, gardening, or the other arts. I enjoy Homer in his own language infinitely beyond Pope’s translation of him, and both beyond the dull narrative of the same events by Dares Phrygius; and it is an innocent enjoyment. I thank on my knees, him who directed my early education, for having put into my possession this rich source of delight; and I would not exchange it for anything which I could then have acquired, and have not since acquired.”

Finally, a note on Pope’s theology:

Sir Leslie Stephen, Alexander Pope:

“The old gods, then, were made into stiff mechanical figures, as dreary as Justice with her scales, or Fame blowing a trumpet on a monument. They belonged to that family of dismal personifications which it was customary to mark with the help of capital letters. Certainly they are a dismal and frigid set of beings, though they still lead a shivering existence on the tops of public monuments, and hold an occasional wreath over the head of a British grenadier. To identify the Homeric gods with these wearisome constructions was to have a more serious disqualification for fully entering into Homer’s spirit than even an imperfect acquaintance with Greek, and Pope is greatly exercised in his mind by their eating and drinking and fighting, and uncompromising anthropomorphism. He apologizes for his author, and tries to excuse him for unwilling compliance with popular prejudices. The Homeric theology he urges was still substantially sound, and Homer had always a distinct moral and political purpose. The Iliad, for example, was meant to show the wickedness of quarrelling, and the evil results of an insatiable thirst for glory, though shallow persons have thought that Homer only thought to please.”

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“What sort of speech has fled from the bulwark of your teeth!?”

Thanks for the Homer!

Petrarch, Epistulae Familiares 18.2:

“My dearest man, remembering both my desire and your promise, you gave this book to me, and – what adds more than a little to the gift – you gave it to me, not funneled by some violent channel into another language, but pure and uncorrupted, from the very springs of Greek eloquence, just as it first flowed from Homer’s divine intellect. I consider it the highest gift and, if the true price of the thing be considered, it is one of entirely incalculable value. Nothing more could be added to it if you would bestow along with Homer your gracious presence, with the aid of which I first entered upon the narrow paths of a foreign tongue. Happily would I enjoy your gift, and astonished I would glance the ‘light’ and the ‘visual marvels’ about which Horace writes in his Art of Poetry, 

 Antiphates and Scylla, and the Cyclops with Charybdis.”

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Hunc tu michi, vir amicissime, donasti, promissi tui simul ac desiderii mei memor, quodque non modicum dono adicit, donasti eum non in alienum sermonem violento alveo derivatum, sed ex ipsis greci eloquii scatebris purum et incorruptum et qualis primum divino illi perfluxit ingenio. Summum utique et, si verum rei precium exquiritur, inextimabile munus habeo, cuique nil possit accedere si cum Homero tui quoque presentiam largireris, qua duce peregrine lingue introgressus angustias, letus dono tuo fruerer attonitusque conspicerem “lucem” illam et “speciosa miracula” de quibus in Arte poetica Flaccus ait:

 Antiphatem Scyllamque et cum Cyclope Caribdim.


Creative Acts: “The Shifters”, A Free Movie Plot on the Parthenon Marbles

Turns out, someone already thought of this:



Between X and Homer

Matthew Arnold, On Translating Homer:

“When I say, the translator of Homer should above all be penetrated by a sense of four qualities of his author: — that he is eminently rapid; that he is eminently plain and direct both in the evolution of his thought and in the expression of it, that is, both in his syntax and in his words; that he is eminently plain and direct in the substance of his thought, that is, in his matter and ideas; and, finally, that he is eminently noble; — I probably seem to be saying what is too general to be of much service to anybody. Yet it is strictly true that, for want of duly penetrating themselves with the first named quality of Homer, his rapidity, Cowper and Mr. Wright have failed in rendering him; that, for want of duly appreciating the second named quality, his plainness and directness of style and diction, Pope and Mr. Sotheby have failed in rendering him; that for want of appreciating the third, his plainness and directness of ideas, Chapman, has failed in rendering him; while for want of appreciating the fourth, his nobleness, Mr. Newman, who has clearly seen some of the faults of his predecessors, has yet failed more conspicuously than any of them.

Coleridge says, in his strange language, speaking of the union of the human soul with the divine essence, that this takes place,

Whene’er the mist, which stands ’twixt God and thee,
Defæcates to a pure transparency;

and so, too, it may be said of that union of the translator with his original, which alone can produce a good translation, that it takes place when the mist which stands between them — the mist of alien modes of thinking, speaking, and feeling on the translator’s part — ‘defæcates to a pure transparency,’ and disappears. But between Cowper and Homer — (Mr. Wright repeats in the main Cowper’s manner, as Mr. Sotheby repeats Pope’s manner, and neither Mr. Wright’s translation nor Mr. Sotheby’s has, I must be forgiven for saying, any proper reason for existing) — between Cowper and Homer there is interposed the mist of Cowper’s elaborate Miltonic manner, entirely alien to the flowing rapidity of Homer; between Pope and Homer there is interposed the mist of Pope’s literary artificial manner, entirely alien to the plain naturalness of Homer’s manner; between Chapman and Homer there is interposed the mist of the fancifulness of the Elizabethan age, entirely alien to the plain directness of Homer’s thought and feeling; while between Mr. Newman and Homer is interposed a cloud of more than Ægyptian thickness — namely, a manner, in Mr. Newman’s version, eminently ignoble, while Homer’s manner is eminently noble.”

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