Bellum Incivile: Manicula’s Holiday Tweets

Another text tentatively attributed to Caesar was discovered along with the fragments of the De Silvis and an appendix to De Bello Gallico. This is almost surely the lost Bellum Incivile.
13.4 Since his wife and son had taken a trip, Manicula stayed at home in the White House during the holidays. Having shut down the government and dismissed John Kelly, he sent out many shameful messages and absurdities to the public via his Twitter account: that he was miserable and all alone waiting for the Democrats to come back to him and make a deal; that The Wall and border security are two different things;* that everyone should give thanks to Saudi Arabia because they said they might bring help to an unfortunate nation; that the republic was doing well because of strong Borders, the return of the Army from war, and trade agreements; that he would prohibit all people from crossing into the territory and make new laws about immigrants who seek safety in flight, unless the Democrats gave him a lot of money to build the Wall; that the Fake News had gone crazy because he had signed soldiers’ red MAGA hats, which he denied bringing into theater; and that thanks should be given to Sean Parnell of Fox and Friends** for praising he and Melania after they visited the troops.***
It is said that a wise and noble politician does not dedicate himself to trivial conflicts and self-promotion, but to the administration of the republic. Manicula was neither wise nor noble.

13.4 Cum uxor filiusque iter fecissent, Manicula solus in Regia Candida dies festos manebat. Administratione rei publicae impedita Cellioque dimisso multas litteras indecoras et ineptias avibus caeruleis ad cives misit: se miserum ac persolum dum Democratici negotiandi causa ad se redirent expectare; Murum et praesidia finium inter se differre;* gratias Arabiae, quae se auxilium civitati miserae fortasse ferre posse diceret, omnibus agendas; rem publicam propter Praesidia fortia et Exercitus a bello revocationem et commericia esse salvam; se omnes ab finibus prohibiturum novasque leges de confugis, qui fuga salutem peterent, iussurum nisi Democraticos sibi multam pecuniam ad murum aedificandum darent; Falsam Famam propterea quod sanguinicis militum mitris, quas ab se ad belli sedes portari negaret, nomen notavisset conturbatam esse; gratias S. Parnello, Volpi Amico,** agendas quod is*** et Melaniam militibus salutatis laudaret.

Virum civilem, qui vere sapiens ac nobilis sit, se non otiosis disputationibus et iactationi sed administrationi rei publicae dare dicitur. Manicula erat neque sapiens neque nobilis.

* There could be a problem with the text here since a wall is quite literally a type of border security, and Manicula was promoting it as such during that time.
** Volpis Amicus, sometimes written Volpis ac Comites, is thought to be a guild of pseudo-orators who spread propaganda around the republic on behalf of Manicula.
*** The original message was uncovered along with this section of Bellum Incivile, and it appears Manicula used a nominative form of the personal pronoun instead of an accusative (‘he praised Melania and I.’ This instance of ‘is’ could be an attempt by the author to mimic Manicula’s unusual rhetorical style.


Bellum Incivile: Government Shutdown Over the Wall

Another text tentatively attributed to Caesar was discovered along with the fragments of the De Silvis and an appendix to De Bello Gallico. This is almost surely from the lost Bellum Incivile.

8.3 For reasons I already mentioned, Manicula resolved to keep people of color out of the homeland by means of executive orders and an expensive wall. Since he feared that people fleeing mortal danger and actual coyotes— amazing to say!– might cross the border and that heavy bags full of drugs might be thrown into the territory, he devised a new kind of wall, through which it possible to look, but not to enter, and decreed that sharpened stakes of steel be placed at regular, two-foot intervals into the ground. Disturbed by the new and rather unusual appearance of the wall, the citizens laughed and made fun of it, saying this plan for border security was childish and stupid and that the wall looked just like a medieval fortification. 

8.3 Manicula, his de causis quas commemoravi, coloratas gentes a patria decretis ac muro magni pretii prohibere constituit. Qui veritus ne gentes periculum effugientes et veri lupi, mirabile dictu, transirent saccique tumentes multis potionibus in fines conicerentur, formam muri novam, quo perspici posset, sed non intrari, excogitavit decrevitque ut trabes ferri praeacutae paribus intervallis, distantes inter se binos pedes, in solo collocarentur. Nova atque inusitatiore specie commoti cives inridebant atque increpitabant vocibus, consilium finium tuendorum puerile et stultum murumque simillimum forma munitionibus perveteribus esse.

8.4 Moved by great anger because of these words, Manicula replied that the wall should be referred to as a Beautiful Steel Slat Barrier; that the government must be shut down until the senators provide funding for his wall; and that in the meantime, according to his usual custom, he would put everyone who crossed the border into freezers and cages.

8.4 Magna adfectus ira his verbis Manicula ad ea respondit: murum Claustrum Trabium Ferrearum Pulchrum appellandum; rem publicam non administrandam, nisi senatores pecuniam publicam ex aerario ad murum struendum darent. Se interim consuetudine sua omnes, qui in fines transirent, in arcas gelatas ac caveas mitturum.


Bellum Incivile: Ryan Zinke Profits From His Position


Another text tentatively attributed to Caesar was discovered along with the fragments of the De Silvis and an appendix to De Bello Gallico. This is almost surely the lost Bellum Incivile.

3.2 Even though he had no understanding of physical science, Ryan Zinke kept telling everyone he was a geologist and oversaw the health of the seas, rivers, mountains, and forests. As soon as he was appointed by Manicula, he began to scheme and turn over in his mind how he could make the most money during his term. Having abandoned science, he denied that terrible storms had arisen because of global warming and that lakes had been polluted because of man with the result that he was calling the whole nation to death and devastation, thinking the earth should be destroyed rather than conserved. Manicula approved of this travesty for a rather long time.

3.2 Cum ignarus physicorum esset, R. Zincus omnibus se geologum esse semper praedicebat salutique marium et rivorum et montium et silvorum praeerat. Simul atque a Manicula praefectus est, quaerere et in animo agitare coepit quomodo maximam quattuor annis pecuniam facere posset. Scientia relicta miserandas tempestates caelo ob aestum orbis coortas lacosque ob homines corruptos adeo negabat ut rem publicam universam ad exitum et vastitatem vocaret, existimans tellus delendum quam conservandum. Manicula hunc malum diutius fovebat.

“How Was the [Expensive Classics Event]?”: Income Inequality and the Classics

This is a companion to the earlier essay, “This is Not My Beautiful House: Classics, Class, and Identity”, which elicited a variety of personal responses from classicists and students about the myriad problems in the discipline. My contribution here, specifically, is to further articulate and contextualize my response to Amy Pistone’s asking “what can individuals maybe do to help?”


The title of this article is at the heart of my response to the question on what can be done to help to address the class-based challenges of studying the Classics. “How was the ________?”, whether the blank space is filled in with conference, study abroad term, workshop, or something else, is a question of access. Encoded in this question is the fact that one person had this access while another didn’t. It is an innocuous question, with an innocuous reply, that contextually is a perfect representation of Classics’ self-perpetuating economic inequalities. And these inequalities were regular features of my studies.

My formal involvement with Classics began when I was twenty-one years old, though in high school I had developed an interest in Greek and Roman history and was even able to take year of Latin before the program was cut. In my first years of college, I focused on social science courses in psychology, sociology, and political science, with an interest in labor relations. But after donating three years to these subjects, I didn’t feel the same love for learning them that I did when I was reading about the Peloponnesian Wars or Roman politics in my free time.

So, I switched to Classics, starting Latin coursework right away and Greek later (along with French in anticipation of graduate work). Now in my early thirties, I am still involved with the field as an adjunct instructor teaching Greek and Roman Civilization (while missing teaching Latin), and I also work outside of academia to pay the bills. At times I feel like I belong, but at other times I feel like a stranger in a strange land. This was the case from the beginning.

During both my undergraduate and graduate pursuits in Classics, I found myself uttering some variant of this “how was the ______?” quote almost every time I’d gone a week without seeing a classmate—or so it felt. On the same day that I was excited to use a coupon for $1 off the price of a pizza on my way home from an eight-hour shift at a liquor store, a classmate was, for example, touring the Alamo after the SCS Conference. Another classmate brought back some fantastic replica pottery and coins from an 8-week study abroad event in Greece a month or so earlier; I remember thinking at the time that the cost to bring the vases back on a plane was probably more than my disposable income for the month.

Asking about someone else’s experiences at a conference, study-abroad program, or workshop was at the same time painful and embarrassing. I received an (often thorough, vivid) account of a classmate’s engagement with the field in a way that I could only rarely—if ever—experience, and simultaneously I gave responses which made it abundantly clear that I couldn’t participate. Despite this, I was still genuinely interested in others’ more extensive involvement with Classics, through some combination of intellectual interest, living vicariously through my classmates, and being polite.

In upper-level undergrad and graduate courses, I just hoped the familiar classmates wouldn’t return with a question about my own travels. They almost always did, and I became better at changing the subject after a quick “no.”

These types of conversations—dialogues of coded income inequality—were not unusual to me even outside of academia, though. During my childhood in two small towns in the Midwest, my family toed the poverty line, between lower middle class and “lowest” (how’s that for an official socio-economic designation?). From elementary school onward, I listened to stories of Disneyworld during summer vacation and spring break trips to the beach. Later I would become a “first-generation” college student; I use quotation marks because my father attended college, but was not a part of my life past my infancy.

P. Mich 8.471 – Letters of Claudius Terentianus*

“My mother sold our linens for an as so I could go to Alexandria.”

mater m[e]a no[bi]s assem vendedi[t] lentiamina / [u]t veniam alexandrie

*My interests are in non-elite (“vulgar”) Latin; sorry, Cicero, Virgil, et al. Whenever possible I opt to use the words of people outside of Rome’s literary elite.


At any rate, by the time I arrived at a state university—after some time at a community college—I was quite accustomed to hearing about things I couldn’t do or have. Thankfully, my mother didn’t have to sell her linens so that I could leave town when the time came, unlike Claudius Terentianus’ mom. We have student loans for that now.

It wasn’t until graduate school and afterward that inequality in Classics, which had previously been confined in my cognitive space to my inability to contribute to travel-related conversations, became a more substantive obstacle. To be clear, it did not come from the faculty, classmates, or department at my state school, all of whom were wonderfully accommodating and committed to widening access to the historically isolated field.


The inequalities became increasingly problematic during the first year of my M.A. program, as I began to focus more seriously on a career profile and CV that would get me beyond the first rounds of application purges. Diving into research on proper Classics CVs, newly hired faculty credentials, and all of the other things that repel students from graduate schools and higher education, it quickly hit me like a speeding chariot that I would not have even the opportunity for success in this discipline unless I could afford to sacrifice thousands of dollars (in addition to regular expenses), and extensive time away from a family that at many times needed me nearby.

Continue reading ““How Was the [Expensive Classics Event]?”: Income Inequality and the Classics”

Newly Discovered Text: Caesar on Education and News in Finland

The following text, surmised to be a lost appendix to the well known De Bello Gallico, presents some general facts about education and fake news in Northern Europe for an audience of the Republic far removed from such mundane concerns. The previous section on forestry can be found here.

C. Julius Caesar (?), De Silvis. Edited by Dani Bostick.

1.5 In Finland schools are very different from prisons and for this reason seem rather unusual to foreigners. It is permitted to walk and play outside rather often so that teachers, who are considered to be almost gods and receive the greatest honor among their people, can keep students in a happy state of mind. When students learn, their bodies are calm not because they fear punishment or are asleep but because they delight in knowledge. They enjoy excellent lunches consisting of small fish, sausages, cheese, and fruit so that bad nutrition does not diminish their strength and enthusiasm. And none of this originates in factories far away, but in neighboring gardens and fields. The state prepares for slaughter in schools in proportion to the danger of this possibility; since there is no danger of this type of situation, they have nothing to prepare for. This is the greatest glory to Finland.

1.5 In Finlandia scholae dissimillimae carceribus atque ob eam causam inusitatioresque barbaris sunt. licet in locis apertis saepius errare ludereque ut magistri, qui paene deorum habentur loco maximamque inter suos ferunt laudem, animi felicitate discipulos contineant. Cum hi docent, corpora eorum neque timore poenarum neque somnio, sed delectationibus scientiae immota sunt. gustant prandia optima, quae in pisculis et tomaculis et caseo et pomis consistunt, ne malus victus vires studiumque diminuat. nec quicquam in remota fabrica, sed in hortis et agris vicinis nascitur. Civitas pro magnitudine periculi caedem in scholis parat. Quoniam nullum periculum caedis est, nihil parandum est. Finlandiae maxima laus est.

1.6 The leader of Finland can read and understands everything easily even without pictures. When he hears gossip or a rumor, he does not communicate it publicly because it has been discovered that fearful and ignorant people are scared by rumors and sometimes believe false words. The leader avoids driving his citizens to greater madness and conveys the truth to the people. For in Finland they do not think it is appropriate to deceive or manipulate with deceitful lies. For this reason the leader of Finland is held in high regard not only at home home but also among all nations.

1.6 Dux Finlandiae legere potest omniaque etiam sine picturis faciliter intellegit. Cum rumorem aut famam accepit, publice non communicat, quod saepe homines temerarios atque imperitos falsis rumoribus terreri et falsis verbis interdum credere cognitum est. Itaque dux cives ad maiorem amentiam impellere vitans veritatem multitudini prodit. Nam in Finlandia nefas esse existimatur subdolis mendaciis fallere aut inducere. Qua de causa dux Finlandiae non solum domi sed etiam apud omnes nationes honore largiter habetur.

Caveat lector: this might be a piece of satire.

David with musicians and dancing children
David with musicians and dancing children, Illuminated psalter, Master of Isabella di Chiaromonte, Matteo Felice

Newly Discovered Text: Caesar on Forestry in Finland

The following text, surmised to be a lost appendix to the well known De Bello Gallico, presents some general facts about the practice of forestry in Northern Europe for an audience of the Republic far removed from such mundane concerns (until, of course, their country burns down around them…).

C. Julius Caesar (?), De Silvis. Edited by Dani Bostick.

1.3 The best part of Gaul is Finland which is inhabited by the most intelligent citizens of all because they most often rake leaves and keep four rakes under every tree. For this reason the Finnish people also surpass everybody in safety, because almost every day they clean their forest with these rakes either when leaves fall from trees or when there is dirt of another kind.

1.3 Optima pars Galliae est Finlandia quam cives intellegentissimi omnium colunt propterea quod saepissimeque folias conradunt atque quattuor pectines sub omni arbore ponunt. Qua de causa Finlandi quoque omnes sapientia praecedunt, quod fere cotidie pectinibus silvas purgant, cum aut foliae ex arboribus cadunt aut illuvies alterius generis est.

1.4 This technique is thought to have originated in Canada, where there are many forests, and brought to Finland, but now those who want to learn more about it do not go there for the sake of learning about it. You see, the entire nation of the Finnish people is extremely devoted to learning and on that account foreign teachers come to Finland so that they might learn to teach well, but they never ask how to keep forests clean on account of their stupidity.

1.4 Haec disciplina in Canada reperta atque in Finlandiam translata esse existimatur, sed nunc, qui diligentius eam rem cognoscere volunt, plerumque illo discendi causa non proficiscuntur. Nam natio est omnis Finlandorum admodum dedita eruditioni, atque ob eam causam barbari magistri veniunt ut bene docere discant, sed ob stultitiam quomodo silvae purgentur numquam rogant.

Dani Bostick teaches high school Latin and an occasional micro-section of ancient Greek in Virginia where she lives with her husband, children, and muppet-like dogs. She has published many collections of Latin mottoes online, has a strong presence as an activist for survivors of sexual violence on twitter, and is available to write, speak, or rabble-rouse.

Caveat lector: this might be a piece of satire.

Finding the Hart from Livre de la Chasse by Gaston Phoebus, Count de Foix.

“This is Not My Beautiful House…”: Classics, Class and Identity

How did I get here?

When Telemachus invites Athena-in-disguise to sit in his hall at the beginning of the Odyssey and he has already complained to her about the suitors, he asks, “Who are you and from where among men? Where is your city and your parents?” (τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; πόθι τοι πόλις ἠδὲ τοκῆες; 1.170). This line is repeated on several occasions during the Odyssey and forms of it echo throughout Greek literature. It even shows up in Roman literature as a bit of a proverb: Seneca has Herakles use this line to hail the dead Claudius when he arrives on Olympus (Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 5). My friend Justin Arft is working on the poetics of this line, exploring how it engages with larger poetic traditions and functions as an authoritative marker for speech. It elicits a particular type of story and signals a special kind of world view.

For me, this line has always also functioned metonymically for social hierarchy. It is an indexing question to establish the addressee’s cultural position. The initial “who” of “who are you” turns out to be a mere introduction, signaling an insufficient framework. The subsequent questions flesh out acceptable parameters for defining this particular “who”: a generic person, a tis, requires a geographical origin (invoking tribal connections as much as spatial associations), a civic entity (the city here is certainly a type of state), and a family. And, given the importance of genealogy in myth and the flexibility of place and state, I think we have a rhetorical structure of increasing importance: space, state, and family. The last question, in epic at least, is about fame and noble birth.

During the past few years, I have been thinking about this question when I find myself out and about in the world, asking and being asked who I am. How we elicit information about people tells us something about how we organize the world in our minds. And how we answer these questions tells us something else about how we view ourselves and our comfort with this view. Social context alters the meaning of deceptively simple words. For instance, when people ask addressees of color where they are from, it often is a coded or subconscious attempt to establish an ‘ethnic identity’ or some hierarchy of citizenship. Who are you and where are you from is always potentially a probe to evaluate political status and social cache.

The functional question that communicates our modern values and social structures is that ubiquitous “What do you do?” This innocuous conversation starter (or staller) is a metonym for our capitalist values: we are defined by what we contribute to society, by what we produce, by how we may be commodified. Of course, we can put this another way: in a ‘post-aristocratic’ world, we are allowed to define ourselves by how we spend our time—what we decide to dedicate our lives to communicates our values. (This second take assumes that we have the power and resources to make these choices in such a way that there is a meaningful correlation between our activity in the world and our values; and, secondly, that vocation and avocation may necessarily overlap.)

Even though the Odyssey is a narrative of disguises and forestalled recognitions, it is one in which the question “who are you, where are you from” also points to established and accepted social boundaries (even if they are eventually transgressed or subverted). When we ask “what do you do”, it seeks to instantiate social relationships. I have spent so much time thinking about this because my life’s work is in a field where the boundary between life and work is blurred to the point of there being almost no distinction. And, although we live in a period where the answer to “what do you do” is more fluid than in the previous generation, the line between the workaday doing and the non-work living is less clear. (And, to be fair, for the working poor and a great number of people throughout the world, the whole notion of such a boundary to begin with is one of incredible privilege.)

My problem is not really with the impact of this fading boundary on me: one of the reasons I avoided pursuing other careers early on is I believed, correctly or not, that my current pursuit would not force some of the same stark choices as others—despite much evidence to the contrary, I still believe that my career as one where we are supposed to think about what life is for (even if we are not often encouraged to do so). My problem is with talking about what I do outside the academy, with naming it, with answering that question, what do you do?

*                                   *                                   *

Odyssey 19.203

“He was like someone speaking many lies similar to the truth.”

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·

Who are you and What do you do? I don’t come from a family of academics. I grew up in a lower middle class, rural area where most high school graduates did not go to college (and where high school graduates were only recently the majority). To say that I have class anxiety about being a Professor, much less a professor of Classics and one of Ancient Greek, is quite the understatement. I rarely use a title outside of work—my self-naming is so muted that when my son grabbed the mail one day and saw something addressed to “Dr. Christensen” he said “you’re a doctor?” To this I responded, “well, kind of.” In his consternation, he looked at the envelope, looked back at his mother—who is a dentist—and said, “wait, boys can be doctors?”

Where are you from? This is a question for people who are out of place, whose dislocation is clear enough as to be recognized before even hearing a name. How did I get here? Leaving home, getting a BA in the humanities, moving to New York and getting a PhD has separated me physically and ethically from all the people I grew up with and it has in many ways alienated me from my family. Anyone who has gone to graduate school knows that the process is intense and transformative intellectually; the part we don’t talk about enough is that it also constitutes a social metamorphosis: you are not only what you do, you are the people you engage with. ‘Who are your people’ and ‘where is your home’ are a critical part of Telemachus’ question—both communicate values and allegiances. Getting a PhD in the Classics complicates answers to both of those questions. The PhD changes the appearance and performance of social class; the rarefied air of that title “the Classics” makes us strangers even among our professorial peers.

The depth of my class and social anxiety is particularly felt in the way I change my answer to the question “what do you do”. When I go to birthday parties for my kids, while talking to other parents I almost always answer, “I am a teacher” and, more often than not, I consciously steer the conversation somewhere else. Part of the reason I do this is I don’t always handle the follow up question well.

True story: I was in a Starbucks in Milton, MA and I saw Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block. At my sister’s urging over text messages (she has seen NKOTB multiple times as an adult), I went and asked for a picture and had a fine conversation going until he asked what I do. I said, “I teach at Brandeis.” To the inevitable “what do you teach?” and the true answer (“Classics. Um, mostly Ancient Greek”) the response was a typical, awkward silence.

knight 2

Continue reading ““This is Not My Beautiful House…”: Classics, Class and Identity”