Salaried Professors of Minor Houses

Lucian, On Salaried Posts in Great Houses, 29

“What is this shining wage here?”

τίς ὁ λαμπρὸς οὗτος μισθός ἐστιν;

Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Vespasian 18

“He was the first to establish annual salaries of 100 thousand sesterces for Latin and Greek teachers of rhetoric from the treasury.”

Primus e fisco Latinis Graecisque rhetoribus annua centena constituit

While doing some spring cleaning in my department, I uncovered some salaries for classicists from 1968 (aside: I really love the font on the letterhead):


According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Calculator, the top Departmental salary in 1968 of $14,350 is worth $105,123.88 in modern buying power while the bottom is $66,663.93.

For comparison, as chair of what is now the Department of Classical Studies, I have just done salary reviews and this makes our current low salary 9.1% higher than the 1968 low while our current top salary for an associate professor is 11% lower. Based on current ratio between our highest full and lowest assistant, our maximum salary is between 7% and 9% higher than an equivalent ratio in 1968.

These numbers, of course, ignore that the living costs in the area have skyrocketed over the past generation (now Boston is among the 10th most expensive cities to live in in the US). The historical cost of a home in Massachusetts in 1970 was $79,100 (adjusted to 2000 dollars which would have been $15,737.41 in the buying power of 1970).

[The AAUP has an annual Faculty Compensation Survey here]

Just to make this a little clearer, based on government inflation calculators, an associate professor’s salary for a single year could almost buy a home at the average price of Massachusetts homes in 1970. The current median home value/price in the Boston area is just over $600,000. Again, to translate this back to the halcyon days of 1968, this would a equivalent home price would have been $80,959.24 (which, to make rough calculations, means a five-fold increase in cost).

Plato, Lysis 208b

“They trust some contract worked more than you to do whatever he wants when it comes to the horses and they give him a salary in addition to it?!”

μισθωτῷ μᾶλλον ἐπιτρέπουσιν ἢ σοὶ ποιεῖν ὅ τι ἂν βούληται περὶ τοὺς ἵππους, καὶ προσέτι αὐτοῦ τούτου ἀργύριον τελοῦσιν;

Full confession: I am obviously not an economist. My friend below used the total of all departmental salary cost to make the calculation below.


For comparison, here are numbers from 1984.

According to the US CPI calculator, the top salary of $43,000 here is equivalent to $105,000.00 in current buying power (actually a decrease since 1968) while the minimum for assistant ($20,800) is equivalent to around $51,534.13 (average Massachusetts home prices had risen to $95,500 in 1984).

If these numbers teach us anything its that faculty salaries on the tenure track have stayed somewhat stable in relation to general inflation over time, but that they lost value between 1968 and 1984 and then lost considerable value in comparison to cost of living despite making modest gains relative to inflation.

The story for contract or contingent faculty? There is no data for 1968, but the $9850.00 above for 1984 translates into $24,572.03 worth of buying power in the current economy. I can say that we do better for contingent faculty who have a full time appointment, but certainly not nearly enough.

[The Chronicle has commentary on Faculty Salaries here]

From the Oxford English Dictionary: Etymology: < Anglo-Norman salarie = Old French salaire, Italian salario, Spanish salario, Portuguese salario, < Latin salārium, originally money allowed to Roman soldiers for the purchase of salt, hence, their pay; substantive use of neuter singular of salārius pertaining to salt, < sal salt.

Pliny Natural History 31.88-89

“Therefore, by Hercules, a rather civilized life cannot proceed without salt. This substance is so necessary that the word is transferred to significant pleasures of the mind too. Also named “salts” [sales] are all the charms of life, the pinnacle of humor, resting after work—the matter is made clear by this simple word more than any other.

It is also among the honors of the military too as “salaries” were coined from the root sal with great authority among ancient people—this is clear from the Salarian way since, by its course salt was conveyed to the Sabines. The King Ancus Marcus gave the people a grant of 6,000 bushels of salt and was the first to have salt pools built. Even Varro stands as an authority that the ancients uses salt as a condiment and that they ate salt with their bread (as is clear from the proverb). But the greatest indication of the importance of salt is in sacrifices which cannot be completed without the salted meal.”

ergo, Hercules, vita humanior sine sale non quit degere, adeoque necessarium elementum est uti transierit intellectus ad voluptates animi quoque nimias. sales appellantur, omnisque vitae lepos et summa hilaritas laborumque requies non alio magis vocabulo constat. honoribus etiam militiaeque interponitur salariis inde dictis magna apud antiquos auctoritate, sicut apparet ex nomine Salariae viae, quoniam illa salem in Sabinos portari convenerat. Ancus Marcius rex salis modios v͞i͞ in congiario dedit populis et salinas primus instituit. Varro etiam pulmentarii vice usos veteres auctor est, et salem cum pane esitasse eos proverbio apparet. maxime tamen in sacris intellegitur auctoritas, quando nulla conficiuntur sine mola salsa.

Some Things Were Published…: Works from 2018

Pliny the Younger, Letters 1.2

“Clearly, something must be published – ah, it would be best if I could just publish what I have already finished! (You may hear in this the wish of laziness.)

Est enim plane aliquid edendum — atque utinam hoc potissimum quod paratum est! Audis desidiae votum


How does one say “self-promotion” in Latin and Greek? When not posting on this blog, I (Joel P. Christensen) do write other things. The last year was a busy one. Here’s a list. If you’re interested and have institutional access to the work, please use it! If you don’t have institutional access and want an off-print, send me an email (

A Book:

With Erik Robinson, The Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice: Introduction, Translation and Commentary  Bloomsbury



On-Line, off this blog

with Matthew Sears, “The Overlooked Messages of the Sokal-Squared Hoax.” Inside Higher Ed, Oct. 30, 2018.

with Erik Robinson, “A Regular Roman’s Guide to the Worldcup Semi-Final Match.” Society for Classical Studies, Blog. July 10, 2018.



“Eris and Epos: Composition, Competition and the ‘Domestication’ of Strife.” YAGE  2: 1–39.

Here’s the publisher’s link. Here’s an uncorrected proof.

“The Clinical Odyssey: Odysseus’ Apologoi and Narrative Therapy.” Arethusa 51: 1–31.

From Project Muse. Here’s much inferior version before proofs.


Chapters in Things:

“Human Cognition and Narrative Closure: The Odyssey’s Open-End.”  In The Routledge Handbook of Classics and Cognitive Theory, Peter Meineck, ed.  Routledge. est. 2018.

This whole collection looks great (it grew out of a conference at NYU).

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“Speech Training and the Mastery of Context: Thoas the Aitolian and the Practice of Múthoi” for Homer in Performance: Rhapsodes, Narrators and Characters, Christos Tsagalis and Jonathan Ready (eds.). University of Texas Press, 2018: 255–277.

Another good collection. And, less pricey than some academic books!

Image result for Homer in Performance: Rhapsodes, Narrators and Characters

“Learned Helplessness, the Structure of the Telemachy and Odysseus’ Return.” in conference proceedings, Psychology and the Classics, Jeroen Lauwers, Jan Opsomer and Hedwig Schwall (eds.): 129–141.

This is a great collection too.

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“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

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Some Roman Notes for Stressed out Writers

Some notes of encouragement as we turn to summer projects. Alas, Martial’s words ring in my head every morning: “You will live tomorrow, you say? Postumus, even living today is too late; he is the wise man, who lived yesterday.” (Cras uiues? Hodie iam uiuere, Postume, serum est: / ille sapit quisquis, Postume, uixit heri, 5.58). For those of us lucky enough to get our summers off, the season’s onset comes too with panic: what are we working on? When will we start!

the effect of this over time is that some of us are incapable of really taking any time off. Before you make the mistake of thinking I am holding a one-Homerist sized pity-party, I do acknowledge that having the time even to worry about this is an indication of immense privilege both in terms of the course of human history and contemporary conditions. Even overlooking the billions of humans now living who struggle with basic needs (and under much worse conditions), there are thousands (if not more) of academics who are struggling to make ends meet while also facing the existential threat of publishing (and perhaps still perishing).

Here are two Roman authors talking about writing and publication.

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 13-14

“Why do we need to compose work that will endure for generations? Why not stop driving to make sure posterity won’t be quiet about you? You have been born mortal—a silent funeral is less annoying! So, for the sake of passing time, write something for your use in a simple style not for publication. There is less need to work for those who study just for today.”

Quid opus est saeculis duratura componere? Vis tu non id agere, ne te posteri taceant? Morti natus es, minus molestiarum habet funus tacitum! Itaque occupandi temporis causa, in usum tuum, non in praeconium aliquid simplici stilo scribe; minore labore opus est studentibus in diem.

Pliny the Younger, Letters 10 To Octavius Rufus

“For the meantime, do as you wish regarding publication too. Recite it from time to time, then you may feel more eager to publish and then you may experience the joy I have long been predicting for you, and not without reason. I imagine what crowds, what admiration, what clamor then silence awaits you. (For myself, I like this as much as applause when I speak or read, as long as it shows a desire to hear me speaking). There is a great reward ready for you! Stop undermining your work with endless delay! When even this is excessive, we need to be wary of hearing the name of idleness, laziness, or even fear. Farewell!”

Et de editione quidem interim ut voles: recita saltem quo magis libeat emittere, utque tandem percipias gaudium, quod ego olim pro te non temere praesumo. Imaginor enim qui concursus quae admiratio te, qui clamor quod etiam silentium maneat; quo ego, cum dico vel recito, non minus quam clamore delector, sit modo silentium acre et intentum, et cupidum ulteriora audiendi. Hoc fructu tanto tam parato desine studia tua infinita ista cunctatione fraudare; quae cum modum excedit, verendum est ne inertiae et desidiae vel etiam timiditatis nomen accipiat. Vale.

Image result for Ancient Roman Book


Pliny the Younger, Letters 1.2

“Clearly, something must be published – ah, it would be best if I could just publish what I have already finished! (You may hear in this the wish of laziness.)

Est enim plane aliquid edendum — atque utinam hoc potissimum quod paratum est! Audis desidiae votum

Famae Volent: A Personal History

For a few years I have been thinking about an article I would like to read in the New Yorker or the Baffler. It would really be about the desperation of the academic job market and a lost generation of would-be professors across the humanities, but it would tell this story as it is embedded in the digital record of academic wikis and discussion boards. So, it would be a zeitgeisty piece that explored the relationship between the information age’s revolution and the concurrent collapse of the industrial age’s systems of learning.

This imagined article would also explore the interrelationship between the transformation of information, the rise of the internet and the polarization of politics, all the while integrating theories about the narcissism of social media with the solipsism of our individual information bubbles. And it would do all of this without claiming simple causes or clear relationships, without apportioning blame but instead leaving it for the well-informed reader to consider which great ideas were the first of the paving stones to our current hell.

The centerpiece of this discussion? The decades-old Classics water-cooler/cesspool: Famae Volent. Don’t worry, I don’t have the knowledge, the skills, or the time to write this article. I don’t know who the blog administrators are; I don’t know if I would recover from reading the comments in the entirety again; and I don’t actually think the world-at-large would be so terribly interested in what is essentially a minor metonym for a major metamorphosis.

But the past few weeks have made me think a little too much about Famae Volent (FV). I can confess directly now what I was once embarrassed to admit: I have read the comments on FV nearly every day for the past decade. I have commented myself only 6 or 7 times, which qualifies me as some kind of lurker. I write this to try to figure out why I am so drawn to it, to claim hyperbolically that it has been the most important forum in Classics for the past decade, to lament that it has turned a bit darker this year, and to try to make some sense of this darkness. For the regular readers of this blog who don’t know about FV, it might be better not to click the ‘more’ button below. For those who know about the site, I cannot promise to say anything agreeable about it.

FV cannot be understood from the perspective of Classics alone–it is, I think, a product of the intersection of new technologies, old worlds, changing/dying disciplines, the desperation produced by economic upheaval, and the discord produced by current standards of dissent (supercharged by the ‘safety’ afforded by anonymity). But at the same time, FV is a phenomenon within a particular and bounded community. One could argue that it was the only new community mechanism created in classics in over a generation. And, in addition, before the coalescence of classics twitter as a force or the emergence of other online fora FV was arguably the online center of Classics in that it was the only centralized forum available to everyone.

But over the past year the comments have turned darker in a harmful way. There have been more administrator deletions of comments that break community guidelines than ever before. There have been more personal attacks than I can remember. And, this is what really gets me, there has been more polarized language dismissing attempts to address the marginalization of women, people of color, and people from different classes than in previous years.

Almost everyone I talk to in Classics knows of FV and has read it but admits so the way you might admit you did drugs in college or once accidentally shoplifted and didn’t go back to confess your crime. What does it mean for something to be so central and universal yet kept at a distance? Or, more simply, what is FV really and what is it for?

So, to start again, I am trying to figure out what attracts me to something that so thoroughly confuses. Part of it is the garbage-fire warmth: sometimes we just want to watch the chaos and destruction unfold. But I need to know if there is more. I want to know if there is good to FV and, if there is, if it can possibly outweigh the bad. Can I separate its story from my story? Is it really representative of my field or our field?

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“Nothing Taught Contributes to Wisdom”

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 1.1-2

“The schools of Epicurus and Pyrrho seem to have set forth the indictment against the professors of learning (toùs apò tôn mathemátôn) in a cursory way, although not from the same perspective. The Epicureans argue that none of those things that are taught may contribute to wisdom—this is an argument Epicurus made, as some contend, in order to cover up his own lack of education (for Epicurus was criticized by many for his ignorance: he couldn’t even speak correctly in everyday conversation!). In addition, he also antagonistic in this towards Plato and Aristotle, and other similar men, who were versed in many different fields.”

Τὴν πρὸς τοὺς ἀπὸ τῶν μαθημάτων ἀντίρρησιν κοινότερον μὲν διατεθεῖσθαι δοκοῦσιν οἵ τε περὶ τὸν ᾿Επίκουρον καὶ οἱ ἀπὸ τοῦ Πύρρωνος, οὐκ ἀπὸ τῆς αὐτῆς δὲ διαθέσεως, ἀλλ’ οἱ μὲν περὶ τὸν ᾿Επίκουρον ὡς τῶν μαθημάτων μηδὲν συνεργούντων πρὸς σοφίας τελείωσιν, ἤ, ὥς τινες εἰκάζουσι, τοῦτο προκάλυμμα τῆς ἑαυτῶν ἀπαιδευσίας εἶναι νομίζοντες (ἐν πολλοῖς γὰρ ἀμαθὴς ᾿Επίκουρος ἐλέγχεται, οὐδὲ ἐν ταῖς κοιναῖς ὁμιλίαις καθαρεύων), τάχα δὲ καὶ διὰ τὴν πρὸς τοὺς περὶ Πλάτωνα καὶ ᾿Αριστοτέλη καὶ τοὺς ὁμοίους δυσμένειαν πολυμαθεῖς γεγονότας•

Some counterpoints from the Gnomologium Vaticanum.

50: “Aristotle said that education is a decoration for the lucky but a refuge for the unfortunate.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη τὴν παιδείαν εὐτυχοῦσι μὲν εἶναι όσμον, ἀτυχοῦσι δὲ καταφύγιον.

259: “When Demetrios [of Phalerus] was asked what was the noblest of animals he said “A human adorned by education.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς τί τῶν ζώων κάλλιστόν ἐστιν εἶπεν· „ἄνθρωπος παιδείᾳ κεκοσμημένος”.

302: “[Zeno the Stoic] used to say that education was sufficient for happiness”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη τὴν παιδείαν πρὸς εὐδαιμονίαν αὐτάρκη.

314: “Heraclitus used to say that learning is a second sun for the educated”

῾Ηράκλειτος τὴν παιδείαν ἕτερον ἥλιον εἶναι τοῖς πεπαιδευμένοις ἔλεγεν.

439: [Plato] used to say that someone being educated needs three things: ability, practice and time.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔλεγεν ὅτι ὁ παιδευόμενος τριῶν τούτων χρῄζει· φύσεως, μελέτης, χρόνου.

469: “[Protagoras] used to say “knowing a lot helps a lot and hurts a lot.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη· „πολυμαθίη κάρτα μὲν ὠφελέει, κάρτα δὲ βλάπτει”.

Seneca, Moral Epistles 88.20

“Why do we train our children in the liberal arts? It is not because these studies can grant someone virtue, but because they prepare the soul for accepting it.”

“Quare ergo liberalibus studiis filios erudimus?” Non quia virtutem dare possunt, sed quia animum ad accipiendam virtutem praeparant.

Lactantius, Inst. Div. 3.7

“The highest good according to Herillus is knowledge; according to Zeno, to live congruously with nature, and according to some Stoics, to pursue virtue.”

Herilli summum bonum est scientia, Zenonis cum natura congruenter vivere, quorundam Stoicorum virtutem sequi.

Related image
Mosiac floor of The Hall of the Grain Measurers in Ostia (taken from Flickr)

Have You Seen My Special Chair?

A former dean of mine once sent an email to the faculty announcing a large grant to the college by a local business, providing for endowed chairs in the liberal arts. He had the temerity to announce in the very same email that he was giving himself one of these chairs. And he had a chair made with an inscription. The following is a slightly more humble epigraph.

 Constantinus of Sicily, Greek Anthology 15.13

“If you are wise, sit on me. But if you’ve tasted the muse
Only with the tip of your finger…..
Move far away and find a different seat.
I am a chair who bears the burden of men who seek wisdom.”

Εἰ μέν τις σοφὸς ἐσσί, ἐφέζεο· εἰ δέ γε Μούσης
δακτύλῳ ἀκροτάτῳ ἀπεγεύσαο, . . . .
πόρρω στῆθ᾿ ἀπ᾿ ἐμεῖο, καὶ ἄλλοθι δίζεο ἕδρην·
κλισμὸς ἐγὼ φορέων σοφίης ἐπιΐστορας ἄνδρας.

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