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Posts Tagged 'Latin'

This is what happens when you tell me I can’t do it

Seven years ago today, somebody who was very well-informed about how such things worked told me that it was highly unlikely that I could ever be competitive for IU’s History graduate program, given an undergraduate degree in music performance rather than in something properly considered part of the Humanities, and particularly given no real background in Latin or Greek.

I’m pleased to note that as of this week, I have passed my doctoral-level Greek and Latin exams. The Greek exam requirement was satisfied last summer (thank you, Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Greek Summer School), and I took my Latin exam this last Tuesday, which consisted of passages from St. Jerome’s Life of St. Hilarion, The Acts of the Divine Augustus, and Agnellus’ Book of the Pontiffs of Ravenna. My examiners seemed very pleased.

Now, on to my oral exams, which are scheduled for 29 March. Because I never do anything in the right order, I more or less have a dissertation proposal once my orals are out of the way, so God willing, I’ll have advanced to candidacy by the end of the semester.

I may still yet have a real job before I’m 40. We’ll see.

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At the tail end of Paschaltide: in which the author finishes his first year of for-real grad school, counts a couple of mutually-exclusive chickens, and winds up unexpectedly in Sacramento

The first half of spring semester got away from me as a result of my extracurricular activities at the beginning of the term, and then my losing a week from illness. The second half of spring semester got away from me because of the remainder of Lent, Holy Week, Pascha, getting the Orthodox Hoosiers website up and running, presenting a paper as well as singing some Byzantine chant for IU’s Medieval Studies Symposium, and then finishing all of my regular schoolwork for the term. It now being the last 30+ hours of the Paschal season or so, I suppose I should say this one last time: Ortanne Laivino! Anwa ortanne Laivino!

Which reminds me: I’m about twenty pages or so away from finally finishing The Silmarillion. I’ve started it any number of times, and gotten a little farther each time, but I finally made a point to keep forging on ahead, come what may. It’s been a rewarding read; it’s not necessarily Tolkien’s most transparent prose and it is a bit challenging to keep track of who is who the whole way through, but that’s probably just because I’m not terribly bright and it is nonetheless very much worth it. I’ll have more to say on it later.

As the end of the semester was coming into view, a couple of interesting things happened. First, I wound up, somewhat unexpectedly, with a choice as to what I could do this summer. I was offered a summer FLAS again to go back to Greece if I wanted, but the truth is, as much as I want to go back, this summer just didn’t seem like the right time. For one thing, Megan is going to Germany for the next academic year, from the end of September ’10 to the beginning of August ’11, and it’s been six years since we’ve both been home during the summer. For another thing, the logistics of being in Greece this summer would be significantly more complicated than last summer was, and with airfare having jumped since last year, most of my stipend would be spoken for before I ever set foot in the country, and that mostly for “redundant” expenses (i. e., having to pay for two places to live for the summer, one in the States and one in Athens). For yet another thing, I have a mammoth Greek and Latin exam to take in about a year, as well as my qualifying exams in Fall ’11, and my advisor and I agreed that with those events on the schedule, eight weeks in Athens doing Modern Greek would probably not be the best use of my time this summer.

While I was contemplating some of these issues a few months ago, I mused to a colleague that it was too bad History didn’t seem to do any sort of summer support if you didn’t have an instructor position. “Oh, no, that’s not true,” he said. “The e-mail just went out — you can apply for pre-dissertation fellowships.”

“Really? I thought I wasn’t far enough along for one of those.”

“Are you writing your dissertation yet?”

“No.”

“Then you’re pre-dissertation. Apply.”

So, I went ahead and wrote up a research proposal for the summer. My advisor said that people either traveling somewhere or who have taken their exams tend to be more competitive, but that it would be worth a shot.

As it happened, a couple of weeks ago I was notified that I am the Hill and Lilly Pre-Dissertation Fellow for History. On a practical level, it is a much better deal financially than the FLAS was going to be, and it means that both Megan and I can be in the same place for the summer. On an academic level, the project that I proposed will do a lot to prepare me for my impending exams, so hopefully I’ll end the summer feeling reasonably ahead of the game. I will look at trying to go back to Greece next summer; it would probably be good for me to look at the American School of Classical Studies’ Byzantine Greek program, and the nice thing about that is that there are a few different possible avenues of funding which aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s sort of an issue with the FLAS — if you have it, you can’t have anything else. I think the idea is sort of that they want you to have enough money to get where you need to go and do what you need to do, but they don’t want you to have enough money to be distracted by other possibilities.

In any event, I have to blink a bit at the realization that not only has History opened their doors to me, but they also seem interested enough in what I’m doing to want to facilitate it during the summer, too. It’s a nice turn of events to have happened.

The other interesting thing that happened was that, a couple of weeks after Pascha, I got an e-mail from John Boyer asking if I might be available to sing in a concert he was putting on with the Josquin Singers in the Bay Area over Pentecost weekend. Long story short, I flew out to Sacramento this last Saturday, the day after finals week was over, and I’ll be here until Sunday, 23 May. I’ll give the details of the concert in a different post, but it’s a neat project in which to be able to participate, and I’m really glad it’s worked out. To be honest, it’s been a little strange how it’s all come together; I haven’t really actively sought out professional singing opportunities for about five years, and it isn’t exactly like I spent hours talking myself up to John while he was in Bloomington. The trip has already worked musician muscles I haven’t had to work in half a decade; as soon as I got off the plane, John asked, “How are your dictation skills?” Turns out there is this three-part Russian setting of the First Ode of the Paschal Canon for which the score has not yet been published, but John wanted to do it in the concert anyway, so I was given the task of transcribing it. It was reasonably easy until the last repeat of the troparion; that’s 40 seconds of polytonal madness, and it took me about two days to get anything that seemed even reasonably close. I will be very curious to look at the published score and see just how many laughs are warranted. (Many thanks, incidentally, to Ivan Plis at Georgetown University, aka “SlavicPolymath,” for giving it a listen and confirming that much of what I had come up with was about as close as we were gonna get.)

That’s the long and the short of it for now. More a bit later. One last time for this year, probably: Christ is risen! Truly he is risen!

The division of disciplines and the implications for people like me

Registration time is upon us, and next semester, I’ll be diving into the deep end of the actual History pool, taking a colloquium titled “Essential Readings in Early Medieval History,” and a seminar called “Greek Democracies: Athens and Beyond.” The former is with one Prof. Deborah Deliyannis, from whom I took an undergraduate course in medieval history four years ago and who has been a great source of encouragement and help every step of the way ever since. I’m looking forward to finally getting to take a graduate course from her (and also reading some Latin under her supervision).

As we start to enter the last few laps of this semester, I’m starting to see some interesting challenges relating to the notion of interdisciplinarity. My academic interests center around the interaction of liturgy and history; the way I’m approaching the matter is necessarily interdisciplinary, so I’m doing things like sitting in on art history and ethnomusicology courses. I’m also pretty much having to go through yet another department — Classical Studies — to work on my languages, so there’s an interdisciplinary component there, too. The issues I’m starting to see appear to have to do with differing methodologies, different kinds of evidence producing different results, and different departments being protective of what they see as their own intellectual territory.

For example, in Art History’s “Problems in Early Christian Art” course for which I’ve been attending the lectures and discussions, I have been somewhat taken aback at how some of the students appear to be totally disinterested in textual sources. Now, I state that as somebody who is not an art historian, so I assume that what we’re talking about here is a methodological difference between disciplines, except that both the professor (as well as one of the other candidates whom I heard do a job talk for the position last spring) seem completely comfortable dealing with textual sources and actual historical context. This has manifested itself in a couple of different scenarios; a couple of weeks ago, when students were doing initial presentations on their paper topics, what seemed to be the common methodological approach was first to pick an image or set of images, track down as much secondary literature about the image as possible, and then construct an argument on that basis. In other words, the only relevant primary source is the image with which you are working. I asked one or two of the presenting students if they planned on tracking down any contemporary literary sources related to their topic, and all I got was a shrug, with an answer amounting to, “Sure, I could see how that might be useful. Maybe if I have time I’ll look into that.”

This week, our readings dealt primarily with literary sources. I was part of the group that was “leading the discussion” (what seems to be a euphemism for “doing the reading so that the rest of the class doesn’t have to,” given how involved in the discussion the rest of the class seemed willing to be), and the reading I was discussing was the an excerpt from Robin Cormack‘s book Writing in Gold: Byzantine Society and its Icons. Cormack examines how images function in the Byzantine world of Late Antiquity, using as evidence the Life of St. Theodore of Sykeon and then the Miracles of St. Demetrios of Thessalonica. I also put together a small slide deck about St. Nectarios’ monastery on Aegina as a contemporary example of what Cormack talks about.

The reactions all around were fascinating; they ranged from indifference towards using literary sources to what seemed to be active hostility towards what Cormack was trying to accomplish. “It’s really dangerous to be relying on these kinds of sources for what we do,” I heard more than once. The argument seems to have been that literary sources can only interpret the image for you, and art historians need to be able to see them with their own eyes. Historical context is a nice-to-have, maybe, but ultimately unnecessary and irrelevant compared to actually being able to see what you’re dealing with and to do one’s own analysis of the visual material. Never mind the open criticism I got from one student for trying to relate what we were talking about to a contemporary example, saying point blank, “You can’t do that” — even though Cormack, in the body of the text, invited exactly such an application of his analysis to other scenarios. The professor appeared to understand what I was doing, and tried to bridge the gap between the concerns and what I was actually saying, but my colleague seemed unimpressed and, curiously, quite upset. It was a very odd class session, and I’m still trying to figure out what to make of it. Is Art History, at least as taught here, just adamant about wanting to be Art History, rather than “History of Other Things Where We Occasionally Use Pieces of Art as Evidence”? Like I said, it not being my field, I don’t know exactly what to think, particularly since the professor herself seems to be somebody who is more than adequately conversant with matters of historical context.

Another example I’ve run into has to do with the relationship of Classical Studies to other departments that routinely refer to texts that are in the languages they teach. In History, for example, I have to prepare a reading list with a decent number of texts in both Greek and Latin for my exams; the trouble is that there is not a fantastically economical way of preparing these lists in the context of coursework. Readings courses are difficult for professors to make time for on the History side, and there just isn’t anybody in Classical Studies who is interested in much later than 100 B. C. The forensic oratory and rhetoric course I’m taking this semester starts to approach relevance (and I will be able to include all of these texts on my reading list), but that’s about it. I am reminded of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a faculty member on the Greek side; I told him my interests and asked if there would be a way of pursuing them in Classical Studies, and he just said, “You’re outta luck, kid. The last person here who was anywhere close to your interests retired ten years ago.” Along the same lines, I am told that the instructor for 2nd year Greek had originally included St. John Chrysostom in the curriculum for this semester, but dropped it almost as soon as the term began. Now, just as was the case when I took the same class from the same instructor two years ago, all they’re reading is Plato’s Ion.

Even if it the History faculty did have the bandwidth to do readings courses, so I am told, Classical Studies would oppose such offerings; they are very protective of Greek and Latin and don’t want anybody else going near them in a classroom setting. The only reason Religious Studies is able to teach Syriac and Coptic is because they have a course number coded as “Readings in Early Christian History” that can be used. It theoretically could be used for reading Greek texts, but not, it seems, without drawing the ire of Classical Studies, so it just isn’t done. Students can do individual readings if a faculty member has time, but good luck with that.

Now, on the one hand, I think I can understand some of where Classical Studies might be coming from. If I had to guess, I’d say that, not dissimilar to Art History, they want to remain distinct as Classical Studies, not “The Guys Who Teach Greek and Latin to Other Departments.” Thing is, they still make everybody else come to them to learn Greek and Latin anyway — and then they make it clear they don’t take the texts other people want to deal with seriously. There was the snarky remark I heard from one of their faculty once about “undergraduates who enroll in first-year Greek because they want to read a certain famous text that is decidedly not part of the Classical corpus”, and then there was the whole way said text was treated when I took second year Greek — we spent all of two or three weeks on it, the instructor was sightreading, they clearly weren’t familiar with the text at all, and constantly made remarks like, “Yeah, that’s not real Greek” and “Why is is this guy making comments about bridegrooms and all that? I tell you, you can’t make this stuff up.” (Frighteningly enough, this person went to a Catholic university for undergrad.) One solution might be to make people in History or Religious Studies adjunct Classical Studies faculty, but it sounds like that’s a way they don’t want to go. They don’t want to teach the texts we’re interested in, but they don’t want anybody else to teach them, either.

I’m told that right now, there just aren’t enough History students who need Greek to be able to influence Classical Studies’ thinking on the matter, but we’re close — sufficiently close that if we have the same rate of growth over the next couple of years we’ve had over the last two (that is, from zero to close to ten or so) the game could easily change.

Interdisciplinarity — it’s a nice buzz word, but when it comes down to it, you’ve got to be able to take care of yourself to make it work, it seems. I assume that will be part of my education.

Alliteration in liturgy, or things that don’t work in translation

Something that anybody accustomed to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in English hears on a regular basis is, right before the Koinonikon, is the priest saying:

Holy things are for the holy.

And the response:

One is holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

I noticed something the last time I attended a Divine Liturgy in Greek, however. The priest says:

Tα Ἅγια τοῖς Ἁγίοις.

And the response is:

Εἷς ἅγιος, εἷς Κύριος, Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, εἰς δόξαν Θεοῦ Πατρός. Ἀμήν.

εἷς and εἰς are homophones, the former being the masculine singular word for “one,” the latter being the preposition which usually means some variation of “to”, and with ecclesiastical pronunciation (meaning, among other things, all of the diacritics are ignored except insofar as they indicate stress accent — sorry, classicists), they are pronounced the same way as the first syllable of Ἰησοῦς. (There is a slight glide at the beginning of Ἰησοῦς the way some say it, but I’d argue it’s undetectable for all intents and purposes.) Rendered more or less phonetically, with italics on the sound in question: “Ta Aghia tees Agh-ee-ees.” “Ees aghios, ees Kirios, Eesous Hristos, ees dhoxan Theou Patros. Ameen.”

So, the response is alliterative, set off by the last syllable of the last word of the priest’s part. I don’t know that this suggests anything earth-shattering, beyond being something interesting that appears to be unique to the Liturgy in Greek. Anybody know if this also happens in Slavonic? I don’t know that there’s any real way to reproduce the effect in English, unless we were to do something like “Gee, he’s holy, gee, he’s Lord, Jesus Christ…” Or, um, maybe not.

If I were really digging for a practical point, it would be that maybe this allows the call and response to overlap somewhat? That might possibly make sense from the standpoint of a live acoustic. Probably this is just a fun little nugget of evidence that those writing the liturgical texts knew what they were doing.

I’ll also add a Latin note, while I’m thinking about it: I’m reading the Life of St. Hilarion right now, as noted earlier, and the following line is in the third section, when St. Hilarion is still learning from St. Anthony and observing his ways — “cibique ejus asperitatem nulla umquam infirmitas frangeret.” Fremantle translates this as St. Anthony never on account of bodily weakness deviating “from the plainness of his food,” but asperitatem is actually a more interesting word than that. It can also mean “dryness”, which would make this line a reference to the practice of xerophagia “dry eating”, or eating only raw fruits and vegetables. This is certainly a practice associated with monasticism, and I pointed it out to my advisor, for whom this was evidently news.

Anyway — the little bits and pieces one gets from the source languages are an enrichment of one’s understanding of the texts, to say the least. They may not be showstoppers, necessarily, but they definitely make the flavor more complex.

Week 5 of grad school and all is well

The last couple of times I had a hiatus in blogging, it was because things weren’t altogether well for me.

This time, to be honest, I’ve got nothing to complain about. Things are going really well.

I’m going to repeat that, just for emphasis and the sheer joy of being able to say that truthfully and unreservedly, perhaps for the first time since moving out here over six years ago:

Things are going really well.

The last several weeks have been something of a whirlwind; after getting back from Greece I had two papers to finish, a godson’s wedding to hold crowns for, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it — er, wait. That is to say, two days after the wedding, Orientation Week started, during which I had to take a Latin and a Greek diagnostic exam; then the semester started for real, and it was off to the races.

Im photographing them being photographed. Theres something kind of uncomfortable meta about this, dont you think?

I'm photographing Matthew and Erin being photographed. There's something kind of uncomfortably "meta" about this, don't you think?

Matthew and Erin’s wedding was wonderful; we were in South Bend for the three days leading up to it to help out with various things, and it was a joy to be part of it at every step. Fr. George Konstantopoulos at St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Church in South Bend served with Fr. Peter, and this was a lucky match for everybody — Fr. George has decades of experience and knows all of the little things that often get left out in the simplified versions of services that are often done these days. For example, I was a lot busier as the koumvaros at this wedding than I was for another one at All Saints last year — at that wedding, I just stood there. Here, I did the crown exchange and the ring exchange — and let me tell you, I was sweating it during the ring exchange. Oh, I thought. These rings are very small, and my fingers are very big. And all three sets of hands are shaking. If I drop them it will be very bad. Now I remember why I don’t do brain surgery. Fr. George also had the gravity and authority (to say nothing of the beard) that comes from many years of doing this, and it complemented well Fr. Peter’s still-youthful energy (he’s 35, I guess it’s not inappropriate to say that, right?).

The next morning, the newly-crowned Mr. and Mrs. Wells met us at St. Andrew’s for Divine Liturgy, and Fr. George gave them a big ol’ head pat during the announcements — “Matthew and Erin from Bloomington were married here yesterday,” he said, “and this morning they were here for Divine Liturgy. To me, that is an example of what living life as an Orthodox Christian is all about.” His meaning could hardly be plainer had he hoisted a neon sign saying, Please take being here as seriously as they do.

I need a calculator to adequately express in mathematical terms how much shorter than me you are, Megan...

"I need a calculator to adequately express in mathematical terms how much shorter than me you are, Megan..."

Before driving home, we headed to Chicago to see our friend Tessa Studebaker, an old singing colleague of mine from Seattle whom we hadn’t seen since before we moved to Indiana. When I met her ten and a half years ago, she worked at Barnes and Noble for the discount and was still in high school; now she’s in her upper twenties, is a college graduate, took a job in France for a while, moved back, and is possibly getting serious about somebody. It’s incredible to think that the last ten years have gone by so quickly that all of that could have happened, but there we are. It’s even more incredible that the majority of that ten years has been spent here in Bloomington — it means I’ve spent more time here than I spent in Seattle after dropping out of college the first time. It means that the address I’ve had the longest in my entire life (four years) has been here. It means that by the time I’m done with my PhD, I’ll have spent probably over ten years at a place I thought maybe I’d spend three years at the very most.

But enough with the existential pondering for the moment. I guess seeing old friends has a way of bringing that out of me.

Orientation was more or less a non-event; I’ve been here for six years, I know where the library is, my e-mail account hasn’t changed in all of that time, so there wasn’t really any particular novelty for which I required context. That said, a couple of things stick out for me — one, Ed Watts, the Director of Graduate Studies for the History department here (who also happens to be my PhD advisor), strongly impressed on everybody to find a schedule for working, a rhythm of grad school life, that gets the job done and can be adhered to, and then to stick to it. Coming from a situation where I was trying to fit being a half-time (or more like three-quarter time) student in around having a fulltime 8-5 job, that advice really resonated with me; I’ve done my best to take that to heart, and I think it’s served me well thus far.

Secondly, I observed this kind of thing while students were introducing themselves:

“Hi, I’m Jacob Goldstein, and I’m doing Jewish history with an emphasis on Holocaust education.”

“My name is Sankar Ramasubramanian, and I’m interested in modern Indian history.”

“I’m Ramon Santiago, and I do early modern Latin American history.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? It seems that who one is can’t help but inform their research interests, and the correlation there appears to be entirely natural and predictable. That said, the same correlation appears to be viewed with some amount of suspicion when it comes to Christians doing Christian history. I haven’t directly experienced that among my cohort yet, but I’ve seen it in other contexts, and something I’ve picked up on a bit is a certain point of view, perhaps almost subconsciously held, that can be expressed as, I’m interested in history because I want to prove that everybody has always been as petty, nasty, and not to be trusted as they are now. It’s a fundamental skepticism of humanity bordering on loathing (but ironically, I think its proponents would probably self-identify as humanists), and it seems to cross disciplinary and ideological lines. I’m not exactly sure what to make of it.

My Greek and Latin exams evidently went well enough; for each language, I had three passages, a dictionary, and an hour. In each case I got through more or less the first passage and the first third to the first half of the second. I don’t remember what the passages were, but they didn’t generate any particular concern. I was worried, when I next saw Watts, that he’d get a concerned look on his face and say, “We need to talk,” but that didn’t happen. He just said I did very well with the Greek, and while the Latin wasn’t as good, it was still pretty good. I figured the Latin would be the weaker of the two anyway.

Then it was time to actually start classes.

So, I’m taking three classes for real, sitting in on two, and then doing some individual reading with Watts for one credit. I’m taking third year Modern Greek, a mandatory “Welcome to the History Department” course called “Introduction to the Professional Study of History,” and then a course in Classical Studies where we’re reading Ancient Greek judicial oratory — Antiphon, Lysias, and Demosthenes, namely. Modern Greek I have to take for my funding (and I should be doing as much with it as I can, anyway), and then Watts wanted me to take some upper-level Classical Studies courses so I could have a chance to sharpen my Greek a bit. The one credit of individual reading we’re doing finds us reading St. Jerome’s Life of St. Hilarion, so I’m also getting some Latin in this semester. Since I’m ahead of the game a bit in terms of my coursework, Watts thought it was important to give my languages some extra time, and he’s right — it’s been a good thing.

(Watts and I have had a couple of simpatico moments with our iPhones — today, for example, we were reading Jerome and needed to look up a word. I pulled out my sketchy little pocket dictionary, and he said, “I’ll one-up you there.” With a gleam in the eye only recognizable by the fellow geek, he pulled out his iPhone and asked, “Do you know about the Latin Dictionary app?” I didn’t, but within two minutes I had it along with its companion Greek Lexicon by the same developer.)

I’m also sitting in on an undergraduate survey Watts is teaching on the Late Antique Roman Empire, as well as a seminar in Art History called Problems in Early Christian Art. The former is really useful background, and I’m doing it instead of taking Watts’ actual graduate seminar on the same material (since I’m actually at a point where it’s vital I take seminars from people other than him). The latter is a result of recognizing a) that my interests, the way I want to talk about them, are interdisciplinary, and b) given certain realities, I will be best served doing some of the interdisciplinary work on my own time. The course is basically dealing with Christian art up to Iconoclasm; the reading is actually highly useful stuff for me, and I’m learning a lot, with certain things I can already talk about being discussed in a very different context than that to which I’m accustomed.

Anyway, it’s a lot, but it’s not a back-breaker of a schedule by any means. Yes, it’s a good amount of work, but I’m finding it easier to manage now than I found it to manage less work while having to juggle a fulltime job. It means I’ve had less time for blogging, yes, but it’s been for a good reason. I think I’m at a point where I understand the rhythm well enough that I can post a bit again.

So, in brief, that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. Coming up, there’s another wedding this weekend, that of a certain Daniel Maximus Greeson and Chelsea Coil, plus I’m also supposed to run a book review for these folks by 10 November. Plus there are any number of other things for me to talk about regarding what I’ve been reading and what I’m thinking about — it’s more “Where the heck do I begin?” than “What do I have to say?” Let me tell you, these are all problems I am thrilled to have.

I will close this post in the manner which I think I may start closing for the time being — that is, with a rundown of what I’ve recently finished reading and what I’m currently reading.

Recently finished:

Currently reading:

Today’s iPhone apps for Late Antiquarians and Medievalists…

Two Greek dictionaries, two Latin dictionaries, and an Old English dictionary:

There’s a story here, but I’ll tell it in the lengthier entry I’m writing and will hopefully post tonight.

Dead Language Geek Photo Contest ends at midnight tonight

So far I’m the only entrant. I guess that means I’ll just have to keep the prizes…


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