Alum Blog Post: Studying the Classics as Pathway to Understanding and Liberation

Meredith Coolidge ’19 is teaching English and tutoring Latin at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy at Wheatley in San Antonio, TX, through the Teach for America program. At Holy Cross Meredith was a double-major in Classics and Political Science, and in 2018-19 she served as Student Government Association Co-President.

The classics major at Holy Cross is distinct because of its Jesuit affiliation. I was fortunate to take classes with professors and on course material that encouraged me to unlearn or see differently many of the ways the classics has been applied throughout history. By the end of my college career, I found myself reading the classics from a new perspective, namely, “How does this inform how I am becoming a person for and with others?”

Through Teach for America, I was placed in San Antonio, TX as a high school teacher at a Title 1, all-boys, public charter academy. Our school is located on a historically-black campus named for famous classicist and poet Phillis Wheatley.

Meredith in her classroom at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy at Wheatley.

Studying Latin is especially useful for my English Language Learners. I acquired an ESL certification because most of my students speak Spanish, and Latin has been a helpful way to contextualize commonalities between the Spanish and English languages. It also helps my students, most of whom will be the first in their families to graduate from high school, stand out with rigorous course loads as they consider applying to colleges like Holy Cross. I don’t know if there is anything more substantial to set up students for the rigor of a college education than requiring Latin beginning in middle school.

As an English teacher/Latin tutor, I try to find ways to make Latin “cool” and “relatable” (and not just because my kids perhaps ironically call me Ms. Cool). We’ve played word games with Latin prefixes, read mythology, and applied Latin syntactical principles to better understand the functions of English words, which has already improved my kids’ writing and reading comprehension. Explicitly teaching a critical subject (a core, state-tested one) but having a Classics background has helped normalize taking Latin for my students and colleagues.

I did not anticipate my Teach for America experience to be so profoundly influenced by my undergrad major, partially because before I left Holy Cross, I didn’t always see the link with liberation that I see now. I’ve realized my favorite classics courses at Holy Cross were ones in which I saw strong female characters or read texts I could relate to; I am hopeful that by framing characters in classical texts as liberators, my students can see themselves in the Ancient World. The themes in classical texts can be mostly universally applied to contemporary human experiences. It might be a stretch, but focusing on such commonalities in our shared human experience could help heal our increasingly polarized modern world.

Richard Ciolek ’20 on a summer dig in Cosa

After gesticulating with an umbrella and squalling various clucking noises in order to scare a flock of birds into the path of an oncoming Nazi warplane, Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, visibly cheerful that his shenanigans brought down the enemy, walked along the beach as the plane smoldered in the background and declared: “I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne. Let my armies be the rocks and the trees; the birds in the sky.”

I was privileged enough to have a few of those “I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne” moments this summer. Like Connery’s character, I don’t leave the library much save the rare occasion to obtain subsistence and attend lectures on historical languages. I, however, had the absolute privilege of digging at an archaeological site this summer at the ruins of Cosa in Italy, where I was able to gain a further understanding of material culture. It was a place, moreover, where I could connect what I had found in the earth to something I read in the classroom.

Richard ready for a day in the dirt.

Cosa, the ruins of which are in the extreme south of Tuscany and about two hours north of Rome, was a Latin colony founded around 273 BCE. The site received additional settlers around 197 BCE—perhaps, as the archaeologist Elizabeth Fentress has suggested, due to a shortage in manpower as a result of the Second Punic War. Further expansion occurred later in the second century, with the construction of a basilica, three temples, and further development around the forum. In 70 BCE, there is evidence of significant violence (such as the skeleton of a murdered man found in a cistern), which the archaeologist Frank Brown concluded was the result of a pirate raid, leading to abandonment of the site.

There was later resettlement under the emperor Augustus and a prosperous Cosa existed until the reign of Nero, when an earthquake damaged much of the town (apparently on the same day Nero put on the toga virilis). The traditional narrative holds that the site faded into obscurity in late antiquity, although there is some recent push back to this notion, as there are signs of occupation in the Late Antique period and then again during the Middle Ages.

The site itself also has a rich history of archeological excavation. Frank Brown led a dig under the auspices of the American Academy in Rome in the 1960s, the findings of which led to Cosa (sometimes mistakenly) being identified as the “ideal” republican colony. Further excavations where carried out by Russel Scott of Bryn Mawr College and later by Elisabeth Fentress with the AAR and British School at Rome. The current excavations, under the direction of Andrea di Girogi of Florida State University and Prof. Scott, are focused around the bath complex—an odd feature given the fact the site of Cosa has very little rain and few natural springs.

The daily routine of excavation essentially involves a lot of digging (who would have thought?). After donning a ridiculous outfit that resembles a cross between Indiana Jones and a cowboy, I would head out to site with a cohort of undergraduate and graduate students, all of us with differing levels of excavation experience. At site, we excavated in trenches, which are employed to observe diachronic change in a specific area, for a few hours.

The actual digging ranges from light brushing (I think what most people, myself in the past included, think archaeology is) to heavy pickaxing (I probably got too much enjoyment out of this. It really solidifies the notion that archaeology is destruction). Various factors, such as the possible presence of architectural elements or artifact dense soil, all go into the trench supervisor’s decision into what method we employ to churn the soil up. From there, we sift said soil which is usually a dull art of discerning tile and other ceramic building materials (which is measured then dumped), from pottery (which is kept, cleaned, and recorded more extensively), from deceptive rocks (which are summarily thrown away for their treachery). The documentation is meticulous; changes in soil color, consistency, frequency of artifacts, presence of new architecture and a bunch of other things that I don’t understand all call for new photos, photogrammetry, and paperwork (this is to counter that whole “archaeology is destruction” thing). The day is broken up with pottery washing, which is a nice time to chat and network with other classicists (and receive sage wisdom from the Ph.D. students).

A bronze key discovered on site.

It was during these four weeks that some pretty neat stuff was found. I myself found various bits of bronze everyday objects that truly remind you that Romans were real people that existed outside of books. A bronze hairpin and elaborate looking key were probably my favorite discoveries. Various inscriptions where found by others. Perhaps the neatest thing, at least in my opinion, was found by one of the trench supervisors. He uncovered a small marble bust of a bearded male deity. I had a bit of a “I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne” moment when it was theorized to represent Dionysus and be the top of a herm. It was hard, at that point, not to recall Alcibiades’ supposed mutilation of the herms. Never before had Plutarch felt more real to me.

I would like to think the Classics Departments of Florida State University and Bryn Mawr College for giving me and other undergraduates such a wonderful opportunity. More information about the Cosa Excavations, including the sponsoring institutions, can be found here. Special thanks are also due to Prof. Smith and Prof. Joseph of Holy Cross for their support in my application to Cosa and for applications to various methods of funding

Classics & Chemistry major Chris Puntasecca ’19 to attend Stanford Medical School as a Knight-Hennessey Scholar

Seizing the opportunity for a semester in Rome

By Emma Powell ’20

Emma takes in a view of the Roman Forum.

“Fortes fortuna iuvat,” which translates to “Fortune favors the brave,” is the famous line from Pliny the Younger’s letter describing the events of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The sentiment of that line is the foundation on which, at least recently, I have tried to navigate my life. In deciding to study away in Washington, D.C. in the fall semester and abroad in Rome, Italy, this semester, I was extremely hesitant. In all honesty, I had a crippling fear of missing out on my beloved professors, classes, friends, and everything else that comes with my amazing life at Holy Cross. In the end, I decided to take advantage of both experiences, and I could not be happier with my decision. How could anyone regret living in Rome?

This semester I am studying at Temple University’s Rome campus. Every morning, I walk from my apartment located directly next to the Vatican, over the Tiber River to school. When I walk across the Tiber I think about the importance it played in Ancient Rome. The river played an important role in trade and the founding story of Rome, but also reminds us that nature cannot be controlled, as it often flooded. At the school my courses include Greek, Latin, Italian, Museum History, and of course Roman History.

My coursework comes alive when I walk around Rome. When I learn about the set up of the Roman Forum, I can actually walk over and retrace the steps of Triumphal Procession. When we read Ovid’s “Apollo and Daphne” passage in the Metamorphoses, I can go to the Villa Borghese and look at Bernini’s neo-classical sculpture inspired by the passage. Everyday, I am living in the physical world of what I study in my Classics classes at Holy Cross.

Emma at Aqueduct Park.

By far, my favorite spot in Rome is the Aqueduct Park. Located at the end of the metro, this park holds remains of the Aqua Felix and the Aqua Claudia. With a mix of ancient and more modern aqueducts, this park reminds me of the power of time. I like to sit in the park with a group of my friends, picnic, and watch the sunset go down behind the aqueduct. It is overwhelming and comforting all at once. These conflicting ideas of nature vs. man, permanence vs. fleetingness overcome me. This park and my experience in Rome remind me to be brave. Living in Rome has allowed me the courage to seize every opportunity to travel, to learn, and to experience new things. Classics in general reminds me of my humanity and Rome has only solidified this.

Fortune favors the brave, but bravery does not have to be a grand heroic gesture. Bravery can simply be taking a chance. I am beyond grateful I took a chance on going abroad.

A trilingual exchange in Beijing

By Vincent Crotta ’19

As a Classics major in China, I didn’t really expect to use much Latin or Greek — and for the most part I was right.

However, I recently had a really cool experience with one of my Chinese teachers. Here in Beijing the building we use for classes has a lot of unused classrooms, and I had asked my cultural adviser here if I could use one of these unused classrooms for painting.

She was kind enough to say “yes,” and so for the last few months I had been using an old classroom to paint and I had hung up some of the finished paintings on the walls. One of the paintings I had finished (pictured at right) was inspired by the song “Rändajad,” which is by the Estonian group Urban Symphony. One on my teachers came into the room and asked about the painting.

As I was explaining it to her in Chinese, she asked about the meaning of the name of the band. I told her the band was called Urban Symphony. She asked what the word “urban” meant, and I explained in Chinese that “urban” refers to the setting of a city and comes from the Latin word urbs, urbis, meaning “city.”

My teacher then asked if the words “rural” and “suburban” also had Latin roots, and I said that they also did. She was very excited to learn three new words in English and then in Latin, and I was happy to be able to teach her something new.

Greetings from Nijmegen, NL, where the nomina (and omina?) of many Romans lurk

Prof. Thomas Martin sends a dispatch from his trip to the Netherlands over October break.

About the same population as Worcester, Nijmegen is said to be the oldest city in the Netherlands, dating back to the late first/early second centuries CE. I don’t believe there are too many long-term Roman settlements north of here, so this is close to the northernmost edge of Roman expansion on the northwestern edge of the European continent (not including Great Britain).

Nijmegen is said to be from the Roman name given to this settlement of Romans and ancient Belgians in the very early second century, which was Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum. Noviomagus is said to be a Romanization of a Celtic phrase meaning “New Market” or perhaps “New Field.”

Not too far from the neighborhood where I am staying at the house of my daughter and her family, there is a collection of streets running along the side of a hill that stands parallel to a tributary of the Waal River, one of the two rivers in Nijmegen and itself a tributary of the Rhine River. These streets boast striking (for Classicists!) names. Photos of a selection of the streets’ signs and appearances are below.

The first photo shows the street sign for what would have been a cool address for hippie Latinists in San Francisco and Berkeley in the 1970s. (I won’t reveal how I know that there were hippie Latinists in San Francisco and Berkeley in the 1970s!)

The second photo shows the street associated with the first street sign. It seems fitting, given the often acerbic tone of author whose name is attached to the street, that it is a “Private Way.”

The third photo shows a street sign designating the “plaza” or “area” of a particularly dyspeptic early Roman Emperor. Given his distinctly-less-than-warm-and-fuzzy reputation, its seems ironic, as shown in the fourth photo, that his “area” is a inviting, grassy park in which children play soccer!

The fifth photo shows a street sign associated with a Roman Emperor said to have been more personable. It is then fitting, in his case, that his street (the sixth photo) also flanks an area where children play.

The seventh photo shows in the distance the narrow branch of the river beyond the hill where these streets lie, in a district perfectly suited for watching with care the traffic on the water, to try to see if it was bringing friendly visitors or hostile raiders.

New perspectives after a month in & around Greece

By Zach Sowerby ’19

Zach and Julia on a hill overlooking Athens. Mount Lycabettus, the Panathenaic Stadium, and the Aegean Sea are in the background.

It’s been nearly one month since my arrival in Athens, and Julia Spiegel has been here three weeks longer than I. We are both juniors, of the graduating class of 2019, spending this semester abroad as part of our Classics majors. We have spent our time here learning Greek, taking classes on a range of topics, exploring Athens and the local culture, and visiting the great historical and cultural centers of Greece.

The rate at which new information has been colliding with my brain has been so enormous that it sometimes can be tough to take a break to process everything. Over the last few weeks, our program has taken us to Delphi and Crete on extended trips, packed with professor-guided visits to cultural centers, archaeological sites, museums, and towns. A full review of even these two trips would consume countless pages of text, so I will allow the included pictures and their captions to tell some of the story. Classes themselves also often are held on site, out of the classroom, as professors introduce us to the topography of Athens or lecture on objects in one of Athens’ many museums.

The Temple of Apollo at Delphi and Mount Parnassus.

It has been most efficacious towards a well-rounded liberal arts education to immerse myself in the Greek way of viewing the world. From the day-to-day interactions with my professors and the people in my neighborhood, as well as from observing the manner in which Athens operates, I have gained a perspective distinct from my experiences in the US.

The Island of Spinalonga, off of Crete.

In case you missed it: links about HC Classics from earlier this year

*CBS news aired a feature story on departmental alum Anthony Fauci ’62 and his work on the AIDS epidemic

*Departmental alum Tabitha Lord ’93 published her second novel, titled Infinity.

*The Holy Cross website included profiles of retiring faculty, including Prof. Blaise Nagy of the Department of Classics.

*Jason Steranko ’17 blogged over the summer about his collection of Ancient Greek black-out poetry, titled Melasmos.

*The article “Citation and Alignment: Scholarship Outside & Inside the Codex” in the journal Manuscript Studies, written by Christine Roughan ’14, Prof. Neel Smith, and Christopher Blackwell, was made available through open access.

*Prof. Mary Ebbott’s essay “Seeking Odysseus’ Sister” appeared in Michigan Quarterly.

*Plans for the College’s new Center for Arts and Creativity will include a studio theater named after the late Kenneth Happe ’58, an associate professor emeritus of Classics.

Reflection on four years at Holy Cross by Stephanie Neville ’17

During the 2017 Commencement Week, Classics major Stephanie Neville ’17 read the following reflection to classmates at the senior luncheon. Stephanie, who is from Grand Island, NY, began the study of Latin and Greek at Holy Cross and was a four-year member of the Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents Club. This summer Stephanie will continue her internship at Dovetail Internet Technologies in Worcester, and in the fall she will begin as a law student at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA.

Beginning on move-in day at Holy Cross, we were encouraged to Live the Mission. We were told to be men and women for others. And as first year students we nodded and went along with it because I do not think that any of us truly understood what those phrases meant at the time. For each of us, however, as we spent our days trekking between buildings on Mt. St. James, we came to understand the significance of those words in a different way, and we came to see how we could apply these terms to our everyday lives.

In my own experience, I came to understand these words in my attempt to create a college bucket list, as I imagine many of us attempted at one point or another. Early on during my Holy Cross career, I jotted down a list of 25 tasks, some more generic than others, that I hoped to complete before I graduated. I then saved my list so I could return to it and mark off those experiences as necessary. Spoiler alert, I never completed all of the tasks on that list.

Not long after I made this list, I felt that something was just not quite right about it. While studying outside in the Hoval and finding the fourth floor of the science building, as a humanities major, were interesting experiences, these did not seem to mean as much to me as the small yet meaningful moments that I increasingly experienced as I met more people on the Hill. So, as a typical Holy Cross student would, since my first list just did not live up to my expectations of what I had hoped it would be, I did the only logical thing: I made a second list. Although this list was a little different from my first, it was something my roommate and I referred to as a nectar list. Whenever I had a new and often unanticipated experience in my life that I felt had meaning to me, I wrote it down in a list. Pretty soon, I had recorded over two hundred moments that I might have otherwise forgotten, like that time the RA knocked on my door on a school night because my roommate and I sang along to Les Mis a little too enthusiastically or the first time one of my professors invited me to office hours just to talk with me about how I was enjoying my classes so far.

Stephanie (second from left) with classmates Drew Virtue, Melody Wauke, and Charlie Schufreider during Commencement festivities.

Looking back at the moments I included on my nectar list, it is clear that the experiences that seemed to mean the most were the everyday and even mundane moments that I had the pleasure of sharing with all kinds of people that I was able to meet. We can all think of people who helped to make our college experience meaningful for us, of the passerby who became a mentor, of strangers who became family. Years from now, when we look back at our time in college, of course we are going to remember those monumental experiences we had, such as when we boarded a plane to study abroad or when we formally declared our major. But when we reflect on what this time actually meant to us and how it shaped the people we are today, we are going to think of the fleeting moments we shared with people who have come to mean the world to us. We are going to think of scouting out tables in Dinand, of asking a friend to swipe us into a dorm when we lost our ID, of waiting in line on chicken parm night at Kimball.

And when we look back at those small moments, those will be the moments that we can look back upon to see how much we’ve grown. When I look back at my list, I am able to see a progression of a timid freshman who fell on the Fenwick stairs on to a more seasoned and a much more comfortable Holy Cross student who tried my hand at cooking in the apartments and who ventured to explore the area around Holy Cross like the Worcester Art Museum, the Blackstone movie theater with discount movie Tuesdays, and other areas of New England that I had never visited.

By choosing to embrace our identity as Holy Cross students, we have already begun to Live the Mission. By immersing ourselves in this incredible community in whatever ways we have found ourselves called, we have played a role both in shaping each other’s experiences and in growing as individuals. Even the smallest moments we have shared with friends or acquaintances on campus or in the Worcester community can have an impact, as we never can fully comprehend how our words or gestures can take effect. Even a passing smile or an open door can make all the difference to someone. At Holy Cross, we have learned how to be open to sharing those moments with those we have been blessed to have around us. As a class, we have served as orientation leaders, served as club leaders, congratulated our classmates who have won Fulbrights or secured jobs, and proofread essays for our peers. In whatever way the opportunity has presented itself, we have learned to support each other, and we have learned how to extend those gestures of support to those beyond the Holy Cross community. Many of us have participated in international or domestic service trips, have served as big brothers and sisters, and have led fundraisers.

I think it’s fair to say that we’ve put in a lot of hard work into our education, our relationships, and our growth as men and women for others. But this is only one milestone in our journey. As we move forward to the next phase of our lives, we must continue to embrace the small moments in life and recognize the beauty in sharing these with the people around us. With this mindset, we can be open to new experiences and to reaching out to new people. With this mindset, we can continue to expand our own definitions of what it means to Live the Mission and to be men and women for others. What are the small moments that you have experienced at Holy Cross that have shaped who you are today and who you want to be?

Students share research on the Iliad at international conference in Heidelberg

By Charlie Schufreider ’17 and Melody Wauke ’17


On May 12 and 13 we had the opportunity to attend “Digital Classics III: Re-thinking Text Analysis,” a conference held at the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Heidelberg, Germany. For those as uninformed as we were before this trip, Heidelberg is an incredibly beautiful city.

Melody on the banks of the Neckar River.

The conference allowed us to present many of the results from our respective senior theses. Melody’s thesis is titled, “Alexandrian editors and the scholia of the Venetus A” while Charlie’s thesis is titled “On the format of the scholia to the Iliad in the Venetus A.”

Both of us were working on applying digital tools in order to analyze patterns of language within the scholia (or scholarly commentary) to the Iliad in the tenth-century Venetus A manuscript. In addition to our research, we also discussed more generally the methodology of the Homer Multitext project. This portion of the talk was prepared and developed by our thesis advisor, Professor Neel Smith; however, he was ultimately unable to attend the conference.

Beyond our own presentation, we were also able to listen to talks from several digital Classicists. From their presentations and the discussions which followed, we learned a great deal about different ways to analyze Classical texts using digital technologies. We were particularly interested by the couple of talks which detailed automated analyzes of the language in Greek tragedy. For example, Francesco Mambrini of the German Archaeological Institute was able to show how the Paedagogus from Sophocles’ tragedy Electra speaks in a manner most similar to the choruses of Sophocles’ plays. (Click here for a link to the full conference program.)

Melody and Charlie at the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. They were joined on the conference program by faculty from the University of Leipzig, the University of Paris, Oxford University, and other institutions around Europe.

However, attending the conference was only one part of this trip. There was ample time for us to explore the culture and history of Heidelberg. Sausages with sauerkraut were a mainstay of almost every meal, but the real highlight was getting to explore the large Heidelberg Castle along with its gardens. Due to our early morning arrival in the city, the castle was largely devoid of tourists, making the sights all the more enjoyable. The crown jewel of the castle was its surprising collection of increasingly large barrels, the biggest of which is shown below.

In the end, we are extremely thankful to the Ignite Fund for covering the expenses necessary for this trip. We were able not only to visit this incredible city but also to grow more experienced as scholars of Digital Classics.

Charlie and the largest barrel of all.