Heroes battling rivers, eagles predicting the future, temples located on spectacular mountain peaks! The natural world played a central role in so many aspects of the lives of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and this semester a group of Holy Cross students in Prof. Aaron Seider’s new course “Nature in the Classical World” will be sharing their ideas on these topics and more in a series of eleven Podcast episodes.
So, if you’re intrigued by the notion of exploring what the Greeks and Romans thought about topics like nature and spirituality, reincarnation and the universe, or humans and animals, then I’d encourage you to subscribe: https://itun.es/i6hC9dB. You’ll be fascinated by what you hear.
On Thursday, October 20, Eric Adler, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Maryland, delivered at talk at Holy Cross titled “The Transformation of Humanism and the Fate of Classical Studies in America.” The talk was followed by a lively question and answer session, and a group of Classics majors and faculty continued the discussion with Prof. Adler over dinner.
The talk and dinner were sponsored by the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture. The McFarland Center has posted a video of the talk and the Q and A that followed here. And here is the video from YouTube:
This past summer, I had the privilege and the pleasure of working on an archaeological excavation at Poggio del Molino in central Italy. Along with two other Holy Cross students, Amanda Kondek ’17 and Eric Fox ’18, I spent several weeks kneeling on rocks, scraping dirt off of other dirt, discovering how much rock looks like pottery, and vice-versa.
A Day in the Life
On a typical day, we would get up early in the morning, eat breakfast, pack lunches and head to the dig site. Five minutes down a dirt road in between fields of grapes and we arrived at the site. After digging for a few hours, painstakingly scraping the dirt up one layer at a time, checking each object for archeological significance and brushing up the dust, we took a coffee break. After half an hour or so sitting in the shade, it was back to work again.
When we found something in the layer we were removing, we would carefully remove the dirt around it to determine if it was fully contained in the layer. If it was, we removed it and placed it in a bag for later cleaning and labeling. Unless, of course, it was actually a rock. Determining whether something was a rock or pottery sherd, however, was not always easy. “Is this rock or pottery?” was a constant refrain for the first few days, at least until one of the grad students at the site explained that we could always lick it and find out. (Apparently, since pottery is porous, it will stick to your tongue if you lick it.)
Eventually, it was time for lunch. (That is, if you weren’t full from licking rocks all morning.) During lunch, we had the opportunity to talk to the other people who were working on the site with us. Each week, there was a different group working with us on the dig. One week, it was a group of Italian high school students who were spending their summer trying out different jobs a week at a time, getting a feel for what they wanted to do. Another, it was a group of students from all over Europe and North America as part of a summer program in archaeology. For two weeks, we had a group of restoration experts working on the mosaics of the baths and bedrooms.
But Poggio del Molino was more than just a rich Roman’s mosaicked country retreat. It began, in fact, with pirates. The earliest structures we have evidence of at Poggio del Molino are three towers designed for defending the nearby Etruscan settlement of Populonia from pirates. Later, after the Roman republic controlled the area and mitigated the threat of piracy, the site became a factory for producing garum, a sauce made from pickling fish intestines.
During the Empire, as it became cheaper to produce garum in newly-acquired territories like North Africa, it was turned into a country villa for some wealthy Roman family. Sometime in Late Antiquity, the bedrooms of the villa were reconstructed into a small church by knocking all interior walls down and walling up the doorways.
Due to this varied history, there were lots of really interesting things to be found at our site. Several bronze coins, ranging in size and preservation from a small speck just half the size of a pinky nail up to an inch-wide disc with legible writing and a clear profile were found in and around the area we worked in. We found evidence of iron-mongering operations, including leftover iron slag, hematite ore, and the burns left by furnaces on the floor. I found a small block of lead, which I thankfully recognized before anyone licked it. We found both bronze and iron nails, as well as some larger, but mostly unrecognizable, iron pieces.
We found pottery, of course. Most of it was fairly coarse cooking ware or simple dining or storage pottery, but I did find a fancy painted black-slipware piece from the fourth century BCE. Of course, the excitement from finding it was slightly marred by the fact that it should not have been there. I found it in the uppermost layer of soil, the humus, under the roots of a big pine tree. Chronologically, we should have been finding cassette tapes and floppy disks, not pottery pushing 2500 years.
That strangely located piece, however, has to contend with another for the best find of the summer: The Italian high school students working the room next to ours found a completely intact clay lamp! It looked as if it had just been pulled out from behind the glass in a museum display. It was absolutely incredible, although my expectations might have been slightly lowered by 87,492 things I had found that day that weren’t pottery, much less intact.
Of course, it wasn’t all kneeling on rocks and scraping dirt out of tree roots. On weekends we were free to take trips to various cities around Italy, so we saw a lot of museums (and gelaterias). To me, though, the most exciting museum was the one in the modern-day town of Populonia, where most of the collection came from Poggio del Molino. I like knowing that the things I excavated could end up in a museum someday, informing future Classicists. Increasing our knowledge about the world of around two thousand years ago is worth a little dirt-scraping and root-kneeling. But maybe not rock-licking.
Allyn, from Atlanta, Georgia, is a Classics major with a minor in Computer Science. He is also completing the Teacher Education Program at Holy Cross.
Alex Simrell ’16 is spending 2016-17 at the University of Zagreb in Croatia on a Fulbright Fellowship. Click here for Alex’s blog, which includes an entry that makes the case for the long-term importance of studying Greek and Latin.
Thomas Köntges of Leipzig University in Germany visited Holy Cross on September 29 and 30 to speak with students from Prof. Neel Smith’s “Digital Reading and Writing” course and Prof. Tim Joseph’s “Literature in the Age of Nero” course, as well as members of the Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents Club.
In his talk titled “Quid novi: a story of five centuries of Petronius research and me,” Prof. Köntges shared his work on the manuscript tradition of Petronius’ fragmentary first-century CE prosimetric novel Satyrica. He emphasized the new possibilities for research that result from recent access to digital photographs of early manuscripts.
Earlier this month Prof. Tom Martin was an invited participant in an international workshop on “Josephus Latinus” held at the University of Bern, Switzerland. He and his co-author Prof. David Levenson of the Dept. of Religion at Florida State University made a presentation on their research on Latin manuscripts of the ancient translations of the original Greek works of Flavius Josephus from the first century CE. Their research concentrates on Josephus’ work The Jewish War, an eyewitness account of the famous story of the rebellion in Judaea against Roman control that led to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Students at Holy Cross and FSU made significant contributions to this scholarship through their work in a joint undergraduate/graduate seminartaught in the fall of 2014 simultaneously at both institutions using video conferencing.
In the photo, Prof. Martin is shown in Bern by the light of the full moon illuminating the House of Parliament of Switzerland, known by its Latin title visible just below the pediment of the building as CURIA CONFOEDERATIONIS HELVETICAE. Calling the Swiss people Helvetii goes back to Julius Caesar’s Gallic War, while curia was the Romans’ designation for their Senate House.
Click on the hyperlinks in bold to proceed to the pieces:
*In May Gabe Weaver ’04 was named the first-ever Herman M. Dieckamp Post-Doctoral Fellow by the Information Trust Institute (ITI) at the University of Illinois.
*In June the new crime novel Brighton by Michael Harvey ’84 was published by HarperCollins.
*In June Kevin Spinale ’00 was ordained into the Society of Jesus.
*Luis Perez ’17 reflected on his experience in the Maymester program “Rome in History and Imagination.”
*Daniel Cavoli ’80, Latin teacher at St. Edward’s High School in Rocky River, OH, was honored with the Kraft Award for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching for 2015-16, given out by the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS).
*In July Brian Clark ’15, Claude Hanley ’18, Stephanie Lindeborg ’13, Melody Wauke ’17, and Prof. Neel Smith presented research at the Digital Humanities 2016 conference in Krakow, Poland.
*In August Christine Bannan ’14, a third-year student at the University of Notre Dame Law School, wrote about the threat of the “Internet of Things” for the journal Tech Crunch. Christine is the winner of the 2016 Edelson PC Consumer Privacy Scholarship.
*In August Prof. Martin spoke with Quartz.com about the “Games of Hera,” a series of footraces among female athletes described by Pausanias.
This year’s academic conference launched on Wednesday, April 27, when senior Classics and Catholic Studies major Joseph MacNeill gave his Fenwick Scholar presentation, titled “Encountering God as Logos: A Postmodern Theology.” Click here for more on Joe’s presentation and here to read about the reading group that Joe formed in the fall.
On Thursday Maggie MacMullin ’16, a Classics major with a minor in Visual Arts, spoke about “Meaning and Making in the Holy Cross Art Department.” Three other seniors presented on their thesis research: Steven Merola ’16 presented “Apologetic Epinoiai: Christ as Light and Wisdom in Origen’s Contra Celsum“; Christopher Ryan ’16 spoke about “A Contemporary Understanding of Free Will in Augustinian Death”; and William Callif ’16, a double-major in Classics and Political Science, addressed “Montesquieu and the Republic.”
Friday afternoon’s events included four presentations by groups in the Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents Club. Nicholas Guarracino ’18, Michael Shun ’18, Julia Spiegel ’19, and Allyn Waller ’18 addressed their study of Gregorian chant in the presentation “Neumes: Notation and Abbreviation in Tenth-Century Chant Manuscripts.” For more on this group’s ongoing work, click here.
Three presentations covered work on the Homer Multitext project: “Observations on Scholia to Iliad 17 in the Venetus A manuscript” by Michael Kelley ’18, Corey Scannell ’18, and Melody Wauke ’17; “Validation and Verification in the Homer Multitext Project” by Chris Ryan ’16 and Alex Simrell ’16; and “Mysteries in the Escorial Omega 1.12 manuscript of the Iliad” by Kevin Cogan ’19, Liam Prendergast ’19, and Zachary Sowerby ’19. Claude Hanley ’18 and Charlie Schufreider ’17 spoke about the Kanonessystem, which they have assisted Prof. Neel Smith in developing, in a presentation titled “Developing a Corpus-Specific Ancient Greek Parser.”
Friday’s events concluded with a reading – to a packed room – by Nicholas Jalbert ’16, from his novel manuscript In Sacred Flame. The reading was followed by a lively discussion of the ancient and modern influences on Nick’s characters and themes.