January 3, 2003

The Rittenhouse Review links to this story about the Rev. Neil Kilty, a high school Latin teacher and part-time college lecturer in Ancient Greek at La Salle University with a cult following amongst his students.

On the basis of a very small sample, I’m willing to say that the people who teach Classics are often interesting characters. I took Latin for five years at school under the slightly crazed eye of Mr. McCullagh. He was known amongst students for favoring a pretty direct form of discipline; a mixture of shouting, ridicule and physical threats, such as putting you in a headlock if you couldn’t conjugate an irregular verb properly. Violence and humiliation work wonders on teenage boys, and Mr McCullagh tended to inspire considerable loyalty. Being made to stand up when you got your vocab wrong was embarrassing enough. But being made to stand on your chair when you got it wrong a second time, and finally up on your desk after a third … well, of course everyone loved the guy.

On the other hand, we got to read Ovid and Livy in the original, though I probably didn’t appreciate it enough at the time.

The Inquirer article says, at one point:

Translation is messy work, especially spoken aloud. “ ‘The Athenians hastened towards the barbarians or foreigners.’ Now, how would we say that in regular English?”

It was always sentences like that, too. “The Gauls are marching toward the ramparts.” “The young girl carries the fruit from the field.” “The legions might have travelled faster.” And so on. The great Molesworth has the last word on this as on so many other subjects:

Open hillard and boting turn to ex ia section 2 sentence 6… They sa: ‘The gauls—- galli—- subject—- go on molesworth oppugnant—- what does oppugnant mean—- they are attacking fossas. Ditches. What did you say molesworth? Why on earth attack a ditch? Keep your mind on the sentence. The gauls are attacking the ditches. What? I am quite unable to inform you molesworth for what purpose the Gauls wished to attack the ditches. The latin is correct. That sufices.

We proceed. sagittis. What’s sagittis molesworth what case come along boy—- sagitta sagitta sagittam first declension—- with arrows by with or from arows. What is that? molesworth for the last time your opinion that it is soppy to attack a ditch does not interest me. Or what you personally would do with an arow. nor do i kno where the bows are. Likewise the question of whether there was buckets of blud is immaterial. The gauls are atacking the ditches with arrows—- telisque—- telisque, molesworth? …

Aktually the trick is to try to look dopey and then the latin master will do the translation himself.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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