PostHeaderIcon Spring 2013 Classes

The Spring 2013 course schedule is now available on the Classics website: We feature a major revision to one of our most popular courses. CLAS 3400, formerly “The Ancient City: Rome” has become “Roman Culture and Civilization: The Republic”. It will be paired with CLAS 3405, “Roman Culture and Civilization: The Empire”, which will debut next year. Read all about it on the website. Also on offer is CLAS 3500, “Ancient Drama in Performance”, as described in a previous post on Athena’s Owl.

Besides these new courses, we’ve got our usual exciting lineup of Greek and Latin language courses as well as archaeology, culture, literature, philosophy and history courses. Check out the ancient Mediterranean world from all the exciting perspectives of the Classical Studies Program!

PostHeaderIcon Ancient Drama in Performance

A few people have been proactive in looking at the spring course offerings available on ECU’s OneStop system and have noticed a new course: CLAS 3500, Ancient Drama in Performance. Let me explain what that is.

CLAS 3500 will be a course that runs concurrently with the Classics Play 2013 production of “Oedipus Rex”. It will be an opportunity for students participating in the production to learn more about the performance conventions of ancient plays and to gain academic credit for their participation in “Oedipus”. The course will count as an elective in the Classics and Classical Civilization concentrations. For those outside Classical Studies, it unfortunately does not carry Humanities or Fine Arts credit, but you are free to enroll in the course as a general elective.

Please note that auditions of “Oedipus Rex” will take place in January. This is (obviously) after the semester begins. All students enrolled in CLAS 3500 will be guaranteed roles in the play, though I’m not promising what size the role will be.

If you have any questions, please drop me an email at

A full list of Classics spring offerings should be available on our website by next week.

PostHeaderIcon Amphora

An amphora is a type of ancient vase, mainly used to transport goods, particularly wine. The arrival of an amphora at your port promised some fine refreshment.

Today, Amphora is the name of the American Philological Association’s annual publication aimed at a general readership. It contains articles about interesting moments in history and cultural facts about the ancient world. It also contains reviews of Greece- and Rome-related books and movies that have gained wide popularity. The newest edition of Amphora (volume 10) was published this week. Athena’s Owl readers will find plenty to enjoy.

Want to learn how to be the life of a Roman dinner party? Check out the lead story by Philip Matyszak. Want to learn where St. Paul saw the altar to the unknown god? William C. West III traces Paul’s itinerary through Athens. What can ancient cemeteries tell us about social relations? Check out Clara Hardy and Jenn Thomas’s article on Roman social networking. There are two articles about writers and their reception of the classics: North Carolina’s own Mary Pendegraft has an excellent article on Edgar Allan Poe, while Herbert W. Benario takes on Goethe’s reception of Tacitus. Out of the books and into the theatre, Claire Catenaccio writes about why Sophocles’ Ajax has become popular in recent years. (She unfortunately doesn’t mention the recent These Seven Illnesses, an aggregation of all seven extant Sophocles tragedies, written by Sean Graney and directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskander at the Flea Theater in New York. No matter: check out the review by George Kovacs in Didaskalia.)

It’s a trifle late, but Netta Berlin offers good suggestions for Greek and Roman summer reading. (We need good leisure books in the fall too!) The issue also contains reviews of recent books. Diane Arnson Svarlien reviews the Follow Your Fates books, based on the 1970s Choose Your Own Adventures series. The FYF books were written by Massachusetts Latin teacher Ed DeHoratius, who happens to be a high school classmate of mine.   Also under review is Diogenes by M.D. Usher, reviewed by Nick Kesinger. In this imaginative adaptation, the cynic philosopher has taken his cynicism to a logical extreme: he is literally a dog. Based on these reviews, I know the next books I’ll be purchasing for my son.

The issue’s final article is my favorite. The always fun Christopher Brunelle gives us excerpts from his new translation of Ovid’s Art of Love (Ars Amatoria). He presents a convincing justification that Ovid’s elegiac couplets are best rendered into the classic English verse form of — the limerick. The proof is in the poetry, and Brunelle’s limericks match the delight of Ovid’s Latin verses. I may not get the rhythm out of my head for days.

But try it yourself. Check out the newest edition (volume 10) of Amphora at the APA website.

PostHeaderIcon The Greek Crisis among the Greeks

In the months and weeks leading up to our departure for Greece, all of us were closely watching the events unfolding around the Greek economic crisis. The crisis was the reason that our travel group comprised only three of us, two faculty and one student. We had more students enrolled, but one by one they withdrew because of the uncertain political and economic situation in Greece. Despite the fact that I was in touch with friends living and working in Athens, who assured me that life was normal, students and their parents decided it was best not to risk the trip.

In our two weeks in Athens, Nafplio, Epidavros, Naxos, Mykonos, Delos and Santorini, we never felt unsafe nor saw a single sign of turmoil. There did appear to be more panhandling than usual, especially noticeable in affluent areas like Nafplio. Clearly the crisis has hit ordinary Greeks hard. Difficult days and difficult political decisions lay ahead, and the Greeks are clearly well aware of the choices facing them. Those difficulties, though, were kept carefully away from foreign tourists like us. I am happy to report that travel to Greece, at least in popular tourist areas, remains very safe. No one should hesitate to travel there.

During our travels, we discussed the economic crisis with many people we encountered. Some volunteered information without prompting; others were happy to discuss it when asked. As is typical, the Greeks were encountered were very knowledgeable about the issues. We heard different political viewpoints and different opinions about the best way forward, but they were all grounded in a quiet confidence that Greece would come through the crisis with unity. In the midst of a bitter U.S. presidential election, the ability to discuss difficult problems honestly and calmly was inspiring. Our interlocutors also displayed strong knowledge of the way Greece was being portrayed in international media. One word in particular caught my attention, as multiple people used it: “bullshit”. That was the common descriptor for how international media were portraying Greece. To a person, they insisted that Greece is not a dangerous place, despite frightening news reports. Now, we were not so naive as to fail to recognize that these were people working in tourist areas and speaking to Americans who had money to spend. One man even asked a group he was addressing to go home and tell everyone that Greece is “open for business”. (I suppose this blog post is doing just that. You’re welcome, Nikos!) Nevertheless, our experience was consistent with what our friends said. The Greece that we saw in person bore no resemblance to the Greece that had caused several students to forfeit their tuition dollars rather than risk the danger.


PostHeaderIcon Classics Convocation 2012

Yesterday the ECU Classical Studies program hosted its annual convocation. Senior Julio Maldonado spoke eloquently about the need to understand Greek and Roman culture because of its ubiquity in our lives today. Dr. Megan Perry told us about her summer excavations at Petra, Jordan. And I offered my State of the Program remarks, which I reproduce below as a record of the event.


The 2011–2012 academic year was, by all measures, a stressful year. The university and the Classics program in particular faced numerous challenges. Thanks to a lot of hard work from our faculty and students, though, we begin the new year in a position of strength. Let me take a few minutes to recap what we have come through, where we are now, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead.

Everyone knows that the State of North Carolina, like the rest of the country and the rest of the world, has faced an economic crisis for the past four years. The crisis affected ECU to the tune of nearly $50 million in budget cuts. Two years ago, there were some vague discussions about cutting foreign languages. Universities across the nation have undergone similar cuts, and foreign language programs (including Classical Studies programs) have often been the first academic programs targeted. In a world that values short-term economic goals, the long process of learning foreign languages has often seemed too expensive, despite the obvious cross-cultural benefits. One shudders to think of how decision-makers might be looking at the allegedly “useless” discipline of Classics. We do not directly prepare students for careers. That is true. We know we don’t. And so when success is judged by the direct applicability of education to the first paycheck, Classics and foreign languages in general are often given a failing grade. When word about these vague discussions got out, our students and alumni responded vociferously. We were able to deliver about 100 letters to the Provost explaining the value of foreign language education. Many of the most eloquent letters came from our Classics students and alumni.

Then, last year, the budgetary crisis led to the Chancellor’s appointment of the Program Prioritization Committee, whose task was to recommend structural changes to the university and to recommend where future resources should be directed – and where resources should be taken from. Our fears about our “value” to the university were confirmed early last year, when the PPC began publishing reports last year. Several foreign language programs were targeted as having “low productivity,” based on the comparison of simplistic raw numbers. It turns out that other departments have larger classes than we do. If only we could teach foreign languages in classes of 75 students! When the PPC ranked departments last fall, Foreign Languages and Literatures placed 44th in the university and seemed doomed for contraction. Under the leadership of our chair, John Stevens, though, we undertook a strong effort to educate the rest of the university about what foreign language education entails, why small classes are necessary, and why we are worth the university’s investments. We gathered more statistics than we knew existed to prove how central we are to the university and to our students’ education. In the end, we won. We convinced the PPC that foreign languages needed to remain strong at ECU. The danger is not completely over. The Chancellor and Provost could still order cuts against the PPC’s recommendations. But the Classics program is in a much stronger position than we were a year ago.

Even if people want to look at our raw numbers, they look good. We have seen an increase in the number of our majors every year for five years running. We currently have 18 majors and eight minors. In 2011–2012, our overall enrollments hit five year highs, with 2,385 credit hours in Classics, Greek and Latin courses. More significantly, more students enrolled in Latin courses and in Greek courses than . . . ever. The credit for that success goes to the people in this room. We know that the best means for attracting new students to our classes and our programs is word of mouth. We can be the university’s best teachers, our subject matter can be the most enlightening and exciting, but without students telling their peers about their experiences in our classrooms, growth does not happen. So, I ask you, please keep up the good work. Please when October gets here and you start registering for spring classes, invite your friends to take a Classical Studies course. Post our course schedule on Facebook and tell them which courses you have learned the most from. Tell them how good the professor is. Invite them to consider a Classics or Classical Civilization major. My goal for the year is to top 25 majors, which means we need to sign up at least eight more students. Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could get to 30? … What can you tell them? I know that, despite the fact that we don’t directly prepare students for careers, getting a job after college or getting into graduate school is a big concern. And rightly so. So tell them about the success of our recent graduates: alumnus Jim Duffy is beginning his Ph.D. in Classics at the University of Arizona; Joshua McManaway is beginning his Ph.D. in Early Christian Studies at Notre Dame; Kelly Hunnings just finished her first year of grad school in English at Southern Illinois University; Samantha Canada and Diane Strathy are completing their master’s degrees in History and Anthropology, respectively, here at ECU; Samantha Bivans just completed her master’s degree in Classics at the University of Dublin and was just hired as the new Latin teacher at Epiphany School in New Bern; 2008 alumnus Lee Bradbury is now teaching at Pitt Community College. Step outside of the world of academia and you find that last year’s outstanding senior, Sara Davis, recently got a job with the Department of Homeland Security in Washington. Or look at 2007 graduate Elizabeth Lauten, who works as a political and media consultant in Washington and who was just hired by CNN as an iReporter for the Republican National Convention in Tampa. No, we don’t prepare students for a career; we prepare students for any career.

A central component to our success as a program is a feeling that we belong to an academic community. That feeling has been difficult to foster. We don’t have a central gathering space where we can hang out. Because we have two different concentrations and because many of the classes are necessarily General Education classes, students don’t often find the same people in their classes. And such camaraderie cannot be imposed from above. I can’t tell all the students to form a community. So not only do I challenge you to spread the word about Classics to your peers, I also challenge you to spread it among yourselves. One obstacle we face is that so many of our students are double majors: 12 of our 18 majors have other majors. We love this fact! We love that we have students with such diverse interests. We love that you bring to our classrooms perspectives from Psychology, Music, Economics, Anthropology, Political Science, Religious Studies, Art, Hispanic Studies, History and Exercise Physiology. And that’s not even counting our minors’ majors: English, Mathematics, Criminal Justice, Philosophy, Computer Science, History and Biology. This is one talented group! But it’s also a group being pulled in multiple directions. So, here’s an assignment for you: When we’re done here and we share some refreshments, ask each other what else you are studying, and why you chose to study that, and why you chose to study Classics. You’ll learn a lot!

Of course, the faculty are ready to do our part in making this a great year. Prof. Tricia Wilson-Okamura will continue her ever popular Ancient Greek Reading Group. If you are in your third semester of Greek or later, you are welcome to take part. We will be hosting a guest lecturer in January. Dr. Rebecca Benefiel of Washington and Lee College in Virginia will visit. She is an archaeologist who excavates at Pompeii, and she’ll be bringing her latest findings to share. As you saw from our earlier slide show, I spent two weeks in Greece this summer, along with Liz Tant and Theatre professor Michael Tahaney. One of my purposes there was to scout locations for future Classics summer study abroad trips. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll put together a trip for 2013 or whether it will run on a biannual basis, but I’ll have more news about that later. Beyond this single trip, Dr. Romer has agreed to become the Classics study abroad adviser. I highly encourage you to talk to him about the many possibilities available for studying abroad. Also happening this year is the return of the Classics Play. This spring, I’ll be directing Oedipus Rex. We have even been invited to participate in a Drama Festival sponsored by the Classics undergraduates at UNC-Chapel Hill. Auditions will be in January, and you’ll even be able to enroll in a course this spring—the new CLAS 3500: Ancient Drama in Performance—to learn about Greek performance conventions and to get credit for taking part in the play.

Looking at all this, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that these are very good days for the Classics program at ECU. We are in a position of strength. Challenges lie ahead, but we have proved that we are up to the task of facing them. I’m looking forward to an exciting year of good classes, exciting research and community-building extracurriculars.

PostHeaderIcon Aristophanes’ Knights in Epidavros

My last post told about our disappointment in not getting to see Antigone at the Epidavros Little Theatre because of its inaccessibility. Today’s will be a much happier tale, for the theatre festival arranges with KTEL, the Greek inter-city bus system, to shuttle theatregoers from Nafplio and Athens to Epidavros, and then back again to their point of origin. So, on Saturday, August 21, my companions and I set out from Nafplio to Epidavros. When we got there we found thousands of people ready to watch a play thousands of years old. Aristophanes can draw a crowd!


[For some reason, when I took the stage a few days later in the theatre at Delos, the crowds did not flock to their seats. I promise, the show was excellent!]


The play was performed in modern Greek, and so the nuances of the comedy were lost on us. We had come prepared, though. We read the play in advance, discussed it, and were able to follow the plot just fine. There was plenty of visual humor — slapstick, props, costumes, etc. — to delight us. A particular highlight was the appearance of the chorus, on motorcycles, dressed as a sort of glam motorcycle gang, including American football shoulder pads. They sang and danced throughout the show. Though not the world’s best dancers, they were consistently clever and delightful. My only regret is that the motorcycles remained in the graffiti-ed garage, apparently not permitted to churn up the ancient stage.

As good as the performance was, I want to focus on a moment before the play began, a moment that brought home to me a key cultural difference in theatrical practice. About five minutes after the announced start time, the play had not yet begun. I’ve been in American theatres where the play starts late. The audience gets fidgety, but they generally just continue their chit-chat until the curtain rises. The entertainment will begin soon enough or perhaps, like in the previews of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, there will be an announcement regarding technical difficulties. In Epidavros, the show was delayed and the audience was getting fidgety. Then some extraordinary (to me) happened. The audience demanded that the show get started. It started as a low rumble of dissatisfaction and grew into raucous and then rhythmic hand-clapping, meant to express impatience. Someone walked from outside the theatre into the backstage area, and it looked like the show was about to commence. When it didn’t, the clapping began again, with renewed vigor. This time, whistling accompanied the clapping, as if the troupe might respond to this taunting. While there was never any danger of the spectators rushing the stage and certainly the taunting was always playful in spirit, there was a distinct sense that the waiting had gone on long enough.

What was going on here was a communal identification that Americans rarely experience in theatre. Scholars often emphasize how much theatre is a communal experience. In any theatre but especially in an outdoor theatre, the audience can see each other. They know how others are reacting. They hear their fellow spectators laughing or crying. This is not to deny that audience reactions are individualized, while still also being culturally constructed. (The introductory chapter of David Roselli’s recent Theater of the People: Spectators and Society in Ancient Athens [Austin, 2011] treats this subject well.) Still, it is a trope in scholarly literature that theatre is a communal event.

These moments in Epidavros were the first time I truly experienced the communality of theatre. Sure, I’ve been in theatres where everyone laughed together. I’ve met strangers at theatres and discussed plays with them. But I’ve never felt more than an individual with my own peculiar perspective. In Epidavros, the audience was not there merely to attend a play they had bought tickets for. It wasn’t just a financial transaction, for which they expected two hours’ entertainment. It was an expression of identity, probably identity as Greeks, and probably much more than was comprehensible to me. It was a communal expression of will — an active will, not a passive reaction. The “transaction” of the play would truly be transactional, with the action coming from both sides of the performance space. In order to act, the audience needed to solidify themselves as a group. Even as an outsider, I felt drawn into the group, and found myself clapping along with the crowd. My individual perspective was subsumed into the communal desire. The moment effaced cultural / linguistic / economic / social differences. It created a certain homogeneity across the crowd. And it meant that, when the play finally did start, even though I couldn’t understand most of the jokes, I felt like a participant in the event, not a mere spectator.

PostHeaderIcon The Epidavros Little Theatre

From July 16 to July 31, I traveled to Greece. The trip had two purposes. First, I was scouting locations for a Classical Studies summer study abroad trip. To that end, I visited as many classical sites and museums as I could fit into my itinerary, from the Acropolis to Mycenae, from the Agora to the archaeological museums of Naxos and Thera. Second, I was accompanying a current study abroad trip, directed by Prof. Michael Tahaney of ECU’s School of Theatre and Dance. Prof. Tahaney graciously allowed me to tag along as a guest lecturer. To this end, we visited ancient theatres in Athens, Epidavros and Delos. More importantly, we timed our trip so that it coincided with the Athens and Epidavros Festival, a national celebration of theatre and music. Unfortunately, we were not able to catch any productions at the Herodion in Athens. (They were in rehearsals for Tosca, but it wasn’t performed until after our departure.) We did, though, travel to Nafplio so that we would be well positioned to see two shows in Epidavros: Sophocles’ Antigone at the Epidavros Little Theatre and Aristophanes’ Knights at the Epidavros Ancient Theatre.

This post is a cautionary tale for future travelers.

We were scheduled to see Antigone on Friday, July 20. And so we caught an early bus from Athens to the Peloponnesian city of Nafplio, a charming little city that lies about 37 km from Epidavros. Michael had been to the Epidavros Ancient Theatre many times. It is an easy (and cheap) bus ride from Nafplio. Upon our arrival in Nafplio, we checked into our hotel, the Pension Dafni (highly recommended!), and went to buy bus tickets for Epidavros. At the bus station, they were able to sell us tickets to the Ancient Theatre, but the agent didn’t know what we meant when we asked for the Little Theatre. We wisely decided not to buy tickets just yet, until we figured out the difference. I set to work on my iPad to figure out whether these were two separate locations or adjacent facilities. Unfortunately, the Festival website had directions to both places, but no maps. It was difficult to guess whether they were within walking distance. We worked for over an hour with our hotel’s front desk clerk, whom we affectionately called “Dafni” amongst ourselves. She called the bus company, a taxi company and even the Festival itself. No one was able to tell us how to get to the Little Theatre other than by the road directions on the website. Nor could anyone tell us how long the play ran. We eventually were forced to conclude that the only way to get there was by taxi (approximately 80 euros round-trip) or by renting a car (cheaper, but requiring driving narrow, twisting Greek rural roads after dark).

With those options before us, we decided that it was best to forego the excursion altogether. Luckily, Nafplio is a wonderful place and we did not lack things to do. Nevertheless, the only reason we were there that night was to see Antigone. The Festival organizes buses from Athens and Nafplio to the bigger Ancient Theatre. We later learned that there is an Athens bus to the Little Theatre, but it only travels to the Theatre; it doesn’t bring you back. Perhaps because most productions are in Greek, they don’t expect car-less non-Greeks to be traveling there. For us, at least, the Festival was one of our main attractions. The lack of not only transportation but even information was very frustrating. It was the lowlight of our trip — but if the lowlight is spending an evening in Nafplio, it must have been a very good trip.

More on the production we did see — Aristophanes’ Knights — next time.


PostHeaderIcon The Owl Reborn

I have spent the past few weeks reformatting and updating the ECU Classics website. When I started, I intended to erase the link to Athena’s Owl. Blogging had become too time-consuming for me and I had not been good at posting regularly. Coincidentally, within the past two weeks, I have received several unsolicited comments from people who said that they missed reading Athena’s Owl. After much consideration, then, I have decided that the Owl should become the phoenix and rise again. The start of the new 2012-2013 academic year is the perfect time to start again. The Classics program is in for an exciting year. I look forward to chronicling it here. I’ll use my first few posts in the days and weeks ahead to look back over the summer, including most notably my study abroad trip to Greece. I’ll also look ahead to the year’s events, including an exciting visiting lecturer and Classics Play IV. First, though, let me invite you to join us on Tuesday, August 28 at 3:30 p.m. in Bate 1020 for the second annual Classical Studies Convocation. Our featured student speaker will be senior Classics and Hispanic Studies major Julio Maldonado. This year’s faculty speaker will be Dr. Megan Perry, who will tell us about her excavation season in Jordan in June and July. All are welcome!

PostHeaderIcon Biblical Greek

The Classical Studies program is excited to announce that Biblical Greek will soon be offered at ECU. We have been working closely with the faculty in the Religious Studies program to make this opportunity possible for students. It will benefit both Classics students, who will have more upper-level Greek courses to choose from and who will get the chance to read important literature of the ancient Near East in its original language. And it will benefit Religious Studies students, who will be able to read one of the primary texts in their field in its original language and who will be able to apply to seminaries or divinity schools with Greek already under their belt.

The Biblical Greek courses will be offered in conjunction with Prof. Lee Johnson’s Religious Studies courses on the Life and Teachings of Jesus (RELI 3896) and on Paul and His Letters (RELI 3796). Starting this spring with RELI 3896, students interested in Greek will sign up for both the Religious Studies courses and a separate course in Biblical Greek. (For now, this will be GRK 4521, Directed Readings in Greek.) Students will attend the regular Religious Studies course and will meet separately once a week with Prof. Johnson to read the course’s readings in the original Greek.

Students will need to complete Greek courses at least through GRK 1002 in order to take the Biblical Greek offerings. Students may be concurrently enrolled in Biblical Greek and second-year Classical Greek (GRK 1003 and 1004). There is also a prerequisite for the Jesus and Paul courses, namely either Introduction to Old Testament (RELI 2695) or Introduction to New Testament (RELI 2696).

Direct questions either to Prof. Johnson ( or the Classics program director Prof. John Given (

PostHeaderIcon PHI Latin Texts Online

There is a new online tool available to Classical Studies scholars and students.

About 25 years ago, the Packard Humanities Institute set out to digitize Latin Literature so that it might be searchable. They successfully created files for most significant Latin authors and began selling CD-ROMs. There was never, however, a truly flexible software interface, and so Latinists always lagged behind their Hellenist counterparts in their ability to search ancient literature, since the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae team at UC-Irvine had surpassed the PHI project. Today, the TLG has been available online for years ( Its interface is excellent and it is very fast. Earlier this year, the TLG added a completely searchable version of the standard Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell-Scott-Jones ( It too is very fast and very well-designed. The layout is more easily readable than the print LSJ, and the lexicon’s linkage to the entire TLG corpus is invaluable. I have started to use it almost exclusively for my lexical needs.

The best Latinists have had is the Perseus site (, a fine resource to be sure, but limited in the number of texts it contains and one of the slowest websites on the internet. Times are starting to change, though. The PHI Latin Texts have now appeared online ( The website is primitive. You can browse the Latin authors’ texts very easily, but searching is very basic. Most annoyingly, you have to look up a numerical code for a given author and work, write it down or memorize it, and then click over to the search page and type the numerical code along with your search term. There are some advanced search capabilities, but you need to key in the commands rather than select from drop-down menus or other more user-friendly interactions. There is a “concordance” function, which searches the entire corpus and prints the occurrences of your word along with the surrounding one line of text. The search and concordance functions are lightning fast.

The best feature of the new PHI website, as opposed to the TLG, is that it is free. The TLG has some central texts available as free samples, and its LSJ can be used free without the links to the corpus. But PHI should be congratulated on its open access. So we are taking a good step in the right direction. Classical Studies has always been in the forefront of online resources among the humanities disciplines. Let’s hope things continue to improve.