Personally, one of my favorite parts of studying classics is finding the best modern takes on these ancient stories. They’re common enough from fabulous movies like “O Brother Where Art Thou?” to great books like the Percy Jackson series and “The Song of Achilles.” I have to say, though, my favorite modern take on the classics is an album called “Hadestown” by the artist Anais Mitchell.
Hadestown is a ‘folk opera’ set during the American Great Depression that retells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. (Spoilers ahoy! We all know the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, but if you would like to find out for yourself how it plays out differently in this different setting, then skip the rest of this paragraph.) Hades is a businessman who owns a gold mine, Persephone runs a speakeasy, and Orpheus works in the goldmine. It’s a bit unclear, but one of two things happens: Eurydice has starved to death because of Orpheus’ meager wages working at the goldmine (I think it’s this one?). But it’s also possible that Eurydice, still alive, ran away to Hades because Orpheus could not support her. Either way, Orpheus then goes on a quest to get her back from Hades.
Hadestown features a full cast of influential folk voices, including Justin Vernon and Ani DiFranco, playing Orpheus and Persephone, respectively. Mitchell herself plays Eurydice. The album is one of the highest rated folk albums of all time and, depending on your source, one of the highest rated albums of all time. In this album, Mitchell shows off her stylistic flexibility, transitioning effortlessly from slow orchestral numbers to upbeat love songs and back. The songs are incredibly emotive, underscored by the superb vocal cast.
But enough about praising this music (although I could really go all day!). Listen for yourself! This is the first song from the album, called Wedding Song, in which Orpheus and Eurydice are in love and getting married, but are struggling to afford the ceremony and a life together afterward.
Hey Classics folk! Here is a valuable resource for everyone taking either Greek or Latin language courses:
The Perseus Digital Library provided you with an online dictionary as well as many, many, full texts both in English and the original Greek or Latin. To search for texts or dictionary definitions, go to the home page and click all search options. To search for definitions of words, type the word into the box under the label word study tool. A key is provided for how to enter words written in the Greek alphabet. Be sure to select the language of the word in drop-down menu on the right. The useful thing about this particular tool is that you can enter any form of the word and the search engine will still recognize it (most of the time). The search results will show several entries of all the possible definitions of that word. For example: ἀρχῇ could be either a verb of a noun. Perseus will bring up both dictionary entries. Additionally, under the dictionary entries will be listed all the possible forms that the specific form you searched for could be (Example: ἀρχῇ could be 2nd person subjunctive middle perfect, or active middle perfect, etc.). For more detailed dictionary entries, click one of the options by show lexicon entry in:.
You can also search for texts or authors in the search bar in the top right corner. Keep in mind that Perseus’ search engine is case and spelling sensitive. Beyond simply reading the text, you can use Perseus to search texts for their use of particular words. For instance, You can search for every instance of Caesar’s use of the word “barbarus” in De Bello Gallico (he uses it about 42 times). To do this, search for the text you want to examine. Once you have opened it on perseus, there will be a box on the right labeled search where you can enter the word you wish to search for. Again, perseus will pull up the word in every form that it appears unless you check the box marked search for exact forms only.
In conclusion, perseus is a powerful tool for you Greek and Latin language students. Use it, don’t abuse it.
Here’s a link to a great New Yorker article on the ancient Greek poetess Sappho. For the uninitiated, Sappho is the famous lesbian poet. That is to say, she was from the Isle of Lesbos and is renowned for homoeroticism in her poetry. However, as the article discusses, Sappho’s actual sexuality is difficult to pin down.
Controversies aside, Sappho was considered one of the great poets of her time. “Solon of Athens, son of Execestides, after hearing his nephew singing a song of Sappho’s over the wine, liked the song so much that he told the boy to teach it to him. When someone asked him why he was so eager, he replied, ‘so that I may learn it and then die.’ ” Needless to say, she’s well worth checking out and this article is a good introduction.
This is a fun article about the different spices and foods used by Romans with their dishes. Did you know that they used a lot of flavors that we might consider Asian? The Roman empire was quite expansive.
This is a site that I use to study Latin. It has a bunch of Latin games that were created by teachers around the world and shared in this community. The website for Latin Games (and you can search for specific ones) is http://www.quia.com/shared/latin/
Some of the ones I have found useful are the following quizzes on conjugations:
http://www.quia.com/cz/422995.html?AP_rand=1925616065 and http://www.quia.com/cz/422996.html
There are all sorts of different kinds of games and quizzes (the ones above are only one sort). You can search or scroll and find ones that interest you.
Hope they are helpful,
Bonus: Fun Latin Phrases
[One of my favorites is Si Hoc Legere Scis, Nimium Eruditionis Habes]
Did your reading of Homer, Vergil, or any other classical author happen to inspire your own poetry? If yes, the magazine Tellus out of the UK would love to see your work:
Tellus is an annual magazine which celebrates the rich use of the classical past in contemporary poetry; http://www.tellusmagazine.co.uk/. Poetry submissions for Issue 5 are warmly invited (deadline 15th November). Please do pass on this message to any colleagues or students to whom you think this would be of interest.
While on a study tour in Greece and Turkey this summer, I saw many beautiful artifacts depicting Roman gladiators. While all of these artifacts were fascinating, the most interesting ones that I found were two gladiator grave stelae in the Istanbul Archeological Museum that depicted left-handed gladiators.
With the first stele (labeled “A”), it is easy to tell that the gladiator (a secutor) was left-handed since he is depicted holding his sword in his left hand. It was not as easy to determine the handedness of the gladiator depicted on the other stele. The second stele (labeled “B”) depicts a gladiator (a provocator) resting his right hand on his stacked helmet and shield. The clue that reveals that this gladiator was left-handed, however, is that he is wearing his greave (leg guard) on his right leg. The heavily armed gladiator types, like the one depicted in this stele, wore a greave on the leg that corresponded with their shield arm. A left-handed gladiator would have carried his shield with his right arm and therefore would have also worn his greave on his right leg. Using this information, I was able to determine that the gladiator depicted in the second stele was a lefty.
I found these left-handed gladiators so fascinating partly because of my experience fencing. I am right-handed, and I distinctly remember that fencing with left-handed people was always very difficult. Although the Roman method of sword fighting was very different from modern fencing, I can’t help but think that differences in handedness between gladiators would have presented the same sort of challenges. The almost universal use of shields by most gladiator types would probably compounded these issues.