The Classics Family at Wabash: An Interview with John Henry, ’10

As I continue my series on the Classicists from the Class of 2010 which I began last semester, I reflect on the fact that Classicists, despite the strange looks we sometimes get when we tell people what we study, really are capable of just about anything.  Last year, I posted a link on this site to a study which found that Classics majors do better on the LSAT than most other majors.  That post turns out to be an appropriate link into my post for today, which is about my interview with John Henry, a lawyer and currently a Research Compliance Associate with Indiana University.  He graduated from Wabash in 2010 with a double major in English and Classical Civilization.

Originally, Henry didn’t intend to become a Classics major, but, as so many of us are, he was hooked in by Dr. Hartnett’s Latin 101 class.  Soon followed a course in Greek Art and Archaeology with Dr. Leslie Day (according to Henry, one of the best courses he took while at Wabash), Dr. Kubiak’s class in Classical mythology, and several others.  Henry told me that the “Passion of the professors was so profound, and their teaching methods were so good” that he felt connected to them like family.  Indeed, like others before and after him, Henry considered the Professors Day especially to be a kind of second parents for him at Wabash.  I myself can attest that this “familial” quality of the Classics Department continues at Wabash today.

Henry’s special connection with the Days eventual led him to Greece on an immersion trip.  He was able to see Kavousi, the site on Crete that has long been the focus of Leslie Day’s research and excavations, which is not open to the public.  Henry and his classmates received the special treat of a tour of the site by Dr. Day herself.  In fact, Henry mentioned that she was so knowledgeable about every site they visited that she was able to give a “full academic lecture” wherever they went.

Dr. Leslie Day speaking about a site during Henry’s immersion trip to Greece.

While Henry shared these special relationships with his professors, his classmates also inspired him.  Henry says that his fellow Classicists, like Denver Wade and Mitch Brown, forced him to work harder with the passionate quality of their work.  During our interview, Henry noted that this characteristic of his class particularly showed in their senior seminar, led by Dr. Joe Day, in which each student wrote on a separate topic.  The quality of each individual’s work was so good, Henry recalls, that he felt as if they were all in graduate school editing each other’s Ph.D. dissertations.

Today, Henry continues to stay in touch with his Classics family, faculty and classmates.  His Classics background also helps him in his legal career.  Not only does his study of Latin allow him to know the meaning of such phrases commonly used in the law, but, on a deeper level, the critical thinking skills he developed from his work in Classics of piecing source material together to make cogent arguments aids the very basis of his work as a lawyer.

At the end of our interview, I asked Henry if he wanted to add anything for the blog post.  He mentioned that he hopes that the Classics at Wabash continue to be maintained at the same level of quality as they have been and that they remain an integral part of the educational environment at Wabash. That Henry feels so strongly about this issue speaks to the positive influence his time in the Classics Department here at Wabash had on him.  Not only are the Classics beneficial to study in and of themselves, but the Classics “family” at Wabash is so superb, every Wabash man ought to take advantage of it.


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The Classics Abroad!

The first Classics event of the semester occurred this past Friday with a lunch talk given by two senior Classics majors and sponsored by Eta Sigma Phi, the Classics honors fraternity at Wabash.  Colson Crowell and Eddie Pingel both related some of their adventures from and reflection about their semesters abroad last year while the audience enjoyed Greek salad and gyros.  Talks such as this one are an opportunity for guys who have studied the Classics to inspire younger students to take an interest in traveling to Greece or Rome.  Colson and Eddie certainly inspired me.

Colson Crowell gives his presentation on his experience with College Year in Athens.

Colson began the lunch by speaking about his experience with College Year in Athens (CYA).  This program allowed Colson to visit sites throughout Greece such as Epidaurus, Delphi, and Thermopylae.  I had chills when Colson described his trip to this last site and how he attempted to imagine the width of the pass where the 300 Spartans and their allies fought the Persians.  In the amphitheater at Epidaurus, where Colson said that one could hear a pin drop in the center from anywhere in the audience, his group recited the opening lines of the Iliad.  At Olympia, Colson and several of his classmates sprinted around the racetrack.  Apart from visiting famous sites, however, Colson also was able to experience the “real culture” of modern Greece in a way few tourists can.  By the end of his semester abroad, Colson understood the Greek people better.  For example, at the lunch he talked about how Greeks today are divided about their past: should they embrace their ancient history as a mark of greatness or should they focus more on the future?

Following Colson’s talk, Eddie spoke about his time at the Centro, the Intercollegiate

Eddie Pingel studied at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies (Centro) in Rome.

Center for Classical Studies run by Duke University in Rome.  Here Eddie studied the Classics and art history with a small group of fewer than 40 students.  Everyone in the program took one particular class called the Ancient City, which included weekly field trips and two extended trips to the Bay of Naples, featuring the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and Sicily.  I laughed at Eddie’s picture of himself doing a hand-stand in front of the Colosseum.  Then I asked him how his experience overseas had changed his “big picture” view of his future, and he responded that, even though he does not intend to pursue a career in Classics, the program helped him milk much more out of his Classics major than he would have without visiting these places in person.  Eddie mentioned that the program is housed a mere forty minutes from the Vatican and next to a convent. Despite this location, the tight focus of the program on the ancient world prevents as much interaction with modern Italian culture as, for example, Colson got with Greek culture under the CYA itinerary.

This last point illustrates what became a theme of the rest of the lunch talk: there is no one study abroad experience.  These programs, like CYA and the Centro, contrast in size, focus, and even living space.  In this variation, these programs are like the study of the Classics themselves.  Both Colson and Eddie agreed, however, that their classes in the Wabash Classics Department had prepared them for all the rigors and challenges of their respective programs. Their testimonies provide encouragement for any Wabash student interested in pursuing study abroad.  While a myriad of options and potential focuses of study are out there, a Classics education from Wabash will prepare a student for any of these programs.

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A New Spin on an Old Tale: Vergil in China

Dr. Jinyu Liu, associate professor and chair of the Classics Department at DePauw University.

Before the summer began, I had the good fortune to listen to a talk about a familiar topic in a seemingly unusual setting.  Dr. Jinyu Liu, chair and associate professor of Classics at DePauw University, spoke about the reception of the Classics in China.  Specifically, her talk was “Graeco-Roman Classics in China (1600-1949): The Case of Virgil.”  Dr. Liu began her presentation by demonstrating that the Classics actually have a hold on the popular imagination in China.  She showed pictures of a full-scale replica of Trajan’s Column in Macau, “the Chinese Las Vegas”, and a Colosseum made of beer bottles at a museum in Taiwan.  Apparently, Jesuit missionaries first introduced the Classics to China around 400 years ago.  The question which Dr. Liu’s talk then addressed was what values did the Chinese people and Chinese scholars see in the Classical world and how did their views influence their decisions to translate certain texts and not others.

One first notices that the Chinese people have clearly favored the works of Homer over those of Vergil.  Since the early twentieth century, Homer has been translated into Chinese multiple times while the first full translation of the Aeneid in that language did not become available until 1984.  Why this slanted view of the Classics?  According to Dr. Liu, in the early part of this last century the Chinese drew on examples such as those of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae and the fierce Greek warriors in Homer’s epics to inspire themselves to stand firm as a nation.  By contrast, the Chinese viewed the Romans as archetypical conquering warriors, an image that threatened Chinese nationalism.  In accordance with this Greek-Roman dichotomy, the Chinese found support for their nationalistic views in the works of the poet Lord Byron, who wrote about Greek culture and advocated for the independence of the modern state of Greece, a movement with which many Chinese in the early 1900s could identify themselves.  On the other hand, many Chinese scholars, when they finally began translating small portions of Vergil’s work, rendered the character of Aeneas as more of a conquering villain than his familiar role as the pious pawn of destiny.

Fortunately for the lovers of Vergil among us, Dr. Liu says that Vergil’s reputation in China is

A replica of Trajan’s Column near the Sands casino in Macau, China.

currently enjoying a bit of revival.  Apparently, as China begins to embrace more and more globalization, the figure of Aeneas has become more appealing.  As a sign of this resurgence of interest, a book about the Aeneid by esteemed Classicist Eve Adler became the first ever such work received favorably in China.

While the details of Dr. Liu’s research proved interesting in themselves, I found that, after her talk, the audience was struck by the fact that her research has barely scratched the surface of a field that few have analyzed because few have possessed the necessary skills to do so.  Dr. Liu’s interdisciplinary approach which requires her to examine both modern Chinese and ancient Latin and Greek sources and to view them in the light of Chinese history appears to me to be a wonderful example of the power of the Classics to bring sources and viewpoints together.  As the Chinese people have demonstrated, the Classics can mean different things to different people.  Thanks to Dr. Liu for helping us see that in such a vivid way!


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Classics Alumnus Wins Microsoft Competition

Michael Carper, ’13, a Classics major, recently won the grand prize in Microsoft’s Power BI demo contest.  To see what Classics majors can do, follow the link.

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Stroud Wins Fulbright

The Classics Department is proud of Patrick Stroud, ’14, who just recently was awarded the college’s third Fulbright fellowship this year.  Stroud is Classics minor.  Follow the link for the full story.

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Magic and the Classics Tomorrow

It’s less than twenty-four hours until the big Suovetaurilia tomorrow.  I hope everyone is getting their togas, and appetites, ready.  In the midst of all the excitement, I have one last blog to write about the schedule of events for tomorrow.  Since so many Classics classes this semester are focused on religion and magic in the ancient world, what better way to showcase this theme than with some actual ancient Greek and Roman magic?  Tomorrow, the Suovetaurilia planners will set up several stations including:

  1. Making your own dedication to the gods (with Play-Doh)
  2. Designing your own curse tablets
  3. Reading the sortes Vergilianae (an ancient method of divination in which the person reading the fortune picks a random passage from a work of the ancient Roman poet Vergil).

Tomorrow guests at the Suovetaurilia will be able to make their own curse tablets, like the ancient Greek one shown here.

Do you have a grudge against someone that you’d like the gods to handle?  Do you want to thank them for handling it? Do you want to learn what Vergil has to say about your fortunes?  Then come to the Suovetaurilia tomorrow.  Even if the gods don’t hear your prayers, the Classics Department and Eta Sigma Phi will make sure you’re well-fed.   

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