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Leones : simiae : : Aeneas : Dido

28 August, 2005

Leones : simiae : : Aeneas : Dido

Lots of us are back to school or almost back. Or back to being service providers for our students? New Kid nails that one pretty well, but the comments at Dr. Crazy’s are well worth the read. I don’t know that this is as much of a problem in Europe; it never seemed to be one when I was in Germany, but the education pages at the Guardian make me think it’s a likely to be a trend in the UK at least. At any rate, teaching is on my mind. It’s on GZombie’s mind, too — he’s hosting a carnival on teaching on 1 September!

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Vergil lately. I’m now wondering how I might be able to include it in this quarter’s Ancient/Medieval survey without pulling something equally good from the reading list. The class is M-F for ten weeks, so students have a very hard time keeping up with the reading. But that’s another story. So why teach Book IV? Roman values. Different types of pietas and how they were reflected. Good gender double-standards, although I’m not altogether sure it’s just a gender thing — Dido is, after all, a Carthaginian — does that make her a barbarian in the eyes of Troy/Rome? Does it matter?

But then, what do I throw out? Antigone? Nope — it goes too well with the Aristotle and Xenophon and gives me an excuse to avoid Plato. Germania? They hate it anyway. Sallust on Catiline? The Gracchi? Not … the Res Gestae!?! Which leads me to why I don’t think I’ll be completely satisfied teaching at a two-year school forever. I would someday like to ask students to discuss the relationship of the Aeneid to the Res Gestae in context. First year students can’t do that. Actually, maybe I can leave out the Tacitus … But that really means little or nothing on the Empire. Feh — you try teaching Ur to the Black Death in 10 weeks and make it meaningful! I suppose, if I hadn’t made them buy Einhard, I could dump that … NOT! Although, come to think of it, next quarter, I may dump Einhard and find something else just to get out of that rut.

Why I’m worrying about this at all is the real question. Most of the time, I’m so busy teaching people to read and write effectively that I almost feel that I’m not teaching in my field(s). When my students don’t do well, it’s not so much that they haven’t mastered any content or themes — it’s because their communication and study skills are so bad that they are unable to master the content to see the themes.

Normally, this is my favourite time of year. The beginning of the academic year has been my New Year for as long as I can remember. I know things will be fine when we start up — despite the fact that I have only a few clues as to how to teach the Second World War. I know that my students will be in a class that will deserve university transfer credit (which will be a big shock to them). I know that I will have to work very hard to help them get to the level that they can pass. And I will do it well, because I’m very good at my job.

But this year, the dichotomy between teaching at the lower level and trying to keep my head at the higher level that will get me a job that allows me to teach things like … content! or … themes! or … historiographic arguments (besides the “f-word”)! is really starting to worry me. Even though I know I would be happy at a CC in many ways, and would certainly take a TT job at one, I really miss being able to bounce ideas off colleagues. Except in the summers, it’s very hard to talk about writing or research, because it’s suspect. People who do such things ‘don’t care about their students’ and ‘aren’t serious about teaching’. I would argue that people who don’t are subject to brain atrophy and spells of depression. But maybe that’s just me.

In the conference/professional metaphor EvieB came up with after last year’s Kazoo, it’s clear that, for the Romans, Aeneas would be a Lion, while Dido is a Monkey. But she used to be a Lion, too. So did I.

advice welcomed

PS — Going on a short blogging (but probably not commenting) hiatus till I get through at least a couple more books and get my syllabi done.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 August, 2005 3:25 am

    Dump Tacitus. Yes, it is a useful text, but mostly when you can pair it with another analytic text that follows a somewhat similar mode(I like to contrast Tacitus with Jordanes, for example, but you could do equally well with a later moralistic text). As for Virgil, I love to use the pop culture card for things like that — get them hooked on a few minutes from “Troy” and talk about how so many societies try to anchor themselves in a heroic past. Then the Aeneid comes into a sharper focus for them. Plus, there are always the dirty bits to shock them if they haven’t read Lysistrata!

  2. 29 August, 2005 4:14 pm

    I’m with Ancarett. Definitely do Vergil even if Tacitus has to go.

  3. 31 August, 2005 12:46 am

    I have no advice on what to leave out, but I’d certainly love company on the Virgil trip this fall!

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