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  • Skye Shirley

Gathering the Props

Updated: Feb 1, 2018

Adrienne Rich’s famous poem “Diving Into the Wreck” is told in the voice of a narrator who, before immersing herself in the water which became a metaphor for the past, lists what she must carry : “a knife/ a camera/ a book of myths.” For this study of Roman comedy, I have a different toolkit. I know a few things will be essential if I am going to try to explore Amphitryo this week the way I would want to teach it.


1- Orberg’s annotated Latin-Latin edition of Amphitryo. Mine is dog-eared and ink-stained already, from years of carrying it around without ever committing to a cover-to-cover read. Orberg’s editions are fantastic because they include pre-reading materials, images, and simple Latin definitions. The only thing they are missing are the hallmark Orberg exercises and open-ended questions which can be found in his earlier books. However, we’re in luck! My colleague Gregory Stringer made these resources on his own, which you can purchase here.


2- Loeb Classical Library’s edition of Amphitryo. It’s a bit hefty because the book covers five of Plautus’ plays, but there’s nothing like an excuse to oggle the special section of the Harvard COOP devoted to this series and drop another $35 on a red-cover Loeb. I remember reading Harry Eyre’s Horace and Me, which begins with his assertion that such a valuable and dangerous little book as his Loeb of Horace’s satires ought to have set off alarms in the security of the airport he passes through. I’m not sure about that, but there is a beauty to the bindings. English is on the facing page, which is a challenging crutch not to use. Is it a bad thing to look at the English? Not necessarily, but if you want the biggest bang for your buck, you’re best off finding a more memorable way to learn words (more on that soon).

Cat not included.


3- A notebook covered in Latin constellations-- in case you forget what a corvus is?


4- Pens, decorative tape, colored pencils. Now, do you need this stuff? Not at all. For me, color is a way I honor something. I’ve always been a visual learner and color has helped me remember my schedule, find my suitcase in baggage claim, and appreciate the beauty of the natural and artistic world. As someone who runs up stairs two at a time, eats too quickly, and always wants to move toward the next thing, color is a way for me to slow my brain down and appreciate or digest what I have learned. I attended a Waldorf School for 5th and 6th grade, in which we made our own textbooks. Drawing borders or fancy lettering helps me make that book my own. Haven’t stopped since!


Another note: I’ve held my pen the “wrong” way for as long as I can remember, and perhaps out of that early feeling that I had gotten something wrong with writing, I quickly developed handwriting I was proud of. I promise myself that I’ll color outside of the lines. That I’ll hold my pen however I want. That I’ll have a little fun taking pride in my notebook. And, though it’s by no means a requirement, I always invite my students to do so, too.


5- Secondary scholarship: I ordered a copy of Feminine Discourse in Roman Comedy by Dutsch, Laughter in Ancient Rome by Beard, and my professor is sending me several shorter scholarly articles to shed light on Amphitryo. As much as I want this to be a language blog more than a secondary-sources blog, it’s important not to see these texts within a vacuum, and to perhaps even occasionally summarize the main points of this scholarship in Latin as a way of bridging the language barrier between ancient texts and recent scholarship.


With these materials having been gathered (ablative absolute!), I’m ready to leave the carceres and start running.

Carceres (the gates lifted to start a chariot race) of the Hippodrome in Jerash, Jordan.

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