Rose Punts??

Not sure how I could have missed this after five or ten re-reads, but the ERC nerds spotted what seems to be a blatant punt in Rose’s translation of Orlando Furioso (XIII.7).

When him I after in the field espied,
Performing wondrous feats of chivalry,
I was surprised by Love, ere I descried
That freedom in my Love, so rash a guide,
I lay this unction to my phantasy,
That no unseemly place my heart possest,
Fixed on the worthiest in the world and best.

But Mr. Alspaugh, Mr. Alspaugh!  I thought Orlando Furioso was composed in ottava rima!  Doesn’t ottava mean eight?

Erk.  Yes.  Rose has omitted line four, the second b rhyme.  Good heavens, man, why?  To the textual criticism we go!

What follows is an epic misadventure leading to greater knowledge.   Continue reading Rose Punts??

ERC: Rhyming Furioso

A mortifying experience at the most recent gathering of the Epic Recitation Club.  Caveat lector: the punch line may be a bit more crude than some audiences would find appealing.

Normally when we are reciting Orlando Furioso, I am absorbed in the story and thinking about what to comment on after each stanza (or so).  It’s usually either a story reminder, a clarification of tone, or the meaning of archaisms.

My bright boys, however, have an unusual capacity for focusing on the rhyming scheme of the stanza.  Perhaps they are just looking ahead at their stanza in anticipation, but they catch the slant rhymes and outright oofs! that Rose makes in his translation.  They delight in exaggerating their delivery to underscore the deviations from standard pronunciation.

A trivial example from XII.5, to illustrate: Continue reading ERC: Rhyming Furioso

God’s Lack of Experience

The hits just keep on coming: just recently I officially entered old age by throwing out my back picking up my son in the middle of the night.  Instead of bouncing back in a day or three, here I am doing therapy 3 weeks later to regain my full range of motion.  On top of everything else, it’s meant no chance to compose my thoughts.  Sleep is better than writing; c.f. Maslow.

For those of you who don’t know what a bad lower back feels like, may God continue to richly reward you.  It really is everything my older male friends warned me about: an indescribable, indefeasible, infantilizing pain.  Trust me: you don’t want to know first hand.  Unless you are looking for a shorter stay in Purgatory…

But my griping dovetails nicely with a question one of my Form III students posed last week while wrapping up Anselm’s Argument (The Argument, not one of his many others).  I’ve heard it many times before but his variation stuck with me because I didn’t answer it as well as I could have/should have.  I blame being rooted to a chair.

Namely: if God doesn’t learn, die, lie, fail, suffer, and the like, aren’t there things He doesn’t know?  Doesn’t this make him incapable of sympathizing with us who do, and therefore loving us? Continue reading God’s Lack of Experience

Old Testament Adventures: Abram’s Lie

One of the enduring legacies of my education at Franciscan University is a deep-rooted enchantment with the Old Testament and a confidence in reading and interpreting it.  I think if I had only learned that, my education may still have been worth it.  Thanks, Dr. Hahn!

I especially love the unfinished feel to parts of it: the short, unexplained stories where it is not always easy to see the point, or the otherwise-weird stories that only make sense in light of the larger covenant structure, or the super-long-term payoff stories where you have to remember something that happened three books previously.

So since my son is now of age to read these stories, and as I help a new colleague adjust to the life of teaching 6th graders these stories, I thought to start jotting down how I handle some of these fun passages.  Tone?  Moral?  Purpose in the narrative?  Most people I know find these hard to get a handle on, and I love doing it.  So…

Take a look at Genesis 12!  No, not the three-fold promise.  That’s one of the most famous and most important passages in the entire bible.  Skip that for now and skim down to the part where Abram and Sarai go to Egypt. Continue reading Old Testament Adventures: Abram’s Lie

Return of the ERC: Magical Villa

That nerdiest of Abbey Boy adventures, the Epic Recitation Club, has made its triumphant return.  Well, more like under-the-radar, since we have somehow managed to get left off the official roster of clubs each year for a while now.  But the boys hold me hostage each Friday after school once again and our slow plod through the poem resumes.

The officers have taken it upon themselves to get us organized in a way that is both admirable and absurd.  Not wanting to haggle each week over “how far did we get last time?” they have created a Schoology page for the club, appointed administrators, and added members.  It took about 30 minutes of our meeting time a few weeks ago to set it up.

The only use of this web page, I stress, is to have an update box on the front page where they can write down which canto/stanza we stop at each week.  That’s right, the smartest boys in the Washington, D.C. area are using satellites and servers in place of a bookmark. Continue reading Return of the ERC: Magical Villa


Scheduling and staffing issues at school have put an unusually large extra dose of responsibilities on my plate this year.  I knew it was going to be a strain when I volunteered to stick my finger in the dike.  What I didn’t fully appreciate: what else was going to have to give in order for me to make it work.

My prime writing times are early in the morning or after my dock is cleared and I have some head-clearing time in the afternoon.  In a pinch, I write in my legal pads on the train on the way to work.

Well my hamster wheel of prep-teach-grade starts at the crack of dawn and there are zero head-clearing spaces in the day (of sufficient length) until I get home.  And it turns out my kids actually require a father when I get home.  I’m already at my late-year stage of sleeping on the train both to and from work and we haven’t even hit Back to School Night yet. Continue reading Time

Teaching Badly: Change

Back in the saddle after allowing the blog to quiesce for a few weeks.  With the fall term starting up at St. Anselm’s, it’s time to start writing about teaching again.

Change is an important element in facing each new school year.  Things that didn’t work the previous year have to be improved or removed, whether that is an approach to discipline or a topic or an assignment.  Some topics grow stale over time, sometimes because the teacher has lost interest in them; they have to go.  And sometimes it’s just important to do something new, for your sake and the sake of the students.

This is a bit of a scary thing: I spent so many years early on just trying to figure out what worked and holding on to that.  What if I change things now and screw it all up?  What if a class goes badly?  What if a whole week is lost?

Quelle horreur!  Get over it (and yourself) and do something new.  You are not the pinnacle of the educational experience, no matter how good you are.  You’re not risking perfection here; you are risking your pride.

So what am I doing differently this year? Continue reading Teaching Badly: Change

Teaching Badly: Oppose, Redirect, Prevent

I have never taken an education class and, Deo volente, never will.  We can get into why another day.  For now, I thought I would jot down my basic theory on how to run a classroom.

When I consider the ways in which I handle behavior problems in class, I really see just three: I can confront and oppose misbehavior, I can redirect it, or I can prevent it from happening in the first place.

It’s worth noting that misbehavior doesn’t (just) mean throwing paper airplanes or talking out of turn.  It can be any behavior that destabilizes the class or diverts you from accomplishing the goals of the day.  Sometimes it manifests as wildness but it could be anything that’s stopping you or slowing you down.

Now, the three basic teacher responses to such behavior: Continue reading Teaching Badly: Oppose, Redirect, Prevent

Vergil to Augustine: Inanitas

My friend Adam has hit upon a quite nice little idea in his translating of the Aeneid.  The general idea is that Vergil is a cynic who ends all his most epic scenes by throwing shade on them.  I’ll let Adam speak for himself on the details, but I was pleased to play a small auxiliary role in the hashing out of the idea.

Initially I resisted his take on the pictura inani, or empty picture, that Aeneas used to feed his soul.  Why not instead stay local and contrast Aeneas feeding his soul (animus) with a soulless (inane) picture?  But once we got talking, his cynical read started to grow really nicely.

While Adam ran off to do some real work (prep for a class), I played the role of research assistant gunning down every use of the adjective inanis in the Aeneid.  Again, God bless the internet.  And indeed, it is quite remarkable how often inanis shows up just in an amateur little word search, and what it ends up modifying (hope, rage, tears, etc.).

It was also fun because our discussion of Vergil’s agenda–pro Augustan or not?–sparked an idea about another field full of expert scholarship: the writings of St. Augustine. Continue reading Vergil to Augustine: Inanitas

Is Math Persuasive?

Continuing my flogging of the issue: is it the essence of a mathematical proof to be persuasive, such that someone who fails to persuade has failed to engage in “mathing?”

I ran across this fun little Numberphile video which raises in passing an interesting and important point.  Fermat came up with an idea (not his super-famous one) about some primes being the sum of two squares (like 17=16+1).  What the video goes on to mention is that many mathematicians after Fermat–the super-heavyweights like Euler and Gauss and Dedekind and Co.–all came up with proofs of this idea.

Each of those proofs is different.  Very different.  If the goal of mathematical proof were simply to persuade, the proofs would be valued for getting different “mathematical demographics” to agree to the truth of the conclusion.  Or perhaps, even more simply, one could insist that everyone should agree to the conclusion of the first, rational proof and then get on with life.

But this is not the role of mathematical proofs, any more than it is the role of the scientific method or logical argumentation.  The various proofs are valued because each of them illuminates different aspects of the problem as well as different areas of the wide world of mathematics. Continue reading Is Math Persuasive?