Basho! Nagoya 2017

The second summer sumo shindig recently finished up in Nagoya and it was a highly enjoyable affair.  There was a lot of good daily commentary and prognostication over at Tachiai, where I spilled most of my fan-thoughts in the comments section.  Over here at my humble blog, I thought I’d just hit some highlights. Continue reading Basho! Nagoya 2017

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Orlando Furioso Cast of Characters: Astolpho

Cantos VI (Tree), VIII (Escape), XV (Egypt), XVIII (Damascus), XIX (Laiazzo), XX (Laiazzo Escape), XXII (Magic Villa), XXIII (Bradamante), XXVIII (Rodomonte’s Ribald Tale), XXXIII (Ethiopia), XXXIV (Hell, Eden, Moon), XXXV (Parcae), XXXVIII (Nubian Army), XXXIX (Orlando), XL (Biserta), XLIII (Brandimart’s Funeral), XLIV (Return to France)

Duke of England, Son of  Otho, Cousin of Rinaldo and Orlando

Magical horse Rabican, Magical Lance of Argalia, Horn of Dread, Book of Spells

Coat of Arms: Three Gold Pards on a Crimson Field

Classical Type: Odysseus

TL;DR King Arthur Soars Around World, Saves Orlando and The Day

Summary Continue reading Orlando Furioso Cast of Characters: Astolpho

Old Testament Adventures: Jotham’s Parable

Toward the end of Gideon’s tenure as Judge, the Israelites offer him a pretty sweet deal: be our king.  Gideon, knowing that God is the king of Israel, declines and that is the end of that.

Just kidding!  This is the Bible (AKA Reality), where everything humans do turns to rot and final victories have to wait for, you know, the end.  After Gideon dies, his bastard son Abimelech murders all his legitimate brothers in an attempt to claim the throne his father declined.

Well, almost all.  Abimelech misses out on one fleet-footed son, Jotham, who runs away from the train wreck he can see coming so clearly.  But before he heads for the hills, he delivers a pretty sweet curse-parable to the people of Shechem who are crazy enough to entertain making this deal with Abimelech.

The parable of the trees serves up a healthy dose of insight wrapped in a delightful cover of mockery and condescension: Continue reading Old Testament Adventures: Jotham’s Parable

Form III Final: Anselmian Dialogue

One of my bright Form III (9th grade) students decided to imitate his older brother and compose his final exam essay question as a dialogue in imitation of St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo.  He’s nailed the tone of St. Anselm and thrown back some of Boso’s most sycophantic replies.

Somewhat like my previous Final post from my Quaestio-spinning junior, this answer format puts more focus on his argument and cuts out a lot of flim-flam.  His order of presentation is also quite nice–a good streamlining of St. Anselm’s work.  A fine project: Continue reading Form III Final: Anselmian Dialogue

Orlando Furioso Cast of Characters: Ferrau

Cantos I (Rinaldo and Argalia), XII (Magical Villa), XIV (Paris Muster), XVI (Paris Battle), XVIII (Paris Retreat), XXVII (Counter-Attack, Tournament Second), XXXV (Bradamante), XXXVI (Bradamante)

Nephew of King Marsilius of Spain, Slayer of Argalia

Classical Type Green Knight

Coat of Arms ?

TL;DR Ferocious Saracen of Questionable Character Provides Excellent Action Scenes

Summary Continue reading Orlando Furioso Cast of Characters: Ferrau

Form V Final: Strength of the Quaestio

Many years ago, one of my juniors answered one of his his mid-term exam essays in gorgeous, Ciceronian Latin.  It was a pretty fine essay; with a bonus for the Latin I gave him 9.5/10.  It will come as no surprise that he went on to study Classics at the University of Virginia.

I have never seen such a performance since then, but I encourage my students every year to try to dominate the essays with more than mere knowledge.  Wisdom!  Synthesis!  Be remarkable!  This year, for the first time, one of them tried his hand at composing all his essays, both mid-term and final, in the quaestio format of the Scholastics.

Regrettably, this more recent student is not quite as good as my classics genius from bygone years.  The content in each respondeo is just too thin, barely stating the conclusion and devoid of argument or exploration.  Many claims are dubious or flat-out wrong.  In comparison to the excitement of seeing the format, the delivery is a letdown.

However–and this is a big however!–this all turns out to be for the best.  The failed content delivery makes all the more evident the strengths of the quaestio format, which in turn allows me to see the things my student does get right.

The objections are extremely well-chosen and show a nearly perfect framing for the question even when he makes mistakes in them.  They could be worded better to imitate St. Thomas, and they could certainly be polished up for greater argumentative effect, but for a student effort they are really good.  By laying them out in system, he made it easy for me to see that he gets the question–something many of my students with higher test scores fail to do.

The method makes all the more evident that his argument–what I call the kung-fu stage of each article–is weak.  The faults are glaringly obvious when stripped of all the rhetorical flim-flam that students use in hopeless attempts to veil their ignorance.  It’s my job to see through the flim-flam and not be cozened by it; in the quaestio method we have an honesty and humility that makes my job far easier.

It’s not just easier to grade.  It’s easier to correct.  I could sit down with a student and conference over such a project to dramatic effect.  Redirection is easy when the work is laid out so nicely.  Indeed, I could run a suitable Oxford tutorial-style class around this kind of project (assuming I had the luxury of time and assuming all my students put forth a commitment equal to this one).

So here is the glorious failure in all its hideous strength (numerous spelling errors of a dyslexic boy corrected).  Enjoy: Continue reading Form V Final: Strength of the Quaestio

Orlando Furioso: Geo-Political Edition

Want to turn a 46 canto, 38,000+ line giganto-epic into a short soundbite?  Easy!  Just tell the story the way we would today.

Ariosto paints his masterpiece Orlando Furioso against the background of an epic war between Charlemagne and Agramant, Christian Europe and the Muslim East.  This can’t be stated clearly enough: Ariosto is not interested in that war.  He doesn’t go into what started it.  He only rarely returns to the action of the war itself.  The conflict serves only as the medium in which the many heroes of the poem do their thing.  Look, read the opening lines of the opening stanza, all Vergilian and everything:

OF LOVES and LADIES, KNIGHTS and ARMS, I sing,
Of COURTESIES, and many a DARING FEAT;
And from those ancient days my story bring,
When Moors from Afric passed in hostile fleet,
And ravaged France, with Agramant their king,

Or to put a finer point on it, the war is the setting, not the plot.  The story-line of the war is lost for many cantos at a time as Ariosto displays his heroes and villains with their virtues and their vices.  The characters and their deeds are the thing!  But let’s strip the meat and soul of the poem and just look at the skeleton, because it’s actually pretty interesting all by itself…if you can remember what happened ten cantos previously! Continue reading Orlando Furioso: Geo-Political Edition

Future of SAAS

What is the future of a school like St. Anselm’s?  We find ourselves in a difficult situation, as shifting cultural values put the squeeze on our student pool.  Can we last?

There will always be boys schools.  No problem.  Plenty of people believe in the benefits of single sex education.  If the last fifty years have not driven that out of our culture, I doubt anything can.

There will always be Catholic schools.  No problem.  We may be in hiding some day, there may not be a lot of us, but there will always be a reason for these to exist.  Frankly, if things got bad for Catholics in this country, we’d probably see more, not fewer.

There will always be a demand for classical liberal arts schools.  But do you see how our pool is winnowing?  Still, all this is ok.  We are fine so far.  It’s the next part that is the problem.

I am not sure how much space is left in the world for a classical liberal arts Catholic school for boys that aims to serve the top 10% of academic achievement and ability.  Two factors coincide: Continue reading Future of SAAS

Form I Final: A Good King Is Hard To Find

On the first day of school I give my Form I (7th grade) students a 1-inch binder full of the course materials they will need for the first month or so.  One of the first pages of that first packet, right behind the syllabus and class procedures, is the final exam essay question they will have to answer at the end of the year:

What makes a good king of Israel?

Everything we read throughout the year, from Judges 1:1 to II Kings 25:30, plus whatever we can squeeze out of Isaiah, answers this question.  This is one of the ultimate set-up questions for reading the New Testament and really understanding what is going on throughout all four gospels (especially St. Luke’s).

So what’s the answer? Continue reading Form I Final: A Good King Is Hard To Find