Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Virgil, An Icy Night, & George Eliot

Ice by Night (It's Safe to Say Night Photography Isn't My Forte):

I love the idea of stoicism and living by Aeneas’ words in adversity:

forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.
(Perhaps someday it will be a joy even to remember this.”)

In reality I complain a lot. We had a blizzard in December. The whole city shut down. Still, I can deal with snow. It’s ice that dismays me. Try crawling up an icy hill to work. Yes, it can happen. I found myself clinging to fenders in driveways. It must have been quite a sight.

Today it’s just a little freezing rain. We’re tough. But the streets are slippery and dangerous, the driveway is a skating rink, our Yak Trax fell off our shoes, and some of our maple boughs sweep to the ground in an icy arc. (Please, please don’t fall on the neighbor’s garage.) There are power outages. Trees have fallen.

And I have a cold.

Two good things happened.

1. The mailman staggered up the drive at five-thirty (I was amazed he made it) with two copies of Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin. These are for my class: the students have their own copies of the Aeneid in translation, but I am providing the Latin text so these beginners can translate a few lines themselves (with much help). I have six texts from former teaching jobs: now I have enough for the class. They’re in surprisingly good condition. You never know when you buy that 80-cent copy whether it will be usable or covered with underlinings.

I’m back on the Latin chain gang. I have barely enough students for a class, but here we are again, a very nice group of people who admittedly drove me crazy last fall while I was figuring out how to meet the diverse needs of serious language students, charming people who wanted to improve their vocabulary, intelligent Catholics who want to translate the Latin Mass (it is beautiful), and some resolute souls who are new to language study.

It’s amazing how much they remember after two months off. I’m pleasantly surprised that they know their declensions and conjugations. We go slowly, but try to keep everybody on track. Some are so adept they could easily get teaching assistantships someday and the professors would be thankful to have them. I suspect, however, that if they applied for grad school, they’d be discriminated against because many are over 50.

2. It was a perfect day to read George Eliot. Her brilliant, flowing sentences, elegantly precise word choice, and moving insights are a joy, every paragraph as adeptly designed as a lively dance. Eliot describes Victorian childhood in such a way that it could be anywhere anytime. She perfectly captures precocious nine-year-old Maggie’s vulnerability and her hero worship of her older brother Tom, an ordinary boy who fishes, fights, whittles sticks, and, unlike his sister, hates reading. Ironically, ordinary Tom is the one who will get the education: even the father regrets that brilliant Maggie is the girl. i love the scenes of Maggie's passion for other people, her hammering on her "fetish" (an old doll) in the attic when she is upset, and her mood swings realistically dictated by Tom's approval or rejections. And I love the authorial comments.

Eliot understands relationships perfectly:

“We learn to restrain ourselves as we get older. We keep apart when we have quarrelled, express ourselves in well-bred phrases, and in this way preserve a dignified alienation, showing much firmness on one side, and swallowing much grief on the other. We no longer approximate in our behavior to the mere impulsiveness of the lower members of a highly civilized society. Maggie and Tom were still very much like young animals, and so she could rub her cheek against his, and kiss his ear in a random, sobbing way, there were tender fibres in the lad that had been used to answer to Maggie’s fondling: so that he behaved with a weakness quite inconsistent with his resolution to punish her as much as she deserved...”


Laura said...

I'm reading Eliot too--Adam Bede. Hers are books you can take your time with, aren't they? I also thought her portrayal of young Maggie in The Mill on the Floss was extraordinary.

Frisbee said...

She's amazing. The Mill in the Floss is so rich in style, insight, everything. It's great that there are so many of us Eliot-philes around.

Frisbee said...

By the way, Laura, I love your editions of Eliot at girlebooks! The cover art is terrific.

Laura said...

Ha, thanks. That Mill on the Floss cover was especially fitting I thought.

Ellen said...

Alas, tonight Izzy went to her Latin class and it had been cancelled. She did spend a half hour in the class with the others, but it was not what she had been looking forward to. At the last minute, the teacher had to cancel.

In the middle ages, as I'm sure you know, people who read and had books would open their Virgil to wherever it landed and always did find (so they said) an a propos line which comforted them. I don't know Virgil well enough to come up with one for Izzy.

Ellen (whose second class is beginning to go well; the first one sees me as students see Emma Thompson in Wit or An Education)

Frisbee said...

So sorry about your daughter's Latin class. That IS a disappointment! It's nice to have a group, but the teacher is the one who can guide them through the Latin. And if I come across any appropriate Vrgil--but probably ALL of it is appropriate. I'll send you a Latin line.

My class was small, too. This has been a terrible winter. If it's not ice it's blowing snow.