Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Monday, September 05, 2005

Are the classics always timely?

(this mosaic is of Dionysus, the male god who - with his exoticism, passion, and dangerousness - was most closely associated with classical ideas of the feminine)

This week I start teaching Latin again. A year and a half ago, I resigned from my last Latin teaching position, thinking that I would probably never teach it again. I had come to question the relevance of learning this dead language. Sure, it's wonderful for preparing kids to ace the verbal section of the SAT, it's good background for doctors and lawyers, but is it really worth it? Isn't one huge point of learning a language to use it to cross cultural barriars, to communicate with people we consider "other"? Yet with Latin, one doesn't speak it or write it. One only translates.

And as a feminist, it bothered me that every Roman author I taught was a male. Even the stories in the first couple years of Latin were all heavily male oriented. I questioned then, and still do question, teaching a cannon that privileges males so completely. Not that we have much choice- there are simply no female authored literary texts in classical Latin that survived (with the exception of a couple of poems.)

I often wonder whether teaching a curriculum that is male authored, male focused, and often centered on war and politics alienates the girls in my classes. I wonder whether it teaches them that males' ideas and interests are more important, more weighty than females'. I wonder if on the rare occassions women do appear in the texts, filtered through the gaze of the male author, I am implicitly teaching them to be the object, not the subject of their lives. And I wonder if my girls ever even stop to question why they almost never see themselves in these texts.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back from leave, Georgia soldier grieves for two
AJC reporter Moni Basu and photographer Bita Honarvar will be filing reports and photos from Iraq ... It was hard enough for Shea, a 25-year-old Locust Grove cable installer who wants to join the Henry County police force one day, to be returning to Iraq.
your blog is creative

9/05/2005 10:51 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Interesting, especially how there doesn't seem to be an escape from the textual background.

Wish you luck with your teaching Latin while not teaching that the attitudes belong in our current world.

9/11/2005 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I belive truth is always timely. If it contains truth, does it really matter what gender the protagonist is?

9/16/2005 11:22 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

I think the gender does matter, *especially* if that gender is speaking "truth."

I think it can be extremely detrimental for young girls to only hear "truth" from males. What does that teach her about females and truth? I think in many cases, the girl subconsciously begins to believe that "truth" usually comes from a male. And what does that do to her self esteem, her conception of her own potential? Having models of both genders who are powerful, important, intelligent, and speakers of truth is the way it should be IMO. Because it doesn't only affect the girls. Boys grow up internalizing these things too. And it will be harder for them to respect women fully if authoritative voices have always been male in their lives.

9/16/2005 6:21 PM  

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