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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cast Your Bread Upon the Wars: A story of connections

In my Connected Courses "nugget" post this weekend, I sang the praises of Weinberger's "small pieces, loosely joined" model of web publishing, and just yesterday a WONDERFUL thing happened to me which illustrates how connections can and do happen online that would never happen in a traditional publishing model, for all kinds of reasons. So, here's the story:

I got an email from a Latin teacher, Justin Slocum Bailey, who has added a section to his beautiful website, Indwelling Language, which contains his audio recordings of Aesop's fables taken from a book I published online a few years ago, Mille Fabulae et Una: 1001 Aesop's Fables in Latin. Justin is such a great performer and he offers the fables in both classical pronunciation AND ecclesiastical pronunciation! How cool is that? I would say that is very cool indeed! He doesn't just tell people that yes, there are in fact many ways to pronounce Latin (sadly, a subject much disputed amongst Latin teachers)... he shows them! Even if you don't know Latin, you can appreciate what a great reader Justin is by taking a listen: Indwelling Language Audio.


So, thanks to this great new audio event, I was able to add a new section to my Latin blog, Bestiaria Latina, where I can feature one of Justin's audio fables, with a link back to the text of the fable in the book that I published:


That blog is something I have had online for many years... my school may refuse to let me teach Latin online (that's another story), but they cannot stop me from sharing my love of Latin with the world via the Web. When I started the blog back in 2005, it had no readers at all, like any new blog, and I remember getting so excited when I reached 100 readers! Now there are over 2000 people subscribed to the email option alone, and I get a couple of hundred visitors per day to each post. In a Latin class at my school, I could have reached maybe 20-30 people each day... but I do better than that every single day with my blog.

It's through the blog that I got to connect with Justin and so many other wonderful Latin teachers and students, along with the hundreds of people I will never know directly... but with whom I am connected nevertheless through our love of Latin fables and proverbs, a love that intersects at the blog.

As for the book, oh, the book is a weird one, one that no traditional publisher would ever touch, but I am so proud of it: it is the single biggest collection of Aesop's fables in Latin (well, probably in any language!) — 1001 Latin fables, without duplicates, drawn from an enormous array of Latin sources (classical, medieval, and Renaissance along with even more modern sources like my beloved François-Joseph Desbillons), sources that I was able to discover thanks to Google Books and other digital libraries online.

What's more, I did something no academic publisher would ever have allowed: I re-crafted the fables to make them useful to Latin students, turning the poetry into prose and shortening the fables so that none of them is longer than 120 words (see p. 426 of the book for a detailed discussion of my editorial process). You can find out more about the book here at this massive blog which contains all 1001 fables as linkable blog posts (very useful for Justin's purposes): Mille Fabulae et Una: 1001 Aesop's Fables in Latin. There's also a free PDF download of the book itself.

So, I published this book in 2010. My hope was that it would, at last, convince my school to let me develop an online Latin course... but that hope failed. After ten years of asking permission to create an online Latin course, I have stopped asking and yes, I've given up all hope of ever teaching Latin at my school again. But that doesn't mean I have given up hoping for other good things; in fact, one of my personal mottoes is: Spes ultima dea (Hope is the last goddess). And as soon as Justin let me know about the audio yesterday, I immediately thought of the Biblical proverb that Howard Rheingold had quoted in one of the Connected Courses webinars early on: "Cast your bread upon the waters: for you shall find it after many days." (Mitte panem tuum super transeuntes aquas, quia post tempora multa invenies illum.) So, indeed, after four years, here I find the fables again... this time in lovely audio form!

Since the first fable in the book happens to express something of my own life philosophy, I'll close with the words of the fable itself, in both Latin and in English (bibliography and other notes at the blog):

1. Leo et Canis. Occurrit canis leoni et iocatur, “Quid tu, miser, exhaustus inedia, percurris silvas et devia? Me specta pinguem ac nitidum, atque haec non labore consequor, sed otio.” Tum leo, “Habes tu quidem tuas epulas, sed habes stolide etiam vincula. Tu servus esto, qui servire potes; equidem sum liber, nec servire volo.”

1. The Lion and the Dog. A dog runs into a lion and teases him, "Wretched creature, worn out with lack of food, why do you run through the woods and lonely places? Look at me, fat and shiny. What's more, I obtain these things not by work, but at my leisure." The lion replies, "You do indeed have your feasts, but you also stupidly wear a chain. Go ahead and be a slave, you who are able to do that; as for me, I am free, and I will not be a slave."

I think the moral of that fable speaks for itself. And, even better, it resonates with Simon's lion post from a week or so ago. Looking for more lions? Go visit Simon here: Zootopia.

And let us now sing the praises of all small things, loosely joined! :-)

11 comments:

  1. A wonderful post from start to finish, and one I will long remember, especially for that Latin motto: Spes ultima dea.

    I also didn't know that there was controversy about ecclesiastical vs. classical Latin pronunciation: my choir directors and my Latin teacher were convinced the matter was settled. This world is one flat-out interesting and perplexing place.

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Gardner! And I am so glad you like "Spes ultima dea" ... that is an old one for me, before I even started collecting mottoes and proverbs in earnest. I think of it OFTEN. :-)

    And the Latin pronunciation wars are something I can now laugh about but, man, it can get ugly; I'm glad it is no longer part of my professional life (there are macron wars, too...). The idea of people arguing over a dead language whose pronunciation is reconstructed... when most of them are simply reciting from a book and cannot actually carry on a conversation in Latin anyway... is one of the weirder phenomena of modern academic life. There's a great scene in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (the wonderful old Robert Donat version), where the dean of the school is trying to force Mr. Chips to give up his old-fashioned English-style pronunciation of Latin, and Mr. Chips is heartbroken because all his charming and very bad Latin-English puns will not work any longer with the restored Classical pronunciation. Mr. Chips has my sympathy!

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  3. That is a powerful story of how online spaces connect writers to readers/speakers to listeners across time and space, and how things can resonate for a long time. Very interesting....

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    1. So true, Kevin! And if you think about those Aesop's fables, we are talking about resonating for a really long time... like: THOUSANDS of years! I have been obsessed with Aesop's fables for such a long time; it's why I decided to go back to grad school in fact. I'm lucky that the academic topic that interests me is also something fun and easy to share with a wide audience in all kinds of forms. :-)

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  4. Loved this post and it made me yearn to learn Latin (not sthg that happens here, for pretty obvious reasons), tho the point of it, of course, is not the Latin, but

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  5. Thank you for your comment, Maha! And you are showing up here with a Blogger B instead of a WordPress WP, so I think it is doing its Google thing, although you have made me curious to investigate more about that. Meanwhile: Latin! One of my main interests in studying Latin is not classical stuff at all (in fact, I'm not interested so much in classical stuff... which was part of the problem at my school)... I am interested in how Latin during the Middle Ages and Renaissance was a way that Sanskrit and Persian and Arabic stories came to Europe, like the stories in the Kalila-wa-Dimna. There are SEVERAL Latin translations of Kalila-wa-Dimna in the Middle Ages. SO COOL. And so I used some illustrations for those Latin stories from this illustrated Egyptian manuscript of the Kalila-wa-Dimna from University of Munich Library here:
    Kalīla wa-Dimna - BSB Cod.arab. 616: Egypt
    Beautiful pictures!!!

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  6. My third attempt at trying to comment; let's see if this takes...your stories and illustrations of the transformational power of connecting via the world wide web has stuck with me all weekend long. It's also amazing to see how your love of Latin, once squelched by University, has now flourished by way of the web and its communities of collaboration. Moreover, thank you for your links and for the gift of your online book. Studying Latin has long resided on my bucket list. I have to thank an attorney boss I once had the privilege of working with many moons ago, before the age of the internet, for igniting my interest in Latin: he was fond of weaving Latin mottos, as well as character quotes from nineteenth-century British literature, into our daily discussions (in fact, I would've never acquired a love for Hardy, the Bronte sisters, among other greats, if it weren't for his joy in sharing his knowledge in those areas . . . which brings me back to the power of connecting and the idea of shared learning. [And maybe that it need not always take place in a classroom?] Wow.) I'm currently enjoying the Biblical Proverb in Latin you mentioned above, first by way of Howard Rheingold: Mitte panem tuum super transeuntes aquas, quia post tempora multa invenies illum. Fascinating how another's ideas/words can resonate and continue to expand in the minds of others. Thank you for your delightful blogs this past weekend; I feel encouraged by the possibilities of online spaces, and inspired.

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    1. Latin can be so much fun; the lawyers get to learn Latin odd ways from the abundance of legal terms that they still use in Latin. Like the notorious in flagrante delicto, ha ha. My favorite Latin is definitely the stuff you find in proverbs and fables... and, of course, it is very convenient that they are tiny too. Enjoy! I am so glad if I can help with anyone's bucket list!!! :-)

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  7. I don't know, maybe my above post finally took because I changed my Twitter handle from s_stagner to twi_teracy;)

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    1. And when I was trying to reply to your Twitter, it kept giving me weird messages because I think I was using the old handle, ha ha - I would type in the box but Twitter didn't count the characters. Twilight Zone (cue eerie music!). Anyway, I am so glad we have connected. Do you have a blog also? I have found so many great new blogs to follow in future thanks to ccourses! :-)

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(I have limited this to Google accounts only, but no word verification; meanwhile, if you want to contact me directly, you can do that too! laura-gibbs@ou.edu.)