Phew! At the weekend, I finally finished the text, commentary and introductory essay for the Online Companion to “The Worlds of Roman Women” that I mentioned in an earlier post. This is brilliant because the project has been getting done in dribs and drabs, so it’s a good achievement to have the materials sent off to the website editor so we can move into the next stage of getting the passage on-line. Now that I’ve finished off this first part of the process, I wanted to talk a little bit about what creating a passage like this involves. It’s the kind of work that normally doesn’t get talked about, and it’s actually a rather interesting intellectual exercise – so interesting, in fact, that a number of the passages on the site have been prepared by students in courses where creating a commentary has been an assignment.
The aim of the Companion is to provide thorough grammar notes that are easy to understand, and that students can navigate without professorial help; a preliminary essay that focuses the text specifically on women and their lives; and suitable images to place text in the world of material culture that it references. The images I don’t have to worry about so much; when I submit a passage, the editors scan the vast files of VRoma, an associated project, to find what they need. At this first stage, it’s my responsibility to generate the first version of the text, commentary notes and essay.
The first part of the process is whittling down a suitable passage from all of Latin literature, consulting with the editors to make sure the passage you pick fits in with their master-vision for the site. I initially wanted to do something from the Priapea, but alas, there was nothing high-school friendly in the entire corpus (but I will write about these poems another time). The third book of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria fits the site’s mission both in terms of being addressed explicitly to female readers and slotting nicely into one of the conceptual worlds that organise the Companion. We narrowed the choices down to three possible selections – 3.235-250, in which a nasty mistress mistreats her slave hairdresser; 3.255-280, on minimising defects; and 3.281-310, on adjusting one’s laughter and walk to attract a man. I went for the third passage, with a view to doing the second at some point in the future.
With a suitable text identified, the next job is doing a quick survey of the relevant scholarship. Thankfully, there has been a recent commentary by Roy Gibson on book three of the Ars Amatoria, which points out the main textual issues as well as referencing all the important scholarly work that went before it. With inscriptions, which the Companion also uses, the process of text-definition is much trickier; in my short passage, there are a couple of places where punctuation and textual emendation are issues, and I disagree with Gibson’s choices. That said, having a commentary to hand does make those decisions a lot simpler and easier to work through.
Once I’ve gathered the scholarship and made my decisions about what I believe the actual text says, then the process of writing grammar notes begins. The Companion glosses generously, and always gives the relevant meaning of a glossed word first – this is useful when you are preparing the only passage in which the word lacunae appears to mean ‘dimples’! We also provide grammatical glosses and hints about what words to construe with what – absolutely vital for intermediate Latin students tackling either poetical constructions or the syntactical complexities of Tacitus. I explain why that’s in the subjunctive, or what that random genitive is doing there, or hint that ut is being used as a preposition rather than a conjunction in this passage. Sometimes, it’s enough to list a noun – we provide the nominative, the genitive ending and the gender, so if there’s a fourth declension noun that might throw a student off because it could be any number of cases, the grammar glosses are where they’ll find the hint. Preparing the grammatical glosses is the most time-consuming piece of preparation. It’s one thing to skim over the text and think that you know precisely what it says, but when you come to actually needing the grammatical reason for why something is in the subjunctive… now, that’s a bit more tricky. It’s great practice for preparing how to explain these things in the classroom, and also for tuning up the Latin language skills that (let us whisper it) might need a bit of a polish after the last few months I’ve spent primarily worrying about high-end editing of the thesis.
The final stage is writing the introductory essay. The previous two essays I’ve written, on Pompeia Paulina and Seneca’s aunt, both needed a lot of editing because I got a Bit Keen on providing all the historical background to them – which wasn’t the same as focusing the essay on them and their experience. Writing an introductory essay to the Ars is a bit different, particularly this passage - there are no specific women in the passage, except women who Ovid holds up to his female readers as embodying behaviour they should avoid. So my first draft looks at the context of the poem, who Ovid addresses it to, and how it generally focuses on getting women to please men rather than empowering women to take control of their own romantic lives.
Once I’ve got these three draft documents together, the next stage is to e-mail them all to the website’s primary editor, the wonderful Ann Raia, who will go over them, make suggestions for edits and further glosses, and send the materials back to me. We’ll go back and forth with those changes until we’re both happy, and then the final stage is getting the passage actually onto the website – but that’s a way off! So, for now, I’m glad that I’ve finished this first part of preparing the passage, and can enjoy the accomplishment of moving this on to the next stage of giving students a new passage to work with and teachers a new resource to use.