“How do you remember all those forms?” – Part I: Pleasure

(This is a question I get quite often from my students, and I will answer it the roundabout way.)

The first time Jude took me skiing, he generously spent his skiing time with me, telling me what to do at every turn and in between.  I skied marvelously and had fun.  Two days later, I had completely forgotten how to do it.  Jude ditched me, and I spent twenty humiliating minutes sliding down the gentle hill, and then two hours trying to figure out how, in case Jude didn’t come back, I’d get down and over to the United States (this happened in the French Alps).  Jude, of course, came back refreshed, and then we somehow got down. 

This was also the first time I actually started thinking how my students might be feeling when I took them on the slopes of dead languages.  I was an expert skier there, and they were beginners.  How did I feel when I was a beginner??

Not a rhetorical question, this one.  I don’t clearly remember how I felt.  I declared Classics as my major right away, because I thought Classics involved reading great books.  It never occurred to me that it would take some time until I got to those great books, in untranslated form.  At my first class, the young professor informed us, lips twitched in disappointed sarcasm, that we girls will never graduate, because girls don’t do well with Latin and Greek. 

The professor’s arrogance probably motivated me some, but what really got me was that the study of Latin and Greek gave me the same serene pleasure as math.  I would have transferred to another major otherwise.  I’d dance singing my paradigms, and as I did it, the endings would emerge in color and shape. 

In retrospect, it was not the mastery of Latin and Greek that drove me, but the profound sense of calm and happiness that came with those studies of mine.  Every time I’d focus on the mastery, the calm vanished and my mental muscles cramped.  (I did focus on mastery at one point, and I came to hate Classics and academic life; I am hedonist.) 

I don’t hate Classics now – what I hate is the focus on mastery.  It weakens me and takes fun out of whatever I do.  And as a result I can’t really learn.  Ditto about skiing, which I eventually learned by way of hedonism.


14 thoughts on ““How do you remember all those forms?” – Part I: Pleasure

  1. So, somehow, you need to convince students that learning their forms is pleasurable. That contract verbs, mi verbs, liquid futures, nasal infixes, reduplication, syllabic and temporal augments… One can learn all these things for pleasure? I find anger works well myself, anger at the absurd complexity of these languages. Of course, being male, anger is the only emotion I have, but I prefer to call it THYMOS.

      1. What is absurd complexity? The seventy or so pages of paradigms in the back of Hansen and Quinn we are expected as Greek students to carry around in our brains. Or, for example, Mounce’s rules for reduplication given in MBG. The initial consonant is doubled, and an epsilon interposed, unless the verb begins with a consonant cluster, in which case the initial consonant is not doubled but an epsilon stuck on the front as an augment, unless that cluster consists of a liquid and a stop, in which case it gets normal reduplication. Not to mention that with reduplication involving an initial sigma or digamma, it drops off and turns into a rough breathing. Personally I do find a sort of pleasure in learning this sort of thing, but you could have a hard time generating that sort of pleasure for others. There is a lot of pleasure in the end result, i.e., being able to read these great authors, but your post was specifically about forms…

        1. Was my post specifically about forms? Oh yes, the dancing and singing… But I dance and sing, metaphorically speaking, every time I learn something new. Why, would it be better to moan and groan?

  2. Your thumos chose wisely, Jeff:) It could have pulled you elsewhere.

    Let me think some more – there seems to be an intermediate state I experienced while learning how to build a website last week.

  3. Thumos is either activated or not activated and (activated) either powerful or weak. Thumos, which is the incensive faculty, is nonrational – so it lacks power of choice.
    NB. choice resides in the Will.
    Thank you.

      1. In his “On Guarding the Intellect”, St. Isaiah the Solitary identifies the soul’s thumos as a power of the soul; he refers to thumos as an “impulse” that should be directed and subordinated to the intellect.

        John Cassian, in his classic “On the Eight Vices” writes: “Our incensive power can be used in a way that is according to nature only when turned against our own impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts.” [the operative word her is “used” – thus, the inference that the incensive, or thumos, is a passive power that is directed.]

        The Glossary of the Philokalia defines Thumos, rendered incensive, as a power, or aspect, of the soul ]one of the three aspects or powers of the soul according to the tripartite division formulated by Plato (see, Republic 434D-441C)] which often manifests itself as wrath or anger, but which can be more generally defined as he force provoking vehement feelings. The incensive aspect, along with the appetitive aspect, are sometimes collectively termed the soul’s passible aspect – vulnerable to passion. But compare the intelligent aspect, which is normally not regarded as part of the soul’s passible aspect.

        Thus, there is ample reason to conclude that the thumos, or incensive (or, as it’s later called in Medieval parlance – the irascible) does not make choices per se but is rather directed by the intelligent aspect.

        Q.E.D.

        1. I have an incredible problem with the Desert Fathers and their narrow-minded interpretation of various Clasical notions. And by implication, I have a problem with your imposition of the Desert take on thumos. AND I have a problem with anyone attempting an interpretation of earlier texts through later ones. Wouldn’t you mind if your statements are taken out of context and twisted into someone’s narrow agenda?

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