At Friday Latin Teas, Students Dive Into Erudite, and Sometimes Funny, Texts

Each Friday afternoon, at 3 p.m. in the Peucinian Room, Classics Lecturer Michael Nerdahl meets with several dedicated Latin students for a tradition he calls “Latin Tea,” (though Nerdahl points out the Romans didn’t drink tea).

Once the students have mugs in hand and cookies placed in front of them, Nerdahl hands out copies of a Latin text, typically one they won’t have encountered in their classics courses. Then group members take turns reading and translating the prose and poetry. Proficiency in Latin and Greek are requirements for Bowdoin’s classics major, and it’s also not uncommon for some non-majors to take a Latin class or two while they are here.

Nerdahl says Latin Tea is a chance for students to practice their reading and translating skills while also having fun. He likes to choose passages that are a bit offbeat. The teas also offer students less formal interactions with Nerdahl and other classics professors who sometimes pop in to join the discussion.

At the Latin Tea in this video, Nerdahl and the students are reading from Ovid’s Tristia, Book 2, lines 445-484. Ovid is beloved for his Metamorphoses and his love poetry, and Nerdahl says Tristia, or Sorrows, is less known. Ovid wrote Tristia when he was, for reasons that aren’t clear, banished to the Black Sea by Augustus. “He was miserable there, and he wrote poems trying to get the emperor to call him back,” Nerdahl said. In the section of Tristia the students are reading, Ovid is defending himself by comparing himself to other elegists who haven’t been exiled.

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