Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rome in October

The OU Latin course is now over so I am free to concentrate on other studies. I have to say I really enjoyed engaging with Book 2 of Virgil's Aeneid on a line-by-line basis - it took me back to my (very happy) undergrad days. You can't beat teasing apart the fibres of language as a method of understanding how it works. The past week has been largely spent sitting in my study (in the sunny bit if possible) and working my way through Michael Morris's introduction to the Philosophy of Language (see my 'Metalepsis' blog). I am conscious that half-term is once again looming ever closer which means, study-wise, a week up on blocks. Still, I am far from despondent as we are all travelling to Rome for a short break. Fantastic! I can't wait - there are a few things I am determined to schedule, including a visit to the church of San Clemente which not only has some marvellous mosaics, but sits above a well-preserved Mithraic temple. We've only managed to get into it once before, Roman opening times being what they are, so I want to go back with the children and give them a real sense of how history builds on, and absorbs, what has gone before. The Mithraic religion is enthrallingly gory, and the shadowy subterranean tunnels echo with the rushing of a nearby river. Or possibly drain - I'm not sure which. High on the kids' agenda is the Colosseum ('only from the outside', I cautioned, having coughed up the exorbitant entry fee last time), possibly the ossuary at Sta Maria della Concezione, where the bones of the Capucin friars have been used to create an atmospheric memento mori, and the Trevi Fountain (by day and by night). Other definites on our list are: climbing St Peter's dome (which will necessitate an early start) an espresso in the Tazza D'Oro coffee shop near the Piazza Navona (best coffee anywhere) and Stas Maria and Cecilia in Trastevere, which we've never got round to visiting before. Rome in the Autumn is glorious if the weather is sunny - the walk along the Tiber, kicking the russet leaves, is simply beautiful. And what better way to celebrate my fiftieth birthday - in a beautiful city surrounded by the people I love.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

'Mens Sana in Corpore Sano'

The pleasant sunny weather has sparked a resurgent interest in 'going to the gym', an activity that had become rather sidelined since the summer holidays. I had been on maintenance routine i.e. only going when I was being nagged by either children or spouse, the former to accompany them to an organised class (sadly, not the boy since the fractured wrist footie incident); the latter probably because he fears the return of my whale-like state that accompanied my final undergrad/MA years. Well today I went, and I really enjoyed it! I suppose that the endorphins had kicked in, because I've felt really healthy and motivated for the remainder of the day.

The combination of physical and intellectual activity is one that the ancient world understood well 'mens sana in corpore sano' etc. So now I've got over the initial reluctance to down pen, I'm going to make a commitment to keep going on a (more) regular basis. If I go first thing in the morning after the school/dog run, it'll scarcely impact on my working day. Plus all that oxygenated blood should do my mental processes a world of good. I ought to add that the husband made it quite clear that further self-funding of the PhD rested on me keeping myself fit and healthy, so pass me that dumb-bell!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Full Timetable = Bliss

I have returned to the fray with renewed enthusiasm for study - the Summer's ennui and uncertainty forgotten as I happily bury myself in a drift of PDFs and books to be read. As usual I am approaching the topic in my usual centripetal fashion; reading the background and the tangential before homing in on the core material. This year the background stuff is pretty intimidating; Philosophy of Language followed by a general study of linguistics. It's certainly far more demanding than anything I have tackled before, but the nature of doctoral study demands that. I am cheered on by the way that previously totally alien concepts (eg referrents, propositional attitude constructions, Sinn und Bedeutung) are gradually gelling to such an extent in my mind that I am returning to Steven Pinker's excellent 'The Stuff of Thought' and realising that I understand his writing at a much deeper level.

Other projects include the acquisition of some ability to read German (at my supervisor's behest) and some Syriac-Aramaic. The former is quite easy to fulfil and to that end I am plunging into an introductory grammar - I can recall quite a bit from my pre-'O'-level years. The latter is proving somewhat more of a challenge: Syriac grammars are harder to come by. Trawling the internet, I chanced upon a slim (very slim) volume that proved to be the product of self-publication: interesting but doesn't quite fill the brief. The textbook suggested by one of my new contacts looks promising (Robinson's Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar by J F Coakley 5th Ed. 2005 since you ask), but is rather expensive and I don't think I'll find anyone to buy it for my upcoming Big Birthday. I believe it is in the uni library, but since I'm not down there until early December, I'll have to make do with mix-and-match sources. Having done some Biblical Hebrew I am not anticipating too many problems once I actually get started......

Also being read at the moment is E Randolph Richard's 'Paul and First Century Letter Writing': most enjoyable but pads out the kernel of what we know with more than a modicum of invention. And this is a problem that I am encountering again and again in the field of Biblical scholarship: hard-core facts are few and far-between and the temptation to 'join the dots' with well-intentioned but ultimately unprovable supposition (obviously by its very nature supposition is a form of fantasy). This is where the confessional scholar has the advantage over the the other sort. Many of them (and I must emphasise by NO MEANS ALL of them) feel quite at liberty -nay, almost compelled - to fill the interstices between known facts with what they think must have been the case or explain mysterious discrepancies by invoking mystery. In the same way Channel 5 documentaries blithely move from 'could have' to 'would have' to 'did' within the space of their allotted hour, covering measly facts with a veil of interesting fallacy. Whereas I would feel quite at home grabbing the programme makers by the scruff of the neck and demanding evidence, I note that there is a tendency to fight shy of forcing the well-intentioned evangelical (or member of any other denomination) into a corner to explain him/herself! This comedy of manners is quite amusing, but ultimately leads to two discrete fields of scholarship that to the uninitiated (like me) are not always discernable at first sight.