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Lecture series honors late professor

By KAYLA MULLEN | Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Following the death of classics professor Sabine MacCormack, the classics department established a series of lectures in her honor to take place during the 2013-14 year. The lectures will capture subjects that interested MacCormack.

MacCormack authored five books, won the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award, belonged to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a member, while contributing to the study of religion and culture in colonial Latin America and ancient Rome. 

The first lecture, titled “Learning Virtue: Aeneas, Ascanius, and Augustus,” was delivered by Keith Bradley in Room 210 of McKenna Hall Tuesday.

Bradley is an ancient historian who specializes in the social and cultural history of Rome. He said his lecture was meant to explain the political and cultural context in which Virgil’s Aeneid was written. 

Bradley began his lecture by addressing the relationship between the two main characters, Aeneas and his son, Ascanius, and how it pertained to the Roman ideals for father-son relationships. 

Bradley said this relationship was characterized by a father’s duty to prepare his son for adulthood.

“At all levels of Roman society it was the father’s responsibility to prepare his sons for adult life. Artisans taught their sons their skills or apprenticed them to master craftsmen to learn trades by which they might in due course earn their daily bread,” Bradley said.

Bradley said there is a strong connection between the “legend” of The Aeneid and the history of the Roman Empire,

“The division between legend and history was porous in Roman antiquity, and in the Aeneid, Virgil, in some sense, was creating, or recreating, history for his contemporaries,” he said.

Bradley said the reigns of both the famous Roman triumvirates and Augustus Caesar form the political context in which Virgil’s epic was written. 

He said knowledge of this context allows the determination of the particular dates of the Aeneid’s composition. 

“An answer must contend with the poem’s relationship to Augustus, the new founder of Rome with whom Aeneas is inevitably to be identified. It must at the same time restrict itself to the time of the poem’s composition. Exactly when this is unknowable,” said Bradley.

Bradley also covered the topic of war and its influence on Roman culture in classical times and on the Aeneid itself. 

Bradley said Virgil lived during a time of civil war, and this fact is prevalent in his graphic war scenes throughout the poem. He said this demonstrates how the sociopolitical aspects of Roman society greatly influenced Virgil’s writing, making it possible to learn much about Roman history from his works.

In closing, Bradley said MacCormack was right to put Virgil above all other Roman poets.

“The influence of the ‘greatest Roman poet,’ as Sabine called him, was inescapable. That is a consequential fact for anyone who seeks to understand the traditions, and value the ethos, of Notre Dame,” he said.