Sententiae Antiquae examines the classically ridiculous

For someone not familiar with classical literature, a read through the Twitter account @sentantiq can feel a little like hearing an inside joke without any context.



But the handle and associated blog have become wildly popular among enthusiasts of the old and obscure, and they have sparked curiosity from some more casual observers. The project was started in 2011 by Brandeis Associate Professor of Classical Studies Joel Christensen '01, MA'01.

"I was just about to get tenure, and I felt I had been narrowly focused with what I was reading," he said. "You can focus so much on one thing to the detriment of everything. I wanted a way to expand my reading list."

Plus, he was tired of seeing quotes with improper attribution getting thrown around online.

Joel Christensen

"You can find thousands of false quotations attributed to Aristotle, to Plato," he said. "It's just annoying."

So he started Sententiae Antiquae with the idea that he would take an ancient quote and find the correct attribution. Christensen partnered with Erik Robinson, a high school Latin teacher in Texas, and the project has evolved quite a bit over the years. It has also grown a substantial following – the twitter account has over 17,000 followers to date.

"We excerpt passages from literature from the dark ages to the renaissance and explain them to the world," Christensen said. "We comment on them, contextualize them, and we have fun with it.”

They've taken some wild and unusual turns along the way, like a Twitter thread with memes riffing off the TV show "American Chopper," and blog posts on subjects like how to say Sharknado in ancient Greek, and ancient Greek words for excrement.

“I have a PhD in the classics, I write about Homer; that doesn't mean I can't have some delight in the ridiculous as well. I think the ridiculousness helps breakdown the wall when people think of academics as distant and stuffy,” Christensen said. “I'll do anything to get people interested in learning."

It has also been a source for scholarship - a blog post about the Battle of the Frogs and Mice ended up being expanded into a book - and a tool for the classroom. Student projects have been featured on the blog, and Christensen posts original translations and material for classes they can't get elsewhere, such as cult names of Athena and some poems to her, and hymns to Dionysus. Christensen finds himself engaging with people from all over as he receives questions and interesting material through the project.

“In a way, it has allowed me, and made me, expand my notion of classroom and students,” he said. “Students from years ago stay in touch and ask questions and students who are not strictly ‘mine’ reach out too.”

As far as the future goes, Christensen isn't sure how the project will change over time.

“When I’m asked, ‘What is it for?’ I can’t really answer because I've consciously tried to not narrow it," he said. “I think we have a moral and social obligation to public outreach, but does this count as what I'm doing as a professor, or is it a hobby? I don't really know.”

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, Research

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