A Beginner’s Guide To Reading 3 Epic Poems

epic [ep-ik] adj. noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style

A few days I came across a curious thing on Tumblr: a student who was interested in and in possession of three epic poems – The Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid – in translation, and who wanted to read them but didn’t know how to approach them in a way that made them easy to understand.

As a classics major in undergrad, I had little trouble understanding what was going on in these epics because I had been exposed to the stories, in varying amounts, and the cultural context of the stories for a number of years already. I can only imagine what it’s like to read these stories with little to no knowledge of the Greco-Roman world or the literature that came from it.

So, after a lot of thinking, I figured the easiest way to explain how to approach these epics was to provide anyone who wants to know how (i.e. anyone who’s reading this) with 1) a brief overview of the background, major characters, and major cultural topics of each epic and with 2) a general outline of the structure(s) of the epics.

Continue reading “A Beginner’s Guide To Reading 3 Epic Poems”


Summer Job, Summer Class: A Lesson in Time Management

When I signed up for my summer class – an intensive Latin course that intended to get through the entire language in only eight weeks – I had no intention of getting a summer job. I thought I’d be sitting pretty with the money I had gotten from my summer scholarship, with enough to pay for the class and to pay for my rent and utilities until my stipend started in September.

But I was so, so wrong.

The class turned out to be a little more expensive than I’d thought, leaving me with barely enough money to get through the first month. So I quickly applied for jobs all over town – mostly in retail, but in food establishments too – hoping against hope that I’d find something that wasn’t a total drag and paid well enough.

Luckily, I had an interview and was offered another by a different store, but took the job I was offered from the first one. I experienced my first full-blown work schedule this past weekend – working one twelve hour day, two ten hour days, and two eight hour days in a row – and it was miserable. It was hot and humid, sometimes rainy, and my feet and knees were killing me after all of those hours on my feet.

But at the same time that it was miserable, it was totally worth it because it allowed me to learn so much about the store and its merchandise in a short amount of time, as well as get to interact with so many different people. Just yesterday I modeled clothing for two women who were shopping and it was so fun.

At the end of the weekend, however, I remembered that I still had homework to do – and a lot of it. Plus, on top of all of that, the Democratic National Convention is on this week, and I’m working three more days. Going from class to work to homework and being politically informed is beyond tiring – doesn’t it just sound like it?

I haven’t quite perfected the art of time management in this situation, but I am working on it actively. Today, I had a day off so I did all of my homework for next class and the class after that, just so that I wouldn’t have to worry about doing it after getting home from work tomorrow at 9:30pm (I’m not a night owl anyway, so doing homework that late is painful for me). As for balancing class and work, it’s a little tricky to do when you start work right as your class is ending – yesterday, I asked to leave half an hour early so that I could eat lunch before work, and I felt terrible. Tomorrow, though, I think I will try to eat my lunch during our ten minute break in the middle of class and ask to leave ten minutes early instead. It only takes five minutes to walk from class to work (thankfully) so it should work out fine.

I am working until the end of August, but my class ends on August 19th, so hopefully things will be easier by then. As long as I stay on top of my homework – or at least stay ahead of it so that I don’t neglect to do it or forget until the last minute – and ingest as much coffee as humanly possible (just kidding… maybe) then I think everything will be fine. This is my first summer working AND taking a class, but once I get the hang of it, it’ll be alright. Plus, I’m getting paid, so it’s definitely worth it.

Just four and a half more weeks to go. I can totally do this.

Email Etiquette

One of the most significant takeaways I have acquired from my four years of college – especially in the last two years where I have spent countless moments emailing my professors and others – is email etiquette.

I’ll be honest: I started off pretty much the same way as everyone else. I had no idea how to properly address others in my emails or how to sign off on them. I didn’t know the difference between formal and informal emails, or when to use which one. But after some extensive online research and some advice from my peers, I realized, incorporated, and developed feelings about a lot of things to do with sending and receiving emails.

When in doubt, write formally

It’s the same idea as when you’re writing a paper for class. With professors, prospective schools, supervisors, or any other superior, use formal speech, not anything informal or anything colloquial unless it’s a close friend. I always begin my emails with ‘Dear [Title] [Last Name]’ and end them with ‘Sincerely, [My Name]’. I have recently moved more into using a less formal ‘Best’ or ‘All the best’ in my salutation, but I’ll address that in the next section.

Mirror the tone that the recipient of your email uses when they respond

While you always want to start off formally, sometimes you will get a response from a professor or other correspondent that is more casual, so in this case you may change your tone to match the mood of their email. For example, if you start off with ‘Dear So-And-So,’ but they respond with just your name, feel free to drop the ‘Dear’ part when you respond. However, it is your discretion. If you’re totally intimidated by your professors and want to keep being formal, by all means, go ahead.

But you really shouldn’t be intimidated by them (especially if they are helping you A Lot and are in your field of interest – one day they may be your colleague!).


This is one of my biggest pet peeves, especially when I am emailing someone about something important. Have you ever had a deadline for a paper or a take home exam that needed to be emailed to your professor, but when you do, they never respond to tell you if they received it? Does it leave you lying awake at night in a panic because your whole course grade is at stake? Well, you have two options. One, you could email them again. However, don’t be rude – just kindly inquire about whether or not they received your attachment and don’t email again. Sometimes emails get buried under other emails. Professors are swamped. Or Two, you could visit their office. Same effect, less naggy than a second email.

Professors aren’t the only ones who can suck at responding to emails, though. I recently was emailed about a job interview, and when I responded with my availability for the interview, I never got a response back confirming the date and time. Like the first example, a simple ‘Yes, that date and time work’ or ‘See you then’ could go a long way.

In short: respond to your emails, even if it’s just a boring ‘Ok’ at least the person on the other end won’t be tearing their hair out over not knowing.

I’m sure there are plenty of other email rules out there but I feel like this are the most important ones by far, especially once you get to a point in your college career where you are emailing not only your professors, but future schools and employers too.

What Makes (Ancient) Language Learning Successful

In the last twelve or so years of my life where I have spent my time in school, I have been able to learn three languages – German, Ancient Greek, and Latin – from eight different instructors. As you can imagine, with a range like that, I have experienced a number of different methods of teaching and have realized ways in which language learning can work and ways in which it cannot work.

I have seen students who constantly struggle where I cruise along almost totally unscathed, sometimes because of a lack of genuine interest, sometimes because study strategies are poor or totally non-existent. For two years I was an Ancient Greek tutor, and in those two years I managed to tutor maybe four or five students when I knew more could use my help. It’s hard for me to sit back and say nothing – but I figured that since I am in yet another language course (this time, an Intensive Latin course for the summer), I can blog about what makes language learning successful in the long run.

As a Classicist, I will be focusing on ancient languages, like Ancient Greek and Latin.

Know Your Vocab

Okay, so you’re never going to know every single word out there, but it helps a whole lot if you start memorizing the vocab as you go through each chapter of your textbook. Learning the words in small chunks, as well as in context (i.e. practice sentences) will help you learn them much faster than, say, trying to learn every word from three chapters in the day before the test.

Greek Pro Tip: It may have been brutal, but the professor I had for Intermediate Greek made us memorize the little words (adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions) to the point where we were often quizzed and tested on them. While it seemed tedious at the time, these words make up 90% of the texts you’ll read in the original language, so it helps to know them now so you don’t waste time trying to look them up later.

Latin Pro Tip: Memorize the principal parts of verbs from the very beginning. Even though you don’t use the second two for a while when you’re first starting off, knowing the patterns and the principal parts from the start will help you a lot in the long run. And it’ll save you time so you won’t have to go back and learn the principal parts for those verbs you learned at the beginning of class!

Understand the Grammar

It’s one thing to memorize all of the different grammatical concepts and syntactical structures of a language but it’s quite another to actually understand how everything is working in a sentence. I’ll be the first to admit that I still, after three years, do not fully understand every single grammatical concept of Ancient Greek, but I have them all written down from my classroom days and tucked away in a binder on my bookshelf for reference.

Whether it’s making a chart of the grammar as you go along, writing up flashcards, or just taking notes from your textbook, make sure you always WRITE DOWN EXAMPLES.

I honestly can’t stress this enough. Examples make the world go round. Examples are the real life applications of those tricky-sounding grammatical concepts you may or may not ever remember. Whether you’re using the examples from your book or your instructor, or you’re making them up as you go along, make sure you tie a couple of them back to each of your grammar concepts so you can see how they work and can use them to compare to in the future.

Second, come up with (or find) some mnemonic devices. One of my favorites and the most useful so far in learning Latin has been S-O-A-V (Subject Object Accusative/Ablative Verb). I’ve realized that without this particular device in mind, translating sentences is much more tedious because you never know where to start. Because I was taught this at the very beginning, I always know what to look for right off the bat and I can translate much faster and much more accurately.

For Greek – idk make a running chart with each of the concepts and examples of each of them. That way, even if you don’t ever memorize them, you’ll have something to reference in the long run.

Practice, practice, practice

As the saying goes, “Practice Makes Perfect.” Or nearly perfect. Either way, you won’t be anywhere near perfect if you don’t ever make an effort to do the exercises, write down the paradigms, or run through the vocabulary with flash cards. For ancient languages that don’t require as much spoken practice as written, writing it all down over and over again is the only surefire way of memorization – especially of conjugations and declensions. It doesn’t even have to take that long – set aside an hour or so at a time and do nothing but language study, then take a break.

A little bit goes a long way.

Sorry for the rant – I spent a lot of time these past two days in my Latin class thinking about teaching the class myself in a few years and trying to figure out ways to make learning the ancient languages easier for others.





22 Things I Learned in 22 Years (and counting)

One month ago, I graduated college. For a lot of people, that was the end. No more school, no more grades, no more late nights spent partying, no more friends within walking distance. Some people got jobs, some moved away, some stayed put. I, of course, had to be different.

While I did lose a lot of the same things my friends did when they graduated, I’ve managed to retain the same routine I’ve had for the past four years – perhaps with a little more rigor, and more at stake, but much more specialized. However, as this month has passed, and as so much has changed for me in what feels like the blink of an eye, I have come to reflect on my life a lot.

Here’s some of those things I’ve been thinking.

  1. Your high school friends are important. Whether you had fifty friends or you had five, reach out every now and then. For the first year of my college career, I muted my high school groupchat because it was constantly going off – but then I realized how much I was missing out on, and recognized how strong the friendship was that it had lasted so long. Even if it’s something as simple as saying hello or going out to eat once a year to catch up, those friendships will live on and you’ll always have someone to talk to whenever your college friends let you down.
  2. Your college friends are important, too. Don’t get me wrong: you should make time for your high school friends, but your college friends are the ones you have to see every day for the next four years (and maybe beyond). Don’t let boys, drama, or feeling left out every now and then get in the way of that. Keep in touch with them after you graduate, too. It can be lonely out there in the real world.
  3. Read a book. No, not your textbook. An actual, interesting-to-you book that you actually want to read. College really took the joy I had for reading way in the beginning, but every summer I have tried to read at least one book for fun (last year’s pick was Dark Places by Gillian Flynn). Not only will you be entertained, but you’ll probably learn something new and maybe even find someone else to talk about it with.
  4. Study something you love. Like, really, truly love. If you’re just majoring in Business or Accounting because you think it’s going to make you a lot of money, you’re doing something wrong. If sitting behind a desk 9 to 5 is your cup of tea, by all means, do it. But it wasn’t mine, so I didn’t even think about that. It’s not about your parents, or your significant other – it’s about you and what you could actually see yourself doing (and enjoying) in ten years. If you hate the classes you’re taking, what makes you think you’re going to like an actual full-blown job version of those classes?
  5. Travel. Both outside of your city and outside of your country. There’s so much to see and to learn from other places, and you just can’t understand it from pictures alone. Whether you just want to sight-see, eat, or dig on an archaeological site (guilty), go and do it as soon as possible. It’ll change your whole perspective on life.
  6. Get out of your comfort zone. As an introvert, my comfort zone was tucked away in bed with my laptop on and headphones in. But at some point, that comfort zone ends and real life begins. It doesn’t have to be anything big – start small, like saying hello to strangers instead of gluing your eyes to your phone, and work your way to being a real adult. It’ll do wonders.
  7. Do something that makes you happy. We all have that one thing we’ve been putting off forever because of X or Y (aka excuses). Been wanting to work out more often, but claim not to have the time? Or want to see a movie or concert but have no one to go with? YOU CAN. There’s always thirty minutes in your day that you can fit a quick workout in – even sitting in front of your TV in the comfort of your own home – and you don’t need anyone to go to the movies with you. Get out of your own way.
  8. Cleaning sucks but someone’s gotta do it. And once you graduate, it won’t be your mom.
  9. When relationships end, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll get over it, I promise. It may take a few weeks or months, but at some point you’re gonna realize that you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. There will be someone else.
  10. Learn to cook. You might need it to survive (and not go totally broke) someday. Luckily, I learned right at the last minute (aka the summer before my senior year) and have really loved doing it ever since. Start small, Google some easy recipes, and keep a fire extinguisher handy… just in case.
  11. Drink more water. I can guarantee you that whatever you’re drinking now is not enough. Humans generally don’t drink enough – eight glasses of water a day. That’s 64 ounces, which is A Lot. It’s hard to consciously drink enough, but there are ways to get you close to the goal. Carry a water bottle around wherever you go, don’t keep any other drinks in your house, etc.
  12. Planners are a godsend. I don’t know how I survived before buying a planner, but somehow I scraped through. Whether you’re in school or out, there’s always going to be a ton of assignments, meetings, appointments, and outings that you’re going to need to remember, and you’re not always going to remember to put them in your phone. Plus, pen to paper note-taking is proven to help with retention.
  13. Get a job. Ok, I know part-time jobs seem like they’re everywhere and nowhere at once, but having a job is kind of like a twisted rite of passage because while you’re getting lots of experience, you’re also probably working somewhere you hate. Don’t worry if it’s not a place you love – the experience you’ll get will be much broader and more valuable than you first think. Plus, you’re getting paid.
  14. Create a resume. Whether or not you’ve ever had a job, when you do get one, start putting them into a resume. Get someone to look at it and edit it a little bit every year. You’ll never know when you’re going to need it, and it looks a lot better in the real world when you have something to show for all you’ve done than nothing at all.
  15. Get to know your professors. Especially if they’re in a field that you’re really interested in and see yourself working in in the future. They can help you A Lot, will give you A Lot, and are probably pretty cool outside of class. Use those office hours. Go to departmental events. Schmooze. How else do you think I got into my dream graduate school and now have a bookcase full of books?
  16. Not everyone you meet is meant to stick around. It’s easy to get attached to people who are nice to you and who you spend time with on a semi-regular basis (i.e. in classes, at weekly parties, in clubs and organizations). However, a lot of those people are probably only nice to you because they are genuinely friendly people, want something, share a particular interest, or all of the above. The year may end and you may never see or talk to them again. And that’s okay. You’ll figure out who your real friends are pretty fast.
  17. Sleep is really, really important. I’ve never been the type to pull all-nighters, not even during finals week. But I know a lot of people who sacrifice their precious sleep schedules for ‘the important things’ like grades and academics. It’s not worth it. If you’re going to skip out on sleep during the week, at least get some good rest in over the weekend and take some naps throughout the week. Your body (and mind) will thank you later.
  18. Don’t forget about your family. We’re all at a point where we claim to be independent and able to take care of ourselves. Whether or not that’s true, don’t forget about your family. They’ve been with you from the very beginning, and they’re always going to be there. Let them help you. Tell them you love them every once in a while.
  19. It’s okay to make mistakes. That’s how you learn. Just pick up the pieces, apologize, and move on. It doesn’t help anyone to hold on to things that went wrong in the past. Things will get better.
  20. Be grateful for what you have. I’ve spent a lot of my time worrying about the things that I don’t have or things that I had that I don’t anymore. And frankly, it’s exhausting. It’s much more productive to think about those things you do have and to be thankful for having them. You have friends, family, your health… It’s okay if you haven’t gotten your own car or if you haven’t found a job yet or don’t know what you want to do after you graduate. It will come in time.
  21. You don’t always have to have it all together. Even the most put-together people fall apart when no one else is around. Nobody is perfect, so you don’t have to be either. Live your life the way you want to – no one is the judge of you, except you. If you have a hard day, spend some time doing something you like. If you’re upset, let it out. If someone hurts you, cry about it. It’s okay to feel weak every now and then.
  22. Don’t be afraid of the future. Leading up to graduation, a lot of my friends were worried about it all ending. But I never felt that way. It still felt like the end of another year, like we would all be back together again in the Fall. It didn’t really hit me that everything was changing until I was moving 600 miles away and living on my own. I broke down completely. But then I realized that I didn’t need to be upset or afraid. It’s not all happening at once. I still speak to my friends, I have a job interview next week, and I started my summer class today. What happens after all of that will come in time, but I don’t have to have it all figured out today. Being an adult is scary, but just take it all one day at a time and it will all work itself out.