252 Years of Sewanee


April 28, 2016. Resolutions of appreciation for the retirements of Profs. Croom, Delcamp, Rupert, Landon, Perry, and Smith. “That,” says the Dean, gesturing, “is 252 years of Sewanee.” A stunned silence followed by sustained applause, and then handshakes and hugs. “Wow,” Robbe Delcamp tells me. “It went by so fast.”

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What hidden scorn you must have for yourself

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Marcus Vinicius: That beggar-faced philosopher shouldn’t be filling your luscious little head with nonsense.
Lygia: How could I expect you to understand?
MV: I wish you were a slave as I first thought! I would have offered a price for you, a king’s ransom for a king’s daughter!
L: And taken me to your estates in Sicily! With all the others?
MV: On a special ship.

L: What a way for a conqueror to win a woman, to buy her like an unresisting beast. What false security you must have in your heart and soul, in your manhood, Marcus Vinicius! What hidden scorn you must have for yourself.

From Quo Vadis (1951), with Deborah Kerr and Robert Taylor, which we discussed today in my Classics in Cinema class. A serious bit of sexual harrassment, but one of my students thought Lygia’s response was the greatest burns she had ever witnessed in any film ever.

Posted in Bible, Classics, Drama, Military, Nautical, Rome, Sewanee, Slavery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

(Guest Post) For Ed


Photo by Don Cummings, circa 1984

FOR ED: Ed was my best friend in college. Though we hadn’t seen each other in a long time, living far apart, I always enjoyed our phone conversations over the years. Ed was thoughtful and philosophical and was honest about everything. When we met in college, we were a pair of misfits. Somehow, Tufts was fancy and somehow we were a bit more salt of the earth. Our clothes weren’t right, our shoes were the wrong color brown, our glasses were from a different era. But we found our place there within a large group of friends. We once had an Ed party, for no other reason than to celebrate Ed’s Edness. We made him a crown. When we asked him if he thought it was odd that we were throwing him a party in his honor he responded, “Of course not. This will be delightful.” Ed was fine with a joke and was fine if the joke was on him. He took scuba and walked around the dorm halls in fins and mask. He was always excited about new projects and he loved life—especially at the cellular level. He thought biology was so cool. Which it is, of course. As students often do, we talked into the late hours about relationships, friendships and of course, death. He used to say, “In one second, it’s just, BLAM, that’s it.” Ed was mystified by death, as was I. I am so bereft that it came to him so young. He was always there for me. My first two years at Tufts were a bit emotionally tumultuous, and Ed never flagged in being my friend. He endured driving between New York and Boston in my horrible Yellow AMC Hornet that overheated so much that the drive took 8 hours. Because his early years were lived in Argentina, he often had gaps in simple knowledge of American things. He thought turkeys were male chickens. Of course, he may have been joking. We sat together at graduation as Biology majors and best friends. He was family to me. I loved him and I hope, wherever he is, it is peaceful and humorous. Ed liked to have a good time. I will miss him forever. Sincerely, Don Cummings, Tufts ‘84

Dr. Eduardo “Ed” Otto Caveda, 54, passed away on Thursday, March 17, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. Born on January 29, 1962 in Moulins France to Otto Caveda and Vivivana Phelps.

Dr. Eduardo Caveda spent his younger years in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At age six, he moved to New York where he remained until graduation from United Nations International School. Dr. Caveda received his Bachelor degree from Tufts University in Medford Massachusetts. He went on to receive his Medical Degree from Boston University.

Dr. Caveda joined the United States Army after graduation and completed his internship at Brooks Army Medical Center. After his internship he cared for troops for three years in Germany, then was stationed in Virginia to continue caring for troops until 1997.

Dr. Caveda established a private primary care practice in Orange Grove, Texas. He later opened a second practice in San Diego, Texas. Dr. Caveda relocated with his family to San Antonio, Texas in 2012. He was working for Wellmed Medical Group. Dr. Caveda was able to touch the lives of many. He cared deeply about his patients and their families.

Survivors include his wife Veronica Caveda; his daughter, Gianna Caveda; his three sons, Justin, Evan and Aaron Caveda; his stepson, Patrick (Mercedes) Ramirez; his granddaughter, Lilliana; his father, Otto Caveda; his mother, Viviana Phelps; his stepfather, Edmund Phelps; his sisters, Monica Pucci and Claudia Caveda; and his mother in law, Elva Pena.

On Friday, April 8, 2016 at 1:00pm a Memorial Service will be held at Sunset Funeral Home, 1701 Austin Hwy, San Antonio, Texas 78218. An inurnment will follow in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery with full military honors.


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Circumspice: Reflections in the Wren Chapel

I am in the airport at Newport News, having spent the last few days at the CAMWS meeting in Williamsburg–it’s a small facility, but the coffee is surprisingly good. Yesterday, I made a point of going to the William & Mary campus, and specifically to the Wren Building, the oldest college building in the U.S., and if not designed by then at least modeled after the work of Sir Christopher Wren. In particular, I wanted to see the chapel and the cross that toppled a president.


The building itself, restored in the 20s with funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (as indeed is all of Williamsburg) has an antique charm that is satisfying, though it’s not without the odd, anachronistic touch. Upstair there’s a room featuring a portrait of Margaret Thatcher in her full baronial get-up, while on an office door, you can see a poster of Yoda holding a book on which “Torah” has been written. The outside is a pleasing collegiate red-brick, with the occasional oddity, like a stamped brick placed upside down by the door.

But, as I say, it’s the chapel I came to see. The interior doesn’t feel all that Wrennish– when I circumspice, it’s not St. Paul’s but buildings like the Old North Church in Boston I’m reminded of.

On a stand over in a side-case is the cross that ultimately forced the departure of W&M president, Gene Nichol, in 2008.

As Inside Higher Ed reported at the time (Feb. 13, 2008), the so-called Wren Cross was at the center of the storm:

The issue of the Wren Cross was among the incidents cited in Nichol’s letter as leading to his undoing. The cross is a two-foot gold altar cross, donated to the college in 1931. While the cross is relatively young in the history of William & Mary, its name comes from its place in the chapel of the Christopher Wren Building, a prized spot on the campus, and a place used for a variety of meetings and ceremonies — most of them not of a religious nature.

Nichol ordered the cross removed from permanent display in 2006, saying that it was inappropriate for such a prominent space at a public college to be identified with any single faith. He noted that William & Mary is no longer an institution where there is a common religious background for most students, and said that he had heard from non-Christian students who felt unwelcome or uncomfortable participating in events in the chapel.

The response was immediate and intense — with angry alumni barraging legislators and board members with complaints, and some large gifts were withdrawn. Nichol was accused of disrupting history by altering the chapel (even though the cross wasn’t part of Wren’s design and wouldn’t have been consistent with Wren’s approach to religious symbols). Nichol was accused of being hostile to religion, with critics going out of their way to tell reporters that he had done legal work for the American Civil Liberties Union, as if that would make his views clearly wrong.

Many students reported that the cross furor did not dominate campus life nearly as much as the outside debate would have suggested. Last March, in what was described as a compromise but was largely a reversal of Nichol’s decision, the cross was returned to permanent display, although other groups were invited to place objects in the chapel as well. At the time that decision was announced, Nichol was publicly on board. But on Tuesday, he made clear that he was not.

“As is widely known, I altered the way a Christian cross was displayed in a public facility, on a public university campus, in a chapel used regularly for secular college events — both voluntary and mandatory — in order to help Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious minorities feel more meaningfully included as members of our broad community. The decision was likely required by any effective notion of separation of church and state. And it was certainly motivated by the desire to extend the college’s welcome more generously to all. We are charged, as state actors, to respect and accommodate all religions, and to endorse none. The decision did no more,” he said.


When we enter, a small group is reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and the departs. “Hey, that’s triggering me,” jokes my friend Oz. In fact, I do feel a slight traumatic flashback to  a contentious 2013 Franklin County School Board meeting over the place of prayer in schools: after 400+ audience members at the meeting loudly recited the Lord’s Prayer during the School Board’s moment of silence (as they had also done at the October 7th meeting), I understood as I never had before just how belligerent such proclamations of faith can sound, and how they can make one feel unwanted, alienated, and threatened, I wrote in a blog-post at the time. This small group of mixed ages and races doesn’t seem all that aggressive, but, though they are all smiles, there is a deliberate exclusiveness in their proclamation. Not for nothing does Christ say, And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly (Matthew 6:5-6).

I’m thinking about Nichol and his ouster. No doubt, if he had known there was a $12M gift riding on his decision he might have framed matters differently. Still, I admire his willingness to take a stand on the place of Christianity in larger public discourse. The past few years, and the ones ahead, will challenge those especially here in the South about the place of their faith in national debate. The protesters I dealt with, as well as those now up in arms about the FCHS GSA, feel certain that their Biblical principles get to dictate how others behave in the public schools, for all the world as though they are the only tax-payers in the county. By and large, the protesters are solid citizens who contribute valuably to the community–this I freely admit–but their inability to keep their faith in the closet and not in the corners of the streets is concerning, even triggering perhaps.

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If Caesar Had Stabbed Their Mothers

Enthusiasm for political leaders that supersedes even attachment to family.

Shakespeare, Tragedy of Julius Caesar 2.1

Casca: … And so he fell. When he came to himself again, he said, if he had done or said anything amiss, he desired their worships to think it was his infirmity. Three or four wenches where I stood cried, “Alas, good soul!” and forgave him with all their hearts. But there’s no heed to be taken of them. If Caesar had stabbed their mothers they would have done no less.

Donald Trump, January 25, 2016– NPR among others:

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” Trump remarked at a campaign stop at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. “It’s, like, incredible.”


Lola Butler, New York Times, March 4, 2016

“I personally am disgusted by it — I think it’s disgraceful,” said Lola Butler, 71, a retiree from Mandeville, La., who voted for Mr. Romney in 2012. “You’re telling me who to vote for and who not to vote for? Please.”

“There’s nothing short of Trump shooting my daughter in the street and my grandchildren — there is nothing and nobody that’s going to dissuade me from voting for Trump,” Ms. Butler said.




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Julius Caesar, the Hulk, and other Illeists

I’m getting ready to teach Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar this morning, and am reminded of the protagonist’s tendency to refer to himself in the third person, as in Act I scene 2:

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,
Cry “Caesar!”—Speak. Caesar is turned to hear.
Dramatically, this practice underscores the character’s self-regard. As a linguistic phenomenon, the habit is called “ille-ism,” a term coined by Coleridege in the early 19th century, according to the OED:

1809–10   S. T. Coleridge Friend (1818) I. 36   For one piece of egotism..there are fifty that steal out in the mask of tuisms and ille-isms.

On-line, however, this verbal mannerism is known as “Hulk-speak”:

This speak type for character has more muscle than brain.They substitute “Me” for “I”, or else refer to themselves in third person.


I recall that Former Kansas senator and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole also spoke in this way, as was amusingly described by Michael Lewis in the New Republic some years ago (and reprinted in his 2007 book, Losers):

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Post-script. My friend Thomas points out that I missed some big illeisms here.

Nixon’s so-called last press conference (1962): “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

Donald Trump recently, from CNN:

“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,” Trump said.


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Marco Rubio bid the Republican race for president farewell last night, leaving the field open to either a dangerous demagogue or an inflexible ideologue to be the party’s candidate. I’ve been reading Sallust’s history of the Catilianarian conspiracy, and I am tempted to think of his remarks about the two most important politicians of his day, Caesar and Cato: in altero miseris perfugium, in altero malis pernicies, “in one a refuge for the wretched, in the other a bane to evil-doers” (BC 54.3), except that neither Trump nor Cruz strikes me as worthy of the comparison. (And yes, I have left our Kasich, who brings to my mind only Don Quixote at this point). We were in Washington DC, as it happens, when Rubio withdrew, and I happened to catch his farewell address on TV.


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This isn’t actually the photo of Rubio saying goodbye, but his gesture was much like this. This image is like the one that got one of the SuperPACs in trouble with the AP–if anybody from AP comes across this and wants it taken down, just say the word!

While I wasn’t especially supportive of Rubio’s candidacy, as I’m a Democrat and all, still, I was sorry to see him leave as I was impressed by what he stood for, the conservative movement’s attempt to make itself over again anew in the wake of repeated Republican defeats. “Rubio, a young and charismatic politician from a Latino background, was seen by elites as the ideal vessel to re-brand those ideas for a young and diversifying America,” wrote the Chicago Tribune this morning of him. Alas, Rubio’s inspiring story of being a Cuban immigrant’s son was lost on the electorate, which saw him as too much a part of the establishment. And let us not the way his primary opponent, Donald Trump, dismissed him as “Little Marco,” a remark about his physical stature as well as his diminished appeal.

This morning, before leaving from Union Station for a conference in Williamsburg, I went down to the National Gallery to see the “Power and Pathos” exhibit of Hellenistic bronzes. It really is a very fine display, with some famous statues in it–the Idolino, the Dancing Faun from Pompeii, and some splendid portrait busts. Bronze is so much warmer than marble, so much more life-like, to my mind. The image that struck me this morning as a reminder of Marco Rubio, though, was the life-size image of Aule Metelli, the so-called Arringatore, recovered from Lake Trasimeno.

The famous statue from the first century BC represents the image of an orator whose name, we know, is Aule Metelli, and Etruscan name. He is very clearly an aristocrat, as we can tell from his haircut, his ring, distinctive footwear (calcei), as well as the tunic and toga. In Latin, he would be called Aulus Metellus, but an inscription on the border of his toga in Etruscan indicates otherwise:

auleśi meteliś ve[luś] vesial clenśi / cen flereś tece sanśl tenine / tu θineś χisvlicś”

(“To (or from) Auli Meteli, the son of Vel and Vesi, Tenine (?) set up this statue as a votive offering to Sans, by deliberation of the people”)

The Etruscans were an Italian people living in what is now Tuscany whom the Romans had uneasy relations with and then eventually conquered. So this inscription is is very striking: Aule is remembered for his Etruscan heritage, which is displayed with pride on his toga–the toga! the most Roman of garments!–even as he strikes a most Roman pose.

What to make of this, and of him? He is a man who’s done well in the Roman world, clearly having achieved a magistrate’s office and wealthy enough to be commemorated by an expensive statue. His foreign status clings to him, somehow, and his parents’ names are certainly not those of a traditional mater and pater familias. What we most notice is his outstreched arm. His hand is raised in a gesture that commands attention–he is about to speak, and is calling for the audience to keep quiet. It is a studied authoritativeness he projects, a signal that he is educated, cultured, worthy and worth listening to. One wonders, however, whether anybody was listening to him.

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