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A True Classic

Bradley retires after four decades of bringing ancient texts and language to life

Behind his desk in an office piled high with dusty tomes and littered with photographs of classical sculpture and ancient ruins, Professor of Classics Edward M. Bradley reflects on 43 years of teaching Latin at Dartmouth. While students don't always devote themselves to their Latin studies with the same intensity as in days of yore, he notes, they do bring a greater literary sophistication to the classroom that serves them well. "I can draw on their experience from high school where they seem to be better read in texts like The Odyssey and The Iliad," says Bradley.

Cordelia Zukerman '06 and Professor of Classics Edward M. Bradley
Advanced Latin student Cordelia Zukerman '06 (left) and Professor of Classics Edward M. Bradley examine Venus Requesting Vulcan to Make Arms for Aeneas (1735) by Charles-Andre Vanloo. Bradley served on the Hood Museum of Art's acquisition committee for the painting. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Over the course of his four decades at Dartmouth, Bradley has seen generations of students come through the classics department. He was here when Dartmouth adopted coeducation and later as the curriculum expanded. The classics department has remained a vital part of the academic community throughout, perhaps even more so in his last term of teaching. Of his final Advanced Latin class he notes with satisfaction, "I have an exceptional group right now."

In fact, the entire department saw a surge in enrollment for the winter term. Department Chair and Professor of Classics Jeremy Rutter says he believes the rise was due in part to students wanting to study with Bradley before he retires, and the increasing popularity of Professor Paul Christesen's introductory classics course, Antiquity Today. "Normally, enrollment for Bradley's course is between 8 and 17," says Rutter. "Last term there were 30."

Rutter also says the long-standing appeal of the department could lie in its unusually broad mission. Unlike classics departments elsewhere, Dartmouth's focuses on both the language and literature of the ancient Mediterranean, and the art, architecture, and archeological finds of the region. "We're for people who do language and literature and we're for people who do history and archeology. The language and literature people tend to relate more to the humanities, and the history, anthropology, and archeology people relate more to the social sciences." In fact, this interdisciplinarity is a core strength of the department," says Rutter. "Faculty members don't like to be constrained by disciplinary boundaries."

According to Bradley, another reason the field remains so relevant after more than two centuries as part of Dartmouth's curriculum is the fundamental substance of the classical texts. "In Greek and Latin literature we have available to us some of the great founding texts of the Western tradition. These texts contain many of the fundamental questions about life on earth. The centrality of these questions constitutes at least one of the reasons why studying the classics is a great thing to do," he says.

In addition to his advanced courses that delve into the culture and philosophy of the ancient Romans, Bradley has always made it a practice to teach at least one introductory Latin course each year. "It's important for senior faculty members to teach introductory courses," he says, "because they bring their knowledge of the subject to the classroom, where it can help students get interested in experiencing the language and the culture." Teaching a dead language is important because, "learning a dead language allows us to engage in the anatomy of language-students have to develop a deep cognitive understanding of it. And for many students, this is also the first time they've been given systematic instruction in the structure of English."

Cordelia Zukerman '06 is enrolled in Bradley's advanced Latin course and credits him with nurturing her interest in classics. She says his personal enthusiasm for the field made all the difference. "What I love most about Professor Bradley's lecturing style is that he draws from every aspect of life to talk about the subject at hand. In our Aeneid class, we're reading the last three books of the poem, which relate to the war between the Trojans and the Latins. Professor Bradley not only points out the language in the poem that relates to important themes he wants to address, but he often comes to class with books or anecdotes about modern warfare to draw out those themes even further." She adds, "He has clearly lived with this poem for many years, and his engagement with it has resulted in wonderfully discerning and poignant observations that make the poem resonate with us. The class has become almost as much about life as it is about Virgil."

Bradley has introduced hundreds of Dartmouth students to the material that so engaged Zuckerman and her classmates, and he says he still finds himself engaged by students in return. Asked what he'll miss the most after his retirement, he answers, "I'll miss the classroom. The classroom is invigorating and I have long friendships that I've maintained with former students. Dartmouth's been very good to me."

By GENEVIEVE HAAS

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Last Updated: 5/30/08