Discentes’ Senior Send-Off: Reflections from Penn Classics’ Class of 2020

By Elizabeth Vo-Phamhi 

Over the last two months, students have dealt with massive uncertainty amid the coronavirus outbreak. Yet for the sixteen seniors in Penn Classics, one thing has certainly remained constant: the importance of classics.

At the end of April, the Classics department held its annual Senior Colloquium, a roundtable discussion celebrating the seniors’ research. Central to the discussion was the question: “What does it mean to study Classical Studies and Ancient History?” When participants were asked to come up with a single word to describe the nature of classics, these were their responses.

Looking at this visualization, it is clear that these students see classics as a space that produces insight on timeless questions within the humanities. We, the editorial team of Discentes, wanted to hear more from the seniors about what it means to be a Penn classicist in 2020. So, during their last days as undergraduates in Penn Classics, we asked them for some final words and reflections.


Anthony Ciro (Classical Civilizations)

What is one takeaway from your experience participating in Senior Colloquium over Zoom?

I found it interesting to see familiar faces in unfamiliar places.

How have your last few weeks at Penn been impacted by the pandemic?

As a commuter, not having to drive to and from Penn for the last few weeks has been very enjoyable. Yet, I miss being on campus and seeing professors and classmates while walking around.

What made you decide to study Classics?

I first got involved in classics when my father took me to Caesars Atlantic City in seventh grade. Seeing all of the statues and glory given to the ancient gods and goddesses struck me. When I got to Penn, I decided to take Latin to fulfill my language requirement, and my interest in antiquity further snowballed from there. I found myself intrigued with the selection of niche seminars that the passionate faculty offered.

What’s the most interesting Classics fun fact you learned while at Penn?

Poorer residents in Rome tended to live on high floors in high rise buildings while the rich lived on ground-level because of the dangers that fires posed.

Favorite Classics course at Penn?

Foreigners in Rome (CLST 364) taught by Professor Wilker

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

Working on my senior research project with my two faculty advisors throughout the fall.

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Do not be afraid to take a course on a topic you have never heard about or considered.

If classical authors were alive today, who would definitely be tik tok famous and for what?

Julius Caesar — who wouldn’t enjoy watching someone refer to themselves in the third person?

Approximately how many times have people asked you “what’s classics” when you tell them what you study?

Let’s just say that if I would have written my name on a pottery shard for every time I was asked this question, I could have very easily been ostracized out of any town in Ancient Greece.


Maggie Danaher  (Classical Languages)

What is one takeaway from your experience participating in Senior Colloquium over Zoom?

I am so sad to be leaving this amazing department!!

How have your last few weeks at Penn been impacted by the pandemic?

I have been at home in Chicago with my family. It was difficult not to be with my friends during my last weeks at Penn, but a highlight was watching all eight Harry Potter movies in one weekend with my family!

What made you decide to study Classics?

I loved learning Latin in high school, and I felt right at home in my first Latin class at Penn freshman year. I even met Catherine de Luna in that class who became one of my best friends and roommates!

What’s the most interesting Classics fun fact you learned while at Penn?

I am going to change this question to “What is your favorite piece of ancient art?” — the “Cave Canem” mosaic in Pompeii.

Favorite Classics course at Penn?

Literary Translation with Professor Emily Wilson

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

Working the Toga Party during NSO

What is something you are looking forward to, or would like to do, next year?

When this is all over, I would love to travel to Rome with my friends I met while studying abroad at the Centro.

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Study at the Penn Museum!

If classical authors were alive today, who would definitely be tik tok famous and for what?

Catullus for being an “e-boy”


Max Frantz (Classical Languages)

Favorite Classics course at Penn?

“Lies My Ancient History Teacher Taught Me” with Professor Grey or “The Ancient Economy” with Professor Bowes.

Which empire: Ancient Greece vs. Rome?

Rome

Peloponnesian or Trojan War?

Trojan

Antony or Octavian?

Octavian


Max Jokelson (Classical Civilizations)

What is one takeaway from your experience participating in Senior Colloquium over Zoom?

I was really happy to see how many professors came out to celebrate with us, and how involved they were in discussing the work of their students.

What made you decide to study Classics?

When I was in middle school and high school, I studied Latin. The teachers I had in those classes really made learning and education come alive. Since then, I have found that studying Classics has given me the opportunity to learn from and experience a wide range of disciplines in the context of the ancient world. It has been an opportunity unlike any other.

What’s one “real world application” of something you learned in classical studies that you never expected to use?

I think the study of classics itself has one big real-world application. There hasn’t been a class I’ve taken, no lesson I’ve learned, that hasn’t given me insight into how the ancients lived, thought, and behaved. And I believe when one studies how one society operated, one becomes more attentive to how one’s own society works.

What’s the most interesting Classics fun fact you learned while at Penn?

Diogenes once dissed Plato with a chicken.

Favorite Classics course at Penn?

CLST 370 – Classics and American Government

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

Senior Colloquium

What is something you are looking forward to, or would like to do, next year?

I would like to find an opportunity to help other people get through this time, before heading to law school later on.

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Throw yourself into your work. Make it your passion and explore unexplored areas.

If classical authors were alive today, who would definitely be tik tok famous and for what?

Catullus. The man mastered slam poetry. He could probably come up with something clever for tik tok.

Approximately how many times have people asked you “what’s classics” when you tell them what you study?

3


Clare Kearns (Classical Languages)

What is one takeaway from your experience participating in Senior Colloquium over Zoom?

The community is very tight-knit. Most of the faculty, grad students, and undergrads knew each other already. No introductions were necessary!

How have your last few weeks at Penn been impacted by the pandemic?

It’s really hard to not be with my friends and to not finish my college experience with the people who made it so special. The silver lining to that, however, is that I get to spend more time with my family than I have in four years, which is special in another way.

 What made you decide to study Classics?

I think it was because I both love and hate Classics. Ancient texts are so beautiful, and multifaceted, and inspiring; at the same time, they can be really ugly, disturbing, and disheartening. I think that tension is really exciting, and I knew I’d never be bored if I chose to spend my time wrestling with the questions that tension generates.

What’s one “real world application” of something you learned in classical studies that you never expected to use?

I enjoy letting people know the etymology and historical (mis)appropriations of the word “hysterical” if I ever hear it used.

What’s the most interesting Classics fun fact you learned while at Penn?

Quantitative metathesis and intervocalic sigmas. Just kidding!

Favorite Classics course at Penn?

Professor Wilson’s course on literary translation.

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

Probably when my Greek class (taught by Jeff Ulrich!) spent a day outside, reading tragedy in the sun on the lawn. Doesn’t really get much better than that.

What is something you are looking forward to, or would like to do, next year?

I would like to read more literature from the Hellenistic period. I think in that period of Greek history — when Greek borders were shifting and the role of women was evolving — inevitably produces texts that engage with concerns about citizenship, women, and power. I find it particularly exciting to read these texts in light of our own (very similar) contemporary concerns. “Callimachus is #relatable” is never a good conclusion to draw, but it’s a fun starting point.

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Be creative with classics. I never thought I was very creative, but my experiences doing translation and literary adaptations really helped me think about the texts in a different way. I found my creative and critical approaches informed each other reciprocally, and helped generate some interesting lines of inquiry. So take a stab at it, even if you think you’re the poetic equivalent of a bull in a china shop. And shoutout to Breyasia, who did a very successful creative project for her senior thesis!

If classical authors were alive today, who would definitely be tik tok famous and for what?

Aristophanes. That guy was such a kook!

Approximately how many times have people asked you “what’s classics” when you tell them what you study?

Actually not many. I get a lot more “oh cool, so Shakespeare right?”


Catherine de Luna (Classical Civilizations)

(Pictured left)

What is one takeaway from your experience participating in Senior Colloquium over Zoom?

The Zoom reminded me of the amazing Penn Classics community that I have been so incredibly lucky to be a part of the past four years, and one that has been especially hard to part with virtually due to COVID. I am not afraid to admit that I had a good cry after the Colloquium.

What’s the most interesting Classics fun fact you learned while at Penn?

In Ancient Greece, sneezes were interpreted as signs from the gods.

Favorite Classics course at Penn?

Scandalous Arts (CLST 140)

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

I was in Professor Bowes’ Intro to Mediterranean Archaeology class and for one recitation we went to Franklin Field to discuss the role of spectacle in ancient structures like the Colosseum. It was perhaps the snowiest day at Penn I can remember. We walked to the top row of the stadium and the view was absolutely breathtaking. It is one of those truly special Penn moments that I will never forget.

What is something you are looking forward to, or would like to do, next year?

I am looking forward to moving to Los Angeles and bringing my knowledge and love of the ancient world to Hollywood!

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Use the Museum – the amount of resources it has is mind-boggling, not to mention it has the best chai latte in the world.

If classical authors were alive today, who would definitely be tik tok famous and for what?

Not a classical author, but I think Trimalchio would be an entertaining tik tok star.


Maddy Moore (Mediterranean Archaeology)

What is one takeaway from your experience participating in Senior Colloquium over Zoom?

All of my Classics peers are doing incredible research!

How have your last few weeks at Penn been impacted by the pandemic?

It’s been a tough adjustment, but I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family environment and a home close to campus. I was able to move all of my belongings out and recreate my dorm desk in my dining room.

What made you decide to study Classics?

Kim Bowes’ Intro to Mediterranean Archaeology completely sold me on the subject.

What’s one “real world application” of something you learned in classical studies that you never expected to use?

Both the differences and the interconnectedness in culture. I feel I have an enhanced understanding and appreciation for our cultural differences and similarities.

Approximately how many times have people asked you “what’s classics” when you tell them what you study?

Lots and lots and LOTS of times.

Favorite Classics course at Penn:

Great Discoveries in Archaeology (CLST 123)

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Reach out. Every member of our department is willing and able to help you with anything from academics to personal issues. I waited until my Junior year to really take advantage of the resources in our tight-knit community, and I wish I’d done it sooner.


Alyssa Mulé (Classical Civilizations)

What made you decide to study Classics?

I had always loved classical literature (in translation), but my sophomore year one day I was re-reading my favorite poem, Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso List to Hunt” (an interpretation of Petrarch’s Rima 190), and the penultimate line has the phrase “Noli me tangere.” I decided that I was sick of having to google the translation and significance, I enrolled in my first Latin class, and the rest is history!

Favorite Classics course at Penn?

Troy Stories: Classical Epic and Medieval Romance (CLST 360)

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Go to all the cool events (Colloquium, Classics Board events, etc.) that you’re so lucky to have access to as Penn Classics undergrads.

If classical authors were alive today, who would definitely be tik tok famous and for what?

I don’t really understand tik tok but I feel strongly that Ovid would find a way to be tik tok famous. Maybe he’d use it as a platform to pick up women


Breyasia Scott (Ancient History)

What is one takeaway from your experience participating in Senior Colloquium over Zoom?

It was really nice to see my work performed in front of an audience in some capacity

 What made you decide to study Classics?

Never heard of classics before Penn, but I fell in love with the stories and culture and have been hooked ever since.

What’s the most interesting Classics fun fact you learned while at Penn?

Odysseus is actually the worst leader ever lol.

Favorite Classics course at Penn?

Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece and Rome, Great Books of Greece and Rome, Ancient Epic Poetry, Intro to the Ancient Near East

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

Watching the Classics Board grow. I remember when it was just a few of us trying to do things and now it’s a whole operation.

What is something you are looking forward to, or would like to do, next year?

Looking forward to real graduation next spring

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Listen to Socrates. Know that you know nothing. Only then will you be open enough and ready to learn

If classical authors were alive today, who would definitely be tik tok famous and for what?

Euripides for dramatic emo pov.

Approximately how many times have people asked you “what’s classics” when you tell them what you study?

I tell them I study ancient history lol they understand that.


Sydney Shiffman (Classical Civilizations)

What is one takeaway from your experience participating in Senior Colloquium over Zoom?

Despite the physical distance between all of us, the virtual Senior Colloquium reminded me of how close-knit our department is, students, professors, and alumni alike.

How have your last few weeks at Penn been impacted by the pandemic?

I never got to give my last Penn tour, stand on the other side of the barricades on Hey Day, or celebrate senior week with my friends. That said, my classes have remained stimulating and my professors have wholeheartedly invested themselves in my (and my classmates’) wellbeing.

What made you decide to study Classics?

I had already declared a different major, but I took Professor Struck’s online summer course “Reading the Iliad in an Age of War.” As I told my friends about the class, I realized that my passion for this subject matter surpassed that of my “decided” major. I knew I had to switch; it’s a self-selecting group of people who love reading Homer as much as I do.

What’s one “real world application” of something you learned in classical studies that you never expected to use?

Jeopardy! Every time I play with my family, there are always questions that tie back to my Classics education. So, study Classics: you’re guaranteed a Jeopardy win.

What’s the most interesting Classics fun fact you learned while at Penn?

Ancient Romans didn’t have pockets on their clothes.

Favorite Classics course at Penn?

Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece and Rome with Emily Wilson. AMAZING CLASS. AMAZING PROFESSOR.

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

The day after Professor Wilson won her MacArthur grant, I had class with her. We all applauded and congratulated her. It was such a sweet moment.

What is something you are looking forward to, or would like to do, next year?

Reading for fun! I don’t start new books at school (unless they’re for class) because then I’ll read instead of doing my work…

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Take a class from a concentration track different than your own (e.g. archaeology if you study civilizations).

If classical authors were alive today, who would definitely be tik tok famous and for what?

Aristophanes for playing pranks on his family.

Approximately how many times have people asked you “what’s classics” when you tell them what you study?

Not as many times as I’ve been asked “lol why?” when they finally realize what it is I study…


 

Eleanor Wynn  (Classical Civilizations)

What is one takeaway from your experience participating in Senior Colloquium over Zoom?

It was fun and ran more smoothly than I expected! I wish the breakout groups had been for longer, though!

How have your last few weeks at Penn been impacted by the pandemic?

They seriously affected my Rhetoric class with Jeremy.

What made you decide to study Classics?

An interest sparked in high school, then validated by the amazing and empathetic professors of the dept!

What’s one “real world application” of something you learned in classical studies that you never expected to use?

Museum studies. I look at museums VERY differently, thanks to Prof. Rose.

Favorite Classics course at Penn?

CLST 228 (Excavating Ancient Cities: Troy & Gordion), CLST 363 (Penn Museum Curatorial Seminar: Reconfiguring the Classical World Galleries), good ole ANCH 026 (Ancient Greece).

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

Colloquium!

What is something you are looking forward to, or would like to do, next year?

I am teaching elementary.

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Stick with it — you’ll find a way to tailor your Classical Studies and find a concentration within the field, even if this is discovered a bit late.

If classical authors were alive today, who would definitely be tik tok famous and for what?

Catullus – he doesn’t shy away from the raunchy, the graphic, and the taboo.

Approximately how many times have people asked you “what’s classics” when you tell them what you study?

Lol every time.


The Seniors’ Takes on Age-Old Questions:

Ancient Greece vs. Ancient Rome?

Peloponnesian or Trojan War?

Antony or Octavian?

Hector or Achilles?


Elizabeth Vo-Phamhi (College ’22) is a sophomore from San Bruno, California double majoring in Classics and Cognitive Science.

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