Author Archives: msafran

The science of spycraft, starting from Herodotus

On today’s broadcast of NPR’s “Science Friday”, Professor Kristie Macrakis of the Georgia Institute of Technology discussed her new book Prisoners, Lovers & Spies: The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to Al-Qaeda. The interview led off with a discussion of the use of lemon juice as invisible ink, which dates back to classical antiquity!

For more on the broadcast and Prof. Macrakis’ book, visit the “Science Friday” page.


Another modern-day Pygmalion story: this week’s Grimm

Last week in my seminar on Ovid’s Metamorphoses in translation, we looked at adaptations of the Pygmalion episode in contemporary film and television. Examples, which we derived from Paula James’ book on modern-day Pygmalions, ranged from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn; to “make-over” movies like Pretty Woman and She’s All That; and engineered-woman dramas, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “I Was Made for You” (Episode 5.15), which has been the subject of a series of essays on the Open University (UK) iTunes site.

This week, add another interpretation to the file: an episode of NBC’s drama Grimm titled “My Fair Wesen”, which features interlocking plots: Nick (the titular Grimm) tries to make Theresa Rubel (aka Trubel) into a properly trained Grimm like himself, while a “family” of criminal Wesen attempt to make the scruffy runaway over as one of a cohort of high-end shoplifters (it’s creepier than it sounds).

grimm classics blog

The Great Gatsby’s Roman origins

In honor of our current advanced Latin class on the Roman novels, here’s an insight I learned while listening to the NPR quiz show “Ask Me Another”, which aired a game segment called “Working Title” this weekend: original working titles for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby included Trimalchio, or Trimalchio in West Egg!

Fitzgerald Trimalchio

Trimalchio is, of course, one of the memorable characters from Petronius’ Satyricon, and Fitzgerald references the character explicitly: “It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night—and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over.”

Latin for the enlightened: on the 10th anniversary of ABC’s Lost

Recently we reached the 10th anniversary of the premiere of ABC’s blockbuster series Lost (created by J. J. Abrams). One of the pleasures of the series, for a Classicist: spoken Latin!

When some of the survivors time-travel back to the 1970s on the island, Sawyer and Juliet encounter proto-“Others”, led by Charles Widmore and Eloise Hawking (parents-to-be of Lost physicist Daniel Faraday). In order to prove her “Other” bona fides, Juliet addresses them in Latin to gain their trust. An astonished Sawyer asks “Who taught you Latin?” She replies, “Others 101. Gotta learn Latin. Language of the enlightened.” (Episode 5.3, “Jughead”)

Juliet Lost Latin

Leslie Knope will save AP Latin!

Parks & Recreation‘s Leslie Knope is famous for her super-intense dedication to the well-being of her fellow Pawneeans. When the school board wanted to save money by cancelling senior prom, she came to the rescue. Equally important, when they wanted to cut AP Latin, she volunteered to teach it!

Leslie Knope

“Which reminds me,” she muses, “I need to learn Latin.”

So say we all, Leslie!


Collapse at Pompeii

Down Pompeii: emergency meeting called after collapses in ancient city

Reuters in Rome, Sunday 2 March 2014 11.32 EST

Damaged tomb wall in Pompeii

The damaged wall of a tomb at the ancient ruins of Pompeii, near Naples in southern Italy.
Photograph: Mario Laporta/AFP/Getty Images

Italy‘s culture minister demanded explanations on Sunday after more collapses this weekend in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii raised concerns about the state of one of the world’s most treasured archaeological sites…. read on here.

The Atlantic reports: “Friendship Starts in Latin Class”

Friendship Starts in Latin Class

(Nov 20 2013)

…[In] A recent study published in the American Journal of Sociology…Researchers Kenneth A. Frank, Chandra Muller, and Anna S. Mueller found that classes have a tremendous impact on high-school students’ social lives…The study analyzed survey data from 3,000 students at 78 schools across the United States and found that classes have a greater impact on friendship formation than sports or other after-school activities.

The study also found that friendships tend to form in smaller, more unusual classes: in Latin class or band, for example, rather than gym or a geometry course that all students are required to take. Students enroll in these electives because of they’re interested in the subject, which gives them common ground with the other students in the class.

“At that point, we’ve got kind of a little group, a little niche in the school,” said Frank. “We’ve got a set of unusual common interests, so those are very potent potential friends.”

Read on here.

Summer study abroad in Greece

The Department of Classics at the University of Maryland, College Park, is sponsoring a summer study abroad program in Greece from June 3-21, 2014, directed by Prof. Del Chrol of Marshall University ( and Jacquelyn Clements of Johns Hopkins University ( The course is open to all undergraduates and upon completion earns 3 credits. Based in Athens, we will travel to sites in Attica and the Peloponnese such as Eleusis, Corinth, Mycenae, Olympia, and Delphi, as well as the island of Paros. The program focuses on the history and archaeology of Greece with particular emphasis on key issues – intellectual, artistic, political, and philosophical – confronting Athens during the 5th century B.C.

The application deadline is March 1; more information can be found at