Garnjobst’s Greek trip inspires makeover for classes

Garnjobst’s Greek trip inspires makeover for classes

Earlier this August, deep in a beautiful, remote resort on the Peloponnese, Professor of Classics Joseph Garnjobst spent his days diving into the discussion of Greek literature and enjoying scholarly conversation with peers in an intensive course.

Meg Prom '16 and Professor of Classics Joseph Garnjobst enjoy the streets of Greece. Meg Prom | Courtesy
Meg Prom ’16 and Pro­fessor of Classics Joseph Gar­njobst enjoy the streets of Greece. Meg Prom | Courtesy

Earlier this August, deep in a beau­tiful, remote resort on the Pelo­ponnese, Pro­fessor of Classics Joseph Gar­njobst spent his days diving into the dis­cussion of Greek lit­er­ature and enjoying scholarly con­ver­sation with peers in an intensive course.

Despite the obvious attraction that any clas­si­cally edu­cated student would feel towards such a course, there came one twist that made this class elite: every­thing was read and dis­cussed in ancient Greek.

Fol­lowing his return from this once-in-a-lifetime expe­rience, Gar­njobst plans to ini­tiate new prac­tices into his Intro­duction to Greek course this fall.

Gar­njobst spent these two weeks as a part of the Living Greek in Greece intensive course offered by the Paideia Institute. The range of Greek expe­rience among the 15 stu­dents ranged from under­grad­uates with one year of college Greek to pro­fessors with decades of expe­rience, like Gar­njobst.

A typical day included a morning class with readings from various writers: Plato, Longus, Aris­totle, Euripides, Her­a­clitus, and John the Evan­gelist. Afternoon classes worked with “The Odyssey,” pri­marily focusing on books six and eight, where Odysseus encounters Nau­sicaa and then is wel­comed by the Phaea­cians. Fol­lowing the last class, all the stu­dents came together to discuss the day’s work at Greek table.

“We would never translate into English, but we would para­phrase, sum­marize, and discuss all in Greek,” Gar­njobst said.

The long days speaking Greek with peers were not without inde­pendent work. Stu­dents were expected to keep up with class assign­ments derived from the ancient Pro­gym­nasmata, a series of rhetorical exer­cises for stu­dents.

“We had to write and perform speeches in ekphrasis: description; enkomion: in praise of someone; and ethopoeia: char­ac­ter­i­zation,” Gar­njobst said.

Preparing for the fall semester, Gar­njobst gave himself his own per­sonal assignment: a new approach to his Intro­duction to Greek class. After playing with dif­ferent ideas, he decided to add a spoken Greek com­ponent to his intro­ductory course, some­thing never done in his pre­vious classes.

“I want to have the stu­dents hear the lan­guage every day, speak the lan­guage every day, read the lan­guage every day, and write the lan­guage every day,” Gar­njobst said. “Ideally, I want to add cul­tural com­ponent in addition to that.”

He decided to do this by writing the Greek equiv­alent of a Latin book.

“I am working on a book of my own, essen­tially a Greek version of the ‘Lingua Latina’ book used in a pre­vious Latin class of mine at Hillsdale,” he said.

“Lingua Latina” is a book written in Latin that intro­duces new vocab­ulary while rein­forcing themes about Latin culture as well as common themes such as geog­raphy and family.

While there is an appeal to speaking a dead lan­guage, some Greek stu­dents question its ini­ti­ation into the classroom.

Joshua Shaw ’17, a classics major who has taken Greek for the past two and a half years, said the spoken com­ponent of a lan­guage brings with it an addi­tional workload.

“Speaking a lan­guage adds another dynamic to a lan­guage,” Shaw said. “It takes a lot of time and work, which makes you ask, for as much work as it is, is it really worth the amount of work? Espe­cially if the goal of learning Greek is to access the books of the Western tra­dition, reading Homer and Sophocles doesn’t require that you can speak the lan­guage.”

According to Gar­njobst, these addi­tional com­po­nents will enrich his stu­dents’ overall expe­rience.

“Even for my first year Greek stu­dents, I want them to have one page of Greek to read each night,” Gar­njobst said. “If I can do this, by the end of the semester they will have read a couple hundred pages of Greek. Get them that much Greek, rein­force vocab­ulary, and add a cul­tural com­ponent and you’ve got a real game changer.”

Meg Prom ’16, a former student of Garnjobst’s Latin courses, spent her summer interning for the Paideia Institute. After being sent to the Greek program that Gar­njobst was attending, the two started meeting.

“Once a day, we would meet for civ­i­lization hour,” Prom said. “I had been talking to Gar­njobst earlier and I men­tioned to him that I wanted to learn Greek, and that I kinda wanted to learn ancient Greek and modern Greek at the same time. He needed a person like me to test his ideas. We began to try it out. Each day we would meet for an hour and a half and I would read para­graphs in Greek. It was amazing.”

Prom started from reading 300 words a day and built up to reading sec­tions of Homer’s “Iliad.” She said Garnjobst’s pro­posed book and new teaching method will change the process of learning Greek for many and could perhaps even spread to other schools throughout the nation.

Speaking ancient Greek cer­tainly will add a new dynamic to classroom learning. Garnjobst’s book will aid in the well rounded pursuit of knowledge for his stu­dents, res­ur­recting ancient Greece in a new way for Hillsdale’s stu­dents.

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Josephine von Dohlen
Josephine von Dohlen is a senior from Minneapolis, Minnesota who appreciates the communicative power of journalism and the community that it fosters. A graduate of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., she has previously interned with Catholic News Service and the Santa Barbara News-Press. At Hillsdale, she is a member of the Dow Journalism Program and majors in American Studies. Email: