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Joshua Fincher and his paintings. Tracy Wilson | Col­legian

Joshua Fincher is a vis­iting assistant pro­fessor of classics. This interview was con­ducted and com­piled by Tracy Wilson and has been edited for length and clarity.

What lan­guages do you know? Speaking-wise, I only know German, French, and a little bit of Man­darin. I can read Bib­lical Hebrew, San­skrit, Ugaritic, Avestan, Greek, and Latin. If you could tour the home of any ancient his­torical figure, who would you choose? Probably Seneca. Seneca was very rich, and he was also hyp­o­crit­i­cally Stoic. So, I think it would just be hilarious. What is the most unique gift you’ve ever given? I do a lot of cre­ative stuff. Once, my friend sent me a picture of his friend and he wanted me to turn it into a painting of her in a Renais­sance costume and in an enchanted looking forest with a well. And so, I did it. It was hilarious. It was on Reddit. What is one vivid memory you have from your childhood? My great-grand­father reading to me mytho­logical stories from a mythology ency­clo­pedia, which he actually gave to me before he died. As he was dying, he made sure to sign it. I would attribute that to why I’m into classics in the first place. He also had a huge library. The genesis of all the dif­ferent things I’m inter­ested in and knowl­edgeable about come from there and from him. I don’t believe in any of the myths, but I do believe that myths have infor­mation on how a culture con­tex­tu­alizes its origin. What is one dead lan­guage that you think shouldn’t have died? Aramaic. Aramaic was the most important lan­guage in the Ancient Near East. Its having died means that there’s a huge amount of lit­er­ature that no one has access to. The Baby­lonian Talmud, which is important to Judaism, is written in Aramaic, and all of our Aramaic trans­la­tions of the Bible are very important to under­standing prob­lematic words. From Egypt to Northern India, you could find Aramaic speakers. It’s a major world lan­guage that has no reason not to exist. Who is one person you’ve always looked up to? Both of my parents. The fact that they were 20 when they had me and made almost no money but could raise two kids like that is some­thing you don’t under­stand until you’re older. Now I can ask them how much they were actually making and paying in rent, and I realize all of the things that they didn’t do because they spent that money on us. What’s the best piece of advice your parents ever gave you? Probably to do what I want. If I had been con­strained by util­i­tarian ideas about edu­cation, or if my parents had focused on financial success rather than pas­sions and interests, I probably wouldn’t have done classics. That was very impressive to me and shaped who I am. What ’80s movie char­acter do you most identify with? Allie Sheedy in “The Breakfast Club.” She’s the one with the goth persona. I was kind of like that: very non-con­formist. I was more popular than her in high school, but still very non-con­formist. What is your favorite word? Res, in Latin. It’s un-trans­latable. Res is usually trans­lated as “thing,” but in Latin it means any­thing in any context, so it has almost unlimited amounts of meanings. The vaguer the word is, the more I tend to like it because you can explore it more. What is one expe­rience that changed your outlook on life? Living in Germany. I had grown up on the out­skirts of a city but in Germany I was living com­pletely in the coun­tryside in a town of 500 people. Living in a foreign country for an extended period of time and having to com­pletely absorb a totally dif­ferent way of speaking as well as dif­ferent expec­ta­tions was the most valuable thing I could have done. Having to do the mundane things in another country taught me way more about the culture than looking at its art or history. What was your favorite band or type of music growing up? I really liked folk music in all its various man­i­fes­ta­tions. I’ve also always had a thing for very early European music. That and clas­sical Chinese music. I also listen to plenty of punk. If you could change one event in history, what would it be? I would say the Mongols’ destruction of Baghdad. That wiped out the nascent sci­en­tific culture in the Near East. Do you have any hidden talents? I don’t know if they’re nec­es­sarily hidden. I paint, and I also appraise all sorts of antiques. If anybody shows me a piece of dec­o­rative art, I probably know when it’s from and I can guess who made it and a general figure on what it may be worth. I once appraised an estate as a graduate student. The guy turned out to own some Turner paintings, and had a very valuable col­lection of 19th century bronzes. It was this huge process and the estate was worth mil­lions of dollars. What is one par­tic­u­larly funny memory you have from your high school years? I did not like spirit assem­blies when I was in high school because I felt that they were pointless. I felt that we could be doing some­thing more pro­ductive. So once I told my 9th grade English teacher that I would not be going to the assembly and instead he let me and a whole bunch of my class­mates stay in the classroom and debate dif­ferent issues using the Socratic method. What’s one way you hope to impact your stu­dents? I hope to get them to not think just about the West because there’s a whole world out there. I was strongly influ­enced by studying cul­tures outside the Western tra­dition, par­tic­u­larly East Asia. Yes, the West is important, but it’s also important to compare it to the rest of the world. I want stu­dents to have the idea that there is a China that exists, and that China has its own clas­sical lit­er­ature and its own culture that isn’t superior to the West or inferior. It’s just dif­ferent. The more we look at these other cul­tures, we under­stand why the West is dif­ferent and under­stand the com­mon­al­ities that make us human beings.