A Conversation with Dr. Benario

Posted on April 6, 2012 by

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Dr. Patrick: For those who may be new to the field of teaching Latin and Classics in GA, tell us about your career in classics.

Dr. Benario: I received my Ph.D from The Johns Hopkins University in 1951. Two years in the US Army followed; when I was discharged, I began teaching at Columbia University. I then moved in 1958 to Sweet Briar College. Two years later I joined the Department of Classics at Emory University, from which I took early retirement in 1987, as Professor of Classics. I have continued to be active in retirement.

Dr. Patrick: What interests you about Julius Caesar and his writings?

Dr. Benario: Caesar was the first author I read in high school, as was the case for just about all youngsters. His career as a politician, statesman, general fascinated me, as I learned that it was not enough to be a nobilis and a patrician to have a successful career in the late republic. His command of Latin, his style, his brevitas are unique among surviving authors.

Dr. Patrick: Tell us about your new book. What is its focus? What features of the book are you most pleased with?

Dr. Benario: The selections chosen for the AP program are from four books of the Bellum Gallicum. It is difficult, therefore, to have a sense of continuity. I have undertaken to comment upon his style, his use of rhetorical devices, peculiarities of constructions, as well as to place events of which he is writing into a larger context.

Dr. Patrick: It is not uncommon for teachers of Latin to think of Caesar as not the most exciting of authors and works to read and teach. Tell us what we should be excited about in working with Caesar’s Gallic Wars and our students. Does Caesar really have something to say to our teenagers?

Dr. Benario: Indeed he does. Much of his narrative deals with war, and, indeed, that subject does not appeal to many youngsters. But warfare is the greatest test of an individual’s capability to make rapid yet sensible decisions and then carry them out. Caesar’s ability to move an army at a speed far greater than the norm, to arrive at a destination before people knew that he was on the way, excited me when I was young and still does. Part of this may come from beginning the study of Latin during the years of World War II, when one learned how an individual could change history by his actions. I think of Admiral Nimitz before the Battle of Midway and General Patton in the relief of Bastogne.

Dr. Patrick: Your new book on the Gallic wars begins with an introduction to Caesar’s life. What is there in Caesar’s life that helps those who study his writings make more sense of them? In other words, how do the man and his words make sense?

Dr. Benario: He faced difficulties in mounting a career from the beginning. He was related to Marius, a handicap for advancement in the period of Sulla. He took risks which no one else matched, such as running for election as Pontifex Maximus when he was only of praetorian rank. When we read the account of the first invasion of Britain, we see him faced with continuous crisis, with his responses ultimately successful.

Dr. Patrick: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing your interest and scholarship in Caesar’s work with us. We look forward to your book.

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