Old language and literature are her passions
Tina Chronopoulos divides her time at Binghamton University between two related yet very different subjects: classical antiquity and Medieval Latin. The native of Germany loves teaching language. “My father is Greek and my mother is German, so languages have always been part of my life,” she says. “I started learning Latin at the age of 10 and have never looked back.”
Although her passion for Greek and Roman antiquity was firmly established early on, it took a canceled class for Chronopoulos to discover her enthusiasm for Medieval Latin. “I was studying for an MA in classics at King’s College London and they canceled one of the Latin classes I was really excited about and replaced it with a Latin tragedy class that I didn’t want to take, so the Medieval Latin literature course was the only one left that had anything to do with Latin and that seemed interesting. I took it and loved it!”
“I find that in Medieval Latin I can be who I really am,” she says. “It’s very difficult with classical literature to do truly original work, but in Medieval Latin literature, there is so much left to do: many texts don’t even exist in books as we know them, but still languish in medieval manuscripts, waiting to be read. You can do original work and don’t have to rehash what others have said already before you form your own opinions. And, with Medieval Latin, you have a much greater chronological and geographical expanse to pull from.”
Chronopoulos works with texts to try to figure out what kind of context they were written in, when, where and for what purpose. “There are several ways to do this. You can look at the material evidence, in other words medieval manuscripts. How many are there for a given text? Where do they come from? Are they confined to a particular area? Then you can work with the text itself and study the language, turns of phrases, references to historical events and slips into the vernacular.” She tries to put herself in the writer’s position to determine what he was interested in. “Why is this person writing a particular text and who is he writing for?” she asks. “If I’m a medieval monk or teacher, what books do I have on my bookshelf? What authors and information about the past (or the present) do I have access to?”
In the classroom, Chronopoulos uses small expressions to help students learn. For example, an English expression is to ‘squeeze blood from a stone,’ but in German, “the equivalent expression is ‘to pull worms from someone’s nose’,” she says. “So it’s interesting to think about idiomatic expressions and how the cultural context is necessary in order to appreciate them fully. In German, ‘I am in the picture,’ means ‘I get it, I understand.’ I love that kind of stuff.”Though she admits to being a rigorous teacher with high academic standards who does not mollycoddle her students, figuring out how to translate such expressions into Latin can make teaching fun. Recently, she and her students translated a nursery rhyme into Latin. “There were ten in the bed and the little one said. … We translated the whole song into Latin. It came up because we had just learned numbers and how to express location in Latin. I think they [the students] appreciated it.”
“My aspiration is for them to be able to have a conversation in Latin,” Chronopoulos says. “I try to show them that it is possible to play around with the language and that it doesn’t have to be all about the grammar all the time. They themselves can potentially make up little sentences. The greater their ‘live’ appreciation for a language, the greater their appreciation will be for its literature.”
Her methods must be working, because the wallpaper on her computer is a thank you from a student, accompanied by a smiley face.