Ruane Hall is lovely. The new Business School and Science Building provide our students and faculty state-of-the-art facilities. But there’s nothing quite like a PC-in-Rome classroom. On Friday, October 20th, students in Alexandra Massini’s “Angels and Demons” class and my own “Roman Stoicism” class joined expert guide Livia Galante for a day-trip to nearby Ostia Antica.
About 20 miles southwest of Rome, Ostia was the ancient harbor city of Rome. It’s history, if not as grand, is as complicated and fascinating as that of Rome herself. Used for defense and for trade from Julius Caesar to Augustus, Ostia was nearly double the size of the more famous ‘Pompeii’ archaeological site — and nearly as well preserved, too.
Here the students learn about different kinds of masonry in Ostia. Why learn about a brick? Because the quality of materials and craftsmanship teaches an intimate lesson of the ‘boom and bust’ times of the Ostian economy. Bricks tightly joined together evidence greater wealth than houses or civic buildings featuring more loosely-joined masonry.
With students taking notes on their trusty phones and Ipads, the surrounding Ostian classroom provides tactile and kinesthetic experiences that simply can’t be had anywhere else.
An intimate view into Ancient life around every corner, the latrines are always a big hit with students. Nothing shows the inner workings of a culture more than their private moments!
Ostia was also a prominent site for the Roman Cult of Mithras. Mithraism was the major religion in Rome from the 1st Century BC to the 4th Century AD. Many scholars have demonstrated its vast influence on early Christian rites, imagery, and even holidays. There were seven levels of ‘initiation rites’ associated with the Mithraian mysteries. A ‘Mithraeum’ is where these rites took place. Nearly always underground and depicting the hero Mithras killing a bull, Ostia’s Mithrauem is one of the most distinctive and best preserved.
Apart from the art and archaeological history lesson of Ostia, my own class on Stoicism was also able to make a unique connection with Ostia. Port cities were the major hub of economic transactions. And it’s unfortunately true that the slave trade was among the most significant aspects of the Ancient economy. While Stoicism is better noted as the principle Roman philosophy because of celebrity figures like Cicero, Seneca, and Emperor Marcus Aurelius, two of its most important advocates were the Turkish freed slave Epictetus and a slave whom we know came through Ostia Antica itself: Publius Syrus.
Brought to Italy through Ostia from Syria as a boy during the 80’s BC, we believe Syrus eventually earned his freedom through his wit and obvious intelligence. He came even to defeat Caesar’s own court poet in a literary competition of 46BC. His theatrical skills were also the stuff of legend, though they are unfortunately lost. What remains of Syrus’ writings are his ‘Sententiae’ or pithy little apothegms full of wisdom and advice for living that good Stoic life. Among some of his better gems are:
“Poverty is the lack of many things, but avarice is the lack of all things.”
“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”
“Fortune is like glass—the brighter the glitter, the more easily broken.”
This last quotation suggests one of the overriding concerns of Publius and of the Stoics generally: fortune. Not merely good or bad luck, Fortuna was worshiped, feared, and appeased by the Roman people as a quasi-deity. The entirety of Stoic practical philosophy can be summarized as a resistance to Fortuna, both good fortune and bad fortune. We do this not by becoming richer or more powerful. Instead, we should learn to value only that which stands within our power to control. What alone lies ever in our free control is our ‘prohairesis’ or ability to elect our actions. Even if fortune should prevent those actions being carried out successfully, it is always in our power to ‘aim rightly’ at the targets that are in our power to value.
Publius Syrus, as a slave, obviously had far fewer gifts of fortune than other Stoics like Seneca or Marcus Aurelius, and probably far fewer than everyday Roman citizens. But he considered himself happy and good insofar as he could choose to limit what he valued to the scope of activities and objects he could in fact achieve and acquire. And insofar as everything he valued was within power to achieve, he considered himself freer than even Caesar.
The real opportunity of a study abroad program, it seems to me, is the chance to expand one’s horizons of thinking. By spending time in the cold Mithraeum we get a better sense of what it would have been like to worship as a Roman. By sitting in the bright sun of their amphitheater, we get a better sense than any textbook could tell us what it would have been like to actually experience a Roman theatrical performance. And by walking through both the slave auction and the Temple of Fortuna, our students acquire at least some sense of just what it would have been like to hold one’s philosophical positions, not simply as a set of theorems, but also as a living, breathing, way of life.
Ruane Hall is lovely. The new Business School and Science Building provide our students and faculty state-of-the-art facilities. But there’s nothing quite like a PC-in-Rome classroom. On Friday, October 20th, students in Alexandra Massini’s “Angels and Demons” class and my own “Roman Stoicism” class joined expert guide Livia Galante for a day-trip to nearby Ostia […]MORE
This week we were pleased to welcome Mr. Matt Maurano to our Rome center. Matt is the Assistant Dean of Admissions at Providence College and was in town on a recruiting trip. Matt is an alum of the College himself – Class of 2006. This is his first trip to Rome and he took the time to visit us and give a brief presentation on the work of P.C. Admissions abroad.
During an informal “pizza and soda pop” reception, he told us about his responsibilities in international recruiting and where he will travel on behalf of the College. Italy, Switzerland, and England are on his itinerary over the next two weeks.
Fresh from hosting “A Day in Friartown” on the home campus, Matt told us about the activities of the Student Admission Ambassadors who work in his office. In fact, three of our P.C.- in- Rome alumni are Ambassadors and he encouraged the current students to apply next Spring. He said that their study abroad experience would be a great asset to the work of recruiting “future Friars”.
Matt asked the students about their decisions to study abroad and why they chose Rome as their destination. They told him about the wonderful experience they are having and the places they have already seen in just five weeks.
At the end the students were asking him about life on campus back home. They were curious about any changes that might have been made during the summer construction projects and any future plans that have been made to enhance the campus environment. While a few students later admitted that his remarks made them “a little homesick”, all agreed that being in Rome was exactly where they wanted to be this semester.
Matt Maurano’s visit made us all feel closer to the home campus and connected to the wider community of Providence College. He also gave us some perspective of how fortunate we all are to be in Rome and to be able to bring the “Friar school spirit” wherever we go.
This week we were pleased to welcome Mr. Matt Maurano to our Rome center. Matt is the Assistant Dean of Admissions at Providence College and was in town on a recruiting trip. Matt is an alum of the College himself – Class of 2006. This is his first trip to Rome and he took the […]MORE
Our second site visit was the famous Roman Forum. The format of our course, The New Testament in the Eternal City, includes not only classroom lectures but also site visits each week. More than simply “fun field trips”, these site visits are an integral part of the academic component of our study abroad program. Each week the site is to be integrated with the content of the classroom lecture. And while we’re on site, there is even more academic input from me and the occasional guide who leads us. So, pens, notebooks and course texts are not left behind! Instead, the site itself becomes both our classroom and the focus of our study – our “text”.
Our lecture was on the Roman context of early Christianity and our trip to the Roman Forum gave us a feel for what it was like to live, work, shop, participate in politics, and pray in ancient Rome. The basilicas, government buildings, temples, and areas of commerce included in the Forum helped us to understand how it functioned as the political, religious, and social center of ancient Rome.
Haley Bryan (’15) had this reaction to our trip to the Forum:
“The trip to the Roman Forum yesterday showed me how “ancient” Rome really is. It’s unbelievable these ruins from the most powerful empire still remain more than two thousand years later. The politics of the Roman Empire all happened here.”
Elizabeth Ward (’15) said: “I greatly enjoyed visiting the Roman Forum. It is fascinating to walk along the same streets that were once inhabited by Caesar, Cicero, and so many other greats that we have learned about in history classes. I love being able to see how much of today’s world is taken from structures and practices of the Ancient World. Rome continues to surprise me with each turn; one moment you’re riding on the 21st century Metro and then the next you’re walking among ruins from the age before Christ.”
Hearing the story of the assassination of Julius Caesar and seeing the spot in the Forum where his body was cremated struck Alissa Pappano (’15): “I thought the most exciting part of the Roman Forum was viewing the site of the ashes of Julius Caesar. It was interesting to learn that his was one of the first cases of a burial within the city of Rome.”
Another University of San Diego student, Danielle Brasher (’15), simply stated: “The
forum was an incredible glimpse at what life was like thousands of years
Our second site visit was the famous Roman Forum. The format of our course, The New Testament in the Eternal City, includes not only classroom lectures but also site visits each week. More than simply “fun field trips”, these site visits are an integral part of the academic component of our study abroad program. […]MORE