BMCR 2001.12.14

La rete di Arachne — Arachnes Netz

, , , La rete di Arachne : contributi su nuove tecnologie, didattica ed antichità classica nell'ambito del progetto "Telemaco" = Arachnes Netz : Beiträge zu Antike, EDV und Internet im Rahmen des Projekts "Telemachos". Palingenesia, Bd. 71. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 2000. 281 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.. ISBN 3515078215. DM 88.

This collection of essays (hereafter RA/AN) sums up the state of instructional technology in the classics in Europe. Contributors from Italy, Germany, France, Spain, the UK, and the US explain how they and their colleagues are using databases, computer-aided instruction, and the web in secondary and university instruction. For an American reader, this book is a welcome view into a sphere we are often tempted to ignore. For a teacher, the case studies and experience reports are useful; we can see what has worked in other schools and what ideas might be worth trying with our own students.

RA/AN is filled with URLs and screen shots, showing the contributors’ projects and other resources they have found useful. It might have been appropriate to publish the book in electronic form to facilitate reference to these various sites; a collected bibliography at the Telemachos site ( and would also be convenient. Yet the printed book is also useful, and may reach a different audience. Potential readers who are not yet comfortable with the web — and they do still exist — might run across the printed volume, and might then be motivated to learn more about the technologies it describes. Publishing a book like RA/AN only on line right now is perhaps like preaching to the choir: speaking only to fellow initiates, rather than to the world at large.

The editors of RA/AN are also the editors of Telemaco/Telemachos ( TELEdidattica e Multimedialità per le Antichità Classiche ed Orientali and TELEdidaktik und Multimediaverwendung auf dem Gebiet des Klassischen Altertums, des frühen Christentums, des Alten Orients und der Spätantike; hereafter T.), a project that collects information about on-line and multi-media projects to assist teachers of classics at all levels in Europe. T. maintains a database of such projects and sponsors a mailing list for announcements and discussion of interest to the classical computing community, particularly in Europe. The European focus is important to RA/AN: one of the book’s goals, according to the introduction (p. 7, 9), is to get beyond the conventional restriction of discussions of technology to the American or Anglophone portions of the internet. Instead, the book opens a window on the various uses of computer technology in classical classrooms in several European countries and several kinds of schools. There is no attempt to synthesize the various descriptions into an overview of the state of the art in Europe today, nor is this a handbook on applying technology in teaching the classics. The contributors’ different points of view, however, do come together to produce a composite picture of classical education as practiced by our colleagues in Europe.

Michael Alperowitz, in “Midas and the Golden Touch,” describes a student edition of the story of Midas from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the form of a hypertext. The edition includes the Latin text and glossary and provides space for students and their teacher to add notes and translations. Instruction boxes throughout encourage students to think about the colors that figure in the text — gold, of course, but also white, red, and blue. As each color becomes prominent in the story, the background behind the text changes. An introductory page presents links to other sites that connect Ovid’s Midas to our own time (p. 26), including magazine articles that mention Midas, sites about James Bond and Goldfinger, and articles on the California gold rush of the 1840s. This attractive edition was produced on CD and is a good example of a project tied to a specific text. Presumably the tools used to create this edition, and the software that makes it work, could be re-used in a similar edition of another text, though Alperowitz does not address this question in his essay. He does conclude that the project was worth the effort.

Chantal Bertagna’s contribution is “Utilité et usages des nouvelles technologies pour les langues anciennes: qu’en est-il dans l’enseignement secondaire in France?” She notes that the reading method is now standard in France; students are expected to start working with unadapted Latin almost at once and to learn grammar by reading. Students begin Latin in cinquième (age 13, corresponding to eighth grade in the US) and take at least three years. They begin Greek two years later (i.e. troisième or tenth grade) and take at least one year. There is a national standard showing what grammatical concepts are to be taught each year. Many teachers and schools have created drill programs for morphology, vocabulary, or etymology. Others have made on-line editions of texts, particularly those commonly assigned. Bertagna reviews some 20 of these tools, with URLs where available. She concludes by observing that students are often amazed to find out that there are people all over Europe and the rest of the world who are interested in Greek and Latin. Classical resources on the net demonstrate dramatically that the ancient languages are the basis for a cultural community (p. 37-38). For Bertagna and many of her colleagues, computers in the classroom are not just a way to sugar-coat drills (though this is also useful in keeping students engaged) but more importantly a way for students to make connections with the wider world.

In “Geschichte und Netz: Das Mittelalter,” Stuart Jenks considers electronic resources for medieval studies, including textbases and dictionaries, on CD or on the web. Most of the important corpora and reference works are being digitized in one form or another, many to be freely available. Jenks points out, however, that, so far, this transformation only facilitates what medieval historians have always done. The texts are moving from print to another medium, but nothing fundamental is changing. Historical research will be revolutionized only when all these reference works and text corpora can work together (p. 42-43). At present, one must use either general web search engines or hand-maintained “portal” pages to find resources. Neither of these is entirely satisfactory: the search engines are crude (though they have improved since Jenks wrote the article) and the hand-maintained pages require a lot of work to keep up. What we need, he argues, is a general index to sources and scholarship, suitable for use by historians, managed collaboratively, dynamically, and as much as possible automatically. If each text carried with it a list of keywords, for example, a reader could ask for texts about a given subject by asking for texts with that subject as a keyword. Although Jenks does not use the term “meta-data,” this is the basis of the scheme he outlines, and he is entirely right: on-line texts are more valuable together than separately. International efforts like the Open Language Archives Community (, using standard protocols, will one day be the basis for exactly the dynamic, automatic index Jenks envisions.

Licia Landi considers two projects for teaching Latin in Italian secondary schools in “Multimedialità e interattività nella didattica del Latino: Esperienze nel Triennio del Liceo Classico.” The first project is “Lepidus novus libellus,” which is a hypertextual commentary on selected poems of Catullus, focusing on illustrations of daily life. The second project, called “Catullo: Amore e Poesia,” is a collaborative hypertext project in which students link key words in the poems to essays they write and to other resources they find on the web. In this project, the students learned the basic principles of HTML and of hypertextual writing in addition to learning about Catullus. As Landi points out, constructing a good hypertext forces the students to think about all the different logical relationships among the various ideas they have found in the texts, not just the one relationship they would choose as the primary ordering principle for a conventional essay.

Reporting from the US is Rob Latousek, whose essay “The Globalization of Classical Computing: A Broadening Perspective” surveys the field from a software vendor’s point of view. He observes that good classical software is becoming available from many more countries than just the US and at the same time sales have expanded to cover “every continent except Antartica” (p. 57). Latousek gives suggestions about how to evaluate software for classroom use. He makes a useful distinction between “instructional software,” programs specifically designed to teach something, and “educational software,” a broader category including text and image corpora, tools for working with those corpora, and general productivity tools. Many of the projects described in the other essays in RA/AN are strictly “instructional” in this sense; it is generally easier to write a program that does one thing well than to create a general-purpose tool. Latousek also notes, appropriately, that standards facilitate development and use of software.

Four scholars from Venice present the “Attività del Laboratorio di Informatica Umanistica della Facoltà di Lettere, Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia.” Paolo Mastandrea, Luca Mondin, Luigi Tessarolo, and Federico Boschetti discuss a programming course for classicists, then three of their own projects. The programming course focuses on internet applications, graphic interface toolkits, and text processing, and culminates in the implementation of a distributed database system. The three projects are “Propaideusis,” “PoetriaNova,” and a formulaic analysis of Homeric epic. “Propaideusis” is a system for creating and administering exams in Latin, permitting the instructor to create various kinds of questions (multiple choice, matching, fill-in) on arbitrary subjects, or to ask the student to scan lines or to syllabify words. Students may use the program for self-testing and review as well as for exams in class. The “PoetriaNova” project is a library of some 800,000 lines of Latin verse from archaic Latin through the mid-13th century, with indices and search facilities. The search engine can handle variant spellings, for example recognizing “eclesia, aecclesia, ecclaesia” as forms of “ecclesia.” Although it is not aware of inflections (that is, searches for “facio” will not return “feci”), it does support wild-card searches. Finally, the Homeric project is based on a word-index to the texts of the Iliad and the Odyssey, along with a series of programs for scansion and for identification of potential formulae. The authors define a formula, for their purposes, as “a group of two or more words, occurring at least twice in the same grammatical form and in the same metrical position” (p. 79). Boschetti and his collaborators are working on an edition with an index of formulae, and are discussing other ways to use their Homeric database — for example, identifying which formulae appear in similes or in speeches.

Alain Meurant, Jacques Poucet, and Jean Schumacher survey the “Outils électroniques et études classiques à Louvain-la-Neuve.” The best-known electronic project at Louvain is probably CETEDOC, the “Centre de traitement électronique des documents,” which publishes the CETEDOC Library of Christian Latin Texts and the CD version of the Bibliotheca Teubneriana Latina. Within the academic departments of the Université Catholique de Louvain, however, electronic resources are also quite well integrated. The essay begins by presenting some of the web sites maintained by the classics faculty, then explains the “Itinera Electronica,” a courseware server created by the Louvain classicists. The web sites presented are Bibliotheca Classica Selecta (, a rich site intended as an introduction to classical studies and including bibliographies, texts, and translations; Lupa Capitolina Electronica (, a detailed study of the legend of Romulus, Remus, and the wolf; and AgoraClass (, at once a meeting place for classicists and students and a road-map to classical resources on the internet. Itinera Electronica ( is a group of teaching resources, mainly for intermediate and advanced Latin. Almost all of the materials in all of these sites are freely available to everyone.

Julian Morgan’s essay, “Computanda Britannica: An Inventory of Classics and Computing in the UK,” considers the use of computers in classics in British secondary schools. According to Morgan (p. 102), the British government hopes to promote the use of technology in instruction, but its efforts are mainly directed at state schools. Classical subjects are strongest in independent schools, however, which do not receive the same support nor are they subject to the same regulations as state-run schools. JACT (the Joint Association of Classical Teachers) is attempting to co-ordinate training and guides to good practice, but according to Morgan many schools and many teachers are hesitant. Others, however, use web sites and software packages in the classroom and have their students create web sites of their own. Morgan uses locally installed software with his own students since he does not feel a live connection to the internet is robust enough for use in class; he is therefore most interested in programs on CD for drill and especially as a source of pictures and reconstructions. He encourages the major publishers of Latin texts to produce CD versions of their courses. One important observation Morgan makes is that teachers and scholars around the world who work with computers and the internet frequently share ideas with each other. He has found such collaboration relatively unusual in other areas of classical scholarship (p. 106). Morgan emphasizes the relatively formal liaisons, for example between his company and Rob Latousek’s, or between JACT and the ACL, but of course the internet facilitates less formal sharing as well.

In “Computer e Antichità Classica: Note in Margine,” Camillo Neri describes an intensive non-credit computer course for classicists at the Università degli Studi de Bologna. The course begins with the most elementary tools: word processing, email, bibliographic databases, library catalogs. It goes on to introduce the various standard collections of texts and more specialized databases for epigraphy, papyrology, archaeology, and art history. This is a “computer literacy” course, aiming to make the students familiar with existing tools, not to teach them how to create their own. As Neri points out (p. 113-116), computational work can be divided into four categories. First, some tasks could already have been done with traditional tools, for example searching for epithets in Homer. It may be faster to perform searches with the TLG than with print lexica and concordances, but the results will be no different; indeed, the scholar may prefer to have the additional information supplied by lexica. The second category includes tasks for which the new tools are unambiguously helpful. “In questa categoria rientra la maggior parte delle attività abituali di uno studioso di antichità classica,” notes Neri (p. 113). Programs to assist with collation of variant readings, digital manuscript facsimiles, and intelligent search tools for large text corpora all make literary and textual scholarship easier. Neri’s third category contains those tasks in which new tools have replaced old ones altogether, for example word frequency and collocation studies. Finally, the fourth category consists of tasks that are only possible with electronic tools. These include large quantitative studies, for example stylometric analyses, metrical studies, studies of alliteration, and the like. While such work has been done by hand for many years, it is both more efficient and more accurate to let a program count cases. It is also possible to count an entire corpus more quickly by machine than a moderate-sized sample by hand. Students in the Bologna course learn about all four categories of tasks and will ultimately be able to draw on all of them in their scholarly work.

Daniela Pellacani reports on a survey of Italian Latin teachers in “L’uso del computer nella didattica del latino: una ricerca sul campo.” She finds that almost half of survey respondents (47.6%) have their students work regularly in computer labs, and another third (33.3%) assign sporadic but intensive computer sessions. Many of these teachers (47.6%) have their students write hypertexts, but another substantial portion (38.1%) do not have their students produce any on-line or electronic material. Strikingly, 85.7% of respondents report that teachers in different departments collaborate with them on classical computing projects, though Pellacani does not indicate which departments are involved. The survey report includes a question on the respondents’ own opinion of multimedia instruction; choices are “molto positiva,” “mediamente positiva,” and “negativa.” While only 4.8% report a negative opinion, only 28.6% are very positive; the majority of responses are in the “pretty good” range. As Pellacani points out (p. 129-130), computers don’t solve the problems of teaching. Although there are many materials available, it’s up to the teacher to organize them and structure a lesson or a larger unit around them.

M. Pilar Rivero writes on “Internet y la enseñanza de las ciencias de la Antigüedad en las universidades españolas.” In Spain as elsewhere, the internet serves as a source for texts and as a means of communication. Rivero focuses on its role in teaching, but notes that there are several projects in Spain (she lists half a dozen) that also use the internet to publish their research and their corpora. Most Spanish universities have basic information about their curricula and requirements on line, including not only general undergraduate studies but doctoral programs, certificates, and continuing education; the first section of the article gives a convenient list of all of them, with their URLs. The remaining three sections are more specifically classical: use of the internet as a library, teaching materials on the net, and distance learning in classics. At the time of writing, the only classical subject available from a Spanish university via distance learning was Greek lyric poetry, offered by the Centro Virtual de Estudios Clásicos de la Universidad Federal del Paraná, in Brazil, taught by faculty of the Universidad de Zaragoza. The CVEC ( manages courses from universities in Latin America, North America, and Europe, run in Portuguese or Spanish, including classical subjects; when the professor cannot speak either of the Center’s languages, the CVEC arranges for a translator. It also provides web space, sets standards for evaluation, and awards certificates of completion to students. Rivero notes (p. 165) that many Spanish professors prefer to keep their teaching materials private, for their own students’ exclusive use, and thus see no point in publishing them on the internet; in addition, universities in Spain do not yet have the capacity for large-scale internet courses. She is optimistic, however, that as the available resources become better known, and as more projects like CVEC get started, professors in Spain will make more materials available on line.

In “Elektronische Ressourcen in der Papyrologie,” Kai Ruffing surveys the major on-line papyrological databases and meta-pages. Much of the essay is devoted to details on the Perseus interface to the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri ( , the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der grichischen Papyrusurkunden Ägyptens (, and the Advanced Papyrological Information System at Michigan ( Specialists can use these collections and their search facilities to find pictures of papyri, transcriptions and translations of their texts, and catalog information such as the place of origin, the date of writing, and the first publication. Students will need guidance, just as they would to use printed catalogs and checklists of papyri.

“Software e Libertà” is Luigi Salvioni’s provocative title (the subtitle is “Il ‘Corso di latino e greco col Computer’ nel Liceo Classico di San Donà di Piave”). Salvioni argues that teachers can and should create their own computer exercises based on whatever texts their students are reading. Although it’s possible in principle to do this with any HTML editor, Salvioni and his colleagues ultimately created a program that can take a text in word-processor form and create vocabulary drills and cloze exercises from it. In addition, they have implemented a suite of morphology drills. Students will always need to spend time on basic drills and will be doing much the same work whether they use computers or flash cards. It is useful to have drills that precisely match the class work and the students’ needs, and this means teachers must be able to create or adjust computer exercises as the semester goes on, just as they would do for paper worksheets or homework assignments. Until suitable commercial software becomes available, teachers will need to make their own. Salvioni wonders why there should be highly advanced chess programs, but no software to teach Latin syntax; detailed flight simulators for home computers but no aids for students reading Xenophon or Shakespeare (p. 202). Fortunately, there are development tools, such as Hot Potatoes (, which handle the structure of standard kinds of exercises, so teachers do not need to spend time writing the necessary bits of code. A few simple tools, and some basic skills, give the teacher the freedom to use the computer in whatever way is appropriate for a particular class (p. 193).

Carla Salvaterra, one of the editors of ράαν, contributes “Bytes loquuntur? Nuove tecnologie e didattica delle scienze dell’ antichità: riflessioni su alcune esperienze.” There are two parts to classical computing in the classroom: teaching with technology and teaching the technology itself. Salvaterra devotes most of her essay to the latter topic, attempting to summarize what the computer-literate classicist must know. First of all, the student must have basic end-user skill with an operating system and standard applications, with particular attention to making texts and using fonts for non-Roman alphabets. Next, the student must be familiar with the internet, the web, email, and search engines. Given this basic knowledge, the student is then ready to look at the applications, corpora, and web sites specific to the classics. These include not only collections of texts but also archaeological materials. Finally, the student can learn about more specialized utilities: collation programs, image processing tools, databases, and so on; to this list I would add tools for creating, indexing, and displaying structured texts in SGML or XML (something Salvaterra mentions only in passing, p. 223). More important than the specific curriculum, however, is Salvaterra’s observation (p. 232) that classicists are now in transition from traditional methods to newer ones made available by the new tools. We can attract modern students with modern technologies, but we must retain the rigor and precision of our discipline.

Ulrich Schmitzer, another of the editors of ράαν, surveys the German-speaking world in “Und man braucht sie doch: Internet und EDV in Lehre und Forschung auf dem Gebiet der Antike. Ein Bericht über die Lage im deutschsprachigen Raum.” Internet use is widespread; most classics departments or their equivalents in German universities have web pages (p. 234) and German-speaking classicists are beginning to explore the new kinds of publication, teaching, and scholarship made possible by computers and the internet (p. 235). Schmitzer surveys projects in all of these areas, with particular attention to on-line journals and bibliographies. The most basic on-line bibliography is the library catalog; Schmitzer is one of very few contributors to acknowledge this tool, which so many of us use nearly as often as our word processors. He concludes by noting that classical studies will necessarily change as a result of the changes in technology, which (like many other observers) he likens to the transitions from roll to codex or from manuscript to print. We must analyze and manage these changes, he says (p. 261-262), so that we can ensure the survival of our subject within the universities.

The final essay of the collection is Debora Stenta’s “Storia antica e videogiochi. Nuove prospettive nello studio dell’ antichità classica e della sua percezione alle soglie del XXI secolo.” The video games of interest here are historical simulations, such as Age of Empires, SPQR, or Caesar III. These games, like historical novels and movies, are popular entertainment making the ancient world more visible and more accessible. For some players, the games are their only source of knowledge about the ancient world. Some players study history as a result of playing; others, on the other hand, take up the games because of a prior interest in ancient history. The historical background presented within the games is sometimes inaccurate, often as a result of the need to summarize much detail into a single screen. Of course there are implausibilities built in; in Caesar III, for example, the game begins in about 340 BC and continues to AD 100, and one main character lives through the entire 440-year span, advised by C. Julius Caesar. Stenta is slightly bothered by this extended lifetime, slightly more by the existence of the Roman Empire in the middle of the 4th century BC (p. 273). Most regular players seem to accept these inaccuracies as part of the game, not part of the real world, based on an informal survey Stenta conducted in mailing lists and chat rooms devoted to the game. More subtle, however, is the ideology built into the games; players may absorb a particular view of ancient Rome without realizing it. Caesar III, for example, seems to Stenta to present Rome mainly as a precursor and prototype of modern western culture. Of course, popular fiction and movies have always presented the ancient world in generalized ways and from their own points of view, as Stenta points out. She analyzes the way films have presented early Imperial Rome as a decadent society defined by its opposition to Christianity (p. 267-270). What video games do with history is not fundamentally different. Stenta concludes that while no one actually learns history directly from video games or films, they may attract people to deeper and more systematic study.

Several significant themes emerge from these essays. First of all, there are many creative scholars and teachers making tools for their work, whether on line or privately distributed. Many of them, however, are doing the same kinds of things: morphology drills, multimedia editions, student commentaries, vocabulary lists. Everyone wants tools customized to exactly what their students are studying (as Salvioni points out), so while a drill program from another liceo or gymnasium may be useful, one’s own seems better. This leads to duplication of effort, as everyone has to figure out independently how to create drills, hypertext editions, and so on. General tool kits (like the Hot Potatoes suite Salvioni mentions, or the popular commercial site Quia, would help teachers get started and would facilitate sharing materials.

Another reason for duplication of effort is that it can be hard to find out what someone else has already done. RA/AN addresses this problem in part, with its detailed descriptions of projects and extensive lists of URLs. But, like any printed book about the internet, RA/AN can only catalog the state of the world at a particular moment. Dynamic resources need dynamic cataloging, as Jenks points out. If every internet resource could announce what it is, who made it, and what it is for, in a standard form, then tools much like current search engines could gather these “catalog records” and provide a way to search them or browse through them. One very basic standard for this kind of information is the Dublin Core (, a list of the key facts about a database, web site, book, or other resource, with standard names for them. While the Dublin Core facts do not include everything you might want to know about an object, they are straightforward to create and maintain. A collection of Dublin Core meta-data facts about a series of classical texts, drill programs, word lists, and so on, maintained automatically by programs that can ask for these facts using standard protocols, would require little work from the creators of the resources, and equally little from the maintainers of the index once the collection process is set in motion. The principle is the same as that of TOCS-IN except that instead of having human volunteers key in the meta-data catalog records, those records would be created by the creators of the resources and copied automatically to the central catalog, or to any number of catalogs.

Sharing resources will also be facilitated by standard forms for them. Several contributors propose the word processor as the basic tool for creating texts for students. While word processors have their uses, they store texts in proprietary formats, and one program cannot necessarily read texts created by another, or even by a different version of itself. Word processor texts, HTML files, and PDF documents, moreover, are unstructured: it’s up to the human reader to recognize that italics in one place mark a Latin word used in an English sentence, but in another context the italicized word might be English within a Latin sentence. Structured markup allows writers and editors to say what something really is, not merely what it looks like. Existing international standards like the TEI Guidelines ( document a set of rules for structuring text so that various applications can work with it, convert it to printable form, pull out vocabulary lists, link foreign words to dictionaries, and so on. Although many of the contributors to RA/AN note that the ability to create texts is a basic part of computer literacy, they assume this means using HTML and word processors. These are still useful tools, but XML is more versatile and is likely to replace HTML as the normal language of the web.

The remaining major themes running through RA/AN are community and attractiveness. The internet promotes an international community of students and teachers of the classics; Telemaco/Telemachos is one example, and Bertagna’s students, “stupéfaits de découvrir qu’à l’autre bout du monde … on s’intéresse au latin et au grec” (p. 37), are another. This community is one way computers in the classroom make classics more attractive to students. Another is by making drills more fun, or by making texts look more like the films and videos students choose for their own entertainment. Connecting Midas to James Bond and Goldfinger or making morphology drills in which the student must steer the Titanic away from an iceberg add an element of play to the study of ancient languages and literature. Contributors suggest that the international connections, the visually appealing play, and the chance to learn computer skills perceived as useful all help make our subject seem more relevant to students. This keeps them in our classes, which in turn keeps our classes on the schedule. Schmitzer and Salvaterra both make the point that we must adapt to the new technologies or be left behind.

An index would have made RA/AN more useful, though indexing a multi-lingual collection is rather complicated. Similarly, a unified bibliography, and especially a list of the hundreds of URLs mentioned in articles, would be a convenience. But these small points do not detract from the value of the book as an overview of the state of classical computing in European schools and universities.