How a Classics Professor Writes

Henry Bender, Ph.D.
Professor of Modern and Classical Languages

Quick Facts

Do you prefer pen or pencil?

Do you have a favorite place to write?
Yes, I like to write in my study

What are you reading now?
A book on the history of Christianity, and a book on monuments in Rome.

SJU Writes: What kinds of writing do you do?

HB: Most of my writing is comments updating things I have been studying literally all my life. I have travelled to Europe, specifically Italy, over 130 times as the topography of Rome is changing all the time. So, I spend a lot of time reading up on these things. I do rewritings of some of my own publications, and I am hoping to publish another book before the end of my life.

SJU Writes: What is your favorite aspect of the writing process?

HB: Of the writing process, I think getting your ideas and formulating your ideas from mind to word is the challenge. I mean, even the ancients speak about that. When you get an insight into something, for example, when you read a poet in Latin and you get ideas or interpretations, you want to write them down. You may see that they’ve been cited already by commentators, b. But it helps to solidify impressions on the meaning of a poem if you write down your impressions and try to make them coherent. Then they can be shared in the context of the classroom. So that kind of writing is frustrating, but it’s good.

SJU Writes: What is the best thing you’ve ever written in your life?

HB: think one of the books that I have written, the book I wrote on Catullus, a Roman poet, is probably one of the best things that I’ve done as far as facilitating for students the opportunity to engage a Roman writer.

SJU Writes: When you are confronted with a writing task, how do you approach it? Do you spend days fretting about it or do you immediately start jotting down ideas?

HB: think with writing, you do the thinking and reading first—that is, like tilling the soil. You can’t grow the crops unless you have soil and moisture to make things grow. And then you write. But to rush into writing is not a good academic thing to do. On the other hand, to put it off is avoiding the challenge of dealing with your interpretations with the thoughts that have to be weighed. But with the different types of papers you have there is nothing wrong with jotting down your ideas as they come and then leaving them alone for a while, and then go back and re-organizing them.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in the discipline of classics?

HB: would say: 1) think, 2) jot down your thoughts. I had a teacher once who told me whenever you get an idea, put it on an index card. You might not come back to it for a while, but in classics, which is Latin and Greek literature that has been poured over for centuries now, it’s pretty hard to find something new. But your interpretation of a poem is like an interpretation of a painting. When you look at a painting or you hear music, and you look at literature, there is a common denominator in there. You could say that there are certain aesthetics that you pull together. Those are things that are important to pay attention to. How do you do that? You organize your reactions and jot them down and then come back to them and see if you can tie them together into some coherent whole.

—Mary McDermott ’17, M.A. ‘19