Reading your obituary of Professor Janet Martin evoked a sad sweet rush of memories from my last two years at Princeton, when I took her Silver Age prose and Medieval Latin courses. I did not begin my Latin studies until my sophomore year, but thanks to Magistra Martina, the language of the eternal city conquered my interests.
In those days, it was possible to register for additional courses in the first week of classes, and then simply drop the ones you didn’t want to keep. Since there were two sections of the prose class, I attended the first week of Professor Martin’s as well as the other section, Erich Segal’s — visiting professor from Yale’s classics department. (Like most of my classmates — the women, at least — I loved his 1970 Love Story, which was so familiar to us all that a later Triangle Show referencing the Trojan War featured the prophetess Andromache declaring “Love means never having to say, ‘You’ll be sorry.’”)
As engaging as were Professor Segal’s commentaries on Messalina’s sexual antics and the training of naked Olympians, what I really needed was Professor Martin’s rigorous textual analysis and grammatical explanations (who knew that ’nt, like the Latin -ne, was an enclitic adverb?), which deepened not only my knowledge of the language, but also an appreciation for the subtleties of a writer’s stylistic effects.
In her Medieval Latin course, she introduced us to the poetry of Hildegard of Bingen, the first time I’d heard of a woman whose Latin poems survived from antiquity. Decades before Pope Benedict XVI added Hildegard to the Catholic Church’s formal list of saints (although never canonized), Hildegard’s Spiritus sanctus vivificans vita became part of my personal canon of Latin literature, which I was to share with my own students for the next 45 years.
I am forever grateful to Professor Martin, for starting me on a course of study that was to sustain me spiritually as well as financially for the rest of my life. I’d like to imagine her now, serenely serenaded by angelic chants reverberating from the Gothic vaults in That Great Cathedral in the Sky.
Requiescas in pace, O Magistra!