Classics students create database

Advanced Classics students enrolled in the course “Roman Epistles,” also referred to as “Ancient Letters,” have had the unique opportunity this semester to create an online database of the work of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, a Roman orator whose material was mostly lost to the modern world.

Fronto was a second century orator, statesman, and rhetorician who was similar to some of the greats of Ancient Rome, like Cicero. All of his work was lost to modernity until 1815, when Cardinal Angelo Mai discovered a cache of Fronto’s writings in a Milanese palimpsest (manuscript). Over the next few decades, these letters were published, but rather haphazardly. As a result, scholars interested in Fronto could read his letters. However, no one produced a full-fledged commentary until the 1990s and it is still very incomplete. Professor Bartolo Natoli, the Roman Epistles course professor and a second year professor at Randolph-Macon, decided to fix this problem by creating a more complete database by working through the letters of Fronto and including commentary, translation, and a historical background aimed at helping college and graduate students with their research.

The course gives his class the opportunity to stray from the typical research paper by allowing each of the 11 enrolled students to select a letter, and write an introduction, translation, and commentary that will later be uploaded to the site. One of these students, Grace McIntire ‘19, is assisting Natoli in writing the HTML for the web site. Another Classics major who is not in the class, John Winburne ‘16, is writing the code for the database.

Madeline Wyatt ‘17 is a Latin, Classics, and Archaeology major with a minor in Secondary Education. Wyatt says that the online database is proving to be unique and challenging, but that in the end her work will be well worth the effort because she knows how monumental this is for the Classics department.

“It’s nice to be able to apply what we have learned to something that is more than a grade,” Wyatt said. “This project will not only be used by us, but by the Classics community at large.”

Grace Mcintire ‘19 is a Latin, Greek, and Mathematics major with a minor in Education who also plans to become a Latin teacher.

“ This database of Fronto’s works will help make it as important to study Fronto now as in ancient times,” Mcintire said. “I feel privileged to be able to contribute to this as a freshman, and now that I’ve been introduced to this higher-level work so early on, I only want to learn more. I know this database will help me teach my future students about Fronto, and it will be great to point out the sections I helped contribute to.”

The database,, will be fully operational in December 2015. Additionally, the class’s work will be presented by Natoli and his students at a regional Classics meeting in March 2016 at The College of William & Mary. Natoli will also present the database at an international meeting at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in April 2016.

-Erin Roberts ’16, Senior News Editor

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