R. Scott Smith

Excellence in Teaching

Assistant Professor of Classics
College of Liberal Arts

Translating with hammer and tongs


R. Scott Smith

To teach mythology well, one has to be a master storyteller able to captivate the imaginations of a new generation. While at UNH, Scott Smith has taught more than 1,600 students; his teaching evaluations average close to a perfect score of five. A well-regarded scholar, he's also known as a generous and enthusiastic colleague. And his students—be they classicists, teachers, engineers, or nurses—tend to stay in touch long after graduating.

But imagine a smart aleck twelve-year old boy asking his guidance counselor, "What's the weirdest language you have?" Soon after, he sits in Mrs. Pomfrey's Latin class, and he's met his match.

"She was a brilliant teacher with formidable energy," recalls Smith, assistant professor of classics, of his first mentor. Smith, who has also taught high school Latin and is active in the New Hampshire Classical Association, notes: "We need inspired, passionate teachers at that level."

In 2000, Smith, having just earned his Ph.D., joined with Stephen Brunet and Stephen Trzaskoma to form the core faculty of the Classics Program. Prior to his arrival, the two Steves had been discussing the development of an anthology of translations for one of the University's most popular courses, Classical Mythology.

"When Scott came that fall, he loved the idea," says Trzaskoma. "It quickly became apparent that he had just as many good ideas as we did and it was no time before he was an equal partner. That kind of collaboration and brainstorming have been an everyday occurrence for us. It's one of the best aspects of my job."

During the next four years, Smith, Trzaskoma, and Brunet developed the anthology, regularly field testing it on students.

In 2004, the Anthology of Classical Myth was published by Hackett Publishing, a premier publisher, with a retail price of $16.95. (Most paperback texts in this field cost around $75.) Endorsed by top scholars, the anthology has been received enthusiastically by classicists and is now in its second printing.

"We saved a lot of money by doing most of the translations ourselves," notes Smith.

Of this Herculean effort, Brunet says "Scott and Steve shared translations, banging away and straightening them out with hammer and tongs. Scott is simply one of the best Latinists I've known. What that means is that he's read widely in Latin literature, has an amazing memory for written Latin, and then has a good sense of usage per time period. His translations of Ovid and Horace do justice to that great poetry."

Each translation reflects the author’s voice. One of the most amusing is by Lucian, a Greek writer, ca. AD 120-180, on the "Judgment of the Goddesses." In a wonderful scene, Lucian describes how Hermes guides the infamous threesome—Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite—to the mountain pasture where the hero Paris is tending cows. Hermes instructs them, " . . . let’s land on the ground and walk—if that's okay. That way we won't freak him out by dropping down from above out of the blue."

Trzaskoma, the translator, and Smith, his reader—over many cups of coffee—decided since the usage in ancient Greek was colloquial, it would be in this translation. For the reader, the freshness is startling and wonderfully understandable.

"Students really liked it," says Smith, "and of course, if we can reach students with these texts, the Trojan War and Greek literature open up for them." He adds simply, "We wrote better because we taught it. We taught better because we wrote it."

—Carrie Sherman