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Five Questions for: Emil Kramer

June  03, 2011

Five Questions is a series of profiles of people at Augustana College. Emil Kramer, associate professor of classics, gives the answers today. If you know someone you'd like to see profiled, send his or her name and a note to sharenews@augustana.edu.

1. Describe a few things you admire most about ancient Greek and Roman societies.

I admire the amazing degree of perseverance of the Roman political elite. A small collection of influential Roman families convinced others to stay with them through centuries of war and empire building. And I admire the Greeks in their ability to evolve. The leaders selected to found new colonies were permitted to establish their own systems of governance, and the lessons learned found their way back home.

2. Are there any lessons from the decline of Greek and Roman societies that we might apply to modern times?

The Greeks were a very agonistic society. Ancient Greek society was marked with constant political conflict. This agonistic nature of the ancient Greeks — this constant political infighting — has connections to our modern American political culture. In the case of the Romans, at the point of their decline, we find an empire over-stretched with military commitments to the point where financial, material and human resources became so depleted that the collective willpower that once ruled their known world began to fail.

3. You describe the classics as the foundation of the liberal arts experience. What do you mean?

For several millennia, the study of the classics was education. The areas of study that Plato identified in The Republic — including the sciences, math, philosophy, literature and language — were the established pathway for the learned from ancient times until the Industrial Revolution.

“Classics” has always meant an education founded in the study of Greek and/or Latin. In the Classics Department at Augustana, we also offer students the opportunity to explore classical studies in ancient literature, culture and history, and by the ability of our students to double-major (or minor), the college provides our students the ablility to gain a truly classical liberal arts education.

4. You just completed a year of service as the chair of the Augustana College Faculty Senate. Describe a few characteristics we might find among the icons of the classical world that might help successfully lead any faculty senate.

The classical model most approximate to the chair of the senate here would be that of any senator during the period of Roman Empire. The senate chair has no real power; his/her challenge is to maintain a positive relationship with those who do — that would be with the president and the board of trustees. That's just the way things are — Pliny (the Younger) or Tacitus would understand this situation.

5. Last fall, you gave a lecture as part of the Women and Gender Studies speaker series that you titled, “Plato: The first feminist.” Give me the Reader’s Digest summary?

My discussion focused on Book 5 of The Republic, where Plato makes the first case for the importance of merit-based gender equality. I guess you could say that Plato was only 2,000 years ahead of his time.