Student and Academic Life

Classics Students Receive Recognition at National Convention

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 10, 2018) — A group of University of Kentucky students, in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures and Cultures, is being recognized for outstanding accomplishments on a national level.

Sophia Decker was named the 2018 recipient for best student paper at the Eta Sigma Phi (National Classics Honor Society) convention, held March 23-25, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The paper titled, "Dorians Are Allowed to Speak Doric: Theocritus’ Idyll XV in the Context of Panhellenization" will be published in its entirety in the society's newsletter, NUNTIUS. Developed under the guidance of Jackie Murray, assistant professor of classics at UK, the paper reads the idyll as a manifesto for the survival of Greek regional dialects against the spread of a standardized form of Greek.

Valerio Caldesi Valeri, assistant professor of classics and Eta Sigma Phi advisor, described the convention as a time-honored event with more than 100 attendees from a good representation of the society's 180 chapters.

"Only four to five undergraduate papers are accepted for presentation at the convention. The selection is very rigorous. Eta Sigma Phi accepts papers that are based on a solid  foundation of research and show a good dose of originality, all in the spirit of enabling our budding classicists to present and discuss their findings within a professional contest and for the sake of representing the interests of the newest members of the discipline."

Decker, a junior and Gaines Fellow at UK, is double-majoring in classics and linguistics with a minor in vocal performance. She has a special interest in Ecclesiastical authors and in proving that Latin is not a dead language. When not in class, Decker enjoys spending time at the Catholic Newman Center, having conversations in ancient Greek, playing the violin, singing Gregorian chant and learning new languages.

In addition, Decker and two other UK classics majors, sophomore Katerina Banks and senior Drury Bell, earned great distinction in the society-sponsored 2018 Maureen Dallas Watkins National Translation Contest. 

"The results are particularly striking this year since our UK students managed to place in each of the advanced categories available," Valeri said. "The strong presence of our students brings national luster and attention to the excellence of the classics program, the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures and Cultures and UK as a whole."

Results were as follows:

  • 52nd annual Latin Prose Composition Contest (Advanced Prose Composition) - First: Katerina S. Banks, University of Kentucky - Third: Drury Bell, University of Kentucky - Honorable Mention: Sophia J. Decker, University of Kentucky  
  • 68th annual Latin Translation Contest (Advanced Latin) - First: Katerina S. Banks, University of Kentucky - Honorable Mention: Drury Bell, University of Kentucky  
  • 69th annual Greek Translation Contest (Advanced Greek) - Second: Sophia Decker, University of Kentucky

"I did not prepare for this contest as a specific endeavor; rather, many years of immersion in spoken and written Latin have helped me find my voice in the language. Learning to express myself by both speaking and writing Latin has given me the tools necessary to perform complex activities involving the language, such as composition and translation," Banks said.

The contest has been conducted for over 60 years and is named in honor of Maureen Dallas Watkins, the American playwright most famous for the play "Chicago." It is open to students in classes in Greek and/or Latin in colleges and universities which have active chapters of Eta Sigma Phi. 

Eta Sigma Phi was founded in 1914 when a group of students in the Department of Greek at the University of Chicago organized an undergraduate classical club. The organization later united with a similar organization at Northwestern University and became Eta Sigma Phi. In 1924 the society became national, and chapters were organized at leading colleges and universities. The purpose of the organization is to promote enthusiasm for and recognition of excellence in the study of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.

"Since coming to UK, I have taken a Latin class and a Greek class every semester. These have certainly increased my ability in the languages as well as my enjoyment of the field as a whole," said Bell, who plans to pursue a doctoral degree in classics. "I am so grateful for the classics program here and what I have been able to learn over the past four years."

An induction ceremony of the UK chapter of Eta Sigma Phi will be held on April 26.

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