Senior Thesis Excerpt

“Soul of Rome”: Nostalgia in Dante’s Inferno and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Saint Martin’s University
Dr. Stephen Mead
April 25, 2011

(notes/works cited not included)

Drama and epic writing frequently mirrors the contemporary political state of the society in which it is written. Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar in 1599, a year of political uncertainty as Elizabeth was coming to the end of her reign. This uncertainty is reflected in Shakespeare’s political drama depicting the assassination of a soon-to-be dictator. Dante wrote The Divine Comedy during the political tensions of early fourteenth century Florence, and his epic poem includes political commentary as he places contemporary and historical figures throughout Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. In both these works, Dante and Shakespeare characterize the famous historical traitor, Marcus Brutus, but in distinctly different ways. Dante places Brutus in the deepest circle of Hell within Satan’s jaws, referring to him only in three lines of his entire epic; Shakespeare creates a whole play around Brutus’ character, depicting him as a tragic hero. By considering Dante and Shakespeare’s previous works as well as the sources they consulted for The Divine Comedy and Julius Caesar, and comparing them with the value of community within epic and tragedy, I will explore motivations in their portrayals of Brutus. To Dante, Brutus is an allegory for the destruction of an ideal. He places Marcus Brutus in the deepest circle of Hell along with Cassius and Judas as the antithesis of the Trinity in his structuring of Inferno as a metaphor for a “broken” Rome.1 To Shakespeare, however, Marcus Brutus is a flawed, tragic hero, and a representation of Roman virtue and bravery in a time of political uncertainty. In Julius Caesar, Brutus’ motivations are more significant than merely killing Caesar. Perhaps both Inferno and Julius Caesar reveal a nostalgia through their portrayals of the character of Marcus Brutus, Dante for a single Roman Empire, and Shakespeare for an ideal Roman Republic.2 Recognizing the nostalgia in both texts helps us understand the human tendency to idealize the past, perhaps to set impossible goals for society, yet therefore still improving civilization through the attempt.

First, a reader must recognize that Dante and Shakespeare wrote in different genres, centuries, and languages, which affect how the story of Julius Caesar’s assassination is told. The epic poem concerns how individuals build a community, how they come together to achieve a common goal (Link 90). John Silkin explains that epic literature, in general, upholds a community in its destiny and identity, and “arises more naturally (or mysteriously) out of obscure, ambiguous victories . . . or the defeats of a community than out of its unmistakable triumphs” (qtd. Link 90). The epic typically tells the story of the triumphs or downfalls of a community rather than those of the individual. In addition, Silkin explains that some epics, such as Dante’s Divine Comedy, celebrate the thought of a “triumphing empire” or universalization (90). Plays, on the other hand, especially toward the end of the Elizabethan period and into the Jacobean period, started to exhibit a growing concern with limitation, with the restrictions placed on individual aspiration by the community (Ellis-Fermor 14). Shakespeare, as well as his contemporaries, celebrated stoicism, “a creed for individuals, prepared to cut themselves off from their kind, to defy the powers of the state” (Bradbrook 245). They admired individuals who put their personal feelings aside and submit themselves completely to necessity. Elizabethan dramatists explored the individual’s physical and psychological makeup (Dunn 7). Like people of most historic eras, the Elizabethans believed that men were not created equal. One might be born a “remarkable individual” with a freedom to advance and enlarge oneself (Dunn 7). William Creizenach explains that the dramatic poetry in the Shakespearean age was not philosophical in tendency: “It was not the aim of the poets to point out expressly to their audience that the general fate of mankind is reflected in individual instances” (127). Drama seems as though it is aimed at showing the lives of individuals and their relationship with their community, whereas the epic poem seems to focus more on the fate of individuals as reflected by communal instances. Because the epic poem often focuses on a community, and drama often focuses on the individual, the form of the work, therefore, can change the meaning of an event or character in the overall context.

The differing structures between an epic poem and a play influence the way one views a crowd or community, and therefore how the authors interpret the assassination of Julius Caesar. Dante the pilgrim narrates his journey, which makes the idea of a crowd manageable in The Divine Comedy because he is describing the communities in a distinct and logical way. Each soul in Inferno is placed within a specific community of people who are like them, whether it is by similar sins (Inferno), need for repentance (Purgatorio), or capacity to receive God’s love (Paradiso). Each group is kept separate from the others. In Inferno, the circles are separated and guarded by demons and creatures. For example, Cerberus guards the third circle that contains the gluttonous.3 Phlegyas acts as a demon ferryman outside the fifth circle of the wrathful.4 Because of these distinct separations of crowds alongside a detailed narration describing them, crowds are contained and safe. In a play, however, we are often presented only with words from individual characters about crowds, identifying crowds as ignorant groups that cannot be controlled. Where Dante values community and crowds as necessary in our understanding of the afterlife and the present life, to Shakespeare, a crowd is a “many headed monster” (Dunn 7). Julius Caesar makes much of the crazed mob that arises after Antony’s speech. The rioters kill Cinna the Poet, even after he exclaims that he is not Cinna the conspirator. The citizens yell, “Tear him for his bad verses” (III.iii.28) and “It is no matter, his name’s Cinna; pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going” (30-31). The crowd is thirsty for revenge, and does not care who they kill to fulfill their whim. Their uncontrolled brutality exemplifies the irrationality of which a group is capable. To Shakespeare, a crowd of people cannot be contained, can become chaotic, and is to be feared. The souls within Dante’s crowds are human, whereas Shakespeare’s crowd is its own, inhuman beast. The differing presentation of crowds in The Divine Comedy and Julius Caesar can be attributed to their genres. In an epic, Dante can explain the nature and actions of groups through narration. In a play, Shakespeare can only present groups through speech of individual characters. Much information is missing in Julius Caesar, and the audience becomes unsure of whether crowds or communities can be trusted. The value of community and groups vary between the genres and affect the interpretation of the assassination of Julius Caesar. Shakespeare’s play centers around the victories and failures of an individual in relation to his community, and therefore portrays Brutus as a tragic hero because he attempted to prevent the loss of his community, the republic. Dante’s epic centers around the sins and virtues of groups. Dante therefore places Brutus in the deepest circle of Inferno for his part in a group (he, Cassius, and Judas) who, in Dante’s opinion, destroyed the ultimate religious and political sovereigns.

Dante separates the human race into many sub-communities according to their degree of sin or goodness, further proving his nostalgia for unity by showing that, even when broken down, there is still community. Dante’s epic depicts the human race as a whole, as well as sub-communities of people who suffer for their earthly sins (Inferno), who are in the process of purification in their journey to reach Heaven (Purgatorio), and the souls who have reached the Empyrean (Paradiso). Dante places sub-communities within these three communities in different circles (Inferno), terraces (Purgatorio), or spheres (Paradiso); in each level, he separates souls by the type of sin, atonement, or capacity to receive God.5 Dante’s message pertains to all souls and their ascent toward the Divine, but focuses mostly toward defining the Christian community. Franz Link states that the epic “supplies the possibility of identification for a group of people” (90). The Christian community can most identify with The Divine Comedy, as the Christian life is the soul’s continuing attempt to restore its lost likeness to God. Dante’s epic mirrors his political belief that the state should also strive to restore its likeness to the Divine Kingdom. The Divine Comedy is the story of a Christian metamorphosis in the journey to the absolute—a process, a formation (Freccero 180). Dante’s layering in the importance of community represents his extreme belief of having a single, universalized empire under a sovereign ruler. By mirroring God’s kingdom on earth, Dante believes, we will be closer to unification with Him. This view of humanity overshadows Brutus’ individual motives for assassinating Caesar, the community’s chosen ruler. Therefore, Dante places Marcus Brutus in Hell along with Cassius, his fellow conspirator, and Judas, the betrayer of the ultimate Divine leader on earth, Christ.

Dante wrote Divine Comedy in a time of political anxiety, the disintegration of the imperial mindset into a republican one, which forms the basis of Dante’s nostalgia for a reunited kingdom. By 1300, the set date of The Divine Comedy, the Holy Roman Empire was not centralized, but instead fragmented into independent city-states (Bennett 264). This decentralization was contrary to Dante’s ideal of one, unified community. In what Herbert Schneider calls Dante’s political and philosophical last testament, De Monarchia, Dante states that the world should unite under one sovereign rule: “The multipilicity of states is the source of unending woes, all of which would disappear if these states were made subordinate to one ruler strong enough to keep them in order” (xi). Dante believed that in a civilization with many states, universal peace, the goal of his political idea, cannot exist. He believed conflict would disappear if individual states were to come together under one empire and sovereign leader. Not only does Dante call for a universal empire, but argues that it must also remain Roman (Schneider xiii). Dante argues that the old Roman Empire was guided directly by God: “Unlike other states, where developments took place by God’s permission, the Roman Empire grew by God’s direct operation” (Schneider xiii). Because Dante believed that the Roman Empire grew by God’s will, we come to understand why he punishes Brutus in the deepest pit of Hell for assassinating God’s chosen leader. In Dino Bigongiari’s introduction to De Monarchia, he explains that in The Divine Comedy, Dante called for Italy to “abandon its nationalistic aspirations,” and that it must “accept its position as part of a world empire” (xiv). Instead of splitting into separate city states, Dante argues that Italy, and the world, should unite under one rule, mirroring humanity under God. He states, “Human government is but a part of that single world-administration which has its unity in God,” and “Man is by nature in God’s likeness and therefore should, like God, be one” (Dante 10).6 Dante calls for human civilization to mirror the Divine Kingdom because humans are in God’s likeness. In both The Divine Comedy and De Monarchia, Dante shows nostalgia for an ideal Roman Empire of antiquity at a time when a more nationalistic mindset was popular in politics.

The classic literary construction of The Divine Comedy and Dante’s use of Virgil as a source further reveal his political ideal of a glorified Rome.  The Divine Comedy combines morals, religion, and contemporary politics, all structured after the work of the poet who Dante most admired, Virgil. Abraham Avni describes the epic genre as having three stages of development: the Latin political and ethical value of poetry, classical literary tradition “wedded to holy history,” and the creation of a “Virgilian Bible” for the “benefit of missionary work and the edification of the faithful” (56). Dante’s Divine Comedy incorporates all of three of these elements. Latin, being the language of scholarship, inspired the politics and ethics that play such a huge part in the separation of Dante’s sub-communities. The combination of classical literature and the history of religion form the basis of Dante’s story, as he uses history of the church; biblical quotations; and references to Virgil, Aristotle and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Also, much of Dante’s structuring of both his poetry and fictional worlds stem from Virgil’s work, especially The Aeneid. Dante uses these elements to inspire moral improvement, just as Dante the pilgrim uses Virgil in The Divine Comedy as his guide. Virgil himself must spend eternity in Limbo, the First Circle of Inferno, reserved for virtuous non-Christians who were famous for their contributions to civilization (Armour 551). Virgil’s Aeneid—the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travels to what is now Italy and becomes an ancestor of the Romans—was a great inspiration to Dante. In the Aeneid, Virgil ties Rome to the legend of Troy and glorifies Roman virtues. Through studying Virgil’s work, we find that Dante’s inspiration stems from Virgil’s description of the underworld and of Rome, furthering our understanding of Dante’s view on Caesar’s assassination.

Dante especially drew inspiration from Book VI of Virgil’s Aeneid, in which Aeneas’ father describes the structure of the underworld and the future of Rome, which Dante uses in his placement of Roman leaders in Inferno. Anchises tells Aeneas:

Turn your two eyes

This way and see this people, your own Romans.

Here is Caesar, and all the line of Iulus,

All who shall one day pass under the dome

Of the great sky. (VI.786-90)7

Anchises predicts that Julius Caesar will be a great leader. He then mentions Marcus Brutus, predicting that he will “call for the death penalty in freedom’s name,” and that the “Love of the fatherland will sway him” (821-2). Virgil describes that Brutus will die in the name of freedom for his republic after assassinating Caesar for the love of his state. Having drawn his structure of Inferno from The Aeneid, Dante takes the same approach to Brutus’ character as did Virgil: as a stoic. Dante describes Brutus in one of Satan’s mouths: “the one who hangs from that black snout is Brutus—/ see how he writhes and does not say a word” (I.xxxiv.65-66).8 Dante’s lines describing Brutus suggests that he is stoic even in damnation, as he does not jerk, like Judas, or scream or cry in pain, but instead accepts and endures the pain as he submits without complaint to the unavoidable necessity. He accepts his fate, as he believes he did what is right in preserving the Roman Republic. Though Brutus killed Caesar for the love of Rome, Dante places Brutus in the deepest circle of Inferno for committing this murder. To Dante, this punishment is justified because, regardless of intention, Brutus assassinated God’s chosen ruler of what was the world’s greatest empire.

Virgil’s Anchises predicts the future events of the Rome Empire, which Dante imitates in his construction of Inferno as a “broken” Rome. Anchises tells Aeneas:

Roman, remember by your strength to rule

Earth’s peoples—for your arts are to be these:

To pacify, to impose the rule of law,

To spare the conquered, battle down the proud. (VI.853-6)

Anchises states that Rome is the ultimate earthly empire. It is the duty of Rome to make the law and regulate all on Earth. Dante voices this same belief in De Monarchia. He states, “The Roman people acquired that unified rule over all mortals which is called ‘empire’ by right” and that the “Roman rule is for the common good” (27, 32). Dante even references Virgil in De Monarchia, using Book VI of The Aeneid to help prove why universalization is necessary. However, through his writings, Dante the poet reveals a nostalgia for a Roman Empire that he believes existed in the past, while the character Anchises looks forward to this ideal empire in the future in his speech. However, Anchises soon begins to cry as he explains to Aeneas that it cannot exist:

Oh, do not ask

About this huge grief of your people, son.

Fate will give earth only a glimpse of him

Not let the boy live on. Lords of the sky,

You thought the majesty of Rome too great

If it had kept these gifts. (868-70)

Anchises explains the inevitable destruction of the ideal Roman Empire, a concept that Dante the poet mourns and expresses in Inferno. So, if Dante’s Inferno owes to Virgil’s Aeneid, and the underworld of The Aeneid is based on Rome, then Inferno becomes the “broken” Rome, and its breakers, Marcus Brutus and Cassius, are in the center of torture. It is the invert of Heaven. Inferno is located in the earth, the very center of which is occupied by Satan, the farthest from Heaven. Those who murdered the divine rulers are placed in the center of this broken empire, creating a mock trinity—Satan with his three heads eternally devouring Judas, Brutus and Cassius, the destroyers of their most sovereign leaders. Dante structures this broken version of Rome after Rome itself. However, Dante models Inferno not after an empire, but a republic, a broken Rome in his opinion. Dante bookends this broken, Roman Hell with Roman leaders: Junius Lucius Brutus, the founder of the Roman republic and ancestor to Marcus Brutus, who fought to preserve it, but failed, marking the end of the republic.

Dante the pilgrim’s entrance into Inferno begins with meeting noble pagans in Limbo, including Junius Lucius Brutus, giving us an introduction to the structure of Dante’s broken, Roman Hell. Limbo is the first of nine circles where those who lived before Christianity or baptism reside. It is inhabited by classical poets (I.iv.82-105), pagan philosophers, writers, mathematicians, and doctors (130-43), and great Trojan and Roman heroes (121-8). In Limbo, “on the basis of human achievement and fame, [Dante] tones down the strict doctrine that all pagans are damned to eternal suffering whilst preserving the principle that belief in Christ is necessary for salvation” (Armour 551-552). God has rewarded them in the afterlife as they are not suffering for eternity in Hell, only yearning for more understanding.9 Because they lived honorable lives, yet may not have known Christianity, they are not punished in Hell, but still suffer by eternally yearning to see the Divine. Among others, Dante the pilgrim mentions seeing “the Brutus who drove Tarquin out” (I.iv.127). Historically, it was Junius Brutus who drove out the Tarquin dynasty from Rome because of  Sextus Tarquinius’ rape of Collatinus’ chaste wife, Lucretia (Majors 339). Both Dante and Shakespeare write of Junius Brutus, and though Dante only mentions him in one line versus Shakespeare’s poem, “The Rape of Lucrece,” it is significant in his structuring of Inferno. Dante includes Junius in the first circle of Inferno, marking the beginning of the politically structured Rome that Dante believes was a failure—the republic. Unlike Marcus Brutus, however, Junius did not assassinate the sovereign ruler for the purpose of beginning the republic, but instead because the ruler was corrupt, hence his placement with the noble Romans in Limbo.

As Dante’s Limbo holds virtuous Romans, Dante places the evil Romans, Cassius and Marcus Brutus, the assassins of Caesar and destroyers of the empire, in the last and deepest circle of Hell. Dante places the worst traitors in the ninth circle: traitors to cities and parties, to guests, and to benefactors, and worst of all—to secular and religious rulers. The ninth circle holds, in Dante’s opinion, the greatest political and religious traitors of all: Judas, the betrayer of Christ, as well as Cassius and Brutus, the betrayers of Caesar, founder of the Roman Empire. Dante views Caesar as the patron of Rome, and the world’s supreme secular ruler. Dante believes that Cassius and Brutus not only betray and murder their supreme political ruler, but the closest man to God…

Katie Hawkins

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Anatomy of a Freak Show

Anatomy of a Freak Show

Augustin Grace stands above the crowd from his perverse proscenium.

“Step right up! Step right up! See what yeh have all been waitin’ for! Augustin Grace’s Great Wonders of the World! But women and children, beware! For the shocking, horrendous display that yer about to witness is seen nowhere else on earth!”

*          *          *

We travel, night after night, and crowds come to witness our disfigurement with grotesque curiosity. None of us know where we are or where we are going next, journeying only at night while we are kept inside the darkness of the band of the boxcar caravan. The darkness of it is always more peaceful than the day. In the black we are all the same. The silence drowns out the gawks of the people, shouting and laughing as they steal their first peek, desperate to release some of their built up anticipation. We forget that we are all different, that we are all monsters. Finally we fall asleep, the only time that we see ourselves as human.

My dreams take me back to when I was young. My family was originally from the countryside of Thurmaston, but like many, we followed the jobs opening up in the industrial areas of England. We moved to Leicester so that my father could work labor instead of farming. At the time, we had no way of knowing about the descent of conditions. At first, everything was alright. As a boy, I explored and played with the other children among the streets where we all lived. Our families all resided in one room houses that were packed together back to back, almost as dense as trees in the forest. It was in the city that I met my best friend, Clara, who lived only two houses down. The first moment that I saw her, her cocoa hair lay unfettered upon her shoulders and danced in a bronze ballet behind her as the wind lingered in the cities dampness. Her skin glowed in milky complexion, soft, not yet touched by the filth of humanity. And in the moment that our eyes met, both holding the twinkle that is exclusive to the unblemished purity of children, I knew that I wanted to marry her someday.

The once pleasant strolls that Clara and I took slowly turned gray. The streets became more and more disheveled, spattered with the excrement of human waste and litter as more and more people filled the town in the rush of the industrial revolution. The cesspits were never cleaned, overflowed, and urine seeped through the ground into the wells where we drew our drinking water. Clara and I both became weak, but we were reaching the age where we needed the strength to earn our place in our families.

We both began working at Lancashire Mill. I had never known true work before, and a great awakening stirred me as I entered the mist of thick cotton dust. Clara and I were separated to our respective stations. I was in charge of working the looms that produced towels and nappies. I was issued a cardboard mask to protect my eyes from the fibers, but the air had to be kept sweltering hot to prevent the thread from breaking. No one bothered with them, making it easier for the filth to sneak into our lungs and eyes. Clara was sent to work with a spinning mule, a machine that produced soft yarns, but was extremely dangerous for tired hands. One woman had been working twelve hour days all week, and nodding off, got her finger caught in the frame, notching it off almost completely.

Clara was doing alright despite her fatigue, but I soon found myself unable to work under such exertion. With every day that passed I lost strength and motivation. Mum tried to nourish me with boiled water and bread crust as I collapsed from exhaustion at the end of each day. It was then when I noticed early signs of my physical disintegration. My skin started to itch wildly, and soon I began to notice the dryness to start cracking in the creases between my limbs.

*          *          *

I jump, startled as the sliding door flew open, and the blinding light pierces through the darkness, finding me within the straw in the corner as it attempts to pry my squinting eyes open to re-affirm reality.

“Come on now, yeh filthy toad. You sure as ‘ell don’t want me commin’ in there after yeh,” one of Grace’s handlers bellows in a husky snarl. I slowly rise, but with every new movement after a night of stillness, the creases on the back of my knees and on the front of my elbows split again, and along comes the familiar, ripping pain. “Don’t yeh go blattin’ all over, I don’t wanna have to clean that shit up.”

Impatient, he grabbed my arm and pulled me out into the hot afternoon and pushed me forward into line. Around me are the same looks of tired eyes, as we never seem to get more than a few hours of sleep at a time. Next to me is the Albino Man. I envy his skin, almost transparent, like it isn’t even there. He looks like a ghost that lives without a shell, his white hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. The only thing that really makes him one of us is his eyes, glowing a flushed pink. Even the handlers won’t mess with him, much. They, and the people of this world, think we are condemned, that we were created by Satan. They look into the albino’s eyes and cannot imagine how God would create something so terrifying.

Augustin Grace appeared out of his tent. “Alright you povvy beasts,” he barked as he made his way in front of us, a warden pacing in front of his prisoners outside of their cells. He slowly tramped each step in his leather, knee high boots that covered his perfect feet that supported his flawless limbs. “Quite a crowd tonight, so you need to be on yer best display, and fer God’s sake, attempt to entertain, ‘cus if they aren’t pleased you ain’t getting’ paid.” He stopped in front of me and hissed, “Quit your fecking scratchin’, no one wants to see yeh bleedin’.”

*          *          *

I could no longer work in the mill. Every time I extended my fingers and opened my fist, the creases in the palms of my hands cracked, becoming infected as the fissures would re-fracture. With each day and more and more scratching, the skin on my legs turned rough and dry. The burn underneath my surface became so extreme that I constantly clawed at myself with my fingernails. At first I could hide my deformation with my knickers, but then it began to spread into my torso and upper limbs. My body became useless for labor.

Mum would not let me leave the house, even if I wheezed for fresh air. Within a month, the disease had spread all up to my scalp. I began to lose tufts of hair. I sat for hours trying to cover myself with blankets to resist the creeping irritation under my surface, grating my fingernails against the rawness of my scalp as I wished that I could shred my rotten sheath.

I begged Mum to keep Clara away, but she couldn’t keep her away forever, and after a few weeks, Clara snuck in. I had finally fallen asleep, my body buried under the shield of blankets when I felt a nudge. As my face emerged from the shelter, I saw her body jerk as her eyes widened at her first glance of me, and her perfect hands clasped her gaping mouth.

*          *          *

All natural light has almost gone and the circus music permeates the damp, wooden boxcars, telling us that it was time. The handlers round us up, pushing us to our respective sets, placing us among objects that will enhance our malformations. The Fire Breather sips his paraffin. The Giant Woman is forced upon her stilts. The Legless Man is carried to his small stage where he prepares to hobble on his hands in a shuffling dance. The gray of the day is replaced with brightly colored lights to please the audience, as they make sure the lights are shining where it exploits us. We are shown in the evening, for it is always easier to trick the eyes as dusk approaches. It is the time when people want to believe in illusions.

I am led to my habitat, where I am placed among taxidermic remains of exotic lizards and snakes that they have collected from their travels. There is a large rock in the center for me. I slowly strip my clothes off and lay on my stomach, my arms folded at the elbow in a clambering pose. The lights above me are covered with green fabrics to transform my cell into a rainforest, and they glare down on my naked back that had become spotted with a mosaic of flaky, severed bits of husk. The lights morph the hardened plates of my skin to alligator green. I pose alongside their cadaverous bodies, frozen in time on a rock. So I lay there, naked, for the world to see my lepidote suit while my body burns beneath its shell. I face them, the patches of peeling skin spreading across my cheeks, my nose, and my scalp in a unitary mask. They laugh and gape and inspect with crinkled noses and disbelieving eyes. I surrender to them, giving them the creature they suppose, an empty decomposing corpse.

*          *          *

A man in the back of the crowd whispers to his neighbor, “Rather a romantic state, isn’t it, to be one with nature.” The Lizard Man’s eyes shifted from their faces to his own shaking hands, the scales curled up around the edges like a prehistoric amphibian. He grit his teeth, resisting.

A child in the front of the crowd points to the lizard remains around the Lizard Man and pulls on his mother’s dress, “Mum! He is just like the othas!” The Lizard Man winced. The tingling became too much, and he could no longer take the burn. He reached back and began to claw wildly, and bled.

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Dr. Amanie Abdelmessih Profile

It is true that many students don’t get to know many engineering majors as their classes are always in Cebula Hall instead of Old Main. What many students also don’t know is that Cebula Hall houses the office of Dr. Amanie Abdelmessih, Mechanical Engineering professor and researcher for NASA.

Born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt, Abdelmessih always planned on being a doctor, but not in the area of internal flows of heat transfer.

“I used to say, ‘I will be a medical doctor and help everybody’ when I was young,” Abdelmessih says. She originally wanted to be a medical doctor until she realized at a young age that people indeed die, and that doctors cannot heal everybody. She cannot stand to see people in pain, so decided to focus on other talents.

Abdelmessih was always the top of her class when it came to math. Alexandria issues a national exam, and students can make choices for their higher education based on their total score. At the time, engineering schools took the highest. Abdelmessih received her bachelor’s degree from her school of choice, Alexandria University. The engineering program was made up of all technical courses, giving her two and a half times the credit hours of what is required in the United States.

After obtaining her degree, Abdelmessih went into the paper industry and entered the real world.

“I was overprotected as a child,” she explained. Abdelmessih grew up with equal rights in her home, and her parents were always very supportive of her education. In a time and place where women were generally thought of as lesser than their male counterparts, her parents were truly ahead of their time in raising her.

“When I decided to get my degree in engineering, my aunt took me aside and told me that engineering was not adequate for girls. She said that nice girls go into English Literature.” Abdelmessih soon realized that her aunt was not the only person who thought this way. As she entered the work place, she came to see that she would have to prove herself to earn male respect. At the time, women were not allowed to work after 9:00 p.m., so the company could only use her for the morning shift. Everyone was unhappy that they had hired a woman who could not work the majority of the time.

“The laborers were not used to women, and it was obvious they did not want me there,” she says. “They treated women like animals.” Luckily, her parents taught her to have respect for her elders, and she learned on the job to take care of her own problems and not complain about the way she was treated by the men. After a year, they were treating her with respect; even as their own daughter. One of the workers even named their daughter after Amanie, giving her the best compliment she has ever received.

After awhile, Abdelmessih became bored. She began taking classes towards gaining her master’s degree in the evenings while still working full time. She continued to work hard to prove herself so that she was not looked over. After she gained her degree, she had to make a choice: she could keep fighting to become CEO of the paper company one day in order to prove herself, or keep studying towards her PhD.

“I decided that I wanted to do something I enjoy instead of proving to others that I am capable.” However, her journey from Egypt to Saint Martin’s would prove to many how capable she truly is.

Abdelmessih applied to Oklahoma State University so that she could study with a professor under a research assistantship to help pay for her doctorate. However, research money was scarce, and the chairman offered her a teaching assistant position when the money ran out.

“I used to think teaching was boring,” she says. “But it was the first time in my life that I realized I could make a difference.”

Abdelmessih decided that teaching was her calling, and wanted to find work in California in order to be closer to her family who had also moved to the United States. She ended up at Northrop University in Inglewood. She began teaching a graduate course, and then was hired full time until the school was unfortunately shut down due to financial difficulties. However, it was this event that led her to Saint Martin’s.

Saint Martin’s, a college at the time, was searching for reputable staff for their thermal engineering classes. Although the resources seemed small to Abdelmessih, she decided to give the school a try. She was immediately impressed by the students on her visit, who paid much attention to her presentation and asked intelligent questions.

“I also liked the setting here. It’s pretty and safe,” she said. “A number of things attracted me.”

Luckily for the Saint Martin’s engineers she took the job. During the summers she researches for NASA at the Dryden Flight Research Center “numerically studying high temperature black body cavity/ water cooled heat flux gages, heat transfer environmental characterization of high temperature furnace calibrator” and other things that makes an English major’s head spin. She has received NASA certificates of recognition for her research contributions in 1991, 1992, 1998, 2005 and 2007. She has been published over 20 times, is a faculty member of the Saint Martin’s University Society of Fellows, and given the National Distinguished Engineering Educator Award by the Society of Women Engineers last semester among others.

However, as decorated as Dr. Abdelmessih is, she tells me that the most exciting part of her story is the work of her Saint Martin’s students. Each year the senior class of the Mechanical Engineering Department must put together a final project, and Dr. Abdelmessih tells them that if the project is good enough, she will get it published. Every year she fights for grants so that students are able to build contraptions such as instrumented air conditioning bench experiments, computer assisted instructional aides for heat transfer, or currently, efficient dryers for the paper industry. In 2006-2007, her students designed and built a heat flux simulator that is currently used for research at NASA. It is obvious that Dr. Amanie Abdelmessih has truly made a difference for the students at Saint Martin’s University.

March 2010


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SMU gets bus passes

Lacey, WA–

On February 1, transportation for Saint Martin’s University undergraduate students got a lot easier. Now, SMU has joined Evergreen State College and South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) in a deal with Thurston County’s public transportation provider, Intercity Transit. Students are now able to use their Saint Martin’s identification card as a bus pass to catch a ride anywhere from the Westfield Mall in Olympia to SeaTac.

The pass program has been under discussion for years, but Saint Martin’s began discussing it more seriously last semester. Junior Dara Zack, along with many other students, brought up the idea of free bus passes for students at the open forum held through ASSMU last fall.

“Many students wanted to use the transit system but didn’t know how to go about it,” said Zack. There were many questions about the cost of contracting the service, as well as if buses would stop on versus near campus. This fall, students voted for transit passes which would be funded by student fees paid by undergraduates.  “Now that the passes are free, I think more students will be excited to use it.”

Senior Erica Manthey also thinks the new transit system is a great idea.

“I have a roommate who doesn’t have a car, and she will be taking the bus from my house, which is in Tumwater, to school every day.”

Saint Martin’s decided to participate in what Evergreen, involved since 1998, and SPSCC since 1992, have already found to be beneficial.

“The routes used by Evergreen and SPSCC students are among the highest ridership,” said Erin Scheel, Youth Education Specialist for Intercity Transit. Market research done in 2008 and 2009 showed that 46 percent of riders are below 25 years of age. “It has been especially helpful for students at SPSCC, where there is limited parking.”

Although the campus roads are not equipped to hold heavy buses, Saint Martin’s has the best access to the buses in the county because the campus is near the transit center (off Sleater-Kinney Road, corner of Sixth Avenue and Golf Club Place). Route 66 (which travels to Pacific Avenue, Ruddell Road, and downtown Olympia), 67 (Tri Lake area), and 68 (Tumwater Square, Downtown Olympia, Lacey Corporate Center, Mullen and Carpenter Roads) all serve near the SMU campus. However, many other routes are available from the transit center.

“In addition to great access to Intercity Transit, students can connect to broader areas, such as to the Tacoma Dome, Mason County, and Grays Harbor,” said Marketing and Communications Manager, Meg Kester.

Intercity Transit was been awarded the American Public Transportation Association’s award for Best Mid-Sized Public Transportation System in America in 2009. They were also recognized by the Federal Transit Administration for Operational Innovation and Ridership Success, with the Ridership Award for increased ridership and high rider satisfaction in the quality of transit service and customer service.

“The bar is set high, and we will continue to strive for the best for the Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater communities,” said both Kester and Sheel. “We are excited to work with SMU, and anticipate a long and successful partnership.”

February 2010


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Editorial

Recently Fr. Kilian let me borrow a Saint Martin’s student newspaper that he found when he was cleaning out some old files. The paper was yellowed and ripped at the folds, dating back to April 4, 1941. I was amazed that he still had a copy of what was then The Martian, and was even more surprised that he let me borrow such a treasure. Headlines included a story about KGY, the first radio station in Lacey that originated on the Saint Martin’s campus, as well as the Seattle Mothers’ Club planning Saint Martin’s annual dance. Inside stories included questions of whether Hitler could invade America, and sports news about how Johnny “Pretty Kitty” Katica was all-conference choice for the second year in a row for the Saint Martin’s basketball team.

Of course, the first thing I noticed about the paper was the date. April 1941 was only a few months before America became involved in World War II, and at this time, Saint Martin’s was not a coeducational institution. A story on the front page read “Army, Navy Corps Take Eight Fliers,” the students obviously male. Intrigued, I pulled out Fr. John Scott’s “This Place Called St. Martin’s” to take a closer look.
In 1939, Saint Martin’s, as well as other, larger universities, prepared themselves for the war by joining an experiment funded by the government to “foster and develop” private flying and general aviation. At this time, male and female applicants were required to be accepted on an equal basis into the program. So, during a time when Saint Martin’s was not coed, women were allowed to attend these classes.

Though the experiment was successful in providing pilot training, the U.S. Army and Navy were unwilling to be in a position of being forced into accepting women. After the first summer of the experiment, women were no longer allowed to apply. However, those female students enrolled in this program could technically be called Saint Martin’s first coed students.
Knowing that women’s role in World War II helped get women out of the home and into the workplace, I was interested to know that it was the war that also gave women their first step into Saint Martin’s.

The idea of Saint Martin’s becoming a full-time coeducational university began after the aviation program, but it was continuously shot down until 25 years later (women had been allowed to take night-courses and classes during summer session, but were still regarded as “special students” until 1965). However, a few women had been accepted into regular course work, and Grace S. Dixon had even graduated as the valedictorian of the Class of 1953. Going coed seemed like the next logical step.

As I read on, I found explanations for both sides of the argument.
Fr. John Scott wrote: “A young philosophy professor, Father George Seidel, did not like ‘the speed at which the decision for something as important and as far-reaching in its consequences as co-education’ was being taken. ‘The real reason we are giving consideration to coeducation at any level at this time,’ Fr. George asserted, ‘is, frankly, money. It is a matter of pure expediency.’ He further assumed that women would mostly want to study subjects in liberal arts and humanities… in which areas the College’s faculty and offerings were at present very limited.” Ouch.

On the pro side, accounting professor Edward Daniszewski addressed the situation: “The founding fathers of SMC followed the then current opinion that only men need be educated because they were the dominant sex in society. Since World War II, this opinion is no longer tenable by facts [for] women have made and are making tremendous advances in their social and economic position.”

Thank you professor Daniszewski. I would like to think that the staff at Saint Martin’s at that time were not just worried about getting money from the attendance of female students. I would like to think that Saint Martin’s was not only thinking of what was advantageous to the college, but what was just in terms of female higher education. Thankfully, SMC faculty voted in favor of coeducation, effective as of September 1965.

So here I am, 44 years later, Co Editor-in-Chief of the new student newspaper at Saint Martin’s University, reading a newspaper written by an all male staff about an all male student population at what was then Saint Martin’s College. It is hard to believe that such a short time ago, women did not have the opportunities that are now offered to both men and women. Women now represent __ percent of the student population at Saint Martin’s, and are not only interested in liberal arts and humanities, thank you very much, but are progressive in all areas of study.

I would like to solute those women who first participated in the aviation program in 1939. I am disappointed that the U.S. military wouldn’t accept them during the war, but am glad that Saint Martin’s gave them the opportunity to join the program. It was women like them that got everyone talking about coeducation, and they are part of the reason that I have a voice at Saint Martin’s today.

November 2009


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Faculty Cuts

Lacey, WA–

As Patrick Young said, the trouble with weather forecasting is that it’s right too often for us to ignore, and wrong too often for us to rely on it. When forecasts say it will be sunny, we dress warm. Yet, every so often, a storm comes that we couldn’t predict. Saint Martin’s University seems to be experiencing a similar rainy day.

Saint Martin’s predicted that student enrollment would go up this year, budgeting accordingly. However, that increase didn’t happen, which meant that the university had to cut budgets. With all the cuts made throughout the departments at SMU, faculty is left questioning why so much had to be cut from their development fund.

“It was a tiny pot of money to begin with,” explained faculty president Kathleen McCain. The fund held $27,000 in order to help deter the cost for faculty members to attend conferences, continue education for licensing, and professional development. This year, the fund was cut by $25,000, along with the strict rule that no traveling is allowed.

“If this continues, it will hurt new faculty members. In order to get tenure, you have to engage in these events,” commented McCain. “It was just one of those things that faculty was very upset about. We want to make sure this isn’t a permanent deal.”

The final decision on where these cuts would come from was made by the cabinet and president of Saint Martin’s.

“We have to make sure that our income matches the expense budget,” interim president, David R. Spangler, Ph.D. explained. “Overall enrollment was down a percent when forecasts said it was going to be up. We had to cut into everyone’s goods and services budget five to six percent to meet the dollar amount.”

Hopes are that enrollment will go up for spring semester, but on average, it usually decreases seven percent.

“I put it in top priority for spring. If we hit enrollment, faculty comes first. We are trying to re-establish funds as much as possible. They were only about one-fiftieth of all cuts made. Everyone is trying to find ways to not spend so much,” Spangler commented.

Unfortunately, enrollment numbers aren’t assured until the first week of January. All we can do for now is pray for a little sunshine.

November 2008
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Dr. Werrett Profile

Lacey, WA–

With his impeccable sense of style and charming aroma of David Beckham’s new scent, Dr. Ian Werrett inspires students at Saint Martin’s University to look their best for class. However, that is not all he inspires.

Many students would admit that they are, at first, not extremely enthused about the requirement of a Religious Studies course that goes along with attending a Catholic University. In the beginning of each class Werrett teaches, he explains that his goal is to “make students want to take another Religious Studies class.” Countless students would agree that he was successful in transforming their outlook on the subject.

“If it’s not fun for me, it’s not fun for the class,” Werrett explained. “If it comes through that I’m interested with some passion, humor, and some seriousness, I think people can connect with that. I teach the way I would like to be taught.”

At only the age of 37, Dr. Werrett is extremely accomplished. He has recently published a book, “Ritual Purity and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” written seven book reviews, and three articles. He is the Director of the Spiritual Life Institute, Chair of the Catholic Benedictine Leadership Team, and is an expert on the Hebrew Scriptures, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Ancient Judaism. He has worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem.

Werrett has also given academic papers in Scotland, Sweden, Finland, Holland, Israel, Canada, and the United States, and has just recently returned from Boston where he presented his paper, “The Evidence at our Disposal: Essenes, Latrines, and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in which he was the first person within the scholarly community to refute the confirmation of the Essenes in Qumran due to the recent finding of ancient latrines.

Dr. David Suter, professor of Religious Studies at Saint Martin’s, had a large influence on Werrett when he was a student, inspiring him to specialize in the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, even when he was a child, he had developed an interested in archeology.

“When I was young, I went to the King Tut travelling exhibit, and in the last room I saw his death mask,” Werrett illustrated. “It was beautiful; almost perfect. It had a huge impact on me and opened me up to archeology.”

At the moment, Werrett is in the process of learning Hieroglyphics and preparing to study in Egypt. He also knows biblical Hebrew, Qumran Hebrew, New Testament Greek, Aramaic, and a little of both Spanish and French.

“I would eventually like to teach Hebrew as a class, and possible Greek,” Werrett anticipated. It is evident that the man has been around.

Werrett started his college career at West Valley College in San Jose, attended Santa Clara University for a year, then lived in Scotland for six months. He also played soccer at Trinity Western University in Canada for two years, and played one year at South Puget Sound Community College before attending SMU.  He also coached soccer at Capital High School for three years, and in 2006, he earned a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies and Second Temple Judaism from the University of St. Andrews.

So, how does a man with so much going on keep himself looking spick and span?

“This is not an accident,” he explained. “From the age of 19 to 21, I was the manager of a Benetton in San Jose in a really upscale mall. I’ve always been interested in clothing. The problem with Olympia is that you can’t get good clothes!” His advice for those who really want to look classy for class is to shop in Seattle, L.A. or New York.

Along with his teaching style, Werrett’s ability to relate to students, whether it is through their style, sense of humor, athletics, or lifestyle, helps him to grasp their attention and make his classes interesting.

“I have to keep it light. If I go spitting facts, people will fall asleep,” Werrett described. “Some only tune in when you’re doing something stupid, and if it means that their interested, I’m not above stooping to that level. Sometimes you have to say things to grab their attention, then you can give them the goods.”

November 2008

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