Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This Season's Exam Oddities

I realize that I have been lax in posting... anything... of late. That's what happens to busy assistant professors, I'm afraid. However, exams always provide a regrettable amount of humorous material, so here we have a selection of the most peculiar. In defense of my students, who actually (despite the following evidence to the contrary) put in some hard work and generally seem to have learned a lot this quarter, I must say that many of them seem to have gotten through high school with a level of spelling and historical knowledge somewhere around what I had achieved by the end of fourth grade. They're smart people and they do learn, but they're not what we might call well prepared.

The intro class exams really had lots of intelligent and interesting things to say about the Etruscan sarcophagus from Cerveteri... until the exam that identified it as "Iktinos and Kallikrates, the Parthenon, on the Akropolis, Athens, marble, 447-432 BCE." HUH? Mindboggling...

On the topic of misidentification, let's get it straight that the Taj Mahal is not Greek, and the Hagia Sophia is not Etruscan. OK?

I was also disturbed by the number of students identifying the Parthenon as "Roman, in Athens." On the subject of the Parthenon, which was paired with the Roman Temple of Portunus (aka Fortuna Virilis), we learn that ‎"Both of the buidings are almost cemetricall to themselves..." and "The Parthenon is regarded often by scholars as being the endearment of the classical doric style." Furthermore, ‎"The Parthenon was one of many parts of a surrounding 'kingdom' like area and was a temple used to celebrate battles won. The goddess athena is well known in mentioning the Parthenon. The Pantheon [Temple of Portunus] no longer exists." Hmmm.

My students remembered quite a bit about the purse clasp from Sutton Hoo, although a remarkable number of them claimed it includes emeralds (to the best of my knowledge it does not, but it has garnets and enamel). However, my lecture remarks about the Celts' and Anglo-Saxons' westward movement returned to haunt me in the form of "The scott-saxhen was a culture that was being push farthier back into the islands of which is now Great Brittan, by the Roman Empire."

Last fall's class had some odd things to say about the Augustus of Primaporta, and this class did too:
"His bear feet again refect divinative and solidarity. He is antipostal and marble, the matirial which made Roman sculpture what it is."

"He does not have a hateful look on his face but one of a normal man."

‎"In Roman culture, normally men with power had robes on." (As opposed to powerless men, who went about naked?) "He is 'cute'."

"He was strong, powerful and had Love on his side."

As an "unknown" work to discuss (one they have not previously seen but which is similar to some that they have), I provided an Early Medieval manuscript illustration from the British Isles. Usually students do pretty well on unknowns, since I'm mainly looking for visual analysis and reasoning, but this one prompted some sad evidence of historical and religious confusion:
‎"...the book the man is holding looks like it could be a bible. The abstract features suggest it is of an earlier time period in BCE. The man [...] looks as though he is portrayed to be Jesus..." If he's Jesus, he's not BCE. Logic, logic, logic?

‎"This could also be the cross that is seen on the ceilings of some Jewish synagogues with Jesus in the center." ?!@%! Since when do synagogues have pictures of Jesus anywhere?

‎"This peice seems very similar to that Roman, Islamic style of priests and saints." And what on earth style is that?

Finally, on a late paper from the same class: "Eros embraces his mother softly with his feathers and humbly near her gastrocnemius." ???