October 16, 2009

80 listeners drawn to Augustine lecture

An intimidating title and unwelcoming topic did not scare away a crowd of 80 from listening to Classics professor Peter White speak about Augustine’s Confessions Wednesday night as a part of the historic Wirszup Lecture Series.

For one hour, faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students, and members of the community listened to the soft-spoken professor discuss the important elements of storytelling and rhetoric in Confessions.

When it came time for questions at the end, the crowd was slow to respond, but eventually White fielded a few questions about the world in which Augustine wrote.

According to humanities lecturer Ted O’Neill, the hesitance of the crowd to engage with White was due to the specific nature of the topic; in the past, Wirszup Lectures addressed broader political and world issues.

“It was easier to sit back if you were not familiar with the text, and I think a lot of people were not,” O’Neill said. O’Neill, who has been attending the lecture series for decades, remembers much larger crowds and excitement surrounding past lectures. Prior to White, lecturers in the Wirszup series have included professors J. Z. Smith, Wayne C. Booth, and Carl Sagan, as well as over a dozen Nobel laureates.

Regardless, O’Neill was impressed by the relatively large undergraduate attendance; students of the College filled approximately a quarter of the seats in the packed Max Palevsky East common room.

Many of the undergraduates at the event were former students of White’s. Second-year Katie Sutor and her classmates attended, knowing from his teaching style that his lecture would be captivating regardless of the subject matter.

“We had him spring quarter for Roman Oratory Latin class, and he was one of the best professors we’ve ever had,” she said.