John Dobbins / Classical Art & Archaeology
“Whenever he encountered particularly promising young students, Mr. Mead would … invite them to join him for a walk through the gardens of the Lawn, for tea at the Colonnade Club, or better yet, for dinner…” (from The Mead Endowment brochure).
Boots Mead knows well that a meal is a powerful catalyst in transforming a simple encounter with a student into a memorable event. My own professors who most remind me of Boots Mead employed the same strategy, and I still remember those dinners while forgetting thousands since then. That a professor would take time with me that was not required and show a genuine personal interest in me and in my aspirations was a powerful force that far transcended
the alleged undergraduate focus on “free food”. Important bonds developed during those conversations and I experienced a dimension of college life that would have been missing otherwise.
In retrospect, I now see that they were setting an example, and I am doubly grateful. Boots and my professors shared an ancient idea that goes back to Plato, the paradigmatic teacher of youth whose literary work, The Symposium, presents a dinner as the setting for discussion. Indeed, for the Greeks the symposium was not only a dinner that provided sustenance for the body, but also a setting for conversation that provided sustenance for the mind, or as Plutarch says regarding the symposium, “conversation is the tuning peg for the mind.”
In my fall seminar, Pompeii: Its Life and Art, twelve undergraduates will explore the urban and domestic aspects of life in that famous ancient city. Among the most important of daily rituals was the convivium, or dinner.
My “Dream Idea for $2000” is a series of dinners at Charlottesville restaurants after our 3:30-6:00 p.m. seminar at which my students and I will continue to explore the topic of the in-class session. As one of those topics is the
dinner itself and its role in Pompeian society, a dinner is the perfect venue to investigate the significance of the dinner at Pompeii. Furthermore, I have found that students interact more personally and comfortably in a convivial
setting than in a seminar room. The hidden benefit for the seminar is that the bonds forged and the comfort in discussing with peers is brought back to the seminar itself for its enhancement at subsequent meetings.
To those dinners will be invited Boots Mead to share in discussions with my students and to partake in one of the inevitable topics that our well-traveled students love to pursue-and that Boots Mead and I love to pursue in our discussions: ITALY.