Friday, August 26, 2016


Cheating in Latin Class

Thomas Mann (1875-1955), Buddenbrooks, XI.2 (tr. John E. Woods):
Hanno pulled his Ovid from his satchel, a paperbound book with a marbled cover, and opened it to the verses that were to be memorized for today. No, it was hopeless—a long, regular column of black lines, every fifth one numbered, and with little pencil marks scribbled everywhere, and the lines stared back at him, so obscure and unfamiliar that it was useless to try to learn a few of them. He could barely make out what they meant, let alone recite even a single one by heart. And he could not decipher one line of the passage that followed, which they were supposed to have translated for today.

"What does 'deciderant, patula Jovis arbore, glandes' mean?" he asked in a forlorn voice, turning to Adolf Todtenhaupt, who was busy beside him with the attendance book. "It's all gibberish! They just want to trick us."

"What?" Todtenhaupt asked and went on writing. "The acorns of Jupiter's tree—that's the oak, yes. But I don't really know myself."

"Just prompt me a little, Todtenhaupt, if I get called on," Hanno begged, shoving the book away.
"Buddenbrook!" Dr. Mantelsack had said. "Buddenbrook." The sound still echoed in the air, and yet Hanno couldn’t quite believe it. There was a buzzing in his ears now. He kept his seat.

"Herr Buddenbrook!" Doctor Mantelsack said, staring at him with bulging, sapphire-blue eyes that sparkled behind his thick glasses. "Would you please be so kind?"

Fine—so it was meant to be. It had to turn out like this. Very differently from what he had expected, but all was lost now. He was resigned to his fate. Would it end in a truly terrible outburst of rage? He stood up and was about to offer some inane, ridiculous excuse, to say he had "forgotten" to memorize the verses—when suddenly he noticed the boy ahead of him holding his book open for him.

The boy ahead of him was Hans Hermann Kilian, a small fellow with brown, greasy hair and broad shoulders. He wanted to be an officer and was so inspired by esprit de corps that he couldn't leave Johann Buddenbrook high and dry, even though he couldn't stand him. He even pointed a finger at the place to begin.

And Hanno stared at the book and began to read. With a faltering voice and pursed brows and lips he read about the Golden Age, which had arisen first, when of their own free will, with no compulsion, no law, men had kept faith and done the right. "There was no fear of punishment," he said in Latin, "no menacing words to be read on tablets of bronze; no suppliant throng to gaze in fear upon its judge’s face...." With an agonized, grim look on his own face, he purposely read badly and disjointedly, intentionally ignored elisions marked in pencil in Kilian’s book, mangled the rhythm, groped for words, and made it look as if he were laboring to recall each one—expecting at any moment that the professor would find him out and pounce on him. The sweet, malicious joy of seeing the book open before him made his skin tingle; but he was totally disgusted with himself, too, and intentionally cheated as badly as possible, hoping that this would make his deception a little less sordid. Then he stopped, and silence reigned in the room—he did not dare look up. The silence was horrible; his lips turned white, he was sure Dr. Mantelsack had seen it all.

At last the professor sighed and said, "Oh, Buddenbrook, si tacuisses. You will excuse my use of the classical informal pronoun. Do you know what you have done? You have dragged beauty through the dust, you have behaved like a Vandal, a barbarian—you, a creature whom the muses have deserted, Buddenbrook, it's written on your face. If I were to ask myself whether you were coughing the whole time or reciting noble verses, I would be inclined to think it was the former. Timm has little developed sense of rhythm, but compared with you he is a genius, a rhapsodist. Be seated, unhappy man. You have studied, I grant. You have learned. I cannot give you a bad grade. You have made the best of your abilities. Although they tell me that you are musical and play the piano, is that right? How can that be? Well, enough, sit down, you've worked hard, it seems—that will do."

He jotted a "satisfactory" in his notebook, and Hanno Buddenbrook sat down.
Petersen translated, casting a glance now and then at the right-hand page in his book, which had nothing to do with the passage. He did this very deftly. He acted as if something about it bothered him, and he passed his hand over it and blew at it as if there were a speck of dust or whatever that annoyed him and needed to be brushed away. And then something ghastly happened.

All of a sudden Dr. Mantelsack shifted his weight violently—and Petersen responded with an equally sudden violent motion. And in the same moment, virtually tumbling head over heels, the professor left his platform and headed directly toward Petersen with long, inexorable strides.

"You have a pony there in your book, a translation," he said, standing beside him now.

"A pony ... no ... I ..." Petersen stammered. He was a handsome lad with a massive wave of blond hair that swept down over his forehead and extraordinarily beautiful blue eyes, which flickered now with fear.

"Do you have a pony in your book?"

"No, sir, no, Dr. Mantelsack. A pony? I most certainly do not have a pony. You are quite mistaken. You are wrong to entertain such suspicions." Petersen spoke in a way that none of the boys ever spoke. In his fear he carefully chose his words, hoping that this would rattle the professor. "I am not cheating," he said in his great distress. "I have always been honest, my whole life long."

But Dr. Mantelsack was all too certain of the painful truth. "Give me your book," he said icily.

Petersen clung to his book. He raised both hands in the air, and although he was half tongue-tied now, he continued to exclaim, "Please believe me, sir. There is nothing in my book, Dr. Mantelsack. I don't have a pony. I haven't cheated. I've always been honest."

"Give me the book," the professor repeated and stamped one foot.

Petersen went limp, his face turned gray.

"All right," he said, handing over the book, "here it is. Yes, there's a pony in it. You can see for yourself, there it is. But I wasn't using it," he suddenly shouted to the whole room.

Dr. Mantelsack, however, ignored this absurd lie, which was born of desperation alone. He pulled out the "pony," looked at it as if he had some putrid piece of garbage in his hand, slipped it into his pocket, and disdainfully tossed Petersen's Ovid back on his desk. "The class attendance book," he said in a hollow voice.

Adolf Todtenhaupt dutifully brought the class attendance book to him, and Petersen was given a demerit for attempted cheating, which would have devastating repercussions for a long time to come. It sealed his doom—he would be held back at Easter. "You are a discredit to this class," Dr. Mantelsack said and then returned to his professorial chair.

Petersen sat down, a ruined man. They all saw his neighbor edge away from him. And they all regarded him with a mixture of disgust, pity, and horror. He had fallen, and was now left alone, utterly abandoned—because he had been caught.

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