Ubiquitous

One of my two favorite professors in my college days was a wiry little old Texan named Professor Charles Froehlich. With him I studied three years of Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament), a year of Latin, a history course called “The Classical World,” and Greek & Roman mythology. His influence on me would be difficult to overestimate. I’ve never known a more diligent, dedicated, skillful, and knowledgeable teacher. He remains one of the most awesome human beings I’ve ever brushed shoulders with, and yet he is certainly one of the most humble. Let me tell you some quick Froehlich stories. University teachers are, in a way, public figures, so I feel I have the right.

At graduation ceremonies, professors typically deck themselves out in the fine robes and splendid colors that they’ve earned through rigorous study. Different academic disciplines are represented by different colors, and professors can add ribbons and medals on top of that to reflect their august distinctions. Those ceremonies were always something to see, and I don’t fault the profs who dressed in their hard-earned finery. I learned somewhere along the line that Froehlich had a whole armload of master’s degrees, but I never learned that from him. At graduations, Froehlich would wear a simple, drab, brownish-black robe without ornamentation. In it, among all the peacocks, he looked like a crow. But I couldn’t help thinking of martial arts masters. The ones who are true masters never wear anything flashy, do they? That’s the sort of man he is. (He’s long retired, but still in very good health by recent accounts.)

In yearbook faculty pictures, in which the theology department would be sitting in a group, Froehlich would typically be way in the back, just inside the door, looking windblown, as if he’d ducked in for the photo and in another five seconds would be out the door again, off to more important things.

He would pass you like a speeding train on campus. Usually his necktie would be over his shoulder, blown back by the speed of his gait. But he’d raise a hand as he zoomed past you and call out a cheery “HEL-lo!” But lest you get the wrong impression from that: he was the most available prof on campus. He lived alone in a tiny college-owned house across the street from the campus. But nearly any given evening you could call his extension or knock on his office door, and he’d be there, and he’d always be glad to see you. In his book-filled office, he kept a little folding cot. I suspect there were many nights he didn’t make it back to his house at all. It was always comforting to me to be able to walk across campus at night and see the light glowing in his office window — the one lighted window in the building.

And if any prof should have kept plenty of office hours, it was he: Greek wasn’t easy. Many were the times we pre-seminary students would find ourselves baffled at some late hour, and not to have our homework done for the next day was unthinkable. So we were always popping in on him, and he’d guide us through the tangles with a quick, efficient explanation.

I remember one evening when it took him all of about ten seconds to clear up the mystery I’d been struggling over. With his half-smile, he said, “Fred, if you’d just picked up the phone, you could have saved yourself the walk over here.” But the point was, I never wanted to save myself that walk. When you’re holed up in your room studying declension charts for hours on end, you need to get out. You need the night air, the walk, and the sight of a welcoming light burning ahead of you.

When he was angry at us for being too lazy or slack, I’ve seen him break chalk against the ceiling; but far worse was simply his Look. To know you had displeased and disappointed him was in itself the worst punishment. You just couldn’t be lazy or unprepared in his presence: it wasn’t allowed. I still shudder to recall the guy who showed up on one of the first days of class wearing a hat, chewing gum, and who put his feet up onto the chair in front of him. [Shivery moment of silence.]

Professor Froehlich had a unique way of passing back papers. First, he’d staple the stack together to carry it to and from his office. When he’d hand them back, he’d pry out the staple with a little tool carried, and he’d fling the staple in the direction of the distant wastebasket. Then he’d call out our last names one by one and throw each paper sort-of-toward its owner. We’d be diving and scrambling to retrieve the gliding sheets. It’s probably hard for you to understand this if you weren’t there. Oddly, the way he did it never seemed rude. It was simply Froehlich handing back papers.

He was a great recycler. Koine Greek doesn’t change from year to year, so once he developed good quizzes and tests, he could use them perennially. We’d receive photocopied tests with things like this written at the top (in his handwriting): October 5, 1982  October 3, 1983  October 6, 1984  October 5, 1985  October 4, 1986  October 3, 1987.

And he encouraged us to re-use papers until every bit of both sides was filled up.

It amazed us how he knew exactly where everything was in the Bible and exactly where everything was in our textbook. In answer to someone’s question, he’d say (off the top of his head): “I think if you’ll look at page 142, in the lower left-hand corner of the page, you’ll find the answer to that.” (And he’d also explain the answer.) He always said “I think,” but we all knew perfectly well he knew precisely what he was talking about. Moreover, he had every lesson for the entire course firmly fixed in his head. He’d very frequently say things like, “I know we are glossing over the details of that right now, but if you’ll be patient, on November the twenty-first, in about the last fifteen minutes of class, we’ll be taking that up again in a little more detail, when I’ll tell you about. . . .”

One of my favorite quotes from him is, “One of the best things about getting old is that you can blame your ineptitude on your age.” Heh, heh! As if he ever had an ounce of ineptitude in him! But it’s a comforting quote for the rest of us.

In print, it’s hard to capture the Texas-ness of his speech. We tend to stereotype Texans as cowboys, airline pilots, or oil tycoons. Imagine a Texas voice talking about Hadrian’s Wall or Pontius Pilate or deponent future (“dep fut”) verbs. Who can forget his rant about how the Huns weren’t Germans? It went something like: “Everybody thinks the Huns were Germans. They weren’t Germans! The Huns were not Germans. They weren’t Germans. The Huns were NOT GERMANS.” (That’s just the beginning, but you get the idea.)

Harper Lee tells us it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. Watching Froehlich, we learned that it’s a sin to waste even a second of our God-given time. He treated seconds as precious things. If he kept us forty seconds past the end of class one day, he’d make it up four days later, when he had gotten through enough material to let us go forty seconds early.

When we had a three-day weekend, he’d say, “That should allow you to have several parties between now and Tuesday. When you come back well-rested, we will talk about. . . .”

I still remember one late night before exams, when my friend John D. and I were burning the midnight oil in the snack bar area of the community center, studying our Greek. Like clockwork, Froehlich would dash through there at a certain time of an evening, his tie streaming back over his shoulder, to buy a cup of coffee. As he passed us and we called our greetings, he grinned back at us and said, “Don’t worry; just work.”

I hope you’re getting the picture that he was a truly inspirational mentor. He insisted that you do your very best, and as you strove for that, you realized your best was far better than you’d thought it could be.

Here’s the countdown of the three highest praises I remember getting from him (the kind that you remember and treasure forever after):

#3: “Durbin’s not a genius. He gets these high scores because he pays attention to the textbook.” (Egad, for sure, I’m no more a genius than the Huns were Germans!)

#2: One time I set an “all-time high score” on one of his Latin tests — and he would know, because he archived everything and loved statistics.

#1: The best ever was his compliment on my “Herculean Labor” (what he called our Class Projects) in Greek & Roman mythology. He said something like, “In Greek, there’s a degree of adjectives beyond the superlative. Your classmates feel your Labor should be described with such. I concur.” Flow moment! Soli Deo gloria!

Anyway, to the business at hand! At the beginning of every single class day during the mythology course, he would make us say the following all together:

“Mythology is alive. Mythology is ubiquitous.”

The point was that names and characters and events from the classical myths are all around us in our daily lives, even all these thousands of years later. They run through our literature, our movies, our popular culture. Today I set out to prove that this is true, even in Niigata, Japan in the fall of 2009. I expanded my quest just slightly to include ancient Japanese folklore as well — but the myths of the Greeks and Romans are well represented. And mind you, this was all done on a bicycle ride that took me about half an hour. If I’d searched intensely all day, I think I could have added considerably to this list. But anyway, take a look:

I agree, this one is tenuous, because the spelling is different. (I'm just warming up here.) Dido was the sister of Pygmalion; she founded Carthage and was its queen, and fell in love with Aeneas. She cursed the Trojans.

I agree, this one is tenuous, because the spelling is different. (I'm just warming up here.) Dido was the sister of Pygmalion; she founded Carthage and was its queen, and fell in love with Aeneas. She cursed the Trojans.

In Chinese/Japanese mythology, a Kirin is a fantastic creature somewhat like a horse, somewhat like a dragon. If you can find a can of imported Kirin beer, you can see a good picture of one. (A D&D Monster Manual will work, too!) Interestingly, the Japanese word for "giraffe" is kirin. Is this an acknowledgement that anything looking like a giraffe must have at least two hooves squarely in the world of myth?

In Chinese/Japanese mythology, a Kirin is a fantastic creature somewhat like a horse, somewhat like a dragon. If you can find a can of imported Kirin beer, you can see a good picture of one. (A D&D Monster Manual will work, too!) Interestingly, the Japanese word for "giraffe" is kirin. Is this an acknowledgement that anything looking like a giraffe must have at least two hooves squarely in the world of myth?

This is Kinshaitei, the second-closest ramen (Chinese noodle) restaurant to my apartment. Is that a picture of a Kirin I see? There seems to be a connection between this particular style of noodes (Kyushu ramen) and that image. . . .

This is Kinshaitei, the second-closest ramen (Chinese noodle) restaurant to my apartment. Is that a picture of a Kirin I see? There seems to be a connection between this particular style of noodes (Kyushu ramen) and that image. . . .

Remember these? They are Kappas, or river-goblins, still a very popular motif in figurines, dolls, toys, and advertising. These are saying "Keep our river clean!"

Remember these? They are Kappas, or river-goblins, still a very popular motif in figurines, dolls, toys, and advertising. These are saying "Keep our river clean!"

This restaurant is called "Tengu." Japanese Tengu are god-like beings that live on mountaintops. They are humanoid in form but can fly; they have bright red faces and very long noses. If you look carefully, you can see the outline of a Tengu face behind the lower set of characters.

This restaurant is called "Tengu." Japanese Tengu are god-like beings that live on mountaintops. They are humanoid in form but can fly; they have bright red faces and very long noses. If you look carefully, you can see the outline of a Tengu face behind the lower set of characters.

Going back West, look at this! This Isuzu truck is called an "Elf"! Don't ask me in what capacity a truck can be an Elf!

Going back West, look at this! This Isuzu truck is called an "Elf"! Don't ask me in what capacity a truck can be an Elf!

Look at the top, the first word under the wiper! Clio was one of the nine Muses. She was the Muse of history.

Look at the top, the first word under the wiper! Clio was one of the nine Muses. She was the Muse of history.

Cupid is the supermarket where I shop nearly every day. Son of Mercury and Venus, the Roman god of love. Notice the big heart!

Cupid is the supermarket where I shop nearly every day. Son of Mercury and Venus, the Roman god of love. Notice the big heart!

Aaaand here's the prize of today's hunt. Athena is a home furnishings store. This one is indisputable. Look at the logo: she's got the helmet, the spear, and the owl on her shoulder. This is the Greek goddess Athena, the warrior, the skillful, the wise one. You'd better believe mythology is alive and ubiquitous!

Aaaand here's the prize of today's hunt. Athena is a home furnishings store. This one is indisputable. Look at the logo: she's got the helmet, the spear, and the owl on her shoulder. This is the Greek goddess Athena, the warrior, the skillful, the wise one. You'd better believe mythology is alive and ubiquitous!

So here’s your assignment for this week: notice the references to mythology and folklore around you as you go through each day. When you open your eyes, you’ll see they’re everywhere. I won’t limit you to Greek and Roman myth. You can find elves and unicorns, too — any name, any creature from the myths or folklore of any culture is fair game. Places are good, too, such as if you pass through Troy, Illinois. The deadline? Let’s say midnight on October 1st, U.S. time. If anyone cares to keep a list and submit it by the end of next Thursday, you’re in the contest. The rule is that these have to be references you actually see — you have to spot them on signs, on TV, in newspapers, etc. — or hear them. The person who puts together the longest list is the winner.

The prize. . . . Hmm. The prize is that (aside from the prestigious honor) you get to assign the topic of the next blog post. Be as creative as you know how! [I reserve the right to refuse or modify your idea; but I will do my absolute best to accommodate your request.] Sound like a deal?

Okay. One more thing: today I discovered what might be of interest to some readers. We’ve been searching for the way a reader can become a “follower” of this blog — a way that an ordinary citizen can receive an e-mail message when the blog is updated. Here’s one way. There’s a free service called “Feed My Inbox.” http://www.feedmyinbox.com This is extremely easy to use: you enter the address of my blog <fredericsdurbin.wordpress.com> and your e-mail address. Supposedly, the service will send you notices of any updates (though I’m not clear on just what constitutes an “update” — it may or may not include comments, but I’m pretty positive it would include new posts). It only sends an update once a day (IF there’s anything new that day), so as not to fill up your inbox with bunches of announcements. If you use the service, you can enter any number of sites/blogs/addresses that you want updates on. If it actually works [I discovered it on the World Fantasy Convention’s site — they were endorsing it, so it should be legitimate], it seems like the solution for us Internetally-challenged people who are overwhelmed by the whole deal about RSS feeds. This is just a simple message that comes to your e-mail’s in-box.

All right, I’ll stop there. Look around yourself! Mythology is alive!

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15 Responses to “Ubiquitous”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    Now, Fred, as I teach ancient history and I’m about to begin the history of Sumer & Egypt, I suppose I should disqualify anything involved at work! 🙂

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Heh, heh! I suppose you’re right. We should establish the rule that it’s unfair to use a textbook or dictionary that has six million references to mythology!

      By the way, “Feed My Inbox” does truly work! I’ve tested it out. What it sent to my inbox was the entire new post, so you can read it right from there, including comments, I believe.

      The first time you get a message from them (it arrives immediately after you sign up), you have to click a line in it to confirm that you want it, and that’s all you have to do. You can later delete/unsubscribe to any source if you no longer want to “follow” a particular site.

      Also, they say it’s a good idea to add “updates@feedmyinbox.com” to your address book to be sure you’ll keep getting updates from them. So, Shieldmaiden, I think that’s FINALLY the solution you were looking for!

  2. Eunice Says:

    I only had Froehlich for two classes, but there was a very comforting feeling to seeing his light burning in his office at night. I often stopped in to say hello, even though I had no class-related reason, or even had a class with him at the time. I think he was a sweet, shy man who loved his students deeply and showed it humbly and in a very low-key way.

    However, I once played hooky from a class to go to a Cubs game. I thought it was no big deal; we were only listening to student presentations. Unfortunately, a number of my classmates had the same idea. He scolded us firmly the next class, and ordered us to look at Luther’s table of duties before any of us thought of pulling a stunt like that again. Then, it was over. But I wouldn’t dream of skipping one of his classes again!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Eunice! Great story!
      It’s interesting: I never perceived him as “shy,” but then again, I’ve never perceived myself as shy, but people have been telling me all my life that I am. How can anyone who loves to be on stage as much as I do . . . who loves to be in front of an audience . . . be “shy”? True, when I’m among people I don’t know, or when people are talking about sports or politics or something, I have no idea what to say to them, so I keep quiet. But that seems something other than shyness. Hmm. . . .

      • Eunice Says:

        Of course he was shy! Anyone who hones a public persona is usually a shy person. It’s a truism that most actors are by nature shy. I don’t know if I’d call you shy, though. I’ve never thought of you that way. I can’t think of you as someone I’ve ever seen on “stage,” but teaching is actually a stage. (I’ve never seen you teach, come to think of it. Does holding forth in the campus cafeteria count?)

        I think you were in on a prank my roommate and I played on a mutual friend, who was driving us all nuts by asking everyone how often one should change their sheets. We made up a fake sociology class-type survey asking questions about sheet-changing in depth, and had all his friends and some professors (if I remember even the campus pastor) fill out the survey, and sent the completed surveys to him through campus mail in bunches.

        Of course we asked Prof. Froehlich to participate in the survey. I can still see the embarrassed look on his face as he declined. “You’ll just have to get other people to participate in this dastardly deed,” were his exact words as I remember them. I do think he liked us asking him, though, and saw the amusement in the joke.

  3. Rich Heinz Says:

    Fred:

    Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane! What a dear and beloved man!

    You mention “the look.” Oh man! I was finishing my third quarter of Greek when I took my first quarter of Latin. I managed a “C” in Latin in order to do better in Greek. But when the next quarter of Latin began, I felt hopeless. Too far behind.

    My buddy Martin & I (both in the same boat) went in to his office one late night and explained that we had to drop. (I suppose we did not even consider the possibility of switching to Pass/Fail.)

    My heart sank as I felt like I had just disappointed my grandfather! The forlorn and downcast countenance moved us each to pledge that someday we would resume our Latin studies. He rightly predicted that this would be most difficult.

    Nevertheless, I too join in the laud and honor of the Rev. Professor Charles D. Froehlich.

    Pax tecum!
    Rich

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I can’t begin to tell you how much I respect you guys who actually took all the languages you needed and went on to the seminary. I can’t imagine dealing with more than one theological language in a given quarter, but I know most of you did exactly that. Some of you had Greek, Hebrew, and Latin (or German) all in the same quarter — I would never have made it.

      I remember hearing the legend (which is likely true) that the seminary required a certain number of course hours of Greek as a prerequisite, but that if you’d learned it from Froehlich, they allowed you to come in with fewer hours! Have you heard that?

  4. Preacher Says:

    Oh, my! The memories you’ve provoked, Fred.

    I had the privilege of taking Prof. Froehlich for Mythology, 2 years of Greek, and an interim course (remember those wonderful little nasty 3-week classes?) called the Seven Ecumenical Councils. I had him for 7 different quarters in all. And I NEVER missed a class in any of them. I’d skip other classes in order to get the work done for HIS class. (Sadly, it didn’t help my scores–I was only slightly above average in most of them.) He was an amazing teacher. And the picture of eccentricity, though I always wonder if it was a show a lot of the time. When you got him one-on-one in his office, he was always straightforward.

    And yes, you were/are a genius, Fred. No one else would have known what a pluperfect ending looked like off the top of his head when he asked you. (And when you answered correctly, Froehlich laughed at the rest of us when we groaned in admiration.)

    I still have my Machen, and all my notes from all his classes. (I should go study them again!)

    I didn’t know he had any doctorates. I was told that he had about 10 Masters Degrees. And I still remember him talking about how he had learned all these languages, but he could never get Russian figured out.

    Do you remember his little slip of paper and tiny sliver of pencil that he’d pull out of his pocket to write down some reminder to himself? I don’t know if he wrote in English but the scribbles were impossible for anyone else to read.

    There were many times when Security would check his office because the light had been left on at 3am. But when they’d open it, he’d be working in there or sleeping on that cot.

    He was truly an inspiration. I LOVED when he preached in chapel, though he didn’t do it enough. And I never had the opportunity to take Latin, but I still cringe whenever I hear or use a split infinitive. He was adamant about NOT committing that linquistic crime.

    I think I will have to say the Lord’s Prayer in Greek tonight, just like we did every day of Greek class.

    What great memories of a great man!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I’m like you: when I had a Froehlich course in a given quarter, I just didn’t do homework for the other courses. You simply couldn’t; there weren’t enough hours in the day and night.

      I agree: I suspect some of that eccentricity was a bit of a performance. Of course, I’m not above carrying on the tradition in my own classes nowadays. Have I told you that in every single class I’ve ever taught at the university, I have my students say (all together, at the beginning of every class) “Language is alive; language is passion; language is communication”? I know some of them think it’s weird, but it keeps the class focused on what we’re there to do.

      You know, I went to chapel every day, but I honestly don’t remember him ever preaching in chapel! Did he, sometimes? Why don’t I remember that?!

      I also don’t remember that incident of the pluperfect ending! Was he asking about English pluperfects, or Greek? That is so Froehlich that he laughed at the groan! Was it one of those “That’s not something to groan about — that’s something everyone should know”-type laughs?

      I still have my Machen and all the notes, too, but alas, not here in Japan!

      Remember how he’d talk about “sitting at the feet of” great teachers? And did you ever hear him recite the lineage of his own mentors? He sat at the feet of so-and-so on the [number] floor of the such-and-such building at the University of [Place], and that teacher sat at the feet of. . . . And he traced it back to to the one who “sat at the feet of the Great Gildersleeve.” Did you ever hear that?

      Mea culpa! I’m sure you’re right about the doctorates! I’ve corrected the post accordingly, and thanks! That’s what I’d always thought, too — a bunch of master’s degrees — but I recently exchanged correspondence with Dr. Lila Kurth, and she referred to him as “Dr. Froehlich,” and I thought she should know!

      Remember how he’d take his Spanish book with him in his car and study it when he had to wait for a red light?

      And remember how he had boxes of cereal tucked among the books on his bookshelf?

      And the time John D. insisted on taking him a piece of my birthday cake, and Froehlich obligingly took one little bite and said “That’s good cake!” — and a couple days later, one of us went in to ask him a question, and the cake was still sitting on its paper plate atop a stack of books?

      I DO remember his little pencil and indecipherable memos to himself!

      After I came to Japan, I sent him Christmas cards for years, and he would dutifully answer them. (He’d usually get one of his students to read and write out the Japanese address for him.) He was a huge fan of my newsletters when I was in VYM, and he would pass them on to people at his church. When he’d write to me, it was mostly about the statistics of the Greek classes — how many boys, how many girls in Greek I and Greek II. I kind of dropped the ball when he moved away from Chicago. I’ll have to remember to write to him this Christmas!

  5. SwordLily Says:

    I really wanted to enter your little contest, Fred, but the harder I tried to find references to mythology in my day to day life the more elusive they seemed >_<. I know what your talking about I just can't seem to pin down anything worth sharing.

    Anyway I'd like to dedicate this comment to your last post since I really wanted to write a comment for that post but didn't get to it until now.
    My Oma's house in Germany is one place that is precious to me. Despite the numerous childhood memories I have of that cottage, there is a single memory that stands out as my most treasured. I had just arrived at Oma's house from the airport. It was raining buckets, and I made a mad dash through the gloom for the door where Oma was waiting, warm homey light spilling out into the from the open front door. That's it. I don't even know if it's a true memory or just wishful thinking, but whenever I feel lonely that memory can fill me with a warmth that is more real than anything I can prove.
    In the book I just finished "The Song of the Lark" by Willa Cather the main character, Thea, grows up to have slightly crazy life as an emerging songstress. One night her anxieties make her mind so scattered that she cannot sleep. In those lonely hours the thing that comforts her is a memory. Thea imagines that she is back home in her own bed, her family safe and happy downstairs. Her bed was in attic room that was never heated in the winter. On those frozen winter nights she would put a hot brick near her feet and curl up, imagining she is an arctic explorer who is dependent on his own heat in the bitter cold. On those nights there her would engage in a"short fierce battle with the cold" and than she would always get warm Sinking deeper and deeper into the warmth of this memory, Thea could finally slip into a dreamless slumber.
    Over time memories revolve and change as they tailor to what we need or want. Memories, unlike real places will never change as long as someone treasures them.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      This is a wonderful comment! Thank you! You talked about a vivid, enchanting memory that we can all feel and relate to, and you brought up a great book and gave one clear example of why it’s great — what more can a comment do? 🙂

      Finally, I love your point that memories don’t change, unlike real places. It’s true that memories are more private, individual, and when we leave this life, our memories go with us. EXCEPT if we write them down. If we preserve them in clear, evocative language — either things that we really experienced or fiction stories that make use of those memories — then others can experience them, too, personalizing them for themselves, long after we’re gone!

  6. peter day Says:

    I have seen attributed to Plato the quote “The most beautiful motion is that which accomplishes the greatest results with the least amount of effort.” Are you familiar and if so where in Plato does this appear. I have searched Republic, Timaeus, Parmenides, Laws, and Phaedrus without success. Sincerely, Peter Day

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Hi, Peter–My apologies for taking so long to reply. My blog has moved over to http://www.fredericsdurbin.com. I tried an on-line search for the above quote (as I’m sure you did), and I can only find it attributed to Plato; I can’t find where in Plato’s works it’s from. We need a real Plato scholar! Good luck, and thanks for stopping in on my blog! You’re welcome here any time! –Fred

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