With just three weeks to go of the fall semester on Tuesday, I launched my students into the events of the Peloponnesian War and Pericles' speeches and Thucydides' account of the plague that beset Athens in 430 BCE in particular. Careful analysis of rhetorical devices has limited appeal but just the word plague got everyone's attention.
i was fighting a mighty urge to explain how Thucydides' description of the pestilence that may have killed a third of the Athenian population (at the start of a decades-long war at that) was the literary model for Virgil's long passage on the plague (pestis) at the end of Book 3 of the Georgics. I was in full digression mode due to being awake from 2-5am when a combination of an oncoming snowstorm that whiten there sky and felled the barometric pressure, a full moon shedding lots of light, and congested sinuses woke up Charlie and kept him pacing, standing, tapping and not sleeping. Eventually he hunkered down on the blue couch with a blue sleeping bag and had a great day at school and home, even without a bike ride (because of the snow and slush).
But the digression was avoided and I reflected later on how, whether or not I show pictures and maps, what catches my students' attention about the ancient world is learning about certain kinds of concrete actualities. It's not necessarily the minutiae of 'everyday life in ancient Athens' that you can find plenty of books about but certain details that somehow seem tied to their day-to-day, like coins and money (mention of that a few weeks ago led to a discussion of how they all prefer not to use or have credit cards: 'you've got to stick to cash, Dr. Chew,' they said and I expressed a like sentiment).
It's all about finding the right details.