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Thursday March 29, 2001

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Popular classics prof publishes second book, wins teaching award

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Classics professor Jon Solomon stands in front of a screen showing episodes of "The Three Stooges" at a presentation he gave in 1999. His book, "The Ancient World in Cinema," examines how classics are portrayed in today's movies.

By Aaron Cowman

Arizona Daily Wildcat.

Solomon's work addresses classics in contemporary movies

When it comes to this year's Academy Awards, it seems like everyone has an opinion - including classics professor Jon Solomon.

"I couldn't be happier," Solomon said about the "Gladiator" win for Best Picture. "The only movie that was even close was 'Traffic.'"

"Gladiator," which also claimed the Best Actor prize for star Russell Crowe at the Oscars, was the most recent addition to Solomon's book, "The Ancient World in the Cinema."

The book takes a new view of the way classics are portrayed in contemporary movies.

"I originally wrote the book back in 1977," Solomon said. "I have updated it since then."

"Jon's book is about the way that Hollywood takes classical stories and changes them for a popular audience," said J. Douglas Canfield, a Regents professor in the English department.

Solomon has written several other books related to cinema, including "The Three Stooges Companion: A Classical Commentary" and "The Three Stooges in Perspective." He has garnered much recognition in recent years, yet his books have little to do with it. Rather, it is Solomon's popularity with his students - hundreds enroll in his classes every semester - that keeps the professor in high esteem.

"He has a great following," said Mary Voyatzis, head of the classics department. "He has kind of a legendary status."

Solomon teaches two classes this semester - Classics 126: Greek Mythology and Classics 221: The Classical Tradition, and he said he hopes to one day teach a class that relates to his new book.

"At some point, I am going to propose a TRAD Tier-one course on classics in the cinema," Solomon said. "I am just waiting for the technology to catch up."

Solomon's teaching has won him many awards over the years, including the Five Star Teaching Award for the 1999-2000 school year, an honor based solely on student recommendation.

"There is one faculty member selected each year," said Dennis Evans, associate dean of the College of Humanities. "Many consider it the most prestigious award because it is selected by students. A lot of people thought it was long overdue for Jon."

Solomon said he felt rewarded by the recognition bestowed upon him by his students.

"They told me by surprising me in class," Solomon said. "They brought a cake into the lecture hall and everything."

He is also very well-respected by fellow faculty members.

"I've known Jon since I came to the university almost 14 years ago," Voyatzis said. "He is a very gifted teacher. He's very funny and witty. He's just good to be around."

Solomon has quite a list of acclaims to be proud of. In 1987 and 1998, he won the Humanities Seminar Program Superior Teaching Award, and in 1983, he won an award from the American Philological Association. Perhaps his most important achievement, however, is being able to truly reach people through his teaching.

"He makes this little, obscure period (the classical period) relevant to everyone's life," Voyatzis said. "He shows that there is a common humanity."

Voyatzis said she considers him a great asset.

"All of his awards and achievements bring recognition to the department," Voyatzis said.