Thursday, July 26, 2007

Crossing the Rubicon with a Ham and Cheese on Rye

I was making my way to the grocery store the other day and noticed that the construction at the community church across the street was almost complete. During the building I was impressed that the church was making such a large addition - more than doubling its space - and then learned how they were going to use their extra rooms. One wing is labeled "Education Center" and the other "Rubicon Cafe." I had to take another look as I left the grocery store to make sure I was reading it correctly. The church is very popular and has grown tremendously in the past few years since it has opened. It is nice to see them expanding their offerings.

When Julius Caesar reached the Rubicon River back in 49 BC, he had to make the decision whether to cross this boundary into Italy Proper at the head of his troops and, thus, essentially declare civil war on Rome. He crossed the Rubicon, declaring "Alea iacta est!" ("The die is cast!"), and passed the point of no return. He had made his move.

Now, a church calling its public cafe "Rubicon" is making quite a statement. It certainly adds a lot of pressure for someone who stops in for a ham and cheese on rye.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Authors as Prophets

On the day when the world was tearing into J.K. Rowling's seventh and final book in the wildly successful series about the boy-wizard Harry Potter and his fight against evil, I must admit that I, at last, picked up her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. I am familiar with the characters, the plot, most details of the story, and (being the parent of a 14- and 10-year-old) have seen all the movies multiple times. I discussed the seventh book with my wife and daughter who finished the tome the very same evening they waited in line to get their copies. Now that I know how the story ends, I am reading all the works with an eye to how the author develops her story and seek to tie up the loose ends as I come across them. I am still enjoying the story and expect to learn, first-hand, many more details of the story.

Early in the first book (toward the end of the first chapter), I was struck by a passage in which Professor McGonagall claims, "[Harry Potter will] be famous -- a legend -- I wouldn't be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future -- there will be books written about Harry -- every child in the world will know his name!" When Rowling was writing this first book, surely she didn't believe that her books would be so wildly successful. She could certainly hope so, but hindsight now proves her prophetic statement to be amazingly correct!

Immediately I thought of Latin authors who had made similar prophetic statements in their own works. Ovid writes, Mantua Vergilio, gaudet Verona Catullo;/ Paelignae dicar gloria gentis ego (Mantua rejoices in Vergil, Verona in Catullus; I shall be called the glory of the Pelignian race)(Amores III.15, ll. 7-8). Of course Ovid is writing after he has accumulated some fame but he has no doubts that he will be famous and deserves (rightly so) to be included in the same club with Vergil and Catullus. Further, Martial writes toto notus in orbe Martialis/ argutis epigrammaton libellis ([I am] Martial, known around the world for his clever little books of epigrams)(Epigrams I.1, ll. 2-3). He, also having already attained fame, has correctly predicted the future. Finally, there is the famous Latin quote which immediately came to mind as soon as I read Rowling's words, Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei/vitabit Libitinam; usque ego postera/crescam laude recens, dum Capitolium/ scandet cum tacita virgine pontifex. (I shall not entirely die and a big part of me will avoid Death; I will continue to grow fresh with following praise as long as the pontifex climbs the Capitoline with the silent virgin.)(Horace, Odes III.30, ll. 6-9). Horace is confident in his permanent place in literary history. He, too, though, writes with the knowledge that he is already a great poet. What did Rowling know of her coming fame and prosperity? Will her works become classics and be read many, many years from now? She (and we) really have no way to tell. Her legacy will assuredly rest in bringing countless people, including school children distracted by so many things outside of formal education, to opening a book and (obsessively) devouring it's words.

As a side note, I pondered Horace's words and realized how true his prediction still is. He said that he will continue to live, and subsequently be read, as long as the Pontifex climbs the Capitol accompanied by the silent Virgin. A different Pontifex (the Pope) still climbs a hill (the Vatican which is the Capitol of the Catholic Church) accompanied by the silent Virgin (Mary, the Mother of Christ).

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back to Basics

At the end of the school year I learned that I will be teaching Latin I this fall. Most teachers would not find this assignment surprising but I am a tiny bit nervous and becoming increasingly excited because I have not taught Latin I for well over a decade... maybe since 1994! I have taught Latin II, III, IV, V, AP Vergil, and AP Latin Literature, but the Latin I classes have always been covered by teachers who floated between schools.

This new addition to my teaching assignment provides me with the opportunity to apply those techniques and ideas which have been discussed and presented at numerous workshops, institutes, and on the LatinTeach list. Such things include oral Latin and pronunciation, emphasis on reading and not simply translation, and integration of culture, history, and mythology into the Latin (Why can't the questions and/or answers about these subject areas be in Latin?).

I have long inherited students who have adopted the philosophies, techniques, interests, and abilities of their Latin I teachers. Some of these teachers have been experienced, others fresh off the vine. I took their students and moved them forward from where they were dropped off. Sometimes I could make adjustments, sometimes not.

Now is the time for me to put up or shut up. I will be taking a group of students and teaching them from the very beginning. It will be an exciting ride... stay tuned!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Making Connections II: Paying It Forward

On a recent trip to Italy and Greece I called a student over to my table after dinner and invited her to sit down. I told her I had something for her to think about. Just that day we had visited the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City and I came upon this student standing in the middle of the floor, slowly turning her head. Her jaw had dropped and her eyes were wide open. This place, this moment, had made her trip. Everything else we would see afterwards would be fluff, second-rate -- exciting, but not as moving as Michelangelo's magnificent ceiling. This student had just graduated from high school where she had participated in four years of a very rigorous and demanding gifted program. She is also an artist and used this outstanding talent as a creative outlet. She will continue her education in the fall at the College of William & Mary, taking anything and everything but reserving space in her schedule for art and art history. Now, back to dinner. I told my student that this year was the 25th anniversary of my first trip to Rome and that I had come as a student, just having graduated from high school, with my Latin teacher. I told her that she needed to give consideration to bringing her own art students to Italy in the future and give some student the same experience my Latin teacher had given me and which I had just given her. I asked her to pay it forward. She said that she would...

Making Connections I

I know that I have posted an image of an umbrella pine tree before... but today I have a reason!

My students and I recently returned from a trip to Italy and Greece and I have a proud-teacher moment I have to share. We had just passed through the Porta Marina and into Pompeii when our local guide herded us into the shade and began his spiel about the city and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which buried the site in AD 79. The guide went into great detail to describe the eruption and likened the cloud which rose from the mountain to a mushroom or a nuclear blast. One of my students bravely raised her hand and commented, "Pliny the Younger described the cloud as an umbrella pine tree." The guide paused a moment and replied, "Yes! Yes, indeed! You are quite correct!" and, with no umbrella pines in sight, described the tree for the rest of our group. Seemingly impressed that there were students who knew who Pliny the Younger was and had even translated the letter from Latin, he continued to make reference to the letter as our tour continued.

For the rest of the tour that afternoon, I was the one who was beaming with pride that my student had referenced material we had covered in the classroom and used it to make a visit to Pompeii more meaningful.
  • Footnote 1: When you take a group to Pompeii, ask for Eugenio/Eugene or Mimo. Both of these local guides are outstanding and will try to accomodate requests.
  • Footnote 2: If you have extra time in the schedule and the weather is cooperating, ask for more time after the organized tour to allow students to take more pictures or visit sites not normally on the tour, e.g., the amphitheater, gladiators' barracks, palaestra, etc.