Sunday, November 29, 2009

VJCL Storms Richmond

Over 1,300 students, teachers, and chaperones took possession of the Greater Richmond Convention Center on November 22-23, 2009. By all accounts, the 56th annual Virginia Junior Classical League convention was a rousing success! So much Latin energy packed into one room!

Saxum Volvens: Keeping Up the Momentum

We return to school tomorrow after a five days away; before that we had only a two-day week. Needless to say, the students will not be their sharpest when they come into the classroom. What to do?

Keeping up momentum in the classroom is very important, if the teacher wishes to keep the students learning and the material flowing along. The best way to push that stone on which moss is beginning to grow is the catch their attention with something interesting and then ease into a review of the last subject covered. Then slip something new and tie the two together.

My plan? I found a couple interesting clips from YouTube/eClassics... we'll start there.

As a general rule, I do not give homework over breaks from school. I know from experience as a teacher and a parent that many other teachers don't feel this way and a five-day break from school is the perfect time to assign essays and reading and worksheets and... Guess what, most of it doesn't even make it out of the backpack until the evening before the big return. What kind of quality work does that promote? At that point, the notion of learning anything is gone and the need to complete the letter, but not the intent, of the assignments take center stage.

This time of year does create issues with momentum. Fall Break, i.e., Thanksgiving, is over and Winter Break, viz. Christmas and the Holidays, will soon be upon us. There will be many a distraction in the next three weeks, then a two-week break, then wintry weather, then exams, then wintry weather... I wonder if Sisyphus is looking for a replacement soon?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

What's Going on in the Middle?

We came across this line in our AP Vergil class recently:

Quos inter medius venit furor (I.348)

and I finally took the time to really notice what is going on in this sentence. I had always assumed that Quos inter was an example of anastrophe until I realized that inter medius venit could be a good example for tmesis and Quos was simply being used as a connective relative pronoun. At first I thought Vergil was being clever by placing medius in the middle until I moved further back and realized that inter medius venit furor would make a nice synchesis (of sorts), a figure of speech used often in the Aeneid.

My thoughts were not confirmed, though, when I conducted a search on Google for this sentence. There was no discussion (I could find) on anastrophe or such. Indeed, my thoughts were clouded when I realized that other texts read medios instead of medius. Suddenly that emendation makes this line less worthy of comment.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Missing the Mark

The first marking period has now come and gone. Report cards have been distributed, and students' abilities, interests, and efforts are now coming into focus for many parents. For those students who are new to high school, the sorting now begins.

I have some of the best averages ever for students in Latin I and Latin II. Their scores are solid and the results of their preparation is obvious. I even have one student whose work is practically impeccable. I didn't realize it until today, but she has scored a 100 (or better) on every single assignment. Wow! She makes me proud.

What is disturbing, though, are those students who receive a printout of their grades and they are surprised or upset that their averages are so low. When questioned as to why they received a 21 on the test or a 45 on the quiz, they readily admit that they did not study. More than once. Often. They don't write down their assignments. They don't take their books home. They don't study for their quizzes. They don't prepare their translations. Why, then, do they think that they should receive a higher grade? In what class are they receiving good grades for next to no effort?

After every marking period, I announce to my students, "If you're happy with your grade, keep on doing what you're doing. If you're not happy with your grade, you need to make some adjustments." Sometimes there are adjustments, and sometimes they continue to be shocked.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Aeneas Meets a Girl in the Woods

Aeneas and his surviving crew are shipwrecked somewhere in northern Africa. He and his right-hand man Achates set off to take a look around and see if they can find civilization or any other survivors. While stomping off through the woods, Aeneas comes across his mama in disguise.

Cui mater media sese tulit obvia silva
virginis os habitumque gerens, et virginis arma
Spartanae, vel qualis equos Threissa fatigat
Harpalyce, volucremque fuga praevertitur Hebrum.
Namque umeris de more habilem suspenderat arcum
venatrix, dederatque comam diffundere ventis,
nuda genu, nodoque sinus collecta fluentes.

Not knowing who this babe-in-the-woods is, Aeneas responds to her greeting,

"Nulla tuarum audita mihi neque visa sororum --
O quam te memorem, virgo? Namque haud tibi vultus
mortalis, nec vox hominem sonat: O, dea certe --
an Phoebi soror? An nympharum sanguinis una?"

One of the first reactions of my students concerning this exchange is that Aeneas has some pretty lame pick-up lines! Their feelings are that Mother Venus has been described in some fairly alluring terms and that Aeneas is trying (unwittingly) to hit on his mother!

Is this Vergil's intention? Hmm... let's take a look. He describes Venus incognita as virginis os habitumque gerens (l. 315). He intends her to be a maiden and reinforces this notion later when Aeneas repeats the word in line 328. The focus is on her mouth (os, line 315) as a primary description by synecdoche. He continues a physical description with her shoulder (umeris, line 318), her hair blowing in the wind (comam diffundere ventis, line 318), and (gasp!) her leg exposed all the way up to the knee (nuda genu, line 320). Why would Vergil give such emphasis to her physical description, if he didn't wanted to paint this image of an attractive maiden bounding through the woods? She is Venus, after all, and deserves a description such as this. If we read this description as an intentional effort at allurement, this makes Aeneas words all the more provocative. He starts off by asking her with a plea (O, line 328) how he is to remember this encounter (quam te memorem, line 328), and he caps it off with the vocative virgo (line 328). Aeneas obviously is not aware that this is his mother, but he makes the assumption that she, based on her looks, is a maiden, not a puella, not a femina, not a mulier nor matrona. He then comments on her heavenly face (haud tibi vultus/ mortalis, lines 328-329) and her divine voice (nec vox hominem sonat, line 329). Again, why the emphasis on the physical? Finally, the weak pick-up line, O, dea certe (line 329). At least that's what my students think!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Translating Cicero in Word Order

I have encouraged my students this year to read and translate their Latin passages in the order in which they appear, left to right. We have endured the "Yoda-speak" and seem to be making progress. After we translate in the word order, we do, of course, go back and "English it up."

In his First Oration Against Catiline, Cicero writes in chapter 11:
Tune eum quem esse hostem comperisti, quem ducem belli futurum vides, quem expectari imperatorem in castris hostium sentis, auctorem sceleris, principem coniurationis, evocatorem servorum et civium perditorum, exire patiere, ut abs te non emissus ex urbe, sed immisus in urbem esse videatur?
When we approach this from the beginning and move from left to write, we end up saying, with appropriate inflection of our voice in English,
"Do you [something] him whom you have discovered to be an enemy, whom you[etc.], whom you [etc.], whom you know to be an author of crime, a chief of conspiracy, an inciter of slaves and of evil citizens, to leave you will allow..."
The advantages of this technique allows the student to know immediately that the speaker of the passage (in this case, the personified Republic) is asking a question of Cicero about Catiline (Tune eum). Then there are three full relative clauses and then three more relative clauses abbreviated by ellipsis, and then an infinitive and (finally!) the main verb. If a student were to hunt and peck through this sentence, she would be hopelessly lost. Indeed, after the first reading in Latin, the relative clauses would be easily identified and mentally bracketed, then leading to a easier discovery of exire patiere to complete the main sentence. The students do need, of course, a prompt that patiere is really a patieris. The student then passes to the rest of the sentence, a subordinate clause, happliy marked by the ut.


All Hallow's Eve has come and gone, and here I sit in the early morning. The time will fall back soon, so I will get an extra hour of sleep in there anyway. I have my playlist from iTunes running in the background (the latest album from Steve Perry) and I have been searching the various blogs related to classics, teaching, and other such things. I then remembered I had a blog...

My last post heralded my decision to teach Cicero's First Oration Against Catiline this year and I do not regret the decision. Reading, translating, and understanding Cicero requires much from a Latin student, and he has certainly provided that. Most students have responded well, and we are slogging our way through. I have had to jump through portions of the text, though, in order to keep it interesting and moving along. I have plans to stick with my tribute to Latin prose and teach some letters from Pliny the Younger next. He's always fun.

The class reading Cicero is moving quite slowly, though, because it is combined with AP Vergil... yeah, that's right, I'm teaching Cicero and Vergil in the same classroom at (roughly) the same time. Things are working fairly well, but this is, by no means, the best way to do things. My Vergil students are moving slowly, too, but the other alternative was for me to not teach them at all.

The way my class works is that it meets on the block during which the lunch shifts operate. I give my full attention to my Cicero students for the first half-hour while my Vergil students eat lunch. During the next hour both sets of students work on reviewing particular points of Latin grammar or syntax, sight translating, or similar cooperative work. When the Cicero students go to lunch, I teach the Vergil students for half an hour. Yeah, that means I don't eat lunch, but that is survivable.

My frustration is increasing lately because I am realizing that I cannot teach what I want to teach in the way I want to teach it because of my workload. I have five preparations spread through six classes which meet every other day. I am barely keeping my head above water and, occasionally, I do go under and claw my way back to the surface gasping and sputtering. I've always called this my grand juggling act -- I can almost keep all the balls in the air but don't expect me to do anything fancy with them. Sometimes I drop the some of the balls, but I pick them up and keep tossing.