Papal Tweetery ~ March 3, 2012


Latin on the Rise in the UK

Latin always seems to be on the rise, and yet there are still contrary opinions about its utility … from Skynews:

A growing number of children as young as seven are learning Latin in a move to improve their literacy and understanding of ancient civilisations.

Existing teachers are being trained to take the lessons with funding from the charity Classics for All , and a group of 20 schools in Norfolk is showing what can be achieved.

Project co-ordinator Jane Maguire said: “It gives them the ability to understand sometimes quite hard words in English and to interpret them through their knowledge of Latin.

“It gives them an understanding of the grammatical structure of a language which helps them when they come to learn a modern language and it opens up the whole legacy of the Roman empire which is all around us.”

Her view is shared by the Department for Education. All seven-year-olds will learn a language from September with Latin and ancient Greek included as options.

Antingham and Southrepps Primary is a tiny, rural primary school in Norfolk where Year 4 pupils have had the chance to dress up as Romans and act out the tale of an ancient birthday party in Latin.

Emma, aged nine, said: “I think it’s helping us because it’s nice to learn that lots of our words come from Latin.”

And eight-year-old Emily says she can imagine continuing with the subject at secondary school. “It’s fun!” she said.

Down the road at North Walsham High, pupils of all ages are learning the subject.

Rachel, aged 13, thinks it could help with her career. “I want to be veterinary nurse when I’m older and some of the medicines are in Latin so I wanted to try it out.”

And Michael, 12, said to start with he was not keen “but I’m doing good in it now and I like it”.

But teacher and author Francis Gilbert believes it is a waste of time.

Mr Gilbert said: “It is not a living language, it’s a dead language. You can’t go to ancient Rome and to speak it as you can with Spanish or German.

“The vast majority of children find it completely removed from their lives … not relevant to who they are. It’s very, very difficult to present it in an energetic and enthusiastic way.”

The Mayor of London disagrees. Boris Johnson recently pledged a quarter of a million pounds so that children in the most deprived parts of the capital could learn Latin.

In the past two years, the number of pupils taking Latin GCSE has risen by 9%.

But up to 70 classics teachers retire each year while only 25 emerge from university ready to replace them.

Classics for All is trying to bridge that gap and more grants are available to give teachers the skills they need to teach it.

The biggest challenge for many schools may be fitting another subject into their already busy timetables.

Just a note in passing to Mr Gilbert: the “vast majority” of schoolchildren find EVERYTHING we teach “completely removed” and “not relevant” to their lives. That’s a feature of education in general, although I question the sweeping “vast majority”. That said, suggesting that something “[is] very, very difficult to present it in an energetic and enthusiastic way” perhaps says something about Mr Gilbert’s teaching abilities than the teachability of Latin, (it *is* rather easier to get hormone charged kiddies interested in Romeo and Juliet than perhaps Caesar … but howzabout Ovid?). Gilbert, by the way, writes frequently on matters educational in the Guardian … he seems to be generally against ‘the system’ and much that actually challenges students. He also uses the word “I” an awful lot.

Online Latin Prose Composition Over the Holidays

John Alvares posted this to the Latinteach list:

Montclair State University is offering an online seminar in Latin
Composition during the winter break (December 20-January 17). Montclair
State University welcomes visiting students. Below is a basic course

Latin Composition: In this seminar students will practice composing
sentences (and hopefully short paragraphs) in Latin. In doing so, we
will review advanced Latin constructions (subjunctive clauses,
conditions, ablative absolutes, future passive periphrastics, etc) and
learn about the prose style of such famous Latin authors as Caesar,
Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus. This course is recommended for students who
have had between 3-5 semesters of college Latin. Current and prospective
Latin teachers are encouraged to enroll. Upon special arrangement with
the instructor, this course can be taken for graduate credit.

For further information about this course, please contact Dr. Mary C.
English at englishm AT MSU welcomes students visiting
from other institutions and has special programs for high school
students who wish to take college classes as well senior citizens who
wish to return to school (either at the undergraduate or graduate
level). Registration information for visiting students can be found at


Hodie Papa Francesco Titiavit

I’ve long wanted to do a post analyzing the Pope’s Latin style, but I think I need to start collecting exempla first, so this is the first in what will probably be a regular series … I’m trying to display them in a ‘compact’ manner:


Ut sinant Deum clementia et mansuetudine in se uti omnes hortatur Ecclesia.

glossed by @Pontifex:

The Church invites everyone to be embraced by the Father’s tenderness and forgiveness.

… after we get a few in the ‘corpus’, we’ll begin commenting … feel free to begin commenting yourselves …

Putting the Hip Hop in Hexameters

This is probably the sort of thing I’d be doing — if I were teaching this sort of thing (and had any skills in metre, which I don’t). Very interesting item from the New Haven Independent.

They started with an age-old dum-diddy-dum. They added snares and high-hats. Then Andrew Sweet and his students brought an ancient Roman poet into a modern Garage Band.

The millennia-crossing performance took place in Sweet’s 9th-grade Latin classroom at Foote School, a private K-9 school serving 490 kids in East Rock.

Sweet’s class was trying out the “hip-hop hexameter,” a method he devised to help kids grasp the tricky metrics of Latin poetry and commit the lines to memory. The invention won Sweet a $2,000 award from the ING Unsung Heroes Award for Innovative Teaching Program. Sweet was one of 100 winners across the country this year; he used the money to buy recording equipment for his students.

The hip-hop hexameter went on display last Thursday with live performances by a dozen kids in Sweet’s honors Latin class before their younger peers.

Sweet began class by rolling in a cart of Mac laptops. Each student grabbed her or his own.

They pulled open a program called GarageBand to finish mixing tracks.

Juliet Friedman, of Madison, explained the assignment this way: To start off the class, Sweet had sent out a baseline beat.

“Dum-diddy-dum-diddy-dum-diddy,” it began.

That’s the underlying meter of epic Roman poetry, she explained. Its official name is “dactylic hexameter,” or “heroic hexameter.”

Each dum-diddy is a “dactyl,” from the Greek dactylos, or finger. Just like an index finger, each dactyl has one long part followed by two short parts. Roman poetry uses six dactyls, hence the “hexameter.”

Sweet sent out the hexametric beat. Then students imported it into GarageBand and mixed their own tracks on top of it. Some sped it up. Others slowed it down. Some added snares and high-hats. Some went for a smooth and simple sound, others tended to the frenetic.

When they were ready, students got out a poem they had memorized in Latin class the previous year, the opening to Virgil’s Aeneid. The opening, an invocation to a muse, introduces the hero, Aeneas.

Latin poetry can be hard to read aloud, Sweet said. The meter is quantitative—it’s based on how long a syllable should last. In English, we have long and short vowels, but that refers to the shape of the sound, not to the length of time we say it. Sweet said even after spending years scanning Latin poetry for his PhD at Cornell University, he still found recitation difficult.

He said he got the idea for the hip-hop hexameter while he was reading Adam Bradley’s Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop. The dual rhythm of hip-hop—one rhythm set by the beat, another by the rapper’s words—seemed to him a lot like the dual rhythm of Latin poetry recitation, he said. In Latin, the dual rhythm comes from the meter, which sets the beat, and the performer, who reads words that riff on the meter, but don’t always match it exactly.

Hip hop seemed to be an “accessible, approachable and more true to ancient recitation.”

Sweet announced the class would be voting on two ballot questions:

1. “Whose beat you think is the phattest.”

2. Whose beat would be most helpful to 8th graders.

Sweet plans to have his students record themselves reciting poetry over the sound of the tracks they designed. The 8th-graders will use those tracks as study aides this year when they have to memorize the same lines, he said.

Students began their recitations shyly.

Kyle Gelzinis approached the task with more bravado.

“Gangster Kyle comin’ up again,” he announced. “Throw it down.”

Then he “threw down” the Latin words: “Arma virumque cano.”

(Translation: “I sing of arms and the man.”)

“Phat beat!” called out some kids after their peers rapped.

After every freshman had performed, freshmen took out pens and paper to vote on the “phattest beat” and the most helpful.

“Phat is spelled with a ‘ph,’ right?” asked Nate.

“When it’s about a beat, yes,” Sweet replied matter-of-factly.

Nate jotted down the spelling for the mid-‘90s word for “cool.” (“That’s the first time I’ve heard it,” he said.)

Nate (pictured) had given perhaps the most exuberant performance of the bunch. He said he enjoyed the session. There are “not a lot of classes you get to do a rap in.”

He said he listens to Tribe Called Quest and Kanye West, but they had no influence over his track. He just started with the heroic hexameter and laid a melody on top.

After class, Sweet pronounced the experiment successful.

He said by connecting Virgil to hip hop, he hopes students would begin to “feel the artistry of the poetry,” to “feel it as a living piece of art, instead of a static piece of art.”

He said he hopes the method makes it easier for kids to memorize Latin poetry. Kids will test out that theory next spring, when they participate in the COLT Poetry Recitation Contest.

They won’t be allowed to play their music as they perform. But if the beats stick, they can carry them in their heads.

The original item includes a video of the performances …