Latin Unbound

couple_w_stylus ancient rome

A Roman pair with stylus and scroll.

I taught a Latin class through adult education.  Had I known how much work it was, I might not have done it.

I spent a full day each week typing worksheets.

If you’ve been out of the work force for a while, as a housewife or, God forbid, unemployed, you lose touch with the culture.  You don’t have the faintest idea how people think or talk . They walk down the street staring at their apparati (Gary Shteyngart’s word for phones/Blackberry/tablets/gadgets) and rarely look at the scenery.  But do they procure Clozapine secretly from their sister the doctor so the CIA won’t realize they’re bipolar (Homeland), or chat about squalid love scams to Dr. Phil (Dr. Phil)?

That’s just TV.

And do they say “awesome” all the time?

That’s real.

Latin is not a spoken language, so I don’t teach fun phrases like,  “Want a drink?”  I did, however, teach the phrase in vino veritas,  “There’s truth in wine.” Far be it from me not to prepare them to drink in bars in ancient Rome.

Mostly I kept the tone up with drills on Latin vocabulary and grammar.

They will never make a mistake about “who” and “whom” again.

We did exercises in Wheelock (our textbook), read Pompeiian graffiti (pages of which I photocopied from books), and studied English derivatives.

I explained that we studied Latin to read the literature, and brought in passages from different poets,  Virgil, Catullus, Ovid.

Then I had a problem.  My  books started to fall apart.  One day I was holding Wheelock when part of the cover fell off.  The pages were already smeared with the marker pens for the whiteboard.

Ovids-MetamorphosesOther books began to disintegrate.  Take my Lewis and Short Latin dictionary, which I bought long ago for $30 in a used bookstore, and which now costs $198 at Amazon.   I was telling my students lore about some of the rare words used in Latin poetry.  Ovid, for example, is the only Roman poet to use the word agitabilis, an adjective which means “light” or “easily moved,” and which he used to describe air.

The binding of Lewis and Short suddenly cracked.

Then I read them the passage in Rolfe Humphries’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  He translates agitabilis aer as “the moving air.”

“and shining fish were given the waves for dwelling
And beasts the earth, and birds the moving air.”

Then pages started falling out.


Fortunately we got kicked out of adult ed the third term when we didn’t have enough people for a class and the poltergeist didn’t follow us to the coffeehouse.

But seriously, my Latin books are old.  I have had to replace several of them.

If I lived in an ideal blog world, publicists would offer me copies of Latin books.  They would replace my mildewed Catullus, and send me Ciceror’s Pro Caelio.

Meanwhile, I am investigating ways of cleaning mildew, and am pretty darned good with tape.

6 thoughts on “Latin Unbound

  1. Maybe you could make yourself an eBook. I did this once with a publication of my own for which I had lost the file. Scan each page into a jpg. Paste each jpg on a separate page in a Word document. Then print the entire thing as a pdf and import it into your Kindle. I don’t know what copyrights this violates, but it is for your own use, not for resale.

    I did not pursue high school Latin past two years, but I had a strict old-style teacher who knew who and whom and the ablative absolute. This experience taught me how to persist studying something which initially may not be very rewarding but leads on to a worthwhile goal.


  2. Making an e-book might not quite go with my writing on the board. I hold the book, I copy exercises on the board, I correct students’ exercises on the board!

    But I’m sure an ebook would work for some aspects. I usually just copy into my notebook and read from that. Fewer books to carry!


  3. I’ve read Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Seneca, Cicero, Boethius, and Ovid’s “The Art of Love” for my new novel about Heloise and Abelard. But I don’t know Latin, which they spoke. I’m trying to write this book using only Latinate words, or Old French. It’s a challenge. Whenever I have doubts about a word, I have to look it up. I’m impressed that you’ve studied the language! If I lived near you, I would take your class.


  4. I adore these writers! Heavens, Ovid is one of my favorite writers of all time! The Art of Love isn’t his best, but at least it is funny in translation.

    I look forward to reading your book.


  5. I wish my experiences of learning Latin had been more positive. My teacher only knew how to use sarcasm. Any other method of teaching was completely alien to her. I know I would appreciate it for the help it would give me in my Shakespeare studies. So much of what he wrote is taken directly from his Latin lessons when he was a boy at school. And I’m sure his fellow actors would have really appreciated the in vino veritas quote.


  6. Oh, I’m sorry you had a bad Latin teacher! That sounds like a nightmare. With a subject like Latin, you need a very nice teacher, because there is so much grammar to learn before you read the real Romans. I’ve had all kinds of students–some studious, some taking it just for fun, and others with barely any time for doing homework–but I hope they all got something out of it. In adult ed, we go so slowly–once a week–so I’m afraid not too much gets done. But when I had a bigger class, I even kept a blog for them with exercises, answer sheets, etc.

    I do love Latin literature, and occasionally I’ve thought of trying to teach Latin online, but I rather suspect I’d be doing college students’ homework for them unless I found an “umbrella” organization. I should look into this.



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