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The following is a sort of Christmas carol from the Colmar manuscript, dated to the 12th century.
De nativitate domini.
- Fregit Adam interdictum
- et reliquit hoc delictum
- posteris miseris
- poenam culpae veteris;
- libera conditio
- mergitur in vitio,
- viget in natura
- o quanta miseria!
- Fregit homo pactum dei
- unde sumus omnes rei
- patimur, labimur
- aeternumque morimur
- donec virgo peperit,
- quae naturam praeterit
- sola praeter morem
- pium redemptorem.
- o quanta miseria!
- Hic adjutor opportunus
- a peccato liber unus
- exstitit, restitit
- hosti, qui nos perdidit;
- qui dum petit humilem,
- tentat ut vincibilem,
- satan enervatur,
- vincit, qui temptatur.
- o quanta victoria!
The Latin is weak but the sense is clear. The poem is composed in a triad (a trinity?):
- Part One: Adam broke god’s law, leaving sin as the inheritance of his kind. (O how great is the misery!)
- Part Two: Man suffers and dies until a virgin — contrary to nature — bears a redeemer. (O how great is the misery!)
- Part Three: This redeemer is reduced to a lowly condition and is tempted by Satan, but stands his ground and defeats the enemy of man. (O how great is the victory!)
It’s interesting that Satan isn’t mentioned in the beginning, but everyone must be expected to know how Adam broke the law, and that Satan was involved. It’s also odd that the piece should be titled ‘De nativitate domini’ (‘On the Lord’s birth’), since it’s really about sin.
The logic will always escape me, however, that the sins of the father should be visited upon the children (why are we all guilty, ‘sumus omnes rei’?) until god the father redeems the world through his child.
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It seems that I keep coming back to pronunciation as one of the most important areas for students at all levels of Latin. There are the obvious benefits: it attunes the ear to the unique sounds of the language and helps to reinforce things like vocabulary. But it’s at least as important that students develop an ability to read Latin expressively and to pick up not just its sounds but its rhythms.
The rhythms of the language will do more for students than precision in consonant articulation (e.g., aspirated vs. unaspirated consonants). When students have the ability to read Latin with its natural rhythms it’s easier for them to identify sense units on the fly and much less likely that their reading will fade into an unintelligible jumble of empty syllables. Both in the classroom and when reading alone students should see a marked improvement in their comprehension of texts if vowel quantity and rhythm are either mastered or practiced formally through a pre-reading exercise in which they mark-up their texts not for vocabulary and grammar (as is often done) but for rhythmic cues.
I came across a worksheet I made some time ago and promptly forgot about that uses a system of diacritics to easily help students read Latin with proper attention both to stress accents and vowel quantity. It’s not groundbreaking, but it is something that can be produced just as easily with a word processor as with a pen, and it provides students with visually distinct symbols that supply all of the needed information. Here are the diacritics:
||The macron marks long vowels in unaccented syllables.
||The circumflex marks long vowels within accented syllables.
||The acute accent marks other accented syllables (i.e., those that do not contain long vowels).
It’s important to note the distinction between long syllables and long vowels, and students should be taught to recognize diphthongs and syllables that are long by position. For the purposes of this exercise, it would be a mistake to equate macrons with long syllables, and equally to mistake macrons for accents. This notation may help to reinforce those distinctions while encouraging pronunciation.
(NB: In the marking-up of verse, the distinction between vowels and syllables is quite different, which raises serious objections to this use of macrons, but that’s a topic for another day.)
I have only the vaguest recollection of putting the text together (so vague, in fact, that I wasn’t sure I should take credit, but I couldn’t find anything like it elsewhere online). Here’s the text I prepared (evidently from a version of Aulus Gellius as adapted by Rose Williams in this pdf on Holidays for Latin Class):
Sāturnâlia Athênīs hílarē támen modéstē agēbâmus. Conveniēbâmus ad cênam múltī Rōmânī quī in Graéciam érant. In órdine cênam dabâmus et post cênam praémium solvéndae quaestiônis ponēbâmus. Praémium érat lîbrum scriptôris vel Latînum vel Graécum et corônam e laúro pléxam. Tótidem rês hóspes quaerêbat quot hóminēs erâmus. Rém et lócum dîcere sórs dâbat. Quaestiônēs ígitur solûtae corônam et praémium recipiêbant.
People will doubtless continue to debate the minutiae of accentuation, but this could work as a step toward better reading if applied, as mentioned previously, as a pre-reading exercise to be abandoned once the rhythms are acquired. I would not advocate for its adoption as a regular feature of handouts, but a tool toward the acquisition of a necessary skill.
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Many of us are familiar with the old flyer promoting the study of Classics (PDF) by listing famous people like Ted Turner and Vince Lombardi. Here’s the list:
1) Sigmund Freud, pioneer in psychoanalysis
2) W.E.B. DuBois, sociologist and co-founder of NAACP
3) Jane Addams, social worker,
founder of Hull House, and recipient of 1931 Nobel Peace Prize
4) Lynn Sherr, ABC-TV correspondent
5) Friedrich W. Nietzsche, philosopher
6) Gerda Lerner, pioneer in teaching women’s history
7) Nancy Vickers, president of Bryn Mawr College
8) William Cohen, former U.S. Secretary of Defense
9) Willa Cather, author
10) Vince Lombardi, football coach
11) J.K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter books
12) Betty Friedan, founder of NOW
13) Rita Mae Brown, animal enthusiast
14) James Baker, former U.S. Secretary of State
15) Jerry Brown, mayor of Oakland, CA, and former governor of California
16) Chuck Geschke, co-founder of Adobe Systems
17) Toni Morrison, author and recipient of 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature
18) Alicia Stallings, prize-winning poet; and
19) Ted Turner, founder of CNN.
Not only is the list out of date and filled with names that students will not recognize (William Cohen?), it’s also inaccurate. Ted Turner, for instance, only briefly studied classics, and you may already have read the letter his father sent when he learned of his son’s classical frivolity (“…I almost puked …“). It’s often given a positive spin and has gotten some good press lately, but Turner later changed his major to economics before being expelled. The best you can say is that someone who wanted to study Classics ended up a success, yet to connect the two is dishonest as it suggests to potential majors a connection between a Classics degree and the kind of success enjoyed by Turner.
And describing Rita Mae Brown as an ‘animal enthusiast’ is even more absurd. While it may be true, it ignores the fact that she hunts foxes for fun (I guess that’s a kind of enthusiasm), and that she is most famous as a writer, which one could note without mentioning her sexuality or her most famous book, Rubyfruit Jungle. (I assume that’s what they wanted to avoid.)
We need a new list, and the LatinTeach blog has given us a great starting point: Chris Martin of Coldplay.
And while that is a good start, the notion of listing famous Classics majors seems a bit wrong-headed. It’s glamor-baiting, really, and if we want to show the viability of Classics we should really consider including successful people beyond celebrities. We can do this, perhaps, by appealing to people’s career aspirations and showing that Classics is a road others have taken to get there.
First up is a person who seems an obvious choice. Not only does he have a classics degree, but he is an outspoken advocate of the classics.
In the field of politics: Boris Johnson, mayor of London.
In journalism: Jeffrey Brown, senior correspondent on PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
How about nursing?: Dame June Clark, professor emerita and member of the Royal College of Nursing.
Or the priesthood: Peter Moran, the Bishop of Aberdeen. “His personal motto is ‘Gaudium et Spes’ – Joy and Hope.”
Or law: Kannon Shanmugam, who has argued ten cases before the Supreme Court. He’s a partner at Williams & Connolly and a former law clerk to Antonin Scalia.
This is a start, and I welcome additions to the list.