I know that I have school colleagues whose summer vacation is more than three weeks off (my wife, sadly, is one of these). But I finished my student final comments today and will turn in grades tomorrow. Despite the fact that I turned the heat back on this morning, and my buff cat is, to paraphrase Sappho, turning greener than a blade of grass, my thoughts have turned to summer.
Summer is a great time to explore Latin podcasts. The range of approaches and of subject matter is very wide indeed and some are consistently of spectacularly high quality. If you have a smartphone, of course, you can listen to them just about anywhere.
As a Latin poetry lover, I have long been very language-focused, and have been listening to recorded recitations of Latin poetry since the mid-70’s, when I found a recording by Gareth Morgan and other members of the University of Texas Department of Classics. I’ve always been particularly fond of the late Robert Sonkowsky’s recitations of Vergil’s Aeneid. I know some find these mannered and overwrought. But personally I think that they are not only highly consistent and in accord with the evidence for restored Latin pronunciation, but they also provide good food for thought about what poetry recitation was like to a large audience without amplification.
In any case, here’s what I look for in a Latin podcast:
- Consistent pronunciation. Without entering the lists over the various national and intellectual schools of thought for Latin pronunciation, I want consistency. I don’t want to hear an overwhelming American (or other) accent (Spanish- and Italian-accented Latin is too beautiful to tamper with).
- Natural pacing and vocal inflection. I wouldn’t listen to Latin podcasts if I didn’t know that Latin is a viable vehicle of expression for one’s thoughts and feelings. I appreciate recordings in which the speaker(s) feel(s) the same way.
- Avoidance of a sing-song or hyper-fastidious quality. This is the flip side of #2, I think. Of course, I realize that we have no idea of sentence intonation for Latin in classical times, beyond the fact that there were separate declarative and interrogative ones (i.e. one finds many yes/no questions without -ne). But avoiding monotony is just too important. And personally I find painstakingly careful pronunciation grates on the ear. Here is my short list of a variety of interesting podcast series, in no particular order:
TITLE: Quomodo Dicitur
FORMAT: Conversation among three people on a set topic
TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED: No
Now running for a full year and 50 episodes, Quomodo Dicitur is the work of Gus Grissom, Jason Slanga, and Justin Slocum Bailey. Even when I’m feeling low, these three always cheer me up. They are, or were, full-time Latin teachers who are really committed to speaking and hearing Latin in the classroom. All three are also bright, well read, clearly friendly and likable guys. There is no script; these three just talk–if there were background noise, I would think they were podcasting from a bar. The span of topics addressed is very wide indeed. Given that this is clearly extempore without a great deal of planning, the Latinity is remarkably consistent, with some variation depending on the speaker. It’s notable that Justin Slocum Bailey consistently articulates long vs short vowels as he speaks. There are many “um’s” and “ah’s”, potentially annoying to some. Very natural pacing.
FORMAT: Narrative on a topic.
TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED: Yes, frequently
Latinitium is the creation of Daniel Pettersson, who teaches at the University of Stockholm in Sweden. Pettersson’s spoken Latin is simply outstanding in terms of its combination of consistency, naturalness, and production of vowel quantities. The podcasts are all narrative in form, always provide a transcript and often a video version with lively animations that realize the narrative. In addition to the podcasts, the Latinitium website contains a blog, a collection of video shorts about Latin proverbs, and links to books, dictionaries, and other websites. Well worth checking out.
FORMAT: Mostly recordings of written Latin texts
TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED: Yes
This recently migrated site is the brainchild of Evan Der Millner, a guy who has been making recordings of Latin for some time. The site is very large, with a sizeable number of recordings aimed at a wide range of listener proficiencies. Evan is extremely diligent in aiming for phonetic accuracy and consistency. One consequence of this is that the recordings often sound quite close to computer-generated speech: vowel quantities are exaggerated and every word is uttered as a distinct phonological entity. While such recordings have their uses, I personally find my attention flags due to this mannerism.
TITLE: Sermones Raedarii
FORMAT: Narrative and monologue
TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED: Rarely if ever
Alessandro Conti, aka Alexander Veronensis, is the maestro of Sermones Raedarii. It’s a wonderful concept–he records his podcast as he’s driving to and from work (he’s a Latin teacher), so you feel like you’re commuting with a lively-minded colleague. The are more than 50 podcasts in the Sermones Raedarii catalog, with a wide range of topics: reviews of many works connected with the Living Latin movement, stories, fables, a manifesto on “Why Study Latin?” Alessandro’s lively on-air persona and beautiful Italian diction (he speaks with restored pronunciation) both make these a wonderful listen.