spoken_latin


Beyond God of War: Latin and Ancient Rome in Video Games

Latin puns: Fun for the whole familia

Latin puns: Fun for the whole familia

For me, one of the funniest moments of every year is when my beginning Latin students learn the word ubi. When I was a kid, this is when we first learned the faux-Latin phrase semper ubi sub ubi. Nowadays, it’s when my students realize that the name of the French video game developer Ubisoft, which publishes some of the most successful gaming franchises in history (Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell), is a Latin pun on the word “software.”

While teachers are usually happy to embrace films (GladiatorBen-HurThe Eagle, etc.) as an entertaining way to engage their students with ancient history, video games are still slow going. As a lifelong gamer, I find that disappointing. To that end I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite games to show, talk about, and (on those rare occasions when we have a free class day) play with my students. I’ve selected games that are rated Teen or below and have some meaningful educational value to them, so you don’t need to worry about things getting absurdly violent – or worse, sacrificing historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

Civilization VI

The Civilization Series are strategy games in which you play as the leader of a civilization of your choice. Players attempt to conquer the world through a combination of warfare, cultural influence, and technological superiority. Everything – names, building types, military units – is based on historical fact, and is a wonderful opportunity to spark students’ curiosity.

The two most recent entries, Civilization V and Civilization VI, are the only games I am aware of that contain spoken Classical Latin, courtesy of Augustus (in Civ 5) and Trajan (Civ 6).

Rome II: Total War

Known for its massive real-time battles, Rome II: Total War is for the military enthusiasts among your students. Players have the option to replay historical military engagements (how would you have fared against Hannibal at Cannae, or in the Teutoburg Forest?) or create their own with a wide variety of military units, from hastati to ballistae to war elephants. While the graphics are a bit dated now, these games give a sense of the sheer scale of ancient battles.

An expansion pack, Caesar in Gaul, could be fun during the post-AP exam doldrums.

Europe Universalis: Rome

Your more diplomatic and detail-oriented students might enjoy Europa Universalis: Rome. A so-called “grand strategy game,” you are plopped into the Roman Republic in 280 BCE, given control of one of 53 separate factions (you can control Rome, obviously, but how might you handle being in charge of Numidia? Colchis? Bithynia?) and maneuver your way to the top through bribery, diplomacy, compromise, assassinations, strategic marriage, and warfare.

EU: Rome is far and away the most challenging of these games and isn’t for everyone, but it gives players a good idea of the complexity of politics and diplomacy in the ancient world and is worth, in my opinion, the considerable time investment.

Minecraft in Latin

And finally, simply for the possibilities, is good old Minecraft. Over the years I’ve had a number of students who’ve preferred to do architecture projects in the game, which has led to some beautiful creations I still have on my hard drive.

There are also a wide variety of user generated Minecraft creations available on YouTube, which always captivate my students as a sort of “guided tour.” You can look at all kinds of baths and villas, of course, but what about a full-size recreation of the Colosseum?

For additional fun and challenge, the default language can be set to Latin.

Happy gaming!


A Response to Mary Beard 3

I wanted to write a response to Mary Beard’s August 11th “A Don’s Life,” entitled “What does the Latin actually say?” because I think it hits on a lot of the struggles Latinists are having but don’t talk much about, and why I think it means we should as a community start to reconsider at the collegiate level what we actually want graduates of our programs to be able to do. You should go read the essay (and even the comment thread if you dare) but in essence Professor Beard grapples with the idea that she “would never quite feel [she] had mastered the languages I thought I was trying to learn.”

In it she also talks about how difficult Latin can be for her. While reading classical canon authors there’s always a translation to fall back on, but with a set of 16th century texts she’s consulting for a project there are no translations or commentaries, and she (bravely, I think) discusses her difficulties in reading them.

In her essay I see my own past and struggles. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many people (professors to teachers to undergraduates from all kinds of backgrounds), and so I know from experience that many people have had the same experiences as Professor Beard. The fact that most graduates of Classics programs, and even Classics professors themselves have a hard time reading texts outside of their specialty is I think an issue worth talking about. We’ve focused so long on grammatical knowledge, philology, and close readings that, while we’ve produced excellent analysts, we don’t generally experience Latin as a language in the same way we do English or another modern language, and that can have consequences.

Take the AP Latin course as an example.  It never asks students to work in Latin, and translation is always the end goal.  That back and forth can be slow and inefficient.  It sometimes means that students don’t really understand what they’re reading – I’ve heard many stories from AP scorers of beautiful translations they’ve read but that come from a different passage than the one the candidate was asked to translate. How many times have you overheard a student complain that “I know all the words, but I don’t know what it means?”

And if we ourselves in the course of our research find something difficult, we compensate by reading translations and referencing commentaries because, as Professor Beard puts it, “most of the classics we have to read…are so damn difficult.” She suggests that “Thucydides or Tacitus…was probably almost as baffling for native speakers too”, and in a post-essay comment dated August 13 at 10:36 am (Eastern) she challenges “anyone who has taught Tacitus’ Annals not to have used [the hunt for the verb method]” and bets “that was true for the teachers of the second century AD too!”

Except that that can’t possibly be true. Plenty of people in antiquity and in the Renaissance were able to read ancient authors without more trouble than we would read Shakespeare or Chaucer today. Universities and the Catholic Church regularly used Latin as internationally as we use English today to discuss heady problems of science, theology, law, and philosophy. Was everyone’s Latin superb? Of course not – but then we have a wide range of English proficiency today as well.

Professor Beard admits we can’t read those authors with the same level of fluency today because we don’t learn Latin actively as a language. Many modern language studies show that real fluency at the levels needed to understand these kinds of texts comes from use and from extensive reading. I’d like to ask an honest question – are we satisfied as a profession about the level of reading proficiency personally and with our graduates? And if we’re not, what could we be doing differently? Looking to the past (the humanist tradition in Erasmus and others) and the present (modern language studies) can provide insight into improving our reading proficiency across a wider range of authors and time periods.

I’ve seen first hand what a more active approach to Latin – treating Latin as the language it is rather than a cultural artifact to study – can do for proficiency. I’ve seen people who can read a wide variety of authors from different time periods without much more recourse do a dictionary than I would for something written in English. I’ve seen people give both prepared and ex tempore lectures in Latin on topics ranging from philology to history to science. The Paideia Institute offers a weekend conference in New York where nearly all the lectures and discussions are done in Latin. The University of Kentucky offers a Master’s program in Latin where students read, write, and discuss only in Latin. I’d like to think that the people involved in these programs aren’t any more extraordinary than you or I, but simply have taken a divergent path in the yellow woods, and that has made all the difference.

So I come back to my original question – what is it that we want students with Classical degrees to be able to do?  What should be the expectations for fluency for those with a BA in the Classics, a Master’s, or a PhD?  Why don’t we think it’s important to train our students to discuss, read extensively, and write in Latin?

These are questions well worth exploring.

 

 


De Arte Coquinaria

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Many teachers of classics include in their curriculum a unit on Roman dining, whether through reading Petronius’ Cena Trimalchonis at the upper levels, or a story inspired by this piece in Cambridge Latin Course’s Stage 32, or Ecce Romani chapters 32-34, or Lingua Latina’s Chapter 30.  Teachers may also incorporate some kind of actual Roman banquet into their year, perhaps combining it, as I do, with an awards ceremony.

What I’d like to propose in this article is to take this to the next level, and to present an idea to focus on food and cooking per se, where students will have the chance to explore in greater detail ancient foods, their preparation, stories and myths having to do with food, and at the same time be able to use Latin actively to explain an authentic activity (i.e. cooking).

Depending on the year, I use this project to fulfill a number of linguistic and cultural goals:

  • accusative case review (including in + acc vs. in + abl.)
  • commands (imperatives or subjunctives, depending on level)
  • future tense
  • purpose clauses
  • improving food and dining vocabulary
  • practicing both presentational speaking and listening skills
  • examination of herbs, plants, and animals – their mythology and relationship to food
  • exploring the Cena Trimalchionis
  • myths that include food / hospitality (Baucis and Philemon, innumerable scenes in the Aeneid, Erischthon, etc.)
  • Planning a convivium for an awards night

The idea is for students to make a video that showcases a particular recipe, perhaps in the style of a Food Network cooking series.  Students must explain in Latin (appropriate to their level) how to cook their recipe and must name all the ingredients to be used.  During the video they must also share a story that relates to some ingredient included in their dish.  My own students have done, as examples, the apple of discord, Cato’s warning to the Romans about how close Carthage is by ‘accidentally’ dropping a fresh fig from his toga in the Senate, Appius Claudius and the drowning of the sacred chickens, or a medieval story about how the Queen Elizabeth of Hungary once had her paralysis cured by a hermit who suggested she soak rosemary in wine and then rub it into her limbs.

Videos tend to be about 10 minutes long and can be quite creative!  Here’s an example from one of my Latin 3’s scripts this year (written entirely by students with some suggestions):

E: quid primum faciemus?

 

G: primum, calefacite furnum ad trecentesimum septuagesimum quintum gradum. deinde, farinam in catillo ponite, et salem aeratum addite. farinam et salem aeratum cochleare miscite.

 

E: quid tum faciemus?

 

G: deinde, miscite amygdalam in frusta secata, cinnamum, et ros marinum. tum miscite succum ex uvis, succum malorum granatorum, et mel in poculo. lac addite.

 

E:pulchre fecisti Giuditta! auxilium visne?

 

G: sic! (Electrae dicit) funde primam mixturam in secundam mixturam et misce. feram atroptam rotundam novem unicarum.

 

E: bene redolet!

 

G: quidem!  (omnibus dicit) nunc fundite mixturam in ferculum et triginta minutas cibum in furno coquite.

 

E: Malum granatum esse signum Proserpinae scisne?

 

G: certe?

 

E: sic! Quando Proserpina puella erat, Hades puellam abstulit. Hades Proserpinam in Tartarum tulit, quod Proserpinam amavit. Dum in tartaro, Proserpina sex semina mali granati edit. Ergo puella ad terram revenire non potest.

After the videos are made, students vote for the best one, which we then make, using the Latin instructions, in our school kitchen.  In past years, we’ve watched the NLE’s Forum Romanum episode on Apicius while we eat.

I hope that this sparks some ideas for using food in some way in your own classes.  Please share in the comments section anything that you’ve done or resources that you find useful when teaching about food or Roman dining customs.

iubeo te bene coquere et esse!

Further Resources

  • Piper Salve, a German neo-Latin textbook which has in the back several dialogues pertaining to cooking as well as extensive useful vocabulary.
  • Anna Andresian’s Vocabula Picta, which includes a chapter on vocabulary in the kitchen.

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