De Arte Coquinaria

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.


A Journey into the Ablative

Today’s Feature Post is brought to you by Sara Cain, who teaches at Monomoy Regional Middle School in Chatham, MA.

Practicing the ablative case is an excellent opportunity for student movement. In Grade 6, on our 8th class meeting, we do an activity called “The Longest Journey.” The classroom is set up with about 12 different Roman place names taped on walls and windows around the room. Students, in groups of 2-4, are told that they must get their group (and their Magistra!) from Africa to Roma, making as many stops around the Imperium Romanum as possible. To make a stop, the group must simply write a grammatically correct Latin sentence. The first stop is the same for everyone, so I give them this model sentence: Marcellus, Clara, Tullia, et Magistra in Africā sunt. The group, of course, does not need to stay together while travelling (an opportunity to practice est and sunt), and some groups even choose to leave Magistra alone in Africā for the entire trip.
I usually give 10 minutes for groups to plan their journeys and then we get up in front of our peers – who are anxious to count and beat the number of stops each group has – and travel around the classroom to the places taped up around the room. See the Final Product in action on YouTube. For Grade 6 Latin, I read the scripts in order to fix mistakes as we go. In upper levels, I might insist that group members read their scripts while audience members listen to mistakes and earn extra points for raising their hands and offering helpful edits to their peers.
This activity can be tailored to fit upper levels of Latin by increasing the complexity of the sentences that the students must write. When we revisit the activity, we add in second declension places (in Aegyptō, in Nilō, in Rhenō, in opppidō Brundisiō) to practice the second declension ablative. Teachers could also choose places that are plural in nature (Athenis, Bruxelles) to provide practice of singular and plural. Another step up would be to use sentence formulas with different prepositions in them: Marcellus ex Aegyptō (ad urbem) Romam venit. The focus could be anything from the locative to verbs of movement to the deponent (vehor) with ablatives of means (nāvi, raedā, equō, etc).
This is an engaging, controlled way to practice Latin composition with students at any level. The assessment of the activity can be as simple as participation points or as complex as using a writing rubric and giving each group a score on indicators such as comprehensibility, mechanics, variety of vocabulary and use of the grammatical structure(s) identified.

Teaching the Tenses

Today’s Feature Post is by CANE regular Ruth Breindel, who shares a PowerPoint that she uses to help students understand tense.

I have found that some students don’t understand time – how the various tenses interact with each other.  Here is one way I show them, using a PowerPoint of a Christmas tree – see tree tenses here!
How to use this:

  1. After you have explained and explained and explained how the tenses relate, and they still don’t get it, show them the slides.
  2. They are arranged so that the time sequence is: Pluperfect, Perfect, Imperfect, Present, Future and Future Perfect.  Note too that the tenses are not put in a straight line, but in a “swoop” down and up.  For some unknown reason, this does help some students to understand the relationship better.
  3. With the first presentation of each tense, there is a time assigned to it, so students get the idea of the passage of time.
  4. The future perfect, being an “unreal” tense, is shown last, as an amalgam of the future and the perfect.  Personally, I tell my students that they may never use the future perfect in a sentence, because I’ve found that they will translate the perfect (amaverunt – they loved) as the future perfect (they will have loved) just because they are so enamoured of the future perfect!  I think this is because the “erunt” ending on the perfect looks just too much like the future.  I’d rather have them wrong 1% of the time by using the perfect for the future perfect, than wrong 99% of the time by using the future perfect for the perfect!
  5. I tried to inject some humor into this, too:
  • the imperfect has a broken ornament, making it “imperfect”
  • the present tense is a present under the tree

Feel free to modify this – add color, or Latin, or whatever!