Circus Maximus in Gingerbread!

Latin is sweet to the Max(imus)!

It has become an annual tradition at Grace Academy to recreate a piece of ancient architecture in gingerbread and other edible materials. The first rule is everything must be edible (with the sole exception of a plywood foundation). The second rule is that it must represent an architectural feat of the ancient world. Thus far we have created the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Hadrian’s Wall (complete with Roman soldiers and Celtic spies), the Trojan Horse, and a Greek Theater. Now we bring you the Circus Maximus!


The stadium and the spina (center wall in the middle of the elliptical track) are made of gingerbread. Inside, the stadium is filled with an audience of gummy bears watching an intense race with peppermint-walnut chariots pulled by gingerbread horses and licorice reins. One of the competitors has met with an unfortunate accident and quite literally lost his head. Oh the perils of working with edible subjects!
This is not an exact representation, but does use some artistic license in order to make the great circus fit on the dimensions for the plywood board. Even so, the students learn a great deal about the Circus Maximus as they consider how best to form their creation. After we enjoy creating this culinary artwork it sets on display at the Georgetown Public Library as a part of their annual Edible Extravaganza. This is a great way to promote the study of classics in our local community.
In fact, the library’s Edible Extravaganza used to be called the Gingerbread House contest until we entered the first Roman Colosseum. In following years other local citizens followed our lead and began to depart from the traditional house format to create structures such as the Alamo or an Elizabethan Tudor Theatre.  Just as in real life, the design of ancient architecture inspired later builders. The result is a wonderful and engaging display each year from the traditional to the classical to the imaginative. All creations tickle your fancy while tantalizing your tastebuds.

Latin Composition: Thanksgiving Theses

The philosopher Seneca is quoted as saying “docendo discimus” [by teaching we learn].  The idea behind this statement is that one must learn something really well in order to turn around and produce that learning for someone else. We teachers could also say “linguam scribendo discimus” [by writing we learn language].  I love for students to practice the grammar and vocabulary they have learned by reading authentic Latin literature.  We can take these lessons a step further by challenging students to practice these same tools by producing a composition that imitates the literary works they read.  These are two very different disciplines that engage the students in language from two different angles.  Such assignments allow them to cement their language lessons, study important pieces of writing in history and literature, and explore the writing styles of some excellent authors.  Such a composition assignment can feel overwhelming at first.  The lesson plan for the Thanksgiving Theses is a great assignment for it allows students to focus on composing concise statements of gratitude rather than a longer composition.


Around October 31 of each year we read selections from the 95 Theses posted by Martin Luther on the doors of Wittenberg Castle on October 31, 1517.  Luther’s purpose in writing these theses and nailing them to the castle door was to grab the attention of his fellow priests and to provoke a conversation.  He wanted to write with powerful emphasis in order to focus attention on issues he believed were important.  So how did he do that? Our class reading focuses on a collection of theses that have to do with giving to the poor and the needy and a set that discuss salvation.   Several of the theses we read begin with the phrase Docendi sunt Christiani [Christians must be taught]. The repetition of this phrase is an excellent example of the grammar construction known as the passive periphrastic.  This repetition is also an excellent example of the use and power of the literary device known as anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a clause or sentence, usually for dramatic emphasis). This is a great device for driving home a point, grabbing attention, creating emphasis. As we enter November I assign the students the task of writing their own set of theses on the topic of Thanksgiving. The assignment is as follows:

  • Compose 5 Theses on the topic of gratitude.
  • Each thesis must use a gerund or a gerundive.
  • Each thesis must be an average of 12 words in length.
  • The collection of theses must use a total of 3 or more different literary devices.  Anaphora may count as one of these three.

As we approach Thanksgiving of 2016 I am pleased to share with you some of my freshmen favorites. See if you can discern some of the literary devices they incorporated in their theses.

Christiani sunt exhortandi agere gratias pro omnibus rebus quas Deus dedit.  [Christians must be encouraged to give thanks for all things that God has given.]

Christiani sunt exhortandi agere gratias pro amicis, qui sunt dona, commoda, solacia ab Deo.  [Christians must be encouraged to give thanks for friends who are pleasant, comforting gifts from God.]

Docendi sunt Christiani ut sit bona res dare gratias quod sic Christus nos iubet.  [Christians must be taught that it is a good thing to give thanks because thus Christ commands us.]

Christiani sunt memoranda dare gratias per omnes, non modo ubi vita est facilis, sed etiam per tribulationes.  [Christians must be reminded to give thanks through all things, not only when life is easy, but also through trials.]

Gaudium est demonstrandum Christianis de nostris amicis, familiis, animalibus, domo.  Hoc Deum honorat. [Joy must be shown by Christians for our friends, families, animals, home. This honors God.]

Docendi sunt Christiani quod qui gratias agat beatus ipse sit.  [Christians must be taught the one who gives thanks is himself a blessing.]

Gratiae agendae sunt Christianis et pluvia et sole, impleti cum magna gratia cotidie.   [Thanks must be given by Christians both in rain and in sunshine, daily filled with great thanks.]

Gratiae agendae sunt Christianis quod Deus regnet caelum et terram, victus leonem vagantem.  [Thanks must be given by Christians that God rules the sky and the earth, having conquered the prowling lion.]

Gratiae agendae sunt Christianis pro avibus, arboribus, caelo, terra, stellis, omne creatione Dei.  [Thanks must be given by Christians for birds, trees, sky, earth, stars, all God’s creation.]

Gratiae agendae sunt Christianis pro familia et aqua et cibo et domu et multa bona.  [Thanks must be given by Christians for family and water and food and home and many things.]

Tandem, docendi sunt Christiani quod necesse est bonis est malis esse laetus, velut Christus erat in terra.  [Finally, Christians must be taught that it is necessary to be happy in both good and bad, just as Christ was on earth.]


For more information on the Latin text of Luther’s 95 Theses visit the previous post titled Reformation Day Latin.

It’s All Greek or Latin to Me!

Each year the Grace Academy Classics Club designs a club t-shirt sporting a witty phrase that shows off the joy of the classics. This year we could not choose just one!  Instead all students contributed their favorite Greek or Latin sayings to a classical word cloud in green.  Each saying gives a nod to something special: literature, logic, theatre, theology, and some are just plain ol’ fun.  At the center of them all is our school motto, “Soli Deo Gloria” [Glory to God Alone].  On the reverse the astute will find our clever theme for the year, “It’s all either Greek or Latin to me” written in alternating Greek and Latin script (see caption for picture below).

We wear these shirts on school spirit days, to our club events, Junior Classical League competitions, and just whenever the mood for a cool witty shirt strikes our fashion fancy.  The 2016 shirt has quickly become a favorite.  The shirt design won first place in the club t-shirt competition at the Texas State Junior Classical League with the judges commenting “I want one!”  See below for a list of the featured quotes.


It is all either Greek or Latin to me!

Μοι omne η Ηελλην aut Latinum εστιν!

Read the rest of this entry »

Language Tree Project

The Latin Family Tree is a beautiful creation.  Its roots run deep into the Proto-Indo-European language spoken through most of Europe c.5,000 B.C.  Its trunk reveals beautiful hues of Italic languages influenced by the Etruscans and the Greeks.  Its lofty branches reach far and strong to provide the arboreal beauty of modern Romance languages: Italian, Spanish, French, Romanian, and Portuguese.  What delight to play in its shade and admire its beauty!


Chapter 5 of Latin for Children, Primer A offers young students a peek at the Latin Family Tree.  Our third grade class at Grace Academy engages in this study through a simple yet delightful two-day project.


  1. Create 5 language worksheets, one for each of the Romance languages listed above.  Each worksheet should have three columns:  Spanish Word*, Latin Origin, English Meaning. (See image for Spanish Worksheet below.)
  2. Create a set of leaves for each language equivalent to the number of words on the worksheet.  These can be purchased or cut out of construction paper.
  3. Create a large trunk, about 3-4 ft. tall, with 5 large branches.  Mark each branch with a different Romance language.

*Students discover the meaning of Spanish words (left column) using their Latin vocabulary (center column).


Day 1: The class is divided into 5 groups, based on the five Romance Languages.  They are each given a three-column worksheet for that specific language. The first column offers 7 words from that language.  The students must use the Latin vocabulary they learned in the first four chapters of LFC, A in order to discern the meaning of these foreign languages.






language_tree_leaves2Day 2: Once our linguistic detectives have identified the Latin root and the English meaning for each of their assigned words, they are given a set of leaves.  Each language is given a set of leaves that differ in color and in shape from the other languages. The students write the words they were given for their respective language on the leaves.  The leaves are then fastened onto the appropriate language branch.


Finished Product, The Language Tree:  In the end you should have a beautiful tree that demonstrates the Latin root words on the trunk and the words derived from each root in 5 different languages.  The real beauty of this project is the sparkle in students’ eyes as they discover for themselves that Latin holds the key to knowing so many languages.  One young linguist looked up at me and smiled, “Spanish is easy now!”  I responded, “Of course, my dear, that is because you already know some Latin.”


Latin teacher, Mrs. Smith, assists our arboreal linguists as they finish the language tree.

The Language Tree is adorned with a different set of colored leaves for each of the five Romance Languages.  The list of word we use is provided below.  See if you can find their common Latin root in the first few chapters of Latin for Children, Primer A.

French (Red): donner, pénetrer, porte, terre, paginer, patrie, île, reine, onde, gloire
Spanish (Yellow): dar, entrar, puerta, tierra, página, patria, isla,reina, onda, gloria
Portuguese (Orange): dar, entre, porta, terra, página, patria, ilha, rainha, onda, glória
Italian (Green): dare, entrare, porta, terreno, pagina, patria, isola, regina, onda, gloria
Romanian (Pink): da, intra, poarta, teren, pagina, patrie, insula, rgina, unda, glorie

Loki Loves Latin!

I have always wanted to create a course on the classical origins of comic book heroes.  So many of them have strong ties to classical mythology.  The Norse themes of the Thor series are among the most notable. So imagine my pure delight to learn that actor Tim Hiddleston, who played Loki in the recent Marvel movies for Thor and the Avengers, holds a Classics degree from Cambridge!  What better training could there be for such a role?!  In the following clip Hiddleston offers a wonderful answer to the question, “what do you do with a classics degree?”

Be prepared to take notes.  You will want to write these answers down!

Ten Basic Rules for Reading Latin


 While perusing the LatinTeach website I found this wonderful article with reading tips for students.   I often find students “paralyzed” in trying to read Latin with their English brains.  What I mean by that is that students have trouble leaving behind their English rules for syntax and word order when trying to read Latin.  They often want to read words in the order in which they appear or jump to derivatives for meaning.  Latin has its own syntax, which is really very logical.  Students have to get our of their English brains and learn to read Latin as Latin.  This article by Dexter Hoyos has some wonderful tips for doing just that.  Click on the title below to view the article.  There you will find a pdf with his rules available for easy print out.

Dexter Hoyos – The Ten Basic Rules for Reading Latin

Rather than trying to find the “hidden English” in Latin, these rules will help you read Latin as the original authors intended — in the actual Latin word order.  Professor Hoyos demonstrates that the Romans were entirely logical in how they composed their writing and that it is possible to train yourself to read in Latin word order by understanding how they grouped words.


Poetic Art Assignment

In a recent post (July 5) I discussed my love for exploring the connections between Latin poetry and art in my classes.

Within that post I shared suggestions for a class lesson that would integrate the analysis of poetic imagery with pieces of art.  In such lessons we must begin with the work of master artists.  We learn what is truly beautiful by studying the work of those who have mastered the art form, whether that be in the visual arts or in the literary arts.  The next step in the art-poetry study is for the students themselves to become creative interpreters of the poem.  In my last post we looked at the story of Pyramus & Thisbe from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Liber IV).  So let us continue with that same story in our next art lesson.

We begin by reading the story in the original Latin and soaking up the masterful wordcraft of the poet Ovid.  We discuss word choice, arrangement, imagery, and all sorts of literary devices.  We next look at works by master artists to see how they interpreted Ovid’s poem upon their canvases.  We discuss the art in light of the poetry (see July 5 post for guidelines).  Next, I assign the students the task of producing their own piece of art that interprets one scene one moment from the poem.  After looking upon the work of masterful artists this naturally causes a bit of intimidation.  I comfort the students by assuring them that I don’t expect a masterpiece.  I do expect their best work, careful, neat, thoughtful, with attention to the detail in the poem.   I am pleased to share the work of one of my freshmen ladies below.  This is her interpretation of Book IV, Line 71:

saepe, ubi constiterant hinc Thisbe, Pyramus illinc



What I absolutely love about this particular piece is the manner in which she interprets the chiastic imagery from Ovid’s work.  A chiasmus is an ABBA word pattern.  Here the word arrangement highlights the tortuous juxtaposition of the two lovers separated by the wall.  The wall itself becomes an impersonal character within the story.  Later on the young lovers would talk to the wall both chastising it for their separation while also expressing gratitude for the crack (seen here above Pyramus’ head) that allows them to share secret whispers of gentle affection.  Many other pieces I receive have used the death scene (my students seem to love gore) and include a greater multitude of details. This piece, however, was bold enough in its abstract simplicity to drive home the image of the wall and the manner in which it divided the two lovers, here Thisbe, Pyramus there.

Well done, my young poetic artist!

Art as a Poetic Interpretation

Latin poetry is without a doubt my favorite genre of writing to read with students.  The writing of poets such as Vergil, Ovid, and Horace is pure art.  I often tell students that these poets are literary artists.  The page is their canvas, the stylus is their paintbrush, the words are hues of color, and the literary devices are their brush strokes.  It is the choice and implementation of the latter two that set all artists apart as masters.

Many artists must share this view as they allowed the literary artwork of these great poets to inspire their own graphic compositions.  In fact, the Metamorphoses inspired so many paintings in the 12th century that it was called the Aetas Ovidiana [Ovidian Age].  I explain to students that the artists of this time period would have been well versed in Latin and quite possibly Greek.  They would not have read the Metamorphoses in English or Spanish or French, but would have read Ovid in Latin.  The diction, syntax, and style used by Ovid would have created images and impressions in the mind of the artist who then interpret those images upon a canvas.  I challenge students to read a piece of Latin poetry and then study a piece of art in light of that poetry.  Consider the words and arrangement of the poet.  Then seek to discover those elements within the poem.  Where does the artist interpret the poet? What lines/phrases do you see interpreted? How?  Where does the artist take license? Why?


Consider the following two pieces inspired by the myth of Pyramus & Thisbe in Book IV of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.


Pyramus and Thisbe by Gregorio Pagani

  • Where are we in the story?  What has happened thus far?
  • What scenery here is described by Ovid? mulberry tree – arbor,  fountain – gelido contermina fonti (Metamorphoses IV.90), Thisbe’s tattered cloak – vestem quoque sanguine tinctam (Metamorphoses IV.107)
  • What elements are different than perhaps what Ovid may have described? Why?  The clothing is not entirely Greco-Roman, but has been influenced by fashion in the time period of the author.  The statue on the fountain is a small cupid. No such statue is mentioned, but this statue adds an element of personification to the fountain as witness to the deed.
  • How does the author use color?  Very little actual blood appears in the painting, but there are copious amounts of red.  The red appears most notably on the cloak/garment on which Pyramus is lying. Is it a red pattern? Is it blood? Does it give the appearance (with respect to color and folds) of blood pouring from Pyramus?
  • How does the author use lighting?  The light falls most notably on Thisbe who must be the center of the piece due to her position and her depicted action (clearly her death scene), but also falls greatly upon Pyramus the cause of her death.  The fountain statue (witness) also receives some light.
  • ALWAYS introduce or conclude discussion with the author, time period, and location of the work.  If possible gather information online also for any additional elements about the art that may be of interest to students or help further their appreciation of the piece. This piece is an oil on canvas painted in Florence, Italy (c. 1558-1605).  It is now on display in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.


It is always nice to juxtapose two pieces to see how authors interpret the same scene differently.

Pyramus and Thisbe by Pierre Gautherot

  •  This too is an oil on canvas.  This is a more recent painting, created in 1799 by a French artist.
  • Repeat discussion questions from above noting both similarities and differences.
  • The fountain is represented in a different way (which do you think is truer to Ovid’s description)?
  • The tomb and city are present this time – cumque domo exierint, urbis quoque tecta relinquant (Metamorphoses IV.86) . . . conveniant ad busta Nini (Metamorphoses IV.88).
  • How is the clothing different?   Note that the artists both use red fabric in a similar manner.
  • How is the mulberry tree different (foliage and fruit)? – madefactaque sanguine radix/
    purpureo tinguit pendentia mora colore (Metamorphoses IV.126-127)
  • The sword in Thisbe’s hand is more directly tied to Pyramus and his empty scabbard. – Quae postquam vestemque suam cognovit et ense/vidit ebur vacuum (Metamorphoses IV.147-148)
  • Particularly note the difference in style: lighting, human form, use of color, etc.
  • Discuss how these differences reflect the genre of art and the time period.
  • HINT:  Pull in an art teacher to either give you guidance in leading the discussion, or integrate lessons by discussing in his/her class, or act as a guest instructor in your Latin class.






The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is included in the Latin Alive Reader: Latin Literature from Cicero to Newton.  In a coming post I will share a student assignment related to interpreting poetry through art using this same story.

For a similar art study using Caesar’s work visit the previous post: Romans Under the Yoke – an Art Study for Caesar.

“Latin . . . Why Study It At All?”

A colleague recently shared an article by William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury College, titled “Latin . . . Why Study It At All?” I found the article intriguing. Professor Harris expresses his discontent with the usual line-up of reasons for studying Latin. He then goes on to offer his own reasons for the study, strong reasons which I think must seriously be considered not only by those who question the study, but also by those who seek to support it. A link for the article is provided along with my thoughts on two of his arguments in particular.

“Latin . . . Why Study It At All?”
William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury College

While I think the author oversimplifies his objections to the “usual arguments” for Latin (there are still many benefits in the usual line up) the author has made several good points that should be considered. The argument that resonates most strongly with me is the lack of authentic reading most programs provide. I too am frustrated by programs that view Latin grammar as both the means and the end of a Latin program. It saddens me to see students learn a language and then stop just short of reading. How can one not see the value of reading Vergil in the original? Or for Christian schools Augustine or Aquinas? It seems that is like taking a music class, studying the notes, learning “Mary Had a Little Lamb” but never learning to play anything of Gershwin or Mozart. What is the point?  The language in and of itself should not be the goal of study, but the opportunity to read and enjoy the masters in their element.  Reading original texts is the beauty of the Latin Alive! program.  We are having the students read adapted and then authentic passages as soon as they are able. This is vastly different from Cambridge, Ecce, Orberg, etc.  All of our work in each chapter from vocab, to grammar lesson, even to simple sentences is meant to prep them to read a passage. And the passages offered are just marvelous: Cicero, Vergil, Pliny, Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, even Newton.  There is not another program that offers the variety of styles and genres found in the LA series, particularly the reader.

Another fantastic point highlighted in this article is the case for reading Latin out loud. In my own classes, I always have students read the Latin out loud before interpreting into English and find that to be very important. Even the finest Roman orations and works of poetry were meant to be heard, not read in silence. The goal is to begin to follow Latin as a Roman would, to hear and feel the language not just look at it as a mathematical equation.  It is also important for students to understand the Roman mind as revealed in Latin grammar.  In many ways, their way of thinking and speaking makes more sense than modern English.  We are looking at the way two different cultures express thought and that is fascinating.  It ought not to be excluded in the classroom.  Both of these points draw attention to studying Latin as the beautiful expression of a language for a culture and a way of thinking. Let’s entice students to continue in Latin by engaging them in the joys of the beauty of this literature and the language in which it is contained.

The Horatii, A Short Film

The following links are to a short film created by one of our sixth grade students at Grace Academy.  The story, told entirely in Latin, recounts the thrilling story of the Horatii vs. the Curiatii.  The lego animation accompanied by the dramatic Latin reading makes for a wonderful short film.

Spoiler Alert: The synopses below will reveal key events and the story’s ending.

Horatii, The Movie


Click here to watch video: Horatii_video1

The Romans and the Albans were at war for some time when the suggestion was made that representatives from each tribe should fight on behalf of their people, thus deciding victory and limiting bloodshed.  According to Roman legend there happened to be two sets of triplet brothers both distinguished in courage and valor.  These fought for honor and for country; the Horatii for Rome, the Curiatii for Alba Longa.  The battle did not start off well for the Horatii.  Two of the brothers were killed by the Curiatii.  The odds were now stacked 3 against 1.


Horatii, The Sequel

Click here to watch video: Horatii_video2

The last of the Horatii is now faced with the loss of his two brothers and a battle with 3 Curiatii who probably think this gig is in the bag.  Fortunately, this is a clever Horatius.  He starts off running, faking his retreat.  The Curiatii, exulting in near victory, start sprinting after him and lose formation.  As the first of the Curiatii brothers reaches Horatius3, Horatius turns and delivers a death blow.  The next two brothers suffer the same fate each in their turn.


The impetus for this creative video was a dramatic interpretation assignment.  Each year at Grace Academy we give students a Latin passage based on an oration or story from ancient Rome.  The students first translate this story, then they memorize the passage, and then they must perform the passage with dramatic flare.  Much attention is given to understanding what they are saying and how they are saying/performing the passage.  This video, which was not assigned, flows from a young creative mind who clearly loves learning Latin!