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Latin Games

Mendax! and the Veracity of Card Games in Class

I still clearly remember one of my early lessons in classroom methods with the late Gareth Morgan, a pillar of the U.T. Classics Dept. and internationally renown professor of classics. He sat before me in his office and picked up a deck of cards. He began flashing them before me one at a time with the clear expectation that I was to respond with the corresponding Latin term for the number before me.

I was struck at the profound simplicity and brilliance of this scheme. The goal was to connect a Latin word with a concept, an image, the idea of a quantity as opposed to another English word. It also took a very familiar and comfortable representative of that number, an image of delight, to accomplish this goal.

Since gaining my own classroom, I regularly use Dr. Morgan’s lesson with my own students and with great success. Often, this lesson comes as a nice ice breaker in the first days of the school year, a great way to shake off the dust and warm the gears in the Latin part of the mind to start turning anew.  After reviewing the numbers and adding color (ruber and ater), we then begin to use this skill to play a couple card games. The first is Mendax! (more commonly known among students as B.S.).

The rules of the game are fairly simple.  The students set in a circle and cards are distributed until the deck runs out. The player to the left of the dealer begins by placing all of their 2 face cards in the middle, face down. The player must declare, however, how many 2 cards he has. The next player must do the same for her 3 face cards. The next with his 4 face cards, and so on through the proper sequence all the way through the Aces. It is inevitable that at some point someone will not have any of the cards he is supposed to place in the middle, forcing that player to “lie” about how many of what kind of card he is placing in the middle pile. When anyone suspects a player of such an untruth they are to cry out MENDAX (liar)!

Our Latin twist of course requires that as each set of cards is placed in the middle, the player must declare her cards in Latin. If a player mistakenly declares in English, she loses her turn.  Thus:

Playing Mendax!


Player 1:  unus duo (one 2-cared)

Player 2: unus tres (one 3-card)

Player 3: duo quattuor ( 2 4-cards)

Player 4: tres quinque (3 5-cards)

et cetera . . .

The player who rids himself of all his cards first wins and should victoriously shout VINCO!


The terms we use for the royal cards.

Ace = Primus ( We use “alpha”)

King = Rex

Queen = Regina

Jack = Dux (cf. duke, a derivative of dux)





For an added educational benefit, teachers should consider choosing decks of cards with images tied to Rome or Latin. This summer I happened upon a wonderful deck of cards produced by a company called Midnight Cards.

Photos are from Midnight Cards website.

This company prizes itself on beautifully designed playing cards. Among their treasures is a set of two complementary decks called Rome. The red deck is titled Caesar and the blue deck Antony. The back of each card is adorned with artwork featuring these two heroes (or villains depending on which side you take). The face cards (Jack, Queen, King) are historical personages caught up in the dynastic rise of the Caesars and their political enemies.

Face cards feature historic rivals such as Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar (shown here) as well as Octavian/Augustus (hearts) and Antony (spades).

This beautiful teaching tool not only provides a great lesson in numbers, but also in history, and even art. Once the students know the connections of all these figures and images, each time they “play” they are caught up in a wonderful review integrating all these disciplines. Truly marvelous.

Follow this link to Midnight Cards for more information on their Rome Decks and other beautiful card designs: Midnight Cards

Follow this link for instructions within this blog site on how to play another card game, Go Fish in Latin: Go Fish

Vocabulary Building with Picta Dicta

Picta Dicta is an innovative and highly engaging tool for students to build their Latin vocabulary. This program could easily serve as an introduction for young students into the delightful world of Latin. The lessons would also prove a wonderful supplement to any Latin curricula, or even as a summer strengthening program for Latin students. The approach engages students in learning vocabulary through pictures and images rather than the usual vocab word list found in most textbooks. Read the rest of this entry »

Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest – 2012

Year three of the Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest is officially underway. Teachers can sign up now and incorporate the contest into their lesson plans for the year.
The Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest is for high school age students, typically 13 to 18 years old. Student entries will be due Feb. 1, 2011. A top prize of $500 will be awarded for first place. Other cash prizes will be given to the second- and third-place winners, along with honorable mention recognition for other deserving entries.

Participating students will submit a 100- to 200-word original fable in Latin, along with an English translation of the submitted piece. Compositions will be graded based on the student’s ability to accurately use Latin vocabulary and forms of speech, the student’s creativity in subject matter and writing style.

The Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest is administered entirely through the internet and allows willing teachers to take part in the nationwide judging. Thanks to the support of their sponsors, there is no cost to you or your students. Getting started is easy:

Visit to find out more and to sign up!

Note: Participants who registered last year must still reregister anew each year.

If you have any questions, please contact Christa Blakey


phone: 208-882-1566.

CAMWS Latin Translation Contest, 2011-12

The Classical Association of the Middle West and South will offer $250 cash prizes, book awards, and letters of commendation to qualifying winners in its School Awards Latin Translation Contest. Read the rest of this entry »

Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest, 2011

Registration is now open for the 2nd annual Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest, hosted by New St. Andrew's College! This post will direct you to information for this contest, and to resources that will help you prepare for this wonderful opportunity. Read the rest of this entry »

Latin Scrabble

Scrabble is a classic, so is Latin. It is therefore only natural that the two should blend together beautifully! Latin Scrabble is another student fav at our school, and it is a great way to build vocabulary and even exercise some grammar. If you find yourself with a yearning for some Latin Scrabble, and no amici with whom to play you might try the online site Read the rest of this entry »


Headventureland is a brand new website where students can play games, read books, and watch videos in Latin! Read the rest of this entry »

Gladiator Game – Online

As gruesome as the gladiatorial games are, students are drawn to them. Recently, I was introduced to an online game called Read the rest of this entry »

Card Games

When learning Latin numerals cards games can be wonderful game to review the lesson and practice speaking Latin. My personal favorite is "Go Fish" or "I Piscare!" To play Read the rest of this entry »

Games That Get You Talkin’

In a previous post I discussed a lesson plan where I had the students giving one another commands in Latin.  The lesson plan was in effect a game that not only reviewed grammar, but helped the students develop their oral and aural skills.  It was a game that got them talkin’ in Latin – and they loved it.  Here are a couple others.

Magister Dicit (The Teacher Says): Simple to Challenging.  Requires some preparation.  This is a great game for beginning grammar students all the way to advance students.  You can begin with simple one word imperative commands such as cantate, surgite, or sedete.  When you introduce prepositional phrases it can create all kinds of fun mayhem. Discipuli, ascendite in mensam!  The more grammar they know, the more complex the commands can become.  This will require some preparation for the teacher.  You will want to have several commands at the ready.  You can also give the students the opportunity to play magister and let them take turns commanding their peers in Latin.

Magna Fabula (The Great Story): Challenge.  Some prepration may be required. Have you ever played the game where one person begins a story with a simple sentence and the others take turns adding on a sentence at a time?  This is great fun in Latin class.  The first time or two  you may want to warn students in advance so they have a few ideas prepared.  You may even want to encourage them to use vocabulary from a certain chapter or unit so that A) they have some material to work with and B) everyone will be familiar with the words that might be used.  Everyone feels a little insecure at first – worried they will make a grammatical error.  Remind them that we make grammatical errors all the time when we speak English, but we still manage to communicate.  The point is to get them talking AND listening.  After they have become a bit more comfortable with the game, surprise them with a story time on the fly!

Do you have some great ideas to get students talking in Latin class?  Please Share!

Be sure to check out other game posts in the blog site like Latin Taboo.

Next gaming blog: Playing Cards