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Edible Architecture: Hadrian’s Wall

Among the most creative of our edible construction projects was Hadrian’s Wall. This project was very unique, very different from other projects of its kind. First, instead of recreating a finished structure, we opted to recreate the structure in process. Second, this project did not use any gingerbread. However, like all of our other edible architecture projects we did recreate a structure that was significant to the classical world, and every piece was edible.

Background

As far as recorded history tells us, the Romans first contact with Britain came in 55 B.C. and again in 54 B.C. as an extension of Caesar’s invasion of Gaul. Caesar crossed the English channel, battled the Celts, proved the valor and might of Rome, then left. His interactions with the natives of Britannia is recorded in Book IV of his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentary on the Gallic War). While the Romans did establish some interactions with the ancient Brits in terms of trade and diplomacy and a few smaller invasions, the next full scale invasion did not occur for nearly a century.

In AD 43 the emperor Claudius launched an invasion for the published purpose of reinstating Verica, an exiled king. However, the emperor also ended up making the southern area of Britain into a Roman Province, complete with Roman governor. That first governor would be none other than Claudius’ own general Aulus Plautius. (motives? hmmmm)

Fast forward another half century to Gnaeus Julius Agricola, a later governor of Britain. Agricola began his military career in Britain. He later supported Vespasian in his bid for emperor during the volatile year of AD 69. Vespasian rewarded Agricola with the governorship of Britain in AD 77. During his time as governor, Agricola circumnavigated the British Isle, invaded Scotland, and even ventured into Ireland.  His son-in-law was the historian Tacitus, which proved rather convenient for preserving his legacy. Thanks to Tacitus and his desire to promote his father-in-law (and thus his own family connections) we can read about the geography and ethnography of ancient Britain in De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae.

English-Heritage.org (link provided in resources below)

The Celts, however, did not appreciate Roman rule and their frequent harassment of the settlements necessitated some action. This is where we bring Hadrian into the story. The Emperor Hadrian, known as one of the five good emperors, ruled Rome in AD 117-138. The emperor is well known for consolidating the empire, better defining and defending boundaries, and most of all for building really cool things. Hadrian loved the art and engineering of architecture. He is the mastermind behind the reconstruction of the Pantheon with its impressive dome (See Gingerbread Pantheon). Hadrian visited Britain in AD 122 after a string of rebellions in the previous three years. During his stay he planned the construction of a wall extending from coast to coast that would define Rome’s boundary and keep out the Celtic barbarians. In some places the wall is rather low, in others quite high. A “milecastle” was built at each mile interval with smaller towers and forts in between. The wall still exists today and serves as a window into the past; life on the Roman frontier. One of my dreams is to one day hike the wall, now a National Trail in Britain. Links for other websites on Hadrian’s Wall are provided towards the end of this post.

Edible Architecture Project

“Vallum Aelium” Hadrian’s Wall at Saturnalia by Grace Academy. Click on image for a magnified view.

The Grace Academy Classics Club recreated Hadrian’s Wall in AD 2011. Our creation shows a great engineering project in progress. Gingerbread just wouldn’t do this structure justice. We used sugar cubes instead. Sugar cubes better resembled the cut stone used to build the wall in some places (other sections used uncut stone or even turf). One of our men can be seen pushing a sugar stone block up a rampart. Our structure also shows one of the fortified towers. These were not as large as the milecastles, but were still designed to hold a single auxiliary unit.  Although manned by these auxiliary troops, it was the Roman legionaries, trained in building fortifications, that built the wall and its forts. Our replica shows them in their camp enjoying a nice fire. For our holiday purposes, the soldiers are enjoying Saturnalia and the celebration of the Winter Solstice with forest trees decorated for the occasion. Of course, even on holiday the Roman soldiers can’t let their guard completely down. Thus you see a Roman soldier stationed on the wall.

Hadrian’s wall in some places had a maximum height of about 15 feet (4.6 metres) and was 10 Roman feet (3 metres) wide. This made a space wide enough for a walkway along the top, perfect for keeping an eye on the Celtic peoples on the other side. Of course, the Celtic people (like the little blue guy in our scene) kept their eyes on the Romans too.

The wall, as written above, is made of sugar cubes. The tents are graham crackers covered with pieces of fruit roll-ups. Marzipan and fondant both serve as excellent material for creating figurines such as soldiers, Celts, logs, and horses. Dirt can be made from cocoa powder or coffee grounds or maybe a mocha combo of both – choose your scent. The fire is most ingenious. The flames are made from life savers that have been melted into thin sheets, then fractured. The whole scene creates that nice campfire glow and a hankering for s’mores.

For other delectable lessons in gingerbread architecture, visit the posts:

Gingerbread Pantheon

Gingerbread Greek Theater

Gingerbread Circus Maximus

Click on image for a magnified view so as to better see details.

 

Resources:

Ancient Vine: Hadrian’s Wall

Following Hadrian: Hiking Hadrian’s Wall

English Heritage: Hadrian’s Wall

 

Columbus Day Reading: Integrating History, Language, and Science

Each October my 9th grade students enjoy reading selections from the Latin Letter of Columbus. Columbus addressed his to the monarchs of Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and thus he originally wrote the letter in Spanish. The monarchs were delighted by the discovery and immediately wanted to share news of this new world with all of Europe. Therefore, in 1493 they  published Columbus’ letter in Latin, and sent it throughout all of Europe. At that time Latin was the lingua franca of the day, and every well-educated man, woman, and child would be able to read these great tidings. This leaves us a wonderful sample of Renaissance Latin about historical places and events on our side of the pond.  While the letter opens with celebratory language on the discovery and thanks to God for His provision and protection in the voyage, it eventually turns to a detailed description of the islands Columbus and his men have found. There are wonderful passages describing in detail the flora and fauna of the new world.

Sunt praeterea in dicta insula Iohanna septem vel octo palmarum genera.  Quæ proceritate et pulchritudine (quaemadmodum ceterae omnes arbores, herbae fructusque) nostras facile exuperant. Sunt et mirabiles pinus, agri et prata vastissima, variae aves, varia mella variaque metalla, ferro excepto. In ea, autem, quam Hispanam supra diximus nuncupari, maximi sunt montes ac pulchri, vasta rura, nemora, campi feracissimi seri pascuisque et condendis edificiis aptissimi.

 

After reading selections such as these I enjoy taking my students on a Latin nature hike around our beautiful campus. Conversations start simple such as naming general types of plants:

Ecce, arbores altae!

 

They can progress to simple discussions on the different kinds of trees, shrubs, and flowers. The Latin names for these are often still imbedded in the current scientific name the students might learn in a botany class.

 

Haec arbor est quercus. Illa arbor est ulmus.

Quale arbor est hac?

Describe flores “asteraceae”.

Asteraceae sunt saepe flavae. Alii formam similem soli et eius radiis habent. Alii similes astriis apparent. 

 

Following the nature hike I then ask the students to compose their own short description of the school campus (or a nearby park, or their backyard, or their favorite camping ground) in Latin as an explorer in the mode of Columbus. This is typically accomplished by sitting outside a couple days for class, taking in the scenery, the fresh air, the sunshine, so as to be inspired while we write. This has produced wonderful original Latin pieces that capture a special moment in time and space in the lives of these Latinists. It also helps them to connect to another place and time when our world looked and sounded a bit different.

 

The text for the Latin Letter of Columbus may be found in its entirety at these two sites:

The Latin Library produced by Ad Fontes Academy

The Latin Letter of Columbus on google books.

Latin Alive Reader: From Cicero to Newton provides reading selections with vocabulary, notes, and exercises for Columbus’ letter.

Art-Literature Analysis: Student Assignment

As an end of year project for my AP Latin students, I assign an art analysis paper based upon a scene from either Vergil's Aeneid or Caesar's de Bello Gallico. The students are to choose a masterpiece that accurately depicts one such scene. This assignment is a student favorite as it causes the students to look back and call upon what they have learned of the story and the language from the vantage point of one who has completed a rigorous journey and now stands upon the mountain top, surveying the view of the road from whence they came. The remainder of this post is written by one of my Latin students. This is her piece of art-literature analysis based on a scene from Aeneid VI. Read the rest of this entry »

Excavating the Circus Maximus!

Archaeologists are discovering what some call the greatest shopping complex of the ancient world. I suppose this really shouldn't surprise us at all. Modern man is not really that different from ancient man. Visit any NASCAR or Formula One race track and you are likely to find a plethora of concession stands, clothing venues, souvenir shops, and large bathroom facilities. You might also find stories posted of the greatest drivers and the cars that set records. All this has been discovered at the Circus Maximus. Several shops have been found including ancient laundromats that would clean your garments with the preferred agent of the time: urine. Large latrines have been uncovered that used the nearby aqueducts to continually "flush" water and waste through to the sewers. Archaeologists have even found images of a winning race horse by the name of Numitor, who seems to have gained some measure of fame in the great city. Read the rest of this entry »

Planning the Invasion of Gaul

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres . . . Thus begins the first chapter of Comentarii de Bello Galllico, written by General Julius Caesar c.58-49 B.C. This is a line that most veterans of Latin studies know by heart for it has long been the traditional "first book" for young students graduating from grammatical studies into original readings. The work is chosen for its excellent prose, whose arrangment is fairly easy for novice readers to follow. That is once you become adept at recognizing ablative absolutes and extensive relative clauses and very long stints of indirect discourse. The work certainly cannot be read without great attention to the author, Julius Caesar, his military endeavors and his political ambitions. This work can also be enjoyed as a study in ancient geography as Caesar begins the very first chapter by laying out the geographical composition of Greater Gaul in the manner of a chartographer. Read the rest of this entry »

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!

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

Kirk_Ovid_05_2016

 

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.  The astute observer may notice that the artist did change one word from Ovid’s verse.  The artist writes semper [always] where Ovid wrote saepe [often].  This is and intentional change.  The artist has chosen silhouettes to illustrate the spirit that remains for these young lovers – always and forever juxtaposed against the wall in Ovid’s story. 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 – always.

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 the next post titled “Poetic Art Assignment” I share a student assignment related to interpreting poetry through art using this same story.

AP Latin Tip:

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

For an art study on Vergil’s Aeneid visit the posts:

Low Ham Mosaic

Art-Literature Analysis: Student Assignment

“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!