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March 15 – political significance

Over Spring Break I took up the task of reading Caesar and Christ: The Story of Civilization by the incomparable Will Durant.  His volumes of history are highly regarded by most scholars, and I am thus far enjoying this volume of his work immensely.  Today, March 15, I happened to read chapter II where I found the following: a description of candidacy for chief magistrates in Rome.

The candidate appeared in person, dressed in plain white (candidus) toga to emphasize the simplicity of his life and morals, and perhaps the more easily to show the scars he had won in the field.  If elected, he entered office on the ensuing March 15.  (Caesar and Christ, Durant)

Most of us remember the infamous Ides of March as the anniversary for the brutal assassination of Julius Caesar,  his grand exit from the stage of political theater.  According to Durant, this same date was significant to Romans as the day when their chief magistrates began office, at least during the time of the Republic.  Yet this date marks the end for Caesar’s reign.  Oh the irony!

One might wonder why the Romans would have chosen this date.  Our politicians generally take office in early January, right after the new year begins.  It was the same for the Romans whose year once began in March.  (See the post titled Happy New Year) In the year 153 B.C. the consuls began to take office on the Kalends of January instead.  Would the Romans have felt the heavy irony to such a permanent end to Caesar’s career on this day?  We may never know for certain.  But we do know that since that fateful day the meaning of the Ides of March has forever been changed.  Even in their own day, men such as Cicero never had to refer directly to the assassination of Caesar, but could simply mention the Ides.  At the mere utterance of that word his fellow Romans did think of no other consul, but Caesar.

 

Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

My favorite Christmas hymn by far is the beautiful 12th century piece, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.   While historians believe these powerful words came to be sung as a hymn in the 12th century, it is widely believed that they are based off antiphones dating as far back as the 8th century A.D.  Truly a classic hymn in the purest since of the phrase.  The song is inspired by the words of the prophet Isaiah, the longing of Israel for her promised redeemer.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:14

And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.  Isaiah 22:22

The longing for Emmanuel can be heard in the words and the music.  The emotion underscores our gratitude for the coming of our Savior centuries ago, but also our own yearning to see him come again in glory and set all to right.

The youtube video below provides a wonderful performance of this hymn with the Latin lyrics across the screen.

 

 

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 »

Why do WE study Latin?

In this post Karen Moore departs from the typical "why Latin" essay to share her passion for this wonderful course of study. Read the rest of this entry »

Cicero and the Founding Fathers

The United States -- more than even France -- is a Ciceronian republic. The American founders rejected aspects of Roman republicanism such as aristocracy and militarism. Still, it was from Cicero that the major Founders learned that a republic needed Read the rest of this entry »

The Fasces in America

The Fasces.  An ancient symbol of Roman power and authority, today a symbol for power restrained by justice in America.  You can see this ancient symbol in many places across our nation, often in places of authority such as the U.S. Senate House or the Supreme Court building.  Just last week I saw the fasces beautifully wrought in an iron fence surrounding a monument to George Washington in the city of Baltimore (pictured below).  Such images are imprints of Rome’s influence upon our nation.  The following is an excerpt I wrote on the fasces and its relevance to modern America.  You can find this and other such pieces in the Latin Alive series.  Watch for the fasces and other traces of ancient Rome as you travel across the U.S. this summer.

 

    The latter Kings of Rome were actually from the neighboring Etruscan tribe.  The Romans adopted many Etruscan traditions including the fasces, a symbol of the power and authority of the king.  After the Romans expelled their last king, other leaders and magistrates continued to use the traditional symbol.  Lictors, special attendants, would often carry it before them in processions.

The axe symbolizes the power of the king or state.  It is bound to a bundle of rods, which symbolize strength through the unity of many (e pluribus unum).  The binding of the rods is also meant to symbolize the restraint that must be exercised with the power of authority.  The king, or later magistrate, might have his lictor unbind the rods to warn offenders that restraint was nearing an end.

You can see the fasces today in many places across the United States of America.  Colorado has placed this symbol in the middle of its seal.  The fasces appear on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., as well as President Lincoln’s memorial at Gettysburg.  The fasces are present in the chambers of both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.  A Roman Centurion holding the fasces adorns the front edifice of the Supreme Court.  Why do you think these are appropriate places for this classical symbol?

Helen Keller on the Study of Latin and Greek

June 27, 1880

Helen Keller was born on this date over a century ago.  At the age of nineteen months she would suffer from a terrible illness that left her deaf and mute.  Helen faced an overwhelming challenge at a very young age.  And yet, she would overcome this challenge to achieve glorious successes and inspire millions.  This little girl who many must have doubted would ever be able to read her parent language, would become proficient in both Latin and Greek.  The following are a few of her thoughts on these studies from her autobiography, written at the age of 22.

At first I was rather unwilling to study Latin grammar. It seemed absurd to waste time analyzing, every word I came across–noun, genitive, singular, feminine–when its meaning was quite plain. I thought I might just as well describe my pet in order to know it–order, vertebrate; division, quadruped; class, mammalia; genus, felinus; species, cat; individual, Tabby. But as I got deeper into the subject, I became more interested, and the beauty of the language delighted me. I often amused myself by reading Latin passages, picking up words I understood and trying to make sense. I have never ceased to enjoy this pastime.

– Helen Keller, The Story of My Life (Chapter XVI)

It was the Iliad that made Greece my paradise. I was familiar with the story of Troy before I read it in the original, and consequently I had little difficulty in making the Greek words surrender their treasures after I had passed the borderland of grammar. Great poetry, whether written in Greek or in English, needs no other interpreter than a responsive heart. Would that the host of those who make the great works of the poets odious by their analysis, impositions and laborious comments might learn this simple truth! It is not necessary that one should be able to define every word and give it its principal parts and its grammatical position in the sentence in order to understand and appreciate a fine poem. I know my learned professors have found greater riches in the Iliad than I shall ever find; but I am not avaricious. I am content that others should be wiser than I. But with all their wide and comprehensive knowledge, they cannot measure their enjoyment of that splendid epic, nor can I. When I read the finest passages of the Iliad, I am conscious of a soul-sense that lifts me above the narrow, cramping circumstances of my life. My physical limitations are forgotten–my world lies upward, the length and the breadth and the sweep of the heavens are mine!

My admiration for the Aeneid is not so great, but it is none the less real. I read it as much as possible without the help of notes or dictionary, and I always like to translate the episodes that please me especially. The word-painting of Virgil is wonderful sometimes; but his gods and men move through the scenes of passion and strife and pity and love like the graceful figures in an Elizabethan mask, whereas in the Iliad they give three leaps and go on singing. Virgil is serene and lovely like a marble Apollo in the moonlight; Homer is a beautiful, animated youth in the full sunlight with the wind in his hair.

– Helen Keller, The Story of My Life (Chapter XXI)

Link: complete text for The Story of My Life

The Eagle: a movie review

My 7th grade students absolutely loved this book. As a class we attended opening night, then adjourned to review the movie and the book over pizza. The following is a review of the movie compared to the book through the eyes of 8 members of my 7th grade class. Read the rest of this entry »

Classical Cushions

Do you ever feel challenged looking for the perfect gift for your Latin teacher? Something classical for the classroom maybe? Well here is the perfect item. Read the rest of this entry »

Dictionary.com Talks Latin!

Dictionary.com talks latin. Jan. 3rd, "the hot word"... Read the rest of this entry »