Subscribe

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

et cetera

Romans Under the Yoke – an Art Study for Caesar

 

 Caesar, quod memoria tenebat L. Cassium c?nsulem occisum exercitumque eius ab Helvetiis pulsum et sub iugum missum, concedendum non putabat

Art study is a wonderful way to bring ancient texts to life.  Artists such as Gleyre were inspired by the words of Caesar and other classical authors.  As they read the Latin texts, images began to take shape and were then transferred to canvas.  The subject below is not an actual scene from the Gallic War, but rather the memory of a scene described by Caesar: the humiliating defeat of a Roman legion at the hands of a Helvetian Army.  For Gleyre and his Swiss countrymen, it is a reminder that their ancestors were able to once humble mighty Rome.

Romans Under the Yoke by Charles Gleyre (1808-1874)

This painting portrays an event of humiliation for the Romans referenced by Caesar in Book 1.7 and 12 of de Bello Gallico.

quod memoria tenebat L. Cassium consulem occisum exercitumque eius ab Helvetiis pulsum et sub iugum missum

– de Bello Gallico I.7

Charles Gleyre (1808 – 1874) was known as the original painter of light for the manner in which he used light to draw attention to the focus of his subject.  His work hovers between the romantic period (with an emphasis on nature) and that of impressionism.  Gleyre was an instructor for many famous artists of the Impressionist movement, including Renoir and Monet.  A native of Switzerland, he displays here his pride in the Helvetian heritage.

The yoke itself is a great lesson for ancient military custom.  It was not uncommon for a defeated enemy to be forced to march under the yoke.  This forces them to bow before their enemy in a posture of humiliation.  Here the Roman soldiers, stripped of the dignity of their armor, are forced to bow before the Helvetian general Divico and their trampled standards.
Questions for Study:
Note the lines in the painting.  To where/whom do they direct your attention?
  • Note where the light and shadows fall.  What does this contrast highlight?
  • Note the white oxen to the right of the bound soldiers.  What is around their neck?  What is above the soldiers?  What comparison might be made here?
  • Where do the eyes of the Roman soldiers fall?  Why might this be significant?
  • What is the central figure in the painting?  What is the significance of this in Druid worship?
  • What do the behavior of the other figures around this central element seem to suggest?  Relate this back to the juxtaposition of the bound soldiers and the yoked cattle.

AP Latin Tip: Book I chapter 7 of de Bello Gallico is on the AP syllabus.  In this chapter Caesar briefly references the humiliation of the Romans sent under the yoke.  Chapter 12 of Book I is not on the AP syllabus, but would make a wonderful sight passage in reference to chapter 7 and this painting.  Chapter 12 is a very short chapter and not difficult to read.  It is in this chapter that Caesar provides further insight as to why this particular defeat is of a rather personal nature to him.

Qua in re Caesar non solum publicas, sed etiam privatas iniurias ultus est, quod eius soceri L. Pisonis avum, L. Pisonem legatum, Tigurini eodem proelio quo Cassium interfecerant.

 “In which matter Caesar not only avenged public, but also private injuries, because the Tigurini had killed the grandfather of his father-in-law Lucius [Calpurnius] Piso, lieutenant Lucius Piso, in the same battle as [they had killed] Cassius.”  id est – The grandfather of Caesar’s father-in-law was one of the officers killed alongside Cassius in the very incident mentioned in Chapter 7.  It would appear that the two heads posted upon spears could be leaders or officers since they are crowned with laurel wreaths.  Perhaps these are the very heads of Cassius and of Piso.  The laurel wreaths, normally a symbol of victory, may be a play of mockery here as was the crown of thorns pressed upon the head of Jesus Christ during his crucifixion.

The full text for Commentarii de Bello Gallico may be found on www.thelatinlibrary.com.

For more suggestions on lessons incorporating art with Latin Literature visit the post titled Art as a Poetic Interpretation.

Latin Alive Series – Book 3 now available!

Latin Alive Book 3 is now available!  This text completes the grammar series with the study of the subjunctive mood and a fabulous unit on Latin poetry.  All of the reading are unadapted original texts.  We are very delighted by the list of readings that have come together for this book.

I am also thrilled to announce that we have also completed  writing on a reader that will follow this grammar series.  The reader is now in editing and graphic design, but coming in 2014 we will be pleased to share . . .

Latin Alive Reader: Literature from Cicero to Newton

This book will serve as an excellent reading course for students of Latin Alive or any other full Latin grammar course.  You may liken this to a humanities course in Latin.  Students will have the opportunity to read a very wide variety of literary styles and genre from the late republic through the dawn of the  modern age.  They will be able to use their Latin knowledge to read the primary sources that tell the narrative of history.  Stay tuned for more information!

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 »