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Imitation in Writing through Latin

l believe the purpose of learning the Latin language is in order to study Latin literature.  By studying Latin literature, I mean studying the Great Books. These are great pieces of literature of outstanding merit that have stood the test of time. Such works reflect the worldview of the culture and time in which they were written. Such works have often influenced not only the people of their own time, but the people of times that would follow.  Such works should demonstrate some combination of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.  By studying such works we better understand the flow of human thought over the course of history. We better understand our civilization when we know from whence it came.  We better understand what is truly great literature.oldbooks_thumb


By studying Latin literature, I mean studying great literature that was originally written in Latin.  All too often great meaning is lost in translation.  When we can read the original words chosen by the author in the arrangement the author chose to write those words, we are better able to interpret the design and meaning of the author.  We are also better able to study the artistry of the author’s intended style and syntax.

By studying Latin literature I mean digging into the craftsmanship of great literature.  As an artist might study the color palette, lighting, and brush strokes of a master painter, so we can study the vocabulary, style, and syntax of the work.  This enables us to better understand not only what great literature looks like, but how we can become excellent craftsmen ourselves.

Many an English literature course will do the same.  Many a teacher will advocate for taking such study a step further from reading to composing.  Many a curriculum will provide such an assignment.  I sometimes do the same in my Latin literature courses.  After reading a particular piece I will ask my students to compose their own work on a similar topic with a similar style. I always assign parameters that include length, topic, content, grammar requirements, and some requirements on literary/rhetorical devices.  My high school Latin classes focus entirely on the study of Latin literature through the ages, from the time period of Cicero down to the work of Newton.  We read a variety of literary genres from people of different time periods and very different worldviews.  This also allows us the opportunity for a very wide variety of compositions.  Whenever possible, I enjoy integrating these assignments with something else the students are studying in English Literature, History, Theology, or Science.  Following are a few of the composition assignments I have given. Those assignments whose lesson plans are shared on this blog site will include a link for that particular lesson.  I update this list as such assignments are shared.

Exploration – Read excerpts from the *Latin Letter of Columbus. Then compose a descriptive paragraph on the flora and fauna where you live or go to school.

Thanksgiving Theses – Read selections from *Luther’s 95 Theses. Then compose a set of theses on the topic of giving thanks.  This assignment works particularly well in November between Reformation day and Thanksgiving.

Latin Haiku – As students begin to read short poems from *Horace or *Catullus allow them to compose their own.  A Latin Haiku introduces them to the idea of a metrical line in a very simplistic fashion.

Latin Eclogues – As students progress in their poetry skills, allow them to imitate Vergil with some pastoral eclogues using dactylic hexameter.

Laws of Motion – Read the three laws of motion as defined in Newton’s *Principia along with the scholia (or examples) that follow each one.  Then assign the students to compose their own scholia for one of the three laws.

Challenging the Status Quo – Read selections from the *Magna Charta. Many of these use the jussive subjunctive (present tense) and are great practice when first learning the subjunctive.  Then ask students to create their own set of laws to submit to your local magistrate/principal/head of school.  This is a great lesson in the language of diplomacy.

Fabulous Fables – Read Aesop’s fables as translated or added to by *Phaedrus. Then ask students to compose their own fable in a similar style.  For an added challenge, submit the fables to the annual Phaedrus Latin Contest.

Classic Narratives for Young Students – Grammar school students who have finished the equivalent of Latin For Children C can enjoy writing a classic children’s narrative in Latin. Examples may include The Three Little Pigs, The Little Red Hen, The Gingerbread Man, and Chicken Little.

*These works are included in the Latin Alive Reader: Latin Literature from Cicero to Newton, published by Classical Academic Press.

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