Salve! I've been a student of Latin for many years. In high school, I had the (increasingly rare) opportunity to study Latin, as well as ancient Greek. I later picked the subject up again as an undergraduate student, after which I continued to study medieval Latin as a student at Centre for Medieval Studies in the University of Toronto. I've taught introductory Latin at the Mount Allison University Department of Classics, and I'll be teaching intro Latin again next year at Thorneloe University. Since my wife is a classicist, we occasionally have disagreements revolving around classical versus medieval Latin. Below are blog entries I've written that touch on the Latin language and its literature, including some entries on the fabulous game of Latin Scrabble!
I’d been wanting to read Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization for some time. Although I’m a medievalist, I’m not a Celticist, so this was quite an interesting read for me. As an Anglo-Saxonist, I was of course quite aware of the important influence of Irish monasticism — Bede, perhaps somewhat grudgingly, admits so in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People.
Cahill’s essential argument is that the Irish were instrumental in preserving and transmitting classical culture and learning (including Christianity) from the ancient world of Rome (and to some extent Greece) to the medieval world and thus the modern world. As he argues, ‘Civilization’ just manages to hang on on the very edge of the world which was overrun by barbarians. I did find that his opinion of late Roman culture was unfortunately low. He didn’t seem to think much of late Latin writers like Statius and the Gallo-Roman writers. But this is a common opinion, even if not entirely justified.
Much of the book is concerned with the story and importance of Saint Patrick, the details of which I was only partially aware of. As chance would have it, I was reading the book at a very oportune time as I started it just before Saint Patrick’s Day. As Cahill points out, the Irish don’t always receive the recognition they deserve in the course of Western history. As a medievalist, I was already aware of the importance of the Irish, but I do imagine that outside of such circles, their contribution is not so well known.
I find Cahill’s writing very captivating. His telling of the stories is quite moving, and his analysis, even if one doesn’t always agree, is very thought provoking. Just today I finished reading the second book in his Hinges of History series, The Gifts of the Jews, which I enjoyed maybe even more, perhaps because I knew less about the topic — I’ll write more about that one later. I would certainly recommend the series to anyone with an interest in history and culture. I’m not sure whether I’d recommend starting with How the Irish Saved Civilization or The Gifts of the Jews — I think both would work. All in all, a fascinating series of books about the foundation of Western culture.
A couple of weeks ago my Latin class had an end-of-term party. The students all made various foods, including some traditional recipes. Though we couldn’t have the actual infamous Roman delicacy stuffed dormice, one student simulated it with jam-filled Timbits with icing for eyes and noses and licorice for tails — kind of terrifying but very amusing! My wife also made up some barley water — the water from boiling barley mixed with sweet wine and honey — much more drinkable than you might guess.
For entertainment, we read my favourite Medieval Latin poem, Nunc est bibendum (which means ‘It’s time to drink’), and played Latin Scrabble. Coincidentally, the CMS had its annual Latin Scrabble tournament, though the results haven’t been posted yet. My students seemed to really have fun with it, and I would be very pleased if the game took root here.
My students also gave me a giant thank-you card (written in Latin of course), which was very touching. I’ll really miss this group of students — we had a lot of fun this term, and they’re a quite good bunch. I do really like teaching language classes, be it Latin or Old English.
Way back I posted that Aven and I were about to move to Sackville, New Brunswick to teach at Mount Allison University. Well here we are already one term in, and I haven’t posted at all about my teaching here. I’m teaching in both the Classics department and the English department, so this entry will focus on my Latin teaching, and later I’ll post about the English course I taught.
For the Classics department I’m teaching first-year Latin. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m not actually a classicist, but in fact a medievalist. However, the rigorous Latin training one receives at the Centre for Medieval Studies is well known, and so here I am teaching first-year Latin. Besides, I’m a philologist, and so language is a particular interest of mine, and much of my work, including some more recent avenues of investigation, focus on Latin translation (that is, translation of Latin into medieval vernaculars), so I’m quite enjoying the opportunity to teach Latin.
The departmental choice of textbooks, Ecce Romani, would not have been my first choice — personally I prefer a more rigorously grammar-based approach rather than the reading-based approach. Of course the other popular choice for an undergraduate Latin textbook is Wheelock, which it must be said has its own drawbacks. Nevertheless, I think it’s a better textbook. But I haven’t had a look at the latest edition of Wheelock, so I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who had seen it, or even taught from it. The CMS favours Moreland and Fleischer, Latin: An Intensive Course for the baby Latin course. This works very well for graduate students who are highly motivated to learn Latin grammar as quickly as possible so as to be able to move on through the programme, but it might be too intensive for undergraduates. Any other options?
In the first semester, the final enrollment was 50 students—quite large for a language class, but consistent with the class sizes I had with Old English. This term I have about 12 at the moment, which is a definite luxury. These students will get quite a good class with all the individual attention I’ll be able to give them. We had a good time last class, talking about the Roman delicacy of stuffed mice.
We also discussed the concept of relative clauses, not in itself the most difficult topic—I described relative clauses as giant mutant adjectives of course—but what is initially difficult is the fact that relative pronouns agree with their antecedent in gender and number but not in case. I’ll start the next class with a continuation of this topic, and I think I’ve come up with a better way of explaining it. Rather than starting with a sentence with a relative clause in it and taking it apart, bracketing off the clause, I’ll start with two separate sentences and show how subordination can combine them. This way I can show how a relative pronoun functions like any other pronoun. Hopefully this will make it all clear. I do find relative clauses to be a tricky concept for many students. Still, it’s much more straightforward in Latin than in Old English, which uses an indeclinable relative pronoun, sometimes in combination with other pronouns. Old English was just not made to subordinate that much. In any case, it’s interesting to compare teaching the two languages.
Well, what better way is there to rejoin the land of the blogging than another one of these quizzes? I know they’re kind of silly, but they do amuse me. And who doesn’t enjoy a good bit of palaeography?
I’ve added a number of new links on the sidebar to language blogs that I read.
There is an interesting discussion in Language Log (here and here) about case and military prowess in the ancient / early medieval world. As was pointed out, the actual conquerers of Rome were in fact Germanic speakers, specifically Goths, who had nearly as many cases to deal with as there are in Latin. They did, however, have a simpler tense/aspect system. Hmm…
Languagehat has a posting on the Englisc List, an e-mail discussion group about composition in Old English of which I am a lurking subscriber. There is also a review of Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything that is rather more critical than my own. Languagehat makes some valid points. I guess my reaction to the book wasn’t as critical because my expectations were somewhat different; I was expecting a light, entertaining history of the OED, and that’s what it is.
First of all, another quiz:
You know the difference between indecisive and
undecided, and won’t hesitate to call it!
You probably taught your teachers a thing or two,
and have the glasses to prove it.
But don’t forget, not everyone is asking for your
What Board Game are you?
brought to you by Quizilla
Yeah, that sounds about right for me. I do love my words.
On the topic of Scrabble, the Latin Scrabble Tournament at the Centre for Medieval Studies has wrapped up, and you can read all about the results here.
My congratulations to this year’s winner of the title Scrabblator Optimus, Morris Tichenor. It’s quite a feat. In the final round Morris played against my thesis advisor George Rigg. Morris even successfully challenged a word in the game, which must have taken nerves of steel.
One of my favourite plays in the tournament is the word er (played in game one of round 4) which means ‘hedgehog’. Truly impressive. In fact there are a number of clever plays in that game in terms of overlapping word placement involving a number of two-letter words. I guess that’s the key to playing Latin Scrabble: knowing all those short, obscure words.
Anyway, my congratulations to everyone who took part in the tournament and to its organizer. Have a look at the official website, it’s a lot of fun!
Happy St Patrick’s Day to all! Have a Guinness or a Jameson, (or ignore the day completely if you prefer). Tomorrow I’ll write about tonight’s St Patrick’s Day dinner. For now I’ll mark the day with a bit of trivia.
In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the year 430, St Patrick is (or may be) briefly mentioned: “Her Patricius wæs asend fram Celestine þam papan to bodianne Scottum fulluht” (ChronE 430.1).1 This is in the E text of the ASC; all the other texts read “Palladius” (as does Bede’s HE). In the A text of the ASC, there is an interlinear addition of ‘or Patrick’ in what is apparently a post-Conquest hand. So there seems to be some confusion here, but it seems like it should actually be Palladius and not Patrick.2 Patrick gets all the glory in later tradition, and poor Palladius get Guinness drunk in his honour every year.
It’s also worth noting that the Irish are referred to as the Scots, which was common at the time (I’m sure it will infuriate many to read this). The passage in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum reads: “Palladius ad Scottos in Christum credentes a pontifice Romanae ecclesiae Caelestino primus mittitur episcopus” (HE 13).3 This passage is translated into Old Engish as: “Þæs caseres rices ðy eahteþan geare Palladius biscop wæs ærest sended to Scottum, þa ðe on Crist gelyfdon, fram þam biscope þære Romaniscan cyricean, Celestinus wæs haten”.4
Scots… Irish… to those in the middle ages it’s all the same. What a final sentiment for a St Patrick’s Day posting. Well, I’m off to drink some Jameson and Guinness. I’ll finish off with the only other mention I’ve found in the Old English corpus of St Patrick: “Ðonne resteð sanctus Aidanus and sanctus Patricius on Glæstingabirig and fela oðra sancta”. (KSB 8.2 37.1). A cookie to the first one to correctly translate this passage…
1 ‘In this year, Patrick was sent from Pope Celestine to preach baptism to the Scots.’
2 There is an article on the confusion between the two figures: D.N. Dumville, “‘Acta Palladii’ preserved in Patrician hagiography”, in Saint Patrick, ed. D.N. Dumville (Woodbridge, 1993), pp. 65-84.
3 ‘Palladius was sent from Celestine, bishop of the Roman Church, to the Scots, who believed in Christ, as their first bishop.’
4 ‘In the eighth year of that Emperor’s reign, bishop Palladius was first sent to the Scots, who believed in Christ, from that bishop of the Roman church who was called Celestinus.’
Two Latin items:
Follow this link to read about the 2004 Latin Scrabble Tournament at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto.
And my weird Latin phrase: