RSS Feed

Getting better at teaching scansion

Posted on


Previously, I had taught the scansion of dactylic hexameter by giving a lecture of the whole system then getting students to have a crack at it with a copy of Latin text – and with no macrons printed either.

(I quickly learned not to use the opening of Aeneid 1 as the starter material, because line 2 is so aberrant – you could go hundreds of lines without seeing an –ia ending turn into a –ja like that! It’s awful! If I do use the opening of the Aeneid for learning scansion, I tell students to skip line 2, and all the while it stares at us awkwardly on the board.)

Now I’ve just introduced scansion with my year 11s, who are translating a section of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and I’ve worked out a way to make the first introduction to scansion less of a lecture, and more of an intuitive workshop.


Icarus and Daedalus – our set passage from Ovid, and perhaps a metaphor for how students feel when they first see hexameter scansion. [source]

My goal in this session is not to give students a step-by-step formula for answering exam questions – not yet. My goal is to bring them to understand scansion from first principles.

Continue reading →

‘Palatina Medea’ or ‘Medea Palatina’? A preference for adjective-noun word order in Latin

Posted on

We’ve been told that adjectives in Latin ‘tend to’ or ‘prefer to’ follow the nouns they describe.

But on the contrary, the statistical evidence shows that Caesar and Cicero actually preferred putting adjectives before nouns.

We didn’t learn that ‘noun then adjective’ rule from reading unadapted Latin. We didn’t discover it from real usage. We learned it from our textbooks and from word of mouth. ‘They’ said that it was true and ‘they’ must right!

So when Cicero dramatically calls Clodia a ‘Medea of the Palatine’, we think he should naturally put his adjective after the noun, but he doesn’t:


George Romney’s painting of ‘Lady Hamilton as Medea’. Source: [link]

Sic enim, iudices, reperietis … hanc Palatinam Medeam migrationemque hanc adulescenti causam sive malorum omnium sive potius sermonum fuisse.

For indeed, judges, you will find out… that this Palatine Medea and this migration of hers [to Caelius’s neighbourhood] has been the cause of either all the ills or, rather, all the rumours for the young man. 

However, examples like this don’t change our minds about adjective-noun order. Since they told us that adjectives ‘usually follow’ the noun, that must mean that Cicero was violating the ‘natural word order’ for dramatic effect.

It doesn’t matter how many anecdotal counter-examples we read when actually encountering the Latin; ‘this was the rule’ when we learned Latin, therefore whatever we see later confirms it. Whenever an author puts a noun first, it’s because of the rule; and whenever an author puts an adjective first, it’s because he does it for effect; ‘the exception proves the rule’ (!!).

So let’s get into the actual statistics.

Continue reading →

Speed-running putting on a toga

Posted on

What can you do stuck at home inside? See how fast you can get yourself dressed for the Senate of course.

I started this challenge when someone said, “You need slaves or helpers to get yourself dressed in a toga – it’s so long and difficult to drape.” I understand that in practice, a wealthy senator probably did get a slave to help him dress; but I wanted to point out that it isn’t that hard to put it on quickly by yourself, and you aren’t required to be helped.

I think it is a matter of familiarity. We don’t wear togas much these days, and so we don’t have the years of practice that would make it come as second nature. But we succeed today in say, tying ties, tying shoelaces, slipping into tight dresses, and all other awkward clothes-wearing feats – as long as we do it often enough.

More videos to come in this series – I’ll post my personal best run soon!

Tabula: a strategic 2-player Roman board and dice game

Picture yourself planning for a Year 8 class in the final period of the day. It’s the second last week of term and everyone has finished their exams and have mentally started their holidays already. The class includes several (loud, influential) students who are not continuing Latin next year. They’ve probably been watching videos all day and I don’t want to contribute more to that. What do you do with them?


Pieces from the Gloucester Tabula board. Source: [Link]

How about play a strategic ancient Roman board and dice game?

Tabula was enjoyed for hundreds of years during the Roman period. It similar to Backgammon and relatively easy to explain.

For your convenience I have found here a version of Tabula which is playable, fun, and well explained. I’ve also made a printable board for it.

Continue reading →

The accent of words ending in -que

TL;DR: Latin words ending in -que should be accented on the syllable before -que only if that syllable is (or has become) heavy; otherwise, the word should retain its original accent. If this sounds new to you, that’s probably because you’ve been following Allen & Greenough and other nineteenth century scholarship.

SPQR Roman inscription augustus imperator

The rules of accent in Classical Latin are usually very simple. Almost all words follow the formula of the ‘Penultimate Law’, which states that the accent in multiple syllable words falls on the second-last (the penultimate) syllable if this is of heavy quantity, and otherwise on the third-last (the antepenultimate).[1]

But the enclitic –que (and the other enclitics, –ve, –ne, –ce) complicates these rules.

Continue reading →

Latin tutoring: Practice literary and context questions for Aeneid VI

The golden bough, ticket to the underworld in Aeneid VI. I painted this in my Year 12 - check it out at my deviantArt gallery

The golden bough, ticket to the underworld in Aeneid VI.
I painted this in my Year 12 – check it out at my deviantArt gallery

I’ve been captivated once again by the wonderful style and substance of Vergil’s Aeneid.

But this year I’ve been particularly nerding out because my three Year 12 Latin tutoring students are all studying book VI, the journey to the Underworld, which was the book I studied when I was in Year 12.

Continue reading →

Twelve tenses: When English outdoes Ancient Greek in precision

Posted on

I have sometimes heard people say, “Ancient Greek is the most precise language in the world.” This usually comes from people who have not studied Greek for themselves and haven’t really seen its quirks first-hand.


I don’t know how best to respond. True, there are distinctions which Greek makes that English doesn’t make, but in turn there are distinctions English makes which Greek doesn’t make. (For example, “I said” and “they said” would both be expressed εἶπον [eipon] in Ancient Greek, since the first person singular and third person plural look identical in certain tenses.) As long as the idea of overall precision is left undefined, it’s not really possible to measure whether or to what extent one language is “more precise” than another.

Continue reading →