Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Value of Latin in This Time of Remote Learning

“Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.”  “Perhaps someday it will even be useful to remember these things.”  This is one of the most memorable lines in Virgil’s Aeneid.  It was with these words that Aeneas tried to sow hope in the hearts of his men after the devastation of the Trojan War.  Latin teachers on occasion sign senior yearbooks with this quote.  It is a reminder that Latin has prepared them to meet and grapple with life’s challenges.  These words become especially poignant as we are confronted with a global pandemic and modifications to our way of life.

One of the lasting rewards of studying Latin and Greek is the wisdom one acquires from reading ancient sources.   If every generation since the fall of Rome has returned to these authors, it is because their writings have a perennial value.  Why does mythology enthrall people of all ages?  What compels artists to reproduce the stories of the classical world so prolifically?  Why do directors still stage performances of Greek tragedy?  It is because these stories communicate so persuasively the human experience.  They give us perspective when life challenges us.   They give us a voice when we cannot find the words to articulate what we feel. 

During this pandemic, educators face the challenge of teaching remotely.  We need to provide a meaningful curriculum to help students learn.  We need to help them cope with a period of isolation and anxiety.   During this unprecedented time, Latin students are finding a worthy companion in Ovid and his Metamorphoses.  A Roman author from the age of Augustus, Ovid was passionate about life, but he also understood the pain and loneliness of exile.   

In the Metamorphoses, Ovid offers us a fresh perspective at a time when we have limited movement.  He opens the imagination of our eyes to the wonders of nature.   With his vivid narrative,  Ovid raises us from the confines of our quarantine to a heightened world.  The mythologization of flowers, trees and constellations make ordinary objects appear extraordinary.  Think of Narcissus, Hyacinthus, and Adonis, whose transformations explain the miraculous origins of daffodils, hyacinths and anemones.   In one story, the youth, Narcissus, scorns a young woman’s passion and is cursed to love only his reflection, hence the word narcissism.  Unable to avert his gaze from his own image reflected in a pool of water, Narcissus is transformed into a flower.  

The genius of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, like all great works of literature, is that one can read it on different levels.  On one level, the story of Narcissus is a cautionary tale about the destructive forces of rejection and obsessive love.  It illustrates the importance of Aristotle’s golden mean, which urges people to always seek the middle course between two extremes - surely good advice for all of us!   On another level, the myth of Narcissus is a fantastic story that heightens our mundane world.  It reminds us in a time of distress to see and appreciate the little miracles all around us, even in our own backyard.   

By reading and reflecting on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Latin students learn to appreciate the wonders of nature and the night sky, things many of us took for granted before this period of quarantine.  On a higher level, students are learning to appreciate the power of myth as a timeless expression of what it means to be human.  With a new perspective, they, too, like Ovid, are expressing their unique observations of the world through art, creative writing, poetry and philosophy.  The longevity of ancient authors reminds us that, years from now, future generations will look back at our experiences.  They will benefit from the wisdom we acquired while living through this challenging time.  And someday perhaps, as Virgil said, it may even be helpful for us to remember these things.

A sophomore Latin student's painting of Narcissus.  She took inspiration from Caravaggio's famous  painting of the myth.  However, this student took it to a different level.  Instead of Narcissus looking at his own reflection, the daffodils on the shore see Narcissus reflected in the water.  It's a wonderful interpretation of the transformation.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Latin Day and Medfield High School

The Latin III-IV classes created a historical reenactment of ancient Rome for students from Blake Middle School to observe.  Students were assigned a particular craft or profession from ancient Rome. These included gladiators, mosaics, cooking, weaving, pottery and fashion/cosmetics.  Students had to research this craft and learn how to perform it. In class, students translated authentic Latin texts by Pliny and Seneca, that talked about the experiences of daily life in ancient Rome.  The culmination was to create a dramatic setting where the students could explain and demonstrate their skills to visitors. Each group created a scenario in which they talked about and demonstrated their craft.  Visiting middle school students rotated from group to group and learned about daily life in ancient Rome. Visitors were also able to practice some of these skills themselves. The next step will be to write a journal entry in Latin from the perspective of the character each student played.  The idea is to think about how different and similar life would have been in a different era. The students did a wonderful job and enjoyed working with our friends from the middle school.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Io Saturnalia!

Io Saturnalia!

Medfield Latin students gathered yesterday for their annual banquet commemorating the ancient Roman Saturnalia.  For the Romans, this festival honored the god, Saturn. The Romans believed that Saturn ruled Italy during the golden age.  This was a mythical period when all men lived in harmony. Saturn taught the inhabitants agriculture and gave them laws. In time, the Romans honored Saturn with an annual festival.  It was a time of merrymaking, feasting and gift giving. The Roman poet, Catullus, referred to Saturnalia as “the best of days”. In remembrance of the golden age, there was some degree of equality in the households, and slaves were permitted to participate with the family.  Special felt hats were worn, and a king of Saturnalia or princeps Saturnalicius was chosen from among the guests.  At the beginning of the feast, priests unbound the woolen bonds from Saturn’s feet in the temple.  Once sacrifices were offered, a banquet was held. Families and friends came together and exchanged gifts of wax candles.

For Medfield students, Saturnalia is a time to be together and to celebrate their love of Roman culture. The students at Medfield began their celebration with the arrival of Saturn, chosen from one of the Latin IV students.  The consuls led Saturn in procession to the decorated banquet hall and unbound his feet. They solemnly proclaimed the opening of the feast and made a special toast to the Latin students. Dressed in Roman attire, everyone sang Aquifolia Ornate Saturnalia-la-la-la.  The students then sat at tables and donned felt caps from their holiday crackers.  The Latin III students shared a video they made and explained the traditions of Saturnalia. Following the meal, the Latin IV students debuted their own movie.  This year was “How Pliny Stole Saturnalia” based on the popular Grinch movies. Pliny, a famous Roman author and notorious Saturnalian humbug claimed that he hated the holiday.  After the film, the princeps Saturnalicius was chosen from among the Latin I students.  Then came dessert followed by Trivia which the Latin II students organized.  To end the night, the senior Latin students came together, and the consuls offered a special toast with words of remembrance for their classmates.  All the students then joined them in singing Sodalitatis Veteris to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, a traditional Scottish song about remembering old friendships and cherished memories.
-Io Saturnalia!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Grade 8 Spanish: dancing and shopping with Rosalba!

Thanks to a grant from the PTO, eighth grade Spanish students enjoyed a visit from Rosalba Solís right before Thanksgiving.  She talked about Latin American indigenous cultures, led interactive games and taught salsa steps to everyone!  Finally, kids practiced interacting with a vendor in the pop-up mercado that Rosalba and her sister set up outside the cafeteria.

Being able to interact with native Spanish speakers was a great opportunity for our students, and the cultural benefits were packed into each of the six classes.¡Muchas gracias a Rosalba y el PTO!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

8th Grade Spanish students spent time this week studying the symbolism and significance of  El Día de los Muertos. Classes met in the Makerspace to create calaveras y cempasúchiles (skulls and marigolds) and learned of their importance on the ofrendas that families construct in their homes this time of year. Students are ending the week with a viewing of the movie Coco and a deeper understanding of why this is such a special time of year in México. 

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Our Felt Calaveras
Making our light up marigolds!

Our Community Ofrenda

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Visitors from Bengbu China!

We had visitors from Bengbu China stay with us from September 25th to October 5th. What a great experience for both visitors and our students in Medfield. It truly opened another world to us. During the stay, visitors did cultural presentations and music shows to Medfield students and families. We truly learned a lot from them. Below are the short stories from our four host students and link for pictures.

When I hosted Diana, I thought it would just be 10 days of just bringing someone from China around my life. But it was so much more. It became a real friendship. When I picked her up from the high school, I was so excited. And when we dropped her off, I was so sad. I never thought you could become this close with someone in 10 days. Even though we are across the world, we can still keep in touch. Even though we miss them, we can still talk to them with WeChat. I loved going on the duck tour, and going to the beach in Newport. I have unforgettable memories from this trip. It was amazing. This was a great experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat.--Kathryn
When I picked up Rosa from the high school, I really didn’t want to host anyone because I’m not used to sharing my family to other people. But the experiences I had with Rosa are unforgettable. I also got closer to other families in Medfield especially Kathryn’s family, the Buckley’s. Over the weekend when the students were here, all of us went to do stuff together. Diana and Rosa are friends so it was perfect. I learned so much about Chinese culture and Rosa learned more about Boston and Medfield. My favorite moments were going on the Duck Tour, and going to Newport and to the beach. I will never forget this amazing experience.--MiaTina was an amazing guest and she loves America. Not only did she grab my dog after he ran away and saved him from possibly being eaten by a squirrel, she was curious about many things. Her two favorite meals were scrambled eggs topped with strawberry jam and spaghetti. We soon became used to a new person in our house and came to think of her as a sister. I was sad to see her go and I hope I see her again. –Alex

Candy was an amazing guest and she was so much fun to hang out with. At first I was a little nervous to host because I didn’t know if I would be ready to.  But the experiences that I had with candy were unforgettable.  I got to know a lot about people and even what they ate.  On the last day I wasn’t sure if I was ready to see her leave but she came running up to me and said goodbye. Now that I think about it that was one of the most fun couple weeks of my life!-Ava

Link for videos and pictures:

Friday, October 12, 2018

Pen-Pal Exchange

French 2 students are actively participating in an exchange of letters with pen-pals in France.  Students at the Lycée Saint-Exupéry in Lyon are writing to MHS students in English, and in turn our students write to them in French.  It has been rewarding for them to realize that it's ok if the grammar isn't perfect and they are all learning a language.  Can your correspondent understand you?  That is the main goal.

So far this year, the students have already exchanged letters twice, and of course have connected on Instagram and Snapchat!  Through this authentic exchange (via regular mail), they will write about themselves, their families, sports, music and movies, as well as their travels.  Receiving actual letters on French paper and seeing how differently the handwriting is - that alone is very interesting.  Later in the year, there will also be an exchange of quick videos, which are a lot of fun to watch.

We are very lucky to have this opportunity, and I'm sure it will be a very rewarding exchange all year!