There is a rhyme passed down by Latin students that goes: Latin is a language, dead as dead can be. First it killed the Romans, now it’s killing me.
On Friday, 200 Texas high-school students from 10 high schools arrived at Baylor to prove that Latin is still very much alive.
Baylor Latin Day is a yearly event, hosted by the classics department, in which Baylor students and faculty lead high-school students through a series of events relating to the Latin language and ancient culture.
According to classics department chair, Dr. Daniel Nodes, Latin Day still continues to be one of Baylor’s best-kept secrets. While learning Latin in high-school is not as common as it once was, Baylor Latin Day is giving the students who take Latin a chance to see its continued importance.
Nodes said that one of Latin Day’s main purposes is to show students that the work of a Latin scholar goes beyond the language, and extends into the modern fields of art, education and current languages.
“We try to impress upon them that there’s work to be done, it’s exciting, and it’s not just an academic exercise that they go to without a purpose,” Nodes said.
One of the events, held in the Armstrong Browning Library, was a workshop that allowed a select number of students to personally handle and study ancient Greek and Latin manuscripts under the supervision of classics department professors.
Nodes said the point of the workshop was to show the students that a Latin scholar’s work is not only in knowing the language well enough, but also in understanding the ages-long physical process of the transmission of ideas.
“These are some of the earliest witnesses, and some of the best interestingly enough, of human expression in poetry, in philosophy, in drama, and even in science,” Nodes said.
Another event involved a group of 12 Baylor undergraduates’ take on an ancient Latin comedy.
The undergraduates, under the direction of classics lecturer David White, practiced for a month on their version of Plautus’ “Menaechimi.”
The play was performed for the high school students in the later afternoon. Dr. Meghan DiLuzio, assistant professor of classics and this year’s event coordinator, said that the play was only presented in English “so everyone can appreciate it as fully as possible.”
The play itself was a broad, slapstick comedy of mistaken identity with a few notable alterations for the younger crowd, including the addition of a kitchen sponge as a legitimate defensive weapon and a golden Dr Pepper bottle as a valuable object. Leander senior, Ian Conn, who played the older of the two men named Menaechmus, said that he discovered Baylor through his high school’s trip to the Baylor Latin Day.
Conn joined the Latin Day drama team through the Baylor classics honor society, Eta Sigma Phi.
“I thought that this would be a great way to participate,” Conn said. “It’s been a ton of fun, honestly.”
He said that he hoped that the play would encourage the high-school students in attendance to pursue their Latin studies.
Throughout the day, each of the events were punctuated by different rounds of Certamen.
Certamen, a Latin word meaning “competition,” involved several head-to-head matches between students with questions about anything from Latin conjugation to the specifics of a Roman legend.
Soon after taking first place in Certamen, the students of Austin’s Hill Country Christian School soundly defeated a group of Baylor undergraduates in one extra round, winning 125 to 55.
Sean and Amanda Mathis were the two Latin teachers accompanying Hill Country’s Certamen team to the Baylor Latin Day. Both are Baylor graduates and first met as students in the Baylor classics department.
Amanda Mathis said that Latin, despite being an unused language, still has benefits for her students.
“I really pushes them to do more critical thinking,” Mathis said. “Usually students who have Latin at an early age succeed more in classes like English or even the sciences or math.”