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Who Knew Latin Could Be So Exciting?
Entering 7th grade, I was given the option of what language to take: French, Spanish, or Latin. I enjoy learning about the ancient world, especially the Roman Empire, and want to pursue a science career. Little did I know that this simple choice between languages could be so life changing.
I chose Latin.
Going into it I thought we would be learning boring topics like grammar and vocabulary. While we did learn these things, I was so, so wrong about it being boring.
From day one of 7th grade to day 180 of 8th, Latin class created so many amazing memories I will never forget. When the average person thinks about Latin, they think of it as copying down words and sentences, and non-stop hard work while ½ the class is asleep, as I originally did. Only the students of Mrs. Barone will think of songs, crazy reenactments, and whacky reasons not to do work.
When the first week of school came around, most everything we did was the normal start of school activities, like name and get to know you activities. After getting more acquainted with each other, the true insane nature of the class started to show. If I ever say that a day in Latin was “normal” that usually means just the inherent craziness of the class, with qualities such as singing, random comments, and strange noises, that I don't have time to cover, nor put into words.
The real insanity started when we began to learn how to conjugate verbs, a boring subject when taught like it is normally. But we had Mrs. Barone, and nothing was normal. To help us learn to conjugate, she taught us a song that I still remember to this day. It goes like this: “o, s, t, m-u-s, t-i-s, n-t!” And despite how simple the song may be, it was extremely effective in doing its task, and making the class even more bonkers. We sang it at some point in class for at least three days, with more people joining in each time as singing in class felt less awkward.
The next few weeks in class went as “normal.” When December rolled around, we were told of an Ancient Roman Holiday, Saturnalia. It is a celebration of the god Saturn, and consists of an abundant feast, which we would recreate in class, of course. We got a list of foods consisting of items such as chicken, pork, grapes, bread, and cheese. I brought in chicken, with others filling up the feast table with bacon, bread, fruit, and cheese. It was a scrumptious meal, and while we were finishing our lunch we topped the whole feast off by watching the movie Night At the Museum. After two years we never finished it.
Following winter break we continued to get even more off topic during our classes, like when we were told The Bunny Story. In short, we learned that our teacher has, in one way or another, caused the death of more than fifteen bunnies over the course of her life. Her dog killed a few, some got sick, and some babies mysteriously died overnight.
We never let her live it down.
The rest of the school year flew by and as we got towards the end of 4th quarter, the week that everyone had been waiting for had come.
Mrs. Barone had told us about this in the first week of school, which after all this time was a distant memory, and we had been excited for it ever since. Throughout the week we reenacted how the Ancient Roman gladiator games would have taken place in the Colosseum, with the only difference being that ours were definitely more entertaining. To simulate the fights, without killing people of course, we used cardboard paper towel rolls instead of swords to whack each other with. We would go up in groups of two-five, and fight until someone got a blow that would have been fatal. When it was my turn to go up, I got to reenact the animal hunt.
It was me with a paper towel tube, pitted up against a classmate with smaller toilet paper rolls as claws. There were other students involved, forming a natural environment by making trees and rocks as obstacles. When we got the signal to begin, (a white flag dropped by the emperor), we clashed in the middle of the auditorium floor, my paper towel tube against his smaller ones. My sword against his claws. He slashed, and I dodged out of the way, then plunged back in at him, crumbling my paper towel tube into his chest, my sword into his gut. I was victorious, and after slaying the beast, we both took our seats, and watched as more people fought to the death like we did.
It was the most fun I had ever had learning up to this point, and yes, we did learn things in that class. We learned the whole curriculum that year, and most everyone did well. But it didn't feel like traditional learning. It was fun.
The fun didn't stop with the gladiator fights, however, it continued on to 8th grade.
The beginning of 8th grade wasn't like the start of 7th. This was the only class where everyone knew each other. This allowed us to skip introductions, and made it easy to jump into learning.
The first few weeks were spent reviewing what we did last year that everyone had forgotten over the summer. We started learning new information with our reenactments of the Twelve Labors of Hercules. We went through each one, taking on the roles of various characters in the myth, learning how at the end of a few labors the king in the story jumps into a pot after being terrified by what Hercules brought back.
In a normal class if someone were to jump into a recycling bin, it would be frowned upon by the teacher, but not in Latin. The whole class, including Mrs. Barone, burst into laughter at the sight of someone jumping into the recycling bin, and it swiftly became a tradition for the future labors. We completed two-three labors a day until we got through all twelve of them. Each one had some goofy element in them that everyone got a kick out of, and they were all very fun to watch.
As the end of October approached, we were assigned a project in which we would research a Roman emperor of our choice, and make a presentation about them. I realized this would be another fun project when we were told to put a fun slide in the middle of the presentation, that was not at all related to the topic. Our teacher wanted us to do this so we wouldn't get bored in the middle of the presentation, and stop paying attention. The common way of doing this was to make a slide dedicated to adorable animals. This in turn spurred an unexpected side project: finding the cutest animal. The winner of this makeshift competition was the teacup pig, if you have never seen one, I would highly recommend looking it up.
Along with other random side projects, there were also some very interesting emperors that made this project fun to research. The craziest was probably emperor Elagabalus. If you don't know anything about him, here is a short summary: He ruled from 218 A.D. to 222 A.D., and married four women and one man during his short lifetime. He also often cross-dressed and was considered a transvestite. Lastly, he would hold parties in which he would force guests to eat rocks, and even feed them to lions for fun. That was an interesting presentation to say the least, and did I mention he was fourteen?
After learning about many more crazy emperors, Latin class returned to normal. We learned another song, this time singing it so loud that the teacher from the next class over had to come in to tell us to quiet down. We even invented a song of our own in honor of latin class, the lyrics being: “ Latin class, Latin class, it’s so flippin’ dank!!!” We sang it ritually at the start of class each day.
Finally, to conclude middle school Latin, we watched what could very well be the best Ancient Roman movie of all time, Ben-Hur, a Tale of Christ. Because the movie is over three hours long, it ate up almost a week of class time, but was a nice relaxing way to end the year on a high note.
If any of us had the choice to go back and choose another language, I guarantee you that all of us would still choose Latin. We made hundreds of memories with one another, all of which will last a lifetime.