Teaching Latin poems without giving much thought to their metrical structure is a bit like teaching Haikus in paragraph form. Haikus are short and simple, though. If you’re only interested in a Haiku’s content, topic, or message, you could skip the 3 by 5-7-5 structure and students would read a few lines just fine. It’s still a bit silly, but there’s not much getting in the way. Then there’s Latin. If you’re only interested in a Latin poem’s content, topic, or message, its form is unnecessarily obtuse for the reader if you have no intention of really looking at the meter.
Timothy Moore’s article, “Don’t Skip the Meter! Introducing Students to the Music of Roman Comedy” (Classical Journal, 2013), has a clear message, right from the title. For years, I’ve felt the same way. It’s not breaking news that I began writing novellas in 2016 under a similar premise. Considering most Latin students drop after the second year, very few of them ever experience poetry typically read in years three or four. Therefore, my first book shared a glimpse into what Latin poetry has to offer beginning students. I didn’t fully realize that personal poetic pursuit until last year when I unabashedly unleashed 270 lines of poetry straight—no chaser—in ecce, poēmata discipulīs! With facing English, poetry is now available to all Latin students…
I started this blog in 2012—holy moly nearly a decade ago!—as a place for ideas about Latin poetry. At the time, I didn’t have much else to share besides what I knew on an abstract level about meter, and rhythm. My attention turned to understanding a bit of second language acquisition (SLA) as I began teaching. Therefore, I shifted the focus of this blog to sharing more practical language teaching ideas. Needless to say, poetry took a back seat. Still, I kept presenting on meter at Classical conferences. At these conferences, I learned that poetry didn’t make sense to a lot of Latin teachers, and I started lending a hand in what I began calling “rhythmic fluency,” sharing materials, and adding them to a tab here on the blog. I pretty much left that alone for years. It’s time for a reboot…
This is—by far—my metrical magnum opus, yet that doesn’t mean it’s beyond the reach of Latin 1 students. Forget any meter of mine you’ve ever met. If your pupils haven’t cared much for poor Piso’s poetry, no problem. This book is for them! It basically makes fun of Latin class, and school in general, which is a very different, yet delightful read, and it’s for students. I keep pointing that out because I’ve come to find that a lot of teaching materials are actually written for teachers, who then of course go on to use them with students (my own Piso Workbook included). This book, however, instead is written for students, directly…
“Wait, we have to read…Eutropius…who’s that?! Homework on a Friday?! Class for an hour straight without a break?! Oh no, more tests in Math?! What, no glossary?! Why can’t we just read?! Honestly, I was in bed (but the teacher doesn’t know!)…”
This collection of 33 poems is a humorous yet honest reflection of school, Latin class, homework, tests, Romans, teaching, and remote learning.
What makes this good? Why do I need this? I can answer with some numbers:
A colleague reminded me of hexameter.co, the point-earning competitive ancient Latin (and Greek) scanning site complete with leader boards home to the 5 minute rapid scan challenge.
I hadn’t logged in for years, but immediately became hooked once again these past two days. It’s either going to be a healthy break during the school day, or an obsession that leaves me feeling like I have a gambling addiction (i.e. you do lose points, and I’ve caught myself saying “just one more” to regain my highest rating). Here are some observations:
Since I’ve already done the introductory section last week, students will begin class tomorrow by grabbing a copy of fragmenta Pīsōnis, and reading the lutulentus ubīque section for 10 minutes. This is Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) because everyone is reading the same text. That section is a modest 88 total words in length, and contains one line of dactylic hexameter. If students finish before the timer goes off, they should rereadfragmenta mea, the introductory section about how Piso composes poetry. The introductory section is about 400 words in total length. If you’re just starting Poetry Of The Week, I recommend reading that one together as a class because that’s a lot of Latin for first year students to read independently before reciting!
After the 10 minutes of SSR, I’ll play the audio. Then, I’ll ask questions about the prose description, and finally recite the featured line of poetry.
For this year’s students, learning about the Romans—in Latin—began late in October with a CALP-inspired topic exploration on Roman housing (more on this, later) after months of focusing on the self, class, and community. Exploring Roman housing took place just after students read their first novella, Quīntus et nox horrifica. Upon returning from the December holiday break, students read their second novella, Drūsilla in Subūrā, which featured city-living apartments more familiar to them after the topic exploration during the fall. Learning about the Romans will now continue throughout the year as a new weekly routine begins…
Here are 50 new lines of poetry including dactylic hexameter, hendecasyllables, and scazon (i.e. limping iambics)!
This collection of poetry from the Pisoverse features a prose description of what inspired Piso’s poetry prior to each verse itself. This provides context and exposure to the words found in each verse, adding to its comprehensibility. Despite the lack of a single continuous plot, students should find fragmenta Pīsōnis more readable than the Pīsō Ille Poētulus novella, especially with any background knowledge from reading the other, much easier novellas in the Pisoverse (i.e. Rūfus lutulentus, Rūfus et arma ātra, and Agrippīna: māter fortis). The poetry in this collection includes more “big content words” to clearly convey meaning. fragmenta Pīsōnis can be used as a transition to the Pīsō Ille Poētulus novella, or as additional reading for students already comfortable with poetry having read the novella. The only new word added to the 96 word count from the entire Pisoverse is fragmentum. This collection is 2200 words in total length.
Use fragmenta Pīsōnis as a Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) option, read as a whole class together, or introduce each fragment as “poetry of week.”
So much of this blog is CI-centered, but there’s a neglected tab on the navigator bar devoted to what I’ve called Rhythmic Fluency. Since I’m now teaching Latin IV (Ovid & Catullus), I’ve gone back to my rhythmic roots, and am seeing the power of those earlier metrical resources combined with my classes now containing more comprehensible Latin. Pīsō Ille Poētulus(already greatly improved since sharing a couple weeks ago) includes 22 lines of original dactylic hexameter using a limited vocabulary, thus increasing its comprehensibility potential. It is scheduled for November publication so you can brush up on your rhythmic fluency beforehand by listening to the dactylic hexameter audio files, and be prepared to read Pīsō with your students in a more compelling way by actually focusing on the meter using a resource they can hear and recite along with!
In addition to that audio, of particular interest and effectiveness is Lingua Latīna, the Latin Poetry Rhythm Card Game. If you noticed, the title of the game represents the traditional 5th & 6th foot of dactylic hexameter (i.e. — u u — —). The point of the game is to run out of cards by playing 2-3 words that form the very same rhythm of the phrase, Lingua Latīna.
I’ll be using this game throughout the year. A good way to use it would be to treat it exactly like you would a game of VERBA, either whole class first then in small groups so you can monitor, or as just one of several station options.