The approach of Christmas gives opportunities to use Latin in a different way. The language of the Christian Church was not very different from classical Latin. It was probably nearer to the language spoken by ordinary citizens of the Roman Empire than was the language written by Cicero or Tacitus. It is certainly easier to understand.
The Latin version of the Bible, The Vulgate, was written by St. Jerome in the last quarter of the fourth century. Rome had not yet been sacked by Alaric the Goth. The Latin Bible is part of the literature of the Roman Empire, unusual in that it was written not for a rich and highly educated elite, but for everyone. Jerome's version of the Christmas story as told by St Luke will not teach our students any bad grammar. Some idioms may reflect a Hebrew original, but they are easy to understand. It would be easy to make a simple Latin nativity play from St Luke's narrative as an alternative to reading the text.
Latin carols use the language of the Vulgate. If there is an opportunity to teach the whole school to sing in Latin for a carol service, that is all to the good. Students may be surprised to learn that 'Adeste fideles' is the original and 'O come all ye faithful' merely a translation. Macaronic carols, part Latin, part English (or German), could be a gentle way in to the singing and understanding of a few Latin phrases: Insist on 'Gloria in excelsis Deo' rather than 'Come and worship ...' as the refrain to 'Ding dong merrily on high.' It is easier to sing, for one thing! 'In dulci iubilo' rather than 'Good Christian men rejoice', please, or any politically correct variant.
For the study of Roman religion and Roman society, the Saturnalia offers a chance
for lighthearted participation. The learned articles reproduced on this site suggest
a number of harmless end-
A student could dress as the teacher and take part of the class, inspired by the exchange of roles between masters and slaves at Saturnalia. Letting a pupil take the master's place was a favourite strategem of ARLT founder Rouse.
There would be no harm in all the class wearing the pilleus, the cap of liberty, as slaves did at Saturnalia, and as a sign that they will soon be free of school. It gives the chance to revise the methods by which a master could free his slave.
Freedom of speech was given to slaves during Saturnalia. If the teacher thought it
helpful, and can cope with the results, the class could be invited to comment, freely
and with no come-
For those planning to read St Luke's story of the Nativity in Greek, here is a word list Word list
Horace Satire 2.7
DAVUS. I've been listening some time, and wishing o say a word to you, but as a slave I dare not.
HORACE. Is that Davus ?
DAV. Yes, Davus, a slave loyal to his master, and fairly honest -
him too good to live.
HOR. Come, use the licence December allows, since our fathers willed it so. Have your say.
DAV. Some men persist in their love of vice and stick to their purpose; the greater number waver,
now aiming at the right, at times giving way to evil. Thus Priscus, who often attracted notice by
wearing three rings, but once in a while by wearing none, was so fickle in his life, that he
would change his stripe every hour. Passing from a stately mansion, he would bury himself in a den,
from which a decent freedman could scarcely emerge without shame. Now he would choose
to live in Rome as a rake, now as a sage in Athens -
Volanerius, the jester, when the gout he had earned crippled his finger joints, kept a man, hired at a daily wage, to pick up the dice for him and put them in the box. As he was the more persistent in his vices, so he was the less unhappy and the better man, than the one who, with rope now taut, now loose, is in distress.
HOR. Are you to take all day, you scape-
DAV. 'Tis you, I say.
HOR. How so, villain?
DAV. You praise the fortune and manners of the men of old; and yet, if on a sudden some god were for
taking you back to those days, you would refuse every time; either because you don't
really think that what you are ranting is sounder, or because you are wobbly in defending
the right, and, though vainly longing to pull your foot from the filth, yet stick
fast in it. At Rome you long for the country; in the country, you extol to the stars
the distant town, you fickle one! If so it be that you are asked out nowhere to supper,
you praise your quiet dish of herbs, and, as though you were in chains when you do
go anywhere, you call yourself lucky, and hug yourself, because you have not to go
out for some carousel. Let but Maecenas bid you at a late hour come to him as a guest,
just at lamp-
HOR Where can I find a stone?
DAVUS. What's it for?
HOR. Or where arrows?
DAVUS. The man's raving, or else verse-
HOR. If you don't take yourself off in a jiffy, you'll make the ninth labourer on my Sabine farm.
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|The Perse Plays|
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|2012 Moreton Hall|
|NC Latin grade descriptors|
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