O tempora, o mores! What a time to be in Latin Academy. With so much going on in our world, I have truly enjoyed the chance to work with those who will have a hand in shaping a better tomorrow, our wonderful students. They continue to impress me with their thoughtful responses in group discussions as well as their detailed written work and even the occasional engaging video or meme.
On Monday, my lesson “I’m the Bad Guy...Duh(!?)” hit the airwaves. In this lesson, I presented students with three different authors and discussed how each of them characterized the “villains” in their respective literary works. I highlighted Caesar’s depiction of Vercingetorix, his famous Gallic rival, in the Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Sallust’s depiction of Catiline, the author of an infamous conspiracy to seize control of the Roman Republic, in the Bellum Catilinae and finally Livy’s depiction of Hannibal, the notorious Carthaginian general, in Ab Urbe Condita. I then asked students to consider each author’s intent behind these characterizations and what we can learn about the themes of each work from an analysis of its villain. In addition, they attempted to find connections between the different villains as well as determine what constituted a protagonist or antagonist in the eyes of the Romans.
The students’ work speaks for itself as they drew some excellent conclusions from the evidence presented to them. Several students made the astute observation that each author spends time praising the Roman values of each villain. This particular student did so and included an illustrative allusion:
These authors try to depict villains as those who emulate typical Roman values, but were either put in the wrong situation/went down the wrong path…it reminds me of the first circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno where non-Christian figures like Vergil are held; they don’t receive hellish punishment because Dante admires them a lot as people, but their only sin is not being Christian. – Glorious Latin Academy Student
Building off of this point, other students concluded that the differentiation between a protagonist and an antagonist truly came down to how Roman each one was, as illustrated by this response:
As far as I can see, the only deciding factor of villainy for Roman authors is how Roman the villain is. Vercingetorix, while infused with the values of a noble Roman, is still Gallic, and therefore an enemy. Cataline, though Roman, is similar in action and thought to the stereotype of “Punics”, i.e. backstabbing, ambitious, unbound by oaths. Hannibal, though enduring of body, is still ultimately Punic, and therein lies his villainy. – Brilliant Latin Academy Student
Taking all this into consideration, one student reflected on their realization that all these authors were focused on highlighting qualities that are inherently Roman:
It’s interesting to think that there are always going to be traces of each writer’s experiences, emotions, and lives in their work that we sometimes don’t even notice because they’re disguised into the plot so masterfully. – Outstanding Latin Academy Student
Every author has bias and students were able to pick up on the fact that these Roman historians are no exception. They viewed both protagonists and antagonists through a Roman lens and evaluated their characters based on their relationship with Rome and whether or not their values aligned with those of an ideal Roman. Each author operated from their own perspective as a Roman and brought out characteristics within their respective “villains” that were familiar to them. In the end, to quote our Latin Academy motto, “nil humani alienum.” Also, a relevant meme created by our resident Latin Academy Meme Lord.
I would also like to give a special shout out to all the students who attended our discussion on Tuesday! It was wonderful to speak with everyone and we covered a variety of topics including how we should look at ancient literature from the perspective of genre, cultural stereotypes employed by the Romans as well as the literary careers and reception of Caesar, Sallust and Livy.
Maximas gratias discipulis ago!!! It has been a delight to work with all of our students this summer and I am very much looking forward to the theme project presentations on Thursday.
This blog will document the MMXX virtual session of the Virginia Governor's Latin Academy.