Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Latin's last laugh

Latin has been coming back like you wouldn't believe throughout both high schools and colleges across the country. The language of such illuminaries of history and thought like Cicero, Caesar, Augustine, Vergil and Ovid is once again having an impact in modern education. This is really not news. But, this is. Latin may actually surpass German as the third most studied language in the United States, behind only Spanish and French. Wow!

October 7, 2008
A Dead Language That’s Very Much Alive
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — The Latin class at Isaac E. Young Middle School here was reading a story the other day with a familiar ring: Boy annoys girl, girl scolds boy. Only in this version, the characters were named Sextus and Cornelia, and they argued in Latin.

“I can relate, but what the heck are they saying?” said Xavier Peña, a sixth grader who started studying Latin in September.

Enrollment in Latin classes here in this Westchester County suburb has increased by nearly one-third since 2006, to 187 of the district’s 10,500 students, and the two middle schools in town are starting an ancient-cultures club in which students will explore the lives of Romans, Greeks and others.

The resurgence of a language once rejected as outdated and irrelevant is reflected across the country as Latin is embraced by a new generation of students like Xavier who seek to increase SAT scores or stand out from their friends, or simply harbor a fascination for the ancient language after reading Harry Potter’s Latin-based chanting spells.

The number of students in the United States taking the National Latin Exam has risen steadily to more than 134,000 students in each of the past two years, from 124,000 in 2003 and 101,000 in 1998, with large increases in remote parts of the country like New Mexico, Alaska and Vermont. The number of students taking the Advanced Placement test in Latin, meanwhile, has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, to 8,654 in 2007. While Spanish and French still dominate student schedules — and Chinese and Arabic are trendier choices — Latin has quietly flourished in many high-performing suburbs, like New Rochelle, where Latin’s virtues are sung by superintendents and principals who took it in their day. In neighboring Pelham, the 2,750-student district just hired a second full-time Latin teacher after a four-year search, learning that scarce Latin teachers have become more sought-after than ever.

On Long Island, the Jericho district is offering an Advanced Placement course in Latin for the first time this year after its Latin enrollment rose to 120 students, a 35 percent increase since 2002. In nearby Great Neck, 36 fifth graders signed up last year for before- and after-school Latin classes that were started by a 2008 graduate who has moved on to study classics at Stanford (that student’s brother and a friend will continue to lead the Latin classes this year).

Latin is also thriving in New York City, where it is currently taught in about three dozen schools , including Brooklyn Latin, a high school in East Williamsburg that started in 2006. Four years of Latin, and two of Spanish, are required at the new high school, where Latin phrases adorn the walls and words like discipuli (students), magistri (teachers) and latrina (bathroom) are sprinkled into everyday conversation.

“It’s the language of scholars and educated people,” said Jason Griffiths, headmaster of Brooklyn Latin. “It’s the language of people who are successful. I think it’s a draw, and that’s certainly what we sell.”

Adam D. Blistein, executive director of the American Philological Association at the University of Pennsylvania, which represents more than 3,000 members, including classics professors and Latin teachers, said that more high schools were recognizing the benefits of Latin. It builds vocabulary and grammar for higher SAT scores, appeals to college admissions officers as a sign of critical-thinking skills and fosters true intellectual passion, he said.

“Goethe is better in German, Flaubert is better in French and Virgil is better in Latin,” Dr. Blistein said. “If you stick with it, the lollipop comes at the end when you get to read the original. In many cases, it’s what whets their appetite.”

Latin was once required at many public and parochial schools, but fell into disfavor during the 1960s when students rebelled against traditional classroom teachings and even the Roman Catholic Church moved away from Latin as the official language of Mass. Interest in Latin was revived somewhat in the 1970s and began picking up in the 1980s with the back-to-basics movement in many schools, according to Latin scholars, but really took off in the last few years as a language long seen as a stodgy ivory tower secret infiltrated popular culture.

Harry Potter books use Latin words for names and spells, and at least two have been translated into Latin (“Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis”), as have several by Dr. Seuss (“Cattus Petasatus”). Movies like “Gladiator” and “Troy” have also lent glamour to the ancient world.

“Sometimes you need to know Latin to understand that part,” said Adrian McCullough, 10, a sixth grader in New Rochelle who plans to reread the Harry Potter books now that he is learning Latin.

Marty Abbott, education director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said it was possible that Latin would edge out German as the third most popular language taught in schools, behind Spanish and French, when the preliminary results of an enrollment survey are released next year. In the last survey, covering enrollment in 2000, Latin placed fourth. “In people’s minds, it’s coming back,” she said. “But it’s always been there. It’s just that we continue to see interest in it.”

Ms. Abbott, a former Latin teacher, said that today’s Latin classes appeal to more students because they have evolved from “dry grammar and tortuous translations” to livelier lessons that focus on culture, history and the daily life of the Romans. In addition, she said, Latin teachers and students have promoted the language outside the classroom through clubs, poetry competitions and mock chariot races.

In Scarsdale, N.Y., where Latin enrollment rose by 14 percent to 80 this year, the high school sponsors a Roman banquet on the Ides of March during which students come wearing tunics and wreaths in their hair. Seniors serve bread, olives, roasted chicken and grapes to younger students, and all of them break bread with their hands. Dr. Marion Polsky, the Latin teacher, said that former students still send her postcards written in Latin and that at least three have gone on to become Latin teachers.

Here in New Rochelle, the district introduced a Latin class for sixth graders last year and is now adding a second Latin class for seventh graders. Richard Organisciak, the superintendent, said the district had spent $273,000 since 2006 to promote foreign languages including Latin. Last month, the district also started a dual-language English-Italian kindergarten and a Greek class at the high school; it is considering offering Chinese next fall.

The high school principal, Don Conetta, said he had encouraged more students to study Latin, though he acknowledged that he was hardly “a stellar student” himself in Latin and came to appreciate its value only later in life.

“If my Latin teachers could hear me now,” he said. “I took three years in high school, and four semesters in college, and I can’t remember the first line of Cicero’s orations.”

Students like Ciera Gardner, a sophomore, started Latin three years ago with two friends who have since dropped out because of the workload. But Ciera, an aspiring actress, said that she had persisted because Latin would look good on her college applications and that in the meantime, it had already helped her decipher unfamiliar words while reading scripts. “It’s different,” she said. “Everyone says ‘I take Spanish’ or ‘I take Italian,’ but it’s cool to say ‘I take Latin.’ ”

Max Gordon, another sophomore, said that he had learned more about grammar in Latin class than in English class. And he occasionally debates the finer points of grammar with his mother, Kit Fitzgerald, a video artist who studied Latin, while washing dishes after dinner.

“In some ways, it’s really frustrating,” he said. “I’ll hear someone say something that isn’t grammatically correct and I’ll cringe.”

Saturday, October 4, 2008

History of Football (i.e. Soccer)

What doesn't have its origins from the Greeks and Romans?

In order to really understand something, you must know its history.

This is one of the reasons I have decided to write a series of articles about the history of football. I will explore different times and periods in the development of football and I will leave it you to figure out how it all turned out to be the entertaining sport and way of life it is today.

The first article of the series is about the origins of football.

Contradictory to the widely-spread belief that football has originated in England, there have been games of ball, which were forerunners to the modern game, played as early as 2500 BC throughout the different civilizations that existed then.

Various artifacts found in Egyptian tombs signify the existence of ball games as early as 2500 BC. They were games that modern football has nothing in common with, except maybe the ball, but without their existence there might have not been any football nowadays.

Balls were usually made of linen, and for better bouncing sometimes they were made of animal sinew. Nevertheless, very little is known about the ball games which were played so long ago.

Around 2000 BC, in ancient Greece, a game of ball called Episkyros (also known as Phaindina) was invented. The game was played predominantly by men but also women took part in it sometimes. They all played naked.

The balls had low bouncing capability as they were made of linen and were wrapped in hair, sewn together. An interesting fact is that an image of a naked Greek athlete, playing early football, is engraved in the European Cup.

During the time of the Ts'in and Han Dynasties (255BC—220AD) in China, people played a game of ball called “tsu chu”. In this game, the main goal was to drive an animal-skin ball through holes in a net, stretched between two poles. Other similar games of ball were documented in many of the most powerful civilizations then: Egypt, Rome, and ancient Greece.

The meaning of football in those days was completely different to the one in modern football. During those times, “football” was used not only for entertaining purposes but also for different ones as well.

In Rome, for example, the Roman soldiers played a game called “Harpastum” (meaning a heavy hand-ball, rugby). It is believed that they have taken the idea from the Greek game, Phaindina, renaming it to Harpastum. They also put in some new rules to the game like using a smaller ball for instance.

The game involved a lot of heavy tackling, jumping, and running which created a lot of commotion. The Romans thought that this could help them in their battles and used this game as training.

Galen, a Roman physician and philosopher, described the game “harpastum” as “better than wrestling or running because it exercises every part of the body, takes up little time, and costs nothing." He also considered it "profitable training in strategy", and said that it could be "played with varying degrees of strenuousness."

It would not be wrong to suggest that the games that were played in the past drastically differ from the ones that have originated from them. In the past, the practical meaning of the games was much more important to the people than only the entertaining purpose of it. In some cases it even served as a religious ritual or a preparation for some important aspect of life.

An adequate example for such case is the game of “ball” that was played somewhere in Pre-Medieval Europe.

According to a legend, the people of one village would try to kick the “ball” (a skull in many cases) along a path to another village’s square. The opposing village would try to stop them and kick the ball to the first one’s square. Surely, it must have sparked a considerable amount of riots.

Another medieval custom was to play a game of ball just after the preparation for winter when the bladders of the animals that were killed in order to be stocked for the winter were taken and inflated with air, thus creating a ball of some sort. The only rule of the game was to keep the ball in the air, using hands as well as feet.

In the Eternal City, Walk in a Roman's Sandals

A Block-by-Block Weekend Tour

By Giovanna Dell'Orto
Associated Press
Sunday, October 5, 2008; Page P07

The light splashes liquid gold over marble columns in the Roman Forum and the faded facades of baroque palaces in the distance. Nearby, a heated dialogue resonates in the hearty Roman intonation that infuses everyday interactions with playful theatricality.

I am standing in the center of Rome, amid its absurd profusion of gorgeous monuments, historic sites, religious wonders -- and everyday contemporary life.

A man on a scooter drops off dry cleaning next to a 1,900-year-old temple. A woman in extravagantly high heels heads to her office, housed in 17th-century papal palaces.

This is why Rome, majestic and down-to-earth, has a hold on me like no other city. Every turn down a cobblestone street reveals yet another magnificent piece of art and history that feels decadently ignored and singularly mine.

Trying to get in all the sights is virtually impossible; I didn't make it even when I lived here a few years ago for six months. Now that I barely manage a weekend a year, I have developed my own walking itinerary of favorite spots. Here is my personal pick of what to see in Rome if you have only two days. Best of all, every site listed here is free, except for the Vatican Museums (about $20, free the last Sunday of the month, and the Roman Forum, which includes the Colosseum (about $16,

· Caput Mundi: Let's start in the morning at Piazza Venezia, the logistical center of the metropolis that a couple of millennia ago called itself, and for centuries indeed was, caput mundi, the "head of the world."

Climb the grand ramp up the Capitoline Hill to Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio, then walk to the terraces on either side of Rome's town hall. The heart of the Roman Republic and Empire lies in ruins at your feet, a sweeping vista of muscularly carved arches, columns, statues and basilicas.

Imagine yourself in the power center of the ancient world by walking down the length of the Roman Forum along the Via Sacra, the sacred way. I'm oddly, movingly reminded of this city's breathing history every time I see the faded wreath of fabric flowers lying in front of the Temple of Caesar at the reputed site where his assassinated body was cremated. I circle around the Colosseum, inaugurated in A.D. 80 before a crowd of about 50,000 spectators and for 300 years the site of bloody battles between gladiators and beasts. Then I head back along Via dei Fori Imperiali.

On the right are the Imperial Forums, built as the Roman Forum started to be too tight for the growing empire. The most impressive ruins are at the end, as you reach back toward Piazza Venezia. The Mercati Traianei were Rome's mall, with some 150 shops along several floors, and just past them rises the 98-foot Colonna Traiana, a column whose spiraling bas-reliefs depicting Rome's campaigns against eastern European tribes are a masterpiece of Roman sculpture.

I always stop for lunch just across Piazza Venezia, down Via del Gesu. When I want to sit down to such classics as saltimbocca (thin veal slices rolled with prosciutto and sage), I head to Enoteca Corsi (Via del Gesu 87).

If I feel compelled to keep going, I step into any of the compact, family-run grocery stores, such as the Tiberi brothers', a couple of doors down from the enoteca (Italian for wine shop), for a slice of pizza bianca -- chewy, crusty pizza dough -- filled with arugula, mozzarella di bufala and prosciutto crudo.

On one visit, after I had been gone for about two years, I had barely crossed the threshold when one of the brothers greeted me with a reproachful "We're out of pizza bianca, Miss. You should have called us from the plane!"

I usually take my pizza break on the low wall next to the Pantheon (Piazza della Rotonda), marveling at perhaps the best-preserved monument of ancient Rome. This perfectly proportioned, vast dome-topped structure has been a temple for 1,900 years, the last 1,400 as a Christian church.

Armed with ice cream from a nearby gelateria, I amble through the contorted medieval streets, past Renaissance and baroque palaces, all in the earthy ocher and golden tones of Rome, until I make my way to the most annoyingly tourist-thronged attraction of all, Fontana di Trevi (the Trevi Fountain, in the Piazza di Trevi).

Poor Neptune, sculpted in 1762, had to stand by as Anita Ekberg epically bathed in the large fountain in front of him in Fellini's "La Dolce Vita," and he continues to tolerate the ritual that I can't resist: Tossing in a coin, said to ensure a prompt return to Rome. There's more "sweet life" down the street at the inordinately expensive boutiques lining Via dei Condotti: I recently gawked at a golf-ball-size sapphire pendant in a Bulgari window. The street ends at the masterpiece of 18th-century theatricality, the voluptuously shaped Spanish Steps (in the Piazza di Spagna). Walk up them and a few hundred yards along the road, into the Villa Borghese park, to the terrace on the Pincio hill, overlooking vast Piazza del Popolo.

It's the best place to watch the sunset, as the red and golden light infuses the umbrella pines, the marble arches and the ornate church domes, including St. Peter's, in the panorama of Rome at your feet.

For dinner, I head back south to any of the restaurants along Via del Governo Vecchio, ranging from hip wine bars to no-sign, no-menu holes in the wall. The crowds wolfing down fiery pasta all'amatriciana (with pancetta) or cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese and black pepper) include as few tourists as you're likely to find in Rome's historic center, even though they're steps away from one of the most overrun marvels, the Piazza Navona.