Category: Elementary Latin

Romulus & Remus Podcast

This week’s “In Our Times” Podcast delves into the wonders and mysteries of Romulus and Remus:

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Romulus and Remus, the central figures of the foundation myth of Rome. According to tradition, the twins were abandoned by their parents as babies, but were saved by a she-wolf who found and nursed them. Romulus killed his brother after a vicious quarrel, and went on to found a city, which was named after him.


The World’s Most Difficult Languages

A recent article in The Economist (“Tongue Twisters,” Dec 17 2009) recently tackled the question, “what is the world’s most difficult language?” English, despite its admittedly insane orthography, is quickly dismissed as “pretty simple: verbs hardly conjugate; nouns pluralise easily (just add “s”, mostly) and there are no genders to remember… English is a relatively simple language, absurdly spelled.” The complexity of Latin and Greek, although possessing more challenging morphology than English, likewise pale in comparison to other languages.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1563). Wikipedia.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1563). Wikipedia.

What follows is a whirlwind tour of the complexity and diversity of human speech: the tonal system of Chinese, the sonic complexity of !Xóõ, a “click” language spoken in Botswana, Estonian’s 14 (!) cases, or the 50-140 declensions (!!) of Tuyuca, a language spoken in the eastern Amazon basin.

All these delicious linguistic details, however, point to a more fundamental question: does one’s language shape and constrict one’s thought, or are the observable complexities simply superficial variance over deep structural similarity? I lean strongly towards the former, but read the rest of the article and decide for yourself.

A Random Latin Factoid

Latin could still function as the language of international diplomacy into the late Seventeenth Century. In 1689, Russian and Manchu diplomats signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk, which for a time demarcated the boundary between Russian and China. Because the Manchu forces had had two Jesuit advisors, the authoritative version of the treaty was drafted in Latin and then translated into Russian and Manchu.



It is the year of the consulships of M. Tullius Cicero and C. Antonius Hibrida. Revolution is feared by some and a hope for others…

“Cicero denounces Catilina” by Cesare Maccari (1840–1919); Source: Wikimedia.

The Game

On the last two days of class, we will debate the fate of Cicero and the (alleged) conspirators.

In our imagined timeline, after Cicero finished his First Catilinarian, Catiline does not meekly withdraw from the Senate but defiantly stands and calls for open debate on the accusations hurled against him by Cicero (refer ad senatum!). Unlike during Cicero’s speech, this time there is first a murmur of assent, then a few applaud, growing ever more bold in showing their support for continued debate. Cicero resists at first (non referam!). But when the princeps senatus, Quintus Valerius Catulus, signals his support for continuing the debate, Cicero grudgingly introduces a relatio asking for the Senate’s advice on how he should proceed.

Your goal is to win the debate by persuading the Senate to adopt a sententia or consultum consistent with the personality and desires of your character. You will do this by writing a short speech (approximately 5 minutes in length or 3 typed pages) proposing a solution to the crisis that confronts Rome–or supporting or condemning the proposal of another senator.


To prepare for your speech, you first need to determine who you are and what the optimal outcome of the Conspiracy and its aftermath would be for you personally.

Begin by doing some research about your life (up to 691 AUC!), including the events of the conspiracy (this timeline is a good place to start). Then answer these questions about yourself:

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