Friday, February 10, 2012

The Sword Is Mightier Than the Pen

There is nothing like teaching Caesar's De Bello Gallico to Latin II with authentic Roman weaponry! Now that I have the two mannequins decked out in Roman armor standing in opposite corners of the classroom, this year's teaching of Caesar went to a whole new level. Students got to handle everything yesterday as we explored the structure of the army anyhow a soldier was equipped. Today we did a little re-enactment in the middle of the room.

The first passage we read today was about the early part of the battle of Bibracte.

Milites loco superiore pilis missis facile hostium phalangem perfregerunt. Ea disiecta gladiis destrictis in eos impetum fecerunt. Gallis magno ad pugnam erat impedimento quod pluribus eorum scutis uno ictu pilorum transfixis et conligatis, cum ferrum se inflexisset, neque evellere neque sinistra impedita satis commode pugnare poterant, multi ut diu iactato bracchio praeoptarent scutum manu emittere et nudo corpore pugnare. (BG I.25)*

I asked for a couple of student volunteers to stand one in front of the other, each holding one of our shields in imitation of the Helvetians. I brought one of the spears toward them and demonstrated how it could have transfixed the shields and pinned them together. The students quickly saw the disadvantage and realized the only choice the Helvetians had was to drop their shields.

Then we read this from I.26.

Ad multam noctem etiam ad impedimenta pugnatum est, propterea quod pro vallo carros obiecerunt et e loco superiore in nostros venientes tela coniciebant et non nulli inter carros rotasque mataras ac tragulas subiciebant nostrosque vulnerabant.*

I have always illustrated this by having the students pile up their desks in the middle of the room in imitation of the Helvetians wagons. In the past, we enacted what went on using a yardstick and a golf club I keep in the room (don't ask!). This year we recreated the last stand of the Helvetians using our two real spears.

I'm not sure who had more fun, but I am sure that we all got a better sense of Caesar's writings through roleplaying and the use of authentic weaponry.

*For translations of these passages, see here.

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