Per Litteras ad Linguam: Using Literature to Teach Latin

Per Litteras ad Linguam: Using Literature to Teach Latin

Rocío Martínez-Prieto (University of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain) and Marina Díaz-Marcos (Toledo School of Translators, University of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3379-6.ch010
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Even though Latin lost its role as a mother tongue due to the development of Romance languages, it has been used in some fields as a code for knowledge transmission or as a universal communication instrument. Literary texts are an essential resource to help students get used to the basic aspects of Latin because they will be allowed to learn it in a progressive and active way. In this chapter, the authors present some tools used to learn Latin through its own literature, and they provide new methods and ideas for its application in the teaching field as well.
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Teachers around the world often face the following questions regarding Latin language: “Why should we learn Latin?”, “Is Latin dead?”. There are a lot of factors that do not support these ideas, such as the decreasing time dedicated to the study of Latin in schools, the students’ apathy, the social disinterest for this language in favor of the technical subjects or the bad training of the teachers. And, obviously, Latin is still alive as we can see not only in the contemporary literature but also in the Romanic languages, in a little part of English and German vocabulary and in the international terminology used for science nowadays, as Stroh (2012, pp. 21-22) says. Moreover, statistics show that Latin students stand out among their partners and learn easier other languages. This fact makes them improve their cognitive abilities like the competence for the use of their mother tongue (Stroh, 2012, pp.23-24).

It is also a greater pleasure to be able to read a text in its original language. The same applies to Latin literature written from ancient to contemporary times. Indeed, the bulk of Latin textual production from Middle Ages and Renaissance is usually underestimated in spite of their weight in the Latin literary tradition and its didactical application. Classical philologist Wilfried Stroh supports this idea by pointing out that Medieval Latin is not different from the Classical one. In fact, Pascual (2012, pp. 14-15) points out that Latin taught in Germany during 16th and 17th centuries could be equated with the one used in ancient times.

Regarding these issues, teaching Latin has always been object of discussion from Antiquity. Grammarians have denounced the methodological problems concerning its didactics. In general, it is not easy to achieve the objectives suggested in grammars and textbooks. Because of that, it would be desirable, on the one hand, to know in detail and analyze the instruments used to teach Latin and to consider, on the other hand, the teaching experience of the professionals who have put into practice and verified the viability of these instruments.

It is convenient to bear in mind that learning a language, be it modern or classical, requires practical exercise from the beginning. Students usually follow the activities of their scholar grammars, once the theory has been explained to them. However, the way it is given varies from one manual to another. It is due to the fact that they are not adapted to the linguistic currents of our moment. At present, the traditional methodology (grammatical perspective) for Latin teaching is compared to the modern one (communicative perspective). That is, we use the modern methods to teach classical languages.

There is not the slightest doubt that an effective solution to “vitalize” Latin teaching is to update their methods. The one of this paper would be essentially practical, focused on the study, experimentation and valuation of the different didactical strategies used when teaching Latin. By comparing those methods from ancient grammars until textbooks used nowadays, we will analyze them in order to show their advantages and disadvantages and to propose new pedagogical approaches based on literary texts.

As the public of this new method is formed by writers and readers, that is, competent speakers and listeners, not grammarians, philologists or linguists, the contents of those literary texts will be essentially mythological. Almost the 70% of the people who choose the Classical Philology degree in the University or the Latin and Classical Culture subjects in High School is because they have taken an interest in Greek and Roman mythology as a hobby.

Since Roman Antiquity, the canon of authors used to teach Latin has habitually changed. Until 26 B. C., it was composed essentially by Ennius and Livius Andronicus; then, Caecilius Epirota incorporated Vergil and other coetaneous poets. In the Middle Ages, it was usual to expand that list and to mix both pagan and Christian authors, as Conrad of Hirsau (Dialogus super auctores with 21 authors) and Hugo of Trimberg (Registrum multorum auctorum with 80 authors) show us in the 12th and 13th centuries. During the Renaissance, the canon was less dependent on the ecclesiastical institution and the scholars took back the linguistic improvement criteria (Aguilar Miquel, 2015, pp. 157-159). Thus, Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Modern mythological writings will be helpful in order to change and “vitalize” the texts used to learn Latin and to achieve the objectives proposed in this chapter.

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