Departing from the canon

Americans are ahistorical. We simply cannot bring ourselves to believe that anything that happened more than 6 months ago could possibly affect us now. I doubt many Latin teachers would actually believe you, being assured that Latin “has always been taught like this.”

Your mention of the obsession with Latin purity fits in with the Linguistics/Humanities split in the fl teaching profession: refining L2 down to a polished core of holy texts that must be memorized much as the Confucion clerks memorized their texts for the Examinations. Poetry is defined as the highest level of language and so that is what we must teach, regardless of the consequences for learning and for our students and our field. Anyone caught departing from the canon will no doubt not be considered for further advancement in the field.

Those who regard me as combative and hostile might keep in mind that I know they would quickly cut me off from teaching Latin b/c I regard Latin as a language like any other. Before complaints could be lodged against me in my sub job teaching Latin, I had so won over students, parents, and other teachers that they offered me the job permanently. Without fail, someone will examine my syllabus and discover I don’t have my students memorize declensional endings and hic haec hoc and will recommend that I not be continued. I don’t think anyone will listen to them.

—– Original Message —–
Re: On Fluency

Hi X, I’ve been pondering this prose v. poetry thing very much in the past couple of months as I figured out what kind of book I wanted to put together this summer. I had been planning a book that would be Aesop’s fables both prose and verse, but finally decided that it made more sense in every way to do the prose book separately, and then a verse book next summer. No shortage of stuff; I’ve got thousands of fables now (GoogleBooks keeps exposing me to new stuff every week that I never even expected)… so it will be easy to have a big book of prose this summer and a big book of poetry next summer. They are TOTALLY different reading experiences as you point out… although, because of the historical accident that the only “Roman” Aesop’s fable collection is the verse fables of Phaedrus, the prose tradition has been almost totally abandoned in the Latin curriculum! In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, there are Latin prose fables being printed and reprinted, new collections, new approaches – Latin on its own, interlinear with Greek, interlinear with English, facing text with English, simplified, you name it, all kinds of approaches to giving students abundant Latin prose fables to read in quest of fluency; all the Latin textbooks – English, French, German – everybody had Latin prose fables for the students to read… but then, when the insistence on ROMAN Latin started to permeate the curriculum, the prose fables were banished, and everybody started to read Phaedrus, so that there is an explosion of school editions of Phaedrus’s poems, and now that is pretty much the only kind of Latin Aesop you can find: the poems of Phaedrus.

Well, after this summer, there will be a big book of 1001 fables in Latin prose to hopefully bring them back into the curriculum. All short (120 words or less)… good, basic, narrative prose, often humorous, plenty of wise advice. I printed out the first complete draft of the book yesterday and it was really exciting; there hasn’t been such a huge collection of Aesop in Latin prose since the huge compendia by Camerarius and Nevelet. My problem is just narrowing it down to 1001 fables (in the spirit of the 1001 Arabian Nights…) – but thanks to the Internet, all the other fables can be available online even if they don’t fit in the book.

I really hope the renewed availability of the prose fables will help tilt some of the balance back towards prose because you are exactly right – at least in part because of this obsession with Roman Latin purity, students read a lot of poetry when they really might benefit more from prose…

And I will also be able to do a really nifty verse book next summer! 🙂

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