I am writing from the Marriott Courtyard Historic District at the corner of Calhoun and Meeting Streets in Charleston, South Carolina.
The weekend has been devoted to the Diamond Jubilee of the American Classical League held at the College of Charleston, involving nearly two hundred people in planning and staging, all teachers of the Latin and Greek languages and the ancient Mediterranean cultures.
Tonight, on the last Saturday of June, a small group of us dined on the porch of the Charleston Muse Restaurant and Wine Bar located on Society Street, in an historic home modeled as an Italian villa featuring homemade pasta and breads, fresh fish, savory meat dishes and delicious heirloom tomatoes and vegetables.
Of course, the restaurant name and the ambience recalled the ancient Greek Muses, the inspirational goddesses of literature, science, and the arts.
In Greek antiquity, the nine Muses were considered to be the fountains of mystical poetry, lyric songs, and myths which were transmitted orally for centuries in ancient Greek culture.
In modern figurative usage, a Muse may be a font of artistic inspiration in various ways, eg drawing, painting, sculpture, pottery, mosaics, crafts, music, dance, technical arts, literary composition, and even computer technology.
The Hellenistic understanding of the Muses tripled their original triad and established a set of nine goddesses, who embody the arts and inspire creation with their graces through remembered and improvised song and mime, writing, traditional music, and dance.
It was not until Hellenistic times that a systematic set of functions became associated with them, and even then some variation persisted both in their names and in their attributes.
There is a famous mosaic with symbols of each Muse and the goddess of memory, Mnemosyne, ca.1st century BC/BCE, on view in the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Elis.
The parade of Muses includes Kalliope (epic poetry), Klio (history), Euterpe (flutes and music), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Terpsikore (dance), Erato (love and lyric poetry), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), and Urania (astronomy)
Inspired by the culinary Muse of Charleston, naturally, the dinner conversation focused on several of the ACL presentations and the renewal of commitment to the teaching of Latin and Greek in the primary, secondary, and university curricula.
When we turn our attention to STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – as comparison, the positive and integral relationships of the languages Greek and Latin are easy to describe and articulate.
Both languages in their ancient forms are inflected in the sense that endings, or terminations, determine the function of any given word, article, or particle.
In teaching, this feature is easily described with the mantra “endings code function.”
From Cicero (without macrons here), “Propter vitia tua multi te culpant et nihil te in patria tua delectare nunc potest,” meaning “On account of your vices many (men, ie people) blame/censure you and nothing is able to delight you in your fatherland.”
The meanings, however, according to the word order we see and employed by Cicero as he urges his political foe Catiline to depart from Rome, are “On account of vices your many you blame/censure and nothing you in fatherland your to delight now is able.”
I refer to this capacity of Latin as “non-linear word order” to help students to understand the author’s intent – using emphasis, juxtaposition, irony, framing, alliteration, figures of speech, et alia – to kickstart the math-science parts of their brains as they develop their intelligence.
Engaging the math-science work ethic in Latin – and Greek – of students is fundamental to decoding the author’s style, syntax, and basically what she or he is saying to the reader or listener.
It is a huge gain for a student to master reading Latin for comprehension and syntactical value.
For STEM students, the process for teaching+learning Latin, or Greek, is a step-by-step skills-building technique which I call TAT, Transcription, Analysis, Translation. It also illustrates what I call “transference principle.”
Students precisely transcribe the Latin sentence including all macrons, graph the words which go together using brackets, separating adverbs from verbs but grouping adjectives with the nouns which they modify.
Next, analyze every word to its limit, supply the corresponding vocabulary, apply the analysis and add the endings, consider and plan the word order, present the fully-formed translation.
Many Latin words have five or more features; verbs have conjugation, tense, voice, person, number, mood, and form (simple, progressive, emphatic) according to context.
Nouns and pronouns have declension, case, use, number, gender, and subtlety of meaning.
We also follow this methodology when translating from English-to-Latin, and using sentences composed by the students themselves – customized or authentic language – to bridge any cultural gaps which exist when toggling modernity and antiquity.
The “hot sauce” value of learning Latin – and Greek – along with ARTS and STEM curricula is fantastic and is happening in schools all over our planet.
Mary Brown, adjunct professor of Latin at Saint Joseph’s University, is longtime Executive Director of the Classical Association of the Atlantic States, a Penn Museum docent, and President of the Philadelphia Classical Society.