Hewitt News

Middle School Latin: From Docents to the Recitatio
Benjamin Joffe, Middle and Upper School Latin Teacher 

Having spent much of the year applying their knowledge of Latin vocabulary to a systematic and rigorous study of English derivatives, Hewitt’s seventh and eighth grade Latinists devoted the final weeks of school to regaling their classmates with tales from ancient Pompeii. The course became a writers’ workshop, with space for a recitatio (literally, “a reading aloud”), as students wrote and then shared their creative fiction, rich with new and challenging vocabulary words. 

As they crafted elaborate stories featuring the familiar characters from their textbook, students also revisited their fall docent project, in which they researched a work of art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Greek and Roman collection and provided their fellow Latinists with an in-class presentation on that work’s history and significance. While telling tales of Caecilius, Metella, or characters of their own invention, each student also found a unique way to incorporate her artifact into the fabric of her story. 

Students recreated artifacts for their docent project

Some took it as an opportunity to explain (fictionally, of course) with a brief aside why a statue has a broken nose or why a vase came down to us in pieces. Others made the work of art the focal point upon which the drama – or comedy – hinges, as one eighth grade student did by ascribing magical powers to one of the amphorae she taught her classmates about back in November.

A student reads aloud from her original story

May was a month of featured fabulists (from the Latin fabula, meaning a teller of fictional stories), and for the eighth grade in particular a capstone to two years of hard work discovering over 100 challenging English outgrowths of the ancient Roman tongue. From ancillary to vociferous, factotum to feckless, Hewitt’s middle school Latin students celebrated the perspicacious, the precocious, even the pugnacious among them as they wove together tales of a bygone time with some serious word power.