Celebrating Love with the Romans

Stefanie Gigante

Ah, Valentine’s Day, adorned with red, pink, hearts, and images of romance. A holiday that magically induces feelings of love among Americans in the 21st century. But what of the Romans whom we speak of daily in our classes? We know of their unique traditions centered around Lupercalia and its association with fertility, which clearly gave rise to original Valentine’s celebrations hundreds of years earlier. But after we explain the bizarreness of that holiday to our students, what can we do in our classes to celebrate the holiday, Cambridge Latin style?

Opportunities for celebrating love abound in all levels of the Cambridge Latin Course. First, there is the ever-present option of writing Valentine cards between characters. The most obvious relationship to document like this would be Melissa and Grumio, everyone’s favorite covert couple from Unit I. But let’s extrapolate the idea further and consider the hilarity of a Valentine from Vilbia to Modestus, two-thirds of the Unit III love triangle. Or, you could develop the project to consider other possible romance pairings, such as Modestus writing a Valentine to his wayward comrade-in-arms Strythio, or Quintus writing to Clemens. (Feel free to ramp this project up with a purchase of customized candy hearts!)

When you think of Valentine-themed actions, you may quickly point to love songs, written by popular artists through the years. Select a pair of characters from Cambridge Latin Course, and ask students to find a love song that adequately captures their relationship. For example, perhaps Rufilla dedicates the classic Aretha Franklin hit “Respect” to her cunning husband Salvius in Unit II. More comically, Milo, the arrogant athlete from Unit I, might request the radio station to play Lady Gaga’s anthem “Born This Way.” Students can share their love song dedications via an online discussion board like FlipGrid or Padlet so that the whole class can enjoy singing their favorite love songs with their favorite characters. 

Finally, since Cambridge specializes in empowering students to perform sophisticated character analysis, Valentine’s Day provides a good occasion for exploring relationships. To this end, consider evaluating the characters’ relationships through the lens of mythology. Though there are infinite literary sources for stories, I’ll base my suggestions on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which provide fascinating and cautionary tales for love-struck humans. After examining a myth, challenge the students to assume the persona of a Cambridge character to evaluate it. For example, present the story of Baucis and Philemon, a couple devoted to each other in life and death. Then, ask students posing as Caecilius and Metella to respond to the story given their individual character traits. How would our Cambridge characters react to such a favorable portrayal of love in marriage? Similarly, imagine how Barbillus, the widower from Unit II, would respond to reading the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. This welcome opportunity to incorporate more mythology will invigorate both students and teachers.

Thanks to texts full of great relationships, love is not hard to find in the Cambridge curriculum. I hope that this Valentine’s Day, you, too, can celebrate love! 

Stefanie Gigante has been a Latin teacher for 17 years, and is currently working with students in all grade levels at Ridgewood High School, Ridgewood, NJ. An avid user of Cambridge Latin Course, Stefanie has also hosted several webinars for the Cambridge Latin Teacher Training program. She simultaneously serves as a Technology Innovation Specialist in her district, training her colleagues in educational technology integration through a variety of other disciplines. When she is not in the classroom, Stefanie enjoys spending time with her two elementary-aged children, volunteering with her children’s schools, and reading.

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