The Ides of March (January 2018)

Et tu, Brute?

Inside this issue: Two Ides-themed Latin language activities, reenacting a Roman funeral, the writer Suetonius, the term “Ides,” and more!

Email us to suggest a topic for a future issue! 

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Main Feature: Two New Lesson Plans
Each issue will feature two lesson or activity ideas: one related to the Latin language, and one related to Classical Studies (Greek or Roman culture, mythology, or history).

Julius Caesar was a big deal, so we have decided to share two Latin language activities in this issue!

Here’s a little background information which could be helpful to share with students before either activity:

Julius Caesar was one of history’s giants. He was born in 100 B.C. in the Roman month of Quintilis, which was later renamed “July” in his honor. As a young man, he advanced through Rome’s political offices and later served as governor of the Roman province of Spain. In 60 B.C., he formed a political alliance, known as the First Triumvirate, with two other prominent Romans, Pompey and Crassus. This agreement led to Caesar’s election as consul, Rome’s chief magistrate, in the following year. After that, Caesar went to Gaul, where he served as governor for eight years. When he returned to Italy without disbanding his army, a civil war broke out in which Caesar ultimately defeated Pompey in 48 B.C. Having won the war, Caesar returned to Rome and took control, first as consul, and later taking the role of “dictator for life.” Though he was popular with the people, some senators felt he was gaining too much power and formed a plan to assassinate him. On March 15, 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was stabbed and killed by his fellow senators during a meeting of the Senate at the Theater of Pompey. 

1. LATIN LESSON I:  An Ides of March Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story

Introduction: In this lesson, students will alter the story of Julius Caesar’s final day as they read a “choose-your-own-adventure” story in Latin or English.

Objectives: Students will be able to list some circumstances surrounding the assassination of Julius Caesar. 

Materials:

Special Concerns: Classes with less Latin experience can use the version of the slideshow that contains English translations. In addition, please note that there is a vocabulary list to help with the Latin.

Procedure:

  1. Share the background information with students.
  2. On each slide of the slideshow, students should read the scenario and then click on a choice. Their decisions will lead to various outcomes. This reading can be done as an entire class with a projector or in small groups around laptops.

*This lesson was contributed by Magistra Loop and Magistra Junker.

2. LATIN LESSON II: Mafia – Conspiratores Edition

Introduction: In this lesson, students will play a Latin language version of the popular party game, Mafia. As the townspeople attempt to save the student playing the role of “Julius Caesar,” the whole class will gain practice listening to commands and statements in Latin.

Objectives: Students will be able to comprehend basic commands and simple statements in Latin as they play a class-wide game.

Materials:

Special Concerns: For classes with less Latin experience, it could be helpful to write the Latin terms on the board along with their English equivalents. 

Procedure:

  1. Share the background information with students.
  2. Following the instructions in the materials above, play the game as a whole class.

3. CULTURE LESSON: A Roman Funeral Reenactment

Introduction: In this lesson, students will reenact the funeral of Julius Caesar in order to learn about the elements of a Roman funeral.

Objectives: Students should understand how a Roman funeral was organized.  

Materials:

Special Concerns: Keep an eye on students who may have suffered a recent loss in their family.

Procedure:

  1. Show the funeral video clip provided in the slideshow’s link. Discuss the video with students.
  2. Follow the instructions in the handout and the slideshow to help students to prepare and reenact a funeral for Julius Caesar.
  3. Discuss as a class: How were ancient Roman funerals similar to our modern funerals? How were they different? 

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Online Resource: TED-Ed Video and Lesson: The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Each issue will feature a new or popular online resource that could prove useful for Latin and Classical Studies instruction. We aim to stay current so that you can wow your students with how “with-it” you are when it comes to technology!

TED-Ed Video and Lesson: The Assassination of Julius Caesar
https://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-great-conspiracy-against-julius-caesar-kathryn-tempest#review

 This excellent animated six-minute TED-Ed video provides clear and concise information about the assassination of Julius Caesar. It especially takes a look at the role which Brutus played. While it should be straightforward for older students to follow, younger students or those without much background knowledge about Rome could benefit from some pauses and teacher explanations at various points. The video is accompanied by an online lesson which includes discussion questions.

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Famous Roman: Suetonius
Each issue will feature a famous individual or group from Greek or Roman history whom you may wish to explore with your students. 

The scenes with the Soothsayer in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar were based on Suetonius’s account of the days leading to the assassination in his biography of Julius Caesar.  Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus lived from about 69 A.D. to 122 A.D. and therefore was not alive to witness any of the events about which he wrote, but he was in charge of the imperial archives under Emperor Trajan and was the Emperor Hadrian’s official secretary. His most famous work, “De Vita Caesarum” (“About the Life of the Caesars”) included twelve biographies of the Roman leaders from Caesar to Domitian.  While some historians see Suetonius as a historian who tried to present historical events accurately, others have accused him of being more of a tabloid journalist who embellished his narrative with details that may or may not have been true. 

One of the most curious details about the assassination of Julius Caesar about which we have conflicting sources is his famous last words.  Shakespeare’s play had the first appearance of the phrase “et tu, Brute?”  There is no known ancient source for this, but Suetonius tells us that Caesar’s last words were καὶ σὺ τέκνον; (ancient Greek for “and you, my child?”) and it is possible that Caesar looked at Brutus as a son, or that Brutus may have actually been his son.  Plutarch, a biographer who lived about the same time as Suetonius, does not have any last words for Caesar and says he just pulled his toga over his head when he saw Brutus.  Whatever Julius Caesar’s last words were, without Suetonius’s account of the assassination (popularized by Shakespeare’s play), modern people would know very little about this event.

Here, you can read Suetonius’s full account of the omens and warnings before the assassination:

Now Caesar’s approaching murder was foretold to him by unmistakable signs. A few months before, when the settlers assigned to the colony at Capua by the Julian Law were demolishing some tombs of great antiquity, to build country houses, and plied their work with the greater vigour because as they rummaged about they found a quantity of vases of ancient workmanship, there was discovered in a tomb, which was said to be that of Capys, the founder of Capua, a bronze tablet, inscribed with Greek words and characters to this purport: “Whenever the bones of Capys shall be moved, it will come to pass that a son of Ilium shall be slain at the hands of his kindred, and presently avenged at heavy cost to Italy.”  And let no one think this tale a myth or a lie, for it is vouched for by Cornelius Balbus, an intimate friend of Caesar. Shortly before his death, as he was told, the herds of horses which he had dedicated to the river Rubicon when he crossed it, and had let loose without a keeper, stubbornly refused to graze and wept copiously. Again, when he was offering sacrifice, the soothsayer Spurinna warned him to beware of danger, which would come not later than the Ides of March; and on the day before the Ides of that month a little bird called the king-bird flew into the Hall of Pompey with a sprig of laurel, pursued by others of various kinds from the grove hard by, which tore it to pieces in the hall. In fact the very night before his murder he dreamt now that he was flying above the clouds, and now that he was clasping the hand of Jupiter; and his wife Calpurnia thought that the pediment of their house fell, and that her husband was stabbed in her arms; and on a sudden the door of the room flew open of its own accord.

Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum 81 translation by http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/suetonius/12caesars/julius*.html

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Random Find: Post-it Big Pad
Many items being sold today do not directly connect to Latin and Classical Studies, but with a little effort, we can adapt them to serve our purposes. This section explores these types of objects. 

Post-it Big Pad

These 11″ x 11″ jumbo Post-it notes are intended for office use but offer many possibilities for the classroom!  One pad contains 30 self-stick sheets and can be purchased for around $7.00.

Possibilities:

  1. Use the notes to create a wall timeline of events leading up to and following Julius Caesar’s assassination. Each note can mark a different event. After the timeline has been assembled, you can remove the events from the wall, distribute them to the students, and challenge the class to place the events back on the timeline in the correct order.
  2. Arrange the notes on the wall in a grid formation to create a giant wall calendar. Label the days of the month and use the calendar as a way to count down to the Ides of March. For practice with the Roman system of reckoning days, label each day in Latin. One excellent resource for this is the Roman date calculator from SALVI. An alternative for younger students is to label each day with a Roman numeral. You can also use the Latin name for the month and add the weather and birthdays, using Roman names of course!
  3. These large notes would work great as “caution” signs placed around the school to tell students to “Beware the Ides of March!” Students could decorate them and then place them around the building before that day.

***For a cheaper option, use a repositionable glue stick and regular paper to create your own giant sticky notes!  Simply spread the glue over an edge of the paper and wait about a minute before sticking the note against a surface. We learned this trick from an elementary school teacher at one of our workshops, and it works great!

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Featured Word: Ides
Each issue will feature a challenging English word that we encourage you and your students to explore together. The English word will always come from one or more Latin words. 

In Act I, scene ii of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the Soothsayer tells Caesar several times “Beware the Ides of March.”  Caesar asks to see the Soothsayer’s face and then dismissively responds “he is a dreamer; let us leave him.”  We see that in Caesar’s lifetime, the “Ides of March” was not an unlucky date; it only became unlucky because it was the day Caesar was assassinated, in the same way the September 11 or  December 7 have become “unlucky” days in American history.

Before the fateful Ides of March of 44 B.C., the Ides were simply one of the three dates that the Romans used in their calendar.  The Roman month originally was based on the lunar cycle (our word “month” still shows this relationship).  In the early days of Rome, each month began with a new moon.  About halfway through the month were the Ides, which indicated that the moon was full.  The word “Ides” relates to the word “divide” because the Ides divided the month into two halves of about 14 days.  By Julius Caesar’s time, though, the Roman calendar had been changed to reflect the solar year and was not based on the lunar cycles anymore.  The “Ides” were just a date that fell about half-way through the month.  For most months, the Ides were on the 13th day, but for March, May, July, and October, the Ides were on the 15th.  So every month had an “Ides” and the “Ides of March” was not a particularly special or foreboding day until the assassination. That Julius Caesar was warned about the Ides by a soothsayer further has added to its eerie mystique.

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And now for a laugh…

For a humorous take on the topic of the assassination of Julius Caesar, check out this video clip of “Rinse the Blood off my Toga,” a skit performed by comedians Wayne and Shuster in the 1950s.  Brutus hires private-eye Flavius Maximus to investigate the murder of Julius Caesar, and a series of vaudeville-type jokes ensue.

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