Illustrated Latin Textbook Recommendations

There’s something about the format of a comic that is inherently helpful to new language students. The fact that we get a relevant visual to accompany text not only makes for a pleasing reading experience, but really helps you to understand the words via context clues. I know that I still enjoy picking up French comic books as it’s an easy way to get refreshed on the language.

I just wanted to recommend a few heavily-illustrated Latin resources that can perhaps help out any learners who are having difficulty grasping the nuances of the language. First of all is the ubiquitous Cambridge Latin Course, much known in Classicist circles and often parodied by students. Most of the stories are told with images – it’s actually a very image-heavy textbook – so this is a good and rather standard introduction to the language. The Oxford Latin Course also uses images in a comic style, but is perhaps less dense in terms of images as that of Cambridge.

One of my favourites is Minimus I and II, where you are introduced into the language by a rather charming mouse. It’s a simplistic text series and you would probably find this being used in grade school lessons, but if you are just getting started in the language (or perhaps only want some passing conversational skills) then this is a great choice.

Sort of within the realm of illustrated texts is Lingua Latinawhich holds a special place in my heart as the first Latin book I learned from. However, this uses a totally immersive approach, which I think has definite pros and cons. On the one hand, there’s a great trove of marginalia on each page, and the latin does progress at a rather agreeable rate of difficulty. On the other hand, you learn all your grammar lessons in Latin, too, and this personally led me to having no clue what the hell anyone was talking about when we used English grammar terms in a later program. So tread carefully.

And finally, though it is not a textbook and is only partially illustrated, I think everyone should have a go at Winnie Ille Pu. Of course, that’s Winnie The Pooh translated into Latin! The language is simple but it gets you reading the language in a familiar context. There’s also the Harry Potter books translated into Latin, though I have not read through them so can’t speak to the quality of the experience.

I hope this is helpful to some of you! If there are other textbooks or Latin comics in general that you think should be mentioned here, leave a comment or send me an email at rebecca@otreraonline.com. Thanks for reading!

Greece and Rome in Science Fiction?

When did you first learn about ancient Greece and Rome? Think back to when you were a kid; I think most of us would answer that it was from a movie or a television show. For most people in the Western world I think that’s a fairly common experience. Maybe it was watching Xena or Hercules, or Disney’s animated Hercules movie. Or maybe it was a television show completely unrelated to Classics, but they had that one episode where the characters go back in time, or visit a planet with a strangely Greek culture, or face off against monsters from mythology. This is how we have become familiar with these ancient cultures.

Spock and Alexander in the episode ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’. Image from Memory Alpha.

I just wanted to explore this topic briefly on here as I am doing research into Classical Receptions right now for my PhD work. The fact that children today, and all of us who have grown up with access to television and media, first access the Classics through these venues is a really significant thing. What kind of impression of the ancient world is given through these mediums? And how have the stories and characters from Greece and Rome — the gods, Cyclopses, Medusa, Atlantis — gone from being the subject of dusty mythologies to being common media tropes?

In part we have literature to thank. There’s a long history in the English lit tradition of including references to the ‘pagan mythologies’: just look at Milton, writing such a strongly Biblical text as Paradise Lost. He makes references to so many myths in order to evoke a particular feeling, a lesson, or an image. For a long time this is how the Classics were carried along to the general public – often not even the general, but the educated public. It wasn’t accessible to everyone.

But it seems around the mid-1900s (and an argument can be made for earlier) things really started to take a turn with Classics in media. Of course there are the films Ben Hur, Quo Vadis, and I, Claudius. Films and shows that are set directly in Rome or Greece with characters from that time are definitely interesting and worthy of study in Classical Reception. But I’m really interested in the other instances — the original Star Trek, in the episode Plato’s Stepchildren, when the crew visit a planet of telekinetic beings who have adopted Greek culture and the teachings of Plato as their own, for instance. Doesn’t it seem strange that in a series set in the distant future, where they travel space and see impossible sights, strange alien cultures, and other fantastic things, that they would look way back to the Greeks for a plot? Why look back and forward in history at the same time?

That’s a big question to try and answer. And I would encourage everyone reading to give it a thought. Why would science fiction so often use the ancient world in stories? What does looking back and forward simultaneously give us that is so appealing? It happens in so many shows and movies, and not just ones meant for adults or for children. It’s across the entire spectrum.

I’m really interested in having this discussion. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think about it!

Who was Callisto?

Callisto: The Bear-Mother

We turn our sights today to Callisto, a mythical gal who, like many of our favourites, was once a pal of Artemis.

Who was Callisto?

Callisto was the daughter of King Lycaon – yeah, that Lycaon, who later became her wolf-dad – and possibly the nymph Nonacris was her mother. Therefore she has all the genealogy we’d look for in one of Artemis’ huntress gals. She was an Arcadian princess.

So what did she and Artemis get up to?

There are a handful of stories about her but the main one has to do with Artemis’ wrath. The goddess usually kept a big crew around her, and it was pretty easy to get membership, as long as you followed two rules: no men, no sex. Or at least hetero sex. But I digress. Callisto was part of this band of merry ladies.

Did Callisto follow the rules?

Well, depending on the version of the story you read, she either tried to and was raped, or seduced Zeus of her own volition. Either way, she became pregnant. Only so long could she hide this fact from Artemis and the other ladies, since they did everything together – including bathing.

What did Artemis think of this? 

As you might imagine, she wasn’t a big fan. That might actually be putting it lightly. Artemis is so angry at this that she turns Callisto into a big old bear. She clearly didn’t care if Zeus had raped her or not.

What about the baby?

Well, hunters found the bear and the little human baby that she had, and brought them back to her dad, King Lycaon. The boy’s name was Arkas. He grew up fairly normal, apparently unaware that his mom was the bear that roamed around the region.

Did he ever find out?

One could say so. Callisto, being a bear, wandered into a sanctuary of Zeus. Arkas saw this happen and flipped out, going to kill the bear for the great offence.

He killed his mom?!

Nope! Zeus intervened at the last moment and stopped him…by transforming both Callisto and Arkas into stars. This is how we get the two bear constellations in the sky!

Interesting, right?! I love a good story about angry Artemis.

Check out some of the previous Classical Ladies posts here:

 

Iliad Live

I’m a few days behind the times in posting about this – I was away all weekend – but on Friday I enjoyed a couple of hours of the Iliad Live, a performance put on by the Almeida Theatre and the British Museum. Over 60 performers read out sections of the Iliad, and livestreamed the event online so all could enjoy.

It was a tremendous undertaking and some of the sections that I watched were so awesomely powerful – Lisa Dwan, Samuel West for instance – that it really renewed my love for the story. You all know I focus so much of my time on the Aeneid, so it’s easy to forget how compelling that earlier tale can be.

If you missed out on watching it (or want to enjoy parts of it again) they are turning the recording into a series of podcasts, and releasing a making-of film. I’ll post again when the podcast is made available, I think I’ll definitely be checking it out. Or at least the sections of my favourite books.

Here’s the event page if you want to see the list of all the performers from that day!

Philip of Macedon’s Remains Identified

Boy, it’s been a good week for Classicists – and it’s only Tuesday! Just yesterday we had the news that Xena is going back into production, and today (okay, the news came out yesterday, I just sat on it for a day) we hear that researchers have released a study that says they have identified the remains in one of the tombs at the Great Tumulus hill near Vergina in Macedonia. They had previously attributed a different tomb to Philip of Macedon, which contained a number of elaborate grave goods that seemed linked to the Macedonian royal family.

However, these goods were eventually realized to be from a slightly later period than when Philip died – 317 BCE, instead of 336 BCE when he was assassinated. The big thing in identifying that the body was not Philip’s is that he was said to have suffered a critical lance to the leg just a few years before his death, which crippled him. This body showed no signs of this, or a few other significant injuries.

The skeleton in this tomb that is now identified as belonging to Philip did indeed have a knee injury, and was about the correct age. He was really tall (180 cm), too. The tomb also contained the body of a woman approximately 18 years old, and a baby. The article over at Popular Archaeology says this supports the story that Olympias, mother to Alexander the Great, killed Cleopatra, who was Philip’s wife after her (he had a lot of wives), and their child. This happened shortly after Philip’s own death. There are a lot of historians that speculate on events around this time so it’s typically been hard to understand what is truth and what is fiction, but with this sort of evidence it certainly does put one version of the tale into a more concrete light.

Super interesting stuff. If you want to read the whole article and see more photos, check out the story over at Popular Archaeology.

Who was Antiope?

Antiope: The Rogue Amazon

Today we are going to meet Antiope. There are a few mythological women by this name, but the one we are looking at was the Amazon.

Who was Antiope?

Antiope (sometimes spelled Antiopa) was a woman of the Amazon race. She was the daughter of Ares, and her mother was perhaps Otrera. She would have had siblings, perhaps Penthesilea, Hippolyte, and Melanippe. Her sisters were Amazonian queens, so we can infer that she held an important role.

Why do you call her a ‘rogue’ amazon?

She is the only Amazon that we know to have gotten married. Her husband was Theseus – yes, that Theseus, who slew the minotaur.

How did she meet Theseus?

Well, there are conflicting stories, but they start the same way: Theseus was accompanying Heracles on his journey to get Hippolyta’s girdle. While in the neighbourhood, he met Antiope. According to Pseudo-Apollodorus, Hyginus and Diodorus Siculus, the men abducted Antiope and took her back to Athens. Pausanias is the dissenter in this regard, and says that she fell in love with Theseus and betrayed the Amazons and followed after him.

And they got married?

Yeah, and had a son, Hippolytus, named after Antiope’s sister (or at least the Amazon was the boy’s namesake).

Then everyone was happy?

You forget this is part of the amazonomachy! The Attic War follows soon after, when the Amazons attack Athens to try and get back the girdle, and presumably Antiope, too. Plutarch tells us that in this battle Antiope was killed accidentally by an Amazon, and then Theseus killed her. Pausanias identified their tombs in his writing.

However, Ovid and Hyginus tell a different tale, which likewise doesn’t end well for Antiope. Theseus turned his attentions towards Phaedra, and intended to marry her instead. Antiope wasn’t here for that and planned to kill all in attendance on their wedding day. But Theseus found out and killed her instead.

That’s a lot of conflicting stories.

Well, the amazonomachy is a rather patchy area. The writers each added their own twists to the legend, and some disagree on large issues. It’s debatable whether these things even happened to Antiope at all, and not another Amazon, or one of her sisters. It’s easiest to just accept that all versions have their own legitimacy.

And what about their son?

You might remember this Hippolytus for his role in a number of plays, including one named after him, and Phaedra. He rejected the advances of his stepmother Phaedra, who then told his father that he had raped her. Theseus used a wish given to him by Poseidon to curse his son, who was killed in one of many interesting reported ways.

Hippolytus has some links to Artemis as well, with suggestions that he dedicated himself to chastity and hunting; this being one of the reasons (of many, I’m sure) that he was very uninterested in his stepmother’s advances.

And so ends the line of Antiope!

Next time…

Next week we’re going to look at Callisto! And as always, you can check out the previous Classical ladies in the meantime:

Who was Semele?

Semele

The second series of Classical Ladies has begun! Today we’re introducing everyone to Semele.

Who was Semele?

Semele was a mortal woman from mythology, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia. She was from Thebes, and had a couple of siblings, too.

What is she known for?

Unfortunately, Semele is one of those ladies we mostly know only for her procreational activities. She is the mother of the god Dionysus, whose father is Zeus.

So she and Zeus were a thing?

For once it seems that she was rather consenting of the relationship. Many of the myths say that they were in a rather loving relationship – though, keep in mind that Hera was still around.

Did Hera mind?

Of course she did! Here we see that Semele’s curiosity, and her ability to be deceived by the goddess, led to her downfall.

Hera tricked Semele into asking Zeus to show her his true godly form, and she basically spontaneously combusted from seeing it. Zeus had previously sworn to Semele to grant her every wish, so when Hera disguised herself as Semele’s old nurse, she convinced the girl to ask the god to show himself to her as he would to Hera.

But what about Dionysus?

After she caught fire and exploded, Dionysus either escaped her womb and jumped out of his own accord, or Zeus saved him. Either way, he survived the moment of his mother’s death – he is a god, after all.

Is that the end of Semele?

Yes, and no. Dionysus eventually went down to the underworld and found his mother’s shade, making her immortal and bringing her up among the gods. From this point on she is known by the name Thyone. She is the goddess of bacchic frenzy, which is a part of her son’s cult.

This myth might have been reverse-engineered, however. Thyone might have existed as a goddess previously, then she was decided to have been Dionysus’ mother, then incorporated with Semele from the myths.

Next week…

We’re going to look at Antiope! In the mean time, check out these posts from the last series of Classical Ladies: