Mental Horticulture: Writing an Original Story in Latin

I've joked with Andy over the last year as we've developed Latin with Andy that all along, my maniacal mom plan was to get Andy to work Henle's First Year Latin book a fourth time—and you always learn something in a deeper way when you have to teach it. The training and toiling Andy invested in his Latin studies inspired him toward writing in Latin, creating an original story called Maxima Vipera.

Working on Precision of Thought

In his book Climbing Parnassus, Tracy Lee Simmons walks his readers through the vast benefits of learning Latin which includes composition in Latin. It challenges us towards precision of thought.

"The procedure elevates us above our slack habits, transporting us out of our loose, lazy ways. We utter not what pours forth haphazardly in awkward spurts of inarticulacy, firing scattershot in the general direction of a target hoping we'll get points for proximity. Instead we think through the idea and then we convert it into the right words. We strain through an intellectual exercise; we're sweatier for wear, but stronger." (p. 176)

While this idea is inspiring, the story Andy has written is the beginning of his journey, not the culmination of masters like Caesar and Cicero. But I love it. I love that even if one doesn't continue their studies in Latin throughout the rest of their lives, the exercise in precision will be a skill that applies universally.

Lessons in Logic

Simmons continues to argue that, "Every lesson in Latin is a lesson in logic." It is rigorous to study Latin and wears students out because each sentence requires so much of the student. Here's an example:

Taking the simple two-word Latin sentence Vellem mortuos ("I would that they were dead") . . . understanding this sentence aright requires fourteen intellectual turns. A student must know (1) the person, (2) tense, (3) voice, (4) number, (5) mood of the verb vellem; (6) that it comes from volo, meaning (7) "I wish"; and that (8) the subjunctive has here a particular shade of meaning. As to mortuos, he must know that it is (9) the accusative, (10) plural, (11) masculine, from (12) mortuus, meaning (13) "dead"; (14) the reason why the accusative is necessary.  (p.177)

That is some serious work! The next time you grade your student's Latin work, keep in mind how many different ways they could go wrong. Because there are so many ways to go wrong, it can be very frustrating and overwhelming to even try. Simmons encourages:

"But the faultless moments, the ones when the winds fill our sails and the words blow perfectly in all their weight and beauty, are the ones we come to live for. They take us halfway up the mountain. We begin to look down on clouds." (p. 177)

It's so tempting to spare our kids from pain in their studies, but in doing so, we can inadvertently spare them from the view from the mountain top.

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    Mental Horticulture

    When you've soaked in enough grammar, vocabulary, and translation experience, you are ready to Climb Parnassus, the ancient Greek mountain that required discipline, training, and effort to climb. He states:

    "For such training and toning, either with translating or composing, is more than the sum of "framing sentences." It's mental horticulture. We plant, and even weed, a small garden patch of the mind when we compose in this taut, conscious way, placing words and clauses with the same care we might expend on planting delicate seeds or transplanting mature stalks. The care becomes not only an exercise in exact thought, but also a loving act. We know we're doing something worthwhile. For one fleeting moment, we push back the chaos and make way for order. Ad astra per aspera [through hardship to the stars]." (p. 179)

    While the journey will be difficult, as it has been for us, it is most definitely worth it.

    An Original Story in Latin

    The fruit of Andy's labor presented itself in a story form one night. We were working through the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum, deeply immersed in story, and a Latin story started forming in his mind. His desk in his room has a glossy white top, which allows him to write with a dry-erase marker, so he started writing.

    Where did this come from? It wasn't an assignment or a task he was required to do. He wrote because he's cultivated a love of Latin. It's the truest expression of amateur (from the Latin word "amo" which means "to love). Creation for the sake of enjoyment. That is a beautiful thing.

    The story is an adventure tale about a brave soldier, an ancient beast, and a deadly battle. There are four short chapters, including more challenging grammatical forms than Jona et Piscis Grandis. This story would be great for students who have made it through most of Henle's Second Year Latin

    Maxima Vipera PDF

    What to expect in the Maxima Vipera PDF download:

    • 35 pages
    • An original adventure story in Latin by Andy
    • Notes on translating
    • A vocab word bank for the whole resource
    • Andy's literal translation
    • Andy's artistic translation

    $5 for the complete resource. If you're a Latin with Andy member, this resource is free in the printables zone.

    Other resources you might enjoy that are all available in a Latin with Andy membership include:

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