Young adult novels set in ancient Rome

Don’t know anything about these books, but they could be worth chasing.
Chronicle Herald

Loving Lord of the Rings led Jack Mitchell to take up Latin while still in high school.

Now he’s navigating his love of Latin and the ancient world into a writing career.

The author of the young adult novels The Roman Conspiracy and The Ancient Ocean Blues is planning to read from his historical fiction this month at several Halifax libraries, although at press time the details hadn’t been ironed out.

He’s also set to recite his 50-minute epic poem, The Plains of Abraham, at 7 p.m. on March 9 at Dalhousie University’s Marion McCain Building and to present a paper to the university’s classics department.

The latter appearances may seem a bit rarefied and Mitchell’s own credentials — he studied classics at McGill University and has a PhD in classics from Stanford University — a bit out of the realm of his prime reading audience of 11-13-year-olds.

But the 32-year-old New Brunswick native boils down the basics of history and adventure, even romance, in his fictional stories, inspired by real life centuries ago.

“If your hair is combed you’re not supposed to be interested in the ancient world,” Mitchell says during a recent telephone interview from his Toronto home.

“I’d say that there’s a certain element . . . of the mad scientist in our view of the historian and someone interested in ancient literature, and I wanted to sort of make it much more accessible and to basically say this is not something that’s completely rarefied. It was a real world full of real interesting people and everyone should be able to travel back in time.”

Books started taking Mitchell back in time during his junior high years. He used his love of J.R.R. Tolkien to step into Latin studies, where he found great texts in a dead language — stories alive with plot and poetry of “sheer beauty.”

Now he wants to share some part of that ancient time with today’s teenagers.

“It was about that age that I first began to be interested in the ancient world and that made such a big difference for me in my life that I wanted to be able to reach out and make it available because I think people love it when they find out about it.

“The 60s BC actually happens to be this era that we know more about than almost any other decade until the modern period because it’s so well documented in letters and histories, and the Romans themselves thought of it as their great decade so . . . I didn’t have to make up too much and . . . there were lots of interesting real people,” says Mitchell, who weaves fictional young people in the middle of historic events.

In his latest, The Ancient Ocean Blues, the author puts his teenaged hero Marcus Oppius and his love interest Paulla in the midst of a newly elected Julius Caesar’s world. Bribery and shipwrecks, pirates and slavery ensue as the young hero and his companions become embroiled in political intrigues. The fast-paced adventure suits Mitchell’s own tastes, from Tolkien to his recent reading interest — John le Carre.

“I love something with a good strong plot,” he says. “I love characterization as much as anybody but for me the plot is the driving thing both as a reader and as a writer.”

His young readers appear to love plot as well. The response to his books has been “extremely positive” judging from comments in online forums. Young readers also nominated The Roman Conspiracy for British Columbia’s Red Cedar Book Awards.

“They really have an appetite for Roman history, much more than you’d probably think,” Mitchell says. “And I think it’s as much the good material that I have to work with as my own humble skill as an author.”

A modern gladiator show

LA Times – thanks to Explorator for the link.

‘I like the philosophy of kill or be killed,’ says a man who calls himself Taurus, one of a group of buffs united by an obsession with ancient Rome, especially the gore and glory of battle.
By Sebastian Rotella
March 3, 2009
Reporting from Rome — The gladiators charge each other with a great clashing and crashing of arms and armor. It’s hard to say who looks more fearsome: Atropo or Taurus.

Atropo, the towering Germanic barbarian, wears a mask of black war paint, a headband over her blond hair and a brown tunic and leggings. She wields a trident in one hand and whirls a net in the other.

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Taurus, the compact Roman, is a tattooed mass of muscle beneath a battered metal helmet that covers all but his eyes. He circles behind his shield, lunging with the short sword known as the gladio.

The combat rages until Atropo snares the sword with her net, twists Taurus off balance and batters him to his knees. She whips a dagger from her boot and applies it to his jugular.

“Hah!” she snarls. “Now comes the moment when I cut your throat.”

In her conquering gaze, you can almost see a crowded amphitheater roaring in expectation, an emperor rising from his throne to proffer the gesture — thumbs up? thumbs down? — that will decide the fallen fighter’s fate.

Instead, a spatter of applause echoes in a workout room at the Sport and Fitness gym (English names are trendy here) in Ardeatina, an outlying neighborhood of Rome where middle-class Italians and concrete apartment blocks are more common than tourists and ruins.

Atropo helps Taurus pull off his helmet, and the two become 21st century Romans again: Giulia Mazzoli, a mosaic artist, and Michele D’Orazio, a construction worker.

Some people play Dungeons & Dragons in their spare time; some reenact battles; some learn martial arts. Mazzoli and D’Orazio have a pastime that combines elements of all three — and a powerful dose of local pride.

They belong to a group of history buffs united by an obsession with ancient Rome, especially the gore and glory of the gladiator tradition. They immerse themselves in re-creating historic attire, tactics and weapons and honing their combat skills in a compound in the hills of the Appian Way that resembles the set of a low-budget swords-and-sandals movie.

Veteran students at the Rome Gladiator School see it as an all-consuming discipline that expresses the essence of their identity: citizens of the greatest capital in the history of civilization.

“I am a seventh-generation Roman,” D’Orazio says. “I am Roman in everything. I am from the Trastevere neighborhood. I grew up with the Colosseum, I saw it every day. I like ancient Rome. I learned about it through books, not films, because they are not authentic. I don’t like fakes.”

D’Orazio, 42, has a shaved head and a villainous goatee. He adorns himself with a menagerie: a wolf’s head necklace symbolizes loyalty, a lion figure on his helmet signifies pride, a bull tattooed on his chiseled torso alludes to strength and his fighting moniker. (“Because I am a bull.”)

His thuggish aspect softens when he recounts how he abandoned kendo, the Japanese sword-fighting art, after his wife discovered the gladiator school’s website five years ago.

“I like belonging to the group,” he says. “I like displaying myself in combat. I try to give the best of myself. I like the philosophy of kill or be killed.”

The blades are blunt, but the gladiators strive for the sound, feel and sweat of reality, with accompanying risks. D’Orazio’s nose — describing it as Roman would be cliched but accurate — had to be reconstructed after a shattering blow from a shield. His wife has become decidedly less enthusiastic about his hobby.

“Blood was pouring out of the eye holes of the helmet,” he recalls sheepishly. “A real blood bath.”

The school is part of the Historic Roman Group, whose members include air force generals, waitresses and butchers. On weekends, they impersonate archetypes of antiquity: The centurions drill, the belly dancers undulate, and so on. Every April 21, they are joined by foreign enthusiasts to celebrate the founding of Rome with a full-costume parade that passes the Circus Maximus and other landmarks. The group also provides courses for foreign visitors and tours the world giving demonstrations.

“We were in Shanghai for a show called ‘Roman Holiday,’ ” rasps Nero, the group’s founder. “It was a big hit with the Chinese.”

Nero, a.k.a. Sergio Iacomini, holds court at the club’s headquarters, a clammy, dingy warren of wooden buildings that used to be a bus barn. It houses cluttered offices, a small museum and sandy arenas for fighting.

With a touch of imperial swagger, Iacomini prowls the premises in green cargo pants armed with a busy cellphone (“Nero here”). The chunky, graying 56-year-old is both a grandfather and a new father. He shows off Popeye-size forearms developed during years of swordplay.

In his view, things have gone downhill since the days of the empire when battles were up-close and personal. “Now that was warfare. When the Romans fought Hannibal at Cannes, there were 25,000 men killed in four hours.”

Iacomini, a retired employee of the mint at the Bank of Italy, and a few friends created the club back in 1994. It has grown to several hundred members, who pay dues on a sliding scale for fighting classes in which they advance in skill ranks comparable to the belts of martial arts. Today there are about 17 gladiators, a hard-core minority drawn by the mix of physical and cultural activity.

Mazzoli, the blond mosaic artist, first joined a group of women who dressed up as Roman matrons, or upper-class housewives, but she soon defected.

“Being a matron was boring,” declares Mazzoli, one of two female gladiators. “This requires discipline, passion, responsibility.”

Like the others, the 34-year-old used museums, libraries and the Internet to create her alter ego, a barbarian combatant captured in the Germanic campaigns and brought to fight as a slave. She chose the name Atropo, one of the Three Fates of mythology, the sister who cut the thread of life when people died. Mazzoli has quite the kit of weapons, clothes and armor. Her outfit when she takes to the ring is realistic except for one detail.

“Back then I would have fought bare-breasted,” she said. “But I would risk arrest.”

In its quest to re-create the subculture, the group has not found a written set of gladiator rules. But texts and mosaics helped document details: Most gladiators fought barefoot. An umpire oversaw bouts. There was a lot of betting, and sometimes freemen went into the arena to pay off debts. Champions won wealth and renown comparable to modern-day boxers.

The evening sessions at the gym begin with basic conditioning exercises. The students line up for a ritual salute to the master gladiator, raising weapons and proclaiming, “Ave magister.”

The burly, goateed instructor is Carmelo Catanzaro, 42, who works at a company that manufactures neckties. He founded the group along with Iacomini and chose the moniker Spiculus, whom he described as a drinking buddy of the emperor Nero.

Catanzaro leads the class through drills and sparring. To prevent injuries, duelists stick to a defined repertoire of blows, do not feint, and choreograph the outlines of the exchange while leaving room for improvisation.

“There is a fine line between getting hurt and not getting hurt,” explained Catanzaro. He almost lost a toe to an overeager sparring partner’s sword thrust during a public exhibition.

With their pride in Roman authenticity, the gladiators might be expected to look down on the wannabes they encounter at events in other countries. But D’Orazio is open-minded: He sees them as proof of the empire’s enduring glory.

“I don’t have any problem with French or Hungarians or Romanians doing what we do,” he says. “I see them also as populations created by us. The Romans gave them everything: roads, aqueducts, the games. A lot of great gladiators were foreign slaves or prisoners of war. In that sense, we are all Romans.”

Latin making “slow but steady comeback” in Georgia

Online Athens
Thanks to Explorator for the link

“Latin has been enjoying a slow but steady comeback for quite a few years now, and in general, demand exceeds the supply,” said Rick LaFleur, a University of Georgia classics professor.

Reassuring words for UGA junior Brittany Baker, one of more than two dozen people who packed a small meeting room in Park Hall on Wednesday to learn about teaching the language of the ancient Romans in high school and middle school.

Baker decided she wanted to teach Latin soon after she began classes at UGA and is getting a triple major in Latin, classical culture and foreign language education. Wednesday’s meeting was the second of these annual Latin teacher question-and-answer sessions she’s attended.

But a year ago, before the world’s economy slid into a recession, she didn’t question whether she’d be able to find a job, she said.

Latin declined in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, as secondary schools sought to become more relevant to students who grew up in the TV age.

But the trend reversed sometime around the 1980s, said Keith Dix, a classics professor and undergraduate coordinator for the department.

“Latin really cashed in on ideas like back to basics and academic rigor,” Dix said.

Studies repeatedly have shown that a knowledge of Latin helps boost scores on standardized tests such as the SAT.

“That’s far from being the most important reason to study Latin, but it’s a hook for students who are college-bound, a hook for their parents and for their counselors,” LaFleur said.

Movies such as “Gladiator” have helped push interest as well, said Ginny Lindzey, a Latin teacher at Dripping Springs (Texas) High School active in a nationwide push to recruit Latin teachers.

A Marvel comic book has even featured Julius Caesar, Dix said.

Jobs teaching Latin aren’t plentiful – one per high school is typical in urban areas – but the numbers slowly are climbing.

Only a handful of American colleges and universities have a higher student enrollment than the UGA Classics Department, and none produces more Latin teachers than UGA, LaFleur said – 22 new teachers in the past two years.

Teaching Latin isn’t like studying modern languages.

Grammar, vocabulary and other basics are important, but Latin students also are learning history, ancient culture and their own English language.

More than half of our vocabulary is Latinate, said LaFleur, who opened up Wednesday’s meeting with a Latin greeting: “Salvete vos omnes.”

Pronounced with the right kind of drawl, the phrase means “Howdy, y’all,” he said.

Another puff for Latin “the secret code of civilization — and to college admissions”

Wicked Local. Thanks to Explorator for the link.

Melrose – The Latin word “duco” means “to lead” and according to Dr. Laurence Kepple, Latin teacher at Melrose High School, Latin can lead students to the best possible college — and better financial aid offers.

Take for instance “duco,” one of many Latin words used everyday, unbeknownst to its speakers and writers. It can be seen in words such as “induction,” Kepple said, which essentially means to “lead in,” as in an induction ceremony when new members are introduced to a group.

Even a first-year Latin student can learn similar simple building blocks that are used repeatedly in everyday language, using the composition of the word to deduce its meaning, rather than having to memorize a dictionary definition, Kepple said.

“Just a few Latin roots give you the ability to decode hundreds and hundreds of complicated words, whether on the SATs or in more advanced science and technology courses,” he said. “That’s why I call Latin ‘the secret code of western civilization.’ Everything was written in it and the language we use today has tremendous borrowing from Latin.”

Kepple hopes to impart that message at a forum he’s holding for parents and students on Tuesday, Feb. 24 at the Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School, where he plans to explain how studying Latin can help students get into more competitive colleges and secure more financial aid.

One student who used the Latin program at Melrose High School to his advantage is Arthur Kaynor, the 2008 Melrose High School valedictorian, current Harvard University student and a guest speaker at Kepple’s forum next Tuesday. Kaynor, who took Latin for four years in high school and received the highest possible score of 5 on the Advanced Placement Latin exam, uses another word, “reduce,” to illustrate the language’s code-breaking abilities.

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Housesteads facelift – consultations with the public

The visitor centre at Housesteads is not that old. I remember when there was just that little museum half way up to the fort. But this piece of news cheers me; it’s chiefly the idea of consulting the local people.

* Hexham Courant Thanks to Explorator for the link.

Major facelift at Roman fort

Last updated 13:46, Friday, 06 March 2009

PROPOSALS for a major facelift for one of Tynedale’s premier Roman sites have been unveiled.

The National Trust and English Heritage are planning to join forces to provide a new visitor attraction at Housesteads Fort, near Bardon Mill.

But exactly how the visitor experience on the best-known fort on the Wall is enhanced will be up to the public.

The two organisations believe local insight is key to making sure that the needs of visitors and local communities alike are at the heart of the site’s activities.

So they are staging a series of meetings and exhibitions across the district to establish what people want.

A spokeswoman for the National Trust said: “Our research search with our visitors last autumn let us know what kind of facilities people expect – a shop, restaurant, loos, parking, etc.

“What we want from the local community is to know how they would like to use the site.

“We’re not quite starting with a blank canvas, but at the same time we don’t want to pigeon-hole them into thinking we only have a few options and they have to stick to those limitations.”

The success of the recent Hadrian Exhibition at the British Museum has provided many ideas which could be emulated at Housesteads.

The spokeswoman said: “The exhibition at the British Museum featured all kinds of artefacts from the Roman period and life-size statues – should these artefacts come to Housesteads?

“There are some loose themes we’re working around, such as the people who lived here, the landscape and the frontier itself.

“The consultation is therefore all about the experience that people will have at Housesteads – how they can discover more about the themed areas, and can go away saying, ‘I really enjoyed doing that, I’d like to do it again’.

“Housesteads is already a huge pull to visitors across the country, but we also want to ensure that the local community visit regularly and there’s something that they can enjoy too. This is our reason for involving them heavily in our plans.”

Exhibitions will take place on Saturday at Wentworth Leisure Centre and the Queen’s Hall in Hexham, and at Haltwhistle library, from 9am to 4pm.

Visitors will be invited to add their initial thoughts and ideas to consultation panels on display at the three venues.

Staff from the National Trust and English Heritage will be joining a coffee morning at Haltwhistle Methodist Church hall to test reactions to a range of activity ideas for the fort as well as asking for their suggestions next Thursday from 9.30-11.30am.

The two organisations will also be manning a stall at the Hexham and Haltwhistle Saturday markets on Saturday, April 18, when residents can also give their views.

Housesteads is the best preserved and most dramatically positioned of all the Roman forts on Hadrian’s Wall.

Built by Emperor Hadrian in about AD124 to secure the new frontier now known as Hadrian’s Wall, it is the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain.

It was garrisoned by a cohort of around 800 soldiers originally from Belgium and later reinforced by Germanic cavalry.

Excavations at the fort began in 1822 and have revealed four double gateways, three barrack blocks and latrines, as well as the commandant’s house, headquarters building and hospital.

National Trust spokes-woman Melanie Eve, said: “The public consultation programme forms part of a five-year plan that aims to transform the visitor experience at Housesteads Roman Fort.

“We want to bring to life the people of Housesteads’ past and display more important artefacts originally discovered at the site, as well as providing better educational and community facilities.”

English Heritage’s outreach manager – North East, Alexandra Markham, said:“Housesteads is the best preserved Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall and we really want to offer the best possible visitor experience.”

The five-year plan is subject to the National Trust and English Heritage gaining external funding and support from philanthropic sources, individuals and public bodies, all of whom both organisations hope will develop a partnership role at Housesteads.