Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Read, girl, read."

Julius Caesar wrote his autobiography 2060 years ago when he wrote the Roman sagas and talked about himself in third person.

My Latin teacher, Mr. Burger, a formidable man, strolled up and down the aisles of his classroom, hands folded behind his back, pants pulled up under his armpits, white shirt, black tie, and randomly stopped at a student's desk , tapped the notebook paper with pen scratches and scrawls, and asked the student to read aloud from his homework. His homework -- three or four pages of Latin text-- had to be translated into English.

I used to spend hours on it -- Mr. Burger would stop by my desk and demand: "Read, girl, read."

The translation of Julius Caesar's words would read something like this:

"Caesar left Alexandria, having established Cleopatra as a client ruler in alliance with Rome; he left three legions under the command of Rufio, as legate, in support of her rule. Either immediately before or soon after he left Egypt, Cleopatra bore a son, whom she named Caesarion, claiming that he was the son of Caesar."

Note: Caesar was a cad --- "claiming" --- but Cleopatra was no ingenue -- she slept with snakes, you know.

Ha. No pun intended.

The translations would go on and on, and sometimes, Caesar might add olive branches, gold leaves or greaves, chariots, and bloody battles. The bottom line was that Caesar thought a lot of himself -- and I guess, you would, if you were writing up your life in Latin and making clear your conquests for posterity.


BTW: When you translated incorrectly, Mr. Burger would say, "I'll have your life's blood."

Teaching by intimidation -- what a novel idea.... :)


In fact, I'm pretty sure that Mr. Burger wanted a DNA test to prove that I was my brother's sister -- an older brother who was Star Student, GHP attendee, State Orator winner, and Valedictorian. He got himself a full academic ride to the University of Virginia. Mr. Burger thought he was the brightest student he ever taught -- and then there was I -- who struggled with Latin -- cause it was like "Greek to me."

but those that understood him smiled at one another and
shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me
--William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 1599.


Seriously, how would you like to follow a sibling like that?

I took Latin because it was a family tradition.

We conjugated verbs in a dead language.


What were my parents thinking?

Anyhow -- I listened to this very funny podcast on "if you were to write your autobiography, what would be its title," and the people calling in were quite clever.

I wish I would have called in ... cause I used to tell my students that my autobiography title would be Nobody Claps for Me.

What would yours be?


  1. Mr. Burger reminds me of Mrs. Bettis of PMMS math fame. That woman only called on me when I had no clue what was going on, like when we studied math based on different numbering systems. Base 8 counting. This is relevant in life? Seriously? And binary, who needs it? Heh.

    Top contenders for my autobiography off the top of my head: Hooptedoodle or My Mother Is a Horse.

  2. My Mother is a Horse.


    I totally burst into laughter..

  3. Living Between the Phone Calls. That would be mine.

  4. I think I did grow up with a sibling like that.

    No wonder we "get" each other.

    Actually, "No Wonder We Get Each Other" wouldn't be a half-bad title, either.

  5. LOL -- Noah, great title.

    Griff -- If I knew who you were, I might get your book title. :)