By Amanda Burdette
COLLEGE PARK – Alea Iacta Est. The die has been cast.
On Tuesday, 1,300 Latin students from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia determined Gaius Julius Caesar’s posthumous fate during Latin Day 1997.
Participants gathered at the University of Maryland College Park gave Caeser the “After-Lifetime” achievement award after intense debate over the Roman leader’s integrity in soliciting money from his people.
Judith Hallett, chair of the Classics Department, which sponsored the program, said Latin Day started in the 1970s, but has being going strong for the past 10 years. Latin is the third- most studied language in Maryland secondary schools, she said.
This year’s theme was elections and politics in ancient Rome. Past themes have included Rome wasn’t built in a day, women in ancient Rome and Roman athletics.
Hallett said the 1997 program was a “a comic rendition of an ancient Rome hearing on campaign finance” — an appropriate theme given the recent hearings on Capital Hill. “One of the girls in the skit works on Capital Hill and said `the [play] hearing is pretty accurate to how it really is,'” Hallett said.
The Senate panel, which debated Caesar’s honesty, included notable pseudo-Romans such as the Terminator Pectoriosus, a togaed rendition of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Pelvissimis Rex, a glitter-covered Elvis Presley look-alike.
Mary Kane-Malone, a classics graduate student who played Pelvissimis Rex, said the program provided “an arena for high school Latin students to come together.”
As Hallett put it, the day was for “teachers where they are the only Latin teacher in the school or for students who are outnumbered by French speakers. This is a way to feel part of a larger community.”
Ethan Labowitz, a seventh-grader at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Va., said, “It was nice to see so many other people who took Latin.”
His classmate, Brendon Kent, agreed, “We filled the whole auditorium.”
Not only did students act in the play, but they sent videotapes to show their support or opposition for Caesar.
The Maret School in Washington, D.C., sent a video in favor of Caesar because he gave tax breaks for large families and strengthened the Roman Empire with his charisma.
Students at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville also thought he deserved the recognition. They claimed he promoted civil reform, helped Rome’s infrastructure and created the Roman calendar.
And Gov. Parris N. Glendening prepared a video calling Caesar the “most well-known figure” in ancient Rome. “My interest in Julius Caesar is rooted in the language and culture of ancient Rome,” Glendening said.
Latin, he added, can help in high school assessment tests. He applauded the students for studying the language.
Glendening’s participation impressed Lauri Dabbieri, Latin teacher at George Washington Middle School. “It was neat that even at the highest levels of state government we are being recognized,” she said.
Latin enrollment is low at some schools, but “it is picking up due to programs like this,” she said. -30-