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Recreating the Voice of the Gladiator for the Secondary Classroom

Emma Vanderpool

Trickum Middle School

Just as the ancient Romans were drawn to the arena to bear witness to the blood and glory of gladiatorial combat, so too are students attracted to secondary classrooms by these stories.  Instructors tend to teach this subject from the perspective of the spectator rather than the gladiator due to the lack of the gladiator’s voice in ancient literature (Hope, Fighting for Identity 93). Through the careful use of both primary sources - including gladiator tombstones, Pompeiian inscriptions, and the poetry of Martial and Juvenal - as well as secondary sources, it is possible to create historical narratives in Latin that do not simply glorify violence but rather give voice to the voiceless and explore the complex condition and experiences of gladiators.

Latin teachers in the secondary context more often than not also have the role of author as well as instructor. As the student populations in our classrooms become more diverse, teachers must incorporate “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes" (Ladson-Billings 382; Rajagopal 22). Although physical evidence and tombstones of gladiators are scarce, remains from Spain to Syria allow Latin teachers to use the topic of gladiators to show the multicultural nature of the ancient Mediterranean and help our students better make connections to the past (Britt 19; Carter 97-98; Coleman 194; Hope, Death in Ancient Rome 29-30, Scott 493-494). Including multicultural narratives within the literature provided to students is crucial in both helping them imagine the broader world and in their own personal self-realization (Pirofski).

During the course of this paper, I discuss how I utilized primary sources to create twelve separate historical narratives, representing the lives of gladiators from across the empire, and how I used systemic-functional linguistics (SFL) to create these texts to fit within a culturally responsive curriculum (Halliday; Martin 9; Derewianka). Not only do the perspective of the fictional narratives that teachers share in their classes matter but the specific words that are used matter as well. The use of SFL can help to guide teachers to consider their word choices and how they affect the field, mode, and tenor of a text. (Dereiwanka “Knowledge,” 134). Additionally, I explain how, these texts, by providing Comprehensible Input (CI) and sheltering vocabulary, allow students to not only learn about culture through the language but also allow them to more fully engage with the implications of word choice and become close readers (“Introduction”). Lastly, I explain how these texts were read and received by students, who both read for comprehension and deconstructed the narrative according to SFL. Through the inclusion of SFL and CI in created texts, students are able to learn about the culture and cultural diversity of the ancient world through the language itself, while also developing close reading skills.

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