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54.4.Leonard

I have taught the AP Latin Vergil and Literature syllabi for the past eight years and have, like so many others, struggled with the need to get through the text. Were I to run my AP class like a boot camp, forcing my students to barrel through Vergil for the sole purpose of being prepared for the AP exam, I am certain that my upper level enrollment would drop severely. Furthermore, the students who did remain would become disenchanted with their study of ancient poetry as their resentment overwhelmed their interest. I, therefore, make it my goal to present the Aeneid as an accessible, enjoyable, and essential work, while not compromising the rigor of the AP syllabus. This paper focuses on the techniques that I use to make Vergil’s Aeneid a rich and lasting poetic experience for my students, one that will result in an enjoyment that aids not only long-term retention, but also word-of-mouth marketing to building a strong Latin program.

First, I will present two areas of focus that I have observed to be fundamentally undervalued by AP Vergil teachers, largely due to the rapid pacing of the course. These areas are (1) the analysis of literary devices and their effects on the poem, and (2) a focussed study of metrical effects accompanied by a daily regimen of reading aloud from the Latin. Second, I will offer a variety of successful strategies for completing the syllabus using both class time and extra sessions in the fall and spring, a buffer that ensures completion of the Latin text while permitting time for the analytical discussions.

Because the AP exam minimally rewards students who can identify figures of speech and accurately scan dactylic hexameter, these have become areas that many teachers allow to fall by the wayside. Moreover, the few (multiple choice) questions on the exam that require specific knowledge of these areas ask only “what Vergil did” and not “why Vergil did this”. (It is, of course, the answer to the latter question that ensured the fame of Mantua’s favorite son through the past two millenia.) I begin the recognition of literary devices in Latin III, with a project illustrating devices in English. Recognition turns to understanding in AP as the students note the devices in the passages read during class, marking them in their notebooks and answering questions about their effects. Independent identification and analysis takes place through a series of written projects and analytical essay assignments. I plan to show slides of student work and offer handouts containing project guidelines. I find that these techniques work to make the poetry infinitely more accessible, as students realize the purpose of the transferred epithet or tricolon. Additionally, I find that my students are more likely to recognize and comment upon poetic artistry and rhetorical skill in other literature classes, their own private reading, and in their daily lives.

Many teachers shy away from reading the poetry aloud, often because of their own discomfort with oral practice. Not only should the poetry be read aloud, as it was the custom of the ancients, but it must be read aloud to hear the phrases, the emphases, the ebb and flow of the narrative, the dramatic pauses and enjambed actions. My students read the day’s lines at the beginning of each class period, and I stop them to discuss word placement and moments of metrical meaning. As a pre-reading exercise, I find this invaluable to their appreciation of the text both during and following translation. It also enhances their ability to retain the meaning of the lines, as the oral component activates their memories in a very different way from the written. I will include in my presentation a catalogue of metrical effects that I have my students study, as well as my strategy for teaching meter, scansion, and comfort with oral reading.

Through these strategies, I plan to demonstrate that it is possible to teach the AP Vergil course not as death march through the poetry whose limited goal is to pass the AP exam in May, but as a rich, accessible, and timeless work that inspires critical thinking along with reading pleasure. As a result, students are better prepared for college level literary analysis, more likely to continue their study of Latin in college, and destined to become lifelong lovers of Vergil.

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