Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Aeneid Class: Week 15: Finale

This post relates to my literature class for children at Homeschool Out of the Box co-op in Norfolk, VA. This semester we are reading The Aeneid, using Penelope Lively's book In Search of a Homeland, and other supplemental materials. For other lessons, please click the Aeneid tag at the bottom of this post.

Welcome: This is our last class meeting! Weep! Our day today consisted of rehearsing for our show, taking our final exam, and performing for the parents. The Junior Aeneid class also made a craft project and reviewed the whole story of the Aeneid. While we retold the story from the beginning, we decorated pinwheels with scenes from the story -- one on each of eight points of the pinwheel. Then we folded them and stuck them onto the ends of Arma Virumque Cano pencils, and blew into them like the winds of history carrying the story into the future.

Final Exam: No more true and false! Today's final exam consisted of 25 questions, some with more than one answer required, and it was really tough! I'm very proud of the kids for their recall, their enthusiasm, and their excellent brains. The final exam was a big success. Everyone who took it got a commemorative Arma Virumque Cano pencil, donated by Ben and Shira!

The Death of Turnus: In the academic track class, we spent some time discussing the end of the Aeneid. The final scene in our book is the death of Turnus, the Latin hero that Aeneas ended up fighting one-on-one to end the battle and establish his place and a place for his descedents in Italy. There they were, facing each other across the battle field, and the whole weight of history was on them. Aeneas threw his spear and wounded Turnus in the leg and he went down. Now, here comes Aeneas, ready to finish him off, ready to wipe out this whole idea that the Latin king had any power over his Trojans and his future. And Turnus looked up at him and asked for mercy, or at least to have his body returned to his father.

We paused the conversation on that moment and I asked the children to consider what they would do in that situation, if they were in Aeneas' position. This is a hard question! We talked about how we in our culture value kindness and mercy, value giving people second chances, how we would not necessarily kill someone who we had subdued and who was asking for mercy. But the Roman ideal, though they valued clementia, was to be strong, to kill fiercely and to die well. As I said to the children, a Roman soldier was not one to say, "Well, Turnus, we've had our differences, but now I've taught you a lesson and you can go on your way."

Even so, Aeneas paused in that moment too. Did he kill Turnus? Yes, he did. But only after he saw the belt of Pallas, the Etruscan prince and his friend who had helped him in the battle. Turnus was wearing it as a trophy, and it caught Aeneas' eye as he hovered over Turnus, weighing that killing blow. So this archetypal Roman killed his enemy without mercy, but he did it not for the gods, or for himself, but for his comrades in arms, for his fellow Romans, and for Rome. We talked about how this motivation was romanticized in "Horatio at the Bridge" in the lines about the Romans being like brothers, in the brave days of old.

So, those ideas about that scene sort of encapsulated everything I have tried to teach the children this semester about the Aeneid: why it was important, what it meant to the Romans at the time when the Empire was expanding, and why Virgil made the choices he made in writing it.

The Finale: Here are some videos from our final performance:

"Let's Get the Heck Out of Troy"

"Dido and Aeneas: I Will Be Roman"

A Demonstration of Roman Virtue:

A Recitation of an Excerpt from "Horatio at the Bridge":

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen"

"Arma Virumque Cano"

I have loved teaching all your children, and hope to see them all back for The Three Musketeers in the fall! Keep reading!

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