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Epic and Empire: Themes Linking Caesar and Vergil in the New AP Latin Course

With the advent of the new Advanced Placement Latin Course—Caesar and Vergil—upon us, this panel will address several themes that appear in both the Gallic Wars and Aeneid. A new element of the new AP Latin Course is an emphasis on context. This extends from the meanings of individual lexical items in their context to understanding the reading selections as parts of larger literary works, to contextualizing them within the larger framework of Latin literature and Roman culture. The new AP Latin Curriculum Framework suggests a series of seven “Essential Themes” and many “Essential Questions” to help guide teachers and students to see the connections between the works and within the context of Roman literature, history, and culture. Since there is not yet a body of material for teachers to use to make these connections, this panel will explore several of the “Themes and Essential Questions” and offer teachers practical tools they can use in the classroom.
AP Latin Curriculum Framework –


The Camp and the City in Caesar’s BG and BC
At first glance, Caesar’s works seem to be as he presents them- unadorned, low- key commentarii. But scholars have long since noted Caesar’s genre bending and borrowings from epic and historiography (Rambaud 1966; Gärtner 1975). In this paper, I will examine Caesar’s use or avoidance of two tropes from those genres: the symbolic depiction of the camp as the soldiers’ home, or even as their city itself, and the depiction of sacks of cities both literal and metaphorical. Later writers’ (Plutarch, Appian and Dio) treatments of the same events will help clarify Caesar’s motives and choices. These same tropes and techniques in the Aeneid can provide useful points of contrast.

In contrast to writers of historia, such as Livy and Tacitus, Caesar almost never portrays the camp in symbolic or metaphorical terms, but he does use the urbs capta, literal and figurative, especially in the BC to discredit his enemies. The camp is not a stand-in for Rome or their own homes, athough he could have used this trope to emphasize the danger the Gauls had posed and could still pose to Rome itself. The soldiers’ real home is not the camp, but with Caesar, wherever he is and in whatever circumstances. Their sole goal is to please him by fighting bravely: thus they will win his approval and some unspecified material reward. Caesar uses familiar tropes of the urbs capta in recounting the siege of Avaricum (Paul 1982). Turning the Pompeians’ rhetoric against them, Caesar describes Rome under their rule as a captive city (BC 1.2.6, 1.5.3), using motifs found in Quintilian’s famous description of such a scene (Quint. 8.3.68-69). His extended account of the siege of Massilia (BC 2.1-16) only highlights his lenitas in sparing them (Carter 1991) and the duplicitous rhetoric of the Massilians.

In the Aeneid, we find that the two tropes have become one. The city of Troy, destroyed, recurs as both the Trojan camp and Latinus’s city (Rossi 2004). Vergil also portrays the Trojan camp as the Achaean camp familiar from the Iliad, and Turnus mistakenly thinks he plays the role of Achilles, while in fact he has been cast as Hector. Turnus, like Hector and Dido, embodies his city (Aen. 12. 919-26), and his death foreshadows its demise. Thus the two motifs of the camp as city and the urbs capta remind us of the interaction of epic and historiography. They also contribute to the ambiguous end of the Aeneid and can prompt fruitful comparison and contrast with the narratives of empire building and civil war in Caesar.

Carter, J. M (1991), ed., Julius Caesar: The Civil War, Books I and II (Westminster).

Gärtner, H., (1975), Beobachtungen zu Bauelementen in der Antiken Historiographie besonders bei Livius und Caesar, (Wiesbaden).

Paul, G. M. (1982), ‘Urbs capta: Sketch of an Ancient Literary Motif’, Phoenix 36:144-55.

Rambaud, M (1966), L’Art de la déformation dans historique dans les Commentaires de César, 2nd ed., (Paris).

Rossi, A. (2004), Contexts of War: Manipulation of Genre in Virgilian Battle Narrative,

(Ann Arbor)


Caesar’s Leadership in the First Invasion of Britain
The new AP Latin course not only introduces a new author and his work, Julius Caesar’s Gallic War, but also foregrounds new issues for the students and teachers to consider, such as how Romans compare themselves to other peoples, what Romans choose to say (and not say) about their wars, and what qualities Romans value in a leader. These topics—and a host of others—are also found in Vergil’s Aeneid, making the two works well suited for reading together. Encouraging discussion of common themes across Caesar’s and Vergil’s works is one of the goals of the new AP Latin course and the reason the “Themes and Essential Questions” section of the AP Latin Curriculum Framework were developed.

One theme common to Caesar’s Gallic War and Vergil’s Aeneid is good leadership, its qualities and attributes. This paper will focus on Caesar’s depiction of his leadership skills in the first invasion of Britain, Gallic War 4.24-36init. The paper will present materials AP teachers can use in their classes to teach this unit.

Close reading of Caesar’s Latin text is essential and we will begin with a brief summary of the contents of the section and highlight the aspects of Caesar’s leadership during this difficult campaign.

The bulk of our time will be devoted to covering background materials that can be incorporated into the AP Latin classroom in the original Latin. One of the keys to integrating the “Themes and Essential Questions” into the course will be to supply authentic Latin materials on these themes rather than focusing on extensive English readings. Several Latin texts written in 55-54 BCE testify to the enormous excitement Caesar’s British campaign stirred up in Rome. Catullus mentions it in three poems, 11, 29, and 45, all indicating its attractions for ambitious young Roman men. Cicero praises Caesar’s conquests as extending Rome’s interests to the western edge of the world (Prov. Cons. 33). He mentions that Caesar wrote to him about it in letters and he praises his brother’s description of the invasions, noting that he has outstanding material for a literary work on the topic of the places, the people, and the general! (Epist. ad Q. Frat. 2.15(16).4, 3.1.25). This puts Caesar in competition with Rome’s greatest living general, Pompey (note, too, the sarcasm at Catullus, 29.12, imperator unice). Cicero’s praise of Pompey in his De Imperio Cn. Pompei is the locus classicus for defining an excellent leader and military general.

Cicero’s four definitions of a great general at De Imp. Cn. Pomp. 28 provide a convenient text to use with students for sight reading or as comprehension practice. Also supplied to the audience will be short passages on other generals, such as Cornelius Nepos’ depiction of Hannibal (Vita Han. 1), Augustus’ representation of himself in his Res Gestae (3), and Tacitus’ account of Boudicca addressing her troops (Ann. 14.35). All of these passages are suitable for use in class and will provide material for students to discuss the qualities of Roman leadership displayed by Romans and non-Romans, and by men and women.

The goal of this presentation is to equip the AP Latin teacher—or any teacher of Caesar—with information and materials to walk into class and discuss the topic of Caesar’s leadership in his first foray into Britain.


The Costs of War: Vergil and Caesar

In the new A. P. Latin Curriculum Framework it comes as no surprise to find War and Empire as suggested theme for a course centered on Caesar and Vergil.1 One of the essential questions under this theme, “What are the perspectives of Vergil and Caesar concerning Roman imperialism,” looks easy to answer: After all, Jupiter declares imperium sine fine dedi (Aen. 1.279). But attempts to answer other of the questions may lead to more complicated responses. For instance, we can investigate “What questions do these works raise about the consequences of war?” or “What are the effects of war on women and noncombatants?”

Vergil himself provides dramatic vignettes that help answer those questions in Book 2, through his highly emotional account of Troy’s collapse. In Book 4 he makes Dido and Anna ponder the precarious situation of their new city, surrounded as it is by hostile neighbors. He complicates the story of Roman imperialism by reminding his readers of its human toll.

Caesar’s accounts of his contributions to the expansion of Roman power present a startling contrast through their near silence on such topics.

This paper will suggest some ways to use these contrasting and complex accounts in order to encourage careful and engaged reading of the texts from our students.


Following Guidelines and Finding Freedom in Latin AP

There is often an element of fear in a new adventure, and there is often an element of resentment when we are told what to do. Many people are therefore approaching the new Latin AP with more apprehension than is necessary. Part of being a good teacher, after all, is diving with energy into the latest challenge and finding joy in the fresh perspective we find in an old text when we have been pushed beyond our comfort zone. Because the new design is more about a course than the test, there is much more helpful information included for teachers than ever before. As a result, teachers should actually find the new exam more interesting and even more flexible than they have in the past.

One new aspect of the AP Latin course starting in 2012-2013 is the Curriculum Framework and its set of Themes and Essential Questions. These themes and questions can help us overcome one challenging aspect in the combination of Caesar and Vergil: how can we create meaningful connections between two authors who differ in such real ways? For example, how do we generate comparisons between an author of commentarii and one of epic? or between a one who makes the gods and fate a central theme and a Pontifex Maximus who almost never mentions either?

Using a randomly-chosen, syllabus-based passage from each of the authors, the speaker will discuss the way her class brainstormed connections between passages from Vergil’s Aeneid and Caesar’s Gallic War as well as the way the class then explored Web 2.0 technology to illustrate the connections they had found. By working through the learning objectives of the Curriculum Framework with these same passages, the speaker will show how the design of the course—its development from reading to translation to contextualization and, finally, to analysis—enriches the pedagogy of the texts themselves. Although there is always work in undertaking a new syllabus, the speaker hopes that once teachers realize that the upcoming changes entail the implementation not of a new exam but of a new course, they will see the rich field they have been given for creating a classroom full of freedom for themselves and their students.

College Board. AP Latin Curriculum Framework 2012-2013. Accessed July 31, 2011.


Connecting Themes in the new AP Exam to National Standards for Classical Language Learning

Using Examples from Current Events

      Preparation for the new AP course is only one of the myriad of challenges that AP Latin teachers will face next year. Teachers must make the course interesting enough that students will want to continue their Latin studies. Teachers must also make sure that their lessons are connected to national standards. The themes and essential questions mentioned in paper 3 can help teachers make connections between the two authors. In this paper, the same themes and questions will be examined to connect the AP course to the Standards for Classical Language Learning . For example, Standard 2.2 requires students to relate the reading of selected texts to an understanding of Roman culture. From the very first lines of the Aeneid and the Gallic War, students can relate the text to values and ideas that are characteristically Roman such as the glorification of Rome and one’s individual duty to Rome. In addition, the leadership styles of Aeneas and Caesar have many parallels in modern world leaders.

In addition, specific examples will be given on how to connect each theme with modern day events. For example, Standard 4.2, requires students to compare and contrast their own culture with that of the Greco-Roman world. Teachers could use the migration of the Helvetii to discuss the current topic of legal and illegal immigration. There will also be suggestions given for cross-curricula projects from both the Vergil and Caesar texts for government, history, art and literature classes.
College Board. AP Latin Curriculum Framework 2012-2013. Accessed July 31, 2011.
Standards for Classical Language Learning: A Collaborative Project of the American Classical League and The American Philological Association and Regional Classical Associations.

1 A. P. Latin Curriculum Framework 2012-2013, College Board, 2011, p. 26.

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