High School Latin

My high school Latin teacher must have been in her sixties. She looked like she knew Julius Caesar up close and personal. I can’t remember her name but she sure made an impression. There she stood before the class with a bad case of declensionitis. Now it wasn’t as if we in her Latin class had been drafted. We had volunteered. Latin was an elective. We could just as easily taken Spanish. Since we lived in Texas, that would’ve made more sense.

But somewhere along the way the Ancient Romans cast their spell on me. If it had been offered, I would have taken Hebrew and written backwards. But there I sat in Latin class, conjugating verbs that Cicero probably never conjugated. And he was a conjugator in the first degree.

Also I had read that F. Scott Fitzgerald took Latin and I had this dream. I wanted to be not just any writer but a rich and famous one, go off to Hollywood and sleep with lots of great looking women. If Fitzgerald had done it, why not me? A pimply-faced kid with a poor self-image can dream, can’t he?

To train as a writer, I thought about taking Shakespeare. But he scared the bejesus out of me. People put him on such a pedestal. And still do. But Latin. I thought Latin would be such a lark. How hard could it be since the Neanderthals had spoken and written it? After all, pimples or not, I was a thoroughly modern adolescent.

And maybe, just maybe, speaking Latin might get me in with the in-crowd, or at least the intellectual crowd. I was a lonely kid. I wasn’t even geek enough to be a geek. I was so lonely for companionship I got a cat. I couldn’t even do that right. Should have gotten a dog, ’cause cats are not the most companionable of pets. I know there are cat owners who will disagree. But I have a cat and I’m telling you that has been my experience. Latinizing myself seemed like a plan. And who knew? There just might be a Zelda in my future. You gotta remember. I wasn’t the brightest light bulb in the store.

So there I sat among a bunch of other empty minds, waiting to be stirred by a language that had not been spoken in something like 1500 years. Then the the Declensionator sprang some news upon us. We had to drop our w and pronounce the v as a w.

We started demanded our double-u’s back. We became so riotous that three Roman lictors had to be brought in to calm us down. Finally she told us that she would allow us a pickum nickum on the school lawn if we would just calm down.

Once we calmed down, she spun us the tale of Gaius Julius Caesar. His Horatio Alger of a life only proved that any Roman patrician could grow up and be Dictator-for-Life if he applied himself and had a bit of luck. He started off with a family tree second to none but no cash. Being the ambitious kid he was, he had a hankering to conquer the world. Went off to Gaul (which was Latin for France) and gave a good whacking to the folks in Gallia Celtica, Belgica and Aquitania. The English translation for Gallia Celtica, Belgica and Aquitania is Any, Many and Minie Moe.

Pompey, the Big Cheese in Rome, was way none too happy. Told Gaius Julius that he had gotten too big for his toga and his knickers were showing. He needed to humble himself and come on home to Rome and beg the Senate to forgive him for being so successful.

Gaius was having none of that. He headed back to Rome with the Seventh Legion behind him. Unlike the Seventh Calvary, they were in no mood for a Little Big Horn and they were led by a general who was no Custer. He was more like Patton. All Gaius Julius wanted was a parade for doing to Gaul what Pompey wanted to do to him.

So he gave Pompey and the Senate the middle finger and marched on Rome. He did not become Caesar till he crossed the Rubicon, singing “We’re not gonna take it anymore.” From that day on, his business card said Caesar.

Pompey did a quick exit stage right and lit out for all parts east. Caesar followed and pretty soon he was veni-ing, vidi-ing and vici-ing all over the place, giving Pompey the what-fors here, there and everywhere. Caesar did the Napoleon thing. He went down to Egypt and all hell broke loose. Pompey lost his head over Cleopatra. Caesar was downright pissed. Only a Roman got to knock off another Roman.

Before he knew it, Cleo had Gaius calmed down. She spread her legs and Caesar went ga-ga over the original Lady Gaga. He, in his W. C. Fields of a voice, told her like he told all his girlfriends, “Veni, vidi, vici.” She retorted, with a Mae West that made Mae West think twice about using that voice of hers, “No, you veni-ed, you vidied, but I vici-ed, big boy.” She had him in the palm of her hands, showing him the pyramids.

The thing was that Gaius got bored. He’d seen all the pyramids he wanted to see. A pyramid here, a pyramid there, everywhere a pyramid. He saw so many pyramids they started reminding him of Stonehenge. All he needed was a Druid and he could have a human sacrifice. Now, wouldn’t that be a party? he thought. So he decided to get the hell out of Dodge and head back to Rome where the plebs worshipped the ground he walked on.

Bad idea. Before he knew it, he was etu-ing Brute’ all over the place. At that point, he had a bad case of the “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.” And that was that. It was the good ol’ bye, bye, Miss American Pie.

Of course, we Latineers in that high school class found all this fascinating, especially the part about Cleo spreading her legs and making ol’ Cez go gaga. We all shouted, “More, more.” Miss D thought real hard and asked, “You ever hear of a toga party?” Then the bell rang.

Over the months that followed, we learned orgy etiquette. We learned about the Roman hero, Biggus Dickus. We even conjugated a few verbs and learned ignoramus does not mean stupid. It is first person plural and it meant “we do not know.” And of course we didn’t. But what the hey. It was Latin.

I must admit that I was not a very good conjugater . Every time she asked me to conjugate, I pulled a Rush Limbaugh and changed the subject. If you can’t win, you take the conversation off in a different direction. I had been reading Livy’s “History of Rome, so I asked, “How about those Pubic Wars?”

She said, “Yes, they were really hairy.”

It all worked out. I managed to con my way through two years of Latin and end up with a B. I could now use the phrases carpe diem and per diem appropriately, and I knew semper fidelis was longhand for semper fi.

Soon I graduated and went out into the wide world, thanking my lucky stars that I would never have to conjugate another verb. Then it happened. I saw “The Life of Brian”. In it, there is this guy writing graffiti on a Jerusalem wall: “Romanes eunt domus.” A squad of Roman soldiers show up and the centurion starts correcting the zealot’s Latin, finally saying, “Romani ite domum! Now write it 100 times before sunrise, or I’ll cut your balls off.” I had nightmares over that one. I kept substituting Miss D for the centurion and I was the poor smuck of a zealot.

Could have happened. In a previous life.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: The Play’s the Thing. Sometimes.

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Me and Orson Welles” (2008), directed by Richard Linklater:

Some people have all the luck. In “Me and Orson Welles”, this high school kid, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), is one of those people. He just shows up and the gods smile upon him. It’s 1937, and Richard’s come into the City, hanging loose with no particular goal in mind. He looks across the street and sees a group of actors waiting.

They are the Mercury Theater Troupe, and they are waiting for the man in charge. The director. And that director is none other than the Boy Genius, Orson Welles (Christian McKay). This was in the days before Welles flew off to Hollywood and made “Citizen Kane”.

Richard walks over to see what’s the deal. Welles shows up. The kid impresses Welles and Welles says, “You’re in the show, kid.” Or words to that effect.

The show is “Julius Caesar”. Welles’ production will wow the New York audiences like nothing since Edwin Booth played Brutus, the same role Welles plays.

Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow, the movie is the behind-the-scenes story of how Welles brought “Julius Caesar” to the New York stage. Christian McKay’s performance as Welles is a tour de force. The movie is well worth seeing for that reason alone. But there are many others, including Claire Danes.

There aren’t that many good movies about the behind-the-scenes work it takes to get a play on the stage. This is one of them.

Hamlet: A Time to Plan, A Time to Plot

When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes. (Julius Caesar Act 2 Scene 2)

Act 3 Scene 1. It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time to conspire.

Cassius says to Brutus, “Caesar is getting too big for his britches.”

Brutus: What can we do?’

Casca presents him a dagger. “It’s for his own good.”

It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time for conspirators to come out to play.

John Wilkes Booth, “Lincoln has gotten too big for britches.”

Spangler asked, “What can we do?’

Booth produced a gun. “It’s for his own good.”

It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time for a conspiracy to catch fire.

Robespierre to Danton, “Louis is a problem.”

Danton: “What can we do?”

Robespierre pulls back the curtains. Through the window is a guillotine. “It’s for his own good.”

It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time for conspirators to change their world.

Stalin to Lenin: “The tsar is a problem.”

Lenin: “What can we do?”

Stalin hands Lenin a death warrant and a pen. “It’s for his own good.”

It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time for conspiracies to fail.

Babington to Mary, Queen of Scots: “Your Majesty, we have a problem. The bastard queen must be removed.”

Mary, Queen of Scots: “What can we do?”

Babington: “Sign this and your subjects will rise.”

Mary signs, then hands the confession back to Babington.

Enter Walsingham with an axe. “Your majesty, we need your head. It’s for your own good.”

It’s late. One might even say that it’s the dead of the night. A time to plan. A time to plot. A time to—

Deep in the heart of Castle Elsinore, Claudius and Gertrude.

R & G have nothing to report to Claudius and Gertrude.

“So?” Claudius asks.

R&G: “My lord Hamlet is a regular guy. Quite nice actually. A little bit odd. But he was always a little bit odd. Admits he has been under the weather.”

Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother: “Does he say why?”

R&G: “He did not. It could be he is having flashbacks.”

Claudius: “I had those back in my college days. Man, you know what they say?”

R&G: “No, Your Magnanimousness.”

Gertie: “What do they say, Dear?” Gertrude, the queen and Hamlet’s mom, just revealed a bit about her attitude toward Claudius and her marriage. She called him “Dear”, not “Darling” or “Sweet’ums”. She called him “Dear”. When a wife calls a husband “Dear” with Gertrude’s tone of voice, there is a good chance something is going on that is not obvious to Claudius.

Just after the they-lived-happily-ever-afters in all the fairy tales, the “dear” starts coming up. “Dear, will you take out the garbage.” “Dear, I need a new pair of shoes to go with my new gown. I only got the last pair fifteen minutes ago. That’s like forever.” “Dear, Lancelot is such a nice knight. Can we keep him?” Prince Charming is always the last to know. Gertie asks again: “What do they say, Dear?”

Claudius: “If you remember the 1540s, you weren’t there.”

Gertrude: “Did my sweet boy use drugs?”

R&G: “Worse. He became a Protestant.”

Claudius: “No.”

Gertrude: “He didn’t.

R&G: “He did.”

Polonius: “May the saints preserve us.”

Claudius: “What are we going to do?” (He already has an answer but he has to get permission. Either that or proof.)

Polonius: “We could call in the Inquisition.”

Gertrude: “We’ll have none of that while I’m around.”

Polonius (thinking): “Well, we can arrange that you are not around. Then Ophelia would be queen. After all, she is the only eligible girl in the castle. Actually she is the only girl in the castle.”

Instead Polonius says: “I was just kidding, Your Majesty. Of course, we won’t bring in the Inquisition. We couldn’t have them sticking their nose in every little thing. Pretty soon they would want a burning every Friday night.”

Claudius: “We will not have that. Friday night is Game Night at the Castle.”

Gertrude: “Yes, you owe me a rematch of Monopoly. You keep winning. I think you’re cheating.”

Claudius: “I am king. It’s my job to cheat.”

Gertrude: “So what do we do about Sonny?”

R&G: “There was one other thing. An acting troupe has arrived. That did seem to cheer him up.”

Claudius: “Oh, goody. A play. A play. I love plays.”

Gertrude (knowingly): “I know.”

Claudius (to R&G): “Gentlemen, thank you kindly for your good work. Go down to the tavern and have yourself a feast on us.”

They leave, a big grin on their face.

Polonius hurries out of the chambers, then momentarily returns with his daughter. She is a lovely lady. Blonde hair, blue eyes and a rubenesque figure that Rubens would admire. Her smile puts Mona Lisa to shame. She curtsies before the king and the queen.

Claudius: “Ophelia, fair Ophelia.” There is a big grin on his face.

Gertrude (punches him in the side): “Don’t you go getting ideas, Dear.” There’s that “Dear” again. Only this time it is saying, “You had better watch yourself.”

Claudius (serious): “We have a favor to ask of you.”

Ophelia (looks up at the king with those baby blues of hers): “Whatever Your Majesties request, I will do it if it be possible.” (She’s thinking, “Just how did Anne Boleyn get to be queen?”)

Claudius: “We would like you to have a little talk with our son. Would that be okay?”

Ophelia (looking over at Polonius): But, Father, you said—“

Polonius: “It’s for Hamlet’s own good.”

Ophelia: Yes, Father.”