15 Mar 2023

Ides of March

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In my high school, the better students, in the two Academic class sections, received instruction in Latin in 9th and 10th grade. Our Latin teacher had a curious personal custom. He sacrificed annually in honor of Great Caesar, on the Ides of March, the male student in each class who had offended him by doing the least work and/or being the most disruptive. He sacrificed additionally one female student from each class whose selection, I fear, was based only upon his own capricious whim and covert sexual attraction.

The sacrifice consisted of the victim being bent over a desk and receiving three strokes of a paddle, delivered by a six foot+, 250 lb.+ Latin teacher laying on the strokes with a will and putting his weight behind them. (I won’t name him.) Mr. X’s paddle was a four foot long piece of 1 1/2″ thick pine, produced in our high school’s wood shop by General Curriculum students, who did not take Latin, but admired Mr. X. The paddle was roughly in the form of a Roman gladius, and its surface was scored by a series of regular lines, because it was generally believed that a blow from an uneven surface was more painful.

Mr. X had a fixed policy of assigning the duty of construing the day’s Latin assignment on the blackboard in strict and completely predictable order, going up and down the aisles of desks. Two or three of the smart kids would always actually do the Latin, (I was one of them) and it was our recognized duty to supply the translations in advance to the person who would be going to the blackboard.

Readiness to translate correctly was really vital, because Mr. X would apply his dreaded paddle to anyone who failed to write out the day’s assignment correctly on the blackboard. It was rare, but every once in a while some truly feckless idiot would neglect to seek out Kenny Hollenbach, Jack Rigrotsky, or yours truly, and would arrive at the blackboard, chalk in hand, unprepared.

Mr. X typically broke the current paddle over the defaulter’s posterior, and the mental defectives in shop class would gleefully commence the fabrication of a new, yet more elaborate, edition of the famous paddle.

Every March 15th, two 9th and 10th grade Academic Curriculum sections would look on with the same sadistic interest of Roman spectators at the gladitorial games, as Mr. X conducted his sacrifices. I can recall that he struck the pretty strawberry blonde with the well-developed embonpoint so hard that he raised dust from her skirt. We were a bit puzzled that girls actually submitted to being beaten with a paddle for no reason, but all this went on undoubtedly because the legend of Mr. X the fierce disciplinarian had enormous appeal in our local community. The whole thing was fascinating, and it all made such a good story that everyone, student and adult, in his heart of hearts, enthusiastically approved.

Mr. X would never be allowed to get away with that kind of thing today. Alas! In Hades, poor Caesar must do without his sacrifice. And it is my impression that Latin instruction has rather overwhelmingly also become a thing of the past. Kids today learn Spanish. Modern languages are easier and are thought more relevant.

My high school Latin teacher is the large chap wearing glasses. He also coached one of our sports teams.


An annual post in memory of my Latin teacher.

4 Feedbacks on "Ides of March"


Ahhhh, Latin class, Freshman and sophomore years in high school (1962-63). Sadly, only two years as the teacher-Miss Jenny Johnson-retired after my sophomore year after teaching Latin for 42 years. I still consider myself a Latin Scholar!!


As a former Spanish teacher (30+ years), I can attest to the fact that most students who take Spanish do not learn Spanish. They do not learn even the basic rudiments of Spanish. What they do learn they usually forget within five years. One teacher in our area did have some success in the sense that she had a dozen or so students that were fluent five years after graduating, but that was because they all served Mormon missions in Spanish speaking countries or areas.

Nowadays, most of the students in the smaller schools take their Spanish classes online. They get a little “face-to-face” work with online tutors. However, many, if not most of them, have learned how to game the system. When they get to the online conversational work, they start tapping their microphones and telling the tutor that they can’t hear them. Then the tutor tells them they must have a technical problem and will have to complete the assignment later. Later never comes but the tutor gives them credit anyway.

I wish I had been able to “persuade” my students to do the work, but I couldn’t. Having either “tizona” or “colada” replicas would have been great. (Tizona and colada were the names of two of the swords used by El Cid.)


Brings back memories for me as well
3 years of Latin in high school. Early 70’s
One of the best teachers I ever had.
He used to let us make cheat sheets before a test. Then he would rip them in half, letting you keep one half. Funny, I never had to look at the cheat sheet during the test! We had all learned the content while making the cheat sheets!


Junior High in 1973 – Latin intrigued me but I never took it, I could barely pass English. But I am grateful to the four men in that school who beat me to the point of awakening an awareness of the worth of self-mastery, that continues to serve me well after fifty years. It’s a distinct honor to mention their names: John Davis, Wiley Dill, Charles Luttrell, and Abernell King.


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