Traditional vs. Modern Twist on Latin Valentines
I enjoy tying Valentine’s Day activities each year into my Latin content. Any time I can take a modern concept and drench it in Latin culture, I take that opportunity. While there are so many love stories in classical mythology that can be fodder to Latin Valentines, I like to go against the norm. In the past, I’ve had students take Ovid’s Metamorphoses and translate ancient Latin Valentines, such as how men should neglect their beauty so as to not appear too feminine, while also not smelling so bad that their sheep are offended.
But I think what is even more fun is taking lesser-known myths and implementing them into my current Latin curriculum. Again, mythology has an endless source of bizarre stories, so it is hard to pick a favorite. One of my favorites is love that the cyclops Polyphemus had for a sea nymph Galatea. The cyclops Polyphemus, whom I find underappreciated by modern students, has a bad rap after his scene in the Odyssey, but there is another side to him. The Metamorphoses describes Polyphemus and Galatea in a whole new light for our soon-to-be-beloved cyclops. The passage of Polyphemus and Galatea is amazing for a few reasons, namely Polyphemus’ softer side and the hilarious analogies with which he compliments Galatea, so I have chosen that theme for my Latin Valentine’s Day activities for the past two years. Sadly Polyphemus and Galatea never make it as a couple, but the students can laugh at how awkward Polyphemus’s attempt to woo Galatea is.
The Cyclops Polyphemus and Galatea as Latin Valentines
Rather than transcribing Ovidian love phrases (which are hilarious and I discuss more in another blog post), I decided to create a Latin classroom transformation for the cave of Polyphemus. As the Odyssean story goes, the cyclops Polyphemus was quite the lonely sheep herder residing in the caves of the island of the Cyclopes (solitary creatures as they are). One day he spots a sea nymph Galatea swimming and instantly falls in love. Polyphemus becomes so smitten that he writes a love poem to Galatea. The poem itself is great— “I wish that my mother had given me gills instead of this one eye so that I could swim with you” and “your skin is fairer than my cheese” (quite the compliment, as the Cyclopes were famous for their cheesemaking. Polyphemus’s soft-spoken love, however, is diluted in our modern minds by the Odyssey’s scene in which he kills and eats several of Odysseus’s men. And so I took this opportunity to pose the question to my students: Polyphemus— Monster or Misunderstood?
Valentine’s Day Latin Classroom Transformation
This was my first time trying out a classroom transformation that was two days in length. The love of Polyphemus and Galatea was perfect for a two-day experiment because I knew I wanted to try one day as a grammar lab and one day exploring the different primary sources we have for Polyphemus.
On the first day students completed what I call a “grammar lab”:
Desks are in clustered lines pushed against the walls
Students work in teams and visit each station at their own pace
Each station contains a worksheet reviewing recent grammar topics
Our final station is a class game of Gimkit
After they’ve turned in their completed packets (graded for accuracy), students enjoy an edible treat
On the second day students completed a DBQ:
Stations around the room included primary source (but translated into English) passages from Homer and Ovid presenting Polyphemus in varying lights
Students answered comprehension questions based on the passages and formed an opinion as to whether Polyphemus was a monster or just understood.
Cyclops Latin Valentines: The Details
Crumpled paper Cave of Polyphemus around project (surprisingly easy to make for how cool it looked)
Lit skulls hanging from the ceiling (with fishing wire, so they appear to be floating)
Eyeballs lighting up the stations
Spooky music in the background
Day 1 Treat: Cyclops Cake Pops to look like eyeballs
Day 2 Treat: Love potions & cinnamon toast crunch rice krispie treats celebrating the love of Polyphemus and Galatea