A funny thing happened last week at the University of Maryland's eighth annual high school Latin Day.
As a matter of fact, there were lots of funny things (res ridiculae, if you want to get into the spirit of things), because the theme of the event was Roman humor and popular entertainment, and the 1,400 teen-age Latin students from about 60 Maryland and Northern Virginia schools laughed and cheered as heartily as a Coliseum crowd watching lions pursue Christians.
When they weren't busy building bridges or sacking cities, the Romans were really rather funny fellows, it seems, and the students did their best to uphold the ancient standard. Whether they succeeded is open to disputatio.
Exempli gratia, from an event called the Latin Bowl, a classics version of "It's Academic," in which a panel of students queried their teachers on things Latinate (sort of): Interrogatum -- "What did one assassin say to another as they plunged their daggers into Julius Caesar?" Responsum -- "He had a lot of Gaul!"
Or, "How many Carthaginians does it take to change a light bulb?" If you've kept up with your declensions and conjugations -- or even if you haven't -- you should know that the correct responsum is none, because there were no light bulbs when there were Carthaginians and vice versa. (No one asked about oil lamps.)
There were even sneakier questions about muses, myths and Latin constructions for movie titles, dating problems and, deus nos servet, Pac-Man. And how do you render "No homework tonight" in a 2,000-year-old language?
Score was kept and one team of teachers narrowly beat the other, but it didn't seem to matter much; there were no wagging thumbs to be seen, up or down.
The quiz was only one of several events at the two-day-long gathering, which attracted about 2,600 students from various schools, at the Tawes Fine Arts Center in College Park. The festival opened with the film, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," an amalgam of the stage comedies of the Roman playwright Plautus, and ended with "Spartacus," a Hollywood conception of the revolt of Roman gladiators in 73 B.C. starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, et al.