In my last post “The Inclusivity of Latin? Part II”, I discussed a few different authors I had looked at in a new way, considering the question of inclusivity. Today I’d like to look at Vergil. I want to start by saying that I am not disparaging the traditional way of looking at any of these authors, but rather, considering the ways we can use what we have to create a more inclusive classroom. One way we can (or rather should) do that, is by not furthering the white supremacist system of whitewashing Roman history, literature, etc. In this and subsequent posts, I’d like to provide a starting place for teachers who would like to consider these classics/classical stories from another perspective.
Vergil’s Aeneid – The Story of Dido
- The Story – Consider what part of the story you are going to use. Consider providing background information as well. For my Latin I’s, we read the backstory of Dido including her husband’s death to set the stage for the type of queen she’d be. Often, when Vergil is read, this is glossed over or discussed in a lecture. If we discuss it as part of her story and as equally important as her relationship with Aeneas, we give her depth and make her – as a woman and as a woman of colour – equally important to Aeneas.
- Qualities/character – This is a great opportunity to bring in the ideas of virtus and pietas. These questions are great for discussion and help give a clear image of Roman vs. non Roman. Bearing in mind proto-racism, the discussion of Dido can take a turn that is compelling, comprehensible, and caring for students. When we consider Dido as her own person, rather than as a stopping place or “character building” experience for Aeneas, it is clear how rich and deep her own tale is. My students connected with her and were moved by her story. Yes, Aeneas will very likely come off as arrogant and as a not great guy. This is okay. They can learn plenty about his heroism in AP. You may consider, however, whether he truly shows virtus and pietas, especially when Dido is considered as her own person.
- Images – When considering what images you will use to show Dido, I strongly recommend using ones that are true or closer to what she might have looked like. Dido’s background may have some debate or discussion with it, but she would not have been a white or western European woman. You may need to look outside the typically accepted canon of images (i.e. outside of statues, renaissance paintings, etc.). Look for amateur artwork that protrays her as a woman of colour. There is a fair amount of modern artwork or digital artwork that one could use for this. Avoid images where she is wearing typical Roman garb if you can.
I will say a few final words on how this unit continues to play a role in my class.
- Students considered Dido’s character from a strong female perspective. We considered her story and her decisions free from Aeneas, although we did discuss Venus and Iuno’s role.
- Anna was part of her story as well (as she should be). Later (as will be discussed in my next post), Anna came up again in Hannibal’s story – also as an independent female character who took on Iuno and demanded things from her.
- We have continued our discussion of qualities, including virtus and pietas. Dido’s story is brought up frequently when we discuss these and others.
I’d love to hear your questions about this type of unit! How have you made Latin, in itself, more inclusive in your choices of literature, images, and discussion?