Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Classics in Pop Culture, Part I

Procul Harum’s name, though misspelled,
derives from the Latin for “Beyond these things.”
In my recent posts I began to explore ways to put a modern twist on classics courses by incorporating technology in the classroom. I provided several ways to use online mapping programs to give students a chance to modernize the journey of Aeneas. Then I gave a brief example of how students could create a traveler’s eating guide along the route that Aeneas took. I would like to take a step further in combining classics with the contemporary by incorporating pop culture in the classroom through music.  


The modern Greek lyrics, “kyrie eleison,”
in Mr. Mister’s song “Kyrie” translate to “Lord, have mercy.”
One possible option is to have students try to find popular songs that use Latin and/or Greek. Though there are, perhaps, more out there than one would expect, there might not be enough for this to be something that the whole class does at one time. The project might work best as a group presentation, or as an extra credit opportunity. Alternatively, teachers could challenge their students to find such songs and offer a reward every time any student brings a new song in, making the project a yearlong musical scavenger hunt that makes students aware of Latin and Greek in pop culture.

To make this an effective project, first have students try to find the songs, and believe me, they’re out there. Artists working in a variety of genres have drawn on Latin and Greek, from the folky “Benedictus” off of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1964 album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. to the alternative U2 single, “Gloria” and the heavy, punk-rock song “Halloween II” by The Misfits. Have the student bring the song into the classroom and play the whole thing or an excerpt, ideally the Latin part.


As opposed to just translating, compel the student to give insight to the Latin or Greek lyrics. Present them with questions, such as:

  • Why do you think the songwriter chose Latin or Greek, as opposed to a language more familiar to the audience, or English, even?
  • Translate the Latin or Greek. What does it mean and why is it significant?
  • Has the Latin or Greek been used in other texts or other places before?
These are a few examples of questions to ask. It could be a chance to put the presenter on the spot and show what they’ve taken from the project, or the presenter could assume the role of the teacher and pose such questions to the class and then compare their discoveries to what the rest of the class has taken from the presentation, making the project more involved.

This is the first of several posts I will write exploring the possibilities of incorporating pop culture and, specifically, music into the classics classroom. Stay tuned for next week’s post where I explore a more creative way of combining popular music and classics.

-Connor Hart