A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum


I really enjoy my Latin classmates, they all are fine students, committed to the cause of studying something strictly for its beauty, its import, and its bond that it makes us feel to yesteryear.

As an advice to anyone in languages let me recommend that you always be bold: come in, try to do that horrendous Dutch guttural ‘g,’ fully nasalize your French vowels, etc. When you’re unafraid to err, you open up the possibility that you will actually learn.

I say this as preface because one of my peers made an error which induced a laughter such as I have never seen before in a language class. We all err often in our translations, so I mean to say that while it’s common, acceptable, etc. to err, rarely does it have this comedic value. The fellow himself seems to have gotten a good laugh out of it as well and appears to be an excellent Latin scholar in the making so I’m going to assume sharing the laughter will be a wish he is behind.

In Book 3 of the Metamorphoses Ovid relates the tale of Echo and Narcissus. You may recall that Echo is a nymph who can only repeat endings; Narcissus is (fatally) beautiful. Echo, having seen this boy (he’s 16 in the story), burns to be taken by him.

To clarify the scene for the class we had two students enacting the actions and relating the dialog while a “director” in the class read forth the action. À mettons le scene Narcissus has lost his friends, is alone in a dark wood, and begins to get the idea that he is being followed.

Narcissus’ first question is:

“ecquis adest?”

“equis” means “who” and adest means “to be present”, it’s opposite is “absent.” So, Narcissus basically says “who’s there?.”

So the “director” in the class said:

“The strong boy had been separated from the line of his friends and said…[cue to actor to relate the dialog of “equis adest” translated from Latin to English]”

Thespians speak of having “commitment” to the scene, boldy letting go of fear and acting with ones full voice, body, spirit. This fellow portraying Narcissus would have made Stanislavsky applaud with his commitment.

[Boldly]: “A HORSE IS HERE?!”

Our actor, on stage, nervous, and reading quickly had confused the word for “horse” (equus) with “who” (ecquis). I suppose the notion of Mr. Ed lurking in the Arcadian woods behind this most-beautiful of humans popped in our minds and the giggles started.

Mister Ed, from CBS show of the same name

“Well hello, Narcissus, how bout them fatal flaws?”

After of few minutes of doubled-over laughter we recovered enough to continue, but it was a great moment showing the humanity and joy that a cameraderie centered about learning can yield.