The Certamen Plebianum

Earlier this month, the Gilman Classics Club took a road trip to the annual Certamen Plebianum. What’s that, you ask? Upper School classics teacher Dan Houston explains.

By Dan Houston
Upper School Classics Teacher

certamenteamOn Saturday, November 15, the Maryland Junior Classical League (MDJCL) hosted the annual Certamen Plebianum at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. The MDJCL is the state affiliate of the National Junior Classical League, a group dedicated to the promotion of the Greek and Latin languages in schools across the country. In 2013, the Gilman Classics Club joined the MDJCL and now has 42 official members in Upper and Middle School.

Now what’s a certamen, and why would we go to Greenbelt for it? As any Latin student can tell you, a certamen is a quiz game. Teams of four take their places, hands poised on the buzzers. A moderator reads a question – anything from Latin grammar to Roman history and culture, or even etymology. The first student to ring in can answer for the team and earn a bonus question. Teams play in rounds until a winner emerges. Certamina (the neuter nominative plural – itself a good certamen question) are exciting in the classroom; but imagine 11 high school teams, some in team t-shirts, others in togas, some from nearby schools, some from two hours away, all of them competing in a round-robin competition. Then add to this the ludi – games like ultimate discus, chariot races, and a Latin spelling bee. That describes the November 15, 2014 Certamen Plebianum in Greenbelt, which was held to celebrate the Ludi Plebeii, an ancient Roman festival.

This year, for the first time, Gilman School brought two teams to compete at the novice and intermediate levels. Ms. Anthony, Mr. Houston, and 12 students left Gilman at 8:30 on Saturday morning. No one knew exactly what to expect in Greenbelt. But the students were ready to go, practicing their grammar and history trivia on the bus. By the end of the day, after some Certamanintense competition, the Gilman novice team (Jack Howard, Sami Raza, Michael Shea, Max Sobkov) had claimed third place. On the intermediate team, Andy Eller, James Hemker, Wiatt Hinton, and Sam Sobkov took second place. The day ended with the Latin spelling bee. Easy, you say? Imagine spelling Latin words with the Roman pronunciation of the letters in front of the whole convention! After a tough spell-off, Gilman’s own sophomore Andy Eller won the spelling bee by correctly spelling auxilium, which means “assistance.”

Our Latin students accomplished a lot, and they’re already practicing for the next certamen and wondering how they can build the fastest chariot. The next MDJCL event is the Certamen Saturnalium on December 13, at Linganore High School. No doubt we’ll be ready!

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