Gladiators, Emperors, and Olympians Descend on UMass Amherst at Classical Convention

AMHERST, Mass. - The vox populi of more than 1,700 high school Latin students from across the country will be heard when the University of Massachusetts hosts the National Junior Classical League (NJCL) annual convention July 26-31. The National Junior Classical League is the world’s largest student academic organization, according to NJCL vice president Ben Watson. It includes more than 55,700 members in 1,172 chapters nationwide. The goal of the league is to promote interest in the study of Latin and classical literature.

"The convention is perhaps the largest academic youth conference held annually in the country, and without a doubt the largest ever convened in Massachusetts," says David Grose, head of the classics department at UMass. "The convention, combined with pre- and post-convention tours of Massachusetts, should bring between $1.25 million and $1.5 million into the state’s economy."

Grose, who is helping to plan the event with the NJCL, says that the University was chosen as host because the classics department at UMass is considered one of the best in the country for preparing students to become high school Latin teachers.

"As the basis for English and much of Western intellectual tradition, Latin and the classics are extremely important," says Grose. "This is especially true now that so much of secondary and higher education is focusing once again on the fundamentals of education. As they say, what better way to get back to the basics than with the classics."

Highlights at the convention this year include: a series of academic competitions in the tradition of college bowls; a costume contest in which participants dress as figures from Roman mythology; a talk by Steven Saylor, author of a series of historical mystery novels and stories set in the age of Julius Caesar; and a full-scale Roman feast in which all participants of the conference attend wearing togas.

The following includes times and locations of highlighted events.

Monday, July 27

8:30 a.m. – NJCL General Assembly II – Fine Arts Center. At this second General Assembly, approximately 1,700 Latin students, divided into state delegations, will compete for the "Spirit of JCL" award. During the introductory roll call students will do anything to attract the attention of judges, says Watson, from coming dressed as characters from the Wizard of Oz to singing greetings in a rap music style.

Tuesday, July 28

10:30-11:30 a.m. and 1:45-3:00 p.m. – Two talks by author Steven Saylor – Herter Hall, Room 217. Saylor is the author of the "Roma Sub Rosa" series of historical mystery novels and stories set in the age of Julius Caesar and featuring the sleuth Gordianus the Finder. These include "Roman Blood" (1991), "Arms of Nemesis" (1992), "Catilina’s Riddle" (1994), "The Venus Throw" (1995), "A Murder on the Appian Way"(1996), and "The House of the Vestals" (1997). His books have been published in English, French, Dutch, German, Spanish, and Russian.

5:45 p.m. – Costume Contest – First floor of the Campus Center. The costume contest consists of male, female, and couples categories. Students will be judged in a variety of areas to determine the best overall costume. The male costume is a representation of Cincinnatus (founder of the Roman Republic); the female – Venus (goddess of love); and the couple – Mars and Rhea Silvia (god of war and mother of Romulus and Remus).

Wednesday, July 29

11:00 am - noon. – Talk by author Steven Saylor – Herter Hall, Room 217.

12:45 p.m. – NJCL General Assembly III – Fine Arts Center. This assembly is similar to Monday’s.

Thursday, July 30

10:30 a.m. – Competitive Certamen Finals – Bowker Auditorium. This is the culmination of a week of academic quiz bowls between NJCL teams from various states. Questions asked pertain to subjects such as Greek mythology, Latin grammar, and Roman culture.

3:45 p.m. – Day in Old Rome and Roman Procession – Mullins Center. At this event, toga-clad NJCL students take part in a giant procession followed by a Roman banquet. During the meal, "Rent-a-Roman" auctions take place in which participants rent a fellow student to act as their servant. Other activities are also scheduled.