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Latin Humor
Written March, 1963


Background:  Richwood High School offered only one foreign language before I arrived on the scene:  Spanish.  But when I became a freshman, Marge Goddard (shown here) became a teacher, and Latin was added to the curriculum.  That's the language that I chose.

(It's always better to learn a dead language than one that might actually be useful in conversation, right?  Besides, a knowledge of Latin really does help one understand English better.)

The Spanish classes had their Spanish Club, which held fiestas and such.  So we had to have a Latin Club.  Our big annual event was the Roman Banquet, which we attended in homemade togas.  But there were also regular evening meetings in the classroom at the high school, and sometimes I had to come up with the entertainment.

For March 11, 1963, I wrote a comedy sketch.  My first attempt was a burlesque routine.  Excerpt:  A Roman doctor prepares to perform surgery, taking out a huge dagger.  His patient asks, "Aren't you going to give me anesthesia?"  "Give you what?"  "Anesthesia."  "Sir!  Anna is my sister, and I wouldn't give her thesia to anybody!"

Thankfully, that idea went nowhere, so I moved on to the following idea.  This skit owes a lot to TV variety-show sketches of the time, even to the timing and the techniques for getting laughs.  And it worked.

But for you to appreciate it, you have to know something about our teacher, Mrs. Goddard.  She seemed rather stern, although she did have a sense of humor.  At another Latin Club meeting, seen here, we crowned her as the queen.

And one of Mrs. Goddard's concerns in the classroom was that everybody be able to read what was written on the blackboard.  Almost every day, she'd walk quickly over to the windows and pull on the cords to adjust the window blinds for optimum lighting.

It happened that her daughter Dorothy, whom we knew as Dot, was also in Latin Club, and we prevailed on Dot to lampoon her mother in this sketch.  Virtually all of Dot's lines (until Scipio sabotages her character) were remarks that we had heard in the classroom.

We apparently gave an encore performance.  The Richwood Gazette reported that the same four actors presented a "Latin skit" at the March 28, 1963, PTA meeting in the high school auditorium, and I do recall hopping around as Scipio in that venue.


An Interview with General Scipio
Starring Terry Rockhold as the reporter, Kirk Miller as Quintus, and Dot Goddard as Mrs. Goodhard

REPORTER (TERRY ROCKHOLD):  I'm going to take you back now to 190 B.C. — to the tent of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, a Roman general campaigning against Antiochus III of Syria near the town of Magnesia in Asia Minor.  This Scipio is the same man who defeated Hannibal at Zama twelve years ago.  We hope to have him tell us later how that battle was won.

Good evening, Scipio.  How is the war going?

SCIPIO (TOM THOMAS):  Pretty well, I believe.  We expect the enemy to attack tomorrow.  They outnumber us slightly, but we have a better position and should be able to hold them off.

R:  How is it that you met the forces of Antiochus here, though?  I understood you had intended to go somewhat farther north.

S:  Well, that's true.  We hadn't planned to stop at Magnesia.

R:  Then why did you?

S:  Uh . . . well, it's like this.  I've got a cousin who lives here that always used to beat me at hopscotch when we were little, so I decided to see if I could beat him now.

R:  You brought your whole army here just so you could play hopscotch?  But isn't that a bit undignified for a general?

S:  No, not at all.  And I'm pretty good at it, too.  (Begins to hop around.)

R (restraining him):  I'll take your word for it, Skip.  I don't believe our audience would be interested in seeing a septuagenarian hop around like a Mexican jumping bean.

S (still bouncing a little):  Mexican?  What's that mean?  And what's a septua--  whatever you called it?

R:  Never mind.  Uh, who's that over there (indicating the boy)?

S (now standing still):  Oh, that's my grandson, Quintus.  He's with me here learning military tactics.  Quintus, what are you doing now?

QUINTUS (KIRK MILLER):  I'm studying my Latin.  The tutor who teaches it to me, Mrs. Goodhard, is very particular about my getting my lessons.

R (aside to audience, mouthing the words):  Mrs. Goodhard?

S:  Oh, really?  What are you studying now?

Q:  The declension of the pronoun hic.  (Stands beside his desk, arms at sides, and recites while staring straight ahead but over the audience's heads.)  Hic, haec, hoc.  Huius, huius, huius.  Huic, huic, huic.  Hunc, hanc, hoc.  Hoc, hac, hoc.

(Takes a deep breath.)

Hi, hae, haec.  Horum, harum . . . .

R (interrupting):  I think that's enough, Quintus.  The general and I want to get back to discussing battles.  (Quintus sits.)

S:  No, I think I'd rather practice hopscotching.  (Begins to hop.)

R:  Uh, uh . . .  Scipio?  (He has thought of a subject to bring up.)

S (stops):  Yes?

R:  I notice you have an impressive array of medals there.  Could you tell our audience what they mean?

S:  Why, of course.  This one is for bravery at the battle of Cannae, this one commemorates my command in Spain, this little one is for my wound at the battle of the Ticinus River, and this is in honor of my defeat of Hannibal at Zama.

R:  And what about that big, shiny one?

S:  Oh, this?  Well, this is for perfect attendance at Sunday school.  (Reporter turns around and throws up his arms.  Scipio hops briefly.)

R (sees Scipio hopping):  Now stop that!  (He does.)  This is supposed to be a dignified interview.

Now, do you have that map of the battle of Zama to show us?

S:  Yes, it's all set up here.  (As reporter moves to one side, Scipio takes a sip of wine from a glass sitting on the table.)

This was the setup at the time of the battle.

I had five legions on this side of the river (at the bottom of the map); Hannibal had four legions on the other side.

I started to move my fifth legion V nearer the river.

But the enemy moved up III to attack the center of my lines.


I decided to cut off his supplies by moving II in behind and guarding this road.

But he brought reinforcements IV down the other one.

So I hurriedly got my first legion I back here to pin his legion in.  (Takes sip of wine.)

Then he started to bring this group II up to the bank of the river.

So I took care of that threat; I withdrew what was left of my third III and moved it around here to face him.


He tried to start a last-ditch attack with his first I by moving it out here.

But I knew I had him:

I just slipped IV into this area, and there it was, tic-tac-toe!  (Takes sip of wine.)



R:  You mean to tell me it happened that way?  That this plan of warfare brought the Second Punic War to an end?

S:  That's right.  . . . Hic!

Q (springs to his feet, continues the recitation without missing a beat):  Haec, hoc.  Huius, huius, huius.  Huic, huic . . . .

R:  That's enough, Quintus.  I think you know it.

Q (hesitatingly, trying to translate "Yes, I know it" in his head):  Ita, illud intellegero.

MRS. GOODHARD (DOT GODDARD, walking swiftly into the room):  No, no, Quintus, that's not right!  A good student like you should certainly know better than that.

R (as she is entering):  Oh, no!

S (as she is entering):  Mrs. Goodhard!

Q:  What are you doing here, Mrs. Goodhard?

G:  Never mind that, Quintus.  What form of the verb did you use?

QIntellegero, I think.

G:  You certainly don't know your verbs.  What tense were you trying to use?

Q:  Uh, present.

G:  Well, intellegro or whatever you said certainly isn't present.  It's more like the imperfect subjunctive than anything else.  Go to the board!  (He does.)

You are to give a conjugation of the verb intellego in all tenses, moods, persons, and voices, with translation.

And press down on the chalk and make it dark so that we can see it!

(She goes over to adjust the blinds.)

R:  Mrs. Goodhard, we're trying to hold an interview with General Scipio.

G:  Well, if you don't get done, you can just come in and see me after school.

S:  No, no, you don't understand.  (Looks about helplessly, then spies the wine.)  Here have some of this.  (Drops something in it.)

G:  No, thank you.

Quintus!  You might as well stop right there.  I can see you don't know the principal parts.

S:  Have some.

G (to Quintus):  What conjugation verb is intellego?

Q:  Third.

G:  All right.  (Scipio shoves the wine into her hand, and she unconsciously takes a drink.)  So what will the infrintertive --- the inviniviv (the wine is taking effect already) --- sho wut'll thu sheck'nd prinzpl part end end in?  (She takes another swig, sets the glass down unsteadily, and staggers toward Quintus.)  I ashk'd you a gweshtun, boy.

Q:  Uh, maybe I'd better help you outside, Mrs. Goodhard.  (Starts to guide her toward door.)

G:  Help?  I dunneed help, boy; jus' point me shouth, and I'll folla my nose!  (So saying, she stumbles out the door.)

R (to Scipio, after a pause while they and Quintus watch Mrs. Goodhard disappear):  You surely have some characters around here.  But I didn't know the wine was that strong.

S:  It isn't, normally, but I drugged it to get rid of her so that you could finish your interview.

R:  But I'm out of questions.

S:  Out of questions?  Well, then, Quintus, he doesn't need to stay around here any more.  Let's show him out!  (Quintus bodily hustles the reporter toward the door while Scipio hops along behind.)

R:  What are you going?  Hey!  This was supposed to be a reserved, dignified interviee-ee-eew!  (Exeunt all.)



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