The Classics Declamation Contest: Behind the Scenes

by Aditi Deokar


April 12, 2019

As a two-time participant in the Classics Declamation contest and one of the winners this year, I would like to share some insider information on what it’s like and what goes into the short performance that you see at ASM. It’s a lot of work, so you might wonder why anyone would choose to do it on top of all their other homework. I personally do it because I truly like Latin, especially Latin poetry, and I really enjoy saying and hearing the language as real Romans would have.

The first thing I always do is to make sure to pick a passage in which a person is talking, instead of narrating, and in which there is a strong emotion, such as anger, love, or hate. I’m sure you noticed that the people who actually captivated your attention were all displaying such emotions. This year, I chose a passage from the Aeneid where the ghost of Aeneas’ wife, Creusa, is telling him not to grieve for her because he has such a bright future ahead of him. Aeneas responds by trying to embrace the ghost, an action that proves futile, as it slips from his grasp three times. Personally, I prefer doing poetry because I find the rhythm of the meter helpful in memorizing.

In this regard, the first thing I do after picking my passage is scanning it, or figuring out the exact meter of each line. Then, I translate it with the help of my Latin teacher. While not necessary, this helps me get to know the passage, and the conversations we have about each line can also help me with memorization and make it easier for me to act them out.

Then, I start memorizing. About a quarter of this happens before spring break, about half during break, and about a quarter after. Some people like to do one or two lines each day, but I prefer to memorize a larger chunk of four or five lines on one day when I have some free time and then keep solidifying it for a few days until I feel ready to move on. Usually, I don’t set aside specific time to work on it every day. Instead, I keep the text with me on my phone and try to recite as much as I can when I have spare time.

Finally, I have to think about the best way to act out the emotions and the words. Acting is what distinguishes the few people who know all the lines, so it is the most important part of the declamation for someone aiming to win. It’s also what makes the biggest impression on the audience. Mostly I focus on this only in the last few days, because after I have perfected the memorization, I can focus most of my attention on the acting.

All in all, participants in the Classics Declamation Contest must spend much effort, but the experience is rewarding and the workload shouldn’t be stressful as long as you spread it out and make the most of spring break.

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