The Philadelphia Classical Society 78th Annual Latin Week Contests: The Thin White Duke and the Cross-Dimensional Value of Latin

​In the weeks leading up to the one-year anniversary of the January 10th death of David Bowie, Robert Drake and others of WXPN radio characterized Bowie’s artistry and music as “cross-dimensional.” 

The events, highlights, and interviews of Philadelphia Loves Bowie Week, January 6th-14th, illustrated the various ways in which Bowie crossed dimensions through his dynamism, creativity, and innovation.

As a longtime fan-from-afar of Bowie, I am prompted to apply the concept of cross-dimensionality to my passion for Classical Latin, its richness, and its access to the phenomenal accomplishments of the ancient Romans.

This epiphany comes as the 78th annual arts and literary contests sponsored by the Philadelphia Classical Society get underway this month.  

It should come as no surprise to readers that nearly every secondary school in the Main Line has a thriving Latin program, with many students engaging in the PCS Latin Week contests.

Traditionally, the study of Latin has been ancillary to building an excellent foundation in English language vocabulary acquisition, grammar understanding, and creative composition.

In addition, the Philadelphia Classical Society arts and literary contests, combined with a rigorous competitive exam, offer cross-dimensionality comparable to Bowie’s lifetime output.

Currently, Latin students from Friends Central to Radnor High School are developing original projects in sketches, paintings, mosaics, costumes, jewelry, military costumes, architectural models, artifacts, and storyboards – all illustrating ancient Latin, and Greek, themes and connections to ancient Mediterranean cultures.

These contests also include many other schools in contiguous counties, Philadelphia, and New Jersey.

Additionally, students are encouraged to compose original prose and poetry in English and Latin, even following ancient meters and illustrating figures of speech.

For students who are eager to demonstrate facility in philology, the competitive exam for advanced students presents various questions based on two sight-unseen original Latin passages in prose and poetry from ancient Classical authors.

In other words, there is something for everyone, a testament to the polyvalency of the Classics.

Take a step back seventy-eight years ago and imagine the remarkable foresight of the PCS officers who planned the first week of contests.  

Surely, cross-dimensional was not a commonly-held term, yet those teachers were making provisions for student projects based on what we now term a diversity of learners.

This collaboration between philology and material culture produces a fabulous, on-the-edge, array of student work which would elicit awe in the Thin White Duke, David Bowie, the man and the artist.

For information about the Philadelphia Classical Society 2017 Latin Week contests, go to philadelphiaclassicalsociety, or email Mary Brown, PCS President, mary.brown@sju.edu. Students may also register independently of their schools for a fee of $5.  The Baldwin School will host the judging day on Saturday, February 25.