Tuesday is Books & Libraries Day at the River Houses, and since this is Julius Caesar Week, we’re going to take a look at a magnificent manuscript copy of Caesar’s most famous work.
❡ Filling in the background: For a quick homeschool review of the life and times of Julius Caesar, and of his assassination on the Ides of March in 44 B.C., turn to pages 108–109 in your River Houses history encyclopedia (riverhouses.org/books).
Julius Caesar was not only a politician, a general, and a military dictator, he was also an author. Caesar’s account of his military conquest of Gaul (most of modern France and Belgium) is famous not only for its description of the state of Europe at that time, but also because it’s a fine example of simple and clear Latin prose. Tens of thousands of school children — probably millions, in fact, over hundreds of years — have read Caesar’s De bello Gallico (On the Gallic War) in their beginning Latin classes in dozens of countries around the world. Its famous opening sentence — “All Gaul is divided into three parts” — is a stock phrase that has been part of the mental furnishings of educated people in the Western world for centuries.
Here is a magnificent illuminated (colored and decorated) copy of On the Gallic War that is now owed by the Bavarian State Library in Germany; it was produced in 1469:
The first line in red is the work’s title (this was before the invention of title pages): “C. Iulii Cesaris belli gallici commentarius primus” (“Gaius Julius Caesar’s first commentary on the Gallic wars”). The second line is the famous opening sentence, with a magnificently illuminated initial “G”: “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres” (“All Gaul is divided into three parts”).
So here’s how you make a playful little lesson from this, even with small children. Take the famous phrase “All Gaul is divided into three parts” and turn it into a running family game. Sharing a pie with three children? All pies are divided into three parts. Our whole house, you know, is divided into three parts: the kitchen where we eat, the living room where we play, and the bedroom where we sleep. The backyard with the garden, lawn, and dog house? All backyards are divided into three parts. And all books are of course divided into three parts: beginning, middle, and end. And on and on.
Cultures and civilizations are built on shared educational experiences, shared ideas, shared expressions, even shared jokes. By introducing your students to playful uses ancient texts, even in this tiny way, you are offering them a small part of the cultural inheritance of the West that can continue to enrich them throughout their lives.
What educational discoveries have you made at your library lately? 😊
❡ Books in the running brooks: The sidebar on the River Houses website (riverhouses.org) has links to several important online library collections that we like to explore. The WorldCat Library Finder (worldcat.org/libraries) will help you find all the libraries in your local area — there may be more than you realize — and the WorldCat catalog itself (worldcat.org) will help you locate the nearest copy of almost any book in the world (including the nearest copy of Caesar’s Gallic Wars). 😊