Certamen team revives passion for Latin

Alexandria Oguntula, Staff writer

The thrill of competition mixed with a love of classical language inspired senior Daniel Zhang to create a Certamen team on campus with some other Latin club members. Latin for “competition”, “contest” or “struggle’, Certamen is similar to quiz bowl or “Jeopardy!” and was invented by Tony Ruffa in the 1960s.

“I really enjoy the tension in the air when I play,” Zhang said. “Furthermore, the ability to work as a team and try to memorize binders filled with information is always a plus.”

In teams of four, members compete against two other teams at the same time. They are asked 20 questions per round and are given bonus questions on a variety of subjects. The game focuses on Roman history, mythology and Latin grammar.

Zhang hopes to inspire interest in the language and the competition as a whole to younger generations.

“Hopefully some juniors will take initiative and continue both Certamen and Latin Club for the years to come,” Zhang said.

Each member of the team is assigned certain subjects to study before joining Certamen. Senior Nathaniel Smith was involved in academic Roman history contests and was invited to join the group his sophomore year after ranking fifth at state in his second year of competition. Already in Latin and having competed academically at conventions for two years, Smith took the opportunity.

“Daniel encouraged me to try it out,” Smith said. “So I did, and from the first round I liked it. It really does live up to its name, ‘struggle’. I really got interested, because Certamen was a much more rigorous test of my Roman history knowledge. It’s pretty commonly known that Julius Caesar was killed on the Ides of March 44 B.C., but I have to then recall that faster than everyone else. When they start requesting more complex answers the ‘struggle’ part of the name comes out. This new aspect really challenged me to work with what I knew in a way I never had.”

The game is designed to allow every member to offer their own skill set to the team.

“The teams are specialized, because the subject matter is so diverse,” Smith said. “There are generally one or two people who are good with the Latin language questions. There is a mythology person, a culture person and a history person although people can have multiple specialties if they work at it.”

Certamen is composed of three levels: area, state and national. For the regular competition, however, if a team does not advance, individual members can still participate at open Certamen.

“Open Certamen is a less competitive, fun version, where teams are assigned randomly,” Smith said. “It also helps people who got knocked out of the running have some fun and show off their skills.”

Smith feels that the team is a special one and works in a way all its own.

“The team has interesting dynamics,” Smith said. “We are all pretty aloof when we are together, but we take the match very seriously. Even the newest guys know that they are getting into something intense that requires effort.”

The competition is an extension of Latin class, which Smith feels more students should be open to.

“I would prefer it if more students knew, especially younger students in the junior high schools and middle school to encourage them to take Latin when considering their foreign language,” Smith said. “Even a single year of taking Latin or competing is a very enriching experience, regardless if you are a freshman or a senior. I would like it if people knew about the Junior Classical League conventions and what we do.”

For junior Neil Vyas, the experience has been worthwhile and he has high hopes for the coming year.

“I’ve been a pretty competitive person, so it naturally appealed to me,” Vyas said. “The club has been a great experience; it’s one of the most challenging things I do, even considering calculus and physics. It’s nice to be reminded frequently how little I know in the company of some friends and peers who have been my team members for nearly three years now. This club is much smaller and more personal. Our end goal is to win competitions and have as much fun as we can doing it.”

Latin may be a dead language, but Zhang feels it is all around us.

“Students just have to look around us and see how Latin permeates our culture, the atmosphere and literally everything around us, from government to even popular culture,” Zhang said.