Heathdale flower 11th October 2023

First Book Release from Heathdale Latin Teacher, Carla Hurt

Heathdale's Latin teacher, Carla Hurt, steps beyond the classroom with her debut book, 'The Lover’s Curse: A Tiered Reader of Aeneid 4,' promising fresh insights into Virgil's timeless epic for students of varied Latin comprehension skills.

Heathdale flower

Outside the classroom, Carla Hurt, Heathdale Christian College's Latin teacher, has embarked on a remarkable journey fuelled by creativity and a deep passion for her subject. Her debut book, 'The Lover’s Curse: A Tiered Reader of Aeneid 4,' is a captivating, tiered reader that promises to unlock new dimensions of Virgil's timeless epic masterpiece.

Discover more about Carla's inspiration and hopes for her new book below.

Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind this project?

I’m a big fan of Vergil’s Aeneid. I first read selections of it when I was a high school Latin student, and now I have the privilege of teaching from it every year. The Aeneid is an epic poem about the voyages and troubles faced by the hero Aeneas as he carries out his quest to establish a city for the refugees of his destroyed homeland, Troy. It was written in twelve books by the Roman poet Vergil over two thousand years ago. Book 4 is about Aeneas’ love affair with Queen Dido, ruler of Carthage in Africa, which ends terribly. It’s a very popular book of the Aeneid among high school students, perhaps because it is kind of reassuring to read about other people’s relationship troubles! I wrote this tiered reader of Aeneid Book 4 to make the text more accessible and enjoyable for Latin students to read.

Could you give us an overview of the book's content and what readers can expect to learn or gain from it?

This is a ‘tiered reader’: a book which presents several versions of the same passage in gradually more difficult language, so that students can read the easy Latin versions to understand the story and work their way up to reading the original poetry. For a Latin student who has just finished an introductory course, there is a huge gap between the difficulty of textbook stories and the difficulty of authentic Latin texts. Tiered readers bridge that gap by explaining difficult literary works in more simplified, textbook-style language. This provides students with experience and exposure to great literature while also building up their confidence in reading.

As a Latin teacher, you must have a unique perspective on the needs of Latin learners. How did your teaching experience influence the content and approach of the book?

There are a lot of words which students of Latin find difficult to understand, and these words are often easy to take for granted unless you have experience in teaching diverse cohorts of Latin students. I used a draft version of this book to read Aeneid Book 4 with my Year 11 and 12 students in 2022. There are 400 illustrations in this book that provide pictorial explanations of words, and a lot of those words get that treatment because of direct experience in seeing that students need more support in comprehending those words. It’s also important to try to see the text from the cultural perspectives of current students – we’re very culturally different from the Ancient Romans, so it is important to explain aspects of culture that are referenced in the text in a way that students will understand. In this book, the cultural explanations are written in simple Latin, so that we can maximise the class time spent in the target language while learning more about Roman culture.

Latin is often seen as a challenging language to learn. What strategies or techniques have you incorporated into your book to make it more accessible and engaging for learners of all levels?

As much as possible, I want students to be able to connect their prior learning to the lesson at hand. By using familiar language structures to explain the more difficult vocabulary and syntax of poetry, we all start with a common baseline and use that to understand and explore more complex language. All languages are difficult to master because of the huge number of words they contain, and the subtle nuances in what those words mean. But learning words in meaningful contexts – and in connection to known words of the same context – helps reduce the cognitive load significantly. Our brains can take in words through meaningful stories much better than we can try to teach them by rote. Tiered readers work very well to scaffold understanding for weaker students and bring the whole class up to understanding highly complex language. As a bonus, the way that tiered readers focus on retelling the story multiple times in different words increases student engagement with the text as they remember the story better and are able to see the significance of plot developments more clearly.

Tell us about your favourite part of writing this book. Was there a specific chapter or topic that you particularly enjoyed working on?

The description of the monster called Rumour (Fama in Latin) was a definite highlight in writing this book. Vergil depicts her as a winged fiend, small and timid at first, but soon she grows to titanic proportions and treads the earth with her head in the clouds. She has as many eyes, ears, mouths, and tongues as she has feathers on her body, and they are always seeing, hearing, and jabbering. She moves faster than any other evil, and delights equally in spreading truth and falsehood. No city is safe from her. Vergil’s description of her is a masterful study in horror, and an insightful exploration of the danger and power of our words. I decided to give her a full page illustration to accompany the text.

Latin has a rich history and is still relevant in various fields today. Can you share some examples of how your book connects Latin to modern contexts or applications?

At its heart, Aeneid Book 4 contains a confrontation of wills between the two main characters. Aeneas had irresponsibly let himself get caught up in a relationship which he had no commitment to keep, and now he has been commanded by the gods to hurry up and leave Queen Dido in order to continue his quest. Queen Dido gets wind that he is leaving her and confronts him before he can explain himself. She begs him to honour his de facto marriage to her, for which she had sacrificed everything. Aeneas denies that he ever married her, and refutes some of her minor points, while stating that he has no choice in the matter, and if he were allowed to do what he wanted, he would never have come to Carthage in the first place.

There is a paradox in the morality of Aeneas’ decision to leave Dido: on the one hand, he is finally being obedient to his mission and the direct instruction of the gods and fate (that is, he is pius, or pious). On the other hand, he is a traitor (perfidus), betraying an intimate relationship which he never should have started in the first place, but which he did willingly choose, and his abandonment will have terrible consequences to his generous host (and former de facto wife) Dido.

Audiences throughout history have been split in how they judge the central conflict in Book 4, some siding more with Aeneas, others sympathising more with Dido. In the modern world, we too are faced with complex moral dilemmas involving loyalty and responsibility, and we need to be able to weigh up the immediate and longer-term consequences of our actions. Both Aeneas and Dido were foolish in this book, but by the time they realised their folly, the damage was done, and there was no way to resolve the conflict without great loss. Aeneid Book 4 gives us powerful insight into the folly of the human heart which – just as much today as it was in the time of Vergil – is easily deceived and prone to error.

Young people especially need to be encouraged to read literature, because it transmits the wisdom of older generations. For thousands of years, human beings have been telling stories that explore what it means to be a good human, and where we go wrong on that path. This wisdom cannot be boiled down into simple step-by-step applications without losing a lot of the valuable complexity and nuance that we get from reading the original narratives. We need to return to the narratives to observe and learn how wisdom and folly play out.

For educators and students who are considering using your book, what would you say sets it apart from other Latin learning resources?

The biggest point of difference in The Lover’s Curse: A Tiered Reader of Aeneid 4 is the combination of the professional editing quality, length of content, and support for weaker students. A lot of Comprehensible Input (CI) materials produced by Latin teachers in recent years have been very short for their price, and have been self-published without rigorous professional editing. As a result, a disappointingly thin book of only a hundred pages often contains over a hundred errors, ranging from typos to grammar mistakes to errors of Latin idiom, which unfortunately impairs their usefulness as class texts for language study. On the other hand, many older resources which have been carefully edited do not provide enough support or engagement for weaker students. The Lover’s Curse combines quality of editing with volume of content and ease of reading. A teacher can choose their favourite selections of Aeneid Book 4 or read the whole thing with the class if they wish, and be confident that it will provide high quality support and engagement for students of all levels.

Can you give us a sneak peek into any future projects or books you might have in mind?

I’m currently working on producing an audiobook, an English facing translation, a student workbook, and a novella adaptation to supplement The Lover’s Curse: A Tiered Reader of Aeneid 4. In addition, I’ve drafted about a third of Journey to the Underworld: A Tiered Reader of Aeneid 6, which provides the same tiered reading structure for the sixth book of the Aeneid.

The Lover’s Curse: A Tiered Reader of Aeneid 4 is available to purchase in paperback and hardcover on Amazon as well as all other major online book retailers. To receive a free digital copy, subscribe to Carla's Latin email newsletter.

If you would like to check out more of Carla's Latin and Ancient Greek resources, visit her website, Found in Antiquity.