Classics Society competes at Annual Princeton Certamen

Last Saturday, three teams of four students from the school’s Classics Society competed virtually at the Princeton Certamen, a Classics competition, and nearly reached the tournament’s final rounds. 

The competition followed a trivia-style format with each team buzzing in to answer a question, said Steve Yang (10), a member of the intermediate team. There were 20 toss-up questions which any member of any team could buzz in to answer. When a member of the team correctly answered a toss-up, they received the chance to answer two bonus questions, said Classics Society vice president Nina Gaither (12), a member of the advanced level team composed of seniors. Teammates could discuss their thoughts on the bonus questions before giving a final answer. Of the three teams, none were able to proceed to the final rounds, but the competition was close, Yang said. 

The morning began with a presentation from Professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta, an associate professor of Classics at Princeton University. Competition began directly afterwards. 

Hanzhang Swen (10) found Peralta’s opening speech engaging. “Professor Peralta talked about the lack of access to the Classics world,” she said. “I realized how privileged we are at HM because anyone at HM can take a Latin or Greek class. Other people don’t have these opportunities.”

Once the competition began, the members of the Classics Society were split into three teams of four. One member from each team was assigned to studying pre-imperial Roman history, post-imperial Roman history, mythology, or grammar, Nick Butera (11), who competed on the advanced level team of juniors, said. 

All of the members of each team thoughtfully engaged in group discussions and collaborated to answer the question, Butera said. His most memorable moment of the tournament was his team’s final round, in which they competed and lost by just a few points.

The competition ran fairly smoothly, Yang said. One memorable moment for him was when a question about togas (a garment worn in Ancient Rome) arose. His team had discussed the exact same question in class a few days before the competition, so they answered it correctly, he said. 

This was Swen’s first Certamen, and she meticulously prepared for it with the club in a Saturday study session leading up to the competition. After discovering her passion for the language this year, she decided to attend the tournament, she said. 

During the study session, the club reviewed Certamen questions from previous years and quizzed each other, Yang said. “When there were questions we didn’t know, we would then search it up to learn more about it.”

To prepare himself for the Ceratamen, Yang also looked at the school’s Latin textbook and another book titled “Ancient Rome: A New History,” he said. 

Butera focused on grammar and used both materials from his Latin class such as past homeworks, his textbook, and the Perseus Digital Library to prepare for the competition. 

This year’s Certamen differed from last year’s in-person competition, as the teams had to grapple with the online format, which caused difficulties because when two people attempted to speak simultaneously neither contestant could be heard, Yang said. 

Because of the online format,  the team also did not bond as much as they would have if they went to Princeton to compete, he said. “Last year we woke up very early and boarded a NJ Transit train to Princeton,” he said. “We had buzzers, a live Keynote presentation, and much team-bonding during lunch and on the way to and from Princeton. This year, because of the pandemic, all of the in-person aspects were gone.”

Butera, who has taken Latin and Ancient Greek at the school, said that he helped his team out with the bonus questions while also improving his knowledge of Roman history, mythology, and Latin grammar. 

“Just being able to learn from team members and others was a great experience,” Yang said.