Veni. Vidi. Vinco?
More than 450 Bay Area teens descended on Bentley High School in Lafayette Saturday for Ludi Octobres, the California Junior Classical League's annual fest for Latin students and classics devotees.
The "October Games" offered academic competitions and quirky workshops on everything from ancient Roman culture and gladiator skills to vinco, a kind of Latin bingo.
Outside, gray skies wafted misty drizzles. Inside, the air was thick with "hail Caesars" and California-tinged Latin greetings, but this was no toga party.
"I was going to wear a toga, but it's muddy outside," said Bentley senior Edward Hess. "It's fun -- that's why people come -- but it helps students show off their skills and prepare for the state convention, the climax of the Latin year."
Latin academic competitions are decidedly a niche event. California high school students are 70 times more likely to take Spanish than its ancient ancestor Latin. But the state's 6,200 Latin students are both passionate and protective of their foreign language elective.
"Latin is always trying to prove itself," said Bentley teacher Hether Ludwick. "But it's so much fun. Kids really enjoy it, and a lot get started because they love mythology."
"I came to this school so I could take Latin," Hess said of the private school. "I wanted to read the old historical documents and understand our civilization. Our founding fathers, most of them, spoke Latin, and Thomas Jefferson based a lot of his ideas on the old Roman Republic."
Budget cuts have closed Latin departments at some public schools, but the programs thrive at others, including Orinda's Miramonte High, and at such private schools as College Preparatory and Head Royce, both in Oakland. Head Royce teacher Jan Groschupf added a second introductory Latin class for sixth graders this year to keep up with the demand. Several of her enthusiastic new Latinophiles were in Lafayette Saturday to strut their academic stuff.
The morning was given over to academic testing and a general assembly led by Hess, who masterminded this year's celebration and played the role of First Consul in a bright purple Ludi Securitas -- festival security -- T-shirt.
By afternoon, rounds of Certamen -- ancient culture trivia played Jeopardy-style -- vied with workshops on gladiatorial skills, Roman coin-making and a mad dash through 2,000 years of Roman history.
"I'm (doing) the complete history of Rome in 30 minutes," said Miramonte senior and workshop leader Alex Barker.
He shot through an engaging but slightly breathless historical framework four times that afternoon.
"We do the Trojan War to Romulus and Remus in two minutes," he said. "Julius Caesar gets 15 seconds."
And workshops on vulgar Latin and the House of Atreus were both back by popular demand. Billed as "death, doom and destruction with a little bit of cannibalism thrown in," the Atreus session traced five generations of mythology's most dysfunctional family, from Zeus' son Tantalus to the Trojan War.