"I could have hugged Stephen Fry!"

This e-mail has just arrived from a Classics teacher, and is worth sharing:

I went on Saturday (May 28th) to hear Stephen Fry at the Hay-on-Wye Festival (it's not very far for me). He spoke about two films – 'Dr. Strangelove' and 'The Importance of being Earnest.' There were about 1000 people in the audience and he gave a 10 minute eulogy on the benefits of a classical education. I could have hugged him. His main point was that the beauty of Oscar Wilde's language was because he was a Classicist and, therefore, had such command of rhetoric. Michael Wood was also brilliant about the importance of myth.


A Natural History of Latin – review

Did I miss this one when it came out in November 2004? It looks good, judging by the extracts on Amazon

This is the blurb:

No known language, including English, has achieved the success and longevity of Latin. French, Spanish, Italian, and Romanian are among its direct descendants, and countless Latin words and phrases comprise the cornerstone of English itself. A Natural History or Latin tells its history from its origins over 2500 years ago to the present. Brilliantly conceived, popularizing but authoritative, and written with the fluency and light touch that have made Tore Janson's Speak so attractive to tens of thousands of readers, it is a masterpiece of adroit synthesis. The book commences with a description of the origins, emergence, and dominance of Latin over the Classical period. Then follows an account of its survival through the Middle Ages into modern times, with emphasis on its evolution throughout the history, culture, and religious practices of Medieval Europe. By judicious quotation of Latin words, phrases, and texts the author illustrates how the written and spoken language changed, region by region over time; how it met resistance from native languages; and how therefore some entire languages disappeared. Janson offers a vivid demonstration of the value of Latin as a means of access to a vibrant past and a persuasive argument for its continued worth. A concise and easy-to-understand introduction to Latin grammar and a list of the most frequent Latin words, including 500 idioms and phrases still in common use, complement the work.

The journal Christianity Today has an article (noted by Explorator) based on the book. I can't reproduce it here – copyright – but I hope they won't mind my quoting a brilliant extract:

As I put it to my students, if Yiddish were erased from contemporary English we'd have a hard time talking about bagels, pastrami, klutzes, and schmucks. If we dumped Dutch, we'd be without cookies, Yankees, bundles, and booms. If we bid au revoir to Hindi, we'd be at a loss when contemplating bandannas, cheetahs, jungles, and shampoo. If we said aloha to Congolese we'd have a tough time ruminating on funky gorillas, zebra zombies, and mojo boogie. Sans Arabic, we wouldn't know about algebra, algorithms, and almanacs. But if Latin died in our mouths, we'd just stop talking; or, at best, we'd be left mostly with monosyllables bequeathed to us from the Angles and Saxons—requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine.

A new blog to watch? And a trailer.

A blog on the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean has just begun (first post on 28th May) and is already deep in child sacrifice. Thanks to David Meadows and Explorator for this news.

Visit the blog here.

While on the subject of ancient religion, the answer to the question pupils occasionally ask, “Do people still worship Greek gods?” is here. The worshippers of Zeus have a web site and you can watch 1 minute 44 seconds of trailer for a documentary about them and their struggle to have legal freedom in Greece to pursue the traditional religion.

Ancient Roman food – and winemaking – recreated

Thanks to Explorator I've been looking at these really interesting pages on Roman food, and winemaking in amphorae. They could be an addition to lessons on Cambridge Latin Course Book 1.

The wine first: The New York Times (you have to register, free) has a piece on an Italian winemaker who has gone back to using buried amphorae, such as you can see in the Boscoreale Villa. An extract:

Rejecting the modern trappings of the cellar, Mr. Gravner has reached back 5,000 years. He now ferments his wines in huge terra-cotta amphorae that he lines with beeswax and buries in the earth up to their great, gaping lips. Ancient Greeks and Romans would be right at home with him, yet his 2001 wines, his first vintage from the amphorae, which he is planning to release in September, are more vivacious and idiosyncratic than ever.

I wonder if Professor David West, who gave the ARLT a memorable evening of Horace readings and tasting of the best modern versions of old Roman wines, has caught up with this development.

Then the food. Pompeii has been putting on a season of Roman food, apparently. The best picture is with this version of the AP article, which begins thus:

ROME – Sauces made from fermented fish entrails. A quiche-like pastry shell filled with bay leaves and ricotta cheese. For dessert, peaches with aromatic cumin and honey.

Those tastes may not be for everyone’s palate, but the specialties of ancient Pompeii are being revived for a month at the site of the ruins by a research project intended to give new insights into how the Romans lived.

There's a different article by the director of the Science Museum of Virginia in the Richmond Times-Despatch:

On the Bay of Naples, Italy, a rare glimpse of Roman-era lifestyles lies frozen in time. Ash falls and pyroclastic flows destroyed and encapsulated humans and their culture.

The preservation of ingredients, cooking and dining were so complete that they are now the subject of a project, “De Gustibus” (about taste: from vegetable garden to table), that brings to life how food was raised and prepared 2,000 years ago.

Seldom do archaeologists have so rich an opportunity to learn what life was like among our predecessors.

A little knowledge ….

Here's a gentleman writing in The Scotsman:

Word of the week


referendum: Noun. 1: The submission of a proposed public measure or actual statute to a direct popular vote. 2: Such a vote. (Etymology: from the Latin, neuter gerundive of referre, to refer.) – American Heritage Dictionary. ….

Referendum first pops up in English circa 1847, chiefly in reference to Switzerland. Of course, the real question that needs a referendum is over what the plural of the word is in English. The Latin root is a gerundive. A gerundive is a form of a Latin verb, ending in -ndus and functioning as an adjective meaning “that should or must be done'”. So it has a no plural. Ergo, the plural of the English word referendum is not – repeat not – referenda. The correct form is referendums. So there.

Who is going to write in and tell Mr Kerevan that he is wrong, and that Latin adjectives do have plural forms? A nice exercise for your Latin class, perhaps! The class could point out that 'referenda' and 'referendums' both have a claim to be used, the former when more than one question is referred to the public at once, as in California at election time. They might also recommend the thoroughly Roman-based 'plebiscite', which has been used as an English word since 1533 and whose plural is not in doubt.

U2 wow them with Latin

Al Gore was among the audience, apparently, for a U2 gig in Boston. Here's the article.

And an extract:

U2 may have played a near replica of Tuesday's show, but fans didn't come to be surprised by classic and rare nuggets. They came to be lifted, to be overwhelmed by the power of rock 'n' roll, and that's what U2 does best. A deluge of anthemic rockers began the night, the grand “City of Blinding Lights'' folding into the somehow still fresh-sounding smash “Vertigo.'' A wonderful detour from the set list then reared its head with the Latin-spouting classic “Gloria,'' thrilling
the crazed, fist-pumping audience.

Review of Mr McKie's audio diary

The Church Times radio reviewer had this to say of the programme that I trailed recently, but was not myself able to hear – we have a festival on, and life is very busy.

IN how many British schools might you hear “Good King Wenceslas” sung in Ancient Greek? After Thursday evening of last week's Its My Story — the Retiring John McKie (Radio 4), I can name one: Hutcheson's Grammar School in Glasgow. Except, now that John McKie has retired (or, should I say, been retired), I doubt the corridors of this distinguished institution resound to the strains of 19th-century Christmas, carols in ancient tongues.

It seems a long time ago that school curriculums — and particularly those of private and grammar schools — were being mocked for their obsession with dead and apparently useless languages. In It's My Story the implication is quite different

Latin and Greek here are representative of a quaint, and exceedingly valuable, educational ideology that nurtures knowledge for knowledge's sake. This is contrasted with an emphasis by the Government on targets, grades, and vocational training. Mr McKie is one of the old school, and a victim of modernisation.

If you think all this sounds a lot like Goodbye, Mr Chips or The Browning Version, you'd be right. Indeed, we were treated to extracts from the Gielgud film of The Browning Version during this supposed “audio diary” (in fact, only a half-hearted attempt at the genre, since we heard from several of Mr McKie's colleagues and pupils).

All of which made one think that Mr McKie's “story” was not really his at all, but the story that some producer fond of Terence Rattigan wanted to tell, and that Mr McKie — far from being representative of an older generation of teachers — was, in fact, an ahistorical type who might crop up in any period of literature.

That is not to say that Mr McKie's qualities — his gentleness and gentility, his thoughtfulness and sincerity, and his obvious love of children — were not remarkable and genuine. Adopting a metaphor once applied to Socrates, one of his students described him as a gadfly, biting his subjects' intellects so as to wake them up.

The programme was billed as a tear-jerker. But Mr McKie's egregious qualities as a person — rather than as a representative of some mythical dying breed — inspire the hope that there must, and will,be others like him.

About time too

Kathimerini again, this time with the welcome news that Greek museums and major sites will stay open until 7.30 p.m. this summer, instead of closing at 2 as many do.

The country’s museums and main archaeological sites will remain open longer this summer as part of a campaign to boost Greece’s tourism sector in the wake of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said yesterday. All key sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. every day of the week, Karamanlis said, adding that the new initiative would come into effect in the first 10 days of June. Many sites currently close at 2 p.m.

Two reviews of Hecuba

The Baltimore Sun
and The Washington Post have reviews of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Hecuba in the Kennedy Center.

Sample from the Sun:

Redgrave plays her as a woman more imprisoned by sorrow than by slavery, a woman so numbed by anguish, she's almost shell-shocked. Though there's still a hint of regal bearing in her figure, for the most part, Redgrave remains low to the ground, often on her knees.

And from the Post

Redgrave's bearing is an asset here. Is there any actress more persuasive as royalty? Hers is a vigorous physical performance. Taller than almost everyone else onstage, she bends and twists and folds her body in grief: truly, a great personage brought low.

She's most in her element in the ghoulish undercurrent of gleefulness she brings to the task of gouging out an eye for an eye.