A nice point or two for grammarians

Today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an amusing piece, or collection of pieces, by Peter Leo, arising from a report about the ability of some birds to learn grammar. Allegedly.

Among several quotations (or 'quotes', as the author calls them, is this:

English grammar is so complex and confusing for the one very simple reason that its rules and terminology are based on Latin — a language with which it has precious little in common. In Latin, to take one example, it is not possible to split an infinitive. So in English, the early authorities decided, it should not be possible to split an infinitive either. But there is no reason why we shouldn't, any more than we should forsake instant coffee and air travel because they weren't available to the Romans. Making English grammar conform to Latin rules is like asking people to play baseball using the rules of football. It is a patent absurdity. But once this insane notion became established, grammarians found themselves having to draw up ever more complicated and circular arguments to accommodate the inconsistencies.

Bill Bryson, “The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way”


Preparations for the London Olympics keep archaeologists busy

The Independent yesterday reported excavations in the Lea Valley, in advance of the Olympic building spree. It says:

Now, in advance of the arrival of the world's athletes for the London Olympics in 2012, the Lower Lea Valley will finally give up the secrets of its history as it becomes the largest archaeological site ever excavated in Britain.

Classics teachers may be particularly interested in the Roman layers:

But the story really takes off with the arrival of the Romans, who established Londinium within a decade of reaching Britain but who quickly needed to link the emerging port with their capital at Camulodunum in modern Colchester.

The Roman Road crossed the Lea at Old Ford, and some archaeologists believe it was the route taken by Boudica and her rebel armies in AD 60 as she burnt and sacked her way westwards.

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Panem et circenses, American style

Hopestandard.com carries a comparison between the Roman emperors' way of keeping the populace content and the powers that be in the USA. See what you think. I could not possibly comment …

It seems the Romans and Michael Moore are right

By Alex Browne
Apr 27 2006

Several years ago, when Michael Moore referred in his Oscar acceptance speech to “weapons of miss distraction” there were as many jeers as cheers.

Time has proven he correctly identified the methodology of corporate/military America, of which Canada – with U.S. ownership of our companies at a staggering high – is now, clearly, a branch plant.

The old Roman idea of distracting a fickle populace with “bread and circuses” has been genetically modified. Our rumblings of discontent are now assuaged with trans-fat foods and video circuses. Less is more? No, more is better.

The result is an electorate that soothes its hungers and boosts its waistlines with super-sized foods, living in monster homes, driving safety-impairing super-sized vehicles, and being buried in super-sized coffins.

Meet some Roman soldiers in Prestatyn on May 6th

Romans invade Prestatyn


Prestatyn will see a step back to the Second Century AD when two Roman soldiers march from the Leisure Centre to the town's historic Roman bathhouse on May 6th. They will lead a group of visitors to meet County Archaeologist Fiona Gale and Museums Officer Susan Dalloe.

Susan will talk about the days when the bath house was found and when it was built, while Fiona will show some of the objects archaeologists found during excavations at the bath house.

Fiona said: “The Soldiers will we hope, bring the whole place alive by talking about what the life of a Roman soldier stationed at Prestatyn would have been like and what exactly they did in the bath house.”

The Roman soldiers will not be Italian. They are drawn from a re-enactment group here in the UK. They are based in Caergwrle.

Read the rest in News Wales

The Telegraph likes Antony and Cleopatra at Stratford

Antony and Cleopatra

Give Nancy Meckler's insultingly silly production of Romeo and Juliet in the main house a miss and start your exploration of the RSCs Complete Works festival with this superb production. Director Gregory Doran has come up with a funny, sexy, yet also deeply affecting account of this great mature love story in which some of the most magnificent poetry Shakespeare ever wrote receives its full value. In the title roles, Harriet Walter and Patrick Stewart really strike sparks off each other, discovering the play's humour as well as its ache of lust and loss. Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (0870 609 1100).

Read the review.

A Latin-teaching school to close

In discussing how Newlands School was saved from closure, The Times mentioned that Holy Cross Convent School is to close in August. I see that Latin is introduced there in Year 7. To put it all in perspective, The Times gives some figures on independent schools:

  • There are about 2,300 independent schools in England. About 60 schools open each year and a similar number close
  • Of those, 1,200 belong to the Independent Schools Council. Only five or six of its members close each year
  • 1,692 are day schools, 644 boarding schools, 107 Muslim schools, 55 Jewish schools, 36 evangelical Christian schools and 51 are for stage, music or dance

Books that changed the world – Bragg

The Times has a review of and an excerpt from 12 BOOKS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD by Melvyn Bragg
(Hodder, £20; 300pp).

All the books are by Englishmen or Scotsmen, and the first was written in Latin:

Bragg begins his narrative with a celebration of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. The case for its inclusion is indisputable. Newton’s great work has had a more profound effect upon the technological or scientific aspects of human life than any other. His theorems of celestial dynamics are still at work in the course of Nasa space exploration.

The Bible, in its Authorised Version guise (King James Version to our American cousins) has its place, obviously, and that is the second book of the twelve partly written in a Classical language. Or almost entirely in Classical languages, if you count Hebrew as Classical. (Part of Daniel is in Aramaic, hence the 'almost entirely'.)

From an unexpected book, The Rule Book of Association Football 1863 by A Group of Former English Public School Men comes this Victorian view of the place of Classics:

Headmasters like Thring and Arnold saw team games, classical learning and no-nonsense Anglicanism as the three pillars of Imperial Wisdom.

It is this chapter, in fact, which is there to read online. Having skimmed it, I feel miffed that Rugby Football does not get equal treatment. But I may be biased; my great grandfather and his two brothers were the ones who brought the Rugby game from Rugby School to Cheltenham College, and so may have paved the way for competitive Rugby, first between schools, and then wider. A plaque in Cheltenham commemorates the fact. See this page.