Latin plays

Anthony Hodson has written three substantial Latin plays, which he has produced in a primary school, and are now on line. I have had a small share in improving the Latin in one of the plays, though you may well find things that I missed.

You will find the plays, along with interesting commentary about the productions, at

They are designed, Anthony says, to be performed by children who have used Minimus, though the language is often a lot more advanced.


Latin lovers are enjoying a boom

This article in today's Guardian answers one that I noted a few days ago. I suggest you don't just read it here; go to The Guardian and read the long list of comments. Lots of classroom notice-board material there.


Latin lovers are enjoying a boom

We can no longer dismiss Latin as a dead language. It's in the middle of a real revival, says Will Griffiths

Wednesday December 20, 2006
The Guardian

Charlotte Higgins states that the Cambridge Latin Course (CLC) is “widely blamed for Latin's 'dumbing down' and indeed decline” (For Latin lovers everywhere, G2, November 28).

This is at odds with reality. The great majority of Latin teachers believe the CLC has saved the language in British classrooms. The course is used in 80% of schools that offer Latin, and teachers would not choose materials that led to a decline in the subject they teach.

We have recently been working with the Department for Education and Skills on a major key stage 3 initiative to bring Latin to schools that have lost or never had it. It is hard to see what more we could be doing to save Latin.

We would be interested to know what evidence the article's sources have for the accusation of “dumbing down”. The CLC teaches, in detail, all aspects of Latin grammar required for, and beyond, GCSE. In seven years of teaching A-level Latin I twice had a student who achieved the highest mark in the country – both had studied Latin with the CLC. How could that have been possible if the course had not been rigorous?

In an independent trial of a range of Latin courses carried out by the University of Copenhagen in 2003, students who studied with the CLC came out top in Latin language exams.

A book on Latin is described as an “unlikely publishing phenomenon” on the grounds that it has sold a few thousand copies. The CLC sells more than 100,000 copies every year.

One part-time teacher was quoted. The teacher clearly dislikes the CLC, and that's fair enough – other courses are available and most have their strengths.

But we should not generalise based on the views of one teacher. Since publication of the article, our team – which authors the course – has been inundated with phone calls and emails from teachers furious at what they see as the misrepresentation of their work, and that of their students.

One said the article was “excruciatingly partisan … the unrepresentative slant it purveyed offended my hard-won sympathetic understanding of how children learn”.

It's “not as if Latin is enjoying a revival”, Higgins says as she describes what she sees as “Latin's death throes”. The introduction of the national curriculum in 1988 drove Latin out of many schools, but that was almost 20 years ago. More recent initiatives have been supportive of Latin.

In a speech last month investigating the provision for gifted and talented pupils, the schools minister Lord Adonis cited the introduction of Latin at a school in Newham as an example of what he called “the opposite of dumbing down”. The school introduced Latin using the CLC.

We have helped more than 150 others to do the same, and the number of non-selective schools offering Latin has doubled.

We aim to ensure that our work, in all areas, reflects the tradition of Cambridge University for education at the highest standard.

Will Griffiths is director of the Cambridge School Classics Project

Amo, amas, fallat

While Christmas shopping yesterday I happened upon a copy of Harry
Mount's surprise success, Amo, amas, amat. Although warned by Mary
Beard's description (“re-writing Kennedy’s Latin Primer interspersed
with some blokeish humour”) I did expect something reasonably helpful
to the interested person-without-Latin, perhaps along the lines of
Peter Jones' excellent little book based on his newspaper columns.
Peter's aim was clear: the reader would be able to read the Christmas
story from the Vulgate by the end of his or her study of the book.

Harry Mount's aim as stated on the front cover is vaguer: “How to
become a Latin lover”.
When you dip into the text, you get less clear.
Take this for example. Mount is discussing tattoos. Yes, tattoos:

The big reason is the poshness of Latin. Because classics had no
practical use, it tended to gain cachet among those who could afford to
dedicate their time to fine prose, poetry and history … It flourished
in Britain's public schools – and today proper teaching of it only
really survives there and in grammar schools.

Are we to understand that 'proper teaching' of Latin (however that is
defined) is to give poshness? Not entirely. Mount has an image of
history as a corridor with what he calls “an enfilade of rooms: Greece
gives way to Rome… Rome to the Byzantine Empire … the
Renaissance…” And he claims

Knowing a bit of Latin is an invitation to the biggest room in the
building, with a view down the corridor to all the succeeding ages.

Well, yeeess. Sort of. So what is 'a bit of Latin'? It's enough to
enable you to read a 15th century tombstone. I really think I'd prefer
to be able to read St Luke.

All right. How are we to approach Latin? As a living means of
communication, or at least a language that once (for a millennium or
so) enabled drovers, senators, slaves, emperors and innkeepers to go
about their daily business? Apparently not. Mount recalls his own early
experience of Latin:

How silly it seemed that Romans actually talked the stuff we were

It seems to me that the approach taken by, for example, the Cambridge
Latin Course, is greatly preferable. People that the pupils identify
with communicate naturally from an early stage in the course. No one
who was being taught by this course would react as Mount did. The
Oxford Course takes a similar line.

But perhaps understanding the Romans and their language is not what
Mount is advocating. He writes, for example, when teaching that plural
nouns have plural adjectives,

This can provide comfortable room for showing off in English e.g. the
plural of persona non grata – an unwelcome person – is
personae non gratae.

Showing off? Oh dear! It reminds me of when I foolishly taught my
firstborn at an early age the Latin tag “de gustibus non disputandum”.
Her aunt years later told me: “You don't know what damage you did by
teaching her that.” Apparently my daughter slipped it into conversation
(she was perhaps six or seven years old) and so introduced acute
embarrassment into the relationship. And that was not 'showing off'. It
was quite innocent. Mea culpa.

I could go on through the book. It includes a certain amount of grammar, though surprisingly omits the future perfect tense. There is no attempt to help the reader practise what he or she has been told (I do not say taught). Interspersed are quotations from familiar Classics-related literature, like The Browning Version, and brief, 1066 and All That type facts about emperors and suchlike.

In fact, the book really might have appeared in The Bluffer's Guide series. It is not serious. It might be found useful by the Hampstead dinner-party set, if that still exists.

That makes the final chapter almost inexplicable.


The dust jacket informs us that Mount was at one time a libel barrister. In view of this, I shall not be writing such things as 'In this chapter Mount lies though his teeth.' Perish the thought. I have no doubt that he is an honest and truthful man. It is strange, however, that my own simple research (i.e. opening a copy of the Cambridge Latin Course) leads me to such different conclusions from his.

Mount writes:

As far as the CLC is concerned, they don't need to know what the accusative is or the imperfect or the imperative are.

Strange. My copy gives a very full explanation of each of these grammatical features, with copious examples and exercises.

Mount writes:

The words are just plonked on the page with their immediate translation and no context, i.e. [I think he means e.g.] Caecilius est in horto. Metella est in triclinio. Cerberus est in mensa. Eheu!

Strange. My copy is careful to set the context, in a Pompeii house, of each of the characters. There is a meticulously researched picture of each character in his or her situation. There is no translation. Perhaps Mount's sub-editor has transposed phrases, and what the (no doubt truthful) author originally wrote was 'The words are printed on the page with their context and with no translation.'

Incidentally, none of the short sentences attributed by Mount to the course can be found in my copy. Where a pupil using an old-fashioned Latin course would take no notice of the nonsense 'Cerberus est in mensa' but would mechanically translate it as 'Just a Latin sentence, sir', every student of the CLC realises the humour when 'canis in mensa stat' and steals the food while the cook is asleep. Where, I wonder, did the first Latin joke appear in the old textbooks for which Mount claims to feel such nostalgia?

Mount writes:

Will Griffiths's [sic] despicable argument is that there is simply no earthly need to learn Latin in the way that you have to learn maths, or English, or how to wire a plug.

Strange. Mount does not adduce any evidence for this assertion, save for one quotation:

It's not as if pupils need to know about the pasive periphrastic, is it?

If Mount bases his assertion upon that quotation, it is a non sequitur. If I may be allowed to boast, I got a First in the Cambridge Classical Tripos in the nineteen fifties. And my exam included Latin and Greek verse composition, quite apart from all of Homer (which I had read before I went up to university), all of Greek tragedy and comedy (much of which I had read in the Sixth Form), and so on.

And I had never heard of the passive periphrastic.

I am forced to certain conclusions about Mr Mount, which, for reasons stated previously, I shall keep to myself.

Using his own technique, however, I may say that if the Cambridge Latin Course wrote, for example, “Montem aut stultum aut mendacem esse dico” the clues it would give would be along the lines of

  • Montem: Mons Mount
  • aut … aut: either … or
  • stultum: stultus stupid
  • mendacem: mendax liar

Et cetera.

Let us be grateful for any publicity that Latin gets. Let us however take what Mount writes cum grano salis.

Romans activity boxes for west Cumbrian schools

From the News and Star.

Taste of life as a roman

Published on 19/12/2006

By Ben Meller

PUPILS across west Cumbria can learn all they need to know about the Romans, from what they ate for lunch to what they used for loo roll, thanks to a new teaching aid from a Whitehaven museum.

The Beacon education programme has introduced two new activity boxes aimed at bringing the Romans to life in the class room.

The Romans Loan Box and Roman Armour Activity Session are available to schools and learning groups and are suitable for all age groups.

The Romans Loan Box is stashed full of genuine and replica objects from Roman times, including a wine jug, beakers, bottles, pots, games, jewellery and a sponge on a stick – the forerunner of toilet paper.

The Roman Armour Activity Session is an activity session that introduces pupils to Roman clothing with scaled-down, exact replicas of Roman Soldiers clothes, weapons and armour from 2000 years ago.

Children can try on a Roman helmet, carry a sword and discover just how heavy and impractical it might have been, compared to today’s clothing.

They will hear how the Celts responded to the Roman arrival, and discuss life as a soldier and what it meant to be away from home.

The loan box is available for £10 per week, and the armour activity session is available from £25. For more information contact The Beacon on 01946 592302.

Latin a common language for immigrant RCs?

In the course of an interesting piece in Sunday's Observer, about Roman Catholic Masses being crowded with enthusiastic and charismatic South Americans and others, comes this paragraph:

'The Tatler once wrote about how outre it was in high society to be Catholic,' says Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Tablet, 'but over 10 years we have become what we are supposed to be, a church which thinks and now comes from beyond these shores. I'm not suggesting it, but we've reached the point when there's a case for celebrating Mass in Latin as the nearest thing to a common language!'