Cracks threaten Rome's majesty

A BBC video report on the problems of preserving Rome's ancient buildings includes footage of Andrew Wallace-Hadrill. Click on 'Watch' below the photo of the colosseum.

Background to the BBC2 documentary on gladiators

Background to the gladiators' graveyard programme is here.

Id quod circumiret, circumveniat – Latin makes a comeback

The Independent gives much of page 17 today to the Latin revival in state schools.

Perhaps others can explain to me the mood and tenses of the headline. Perhaps the Latin phrase glossed as 'what a bore' came from a phrasebook. But the thrust of the article cannot but be good publicity.

Id quod circumiret, circumveniat – Latin makes a comeback
By Andy McSmith
Published: 15 May 2007

You used to be able to tell what sort of school someone went to merely by they way they reacted to that scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian in which a Jew is caught by a centurion writing subversive graffiti.

The centurion – played by John Cleese – does something worse than throwing him to the lions: he sets about correcting his Latin, in the manner of a sadistic schoolmaster.

Those in the audience who fall about laughing – because they remember qui vir odiosus (1) Latin lessons could be – are the ones who went to private schools. The kids from the state schools do not get really get the joke.

But that is beginning to a change. A study by the Cambridge Classic Project has discovered that there are now 459 state secondary schools teaching Latin. That is not very many, out of a total of 4,000, but in 2003 when Latin was available in only 200 state schools.

It is a rare bit of good news for those who worry about the chronic decline of classical education. There was a protest yesterday outside the House of Commons by sixth-form girls from Godolphin and Latymer school, in Hammersmith. Dressed in ancient costumes, they were complaining about the abolition of the last remaining ancient history A-level. A petition posted on the Downing Street website has attracted more than 4,000 signatures to the cause.

But those who hold that Latin is condicio sine qua non (2) of a rounded education can take heart that it is now being taught in racially mixed inner city comprehensives in places such as Tower Hamlets and Kilburn.

Another sign that Latin is not quite dead is the extraordinary success of a book by the former Daily Telegraph journalist, Harry Mount, called Amo, Amas, Amat and all that – How to Become a Latin Lover which sold 70,000 copies in the UK. Mr Mount has now been paid a £125,000 advance for a new edition being produced, mutatis mutandis (3), for the US market.

Objectors might say ars long – vita brevis (4), and that children in inner city comprehensives have more important things to do than pore ad nauseam (5) over their Latin vocabularies, struggling to decline nouns and conjugate verbs.

But Lorna Richardson, who runs the Iris Project, which campaigns for the study of classics in state schools, sees it as a valuable tool for improving literacy. “It really does make a difference – the children themselves say that,” she claimed. “There are about 30 languages spoken in that one school. Many of the children have English only as a second language. They all say Latin helps with their languages, it helps with their English.”

As part of a pilot project, the Iris Project added Latin to the curriculum in one Hackney school. This will be expanded in September to cover 12 schools. The course is funded by Cambridge University and other benefactors. They also produce a magazine aimed at making the classics fun, which is free for state schools and paid for by sales to private schools.

Boris Johnson, the Tory spokesman on higher education, said: “Latin is wonderful, and beautiful. Kids want something that is intellectually stimulating. It's the root of all romance languages. It's a fabulous mental discipline, yet it's unavailable for all but a tiny minority, and that's socially unjust.”

Mr Mount is also adamant that learning to write in Latin is not simply ars gratia artis (6). He says there is a real quid pro quo (7) in having a Latin qualification on your curriculum vitae (8), because after all that time spent learning to distinguish a nominative from a genitive, “you'll never get an apostrophe in the wrong place again”.

He added: “If children learn ethnic studies, in ten years they will earn absolutely nothing from it. The ones who learn Latin will be the ones who will be able to go on to jobs in the City, or as lawyers, or journalists.

“I think it's deeply patronising for people to suggest that pupils in ethnically mixed state schools should not learn the subject that is going to get them into the best paid jobs.”

And that headline? It translates as: “What goes around comes around.”

1 What a bore 2 Necessary condition 3 With the necessary changes 4 The work is hard and life is short 5 To the point of nausea 6 Art for art's sake 7 Something in return 8 The course of life