This one is from Brian Bishop:

Occasionally I erupt, asserting as self-evident Latin to be a language. I now repent and wish to expiate my error with references to the British context.

I generally recommend Clive James’ ‘Cultural amnesia’ (ISBN 978-0-330-41886-7) to colleagues. He uses 103 famous names on which to hang wide-ranging commentaries. In particular I have just read his essay
discussing the style of Edward Gibbon in his ‘The decline and fall of the Roman empire’. On page 265 James discusses the tiresome necessity to read and reread Gibbon’s sentences to “settle on what must be meant”. “… there is still something to the assumption that a sentence, however the reader gets to the end of it, should be intelligible by the time he does, and that if he is forced to begin again he has been hoodwinked into helping the writer do the writing.”

The Latinist Guido Angelino consistently held that Latin style was (loosely) divided into colloquial or linear and literary or classical (v. and essays

titled ‘De lingua latina colloquiali’, De latino vulgari seu colloquiali’).

Teaching planning should start by identifying the objective. Some teachers acknowledge the ineluctable fact that their objectives are decided for them in detail by examination boards and in general by educational establishment superiors and pupils’ or (more forcibly) parents’ expectations — the highest grades in the most subjects.

For centuries Latin has been defined, not as a free language, but as the imitation of its most elegant patterns, such as Cicero and Virgil.

Incidentally, imitation is explored in the I Tatti ‘Ciceronian controversies’ (ISBN 0-674-02520-2). The rich and intellectual used to have time and resources to match those invested by the ancient masters of
their craft, and their other studies were largely derived from their Latin studies; but these days, even for the rich and intellectual, time and resources have to be devoted to unrelated modern studies, with Latin needing justification in the terms of those studies, if not alien statistics. If you steal time in your Latin course to indulge in practices outside the official image, such as conversing in Latin or looking at other applications
of the language, that proves that you have been timetabled too generously, and the time could be better spent on subjects that are more appealing to children or their parents, that attract more generous marking, or seem more specifically vocational.

Those in authority still limit specifications or syllabuses to the style and content of the most elegant ancient authors: there is a belief that Caesar is too simple or too bellicose, whilst not appealing to the girls (although Catullus is admitted so as to appear daring); Aulus Gellius is deemed insufficiently elegant; post-Roman authors (despite the elegance of Erasmus and Buchanan) are rejected as being mere imitators (although Tacitus and Ovid had had to learn their craft and were not averse to imitating). On the other hand passages for translation in examinations aimed at students around age 16 are distorted in rewrites of their claimed originals, and the stories used in most modern courses return to the unsophistication of a
normal, rather than a brilliant, Roman.

Whilst acknowledging that teachers of Latin have to adhere to the requirements set by higher authorities, I can only speculate ignorantly as to the drivers and objectives of those authorities. I have failed to discover the basis for choosing, changing and decreasing the designated vocabulary lists (one of the word frequency tables, the vocabulary content of courses, individual idiosyncracies?). Have any teachers on examination requirement or quality assurance panels not had the occasion to consider whether less sophisticated or later texts might attract more students, yet remain equally valid and possibly more valuable? There is a contradiction in that the gradual dumbing down of the language requirements, equip students less to understand and appreciate the higher-flown classical set texts.

Why do authorities remain wedded to studying the sophisticated style and only classical authors? Is it to appear to continue a no longer appropriate tradition? Is it that they know no better? Is it that, steeped in long sentences of complex clauses, they are frightened by straightforward passages? Is it that those with new views do not ascend to such levels?

Whatever the truth of the matter, for the foreseeable future, I accept that Latin died with Petronius and is unutterable, and that the only aspect of the language worthy of consideration is that catalogued as classical. My task, therefore, is not to teach but to train my charges to solve to order the intricate inanimate codes set before them. Furthermore, I shall carry that style, much praised in Gibbon, into my English.

Been there, done that? Then try a Roman site in Bulgaria

Roman Ruins and a Rural Paradise in Bulgaria’s Western Rodopi Mountains

Text by | Photographs by Garmen Municipality (Archive) and Bozhidar Nikolov

In the spot where the majestic Pirin and Rodopi Mountains come
together, around 50 kilometres south of the major ski-resort of Bansko,
lays perhaps the best destination for rural tourism in Bulgaria. The
mineral water springs of the village of Ognyanovo and the spectacular
architecture of the villages of Leshten and Kovachevitsa, situated on
the rolling western-most hills of the Rodopi Mountains, were known only
to Bulgarian village life afficionados until a few years ago. Recently,
however, they have started to open up and attract tourists. Besides
staying in the sleepy and somewhat melancholic houses whose windows
overlook the stern blue-to-black peaks of Pirin, there is now another
reason to head in that direction: the nearby remains of the epic Roman
town of Nikopolis ad Nestum. They lay covered in the grass for decades
but a recent archaeological face-lift has made them shine again,
telling ancient stories and stirring imagination.

The Ruins: Nikopolis ad Nestum

Nikopolis ad Nestum is one of the significant Roman sites in Bulgaria.
It came into existence in 106AD, on the occasion of Emperor Trajan’s
victory over the Dacians near the Mesta River. It was inhabited, with
some interruptions, until the late Middle Ages, and its ruins during
the nineteenth century reached as much as eight metres in height.

Nikopolis ad Nestum was one of the most important cities during the
Roman and the early Byzantine Age, a settlement on the road that
connected the Aegean coast and the central road Via Egnatia through the
Rodopi with the Thracian lowlands, as well as the only strategic link
of the Mesta River valley with the Maritsa River and the peninsula’s

In his book Travels along the Lowlands of Struma, Mesta and Bregalnitsa. Bitola, Prespa and Ohrid,
dating back to more than 100 years ago, the Bulgarian ethnographer
Vassil Kanchov wrote of its decline: “When the Turks came, the most
powerful place in the whole valley was the city of Nikopol… After a
long-lasting siege and bloodshed, the Turks conquered Nikopol and, in
their wrath, brought it to the ground, and the population partly
escaped and was partly killed off.”

And although many Bulgarians are probably familiar with the site’s
name, there are only a few who can point out its exact location.

And it isn’t any wonder – until several years ago, even many of the
residents of the neighbouring village of Garmen had only a vague idea
about it. When asked for directions to the site, they would open their
eyes widely, shrug their shoulders or start waving around in indefinite
directions (the ruins are immediately beyond the four rows of houses
and can be seen from the windows of at least half of the homes in
Garmen). Some would say there are some remains in the back, but could
not tell for sure if they were it.

is said that stones from the ancient structures – because of their high
quality, were used in the building of some of the village’s
contemporary houses. Ancient blocks are also placed in some restaurants
in Garmen and have even been laid out on display around the gigantic
trunk of the century-old tree in the centre.

But things are changing significantly now. In the last year
archaeologists cleaned up and began to examine the site, supported by a
trans-border project between Bulgaria and Greece, financed by the PHARE
programme. The stone slabs from underneath the village trees will be
taken back to their original location. Another piece of good news is
that the project has supplied the site with guards to protect the
excavations from treasure-seekers or entrepreneurial construction firms
looking for solid building materials.

As a result of the archaeologists’ efforts, now the surviving parts of
the fortress walls are clearly visible, with their gates and towers, as
are the remains of the thermal baths, consisting of various structures
and pools, and the walls and columns of the ancient city’s internal
buildings. Archaeologists studied the Roman and early Byzantine
existence of the city, discovering dozens of traces of daily life –
mainly in the shape of ceramic pieces and coins.

If you can’t figure out what’s what, the new information centre at the
site is staffed by people who can take you around on a tour of the
ruins, tell you more about their history and the discoveries.

A Roman cellar and [letter] ‘A’ fragment of Roman glass at 20 Fenchurch Street

There’s a report on Roman finds in London on the My Museum of London blog. Here is the beginning:Museum of London Archaeology Service excavations at 20 Fenchurch Street, London have uncovered a late Roman masonry cellar.

A team of c. 20 MoLAS archaeologists were carrying out the excavations as part of a massive and complex redevelopment programme on behalf of Land Securities.
The first phase of work lasted 15 weeks; a second phase is anticipated
in the autumn, and a third phase will start in spring 2009.

Article on Roman type, carved and painted

The Typefoundry blog discusses examples of Roman lettering, including wall-writing from Pompeii. A taste of what the illustrated article offers:

There is room here to compare only the two letters A, and to note how
in the Pompeian example the right-hand stroke shows the angle of the
laying-on of the brush, a slight swelling of the line as it descends,
and a very slight curve too, and its rapid lifting away at the foot to
make a serif – and how closely the Epaphroditus letter catches this
dynamic calligraphic movement.

A useful exhibition for CLC teachers and students, in Madrid

Thanks to Wilf O’Neill for this:

Anyone teaching or studying CLC Book II will find the excellent ‘Egypt’s Sunken Treasures’ exhibition, now at the Matadero in Madrid until 28 September, informative and fascinating. Around 500 objects, mostly from Canopus and Heracleion, are well displayed and captioned in English.

The optional audio guide is (very!) informative and you will need to allow quite some time to listen to it all, especially if you accept all the invitations to “press the star key for more information about …”! (There is a version for children. but this is available only in Spanish. Be warned that the adult version is quite graphic when it comes to describing a group of fertility-related items.)

(The venue lies off the maps supplied by the tourist office but is quite easy to find: take the metro to Legazpi, and on leaving the station cross the road and go to the right. Huge posters advertise the event and point the way.)