What the Romans did for us

Can’t remember if I blogged this, from the BBC

Roads, obviously. Sanitation. But no great buildings from their
time in Britain. But the greatest legacy is how we use language to
persuade, says Lisa Jardine.

In a rapidly changing world, I am intrigued to find that the
ability to use Latin with confidence continues to provoke widespread
wonder and admiration.

Last week, at the opening of the exhibition on the Roman
Emperor Hadrian at the British Museum, the Mayor of London addressed
the assembled company in Latin, to general acclaim.

And what have the Romans ever given us in return?
The aqueduct?
Oh. Yeah, they did give us that. That’s true, yeah.
And the sanitation.
Yeah, the sanitation. Remember what the city used to be like?
I’ll grant you the aqueduct and sanitation, the two things the Romans have done.
And the roads.
Obviously the roads. The roads go without saying, don’t they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct and the roads…
Irrigation. Medicine. Education.
Yeah, yeah, all right, fair enough.
From The Life of Brian

Why, he asked the long-dead Emperor rhetorically, had he failed to
build in Britain a monument to match the Pantheon in Rome (whose
remarkable dome Hadrian is supposed to have designed)? Instead, the
Mayor continued, Hadrian’s architectural legacy to us is something as
humdrum as a wall.

Perhaps those who admire the Latin language are right. Heroic
buildings are, as Boris Johnson observed, one of the Roman Empire’s
great legacies. But more lasting and far-reaching even than these is
the influence of the Roman rhetorical tradition – an array of
instructions and strategies for using language to persuade.

Our legal system, public debating conventions, and even the way
contentious issues are argued over daily in newspapers and on
television, have all been shaped and defined by a method credited to
the great Roman orator Cicero, and reduced to a set of practical rules
in the Oratorical Institutes of the later pedagogic writer Quintilian.

At the heart of this system are techniques for arguing in
utramque partem – being able to take either side on any contentious
issue. The importance of “argument on both sides” derives from the
assumption that there are few debatable matters that can be settled
simply by mustering the facts for and against. More usually, opinions
on one side or the other of any argument are formed, and audiences
swayed, on the basis of astute manipulation of limited evidence, backed
up by an array of persuasive tactics, designed to construct a
convincing case.

Boris salutes campaigners dressed in togas

Boris Johnson is a passionate advocate of a classical education

Quintilian calls such arguments controversiae – from which we get
the word controversial. In the Roman law courts this leads to a method
of arguing forensically which is still known today as adversarial.

As these words suggest, arguing in utramque partem arouses
strong feelings on both sides. Anticipating and controlling strong
emotions is part of the training both Cicero and Quintilian advocate at
an advanced stage in the preparation of anyone whose career requires a
mastery of rhetoric in all its complexity.

As Cicero puts it, in his lastingly influential work On the
perfect orator (De Oratore): “The man who can hold forth on every
matter under debate in two contradictory ways of pleading, or can argue
for and against every proposition that can be laid down – such a man is
the true, the complete, and the only orator.”

So the great persuaders are those who can not only marshal the
evidence on behalf of any question, but can also organise that material
rhetorically, to present their case in the best possible light. And if
called upon to do so, they can also present the opposite side of the
argument just as convincingly. Except in cases of absolute certainty –
where truth and falsehood are clear and incontrovertible –, there is
likely to be at least one accomplished advocate on either side of the

For and against

Roman discussions of exemplary forms of public debate are
particularly relevant today. Our press and broadcast media currently
thrive on the lurid presentation of controversy, particularly in the
areas of science and medicine. Some of us are beginning to think that
the tradition of adversarial argument is being tested to the limit.

Read the rest
(there’s no more about the Romans – it’s global warming)

Latin undergoing a resurgence among students

‘Resquiescat in pace’ (rest in peace) no longer
seems an appropriate dismissal
Sunday, August 03, 2008

From Staten Island Advance

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Let’s go back in time to 753
B.C. to a newly founded city called Rome. Ovid and Virgil
have written some of the most highly regarded works of
literature and a massive empire is rising to power with its
language forming into one that would provide the basis for
the English and romance languages.

In recent years, Latin was thought to have fallen by the
wayside. As a hobby, it may be difficult to find
instruction, but academically the United States and New York
City schools are turning that thought upside down.

It has been said that students who are exposed to Latin
reap many benefits such as higher scores on the verbal
section of the SATs, better analytical skills, a larger
vocabulary and good foundation for other romance languages.
Dr. Ronnie Ancona, a professor for more than 20 years at
Hunter College, Manhattan, says the market for Latin is very
strong in the New York City area.

In addition to public schools offering Latin courses, brand
new institutions have been popping up. The Brooklyn Latin
School opened just two years ago, and is the only public
school to mandate four years of Latin, according to teacher
and former student of Dr. Ancona’s, Jonathan Yee.

Besides the usual classroom instruction, the school employs
a Latin nomenclature. The discupli (students) must address
all teachers as magister or magistra. Students ask for
atrium passes (hall passes) and to use the latrina (the
bathroom). “Oral Latin is very alive at our
school,” Yee said in an e-mail.


In a report released by the American Classical
League/National Junior Classical League National Latin Exam,
in 2008 more than 150,000 students applied to take the 31st
National Latin Exam, a number that has increased steadily
since its inception in 1977.

Specifically, New York is second in the list of states with
the greatest number (10,913) of students taking the 2008
exams. Massachusetts is first, with 12,214 students taking
the exams.

The increasing number of Latin students, therefore, creates
a greater demand for certified teachers. Dr. Ancona teaches
Latin for Hunter College’s master’s program in
Classics. Upon completion, students receive the degree and
New York certification to teach Latin.

Dr. Ancona recalled that since being hired in 1985 by the
college, the number of students in the program has
increased. She regularly receives e-mails from educators
seeking Latin teachers, and her students usually get
snatched up very quickly, sometimes even before they

Two of her students recently accepted jobs at the new
Williamsburg Charter High School in Brooklyn, which opened
its doors in 2004. The school requires three years of a
foreign language and offers Latin and Italian.

Locally, Latin instruction is hard to come by in Staten
Island’s schools. However, on the college level, The
City University of New York has the largest Classics
department. The program is located in Hunter College with
eight full-time professors and a slew of adjunct professors.
Classes are also offered at Brooklyn College.

New York University also houses a Classics department,
offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees in areas
such as Latin and Greek, classical civilization and classic
fine art.

Results of a 2006 survey released by the Modern Language
Association show that foreign-language study at U.S.
colleges and universities has increased significantly.
Overall, language enrollments rose 13 percent since 2002. On
the list of the most popular languages on college campuses,
Latin ranked No. 8, with a 7.9 percent increase since 2002.
That is faster than the overall 6.2 percent increase in the
number of college students during that period. Dr. Ancona
said her most recent class was the biggest yet, with 20

Sherwin Little, the president of the American Classical
League at Indian High School in Cincinnati believes that the
new enrollment survey to be released in the fall will show
Latin closing in on German, the third most commonly taught
language after Spanish and French.

Interested in learning Latin? Don’t expect to find
lessons too easily. Berlitz, a worldwide language training
provider, offers instruction in more than 50 languages, does
not have a program for Latin. Clarel Roy, a representative
from the Rockefeller Center location says Latin is
“considered exotic,” due to the lack of people
looking for instruction, but if someone does want to learn
the language, Berlitz will assist in finding an instructor.

If anyone is looking for a lesson, Dr. Ancona jokingly
added that her students are always looking for tutoring

TES revamping their site

The TES site is apparently all new and all dancing. It looks clean and bright, and you can still get to the bits you need, so that is welcome.

Incidentally, I searched for Latin resources there, and found none. Since there are several other places for sharing resources (including http://www.arlt.co.uk) that is probably a good thing. Having just two or three places to look is more convenient for the busy teacher.

But the forums on TES are often good fun.