Tom teaches his son Latin

A great unsolicited testimonial to the Cambridge Latin Course:

I ordered Book One. It cost about a tenner. I sat down at the kitchen table with it. Here was a totally different world to the dry rote learning of Kennedy’s Latin Primer that I remember from school. The thing is absolute genius. I was speaking Latin after two pages. The language lessons are interspersed with fascinating stories about everyday life in Pompeii, chronicling the doings of beautiful slave girls, naughty dogs, avaricious merchants, skilful painters and drunken cooks.

Pity he doesn’t know about the revival of Latin in state schools….

From the Daily Telegraph

Tom Hodgkinson and son discover how to intersperse loafing with Latin

One of the many sad developments in education lately has been the death of Latin in state schools. Instead of being taught the classics, children today are educated in severely practical matters such as media studies, PowerPoint presentations and advertising. Employers no longer offer apprenticeships: they expect schools and universities to deliver their sales force, marketing people and phone handlers fully tooled up in the latest software.

I regret my own lack of Latin.  I gave up at O-level, but wish I’d done A-level and then classics at
university. I did English, but why do you need to go to university to read books? As the late Jeffrey Bernard once said to me: “Why can’t you read Pride and Prejudice in the ——- kitchen?”

I decided I would learn Latin and teach it to Arthur at the same time. In the kitchen. I had many reasons for this. First, if I am to continue to have my kids educated by the state – about which I have reservations, as I think the state is quite moronic – then they are never going to have Latin lessons, as they would at a private school. Under my expert tutelage, though, my children will become brilliant Latin scholars and therefore will have the pick of the universities. That means I save on school fees. Meaning less work. Meaning more time for loafing.

Latin, of course, is the basis of many languages, so a good foundation in it will help with French and Spanish. Another motivation was simply the pleasure in itself. Latin is something you learn almost for learning’s sake. It is perceived as useless. Teaching Arthur while learning myself would also be a way of finding out whether I was actually capable of doing a bit of home education.

I also want to be able to understand Latin quotations in books I am reading and maybe one day read Latin poetry and drama in the original. A further thought was to write Latin epigrams, have them carved in stone and leave them lying around in the vegetable patch.

How to start? As luck would have it, I had recently been invited by a Latin teacher at the Royal Grammar School in Guildford to talk to his students about the pleasures of idling. I asked him for some guidance and he recommended something called the Cambridge Latin Course. He also translated my first epigram for me: In Terra Libertatem Quaerimus, meaning, “We Seek Freedom in the Earth.”

I ordered Book One. It cost about a tenner. I sat down at the kitchen table with it. Here was a
totally different world to the dry rote learning of Kennedy’s Latin Primer that I remember from school. The thing is absolute genius. I was speaking Latin after two pages. The language lessons are interspersed with fascinating stories about everyday life in Pompeii, chronicling  the doings of beautiful slave girls, naughty dogs, avaricious merchants, skilful painters and drunken cooks.

Luckily Arthur, aged eight, agreed and thought it was great fun too. So now I  read a few pages and then go through them with Arthur. I have also followed William Cobbett’s advice on teaching children. He writes that he simply left good books on the kitchen table for his son to find and read for himself, reasoning that one tends to learn much more quickly when the learning is undertaken voluntarily rather than being forced by authority.

Miraculously, this seemed to work and I actually had to drag Arthur away from the book because it was time for bed. “I just couldn’t leave it alone,” he said. The course also offers a host of back-up material online, which is another seduction for computer-friendly children. So may I convey to the creators of this marvellous work my deepest gratitude. Plato said that learning should be play and the Cambridge Latin Course really is fun. And if Latin is this much fun, imagine the larks we’ll have when we start learning Greek…

  • Tom Hodgkinson is editor of The Idler.
  • What head should go on a Roman statue?

    Interesting account of the Getty’s debate about what to to with a headless Roman statue.

    From the Los Angeles Times.

    Here’s the opening:

    the 2nd century sculpture appear as Bacchus, or perhaps Alexander the
    Great? Art historians and museum officials ponder a work’s future
    By Sean Mitchell, Special to The Times

    August 10, 2008

    On a recent sunny Saturday, while most Southern Californians were
    deployed somewhere enjoying a weekend hiatus, 20 art historians,
    conservators and museum officials shifted in their chairs around a
    long, U-shaped table in an air-conditioned conference room at the Getty
    Villa in Malibu, theorizing, listening and pondering out loud whose
    head to put on a headless 1,800-year-old Roman statue.

    The result of their scholarly exchanges and deliberations would
    determine whether the future identity of the monumental white marble
    semi-nude, 2nd century male being reassembled in the Getty’s workshop
    would be the Roman god Bacchus or the real-life boy lover of the
    Emperor Hadrian, known as Antinuous, or the Greek conqueror Alexander
    the Great.

    Imagine such a group in future millenniums trying to decide
    whether a headless torso dating from 20th century America was
    originally a likeness of Elvis Presley, Truman Capote or Dwight D.

    Read the rest

    National Geographic on Iron Age man discovery

    A nice photo of the ‘unique metal lattice’ found on an Iron Age warrior in June at the site of a new housing development in North Bersted.

    The National Geographic report is here.

    Fully preserved Thracian chariot discovered near Elhovo

    From the Sofia Echo – the site has an excellent photo

    A team led by archaeologist Daniela Agre
    of Bulgaria’s National Institute of Archaeology unearthed an ancient
    four–wheel chariot near the Borissovo village in the Elhovo region,
    dating back from the first half of the second century ACE, Focus news
    agency reported.

    Along with the 1900-year-old chariot, in the funeral mound the team
    discovered shields, richly adorned in bronze, as well as table pottery
    and glass vessels. The finds led Agre to believe that she had come
    across the funeral of a wealthy Thracian aristocrat.

    The chariot was fully preserved, which, the archaeologist said, was
    a rare circumstance and it was the first such case in Bulgaria.

    Agre’s team also found the skeletons of two riding horses and some
    leather objects placed next to them, believed to be horse harnesses.
    The archaeologist suspected the horses have been sacrificed for the
    burial ceremony.

    Agre has explained that the discovery could be traced back to the
    rule of Roman emperor Trajan (from 98 to 117 ACE), when Thrace was a
    Roman province. Thracian aristocrats, however, displayed loyalty by
    serving in the Roman army, and were able to preserve their privileges
    of nobility.

    Cirencester – large site unearthed

    From the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard of 30th July – link in Rogue Classicism. The website has a small picture

    By Emma Tilley and Andy Woolfoot »

    A HUGE early Roman settlement unearthed in Cirencester is the most
    significant historical discovery ever made in the town, archaeologists
    said this week.

    The encampment which covers several hectares, dates back to the
    late-Iron Age in the 1st century ad, and was likely to have been
    occupied by the first Roman settlers in Cirencester.

    Alongside the exciting discovery at the Kingshill development on
    the A417, Oxford Archaeologists unearthed a Bronze Age burial mound
    dating back to 2,000 bc containing a skeleton.

    County archaeologist Charles Parry said when the proposal to build
    270 houses and a shop on the land came up his team recommended an
    excavation to retrieve the town’s lost past.

    “It is one of the most significant and interesting sites discovered
    in Cirencester. We knew that there was important archaeology there as
    it is very close to the major road system of the Roman town of
    Cirencester,” he said.

    “There are known to be a scatter of such farmsteads across the
    Cotswold landscape but what is remarkable is the size of the settlement
    as it is quite large and the activity on it was unusual.”

    The settlement enclosure contains lots of pits probably used for grain storage.

    Archaeologists are now trying to find out if the settlement dates back to just before or after the Roman conquest.

    Senior project manager at Oxford Archaeology, Ken Welsh said the
    team of 15 have found evidence suggesting there were round houses there
    and textile making took place.

    So far they have found some loom weights made of stone and pottery and a weaving comb.

    Mr Parry said: “This is one of the largest excavations in
    Cirencester as it covers several hectares. It seems to have been a
    settlement which went through various changes over time which is

    The prehistoric round barrow burial mound found near to the
    settlement contained a central pit where what is thought to be a male
    skeleton was found buried with a pottery vessel known as a beaker from
    the late-Neolithic and early Bronze Age.

    An array of prehistoric material has been found at the site
    including flint from various tools, polished stone axes and tools made
    from bone and antlers as well as highly decorated pottery.

    Mr Welsh, said: “It may have been an area people came back to again
    and again and perhaps these materials were placed as some type of

    Oxford Archaeologists are hoping their painstaking research will
    unearth the history of who may have once lived or worked in the area.

    The team, who finish their dig commissioned by Robert Hitchens and
    Redrow housebuilders tomorrow (Fri), will review all of the finds which
    will eventually go to Cirencester’s Corinium Museum.