The Association for Latin Teaching

respice prospice

ARLT Summer School  1970

held at Radbrook College, Shrewsbury

Directed by Mr J.R.C. Richards

The writer of this review has attended three A.R.L.T. Summer Schools, at Edinburgh 1938, at Htchen in 1946 and this year at Shrewsbury.  He might , therefore, have expected to find great and, perhaps, disturbing changes after so many years.  Yet he might well say, and in no derogatory sense, “Plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose”.  For Latin is still the same, it is still a language, whose literature can be fully appreciated only by those who have learnt the language; and Latin, this great immutable, is still the central concern of the Association and its summer schools.

Because of this, the main and regular features of the summer school were, as ever, the daily demonstrations of the teaching, by the Oral Method, of the Latin language, the reading classes with the emphasis on the correct pronunciation of Latin, and the circuli, in which we spoke Latin, or at least discussed the teaching of Latin.  We were all concerned with the Latin language.

Mr Brookin, late of the Priory School, demonstrated the Oral Method with a class of beginners, boys who had completed their first year at school and will be starting Latin next term (September 1970).  In five lessons he introduced the verb endings of the present indicative of the four regular conjugations and the case endings of the first and second declensions.  In order to demonstrate the method he covered considerably more ground in the time than  would be normal in school.  Indeed there were signs towards the end of the week that a good deal of consolidation would be necessary on points already introduced.

Once more one was struck by the suitability and attractiveness of the method for normally intelligent boys (and girls?) of eleven to thirteen years of age; and there could be no doubt that Mr. Brookin and his class were enjoying their work, just as we enjoyed watching them at work.

In one of the circuli two criticisms of the Oral method were voiced.  It was suggested that concentration on the teaching and learning of the mechanics of the Latin language  to the almost complete exclusion of instruction about the Roman world might leave a boy or girl at the end of a four year course to O-level with little or no knowledge of the Romans, who spoke the language.  This criticism may have some validity, but the inclusion of a large amount of paralinguistic material in a four year course of four periods a week (five if one is lucky) may seriously retard progress in the language.

The second criticism, coming from a teacher of distinction, who herself uses the Oral method, was that the drills prescribed for the early stages may be perfectly acceptable to the boy of 11+ to 12+, but may seem rather childish to girls, who tend to be more grown up at these ages, and to both boys and girls who do not start Latin until the third or even fourth of the secondary school.  Adaptation to the more sophisticated fourteen yeard olds may be necessary.

Mr. Brookin also demonstrated with a part of his own form, who were about to enter on their third year of Latin.  They were introduced to final and consecutive clauses, while consolidating and revising their knowledge of principal parts of verbs and applying that knowledge to the formation of subjunctives.

The reading classes, like the demonstration lessons and the circuli, are an enduring feature of the Summer school.  Latin like other languages was spoken as well as written, and much of the literature of the Classical age which has survived was first read aloud.  The quality of that literature and our enjoyment of it may be diminished if we do not read it aloud correctly.  This is especially true of poetry.  Neglect a long vowel quantity or put the wrong stress on a word, and the subtle music of a line of Virgil may be lost.  In the reading classes at Shrewsbury, as at other summer schools, teachers were reminded of the importance of setting high standards or correctness in pronunciation.

Once again prose classes taken by Mr. Boyd and Mr. Melluish were a popular feature of the Summer school.  It is fashionable nowadays to decry the teaching of prose composition, and it is not proposed here to enter into a detailed discussion of the issue.  However, after having in the past seen Mr. Melluish with his own sixth form engaged in the communal activity of producing a version, and after having taken part in that activity as a member of his class at Shrewsbury one may venture to suggest that a good sixth form may find in prose composition an intellectual stimulus and a means of satisfying the creative instinct for which it may be difficult to find a substitute.

There must be comparatively few schools n these days where verse composition is still taught.  Yet, it is surely consistent with the tenets of an association which is primarily concerned with the Latin language that in its summer school there should be classes in verse composition, taken by Dr. Wilmott, who catered for the more expert, and by Mr. Richards, the director, who dealt with the elements.

The writer of this review and the others who attended the elementary classes were Mr. Richards’ very willing pupils as he showed us how to fashion the parts, and then build up the whole, of the elegiac couplet.  Mr. Richards treats verse composition as a craft whose rudiments, like those of other crafts, should be taught systematically.

The activities so far described might (wrongly in the writer’s opinion) be criticised as traditional and too linguistic; but the A.R.L.T., true to its title, does take account of new ideas and approaches.  In recent years one of the most important of these ideas has been the use in Sixth forms of literary criticism (or should it rather be called “literary appreciation”?) as a regular element in the study of Latin and Greek texts.  In three sessions we had the chance, under the leadership of Mrs. Dennis, of exercising our powers of criticism on passages from Aestimanda: Horace Odes I.37, two poems of Martial, and Tacitus’ description of The murder of Aggripina in the 14th book of the Annals.  These were lively sessions, and it is a tribute to the quality of the passages selected and the infectious enthusiasm of Mrs. Dennis that we could find so much rich complexity and so many contrapuntal overtones in the texts.  Such exercises are valuable in so far as they stimulate our own and our pupils’ understanding of what we read.  But criticism is not an end in itself but only a means to an end - a more sensitive and more informed enjoyment of the whole as a whole.  Mrs Dennis recognised this when she insisted that criticism should end with a reading of the complete passage.

Literary criticism in Sixth form studies is something of a new thing, or at any rate the elevation of it into a formal exercise is new.  New too is the University of Cambridge School Classics Project.  This experiment in a method of teaching latin, which concentrates on the acquisition of a reading knoledge of Latin, is now at a critical stage, the bridge between synthetic Latin and unadapted Latin literature.  It was therefore interesting to hear from Mr. Heller of Manchester Grammar School a realistic and up to date account of the progress of the experiment.  It appears that the transition from synthetic material to unadapted texts may have been too rapid, and some of the latest stages of the project contain passages of discouraging difficulty.  It is to be hoped that when the material is revised for general publication the gradient of increasing difficulty will have been eased.

The Cambridge project method and material are intended for use in schools and courses of fairly conventional length - at least three years with a timetable allowance of something like four or more periods a week - are envisaged.  What then of older students who may wish or may need to learn Latin in a very short space of time, starting from scratch?  In a lecture entitles “The structural approach” Mr. Randall of the University of Lancaster said he thought that the spread of non-linguistic Classical studies in Latin-less schools might lead to an increase in such a demand, and he spoke to us of an experimental course he is developing to meet a situation of this kind.  The experiment makes use of recent linguistic research in America and we were impressed as Mr. Randall told us something of this research and introduced us to the strange world of phonemes, morphology, metaphrasing, embedded meanings and half kernels.  By way of practical illustration Mr. Randall distributed copies of an example of metaphrasing, in which the Horatian line “Grata subveniet quae non sperabitur hora” was subjected to a process that seemed very like the old fashioned construe - “Plus ca change ….?”  If Robert Burns had listened to Mr. Andison talking on “The sound of Latin” he might well have misquoted himself with the words:  

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To hear ourselves as ithers hear us.

With tape recordings Mr Andison showed us how different Latin can sound from the lips of, say, a Frenchman or a Spaniard, different from the English sound and different from one another.  Scholarship has with reasonable certainty established rules for the pronunciation of Latin; but even if he observes those rules the individual will still give to his Latin utterances certain subtle rhythmic patterns and cadences that derive from his native language and are for that reason particularly acceptable to his fellow countrymen.  Mr. Andison played a recording of an Englishman reading a well-known passage from the Aeneid and showing an ignorance of the rules of stress accent and the finer points of pronunciation that must have jarred on the ears of the purists.  Yet some of us perhaps found his performance engaging and satisfying.  For not only did he read with sensitivity and understanding, but he was palpably English, and to an English ear that was right.

This is just a sample of an attractive presentation of aural material, which Mr. Andison illuminated by shrewd and humorous comment, poking fun even at his own difficulties in dealing with modern technological aids like tape recorders.

Modern Technology had brought Professor Huxley to us from British Columbia by jet aeroplane, but had left him with the form of exhaustion which affects some who travel far and fast by air.  From this he had not fully recovered when he arrived at Shrewsbury, and, as if this were not enough, the text of his paper, sent on in advance, had not yet caught up with him.  In spite of all this Professor Huxley gave us a delightful exhibition of humane scholarship in his examination of Ovid’s attitude to love and his relations with women.  He entertained us with examples of Ovid’s wit, and made some amusing and percipient comments of his own on modern as well as ancient attitudes and fashions.  For good measure he followed up his lecture with two seminars on passages from Heroides XIV, which were well attended and much appreciated.

As is appropriate, Latin, the language and the literature, claimed most of our time at Shrewsbury, but the Greek world was not forgotten.

In an evening lecture which had something of the appeal of the detective story Dr. Killen told us of recent developments in Linear B showing how the breaking of the code did not put an end to the topic, but opened up fresh vistas in social and economic history.  His slides showed successful and unsuccessful attempts to join scattered fragments and derive meanings.

In four sessions Mr. Dale took us through the Bacchae.  Although he drew our attention from time to time to dramatic effect, and commented here and there on the metrical pattern of choral passages, he preferred on the whole to let the text speak for itself, recapturing, as it were,  for himself and his audience the enjoyment of contemplating with them a masterpiece with which he and they were both familiar.

Traditional features of the programme of the Summer school are visits to Romano-British sites, and from Shrewsbury there were afternoon excursions to Chester and to Wroxeter (Viroconium).  Both were well patronised, and at Viroconium members were fortunate iin having as their guides first Dr. Graham Webster and then Mr. Philip Barker.

On another afternoon members had the privilege of visiting the library of Shrewsbury School (surely a bibliophile’s delight!) and being shown some of its treasures, early illuminated texts and first editions by Mr. James Lawson, who left nothing undone to enable his guests to derive as much profit as possible from the visit.

No A.R.L.T. Summer School  would be complete without its entertainments, a Latin debate and jollifications on the last night.

The debate, held this year on the Sunday evening, was on the proposition:

“Ut semper posthac, quandocumque societatis nostrae novus eligitur praeses, tribus ex annis, uni saltem anno praeses feminini generis sit.  Nec aliter imperium mulieribus in civitate nostra administranda dandum censemus”.  

Miss Pope opened for the proposition, and defending the feminist cause in polished Latin compared the struggle of women for their rights with the struggle of the plebeians against the patricians.  She also drew attention to modern labour saving devices (such as “latices detergentes ac textilia stillando siccata - “) which gave women much more time for political activities.  Mr. Griffiths, opening for the opposition, made the admission “neque auctoritate neque pulchritudine sum vobis comparandus”,  seemed to be suffering from an anti feminist phobia (“timeo feminas et oscula dantes”) and said he sought nothing save peace.  The seconder of the proposition seemed to have found the appointment of a Headmaster for Roedean deeply traumatic.  Mr. Melluish was witty but ambivalent.  Mr. Dale spoke darkly of half kernels (in Latin of course!) and another speaker saw in the second part of the proposition a threat to the position of Teddus Ericaeus.  Mr. Copping, as praeses, controlled the proceedings with firmness and gravitas - altogether an enjoyable evening with the voting going in favour of the proposition, a decision accepted by the praeses, who brushed aside an appeal from one member for a “renumeratio”.

          Enjoyable too were the entertainments on the last night.  A spirited performance of “Pyramus and Thisbe” (from “Principia”) by the boys from Mr. Dunn’s form at the Priory School was followed by community singing (including Cockles and Mussels”) in Latin, an anthology delivered as a dialogue between Mr. Melluish and Mr. Copping on the theme of the Schoolboy through the ages, and a presentation by members of the Summer school, directed by Dr. Wilmott, of Dr. Wilmott’s adaptation of Terence’s Andria.

Radbrook College and its hostels, one and two story buildings in the modern style standing in spacious grounds, made a pleasant setting for the Summer school, and our physical comforts were exceptionally well catered for by the willing and friendly domestic staff.  For their hard work in ensuring the smooth running of the whole course our special thanks are due to our Hon. Secretary Miss Wood, and our Director Mr. Richards.

It was a week of happy activity inspired by the vitalising influence of a common interest in a noble language.


(Radbrook College trained girls in catering, dairy and home economics. The campus is now part of Shrewsbury College)