The Association for Latin Teaching

respice prospice

Newsletter 11: January 2004

Dear Fellow Classicist,

Here's a thought for the darkest days of the year. When the latest government 'improvements' in education are driving you insane (I refer to the UK government; no doubt in other countries all is peace and love), or Year 9 are being more than usually rebellious, and you say to yourself "Roll on retirement", just stop a moment and think what that retirement will really be like. All the voluntary organisations in your area will take one look at you, think: "Hey! Here's someone who must have a few grey cells - after all, they've been a teacher." They prowl around you for a few months, and then pounce. Before you can say "Peace at last", you find yourself Secretary of this or Chairperson of that. All right, I'll come clean. I'm feeling under pressure. My son commented today, seeing me go from one meeting to rush to print some leaflets, and then to attend another meeting, and then yet another, "It's just the same as when you were working." So perhaps you can comfort yourself with the fact that you have a timetable laid out for you, teaching periods of a set length to get through, and those lovely holidays!

Right. Got that out of my system. And yes, I confess it, I'm working on things I enjoy: acting as secretary for the local civic society, which involves meeting some interesting people, devising films and PowerPoint presentations, representing the society on a local authority conservation panel; and trying to help the church in my town, writing publicity pieces for the local press, helping organise exhibitions, concerts and a festival, and doing a bit of music. Not to mention the internet: trying to keep a couple of classical sites, a church site and two family sites up to date and interesting. And gathering stuff together to share with you, my dear friend, this January. I enjoy it all. No, really. And I hope that you will find (are finding?) retirement just as full and satisfying.

(Get on with it, David. Stop drivelling on about yourself and tell us something classical!) All right. Here goes. First, a load of web sites to look at.


Make use of the Hellenic Society


If you are, as I hope you are, a member of JACT, you will have seen on pp 27-32 of the new Journal of Classics Teaching a piece by Russell Shone about the Hellenic Society. The Society has lots of useful and entertaining stuff about Greek and the Greeks on line. They will also give you money. Visit From the side menu, click on Support for Schools, and also on Grants.


Worth a look - or even a trip to Switzerland in 2004


There's a good little video on It's about an exhibition of late Roman silver in Basel, billed as the 'largest ever Late Roman treasure collection on display in Basel.' Pupils might well enjoy watching this, because the treasure was found in a school playing field, and apparently some of the pupils picked up bits of silver turned up by a tractor - and a teacher told one pupil to throw the stuff away! On the site I read: "Some 1,800 years ago, 20,000 people lived at Augusta Raurica, where you can still find the best-preserved antique theatre north of the Alps, a replica Roman House, and the Roman animal park. The treasures exhibition in the museum runs until January 31, 2005. It is attracting large crowds at a time when the museum is generally quiet."


Show your pupils what some Romans really looked like


The compilers of this web site say, engagingly, "It is a completely virtual museum, with scans from various sources. It thus took a lot of enthusiasm, but no budget to set this museum up." Go to for the Roman coin gallery. It offers very good pictures. What did Sulla, Pompey, Brutus, Sextus Pompeius look like? It's all here. Someone commented: 'You'd have to pay vast sums to get such good big pictures in colour.' I've checked out many of the pages, and the standard is very high. As they say: 'This museum features a portrait gallery of Roman emperors and their families from the late Roman republic to the end of the western Roman Empire, both on coins and sculpture. Pieces of art in marble and metal. In addition you will find historically interesting coins; countermarks on Roman coins; legionary stamps on Roman bricks; Roman military diploma; Roman military equipment; officials, provinces, buildings, animals, gods & mintmarks on Roman coins.'


Make the most of the Athens Olympics


At last the media are on our side. As if Harry Potter and his Latin spells, and lots of classical films coming out of Hollywood weren't enough, now we have the Olympics back in their home country. If you're looking for a big site on the Olympics, you could try There you can find notes on each event, anecdotes about Milo the wrestler, Kallipateira the woman (shock horror!) at the Games, and more. You can take a virtual tour of the Temple of Zeus - but sans Pheidias statue, so what's the thrill? You can visit other sites. There's also a pointless slide show of touristy shots of modern Greece. But lots that is on the point.

Now for something practical. The following email came from Brian Bishop - one the actors, incidentally, in the Cambridge Latin Course filming last year:


Develop a pen-friendship in Latin


I have just received this letter in Latin asking for letters in Latin to be sent to a school in the Congo. The author of this letter, a teacher himself, has already been overwhelmed with letters from the youngsters and asks for young Latin-writers between the ages of fifteen and twenty to contact him. This is a unique opportunity for learning what life is like in deepest Africa from the people, untrammelled by official propaganda, for being able to make practical use of the language in a non-school informal situation, and for giving encouragement in an area where encouragement is even lower than with us.

Epistulas Latinas imam in Africam mittere iuvat!

Quisquis de Re Publica Democratica Congolensi cogitat, revocat sibi in mentem imprimis bella interna infinita, crudelitates immensas, genocidia, miseriam non excogitabilem. Sed mediis in his rebus atrocibus Latinitatem vivam florere quis credat? Attamen floret! Collegium Alfajiri est schola superioris gradus, quae olim a patribus Iesuitis Belgis condita est in urbe Bukavu, quae in regione Congolensi orientali iuxta fines Ruandenses sita est. Hac in schola iam e multis annis Evrardus Kwigomba discipulos discipulasque indigenas linguam Latinam docet. Cum amicus Latinitatis vivae sit sedulus, etiam interdum cum discipulis suis Latine loquitur. Qua re ei maximopere gaudent. Nuper Evrardus e me quaesivit, num fieri posset, ut discipuli eius cum meis commercium epistularum Latinum haberent. Septimana proiectoria, quae dicitur, nonnullis meorum epistulas a discipulis Africanis scriptas proposui atque ab eis petivi, ut epistulas legerent atque collegis Congolensibus responderent. Hoc libentissime fecerunt. Sed interea tot epistulae Congolenses ad me allatae sunt, ut non iam satis discipuli Latine scribendi cupidi mihi sint. Itaque a vobis, o lectrices lectoresque maxime honorabiles, auxilium imploro. Si ipsi iuvenes inter quindecim et viginti annos nati estis vel si vobis magistris discipuli euisdem aetatis sunt, me adite, quaeso, ut vobis inscriptiones discipulorum Congolensium dare possim. Epistulas imam in Africam mittere et ima ex Africa accipere valde iuvat! Bene cognosci poterit, quo modo homines ibi vivant, quae sint differentiae inter vitam eorum et nostram et quae condiciones sint similes.

Si quis commercium epistulare Latinum Africanum participare voluerit, scribat vel telephonet mihi: Martin(us) Meier-Schnüriger, Etzelwerkstrasse 5, 8852 Altendorf; numerus telephonicus idemque telecopialis: 055 442 91 86; inscriptio electronica:

Cura, ut valeas!



Osama bin Laden on the Romans - yes, really!


Jihad is the path, so seek it. If we seek to deter them with any means other than Islam, we would be like our forefathers, the Ghassanids [Arab tribes living under the Byzantine empire]. Their leaders' concern was to be appointed kings and officers for the Romans in order to safeguard the interests of the Romans by killing their brothers, the peninsula's Arabs. - Osama bin Laden January tape


How much Latin do crossword addicts know?


Half a century ago, I think that a Guardian crossword compiler would have felt safe in assuming that small Latin references were acceptable. Though, even then, he or she would have been less comfortable using Greek ones.

Today, given the way British secondary and higher education has gone since, it would obviously be asking for trouble to write a clue demanding knowledge of Latin or Greek. There are, of course, Latin words and phrases that have passed into English, which are, therefore, acceptable at least pro tem, though they should obviously not be used ad lib.

But I think that, even if a compiler were moved for any reason to declare his or her love for a table, the blue pencil would go straight through amo mensam. A clue I once saw, based on the idea that virgo intacta was a Latin pin-up girl, would also clearly now be out. (I think, though, that the classic clue "I am Latin in total (3) = sum" would still be allowed.) Greek, however, is today a non-starter, even though Guardian cryptic crosswords are clearly not intended for the hoi polloi.

If changes in standard school curriculums (or curricula) explain why Latin and Greek have largely gone from crosswords, the same does not seem to be the case for classical mythology. The comings and goings of quite minor Greek and Roman deities still feature cryptically long after most Guardian readers can ever have been taught about them at school. No one seems to get upset, which is a bit odd.

- Guardian online crossword subscribers' newsletter, Jan 2004


Latin is alive...


The Economist ran a piece under this title, which is no longer available on the net, so I reproduce most of it for you. I'd commend particularly the paragraphs on the clarity of Latin and why Sir Isaac Newton wrote in it, and, for entertainment, the final paragraphs on Reginald Foster in the Vatican.

So you thought that irksome language was dead?

TO SCARY music, a furtive Jewish nationalist of the first century paints on a wall the words Romanes Eunt Domus. A centurion enters:

Centurion: What\'s this, then? ? 'People called Romanes they go the house?'

Nationalist: It—it says, 'Romans, go home'.

Centurion: No, it doesn't. 'Go home'? This is motion towards. Isn't it, boy?

Nationalist (being savagely beaten): Ah. Ah, dative, sir! Ahh! No, not dative! Not the dative, sir! No! Ah! Oh, the...accusative! Domum, sir! Ah! Oooh! Ah!

Centurion: Except that takes the...?

Nationalist: The locative, sir!

The scene, from "Monty Python's Life of Brian", marked the apotheosis of Latin in film—until last March. At that point Mel Gibson, star-turned-director, announced that his new film "The Passion", about the last hours of Christ, would be made entirely in Latin and Aramaic. At first, the hero of "Thunderdome" and "Lethal Weapon" did not even want subtitles. When he realised that audiences needed to know, just roughly, what the characters were saying, he reluctantly backed down.

The milites1 in their caligae2 are now being coached in barrack-room conjugations by Father William Fulco, a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. They are taking to it quickly, he says; sometimes too quickly, with a steep slide into Italian-waiter accents. Italian is in fact his rough guide for pronunciation of first-century Latin, about which there is much debate. Subtitles will still be waived for soldier-talk, which Father Fulco has derived from graffiti found in Roman camps. You could argue, as he does, that Greek would often be more appropriate, and that the conscripted troops in Judea spoke little Latin. But, as the language of an oppressive superpower, Latin can't be beat.

As for Mr Gibson, he positively brags about making a film "in two dead languages". Not dead enough, some may think, remembering tear-stained sessions with Sallust and those cloth-bound small books, blotted with blue ink, in which scouts were forever crossing rivers and winter camps being struck. No wonder the world has galloped so gratefully to English, which has little use for genders or gerunds and never, if it will have been able to help it, employs the future perfect.

Yet hold on a minute (festina lente, as Caesar would have said, while gripping some hapless Gaul by the neck). Latin has a surprising number of advocates in the modern world. And these are not merely classicists or arty types entranced by the glories of Virgil, the cockiness of Catullus or the breathtaking fall of the rhythms and words of Horace. They are people who believe Latin has a future, as well as a past.

Totium orbium lingua3

Latin was, after all, the original world language—and not just up to the moment the Vandals carbonised Rome, but long afterwards. In early 16th-century Europe rulers and ambassadors still corresponded in Latin, forming thereby a common cultural web that brought Europe closer together than at any time since. Ordinary people, too, still used Latin as the warp and weft of their prayers, and carried Latin primers round with them. Despite the inexorable advance of the vernacular, Latin was alive and routine among the literate.

Deep into the next two centuries, too, it remained the preferred language of philosophy and science. This was not just because it crossed borders, but because it kept an antique purity. While mongrel English found its words encumbered with changing meanings, Latin preserved a precision that scientists increasingly needed. The deeper Isaac Newton went into formulations of physical laws, the more he wrote his notes in Latin, the closest approach in words to the utter directness of mathematical symbols.

Modern-day champions of Latin make a special point of both these qualities: universality and purity. No matter that Latin, in the last decades of its heyday, was as dog-eared and scatty as any other well-used language, and that the Latin of the street (or, for that matter, the walls) often ignored the rules. This is still a language of striking conciseness and clarity, with the added bonus of a sort of timeless abstraction. To read a news story in Latin is to set it sub specie aeternitatis4 indeed, its importance or triteness brightly exposed by the translucence of the words.

Small wonder then, that some people still prefer their news in Latin, and that the centre of Latin news broadcasting nowadays should be Finland, a country of translucent birches, lakes and blondes, and with a language the opposite of universal. ... People in more than 50 countries, from East Timor to Uruguay, are tuning in, sending Latin letters of appreciation and begging for ancient Greek.

For these listeners, "Nuntii Latini" is not only a lifeline but a repository of proper usage. Pace the French Academy, no language is more closely guarded or monitored than a supposedly dead one. Each expert believes himself privy to the real sound and oratorical shape of the Latin Cicero spoke, perhaps forgetting that the pronunciation of even 15th-century English still divides the scholars. Latin websites—dozens of them, at the last count, including ("Where Latin teachers meet in cyberspace")—feature loving translations of Dr Seuss's "Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit"6 and show the most tender care for third-declension loan-words. One-upmanship, too, goes with the territory. Ever since last July, when a bit of scatological Latin strayed into the pages of Private Eye, a British satirical magazine, delighted letters have poured in about the applicability of the genders of nauta (sailor, masculine, feminine form) and bollocae (guess).

If Latin, spoken or written, is ever to catch on again, perhaps it needs justifying. Among the XVIII slightly desperate reasons for learning Latin to be found on, the most attractive is "Explain the passive periphrastic to your significant other," and the most topical, "Learn to conquer the world and claim it was self-defence." Or perhaps, discarding justification, the language just needs modernising. Henry Beard's handy little tome, Latin for All Occasions\", is designed to recycle old Latin tags for the present time. (Eg, rara avis: There is no car hire available7.) Many have pointed out that "Been there, done that", was originally coined by Caesar when he proclaimed Veni, vidi, vici8, though he did not wear the T-shirt. ...

In Vaticano claritas9

Purists, of course, abhor the very thought of simplifying, and nowhere more fiercely than in that last redoubt of living Latin, the Vatican. All official papal documents are redacted in Latin. The language, naturally, cannot easily express modern concepts and things: for popes, that is part of its charm. But in Rome the challenge is not to chop and squeeze the language into new shapes, but to translate modern words into the full, but precise, complexity that Latin requires. Every Thursday, a five-man team meets to argue it out. And it is somehow heartening to discover, as supposedly serious people wage the war on terror or struggle to mend the world economy, that some others spend their working hours deciding that the Latin for "hot dog" should be pastillum botello fartum10. (Which encyclical was that again?)

The result of their labours is the new "Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis". At £70 ($116) for 700 pages, and with Italian, rather than English, as its second language, this is not a volume for the ordinary bedside table. Nor do the Latinised phrases always trip off the tongue. Universalis destructionis armamenta is thunderingly good for "weapons of mass destruction", and even harder to lose in the sand-drifts of Iraq; conformitatis osor, a hater of conformity, is a nice turn for "hippie", while benzini aerisque migma, for carburettor, gives the magic impression that air mixed with benzene might make you fly. But tempus maximae frequentiae is far too elegant for "rush hour", while iazensis musica (jazz) bears in that "z" the whiff of falsehood.

Latin's greatest virtue, its conciseness, is too often betrayed by stretching it instead. Thus vesticula balnearis Bikiniana (a little bathing garment from Bikini) becomes sadly unskimpy, and sonorarum visualiumque taeniarum cistellula (a little box of ribbons of sounds and sights) does over-fussy duty for a videocassette. Other words are instantly fossilised when Latinised. Crisps are globuli solaniani, "circular forms of a plant of the deadly nightshade family", or salty oblivion in a bag. A boy scout is puer explorator, surely a useful little slave with a sling and pebbles, rather than a lad in shorts with a penknife.

The front-man of the translating team also cuts a surprising figure. He is an American Carmelite priest, Reginald Foster, Latin's loudest advocate in the modern world. Bumptious, bespectacled, in overalls and from Milwaukee, he is so devoted to Latin that he greets visitors with "Ave!" and is renowned for speaking not just the classical version, but the Carolingian and the medieval, if asked. For more than 30 years—chalk in one hand, wineglass in the other—he has conducted a Latin summer school in Rome, holding many classes sub arboribus11 in the conversational style of the ancient world. His students have been seen in Pompeii, reading Pliny's letters aloud as they stroll the streets, and at the Fons Bandusia near Rome, pouring wine into the water while reciting Horace. Year by year his classes grow more popular, though you need to be well past amo12 and fundus13 to apply.

As Father Foster himself admits, shaping Latin to the modern world is not the way to save it. His massive dictionary is something of a game, when all is said, as are the tourist phrasebooks and the Finnish broadcasts. Latin\'s salvation—or, at least, the key to its preservation—lies in the glory of its literature, and in the eagerness of devotees to bring others to it. Father Foster plays his part magnificently in that. But alas, for all the colour and comic-strip fun of modern Latin textbooks, there is no way to the literature that does not go via14 the horrible wild places where ablatives and gerunds live.

1 soldiers; 2 boots; 3 a world language; 4 in the context of eternity; 5 AJ, who has held the post of prime minister since April, submitted her resignation to President TH, which he accepted; 6 "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"; 7 rightly, "a rare bird"; 8 I came, I saw, I conquered; 9 light from the Vatican; 10 a little roll stuffed with sausage; 11 under the trees; 12 I love; 13 farm; 14 by way of




I have three more longish pieces about Latin being alive and well: 1. Great Caesar's ghost! Latin's hot again. 2. Latin Mass attracting a younger generation of parishioners. 3. Grinch tackles Latin. But they'll have to wait for a lean month. I leave you with news of US students learning Latin on-line:

Florida teens can take physical education on the Web


Scripps Howard News Service

January 06, 2004

- Over the summer, 16-year-old Lina Ceron didn't have to change her clothes in a locker room or possibly humiliate herself on the playing field.Instead, she sat in front of her computer and completed her physical education requirement. All from the comfort of her Naples, Fla., home. "I think it's pretty good because you can work on it anytime you have the time," said the upcoming high school junior. Now, high school students can take PE online without ever stepping into a school gym. Florida Virtual School offers a plethora of high school classes via the computer, including *Latin*, physics or even advanced placement biology.

On the Web: If you look up the teachers page you will find not fewer than five Latin teachers, though one of them offers this, hem, sentence: "Latina est lingua valde amo." "Latin is the language I love greatly."

Best wishes,