The Association for Latin Teaching

respice prospice

Newsletter 14: April 2004

Dear Classical Friend,

I think this has got to be a rather long newsletter. First, there's the excellent Refresher Day to comment on. Then there is the worrying news from Scotland. From the USA there is enthusiasm for Latin. In the Roman Catholic Church there is a small revival of Latin. There are one or two web sites to recommend, and, from the TES last November (only just found it), a nice appreciation from TV history presented Bettany Hughes of our good friend Veronica Anstey who was her Classics teacher.


Refresher Day


Apparently I was the only person stupid enough to go to the wrong Francis Holland School on March 6th. I went to the one near Sloane Square, and only got to the right one during the first lecture. So sure was I that there was only one school by that name in London that I put a picture of the wrong one on the web site. I am only grateful that no one else actually made the same mistake, though more than one person rang that other school, apparently.

Anyway, everything seemed to be going swimmingly when I arrived, and I much enjoyed all that I was able to join in. There's a brief report on the home page of the web site, and 82 photos at . Thanks to Jane Ainsworth for a great day. I think some of you signed up with the web site after that day.

I must double-check the location of the Summer School ...


Worrying news from Scotland


What drew my attention to this was the following email:

Dear David,

Has this well-reasoned letter from the Scottish 'Sunday Herald' for 4th April come to your attention -- and that of the Newsletter? Is A.R.L.T. taking this on board?


Apparently Strathclyde University has decided to stop training classics teachers, and Tony Williams has pointed out in public the muddled thinking, prejudice and ignorance that have led to this decision. Since reading the original letter (which I shall append in full) I have seen comments in the Scotsman e.g. and the Times Educational Supplement, where Alan Milligan wrote an open letter to Scottish Education Minister Peter Peacock, (picture here: ) including: "In the United States there is growth in the numbers teaching classics, and in most western European countries classics is still very much on the curriculum. If numbers are not great enough to justify the retention of classics in the curriculum, then those responsible for education in Scotland should be looking at how they have managed to let Latin, Greek and classical studies fall away, when other subjects have been promoted. Are we now so impoverished - financially and intellectually - that we cannot afford classics? Not so long ago, a commitment was made by the then Scottish Education Department to have classics in at least one school in every area. This commitment was never met. Now only 34 state schools offer classics. Despite this lack of political will, which has at times bred hostility towards the subject, the number of students taking classics at Standard grade last year rose by 30 per cent, while numbers at Higher and at university level are growing. It is a disgrace that, in a country which has produced so many world-renowned scholars in classics over the years, we are now depriving children of access to it. This demonstrates a lack of educational and academic aspiration in Scotland, a country where we used to think we had as good and as democratic a system as anywhere in the world."

The TES also had a piece including this on the Sixties: "Latin was so discredited that it became a dead language. The reluctant Luddites in modern languages departments had to eschew their academic ways and develop methods of teaching French and German in a grammarless culture. Meritocracy was replaced by mediocrity, which has pervaded the past four decades. We now have a generation of English teachers some of whom know little about grammar and find the analysis of sentence structure all but impossible. But the wonderful thing about education is that if you hang around long enough you become fashionable again."

>From another report: Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: "I think the classics are gone, and I don't think most people are going to care a tuppeny toss. People have voted with their feet. Mrs Gillespie added that Scotland is poorer for the decline of classics: "I think we have lost an important link with a previous culture, and one of the great benefits was that it encouraged a rigour of thinking, a discipline and an exactness. There is too much sloppiness now."

Hugh Reilly, however, will be glad to see the back of Latin:

But here is Tony Williams' letter:

Tragedy in the classical sense: Readers' views

Among much sensible reporting about Strathclyde University's decision not to train classics teachers next session, after my retirement as the university's sole remaining classics teacher , much ignorance, distortion and confusion has emerged.

Hostility against classics is largely based on the premise that syllabuses haven't changed in 100 years, or that Greek and Latin are "dead languages". Little attention has been given to the unacceptable inequality of opportunity in Scotland, where the government appears relaxed that classics is an acceptable option for privately educated children but ­ notable exceptions apart ­ not for the rest.

As well as languages, "classics" embraces the study of the Greek and Roman worlds. "Classical studies" students study civilisations which are the cultural ancestors of our own society, thus gaining insight into drama, art and architecture, politics, social issues, science and philosophy.

By studying the great literatures of these civilisations, Latin and Greek students learn about the motives and morality of human behaviour, for example, through the historians and philosophers. Latin students also develop heightened literacy in our native language (since Latin is the single largest source of English words) and gain facility in mastering the Latin-derived French, Spanish and Italian.

In 1989, the Secretary of State for Scotland emphasised the heritage value of classics and asked education authorities to ensure some schools in each area offered the subjects. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, new Standard Grade and Higher Still courses were funded and developed, creating wider access to classics than ever before.

In independent schools today, the classics is generally strong and flourishing. In the public sector, there has been a massive and shameful decline in the number of schools with classics departments.

This has happened in defiance of ministers' 1989 request, and without any government intervention.

It is often stated that departments were closed because not enough pupils were opting for classics. But in schools which still offer these subjects, pupils opt for them in great numbers and study them with much enthusiasm. The number of current radio and television programmes on the classical world is testimony to the public's interest. In Scottish universities, classics departments are overwhelmed by student applications, including many from schools which didn't offer classics, and have created a hunger for the subject. Last April, it was reported that there were more applications for classics and philosophy courses than for any other subjects.

The government says there is currently no demand for classics teachers, and that teachers shouldn't be trained until evidence of demand emerges. Strathclyde University is therefore to suspend training during the next academic year . Unfortunately, the government's advice is flawed. Throughout my 30-year career, all my students in every year have found jobs. This is not surprising; demand always exceeds supply. The government's suggestion that classics training ought not to take place without evidence of demand is disingenuous and potentially very dangerous. Interviews for students who wish to embark on a training year begin almost two years before the students are available for the job market.

It is not possible to make predictions about posts two years in advance. In 1986, Strathclyde Region governors of Jordanhill College forced a fallow year in classics training on the grounds that there would be no jobs for the student output. In fact, jobs emerged in the spring of 1987 but of course no students were available to fill them and classics disappeared from the schools involved.

Similarly, the government's current advice amounts to a pretext for no more training of classics teachers in Scotland. In this event, no emerging jobs would be filled, resulting in a government-engineered destruction of the subject.

Tony Williams

Auchineden, by Blanefield

What can we do? Write to Peter Peacock?


Enthusiasm in the USA


God bless America for its enthusiasm for Latin. First, news of a Christian school in New Hampshire:

According to Headmaster Matthew Parks, the Exeter Classical Christian School adheres to the Trivium formula of education, going back to the Middle Ages. "There's the grammar stage, where you pump a student full of facts; the logic stage, equivalent to our middle school, where they start to piece the facts together; and the rhetoric stage, where they take logic, facts and reasoning, and try to make their own argument. This is all in the context of studying the great books. Our high school students read three Shakespeare plays a year."

The students begin the day with a devotional period and end it with a Bible class ... In between are math, literature, history, logic and Latin. Parks, 31, who has a doctorate in political science, is learning Latin as his students do. "It's a tool to make you think better," he said. "It has such precise grammar. Also, so many of our English words came from Latin."

Then this from a Georgia paper:

The language of ancient Rome is said to be dead because no one speaks it anymore. But try telling that to 13 of Becky Gunn's seventh-grade students at First Presbyterian Day School. Four of them are poised on an imaginary line in the center of the classroom. When Gunn calls out an English word, they dash to the board to scribble the Latin equivalent. This time the word is "Wolf"! They sprint to write "lupus."

Earlier in the same hour, the class translated a story, "Marcus to the Rescue." It's a tale of Roman teens who take a walk, wander off the beaten path and meet a lupus that has "descendit" from a tree. OK, so this isn't gripping drama, but a story about teens is more exciting to seventh-graders than translating "Caesar's Gallic Wars." The study of Latin and foreign languages in general is enjoying a resurgence among students in high schools and colleges - and even in some middle schools. Parents, too, are pressing for more foreign language offerings for their offspring. Studies by the College Board indicate Latin students score higher on the SAT than students of all other foreign languages except Hebrew.

And this from Dallas (note that Texas has the biggest of everything - of course!): Members of the Latin club at Naaman Forest High School returned last week from San Antonio with three first-place awards from the Texas State Junior Classical League. More than 3,000 students competed in the statewide contests, said Diane Martin, Latin teacher and sponsor of the Naaman club. "It's the biggest foreign language convention in Texas," Ms. Martin said. "It's the biggest Latin convention in the world."

For more encouragement, visit for news of 1500 pupils at a California Latin bash. To quote the end of that piece: For more information about the annual Latin convention, go to And if you want to learn more Latin, check out the Web site's quote of the day. On Monday, it featured "Non scholae sed vitae discimus,'' which means "We learn not for school, but for life.''

Reviving Latin in Detroit:

and in Omaha:

Summing it all up is this from USA Today:

Newspapers from USA TODAY to The Indianapolis Star have reported that after nearly a half-century lull, studying the language of ancient Rome is cool again. College enrollment in Latin is the highest it has been since the Modern Language Association started keeping track in 1958. Latin is everywhere. Tina Turner is singing classical songs in Latin in the upcoming Merchant-Ivory film, The Goddess. Irish singer Enya performs Latin tracks on four of her CDs. And The West Wing's President Bartlet speaks in Latin when so provoked.


Latin making a comeback in church


At first I thought it was just Arizona: Latin Masses to be allowed after 25 years Latin, the ancient language of the Catholic Church, will be allowed in Diocese of Phoenix churches for the first time in at least 25 years.

But then it seems that the Vatican is seeing the light, too:

Vatican media official talks up role of Latin

Pontifical Council for Social Communications head Archbishop John Foley has given a forceful defence of the place of Latin in the Mass. Archbishop Foley told the Briefing journal of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences in the UK that he feels it's ironic when he hears young people asking for Latin Masses. "You see younger people who say we should have Mass in Latin, when they have had no experience of Latin Masses," he said. Archbishop Foley said he still celebrates the Mass in Latin sometimes, and even speaks Latin with some non-English-speaking bishops. The universal nature of Latin, he said, impresses him.

And see what happens when you sing the Easter Liturgy in Latin - you are crowded out and have to put on extra services! "Are we desperate or not?" Lorig asked in the newsletter. Some 8,000 to 9,000 Catholics typically show up for weekend Masses, but Lorig said "several thousand more than that" come at Easter, and they most often come to those "prime time" Masses in the morning. Lorig said he hopes the first-time midnight Mass at St. Anne's will be attractive to parishioners. "All the music is in Latin," he said. "We have a classical choir, and they will sing all the liturgy parts in Latin, which will be beautiful." The Mass itself will be in English, but "all the liturgy parts will be the traditional Latin that people remember from years ago, and I am hoping the nostalgia will bring enough people to fill the church at midnight."


Interesting web sites

************************************ Advert for a Latin course based on the Vulgate

This Way to the Northern Frontier from Museum of Antiquities, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU. £25.00 (free to first schools in Northumberland). For primary schools and said to be 'superb'. The web site shows children's work.

Minimus in Australia - just a report, really:

We know the Cambridge On-line Latin Project. BBC news reported it in action:

Latin lessons go hi-tech By Janet Murray

Pupils at a secondary school in Brighton are giving up their spare time to bring Latin into the 21st Century. The after-school Latin club at Patcham High School is open to students in the first five years of the school. It currently attracts up to 20 of them every Monday. A number of the students are on the school's "gifted and talented" register and some are already recognised as capable linguists, but children of all abilities can attend.

The course, which has been running since November 2003, was developed with help from the Cambridge Online Latin Project. This aims to support the teaching of Latin in secondary schools and provide digital learning resources. In addition to language skills, students learn about Roman civilisation. Topics include Roman society, gladiators, local government and elections. An impressive range of online resources, such as audio and video files, interactive games and quizzes, means that students can progress at their own pace. The Latin club is led by English teacher Rowlie Darby, who prior to starting the club had never studied Latin before. He said: "The idea was partly inspired by my own frustration that I didn't get the chance to study Latin at school. Then I read about the Cambridge Online Latin Project in a newspaper. I was excited by the idea of bringing the subject up to date with online digital resources and making it much more accessible. I suggested the idea of a Latin club to my head teacher and she thought it was a great idea."

As Mr Darby is new to Latin, he tries to stay one step ahead of his students. But he is happy to admit he is a beginner. "I'm quite honest about the fact that I'm not far ahead of them. Yes, I make mistakes sometimes, but this doesn't worry them. I think it reminds students that making mistakes is one of the ways we learn and progress." Fortunately, he need not worry too much about marking. Students can send their work to an "e-tutor" at the Cambridge Online Latin Project, who will mark it and provide feedback at a rate of £10 per session.

Nick Kreel is head of modern foreign languages at Patcham High and often helps out at the club. He believes knowledge of Latin can help students improve across the curriculum. "Latin can help in so many areas of education and employment: law, medicine, botany, pharmacy - just to name a few," he said. "So many aspects of life are being 'dumbed down', but this is the complete opposite. Studying Latin encourages students to be analytical, to improve their knowledge of where words and languages come from. It really makes them think."

While on the subject of web sites, I had this intriguing email:

Dear David

Tried to access the Classical Greek GCSE syllabi of both boards today in my school library, to discuss with my (single) pupil which syllabus he prefers to be prepared for - and discovered that RM (Research Machines) does not allow access, with the familiar no entry sign borrowed from the highway code.

Thinking about which word on the websites could possibly be offending, decided it had to be Homer! (I leave it to my colleagues to work out why.)

I have made a complaint to RM by email and hope to receive a reply within 48 hrs. which I shall relay.


And then:

I tried other avenues on the school computer but could never access 'Homer'. Then suddenly having alerted RM, the problem with the word 'Homer' disappeared within 48 hours. However then I got a message from RM that 'Homer' had never been filtered and that the filtering must have been on the local, ie school server. I don't think this can be entirely true, since I was unable to access 'Homer' either at the comprehensive school in Pinner where I was helping to cover a maternity leave last summer term!


Veronica Anstey


Veronica co-directed the first Summer School I ever attended. Bettany Hughes wrote this:

My best teacher

Mrs Anstey made me focus on the classical world, and I'm still working on that 25 years later

When I was 11 I went to Notting Hill and Ealing high school on a bursary. My parents were actors - my father still is - and we lived near the film studios. I'd been at Montpelier primary school, where we did lots of art.

Veronica Anstey was my Latin teacher and a fantastic character. She would sweep into the classroom in elegant, flowing clothes with big, dramatic jewellery. You never knew what mood she would be in. She might be fierce and feisty or intimate and chatty. But she always delivered the lesson in a beautifully dynamic way.

She was passionate about her subjects - Latin and Greek - and her skin always seemed brown because she'd have been away in the summer to Greece or Turkey, looking at sites. She was furious about Latin being thought of as a dead language; it wasn't dead, because we were using so much of it in our day-to-day speech, and when you look at western civilisation and what we've inherited, it's so relevant. We live the Greco-Roman way, she said.

She was a colourful teacher and would go off at tangents, talking about her wild life at university, her first kiss, her ex-husband. We were all agog, waiting for the next revelation. She taught in a very visual way, using pictures and showing us the physical environment of ancient civilisations. One of her first lessons was a slide show. It was a warm, fuggy afternoon in the geography room with the blinds drawn. The first slide was black and white and a bit scratched but it was this amazing picture of a snake goddess from Crete, her arms outstretched, her hands clasping bunches of snakes. Her dress was cut to the waist and she had these pneumatic breasts. It was an arresting image and I remember thinking, what were those people like? Who were these women, creating images like that?

Mrs Anstey made me focus on the classical world, and I'm still working on that 25 years later. The latest film I've made for Channel 4 is a journey to Crete to discover the lives of Minoan women. It's really a homage to that lesson. The snake goddess is a porcelain figurine, nearly a foot tall, found buried at Knossos, and now in the museum at Heraklion.

As well as Latin, I chose Greek at O-level. There were only three of us - the odd, eccentric ones. I must have been a terrible swot, getting up at 6am to conjugate my verbs. But Mrs Anstey wasn't remotely scared of drumming in the basics, which is essential if you're going to look at original texts.

She encouraged us in all sorts of ways. One summer I went to a school in Bath and talked Latin all day. We were a mixed bunch and I think it was trying to break the public school stranglehold on the classics. I also did Greek choral speaking in festivals in the south-east and one time I turned up in a red leather mini-skirt, black fishnet tights and legwarmers. I saw her look at me and thought, she's going to criticise. But she just said: "To be honest the leg warmers aren't very flattering. They make your legs look chunky," and that was it.

In the sixth form I did Greek, with A-levels in art, history, Latin and botany. Mrs Anstey ran a magazine called Omnibus for the Joint Association of Classics Teachers and she asked me to do the illustrations. It meant I had to read all the articles, which were aimed at first-year university students, so I learned a lot.

Mrs Anstey encouraged me to apply to Oxford, saying you only had to ask at the Ashmolean Museum and they'd let you handle real artefacts, bronze-age cups and other amazing items, and she was right. Since I did the series on the Spartans, Mrs Anstey has been in contact, which is touching. She's finally retired and is living in the West Country. Even now, as long as my mum and dad and Mrs Anstey like a programme I've done, I can relax.




If you've read this far, congratulations! Have a great summer term and super exam results.

Best wishes,