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Latin is the language of the enemy Some things are all the better for being dead

Boris Johnson makes a speech in Latin outside the Houses of Parliament. Credit: Bruno Vincent/Getty

Boris Johnson makes a speech in Latin outside the Houses of Parliament. Credit: Bruno Vincent/Getty


August 5, 2021   4 mins

Having been a dyslexic child with slap happy teachers, I learnt to despise Latin. I can still remember the lick of that long ruler far more clearly than I can the apparently sweet taste of Horace or Livy. Amo, Amas, Amat, Amamus, Amatis, Amant, ad nauseam. Love had nothing to do with it. Whack if you got it wrong. Whack if you weren’t concentrating. From the age of seven onwards, Latin was the reason my prep school marked us with red lines on the back of our legs — in order, socially, to mark us out as different from the plebs.

Now Boris – who was learning his Latin at a prep school just up the road from mine — has decided that everyone should know what the word pleb means. He has earmarked £4 million for Latin teaching in state schools. Levelling up, Boris calls it. Cynics, however, might question whether this is little more than some culture war distraction from a general asset stripping of the humanities, with university arts subjects, for instance, facing a devastating 50% cut in funding. A paltry £4 million hardly disguises the continual shift in education away from cultural subjects towards market-useful STEM subjects. Arachis hypogaea is the Latin for peanuts.

Now I really should be passionately against all this Latin revivalism, however modest. Not only was Latin the language of regular childhood thrashings, in adult life it has become for me a kind of shorthand for the crucifixion of Jesus. Christianity began life as a small offshoot of Judaism, persecuted by Roman imperialism. In first-century Palestine, Latin was the language of the oppressor. And it was the Romans that crucified Him. The whole logic of the Roman world order was to destroy everyone and everything that posed a threat to its totalising rule. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” is not some clever compromise division of all that there is into the earthly and the heavenly.

All things belong to God, without remainder. And crucifixion was the Roman’s signature punishment, designed to terrorise those who defied their hegemony. With crucifixion, “the symbol which had spoken of Caesar’s naked might now spoke of God’s naked love”, as NT Wright memorably put it. Amo, Amas, Amat meant something very different now.

Of course, all this came to be obscured when the Latin world hijacked His religion, making Rome itself the capital of Western Christianity. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin and so the language that may have been used by Roman soldiers as they poked him with their spears and taunted Him with insults — or, at least, the language they took their orders in — became the official language of the faith itself. The Roman Catholic church, otherwise known as the Latin church, buried all this. Originally, at least, Latin was the language of the enemy.

So, given that I harbour theological instincts that would make Ian Paisley blush, how come I think Boris is really onto something with this whole Latin experiment? Because, primarily, it represents a small move against the thoroughly depressing idea that education exists simply to serve the needs of employers. What I like about Latin is precisely its relative uselessness, the very thing that its opponents also point to as a reason not to like it. Shouldn’t we be learning Mandarin, or Spanish, they argue? Useful subjects, ones that will help us negotiate new trade deals and induct us into the up-and-coming language of global power.

I know that there are those who insist that Latin is, after all, terribly useful — being the root of so many other languages, useful for doctors etc. But that misses the point. As the Bishop of Worcester recently pointed out, education is like friendship, something that is valuable in and of itself, and not for what else can be gained by it. Education that is designed to meet some specific economic end is not education but training, the instrumentalisation of something that should be loved for its own sake. Latin is perfectly suited for this end.

Even more surprising, I also find myself in some sympathy with those Roman Catholics who have recently been told that the use of the Latin Mass is to be restricted, with the present Pope seeking to bring what he takes to be dissident congregations more closely under the control of his Bishops. It seems that Latin worship has become a redoubt for all those who would stand against the progressive theology of the Second Vatican Council. And while I do not share this view — and it’s not really my fight — the church should be a broad enough tent to accommodate those who want to worship in the traditional language of the Latin church. Latin confers a kind of dignity to worship that that stands in sharp contrast to the whole direction of modern liturgy that too often just wants to get all chummy with the divine, talking to God in the same way one might talk to your mate. Latin sets God at a distance, which is no bad thing in an age that has consistently prized immanence over transcendence.

Yes, of course, good and brave men died to give us religion in the vernacular. William Tyndale was burned at the stake for daring to translate the Bible into English. I am delighted that within a few years of his martyrdom, the English Bible was officially sanctioned by church and state. But the culture war of the Reformation is over. No one is forcing us to worship in Latin anymore. That fight has been well and truly won.

Latin, then, has always been the location of culture wars and I have many reasons to hate it. But these days, I no longer feel the need to repeat that old schoolboy dictum: “Latin is a language as a dead as dead can be, it killed the ancient Romans and now is killing me.” Latin stands out in the modern curriculum not as a marker of social privilege, nor as the language of imperial authority, but as a refusal to allow education to be co-opted by market-obsessed philistinism. Some languages are all the better for being dead. Which is why, notwithstanding the memory of all those lines on the back of my legs, I too hope that my children will one day learn the language of what I used to call ‘the enemy’.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago

Latin is, or at least was, the language of legalese because a dead language doesn’t change. It is therefore precise and exact.

With the English language under constant assault by those who wish to invert and redefine meaning with deceptive intent, I welcome a return to the possibility of precision.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Well it was the language of legalese because of Roman law primarily which was indeed extremely precise and conceptually tight albeit somewhat esoteric in the UK. Most of Europe continues to use forms of law – albeit adapted and codified by Justinian and Napoleon most prominently – whose conceptual basis lies in Roman law. Until relatively recently barristers at university in Britain would study Roman law and only pick up common law in practice in their pupillages.This was changed towards the end of the 19th century. But Roman law still had large impacts in terms of the interpretation of large portions of common law and still forms the basis of maritime law.
In the same way doctors learn anatomy through Latin, theologians debated with other theologians across Europe – especially in the Middle Ages in the common tongue of the church. That is why Latin was actually extremely useful in those days for a professional. Although this changed even earlier than law… after a brief flourishing of “New Latin” for humanistic studies and scientific purposes in the 16th and 17th century it largely died out as the language of academia and medicine.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Latin has its legal uses because certain Latin words or phrases perfectly encapsulate a concept or principle for which there is no strict English equivalent. Everyone who uses them knows exactly what they mean. Some German, French and Indian words fulfil the same function in everyday parlance.
Also different languages stimulate different thought process, cause you to look at things differently. English is a very literal language. Latin on the other hand tends to be very much more meditative. Try, for example, the first line from the Book of Lamentations “Quomodo sedet sola civitas” and how it translates.
So far as the church is concerned, Latin connects us with our ancestors and almost 2000 year of worship. There is something genuinely revelatory about sitting in a church service contemplating that it be very much the same service that ones ancestors would have sat through 500 or a 1000 years ago.
As a small child I remember sitting in church listening to the latest dumbing down the RC liturgy intended to make it more accessible and thinking do these idiots realize what damage they are doing. God is not meant to be accessible. God is not a transient celebrity. It is in the nature of God that it should take a lifetime of struggle to get to “know” you God and Latin was a useful tool to help you on your meditations on the matter. Remove the complexity and mystery from God and he does become just another transient celebrity only without a hit TV show.
I do not see how this can be lost on anyone yet successive generations of leaders of the catholic church seem bent on pursuing the same course including the present pope who, like the Chancellor of a second rate university, seems more concerned about winning plaudit s from his chosen regressive audience rather safeguarding the founding principles and values of the institution he is sworn to protect.
One final thought, if they still played JS Bach, and similar, in church I would be strongly tempted to attend. But that would be too difficult, time consuming and inconvenient. Show me a church goer with a guitar and tambourine and I reach for my gun

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

Because of the gun Ethniciodo I can’t uptick you !

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Oh dear my joke has fallen flat.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

AIUI one of the key advantages of Latin is that it is very, very hard to say anything ambiguous in it, and to do so was considered rather clever.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

My experience of learning Latin at school was bad in a different way. I only began aged 13 (once we’d been ‘streamed’) at a large comprehensive where it was taught in a new ‘hip’ sort of way with little comic books, no amo amas amat for us alas, it was quite useless. Our poor teacher, classically trained, did her best but there was always an aura of despair in that classroom.
However, one hot summer’s evening, she took us on the train to the public school Bedford College, to watch the boys present The Bacchae by Euripedes in their open air theatre, that was Ancient Greek obviously, not Latin, but it gave us a powerful sense of what the classics could mean.
I’m guessing those lads learnt Latin and Greek the traditional way, which despite Giles’ miserable experience is probably the best way.
I am now learning Medieval Latin with the National Archives who offer a free online course which is excellent. I enjoy it more than I could ever have imagined, honestly – sheer joy.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

My experience was that having never studied English grammar, Latin grammar for many of those in our class was entirely mysterious. This wasn’t limited to Latin though, the same problem emerged in German. I mean both languages use the dative – how on earth is one supposed to understand the dative when concepts of subject, direct object and indirect object haven’t been taught? I became fluent in Spanish living in Spain and because I am married to a Spanish woman. In the process I found that by having to understand the grammar of the language I understood that of English better too. It was a slow and painful process better done in reverse. Properly teaching English grammar would give people much more of an ability to self-teach themselves other languages without having to learn a lot of alien concepts on top of everything else that makes the process seem overwhelming.
Also, I would say that classrooms are terrible places to learn languages, especially modern languages. I learnt little of either in the classroom. People learn them by real practical interactions and communicating in situations where they really need to learn it. I learnt more Spanish in 3 months living in Spain that I did German after 5 years of schooling. Those who learn ancient languages almost always do so because they are fascinated by the historical documents and literature of that language – as true for Latin as Ancient Greek or Old English – which I have been learning from an online class recently – and learn by wrestling with those documents and trying to squeeze meaning out of them.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

I’m sure you’re right.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

I think historically, the use and purpose of cases was one of the reasons to teach kids Latin: they learned English grammar thereby.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Yes, although it isn’t exactly a one-to-one match beyond the early lessons and simple concepts of nominative and accusative. Indirect objects in English (or at least modern English, Old English was nearly as heavily inflected as Latin) have no hint of distinguishing ablative and dative cases as the prepositions are vastly different. Traces of the Latin dative survives in say Spanish though, with so called ‘ethical datives’ where a direct object and indirect object are mixed in together to give the sense of a abstract action having some kind of emotional or personal interest for the person referenced thereby.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
David B
David B
2 years ago

That was my experience too, but with Scots Gaelic – learning an obscure language with a very divergent grammar (from English) taught me all the formal things I should have been taught at school but wasn’t.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  David B

Someome from Ireland told me the difficulty of the lessons in the related Irish (Gaelic) language, which is compulsory there, are talked of by schoolboys with the same kind of imprecations once directed at Latin.

Mel Bass
Mel Bass
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Ah, would those be the little comic books about the family in Pompeii? Caecilus, Metella and a whole bunch of other characters who I forget… I endured two years of learning nothing of use about the language before I managed to escape to another subject. Looking back, those comics were the most singularly inept way of teaching a language that I’ve ever encountered.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Mel Bass

And Cerberus the dog who would anger Gromio the servant by stealing food from the kitchen. Don’t forget him.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Mel Bass

Yes, that was it, what a waste of time. Whereas now, learning Latin, it’s like a fascinating puzzle to be unravelled step by step. I think many children would enjoy it.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

Whether or not the Latin Mass survives, I *would* like to hear the liturgy those tin-eared clerics ruined in 2011. ‘And also with you’ is a lovely phrase. ‘And with your spirit’ is a literal translation, but sounds weirdly specific – more like Monty Python than a cheerful response to a blessing!

Don’t get me started on ‘consubstantial’ where we had the perfectly good ‘of one being’. Under-educated idiots with no sense of the rhythms of English language. I detest their vandalism.

Aidan Twomey
Aidan Twomey
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

I completely disagree, the 2011 translation was a vast improvement on the ghastly old translation. ‘Of one being’ is not perfectly good, I honestly don’t know what it means. And the collects are vastly better than the mush they used to be. The problem with mass in the vernacular is that it is easy to forget that there is one Roman rite in many translations, and while we may disagree about personal tastes, the 2011 translation does a much better job than the old of preserving the Roman rite in English.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Aidan Twomey

“Of one being” sounds more poetic to the rhythms of a Germanic language like English. Consubstantial was primarily a phrase used by theologians in English as a direct calque from Latin. I suppose it is a debate about whether theological or poetical-aesthetic priority should be given in the liturgy… historically I suspect the majority of the congregation was assumed to be illiterature and ignorant, so the stupifying effect of dazzling language was paramount.

Aidan Twomey
Aidan Twomey
2 years ago

Historically the role of language was about the least important part of liturgy. Before the microphone, with the priest speaking most of the liturgy sotto voce, I doubt that anyone heard the language, far less be dazzled by it. The silence, the vestments and the incense were far more likely to draw in the participants than the language.

William Perry
William Perry
2 years ago
Reply to  Aidan Twomey

I would say that both the pre- and post-2011 versions are equally, but oppositely, terrible. Pre-2011 often didn’t even attempt to be a translation, it was more a matter of being “based upon”, or even “inspired by”, the original Latin – a bit like films which say they are “based upon” real events, which is always a warning that a fictionalised narrative has been woven around a nugget of fact. Post-2011 swung to the opposite extreme, with dire, schoolboyish over-literalisms for which I would expect to have been marked down in the sixth form. (As one example among literally hundreds, and one which is heard in every single Mass: “simili modo” = “in a similar way”? There’s a perfectly good, idiomatic, way of expressing that in English: “likewise” – which is how it’s rendered in the [Anglican] Book of Common Prayer. No one in real life ever says “in a similar way”.)
Rome has had two attempts at producing vernacular English liturgies and has loused up both of them. Maybe it should just stick with Latin?

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago
Reply to  Aidan Twomey

Before we agree to differ, let me try to persuade you. Have a look at these two lines.

“Glory to God in the highest
And peace to his people on earth.”

(Note the second in particular:
di-dum, di-di-dum, di-di-dum. Stresses on 2nd, fifth and eighth – Iambic and anapaestic feet.)

At the very least, the 1971 translator had an ear for English and poetic rhythm.

Compare it to the new post-2011 translation:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to people of good will”

Can you honestly not hear how that clunks in comparison? There was beauty in the first. This new version is an awful, ugly thing.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Gleeballs
Peter Francis
Peter Francis
2 years ago

As always, a thought-provoking article from Giles Fraser: thanks! It’s ironic that you should say Latin distinguishes the posh “as different from the plebs”. In Rome, posh people spoke Greek and the plebs spoke Latin. Shortly after the crucifixion, Emperor Claudius tried to limit the use of Greek in the Senate and encouraged posh people to speak Latin. If Pontius Pilate really did ask “quod est veritas”, he probably said it in Greek. Koine Greek was the common tongue of the Eastern Med.
You mention poor old St. Jerome and his Latin (“vulgate”) translation of the Bible. He was slagged-off no end by his contemporaries for dumbing-down. Latin might be a bit posh now, but it was more plebby than posh way back when.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

Not entirely true. High social class people also spoke and wrote in Classical Latin. It should be remembered by this stage that Classical Latin even in the early empire barely resembled the language of the common people that had already began some of the early mutations that led to modern romance languages.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

AIUI they spoke Latin in the western empire and Greek in the eastern. The local language in Judaea was Aramaic. The soldiers who crucified Christ were, if pukka legionaries rather than auxiliaries, the Tenth Legion, which was recruited mainly in Syria and probably spoke Syriac, itself a branch of Aramaic.
It’s quite unlikely that Christ’s trial before Pilate was conducted in Latin because nobody but him would have been fluent in it.

Brian Clegg
Brian Clegg
2 years ago

There seems a total disconnect between the title/subtitle and the content.

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  Brian Clegg

What you say about the title “Latin is the Language of the Enemy” is perfectly true, but Christians like Giles must love their enemy.

Last edited 2 years ago by Peter Francis
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Brian Clegg

I thought it was an anti-Catholic jab.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Brian Clegg

This is the first time you have noticed that on this site?

David Owsley
David Owsley
2 years ago
Reply to  Brian Clegg

Often the case: usually the article writer isn’t the same author as the ‘web click-bait’ title.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

I’m all for teaching more Latin and languages in general, but I don’t see where this anti-STEM animus comes from. People need jobs and a sense that they are useful to other people, and yes that primarily that usefulness is mediated by the market. It always has been and always will be, because usefulness mandated by the state is a shallow form of that. As anyone who has seen the otiose, depressingly abandoned, lift attendent seats in old buildings in East Germany can affirm. I was hooked on history at school and enjoyed it greatly. It made me gravitate towards history at university, at a Russell Group one no less. Quite apart from the fact that the subject is incredibly boring and tendentious now it is heavily oversubscribed. This snobbish anti-STEM attitude that people in well-appointed sinecures reserved for the products of our public schools promote (including in state schools) is enervating and poisonous. It is one of the key factors Dominic Cummings identified as the cause of our 150 year decline as a major power – we had the great fruits of industry and science and let it go to waste in a fit of envy at the aristocracy and their cultural preocupations.
And then I finished university and spent several years in the wilderness between unemployment and menial jobs before I finally went back and studied Computer Science. I have never had more demand for jobs and have had no issues finding one since. It is all fine and well for a man whose studied were largely financed by the Church (or his parents), who comes from a social background with the capital to access some of the few (and shrinking) jobs available to humanities graduates in journalism and so on and whose living is then backed by the church to pontificate against STEM. But there are many of us who just want a decent, fulfilling job that pays well enough to have a house and a family. Humanities education just doesn’t do that, at least not for anyone outside a narrow social elite. I entirely agree that children should be educated in this, and educated well. But ultimately 90% of humanity has work that is focused on the practical world, not the abstractions of the humanities, and it seems entirely appropriate that their education should be focused on that. Rampant youth unemployment (compare the relative low rate in Germany) and disaffection with life opportunities is far more corrosive to the social bonds of a country than a little less time spent on literature or history, and I say that as someone who is completely obsessed with history.
And as to the reason this iniative is being pushed, I don’t really see it as an mutually exclusive question of STEM vs non-STEM. It seems to me more an attempt to improve schools generally. Public schools (and what remains of selective grammars) seem to manage to educate their students well in all of these subjects and more. Nobel prizes in science, literary awards and olympic medals all seem to accrue to their erstwhile schoolboys. State schools seem to do a terrible job at both. Although personally I think the widespread innumeracy and general poor ability in maths, a subject state schools seem unable to teach properly thanks to the fact anyone with real skills with that subject wouldn’t go near the classrooms full of the disgusting feral abominations that populate many state schools. And this has a far greater deleterious effect in terms of the ability of the population to conceptualise and cope with the changes that are going on around them so rapidly.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

Interesting and good points. I would just add that learning Latin from say 8yrs onwards would probably help people write and speak more coherently than they generally do at present because of the focus on the rules of grammar in both languages (English and Latin) when translating. Good clear communication is as vital in STEM and admin as it is in the humanities.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Agreed, the fact that a significant proportion of the British population comes out of school with almost no understanding of even rudimentry English grammar is one of the great failures of our education system. I can’t think of any other country that has chosen to enact a whole-scale abandonment of the rules of its own language as we have. Even in the USA people have to learn it for SAT admissions. It comes from the same horrific egalitarian mentality prevalent in parts of British culture that pushed (and pushes in some areas) for the abolishment of the grammar schools.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Completely disagree. Latin is a language where meaning is amplified by inflections, English it is conveyed by emphasis, word order and vocabulary. I have just read “In place of fear” by Bevan which is fine writing even though iI doubt if he ever knew what the Dative Case or the Subjunctive voice is, just as Elgar couild write fine music without knowing what the chord of the supertonic 7th was.
One of the problems with Latin is that you have to go a long way before you start to read good Latin; a lot of my time learning it at school was spent translating from Latin to English things that an English-speaker had translated into Latin in the first place. When you do get to good Latin the rules are often less clear (who would like to translate “Et in arcadia ego” which was written on a skull in Brideshead Revisited).
Latin is the language of bovine stupidity combined with privilege (young Rees-Mogg Junior knows exactly who i am talking about) prized by the belief that to be able to real off a few items from a dictionary of classical quotes marks you out as one hell of a fellow.
In the end Giles Fraser comes up with the real argument for his children learning Latin “I had to suffer it and so shall you” or as Larkin put it “Man hands down misery to man, it deepens like the continental shelf.

William McKinney
William McKinney
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Coastal shelf

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago

you right

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

We’ll have to agree to differ but I must point out that Bevan’s parents were non-conformists, his father was a Baptist and his mother a Methodist, it’s highly likely it was The Bible that helped Bevan become such a good orator and writer, and of course the King James Bible was written by men steeped in the classics. Many of the industrial and agricultural poor up until the 1920s and 30s spoke beautiful and vivid English as a result of Church and Chapel.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Yes, the core figures at the heart of English literature in its early years – Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, the writers of the KJV – all received their childhood education in language primarily through Latin, especially Latin grammar.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I would suggest that is a little tenuous,

DA Johnson
DA Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Very true, and here in the US as well. My parents and many of their generation did not finish high school because they had to go to work, yet they spoke and wrote correct English and had large vocabularies–I believe due to both the Church and an emphasis on grammar in elementary school. Two of my aunts who did go to high school studied both Latin and Greek–in an impoverished rural county in the South in the early 1900s–so in some ways basic education was more rigorous for all classes in the past.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  DA Johnson

It is also instructive looking at the mathematics and physics textbooks of that era too. Filled with geometry, conic sections, advanced algebra and trigomentry (such as the spherical kind) and what is now considered advanced mechanics such as calculating centres of gravity. Physics at the 16-18 level almost universally used calculus. And far more emphasis on solving problems rather than being spoon-fed rote algorithms and pre-processed questions that don’t require thought.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Clair, always a pleasure to see your posts. I miss them in the bulk of the topics here
One of my very favorite set of children’s books was the “Little House on the Prairie’ by Laura Ingalls-Wilder.

A fantastic set, and written biographically, she did cross the land on a wagon and set up their sod house and break the virgin soil in DeSmet South Dakota – but the amazing thing is the school – she became a teacher at 14, and would be beyond most first year university students in her language and the rest – Please give them a try for fun. Amazing tales of life then and there.

Just think – in England by mid 1800s 90+ % of the population were literate! And that at basic school for a few years – Amazing.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Thank you Sanford, much appreciated.
I missed out on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books as a girl, but interestingly enough I have just read ‘My Antonia’ by Willa Cather, a very good writer I think. That’s set in Nebraska, also about those early years for settlers but for adults. ‘Little House on the Prairie’ sounds just the thing for some night-time reading, I’ll give it a go, thanks.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Agreed 100%.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

I went to a very ordinary Catholic day school and enjoyed Latin. It was a puzzle I could unlock and helped my thinking.

They changed to English mass just as I was getting to grips with Latin but there was still Cicero and Virgil to read just as they wrote it without some interpreter imposing their subtle alterations.

William McKinney
William McKinney
2 years ago

Amo. Lublu
Amas. Lubish
Amat Lubit
Amamus. Lubim
Amatus. Lubite
Amant. Lubyat

The verb “to love” conjugated in Latin and Russian. Among the many reasons I am grateful for having been given the opportunity to study Latin is that when it came to learning Russian (far from fluently) I already had the paradigm of the Latin verb structure (which as can be seen is very similar) as well as the concept of 3 genders, 6-case noun declensions etc etc.

Not everyone who studied Latin or Greek will end up learning Slavic, or other inflecting languages, but for those of us who do, knowledge of the structure of Latin makes life very much easier.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

These conjugations are common across all Indo-European languages – albeit compressed and simplified in some languages more in some than others. English being perhaps the most simplified of all. In Spanish the base conjugation is:
Amo
Amas
Ama
Amamos
AmĂĄis
Aman
The connection with the Latin is entirely obvious. Most of the romance languages lost the highly inflected noun case structure of Latin which is what makes it a little more complicated for modern people. Even in Late Antiquity the noun cases of Latin spoken by the general populace (Vulgar Latin) had shrunk to just the nominative and the oblique, which was a bucket of direct and indirect object forms such as the accusative, dative, ablative etc. and even that died though the oblique case still influenced the formation of plurals in Spanish and Italian.
There are modern Indo-European languages that retain it though. Slavic ones, yes. But the most conservative are the Baltic languages – Latvian for example even retains the locative case, of which in Latin of the classical era there was but an echo remaining from its use in archaic Latin.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago

“most simpified” effectively means, outside the verbs to be and to have means “almost totally gone apart from 3rd person singular” you do not need to recite latin verbs in a sing-song voice get english vebs correct. The difficult bit in English (which Latin will not help you with) is the difference in for example “I go” or “I am going”, or “I do go” which are the difference between being understood in English and speaking English like an English person is most acute.
I have no problem with people learning Latin if they want to read Latin literature in the original but it does not have the extrinsic properties in education claimed for it.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Well this simplification has continued until relatively modern times. The object form of you ‘ye’ being lost in the last 200 years, not to mention ‘thou’ and its conjugation ‘-st’ outside all but eccelesiatical, Quaker and a few surviving dialetical contexts.

Leigh Collier
Leigh Collier
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

I had no clue that noun cases existed in many languages until I did Latin at school – ditto re different verb endings per person. So Latin gives a useful perspective into such languages if you are learning one. It didn’t help me with learning French but did a bit when I later learned German.
The distinction between “I go” or “I am going” or “I do go”, which you highlight, is a real (if minor) problem for my German friends – and I assume would be for French friends if I had any.

Leigh Collier
Leigh Collier
2 years ago

Amatis, not Amatus

Hugh Eveleigh
Hugh Eveleigh
2 years ago

I understand from a catholic priest friend of mine that it is the Latin Tridentine/Traditional (1962) rite which is being outlawed not the actual use of Latin as a language. But the Pope’s action may well diminish Latin being used formally within the Mass. (The more one delves into the detail so do the implications become more entangled.)

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Eveleigh

That’s correct. Vatican II did not outlaw Latin, on the contrary it stated that it should remain the default, universal language of the Church. However, that wasn’t what actually happened, and these days you seldom encounter the New Rite in Latin, at least outside the metropolitan centres. If in clamping down on the use of the Old Rite Pope Francis had required that the Missa de Angelis (New Rite Latin Mass) be celebrated in every parish at least once a month, he would have been hailed by most as a reconciler and peacemaker who was simply restating the teaching of Vatican II. But he didn’t; it appears that the Pope agrees with Giles (if he chose the headline): ‘Latin is the language of the enemy’.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew D
T Doyle
T Doyle
2 years ago

Understanding Latin is the key to understanding our current European languages. It is also the bond of European communication and literature even with Germanic languages like English interspersed with Latin. Teaching Latin must be preserved.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  T Doyle

It is also paramount importance for anyone seriously interest in history prior to the 17th-18th century. Anyone wishing to undertake classicist or medievalist studies in a serious way has to be familiar with it to properly read primary sources, at least withing Western Europe.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

If one knows Latin and French one can learn other Romance languages easily and the structure helps with German as well.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Exactly. I have an A-level in Latin, speak sub-fluent French, intermediate Spanish and German, and can often understand other languages like Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Dutch, etc.

Dr Stephen Nightingale
Dr Stephen Nightingale
2 years ago

Latin would be a whole lot more interesting – and indeed relevant – if the source texts in view included those important to our own national development, including Gildas and his ‘whelps coming across the sea”, and Bede’s screeds which alone determined that we would be regarded as “Anglo-Saxons”, notwithstanding that the preponderance of us are still Native Britons from before Roman times. Then the Latin program could also tempt us with the intrigues of the Croyland chronicle in the mid-1480s, highlighting Morton’s propaganda campaign against Richard III, and Titulus Regius, showing the route by which Richard was made eligible fof the succession and Edward’s (“illegitimate”) sons were not.

Whereas in practice the sample sentences given to us in our Latin learning campaign were dry stuff from Agricola – and most schoolboys (schoolpersons?) never got beyond the pun equating him with a farmer. There were no juicy jewels dangled in front of us during those endless conjugatings and declinings, so very few were enthused about learing Latin.

How it is taught is what ensures its stultifying irrelevance. Which is a Pity.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago

In my day it was all Ceasar’s Gallic wars. We were told that we learned Ceasar because he spoke very correct good Latin; actually he probably wrote very basic Latin because he spoke Greek. When we were let loose on Virgil as a set text for O level it was almost a different language.
I can translate 18th Century tombstones though

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

I’m not sure if it was that he spoke basic Latin. But he was a more blunt, military man. Not someone seeking the purple prose necessary to create a justificatory legend for August and who was supported by Maecenas who wanted something classy for his money.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

At my prep school it was all Caesar’s Gallic Wars. However, public school, where I went on to do a Latin A-level, was a much more enriching experience: I got to read Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Lucretius, Juvenal, Sallust, Livy, Tacitus, and both Plinys.

Leigh Collier
Leigh Collier
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

We were told that we learned Caesar because he spoke simple, straightforward Latin, i.e. suitable for beginners. The difficulty with Virgil was that he was writing poetry and dealing with subtle, nuanced topics (much trickier), in complete contrast to Caesar who was laying out the facts as if he were giving evidence in court.

Leigh Collier
Leigh Collier
2 years ago

“. . . the preponderance of us are still Native Britons from before Roman times.” That is contestable: opinions on this differ among those best placed to know. It seemsthat on our current knowledge we are not in a position to make categoric pronouncements on this.

Geoffrey Wilson
Geoffrey Wilson
2 years ago

A very interesting article, although I found it confusing. The headline did not convey the article’s message, which after careful reading seems to be supportive of the government’s proposal. I was misled by the opening snide references to Boris into thinking the intention was to attack him. It seems the author agrees with me that Latin teaching is supportive of civilisation and understanding (I have found it helped me to a deeper understanding of English, and also made it easier to learn Italian – both making me happier but of no use in any of my jobs), and the proposal of a little change in that direction is a good one.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

 “I found it confusing. The headline did not convey the article’s message, which after careful reading seems to be supportive of the government’s proposal. I was misled by the opening snide references to Boris into thinking the intention was to attack him.”
Agreed.

Leigh Collier
Leigh Collier
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

It wasn’t confusing for too long, though was it? His drift did become pretty clear.

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
2 years ago

If the Roman’s hadn’t crucified him, there wouldn’t have been any ‘Christianity’. And they didn’t hijack the religion, they invented it, bringing together all the squabbling little sects into a unified version which Constantine could endorse.

Leigh Collier
Leigh Collier
2 years ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

The “unified version which Constantine could endorse” had (disastrously) drifted some considerable way from first century christian practice and experience. It has been a huge mistake subsequently by “official” christian bodies to take the fourth century corrupt perversion of the christian faith as being the real thing. Constantine ought to have kept his nose out of matters he didn’t understand, and the “christian” leaders at that time ought to have steered well clear of him, instead of embracing his mistaken meddling. They would have done, had they been intent on maintaining the faith once for all delivered to the saints, but in practice they’d forgotten what that was.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

The best argument I can think of for learning Latin, in which I have a 40 year old A-level, is that acquaintance with our heritage is integral to our humanity. Indeed, I think there is something really quite sinister about those who want to sever our connection with our heritage. Such people remind me of Mao and Pol Pot.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

Boris is consistent – totally useless.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

How do you say ‘awaiting for approval’ in Latin?
Is it still used on this site, “awaiting for approval”?

davidbuckingham7
davidbuckingham7
2 years ago

This is a delightful thread, but no mention of the subject matter. Christian faith. What best serves the conversion into belief?

Peter Branagan
Peter Branagan
2 years ago

So, ‘education’ is only for the monied elite who have ‘independent means’. ‘Training’ is for the rest of us who actually have to work for a living. Real bummer that.

Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Branagan

Given the considerable sums of money I have handed over to plumbers, electricians and car mechanics, I wonder if I made the wrong choice 


Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Branagan

I was watching a documentary about Brendan Bracken the other day. The most interesting part was it took him just one term at a public school (Sedburgh) – that he achieved through lies and some saved up money – for him to shake off his working class Fenian background and be invited into the elite. Perhaps that is a good case of econonimisation!

Chris D.
Chris D.
2 years ago

“’Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ is not some clever compromise division of all that there is into the earthly and the heavenly.
All things belong to God, without remainder.”
Well said!