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This could actually be good

Etched in the memories of generations of Latin scholars will almost certainly be the phrase “Caecilius est in horto”.

But now Caecilius is in trouble with school textbooks featuring the Roman character being rewritten following complaints about his ownership of “happy slaves”.

The Cambridge Latin Course books have been used in classrooms for five decades, but will now be revised as portrayals of ancient life have proved jarring for modern pupils.

The activities of Caecilius could be toned down by Cambridge University Press as scholars rewrite course material amid concerns about the didactic character appearing to exploit slaves – a common feature of Roman life.

Good as in, a reminder that the Atlantic slave trade was merely the last major such movement of people into slavery, not a unique one.

I entirely hated doing Latin. Partly because I’d not done any until the age of 10, at which point it was assumed at a new school that I’d already been doing it for a few years. Deep end isn’t fun. I’d done Italian instead – for the logical reason that I’d been in Italy for a couple of years.

Which did mean that I had a certain fondness for Cambridge Latin, even as I hated the subject. For, it starts out with the family in Pompeii (or, at least, the course we took did) and talks about bits around the Bay of Naples. Which is where I’d been. Then the family moves to Britain. To Aquae Sulis – which is where I was from. So while I could do bugger all Latin, had a very bastard understanding through the Italian, the background scenery was always something close to home.

Nowt important about all of that of course….

37 thoughts on “This could actually be good”

  1. Easy solution: Bloody well quit teaching a dead language with no application in modern life and science to kids.

  2. My main memory of Mr C and his family was of all the hand-drawn additions to the illustrations – the preponderance of gargantuan members and pendulous breasts adorning every page.

  3. Luckily there are no references to slavery in the texts of a certain religion which are widely taught across the UK or else the young men (usually) might easily become traumatised.

    On an associated note if teaching the historical existence of slavery is detrimental to young minds then surely teaching them about the actions of the nation which led the way in shutting down the transatlantic trade could not fail to be uplifting and character-building while fostering a well-justified pride in our country being the first to admit the error of its ways and to do something, at considerable cost to itself, to right the wrong.

    Sadly I fear this knowledge is denied them by our current curriculum.

  4. Well, weren’t Roman slaves a bit different from the modern view of what all slaves are. Didn’t they have a chance of freedom. Some could buy their freedom, others set free. They might not have had the same status as other Roman citizens, but they were free. And slaves were considered valuable property so weren’t always treated badly like you see with American slaves.

  5. Bloke in North Dorset

    SBML,

    That’s the urban and to a lesser extent agrarian slaves. The slaves who worked in mines and other gruelling jobs were worked to death, according to accounts I’ve been listening to.

    I forget which emperor, but the fact that they had to pass a law making it illegal to kill slaves shows that it wasn’t all sweetness and light as well.

  6. Must be a different syllabus or generation to me — my memories of Latin, taught at Grammar school because it was still an Oxbridge requirement when we started, were more towards the “Balbus and Cotta assaulted the ramparts with slingshot and javelins” side of things. Absolutely no recollection of there being any “happy Roman family with recurring cast”-type skeleton for the grammar and vocab bits for the initial years, before being plunged into Caesar’s Gallic Wars and Catullus’ love poems for ‘O’ level. I have more memories of doing prep on the Gallic wars by the light of a home-made oil-lamp because of power cuts from the regular strikes going on back then.

    As for the slave bit, if there was any though given it was along the lines of “well, that’s Ancient History.”

  7. I have a vague memory that I was in fact in the first year that used that new Cambridge course. 1973 therefore….

  8. My schoolboy Latin involved Gaul being divided into three parts. There’s stuff in the news today about encouraging kids to learn Latin by translating Taylor Swift’s songs. Whatever, it’s still a (nearly) dead language. Practically, Mandarin, Spanish or Swahili would be more use.

  9. Grikath is right. If they’re not prepared to tell the truth in a course of study, it’d be better to simply scrap it.

  10. The Sage

    Did you go to St Custards ?

    There was a discussion on Roman slavery on R3 last year. It is believed today ( apparently) that domestic slaves were often only indentured for six years and then freed. I wasn’t convinced personally.

  11. Glad to see the utilitarian theory of language teaching makes its customary appearance. On a Thursday of all days

  12. @Ottokring
    No, but in most respects, it would have made little difference to my school experience.

  13. ” Whatever, it’s still a (nearly) dead language. Practically, Mandarin, Spanish or Swahili would be more use.”
    I learned (or mostly didn’t learn) Latin at school. I have found it useful. It was the precursor to a number of European languages. When I first came to Spain I couldn’t speak a word of the language but could read a lot of it. Even more true with Romania.
    Learning Spanish? I’m obliged to. Otherwise? It’s the language of close on a billion people. Unfortunately, mostly the poorer ones. And one asks someone to name a famous work of literature in the language & they think for a bit & offer Don Quixote. It’s 500 years old FFS!

  14. The phrase that stuck with me (after the very one you highlight Tim) was ‘Ancillae ursam transfixerunt’.

    That Latin course was great. I learned it quicker than I’d learnt any other modern language. And it taught me more about grammar than the entirety of my secondary school English education. And it did a great job of working in bits of history – both grand and horrific – while making them relevant to the plot.

    Wasn’t keen on the Fishbourne stretch though. A bit dull.

  15. “my memories of Latin, taught at Grammar school because it was still an Oxbridge requirement when we started, were more towards the “Balbus and Cotta assaulted the ramparts with slingshot and javelins” side of things.”

    That was my Latin experience to a T. We were always reading about Caesar assaulting some Gallic ramparts or other. And of course our Bible was the Shortbread Eating Primer. Like our host I was thrown in the deep end with Latin, aged 11 I went from a state primary school to a private Prep school and had to mug up enough Latin from scratch in 2 years to pass CE. Somehow I managed it. My first Latin master was an old school disciplinarian, we were all terrified of him. We all hated Fridays, as Friday’s Latin lesson would have a 10 point test based on the previous nights Latin Prep, you had to get 6 marks to pass. He called it his ‘Latin Snippets’ test. I still get shivers thinking about it.

    I must have been a bit of a masochist, as I elected to continue Latin at senior school, where it turned out to be far more based on reading Catullus than about the Gallic Wars. I wanted to do Latin A level (not least because the lessons were shared with a neighbouring girls school, mine being all boys) but couldn’t make my A level choices fit the timetable. It was a CP Snow inspired clash of Arts and Science, and never the twain shall meet. Thou shalt not study Math, Chemistry AND Latin. Sadly the Latin went, replaced by the Dismal Science 🙁

  16. A useless subject, rummaging around in culture, poetry, history and versions of human excellence which are a bit difficult to understand.

    There’s already too much thinking going on. We don’t need it. We want kids to study nothing but STEM subjects so they can invent cool stuff like apps and cars and household gadgets, and then we’ll all be happy all the time.

  17. our textbook was written by the classics teacher. He had a surname that made schoolboys snigger, so that googling to try and find the book just now returns reams of latina porn links.

  18. “our textbook was written by the classics teacher. He had a surname that made schoolboys snigger, so that googling to try and find the book just now returns reams of latina porn links.”

    That was an inspired excuse. I was only searching for my old Latin textbook my dear!

  19. I had to make do with Hans und Lisalotte getting stuck in the forest while gathering mushrooms. Why, you have broken your ankle! Stay there! Don’t move!

  20. Sorry, hans getting stuck in lisalotte in the, fnarr, fnarr, forest? Which class was this at school again?

  21. >assuming slaves couldn’t possibly be happy

    I’m sure many slaves were happy, because they’re human and lived in a tremendous diversity of circumstances. The slave’s lot could be bad, but it could also be relatively attractive compared with the alternatives. You definitely wouldn’t want to be a miner in ancient Greece, but if you were a household slave in a wealthy family’s villa in Ravenna your life could definitely be a lot comfier than if you were free.

    Ancient men didn’t think as we do – they didn’t feel guilty or ashamed of owning slaves, quite the opposite – so of course it’s jarring for kiddos to learn history and it should be jarring. Even 80’s man didn’t think as moderns do, hence women of a certain age getting dewy over DCI Gene Hunt.

  22. I enjoyed Latin and have found it moderately useful. More so than the eminently practical woodwork for example.

  23. Arthur the cat said:
    “My schoolboy Latin involved Gaul being divided into three parts.”

    No, four parts – for one small village of indomitable Gauls still held out against the Roman invaders…

  24. The Meissen Bison

    The chaps at St Custard’s had helpful illustrations of Kennedy rounding up peaceful gerundives with a butterfly net.

  25. For nouns that cannot be declined
    The neuter gender is applied
    Be bop
    Be bop
    Examples fas and feras give
    And the verb-noun infinitive.

    Idioticus’ song

    By nigellus molesworthus

  26. The value of learning Latin is as a mental discipline. Science subjects once served a similar purpose but we all know what’s happened to science.

    Of course, Latin serves the same purpose as any foreign language: learning it helps one to understand the structure of one’s own.

  27. Of course, Latin serves the same purpose as any foreign language: learning it helps one to understand the structure of one’s own.

    …because it’s not like the bloody English teacher will teach you…

  28. John Galt

    After 13 years at school and 3 years Uni, I only understood how English works when I learnt German.

  29. @ANNRQ

    “ My main memory of Mr C and his family was of all the hand-drawn additions to the illustrations – the preponderance of gargantuan members and pendulous breasts adorning every page.”

    Especially on the picture for “Grumio est coquus”

  30. @Ottokring
    I only understood how the German language worked after reading “The Awful German Language” but Mark Twain.

  31. @Bloke in North Dorset

    The emperor who made killing a slave murder was Claudius. But not long before that, Augustus passed a law limiting the number of slaves that could be freed, so there was huge variablilty in the conditions slaves lived under. Some were worked to death in mines, while others were valued greatly by their owners.

  32. Charles, I understood that Augustus was pissed that slave owners were freeing worn out slaves in Rome. This meant that the emperor had to provide their bread as well as the circuses.

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