9 August 2021

A past age

I happened, entirely by chance, to notice the following; it is part of a Publisher's blurb (CUP) dated 1965 commending a book (Golden Latin Artistry) published in 1963.

"[L P Wilkinson] addresses himself mainly to the ordinary devotee of Latin literature -- the undergraduate, the schoolmaster, the sixth-form boy, the civil servant on Sunday, the country parson on Monday, the critic of modern literature and, perhaps, the don in another department of classics."

Apart from the teensy-weensy dash of Tab pride at the end, isn't that totally, wonderfully, evocative?

When I sat the (C of E) General Ordination Examination in 1967, the Latin paper had already been made optional; I think it was in the 1960s that they removed the legal requirement for Anglican ordinands to be "learned in the Latin tongue."

The Set Book used to be a section of S Bede; it was possibly the only important and interesting examination prescription (remember what the Sixties were like?) that most seminarians were encouraged to study.


william arthurs said...

This all from memory as I have lost my copy of this book, bought second hand in the 1970s. A Classical Anthology by LA and RWL Wilding (Faber, 1955), a selection of representative passages from well-loved classical authors, had Loeb-style, original tongue on the left with translation on the facing page. The editors' preface suggested a hope that the book would revive the memories of "all those who had allowed this priceless possession [a classical education] to fall into disuse."

Looking at the course description for Bristol University's BA in Classical Studies, it seems that knowledge of the classical tongues is now optional and frankly time spent learning them is time taken away from what are now regarded as more important matters.

Margaret Barker noted a similar trend in Old Testament studies, twenty years ago:

This battle for Hebrew is one in which I became involved when one of the American dominated English universities began to press [the Society for Old Testament Studies] to drop knowledge of Hebrew as a requirement for membership, so that we could be more like an American Society.

Unknown said...

And those who had read Modern History (ut olim erat) at the Older University would already have studied Bede (in Latin, natch) in their first term to prepare for History Prelims..

Jim Bowman said...

A digital version of such a study is The Classical Anthology -- https://classicalanthology.theclassicslibrary.com/ -- which supplies roughly what the remembered book does, FYI.

william arthurs said...

Indeed I remember in the History section of Trinity College library, carved deep into the top of a reading desk: BEDE IS SO BORING... Well, I assumed it referred to the Venomous Bede himself rather than to the college's much-loved philosophy tutor Bede Rundle, who acquired his name because his father had done teacher training at Bede College Durham before leaving for New Zealand.

Anglo-Saxon had been included in the Oxford English syllabus, supposedly to provide rigour to a degree course otherwise believed to consist of vague belles-lettrist aestheticism. The fast-track approach to avoiding the hated Anglo-Saxon in the first year (English Moderations) was to read for History Prelims (for a term) with Bede (in Latin) etc. with the intention to switch to English afterwards: a 'pass' in Prelims opened the door to eight whole terms to prepare for the Final Honour school of English. The only thing that was needed to pursue this approach was the collusion of the English and History tutors, and the college authorities generally, as was available at Balliol in my day.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

I, too, once had a copy of this fine work. I don't lnow what happened to it.


Grant Milburn said...

I remember the sixties. I recall someone telling me, circa 1966-1967 that Roman Catholics used a strange exotic language in their worship called Latin.

Come late 1969, and I had completed eight years of primary school, and had to choose which subjects I wished to study at high school. There was a compulsory core of History, Maths, Science and English. In addition to that one could choose to study French- or French plus Latin. I liked what I knew of the French language and was keen to study it in earnest - but who needed Latin? Even the RC's, so they told me, were now discarding their Latin worship. Men were walking on the moon. It was the Space Age!

I little knew that in 30 years' time, I would become a Catholic and start attending the TLM, even serving it at times. For that I needed a modicum of Latin, and Providence had a cunning plan. I received a letter from the high school, stating that in view of my end-of-year exam results, I would be suited to a more academic course- and that meant Latin.

So in early 1970, as the RC's were discarding Latin, I was starting to learn it. Our home room was the room where we were to study Latin. On the wall was a poster of a Roman soldier in full panoply: MILES ROMANUS. His equipment was labeled in Latin: Galea, Gladius, Scutum... (We 12 and 13-year old boys sniggered briefly at the Latin for scabbard.) It was a veiled prophesy that one day I would become a "Roman soldier" in a sense.

So I did three years of Latin: in the final year we worked through Caesar's invasion of Britain ("Desilite, milites...). After that, although I could not continue to study at my high school, I continued to cultivate the language as best I could. In those pre-internet days finding Latin texts was not easy, but I looked through second-hand book shops and obtained many small volumes, often of Edwardian provenance. These might contain a single book of Horace's Odes or of Virgil's Aeneid and so forth, and contained helpful notes and a vocabulary. So I worked through the third book of Horace's odes ("Non omnis moriar.."), the second book of Virgil's Aeneid, which describes the fall of Troy ("Equo ne credite-Don't Trust That Horse..."), and more.

There was also a ripple effect: studying Latin and French together got me interested in language change, historical and comparative linguistics. When you learned sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt in one one class, and then je suis, tu es, il/elle est, nous sommes, vous ĂȘtes, ils/elles sont in another, it became clear that the present day inhabitants of Gaul had discarded their own Celtic language in favour of a slurry nasalised street Latin- and had somehow made it seem elegant and chic. With some Latin under my belt, I also studied NT Greek, and later biblical Hebrew.

John Nolan said...

At my old-established grammar school only a third of boys (the A-stream) had compulsory Latin to O-Level in the 1960s. However, when I went up to Durham to read modern history in 1969 Latin at least to O-Level was a course requirement.

One of the Prelims papers was 'Christendom and Islam in the mid-12th century' and we had to study excerpts from Otto of Freising, Odo of Deuil, John of Wurzburg, Peter the Venerable, Petrus Alphonsus and, of course, St Bernard.

One paper required translation from Latin and a modern foreign language text which was taught as part of the course 'Order and Revolution 1830-1870'.

Fast-forward ten years and many schools had stopped teaching Latin on the grounds that universities no longer required it, and universities no longer required it on the grounds that few schools still taught it.

Banshee said...

Well, crud. That's exactly the level of Latin literature I'm interested in, or maybe even a little lower, so I feel really freaking embarrassed and horrified to find myself sometimes cast by others in the part of a "Latin expert." I'm no more a Latin expert than I am in any of my other languages, and I fully expected myself to "get more use" out of them.

But no! It's Latin that's turned out to be the one important to my fellow humans and my ordinary layperson life. It's like being the only half-educated person in some isolated early medieval town, which is ridiculous!

The good news is that Latin is a pretty popular language with homeschoolers and with non-Catholic private schools. So plenty of people with actual knowledge are coming up.