Saturday 28 January 2012

Amo, Amas, Amat.

In order to be offered a place at my chosen upper school, the 13 year old, knobbly kneed, short trousered, Cro was obliged to sit, and pass, the dreaded Common Entrance Exam. All the usual subjects were there, as well as ancient Greek, and LATIN.

The Latin teacher at my Sussex Prep' school was excellent; he made the subject both interesting and amusing, and I became rather adept.

Eventually I sat my Common Entrance. The papers were sent off to the school of my choice in Cambridgeshire, and we awaited results. When they came back I was shocked; as was my teacher, my friends, and everyone else South of Watford. I had managed to achieve a pass mark of 90% in my Latin paper; my other papers were not of the same standard, but good enough (thank goodness) to be offered a place at the school of my choice.

On the first day of  Michaelmas term 1960 (the very first day at my new school), I was summoned to the headmaster's study and informed that as my Latin pass mark had been the highest of the 1960 intake, I was to become the year's Classics Scholar, with an annual bursary of 13 guineas. The only stipulation was that the money should be spent on books, and a short account of what and why should be submitted each year.

The headmaster also became my new classics master. He was a pig of a man, and made Latin so dull and tedious that at the end of my first year I took a letter to his study informing him that I no longer wished to continue my studies. He was furious; a Latin Scholar had never been known to do such a thing. My bursary, however, continued for the duration, and I spent the money on Art books..... The school's Art Department, by this time, had become my second home.

My relationship with the headmaster continued to decline, reaching the depths when I happened to mention that I'd met his brother; a rather pleasant rakish bit-part actor (obviously the black sheep). I'd seen him in some small town theatre production, and met him backstage afterwards. He'd described his brother to me as a pompous red-faced buffoon; which was exactly what he was.

My current knowledge of Latin is pretty poor, but I do still keep a large Latin dictionary by my side, as well as a large etymological dictionary.... so somewhere, at the back of my mind, the interest is still alive.

Amamus, Amatis, Amant...


  1. I was prompted to write the above by a recent proposition that schools should return to the study of Latin. On re-reading my posting it looks more like Cro versus his Headmaster (sorry about that). I should have stated somewhere that I'm all for the study of Latin... as I am for the compulsory study of Chicken Anatomy; but that's for another day!

  2. It has its uses- as an international gardening language if nothing else!

    It is often that the interaction with a teacher, positive or negative can be more influential than one's talents in a certain subject.

  3. We had to take latin at our school too Cro...Mrs. Pendergrass was our teacher...she inspired me to write this poem in latin...

    Pendebus sitibus on the deskorum
    deskibus collaspibus
    Pende on the floorum

    I might add there wasn't any bursary offered to me!

    1. Dog Latin has always been a favourite of mine too.

  4. Sort of venire, videre, veered off artistically then?

  5. Ah, that brings back memories of Mr Sykes and a double period of Latin every Monday afternoon (couldn't wait to get the weekend over!)ploughing our way through 'Ceasar's Gallic Wars'. However, I don't regret having studied Latin. I think it provides a good basis for the study of other languages. If you have had to grapple with Latin declensions and verbs, the mysteries of German grammar hold no fears and, although I have never learnt Italian, I can often have a good stab at reading and understanding some of it.

  6. We didn't do Latin at my appallingly bad Secondary Modern, but we did play conkers. "I came, I saw, I conkered" was our motto.

  7. My brother had to study Latin in the Catholic boy's school he attended. He said that he enjoyed the class, but has strangely never had the need to speak Latin in the outside world. If he had become a priest (and he almost did) he would have gotten full use of those studies. I, myself, have always been good with pig latin, a gift I plan to share with my children very soon.

    Glad you were able to use the money for art books.

  8. I did enjoy my Latin classes and it served me well with other languages that I was taught. I can remember little of it today, but can still read some French and Spanish. After all these years, I find some pride in that.

  9. What a shame you didn't have a teacher that would continue to inspire you. It is sad when something you enjoy deteriorates into something you can barely stand to approach.

  10. That was a brilliant mark you had in your Latin exam Cro. That head teacher should never have been teaching.

  11. I wanted to study French and Spanish, but my parents insisted on Latin. While it helped me a bit when I later took Spanish, the only other applications for me were gardening and science. And it is for the SCIENCE that I am grateful I took it. I later wrote to promote graduate programs in engineering for Stanford University and I was stunned by how I was able to intuitively understand some of the terminology...

    Until I realized that the same word had different meanings in different disciplines.

    Still, there was a discipline in studying the language that I have a feeling helped in other ways. I think in the states they blew up Latin studies long before they did elsewhere.


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