Sunday 29Sep2013

We have found Atlantis! While Classicists debate how much damage Atlantis has done to Greek myths in an hour, the “hero” Jason fills the post-Strictly hole in the BBC timetable. In this round up look back at the news of the week that was, beyond and within the Pilars of Hercules.


You can read one of the review to Atlantis here: with spoilers ( and without spoilers ( Also Pop Classics blog ( ). You can see the episode on iPlayer here: . My Facebook and Twitter feeds seem to fill with comments of myth twisted and the randomness of it all…

… so if you prefer to read about the real Atlantis, read Bettany Hughes’ article”Atlantis: secrets of the real lost city” <Daily Telegraph> .

Allegedly we have recreated the sound of Proto-Indo European (PIE) language. “Is This How Our Ancestors Sounded? Linguist Recreates Proto-Indo-European Language (AUDIO)” Huffington Post: 

When do we know if a piece is fake or real? “The Cleveland Museum of Art wades into global controversy over antiquities collecting with exhibition and catalog on ancient bronze Apollo” Sun News 

The ancient site of Nemea is under threat from government cuts amid Greek austerity. “Potential lay-offs at Nemea spark response from head archaeologist” <ekathimerini> “Ancient Greek site threatened amid celebration” #Nemea <San Jose Mercury News> 

There’s a neat piece on the history of Gilbraltar, in Spanish: 

Our post on “Latin to English is not dumbing down“. 

We need your help. Departmental Closure threat at University College Cork: 

A report from the “Greek Literary Epigram conference at UCL” 


Sol Day

Sol Day 22Sep2013 – Latin-to-English is not dumbing down

Harry Mount seems a witty, decent guy. I mean amo Amo Amas Amat and all that and he is a proud Classicist. But his comments comparing Latin-to-English translation to busking has caused a stir.

In the blog post with the title “The tragic dumbing down of Latin in our schools” ( Mount suggests that:

“When you’re translating Latin into English, you can busk it: translate the words roughly and then cobble them together into goodish English. With the other way round – English into Latin – there’s no busking. You’re either right or you’re wrong – there’s no grey area. That’s one of the joys of Latin; precisely because it’s a dead language, there’s no wriggle room, no negotiating over the correct answer, as there is with the shifting meanings of modern languages.”

You may agree with Mount, but I do not. I hope to provide another post for a detailed counter-argument but let me ask you to consider a few points. On “no wriggle room” in Latin, I challenge anyone to be a judge of a correct answer in English-to-Latin translation, prose composition or however it should be termed. We are not Romans and we do not think, speak or write like Romans, however much we practise. Mount’s suggestions that there is only one correct answer is only verifiable if Cicero is alive, and even then only if we were tasked to compose in the style of Cicero. Coincidently, when translating into “shifting… modern languages”, are we asked to translate in the style of Borges or Moliere? If so, then perhaps Modern Foreign Language would gain “rigour” as defined by Mount.

It also riles me that Mount’s comment discount the work of GCSE students for the past many years, who, in his eyes, would have been “busking it” because they did no Latin-to-English. Nor is English-to-Latin necessarily harder – if in a Latin course students only learn to translate English-to-Latin, then Latin-to-English would be difficult for them. In reality, the situation is that students only learn to translate Latin-to-English, which is sensible if Latin were not to be treated as another intellectual exercise such as Su-Do-Ku and its variants.

I cannot doubt Mount’s passion for the subject despite the fact that our views are very far apart. Not only views on prose composition, but views on Latin as a whole. Some passionate Latinists promote the subject as more rigorous than other subjects, the language as more challenging than others. Indeed a GCSE in Latin is seen as a grade more difficult to the second most difficult subject, while Latin maintains a more complex structure that French, Spanish and English does not have. But if complexity is such a draw, should we not (indeed some do) push our students to study Russian, Arabic or Mandarin Chinese or indeed Ancient Greek? Latin is a difficult subject at GCSE level, but it is up to the authorities to decide at what difficulty level a public Latin exam should sit – and we can always influence their thinking on this matter.

Latin is also inherently complex and some seem to mistake the challenge of a complex language to be the sole driving force for learning Latin. Comments on Latin include “it is a precise language”, “it is succinct”, “there are many things to remember to work out a sentence”. Yet we cannot sell a subject on the merit of challenge alone. The British tradition of grammar-translation is a very long one and the fact that the grammatical and translation exercise is so rigid in requiring exact translation is, I suggest, a result of this tradiion. Yet times has changed and so have the course books.

Learning Latin now has a stronger emphasis on understanding rather than linguistic exercise. And why should it not? If learning Latin should open a door to the Classical texts, we need to be able to read the text efficiently, extracting relevant information. A precise grasp of the language helps our reading of Latin, but a precise translation and analysis of Latin every time a Latin text is encountered does not help improve our Latin reading skills. A climate of Latin learning where a perennial precision is aimed for also moves the focus of Latin onto a linguistic exercise at the expense of understanding Classical culture through original language – in this climate Latin truly is a dead language.


Sunday 23Sep2013

This week has been a strong week on education news, with the publication of the Politeia review and announcement that the WJEC Latin Level 2 certificate is included within the EBacc performance measures.

We have decided to create a dedicated blog for our Sunday updates. In this new blog we will try to bring you a round up of Classical news every Sunday.

(We know this post was posted late… too many things to do. This occasionally happens as well.)

Sunday 22Sep2013

The think-tank Politeia has published a new document suggesting changes to Latin at GCSE level. The report suggest that language learning could be enhance by offering an optional element of prose composition, which seems to be in the form of sentence translation, as well as a flexibility for reading around the ancient texts in the GCSE prescribed list and asking grammatical questions in the exam. The exam paper will be changed accordingly. The authors also asks the Secretary of State for Education to include Latin within the Key Stage 3 of the National Curriculum. You can see the full report, containing the authors’ reasoning, suggestions and a mock paper with the changes included here: The Independent reported on the pamphlet: We also hope to be writing a piece on this in the next few days, in Sol Day (our opinion column) and as a separate article on the main blog.

Harry Mount, author of Amo, Amas Amat and all that, then commented on the proposal (, claiming that not only Latin is difficult, but that English-to-Latin is significantly more difficult than Latin-to-English: “When you’re translating Latin into English, you can busk it… With the other way round – English into Latin – there’s no busking.” This led to quite a negative reaction on Twitter and James Warren’s blog post give us a taste:

WJEC has announced that “the Department for Education (DfE) in England has confirmed that the WJEC Level 2 Certificates in Latin Language and Latin Language and Roman Civilisation will be recognised in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) performance measure from 2014.

The impact of this is as follows:

  • WJEC Level 2 Certificate in Latin Language is recognised in the EBacc as a language
  • WJEC Level 2 Certificate in Latin Language and Roman Civilisation is recognised in the EBacc as a language”

(See here:

The Latin work of a native American surfaced at Harvard last week: Harvard Crimson , Harvard Gazette .

Scientists Search in Pieria the Wood of Which Ancient Triremes were Made. Greek Reporter: 

Pelagios Project was featured by The Guardian as the Google Earth project of the ancient world 

“Loeb at First Sight: The Classics Come in Red and Green”. A rather stylish look at the Harvard books. Designers & Books: 

American Philological Society (APA) to change its name to the Society for Classical Studies (SCC?). TAPA remains TAPA. APA: 

…and we have passed the 1000 mark in the number of followers we have on Twitter! Thanks for you continue support at!

We will provide the links to a few posts of ours when they materialise, and this includes our weekly soapbox “Sol Day”, also on this blog. Watch this space!