A radical new Latin course book is indeed a rara avis – even rarer for it to survive into a fifth edition after 50 years of exposure to the rigours of the classroom. Your accolade for the Cambridge Latin Course (UK school Latin course overhauled to reflect diversity of Roman world, 10 July) enables me to pay tribute to the colleagues who seized the opportunity in 1966 of a grant by the Nuffield Foundation, soon to be supplemented by the Schools Council, of addressing again the vexatious question: “What is learning Latin for?”
Their answer was: “To learn to read some original Latin literature and understand some of the values transmitted by it to the making of western civilisation.”
Today that sounds fairly obvious; back then it was somewhat controversial, in a climate still governed by grammar grind and learning to write elegant Latin sentences. I still cherish the remark of a pupil in a state grammar school for girls, who had just completed an early edition of the newfangled Latin course and had taken her O-level, when she said to her teacher: “I enjoyed that course and the exam because it treated me as an adult who could think.” I expect the new edition to continue doing just that.
First director of the Cambridge School Classics Project
Your article on the overhaul of the Cambridge Latin Course reminded me of my days learning Latin at school. Back then, students taking three A-levels were encouraged to add an additional O-level alongside them. Given that our subjects were modern languages, a friend and I opted for Latin. We were the only two in the sixth form to do so, and our teacher, newly released into the wild from teacher training college, was obviously at her wits’ end faced with two recalcitrant 17-year-olds.
Eventually, with enviable resourcefulness, she bought a Latin translation of Winnie the Pooh with the original illustrations, entitled Winnie Ille Pu, and we were hooked right from the opening line: “Ecce Eduardus Ursus scalis nunc tump-tump-tump occipite gradus pulsante post Christophorum Robinum descendens.”
In the end only I turned up for the exam, but the fact that I can proudly show a C in Latin I put down to Eduardus Ursus.
Cowes, Isle of Wight
July 17, 2022 at 10:41PM Letters