Much excitement this week – a school trip of my dreams, to the ruins of a villa built by the Romans, including encounters with an actual centurion, and a wealthy banquet recreation, all on the doorstep, right here in Milton Keynes. I jumped at the chance to go as a parent helper.
I adore the Romans. My first Latin lesson happened when I was about 12, and I loved it instantly. The logic of the language, combined with its beauty, the romanticism of the ancient history, and the delights of those fabulous gods and goddesses, cast an enchanting spell that lasted for 10 years in education and beyond.
This was one of those rare and fortunate points in life when passion and aptitude combine. It turned out that as well as loving it, I was quite good at it, too – so I chose it for GCSE, then A level. In the absence of having even the faintest idea of what I wanted to do after university, I decided to apply for subjects I liked, with the hope that I would at least do well enough in them as a result to figure out a career later on – so I went for various combinations of History, Latin and English Literature, ended up with a degree in the latter two, and the love affair continued.
I was asked many times during my degree what on Earth I planned to do with Latin and English Literature once I’d graduated, and still I didn’t know. But now, after nearly 20 years of reflection and half a working career in the bag, I believe I can finally tell you what the Romans did for me (aka, Why Learn Latin) – cue a bit of Latin counting:
Words. My vocabulary is so much bigger than it would have been without Latin. It’s true that English is a hybrid of many ancient languages, but Latin is one of the main contributors, largely because many of the other languages which have formed our tongue are also derived in part from Latin – such as Old French, Teutonic, and Anglo-Saxon. It’s not just knowing more words, though. Knowing what they meant in their original incarnation, in their first language, has given me a much richer understanding of their nuance and power.
Grammar. I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of the English grammatical minefields that they insist on laying for unsuspecting school children, but when I do get into the murky waters of fronted adverbials, I find I understand the logic behind them. And more simply, I never understood when you should use ‘whom’ rather than ‘who’, until I learned the basics of Latin noun declensions. This all helps me to understand why some sentences work, and others don’t; and why some just sound clunky, and others flow musically. And hopefully I will be able to help out with some of the trickier Year 6 English SATs prep as well.
There is so much more that studying Latin, and the people who spoke it, has given to me – myths and legends, love and knowledge of history, the science and technology they developed centuries before anyone else, how our country was invaded and evolved with the Romans’ influence – and discovering, through reading these words which are like wormholes to the past, that people are exactly the same – whenever and wherever you may live. Standing on ground which has seen layer upon layer of human life and love is a simply magic experience, and it never fails to enthrall me.
I watched the children discover this living history, on their very doorstep – and realised that the biggest thing the Romans did for me, was to give me this love of words, writing, and this precious gift of being able to do it for a living; which also lets me experience these brilliant times with the boys. Gratias ago tibi amicus – thanks, mate.