Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Latin is something of an obsession for me but I can't understand why anyone else is interested. However, the new online Latin course is causing rather a lot of excitement. Likewise, Harry Mount is the Spectator was bemoaning the decline of classical languages although he rightly got whipped for his pains by and Oxford don in a later issue.

There are only a few good reasons to learn Latin. First, because you need to read it for professional purposes (ie. you are a historian, Vatican bureaucrat or Latin teacher); second because your love of literature is so great you want to read Virgil in the original and third because Latin is hard so it will look good on your CV. Before the 1960s you needed Latin O Level to get into Oxbridge which was also a good reason for doing it. Indeed in the 1960s about 50,000 young people did the O level (a sixteen years old) a year. Now it is but 10,000.

I do Latin because it is essential for history and I do Greek purely because I want to be able to read it in the original. But I'm nuts. I can see no reason why kids should want to do the subject at school unless they really are the top of the ability range and need the challenge to stop them getting too bored. For any other kid, Latin is a nightmare.

As an adult hobby, on the other hand, I'm all for it. Adults generally only do classes in stuff they really want to do and the number of Latin and Greek courses and summer schools for mature students is on the increase. This summer, I am doing my fifth year at Lampeter's fantastic summer school and for me it is always a wonderful time. So, if you are an adult who fancies a bit of Latin, buy Peter Jones' Learn Latin from Duckworth and if you love it then come and see us at Lampeter. As for Harry Mount, he should join us too rather than bewailing an imaginary era when we all picked up Homer to read in the bath.

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