Watch: Naked From the Knees Up – Ancient Latin Textbooks Rediscovered (by Prof. Eleanor Dickey)

On 8 November 2016, Prof. Eleanor Dickey gave a talk to the Roman Society entitled ‘Naked From the Knees Up – Ancient Latin Textbooks Rediscovered’. You may watch her talk here, courtesy of the Roman Society:

Reading Classics in the News

The past few months have been exciting ones for the Classics department owing to a blitz of media attention covering the publication of Professor Eleanor Dickey’s book Learning Latin the Ancient Way as well as the annual Reading Ancient Schoolroom.

It started in February with an article in the Guardian and lasted until April, when the CBC Radio Canada broadcast a half-hour interview with Professor Dickey; along the way we featured on national TV and radio as well as the Times, the Telegraph, and numerous European publications. The final tally was (as far as we know) 3 printed newspaper pieces, 11 online newspaper pieces in 6 languages, 2 national TV broadcasts, 2 BBC South TV broadcasts, and 6 radio broadcasts (4 in UK, 1 in US, 1 in Canada).

Here is the full list:

Wednesday 10th February

Thursday 11th February

Friday 12th Feburary

Saturday 13th February

Sunday 14th February

  •  BBC 1 TV, 2:24 am

Wednesday 17th February

Saturday 20 February

  •  Announcement of Naples ‘Presentazione libro’ sent out on Notiziario Italiano di Antichistica

 Monday 22nd February

Thursday 25th February

Tuesday 1st March

  •  ‘Presentazione libro’ in Naples (public event in which book was discussed by a pair of Naples Classicists; in Italian)

Monday 7th March

Friday 1st April

For more information on the Reading Ancient Schoolroom, see http://www.readingancientschoolroom.com.

Learning Latin the Ancient Way – Reading research in the Guardian

Learning Latin the Ancient Way, Reading Classics professor Eleanor Dickey’s latest book published this week by Cambridge University Press, has been reviewed in the Guardian. The review can be seen at http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/10/ancient-greek-manuscripts-reveal-life-lessons-from-the-roman-empire The book explores how Greek-speaking students in the Roman empire learned Latin, using the fragments of their Latin textbooks preserved on papyri from Egypt and in medieval manuscripts. In some ways these ancient Latin learners had an experience strikingly similar to that of modern students: they used grammars, dictionaries, and commentaries; they read Cicero’s Catilinarian orations and Virgil’s Aeneid; they memorized vocabulary; they looked up the hard words and wrote translations into their Latin texts.

Prof. Dickey's most recent book: Learning Latin the Ancient Way (Cambridge, 2016)

Prof. Dickey’s most recent book: Learning Latin the Ancient Way (Cambridge, 2016)

But in other ways the ancient Latin learners had a very different experience from that of their modern counterparts. Some of these differences come from the fact that ancient learners came to Latin knowing ancient Greek rather than English. So they struggled to learn the Roman alphabet, but they had no problems with the distinction between nominative and accusative cases. Other differences come from ancient educational conventions: ancient beginners started off with bilingual texts, easy Latin accompanied by a running translation. Of course the students could not translate the Latin for themselves as a modern learner might do, since a translation was provided; instead they memorized the Latin, rather the way a student studying French today might memorize a dialogue about ordering croissants in a café in Paris.

Indeed the texts read by ancient beginners have much more in common with material read by modern French learners than with that read by modern Latin learners. Ancient students studied short dialogues and narratives about daily life: buying clothes, buying food, having lunch, borrowing money, and visiting sick friends. Of course, ancient daily life was not quite like modern daily life, so the dialogues also cover going to the public baths, winning court cases, making excuses, getting into fights, taking oaths in temples, and coming home drunk after a Roman orgy. Just like their modern counterparts, these dialogues were written to teach students about culture as well as language; therefore they offer us priceless insight into life in the Roman empire as Romans saw it.

Learning Latin the Ancient Way provides extracts from all types of ancient Latin-learning texts: bilingual dialogues, alphabets, grammars, dictionaries, annotated copies of Sallust, word-lists to Virgil, prose composition exercises, Aesop’s fables, stories about the Trojan war, letters of congratulation for sending to successful legacy hunters, an explanation of the Roman law on manumission, etc. Portions originally written in Greek have normally been translated into English, but the Latin remains in Latin; this means that modern students can experience and use these texts as their ancient counterparts would have done (or ignore the English and treat the passages like any other translation exercise). A few passages lack word division and punctuation, to make it clear what reading was really like in antiquity.

Professor Dickey hopes that her book will be used by modern Latin teachers and students (it is suitable for learners who have already done at least one year of Latin) and that it will enable modern learners to enjoy the ancient Latin-learning materials, which are now able to be used once more for their original purpose.

Copies can be purchased from Cambridge University Press (to whom Professor Dickey is very grateful for pricing the book at an affordable £18, a sharp contrast to most of her previous books): http://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/classical-studies/classical-languages/learning-latin-ancient-way-latin-textbooks-ancient-world?format=PB.

Reading’s Latin Inscriptions: New Book by Prof. Peter Kruschwitz

We are delighted to announce the publication of a new book by Prof. Peter Kruschwitz with Reading’s very own Two Rivers Press:

WotWThe book contains an anthology of 48 Latin inscriptions that are on display in Berkshire’s county town of Reading (as well as an extra four that have disappeared some time ago!) – covering some 1,800 years of Latin in use as a language of authority, of the church, of business, of learning, and – of course – as a language to honour the dead.

The book, showcasing the very finest examples of a body of some 200 inscribed Latin texts altogether from the Reading area, is the result of several years of fieldwork (about which Prof. Kruschwitz has occasionally blogged on his blog ‘The Petrified Muse’) – and if you wish to follow his walking routes, there is even a handy map that shows you the location of the various pieces that are covered in the book on Google Maps!

The book, beautifully designed and illustrated, is available from the publisher, Inpress Books, Waterstones, and – soon –  Amazon.

For anyone in and around Reading: Prof. Kruschwitz will be signing copies of his book at Reading’s branch of Waterstones next Saturday (12 September, 3-4pm) as part of Reading’s activities during the 2015 Heritage Open Days (further information can be found here).

The (Corrupting) Appeal of Latin

Prof. Peter Kruschwitz is a Latin scholar. One of his current projects covers the Latin inscriptions of Reading.

Reading’s Phoenix College, situated on Christchurch Road, recently put up a new sign at their entrance which drew my attention to their Latin motto:

Motto of Phoenix College, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Motto of Phoenix College, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Ad astra per aspira.

At first, it seemed to me as though this was a mere mistake, a corruption of the well-known Latin motto Per aspera ad astra, ‘through hardship to the stars’ (or its alternative version per ardua ad astra, as used by the Royal Air Force).

RAF headstone, Reading Old Cemetery. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

RAF headstone, Reading Old Cemetery. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Some further investigation into this rather curious motto, however, took me to the college’s webpages, where one finds the following statement:

“Ad Astra Per Aspira” in Latin means to aspire for the stars. Our school endeavours to help students reach up to their potential.

In other words, the college has adopted (and created?) the motto on purpose.

Now, there cannot be much dispute over the question as to whether or not the motto is in correct Latin: it is not. It is also rather obvious how this mistake will have occurred: the Latin for ‘hardship’ (lit. ‘hard things’), aspera, in its English pronunciation sounds just about close enough to aspira – so why not go all the way and change the spelling altogether, to produce the aspirational (if ungrammatical) claim?

Why then, one must ask, use a Latin motto, if one is not actually competent in that language? The answer is simple: Latin in a modern setting is a prestige language: ‘to aspire for the stars’ is a perfectly good motto, but stating the same thing in Latin lends the motto a whiff of dated venerability that can only come from a language that the majority of readers do not really understand. Moreover, it puts the school on par with other local schools that have Latin motti, such as the nearby Abbey School:

Motto of the Abbey School, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

In aedificationem corporis Christi.

‘For the edifying of the body of Christ.’

Phoenix College, however, is not the only place that displays a faulty Latin inscription in Reading. There are at least two more examples, both rather prominent. First, the statue of Lord Rufus Isaacs at Eldon Square. It displays the honorand’s coat of arms on its pedestal:

Statue of Sir Rufus Isaacs, Eldon Square, Reading. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

The motto scroll reads as follows:

Motto of Sir Rufus Isaacs. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Motto of Sir Rufus Isaacs. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Aut nunquam tentes aut persicei.

This meaningless text is a corruption of the Latin motto aut nunquam tentes aut perfice (‘either do not attempt at all, or complete it to perfection’), and one can be reasonably certain that the sculptor, when the statue was produced some eighty years ago, misread the phrase perfice! in an early 20th century handwriting and replaced the f with an s and the exclamation mark with an –i.

Secondly, equally venerable, there is a beautiful stained glass window in the Lady Chapel of Reading Minster of St Mary the Virgin. The arms on display here are those of the Yates family, who is also otherwise represented in this church. The motto reads:

Arms of the Yates Family, Reading Minster. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Arms of the Yates Family, Reading Minster. Photo: Peter Kruschwitz.

Per rege et patria.

This is an obvious corruption of the Latin for ‘For King and Country’, which should of course read pro rege et patria.

It may not be much of a consolation to any of the concerned, but mistakes in Latin inscriptions have a long tradition: the hundreds of thousands inscriptions that survive from Roman antiquity, written at a time when Latin was still in active, everyday use, are in fact full of mistakes, many of which deserving of the famous treatment that Brian receives from the centurion in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. One may smirk at the fact that even the Romans could not get their own language right in writing. But these ‘mistakes’ now help scholars of the Latin language to develop a rather better understanding of variation and change in Latin, trends that eventually led to the emergence of Romance languages.

It is always easy and tempting to mock those who make mistakes. But in actual fact, even the mistakes – such as that in the motto of Phoenix College – may be indicative of something, and in this particular case, of the desire to express something beautiful.

Peter Kruschwitz