Imagine this: a world where access to classical literature in the original was limited to university specialists, where children’s only experience of classical mythology was through the distorting prism of computer games, TV and film, where our understanding of word development depended on a google search, and where we walked through our towns and cities, totally oblivious of that classical heritage which has so profoundly influenced town planning and architecture.
Over the last few years pupils across Britain have enjoyed less and less access to Latin teaching, as precious timetable slots and resources are allocated to other subjects, and the uptake in all languages, including the classical ones, has declined – an unhealthy trend which may have unforeseen consequences for us as a country if Brexit entails an anti-English language backlash in European curricula. Imagine a world where Latin was no longer taught in schools – but let it be a fleeting thought. Fortunately, at St Margaret’s, Latin is alive and well, and even a compulsory subject for two years
The study of Latin, with its emphasis on language analysis and memory training, and the insight it gives us into the evolution of western European languages, can only be an enrichment to any curriculum. It has fed a great deal into modern English, but one of the great joys of learning the whole language rather than individual bits of vocabulary, is not because it is similar to English, but because it is so different. As an inflected language with flexible word order, it introduces a whole new way of thinking about language structure and translation, at once a stimulus and a challenge. Nor can the language be taught in isolation from its cultural context. Often it is the byways, rather than the highways of Latin which delight and spark the imagination.There is an element of background study is every language lesson, whether through the fictional lives, loves and deaths of the characters in the Cambridge Latin Course or the set texts at National 5 level and above, drawn from the famous golden age of Latin literature.
Classics and Classical Studies are ever popular university courses, either as a whole degree or as a component of other degrees in humanities, which the classics so happily complement . Statistics show that graduates with this background are highly employable, often in creative jobs. To study Latin is to enter another world of thought, ideas and communication. You not only learn that “imagination” derives from the third declension noun “imago”, meaning “image” or “phantom” or “ancestral mask”, you may use that imagination to think yourself into the skin of a Roman, from another time and another culture to compare and contrast with your own times. Imagine that.