Friday, July 05, 2013

Down with school - Latin lost or, in my case, never found!

In my post on on Denis Wright (Denis Wright's ten life rules) I mentioned the Latin phrase Carpe Diem. This led to a response from a friend, JC, that I brought up as a postscript and now quote again in full:

A friend advised me that the phrase comes from Horace Odes Bk 1;No. 11 -The Latin reads: dum loquimur fugerit invida aetas/ carpe diem quam minimum credula postero. Now for those like me who have either done no Latin or forgotten whatever they learned, she also supplied an English translation:  "While we speak, envious time will have fled. Suck everything out of today, don't waste your belief in the time to come."

There you have it, adult education care of JC. I must tell you about my final failed attempt at Elementary Latin some time.

This led Evan to comment that he did one term of Latin in high school. The one phrase that
he could remember from from the period was "the elephant doesn't catch the mouse".

Now I note that Evan did not provide the Latin, just the English. Mmmm, as another friend might say, but I'm in no position to talk. The Latin that I failed to learn far exceeds the Latin that I have forgotten! Mind you, I do remember if only one set of sentences that I had to translate into Latin while doing Elementary Latin. "The sailors landed on the shore. The sailors followed the girls into the caves. The farmers chased the sailors from the cave." In those more chaste days, we were never asked to translate what might have happened in the middle.

kvd took a different track:

Well, to be sure, I had thought that JC spoke Aramaic - if not Hebrew - but if you say Latin, then who am I, etc.

My Latin was learned over four years whilst drearily trudging around Britain, in company with JC (the other one); as he subjugated, I conjugated. And I continue my interest via Blackadder's lackey, as he digs up various bits of olde England with shovel and 'geo-phys'.

But the end result was good, or at least ok: I scored an A as one of six in the SC, but was left wondering to this day why a word such as posterity (something about the future) can in any way be associated with one's bottom (posterior). Can your personal JC ellucidate?

All of which is to ignore the main point of your post about a fellow whose continuing sang-froid I much admire. Except I think that's actually french, so I guess you'd better consult another JC - Jacques Cousteau.

(There's an awful lot of these JC's floating around - no?)

I had no choice but to study Latin, It was compulsory for the first three years of secondary school. Oh dear, conjugation. Do I still remember what it means? Not sure. By the third year, or 5A as it was called in the nomenclature of the time, I was meant to be able to translate Latin. Unlike kvd who trudged around Britain with that other JC, I was at least in warmer climes. But I fear that my attempts to make sense of Caesar's The Alexandrian Wars were, at best, imperfect. Sad but true and to the frustration of my teachers, Messrs Mattingly, Rupp and Kitley.

Now one of the phrases from the period that had a certain resonance was "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres". All right, I take mercy. It means "All Gaul is divided into three parts" and comes from Caesar's Gallic Wars.  In this case I'm being a bit naughty in giving you a link to the original. Busy man, that Caesar.

Why should this have a certain resonance. Well, one of my favourite books from the period was Ronald Searle's Down with Skool!, a book that sometimes had a striking resemblance to an institution with which I was familiar. The book includes a series of cartoons showing an increasingly battered pair - a Roman and a Gaul - trudging past each other in, I think, the Alps.

Years later in second year university. friend Brian persuaded me to enrol in Elementary Latin as an extra. Although I got my marks up to (from memory) the low thirties, this was not one of my academic successes. It remains the only university course that I ever failed. By contrast, it proved a considerable vocational success for Brian, needless to say he passed well, for years later he would go on to become a Roman Catholic priest.

Still, it wasn't all wasted from my viewpoint. There were only two of us in the class. the classes were quite fun, and our tutor (Peter T) proved to be a pretty good cook.


Neil drew my attention to this post, 1957 or MCMLVII. It starts with Caesar's Gallic Wars. Apparently, Latin was Neil's third teaching subject.


Anonymous said...

Ah, The Adventures of Molesworth and all his little mates at St Custards. Ronald Searle actually did the pix (which is why they are so much like St Trinians)and Gerard/ Gerald Willans did the words.
BTW I have neither Hebrew nor Aramaic. My miracle work also is a bit rusty these days, but I am quite sure of my position sitting on the right hand of GTF. one of the reasons I adopt JCW rather than JC is to avoid confusion. Pax vobiscum.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi JC(W.) Didn't know that. One of my favourite quotes from M is "Grown ups are what's left when skool is finished." Et spiritu tuo, if I have that right!

Anonymous said...

There's another JC that I forgot, but possibly appropriate - John Connor. But this time it was left to a friend to simply say : "talk to the hand".

BTW I have neither Hebrew nor Aramaic.

Well, I'd need to see proof of that...

Thomas (aka kvd)

Jim Belshaw said...

Oh dear,kvd aka Doubting Thomas, I have to say that despite her many and manifold skills, I know that JC does not (did not) have those languages. Of course, she could have acquired the secretly.

Neil said...

Perhaps, Jim, you recall this post:

Latin was my third teaching subject after English and History, believe it or not.

Jim Belshaw said...

I completely missed that post, Neil, and I normally check you every day! Will bring the link up in the main post.

Rummuser said...

One Latin phrase that readily comes to mind is - "Illegitimi non carborundum."

I had problems with Sanskrit but much later in life went back to studying it. Who knows?

Anonymous said...

Jim, just a little housekeeping before starting the day..

"Oh dear, conjugation. Do I still remember what it means?"

- 'swot those sailors were trying to do in that cave.

"the elephant doesn't catch the mouse"

- is more correctly translated as 'Caesar complained his meal was cold', which is possibly why Evan dropped Latin completely.

Which leaves only the mystery of JC(W) sitting on the right hand of George The First; that would make her Archbishop of Canterbury, I think?

Glad to help. Carry on.


Jim Belshaw said...

Ramana first, This may surprise you, bhut there was some teaching of Sanskrit in Armidale many years ago.

kvd, I'm not sure that this sailors were actually trying to conjugate!

Your other points were a little more obscure, although I like the idea of Caesar and the elephant.

Evan said...

To the best of memory (I.e. likely wrong): elepantus non capet murem.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Evan. I leave it to kvd or JC to correct any errors!

Anonymous said...

Another variation on Evan's (good) memory is "an elephant doesn't chase mice".

Which when you think about it, can be applied to (as a parry against) over-use of state powers against its citizens. (See present US IRS investigation of political 'enemies', and the now admitted over the top 'data harvesting' of all its citizens)

Or, as someone else said, the more times change, the more they stay the same?


ps this is also an admission of my regard for Evan's memory.