“it killed the ancient romans…”

Despite being as ready as any of my classmates to chant the rhyme –

Latin is a language as dead as dead can be;
It killed the ancient Romans, and now it’s killing me.

– Latin was actually my favourite school subject and I have long believed it was the most useful subject I studied.

It’s arguable that I find it useful because I’ve ended up living in Spain where the language has a clear foundation in Latin. But even when I took it up in the second year at grammar school (yes, between the ages of 11 and 16 I was educated at an all-girls grammar) I could see its use, as it suddenly helped me make sense of the French that had left me tearfully bemused the year before. The logical grammar-translation method of the early Latin classes shed light on the semi-communicative methods of the Modern Language Department, and French became one of my better subjects, too.

Of course I was fortunate to have parents who were interested in education, and who broadened my horizons by bringing home books such as Winnie Ille Pu and Domus Anguli Puensis. (They are on the shelf beside me as I type, along with a few novels in Esperanto, Peter Rabbit in Welsh, Spanish and Latin, and the first part of Caesar’s Gallic Wars.)

But my enthusiasm for Latin is not just about vocabularly borrowing and general language skills; Latin is about structure and logic.

I could go on, but instead will simply point you to a piece by Toby Young in the Spectator: Forget Mandarin. Latin is the key to success, which is an extended version of a piece that appeared in print last month.

I was delighted to find it readily available on-line, and even more delighted to read this paragraph, which wasn’t in the print version:

Unlike other languages, Latin isn’t just about conjugating verbs. It includes a crash course in ancient history and cosmology. “Latin is the maths of the Humanities,” says Llewelyn Morgan, “But Latin also has something that mathematics does not and that is the history and mythology of the ancient world. Latin is maths with goddesses, gladiators and flying horses, or flying children.”

That seems to sum it up it rather better than I could.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

2 thoughts on ““it killed the ancient romans…””

  1. Pondering on the rhyme – I’ve heard it as:
    Latin is a language
    Dead as dead can be.
    First it killed the Romans
    Now it’s killing me.


    Latin is a language,
    At least it used to be.
    First it killed the Romans,
    And now it’s killing me.

    I /think/ it should be “a language” though, to scan.

    The lesser known second verse goes

    All are dead who spoke it.
    All are dead who wrote it.
    All are dead who learned it,
    Lucky dead, they’ve earned it.



    1. Well look at that! You’ve spotted a typo!
      (Which I will now go and correct, so no one else reading this will know what you were talking about.)

      There was no second verse when I learned it, though. Maybe we were just too busy studying to waste more time on trivialities(!).



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