…an ancient scholar read the inscription, which was in Latin; not in English; that would never do. It gave great satisfaction; especially every time there was a good long substantive in the third declension, ablative case, with an adjective to match; at which periods the assembly became very tender, and were much affected.
—Charles Dickens, Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit
Earlier this month Project Gutenberg added the Orbis Sensualium Pictus by Johann Amos Comenius to its catalogue. It is a bilingual English–Latin encyclopaedia for children, originally published in 1657 in Dutch and later translated into English. It is said to be the first children’s picture book in print. The volume reproduced at Project Gutenberg, with all the original woodcuts, is the 11th edition from 1727, which gives you an idea of how popular this text was. It progresses logically through the elements that make up the world, humankind, farming, trades, domestic life, navigation, books and learning, astronomy, virtue, society, entertainments, war, and religion. I don’t think children today get such a well-rounded view of how their world works as the children who studied this simple book must have had. Here is an excerpt from the preface explaining the pedagogical intent:
I. To entice witty children to it, that they may not conceit a torment to be in the school, but dainty fare. For it is apparent, that children (even from their infancy almost) are delighted with Pictures, and willingly please their eyes with these lights: And it will be very well worth the pains to have once brought it to pass, that scare-crows may be taken away out of Wisdom’s Gardens.
II. This same little Book will serve to stir up the Attention, which is to be fastened upon things, and even to be sharpened more and more: which is also a great matter. For the Senses (being the main guides of childhood, because therein the mind doth not as yet raise up itself to an abstracted contemplation of things) evermore seek their own objects, and if they be away, they grow dull, and wry themselves hither and thither out of a weariness of themselves: but when their objects are present, they grow merry, wax lively, and willingly suffer themselves to be fastened upon them, till the thing be sufficiently discerned. This Book then will do a good piece of service in taking (especially flickering) wits, and preparing them for deeper studies.
Speaking of deeper studies:
I’m not sure if Master Comenius has done a very good job of making study seem attractive to children, but I suppose staying up late to study is more fun than getting up early to milk the cow.
To create obscure LOLcats. The great thing about this is that the more mistakes I make, the funnier the LOL. If you don’t read Latin, this classically trained feline is asking for what all cats secretly crave, complete with incorrect grammar. I had to forgo the Z, though, as it was not a part of the ancient Roman alphabet.
Very appropriate considering I’ve been hitting the Latin pretty hard lately!
via So Many Books
Don’t miss your last chance to listen to Homer Week on BBC 3’s new series, Greek and Latin Voices. The programs are only available online for a week, so make time this weekend to listen to the four 15-minute glimpses into the world of Homer. Monday’s show looked at Homer’s very human heros, and on Tuesday was presented a perspective on what Homer’s work says about poets, perhaps including Homer himself. I particularly enjoyed Wednesday’s episode, in which Oliver Taplin takes a literary view and looks at some of Homer’s themes and devices. In the last program, poet Michael Longley brings Homer into the modern age through his own poetry. If you do listen to Monday’s program, stay online to hear the great music that makes up the rest of the podcast.
Next week they turn to Latin literature and Horace. To see what else is coming up, see the Greek and Latin Voices schedule.
A particularly intriguing chapter concerns the fate of [Latin] in Latin America. The Spanish had been the first for whom the penny had dropped that a modern language, not just Latin, might be given a grammatical rulebook. Elio Antonio de Nebrija (1441-1522) wrote his country’s standard Latin textbook, but also a grammar of Spanish.
The idea that modern languages might be analysed and brought into grammatical line came in useful when the conquistadors were faced with a profusion of tongues in the New World. This was a two-way street: not only did missionaries learn Chibcha through Latin mnemonic rhymes, but Aztecs learned good Ciceronian Latin, astounding European visitors with their linguistic virtuosity. Startlingly, the writer sometimes called Guatemala’s national poet, Rafael Landívar (1731-93), was responsible for a Latin poem in 15 books called the Rusticatio Mexicana (Mexican Pastoral); judging from the passage quoted by Ostler, it is an accomplished piece of writing.
—Charlotte Higgins, “Latin Lessons” (The Guardian)
UPDATE: There isn’t much online about Rafael Landivar, but it seems he was a highly intelligent Jesuit priest (as if there is any other kind) who was banished and eventually settled in Bologna, where he wrote his epic poem about the land he loved. I’d like to know why he was banished—he wouldn’t be the first Jesuit to run afoul of the authorities. I think I’m going to have to get that book.
UPDATE II: After more googling around I find that all the Jesuits were expelled from Spain and its territories in 1767, as part of a general European trend against the powerful order and against Church authority, with a side-order of internal church politics to help things along. The Pope was even pressured to suppress the order in 1773, but they were restored in 1814, after which they bounced back very nicely and continue to do good work in education and social justice.
BBC Radio 3 will soon be starting a new series of short programmes on the Greek and Roman classics:
Greek And Latin Voices, a new series within BBC Radio 3’s The Essay, offers an accessible modern guide to some of the foundation texts of Western culture. Each week, the series focuses on the works of one of the major figures of Greek or Roman literature, philosophy, history and politics, including wide-ranging essays from contemporary novelists and poets, politicians and philosophers, as well as leading classical academics.
The 12-week series will be broadcast in six two-week sections. Each fortnight includes one week with a Greek focus and one week with a Latin focus; those featured over the series include Horace, Augustine, Tacitus, Thucydides, Euripides and Lucien.
The series is anchored by two classical authorities: Chris Pelling (Greek specialist and Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford) and Maria Wyke (Latin). Chris and Maria introduce the first essay in each sequence, offering listeners an opening insight into the life, times and work of the writer in focus. (more…)
The series starts with “Homer week” on December 10, and can be heard at The Essay.
Latin is the new grammar. A recently released book on the subject has become one of the hottest gift books for this Christmas in the UK. Like Eats, Shoots and Leaves,Amo, Amas, Amat… and All That takes what is normally an intimidating subject and tries to make it fun (apparently with much success). At the moment it is ranked 27th on Amazon.co.uk. According to The Independent, publishers are expected to jump on this trend and produce a deluge [from the Latin, diluvium, diluvii, flood] of copycat books. Pretty good for a “dead” language.
One of the good words I’ve learned in Latin is liber, book (not to be confused with the adjective lîber, free). Here it is in some of the homework sentences (let me know if you can’t see the accents):
Multî librî antîquî propter sapientiam cônsiliumque erant magnî.
Many ancient books were important because of their wisdom and counsel.
Glôria bonôrum librôrum semper manêbit.
The glory of good books will always endure.
Multî Rômânî magnôs librôs Graecôrum antîquôrum laudâbant.
Many Romans used to praise the great books of the ancient Greeks.