Peter Jones

Classic comeback

A new programme to revive Latin and Greek in our schools

A new programme to revive Latin and Greek in our schools

Some 15 years ago, at the behest of the then editor Charles Moore, I wrote a jovial 20-week QED: Learn Latin column for the Daily Telegraph. It attracted a huge following, and I still have four large box-files full of letters from users. The majority of them expressed one of three sentiments: ‘I learned Latin at school x years ago, loved it and am delighted to renew my acquaintance’; ‘I learned Latin at school, hated it, but now realise what I have missed’; and ‘I never learned Latin at school and have always regretted it’.

These responses have stayed with me ever since, but they prompt a question: anecdotal evidence about the value people place on Latin is all very well, but would it be possible to produce something a little more objective? Can we demonstrate unconditionally that, as Gilbert Murray argued to the Classical Association in 1954, our pearls are real?

This week the fund-raising charity Classics for All announced its first round of grants to projects that over the next ten years will, if we can raise the funds, open up the classical world to many of the 3,000 state schools (75 per cent of our pupils) that currently come into no contact with it whatsoever. What such schools have against the people who gave us the magnificent and deeply influential Latin and Greek languages, democracy, philosophy, atomism, our alphabet, tragedy, the form and concept of the republic, the idea of universal citizenship, building in concrete with arches, cupolas and barrel vaults, history, the book, the West’s first literature (Homer), Antigone and eventually underpinned the rise of Christianity (continue for many pages), is beyond me. How can our educational establishments be so heedless of our cultural environment — what men have said, felt, thought and created over thousands of years? Such cultural, intellectual and social deprivation is not visited on the 7 per cent of pupils attending private schools.

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