Monday 27 October 2014

Not a Latin lover

Mrs Bacciarelli had an imposing presence: robust in physique with leathery skin and hair still black in spite of her advancing years, she spoke with an Eastern European accent and rarely smiled. My French teacher was young and benign in comparison, but Mrs Bacciarelli's subject was Latin. It seemed appropriate that she should be as formidable as the language she taught.

Latin seemed to be all about endings. What little I can remember about it now was that just about every word had to change its ending according to its place in a sentence. As far as I can recall these were known as declensions – all dependent on gender and 'nominative' and 'subjective' cases and god knows what else; I no longer know what any of them mean. In the first year of learning it I was a studious little goody-two-shoes who rose to the challenge and Mrs Bacciarelli's firm teaching methods kept me in my place. One or two little things have stuck, so for instance I can confirm that the plural of 'succubus' would be 'succubi'. Always a useful thing to know.

Here's a picture of one just to grab your attention.

Lilith by John Collier (1892)

When Mrs B retired in the third year a mild-mannered, softly spoken Northern man who wore tweed jackets and bicycle clips took her place - and I lost mine. To be honest, I'd had enough of translating sentences that had so little relevance to contemporary life. At least in French lessons we wrote about Philippe and Michelle going to the shop to buy Johnny Halliday records. In Latin, the most stimulating sentences involved centurions, slaves, temples and the occasional dog. That's not as interesting as it suggests, either. I think the only time I laughed in a Latin class was when there was a text which referenced the island of Lesbos. Cue much predictable but surreptitious sniggering.

Anyway, Mr Bicycle Clips couldn't keep my attention and after being caught for copying my friend's homework more than once I was relieved to be able to give up such a difficult language and take up German instead. Before I did, though, my mum did her best to help keep me interested in this ancient subject. She bought me a copy of 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit'!

(I don't think she could find any books in Latin about succubi.)


  1. Adam had a *first* wife? Did she leave him? Was he playing around with Eve? We should be told.

  2. As for Latin - never had the pleasure of studying it. I know many people say it is very useful for something or other though forget what now. I'm glad there are people who understand it as the world would surely be an impoverished place if we lost it. Nice 'Petro Cuniculo' edition.

    1. I do agree (see my response above). I also quite like knowing one or two Latin names for the things I'm interested in like birds and spiders... as ever, when you're interested in something it's no effort to learn/remember so I'll never forget that a Wren is 'Troglodytes troglodytes'! I can't remember the word for 'centurion' though...
      I'm also going to remember Cuniculo!

  3. I never got beyond Amo, Amas, Amat. It was all Greek to me.

  4. Thanks, I don't know my bible or my Hebrew mythology at all but a quick look on the interweb confirms that Lilith was Adam's first wife and she became a succubus after she left him...

    Indeed, Yve, Latin didn't seem as if it could possibly be of any use to someone like me at school and it seemed that only those with intentions of becoming doctors saw its value. Now, however, I'm quite interested in linguistics and the way we can trace roots of words in English and other languages back to Latin... I kinda wish I'd taken more notice... on the other hand, I had a life to get ;-)

  5. They got married right out of high school and it was all foot rubs and games, Hi-Fi phono, until the bills had to be paid.

    I know little Latin and no Greek...I am an idiot.

  6. So true - I always thought that 16 was the worst possible age to be taking important exams and making decisions about careers, when your hormones are raging, as you say, and there are so many other distractions which take priority. Then again, our capacity for learning when young is incredible, isn't it? Imagine now having to learn about ten different subjects for 6 hours a day 5 days a week... aarghh!
    I have lots of those 'senior moments' too, plus the failing eyesight, oh it's all downhill from here :-(

  7. I'm intrigued now as to the full Adam'n'Lilith'n'Eve story. Sounds like it could be one for the Jerry Springer show...

    Alpha, beta, gamma, et cetera. Greek and Latin in a nutshell.

  8. Lilith was real sassy...she refused to submit to Adam and then went rouge.

    She was almost certainly picked up during the Babylonian Captivity...I think she only makes one appearance in the Bible much later in the story but she's a real trouble maker in Jewish mythology and beyond.

    Alpha and Omega :)

  9. I don't recall Latin being on the syllabus at any school I attended, for which i'm very glad - it all sounds incredibly complicated. I had enough trouble with French and German, subjects that, for a year or two, were taught by the same teacher. If anyone in the class accidentally strayed from one language to the other in any given lesson, the teacher (alas I've forgotten his name) would jump up from behind his desk and bellow 'FRE-MAN!', as a not so subtle method of pointing out the error.

    1. 'Fre-man'? - now there's an interesting language... Je suis ein Auslander!

      Yes, Latin did seem terribly hard, so much to remember and not exactly good for practising conversation!


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