Weekend Reading: Latin for non-Romans

This week I’ve been learning about the methods which were used to teach Latin to non-Latin speakers in the Roman world. And to be honest, I’ve been giggling quite a lot. Sometimes loudly, in public places.

This wasn’t a purposeful research topic: it came about by pure chance. There I was, minding my own business in a South Shields charity shop, sorting through the books in search of old Pokemon annuals (ah, the joys of being a parent!), when a Latin book jumped out at me.



I was just a bit surprised. My local charity shops are great for old Jamie Oliver books and the occasional out-of-date AA Book of the Road, but it’s not often I see any Classics books at all, let alone a recently published book about ways of teaching Latin. So I  quickly paid my £1.25 before any bands of marauding classicists could storm the place and snatch it from me, and hurried home with the furtive enthusiasm of someone with a socially unacceptable interest.

So if you’re in my Latin class, brace yourself for some changes. Who am I to argue with Fate?

There’s a lot in this book that I didn’t know – and Eleanor Dickey answers questions I never really thought to ask. It seems that the Greek-speaking adults of the ancient world were taught Latin through little dialogues, much like those cheesy tape-recordings which most of us remember from French or German lessons at school, when we learned how to go into a quaint little specialist shop and order something we would never want at home.

The non-Latin peoples of the Roman Empire were provided with sample dialogues about what to say when you go into a bath-house, how to ask directions to the right flat in an insula, that kind of thing. And, since one of the main reasons for Greek-speaking folk to learn Latin was to get involved with the practice of law, there were all kinds of staged arguments, simplified legal principles, and wise judgments of Hadrian. It’s all fascinating, non-elite stuff, which manages to be both cryptic and ludicrously familiar at the same time.

Take a look at this one, in which a shopper is haggling over the price of clothes. (Here the Greek translation which was on the right in the original manuscript has been replaced by an English translation.) How GCSE is this?!




But not all of the topics would be entirely suitable for your GCSE class. Here we’re taught how to deal with somebody who behaves badly when drunk:




I’m now planning on using infamiam maximam tibi cumulasti to replace my usual ‘Look at what the cat dragged in’.

And then we have some useful all-purpose insults, for when you get into a fight with a native Latin speaker:




Finally, a goodnight. Perhaps a little more controversial than the CBeebies bedtime song – but very Roman!




You can read more here. And if you’re interested, the book’s available on Amazon:



This week’s classical links from around the internet



Caligula on Netflix – Express

The impact of the Wall – News Guardian

Greek and Latin as Intangible Heritage  – Neos Kosmos 

Antiquities in Vogue Greece – The Fashion Spot

Amphora workshop in Rome – Archaeology News Network 





Comment and opinion

Athena and common sense – The Paris Review 

Catiline – the Musical? – In Medias Res

Gendered misbehaviour – Idle Musings

On porous boundaries and translating Homer – LA Review of Books 

Twenty years of blogging antiquity – The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World 

Everyone’s a Stoic now – Eidolon 

Roman spring cleaning – Sententiae Antiquae 

The insensitivity of Aeneas – Ad Astra Per Mundum 

Hercules and hydraulic engineering – The Shield of Achilles 

Classics and career diversity – In Medias Res 

Life as a graduate classicist – Society for Classical Studies

Polybius as Forrest Gump? – War on the Rocks 



Podcasts, video and other media

Highlights of Fishbourne – The Roman Palace at Fishbourne 

Daily Life in Ancient Greece – The History of Ancient Greece 

The Parthians, Caracalla and a wedding – Emperors of Rome 


Watch the recorded OU/ACE Classics event – StudentHub 

12.00 Introduction

29.00 The World of Greek Drama

1.02.00 Interview with Edith Hall

1.29.20 The Votives Project

1.56.50 Classical Studies at the OU

2.33.10 Classical Civilisation in your School



Fancy translating a poem to win a prize? [I’m going to have a go!] – The Stephen Spender Prize

[For OU undergraduates] Enter the Kassman Competition – OU Classical Studies



Finally, a big wave to Klara and family over in the World that is Disney, taking one of my Lego Romans on a search for classical receptions…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s