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This review is taken from PN Review 269, Volume 49 Number 3, January - February 2023.

Cover of The Pig War
Evan JonesJohn Placentius, The Pig War (Paideia Institute for Humanistic Study, Inc), translated by Michael Fontaine, illustrated by David Beck, US $20
Down on the Farm

Ovid ends the Metamorphoses boasting about his work’s longevity – here in Golding’s still-readable 1567 translation:
     …And all the world shall never
Be able for to quench my name. For looke how farre so ever
The Romane Empyre by the ryght of conquest shall extend,
So farre shall all folke reade this woork. And tyme without all end
(If Poets as by prophesie about the truth may ame)
My lyfe shall everlastingly bee lengthened still by fame.
This was about 8 A.D. and Rome meant something very different from what it does for us now – and there’s Ovid, not wrong about his work and everlastingness. Funny man, though, it isn’t the language that will keep his name alive: Rome will. That resonance, the history, myth and changes of the civilization around him, means more. Don’t believe him? Children still learn about Rome in school. They visit museums, travel to Chester or Bath to see ruins. But Latin is harder to find. Latin is an option.

Our assumptions about nation and language are very modern and envisioning Latin as a national language is limiting. Julius Caesar and Mark Antony spoke Greek with Cleopatra, who, Plutarch tells us, could herself converse in Ethiopian, Troglodyte, Hebrew, Arabic, Syrian, Persian and Parthian, among other languages. We know this because Plutarch, who attended the Isthmian games presided over by Nero in 66 A.D., wrote their stories down in Greek – and only learned to read Latin late in life.


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