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This article is taken from PN Review 28, Volume 9 Number 2, November - December 1982.

Virgil C.H. Sisson

THE decline in the knowledge of Latin is a sad affair. My schooldays fell in a time when the subject was taught in state secondary schools even of modest pretensions; now the head-master of what is still called a great public school can boast that classics is a rarity in the sixth form, and that children spend the time they might have spent on Latin verses, on computer programming-a skill which can perfectly well be picked up later, by people with the right type of mind, while very few people are so placed that they can pick up Latin, if they do not start early. The teaching I received may not have been of the best, but it was a useful second-best. I cannot remember at what age one could drop the subject; I did it up to university entrance at the age of seventeen. By that time I had bitten at least at Caesar and Cicero, Livy, Tacitus, Ovid, Horace and Virgil, and knew that there was such a thing as Latin literature. If none of these authors played much direct part in my reading for the next thirty years, they existed for me, as they had done for virtually every European writer up to that time. They were and are part of the universe of discourse of western literature-for Hardy as much as for Boileau or Swift. There is no way in which it can be argued that one's access to that literature is facilitated by ignorance ...


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