It is 1984. The afternoon light is streaming into room B21 at CLSG, a youthful Rupert Everett is glowering appealingly from the newspaper cutting pinned to the wall, *Caecilius est in horto and Mrs Raphael is telling us a magical story about how Constantinople got its name. The world seems easily conquerable; exciting trips to foreign lands await. Latin is fun and our books are full of red ticks and encouraging words in Mrs Raphael’s immaculate italics.
(I was to experience a different approach at a boys’ school in the sixth form where we were asked to translate Montaigne into Latin on the first day and I was awarded the mysterious and discouraging mark of gamma minus minus question mark minus. At the time I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know what many of the words meant in English, let alone how to translate them into Latin.)
Decades later, I find myself in a classroom in Highgate and Mrs Raphael (now Isabel) is still instilling confidence at a Latin for Pleasure course for those whose Latin has been lying dormant. We are reading Lucretius who wrote a surprisingly joyous 7,400-line poem (De Rerum Natura) about atoms, reincarnation and reasons why death is nothing to be feared. Isabel tells the story of how the work survived against the odds in a single manuscript which helped to spark the Renaissance and inspired Botticelli’s Primavera. As at CLSG, Isabel illustrates her stories with postcards and tales of travels (“When I was last in Troy …”)
Even though I studied Classics to degree level, the classes are full of wonderful new discoveries for me, including an eye-witness account of the Battle of Hastings and the letters of Abelard and Eloise in Medieval Latin.
Lockdown has driven the classes to Zoom but the enthusiasm remains. We are reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses, accompanied by Titian’s gorgeous Poesie series of paintings which were reunited in a recent exhibition at the National Gallery and capture dramatic scenes from Ovid’s work. It is indeed a great pleasure to be taken back to the sense of optimism and intellectual adventure I felt at CLSG.
*Caecilius is in his garden: the first words of Caecilius’s story in The Cambridge Latin Course
Alice Pedder, née Scott, class of 1985