Conflicting Emotions

OCR GCSE Latin Set Text 2023 and 2024

Conflicting Emotionas is the nickname given to Catullus Poem 85 in the Cambridge Latin Anthology. At only two lines long it is quite remarkable how influential this short elegiac couplet has been. It is a masterpiece in brevity and exceptionally effective

odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris?
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

I hate and I love. Why do I do this, perhaps you enquire?
I have no idea, but I sense it happening and I am in torment.

This poem is included in the list of OCR’s verse set texts (selection A) for 2023 and 2024. It is also on the list of Catullus texts for A level in the same years, as part of the Catullus grouping.

odi et amo is one of the numerous poems that the poet Catullus dedicated to a woman he named “Lesbia”, widely accepted as a pseudonym for the notorious Clodia, an aristocratic and educated woman whose conduct and motives are famously maligned in Cicero’s surviving speech On Behalf of Caelius, delivered in 56 BC. The tone is quite different from How Many Kisses? which I discussed in last week’s blog post, and where Catullus appears to enjoy being at the mercy of his lover. There is an underlying rage in this bitter, terse two-liner that bubbles with unanaswered questions.

Whilst I provide a translation above for the uninitiated, it is best to forget about translating it word for word. The structure of the poem is almost as important as the words themselves. Noting how and where certain words are placed allows you to see what the poet was trying to achieve. In a language where poetry doesn’t rhyme and where word order is more flexible than English, these are some of the elements that separate mundane writing from the truly exceptional.

odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris?
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

The first word is a verb, the second a conjunction, the third a verb. Go to the end of the couplet to see the same construction. Now note the meanings of these four verbs: (odi) hate, (amo) love, (sentio) feel, and (excrucior) – which literally means “I am being crucified”: two negatives and two positive emotions. Not only are there two very strong negative emotions, but they’re competing for prominence in this poem by taking first and ultimate place. This forms a cross-shape called a chiasmus.

The chiasmus is much easier to construct in Latin, but it can be used to good effect in English. The method involves using a simple ABBA structure and can be created through the repetition of individual words or types of words. Here is a famous example:

“It’s not the men in my life, it’s the life in my men.” (Mae West).
Here the words men-life-life-men are used in a chiastic structure.

In Catullus’ poem, he uses different words and a more complex structure to create a pattern of conflicting emotions: negative-positive-positive-negative. It encapsulates the whole conceit of the poem.

It is worth mentioning Catullus’ use of the word excrucior, since the Romans were very much in the business of crucifixion, something which I have discussed in detail before. It was arguably the cruelest punishment used by the Romans, who were experts in torture and death. The length of time it took to die ranged from a matter of hours to a number of days, depending on exact methods, the health of the crucified person and environmental circumstances. The Latin words for crucifixion are the origin of our adjective “excruciating”, the full meaning of which is the idea that Catullus is trying to capture here. He is being metaphorically crucified by the state of his emotions and is in extreme agony; the fact that crucifixion involved stretching out and stringing up the body develops the image, since Catullus wants us to imagine him beiing pulled in all directions against his will.

odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris?
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

The word patterns continue with the verbs of doing, faciam and fieri. In the first doing verb (faciam), Catullus is doing it, and in the second (fieri), it is being done to him: just like the active verb odi vs. the passive excrucior. There is also a third parallel construction. requiris (you ask) matched by the answer nescio (I don’t know).

The poem is usually nicknamed odi et amo and this minimalist opening in many ways sums up Catullus’ entire condition. He hates and he loves, in equal measure. His decision to place odi first overshadows the tone of the poem, which opens with the fact of his hatred and closes with the excruciating pain being inflicted upon him by his affair with Lesbia.

Students tend to respond well to this poem and it is a good, manageable opportunity to teach them the very limits of translation and to develop their understanding of how much more can be gained from studying a work in the original language. Thanks to its extreme brevity, students can quickly get used to working on this poem without the prop of an English translation underneath; this is a great way to teach them how to engage with the Latin as a language in its own right. By the same token, the poem is also a great place to start in order to teach students about the critical importance of word placement when it comes to all Latin literature, but particularly verse. If they can grasp this, it will really help then to engage with the style questions at GCSE and then with the whole approach to literature at A level, when reliance on a word-for-word translation will become less and less important or indeed an effective method of preparation for the examinations.

In next week’s blog post I will be examining the final short poem included in the 2023 and 2024 selections, which is an extract of Petronius nicknamed Love Will Not let the Poet Sleep. It will then be time to take a closer look at approaches to style – just how do we teach it effectively help students to engage with the process rather than rely entirely on trying to learn hundreds of individual style notes off by heart?

How Many Kisses?

OCR GCSE Latin Set Text 2023 and 2024

quaeris quot mihi bastiones
tua Lesbia sint satis superque.
quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae
lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis
oraclum Iovis inter aetuosi
et Batti veteris sacrum sepulchrum;
aut quam sidera multa cum tacet nox,
furtivos hominum vident amores:
tam te basia multa basiare
vesano satis et super Catullo est,
quae nec pernumerare curiosi
possint nec mala fascinare lingua.

“You ask, Lesbia, how many [of] your kisses are enough and more than enough for me. As great a number as [the grains of] Libyan sand [that] lie in silphium-producing Cyrene between the oracle of sultry Jove and the sacred tomb of ancient Battus. Or as many as the stars [which], when night is still, observe the secret love-affairs of men. To give you this many kisses is enough and more than enough for a feverish Catullus: so many that prying people cannot count them, and wicked tongues cannot bewitch them.”

How Many Kisses is the nickname given to Catullus Poem 7 in the Cambridge Latin Anthology. It is one of the numerous poems that the poet Catullus dedicated to a woman he named “Lesbia”, widely accepted as a pseudonym for the notorious Clodia, an aristocratic and educated woman whose conduct and motives are famously maligned in Cicero’s surviving speech On Behalf of Caelius, delivered in 56 BC. Catullus’s style was deliberately personal and avant-garde, in stark contrast to traditional poetry in the grand style; he wrote passionate, irreverent and sometimes lewd dedications to a string of lovers but most famously to Lesbia. His work is highly individualistic, humorous and emotive.

This poem is included in the list of OCR’s verse set texts (selection A) for 2023 and 2024. It is also on the list of Catullus texts for A level in the same years, as part of the Catullus grouping.

Unlike the GCSE set texts that I have examined in my three previous blog posts, Catullus 7 is extremely short, which means that we have the space to examine it in some considerable detail.

Catullus addresses Lesbia directly, purpotedly in answer to a flippant question on her behalf. Is Catullus insatiable? So it seems. Catullus’ tone in the whole poem places Lesbia firmly in control: he is at the mercy of her charms and his desire for them is prodigious. This is a theme that is repeated across much of his poetry.

Catullus invents the word basationes for humorous effect: the 2nd declension neuter noun basium (picked up again in line 9) was the colloquial term for a kiss, but here he adjusts its composition to mimic the more formal 3rd declension noun osculatio (plural osculationes). So how many of these basationes will satisfy Catullus?

This kind of hyperbole is a poetic feature that students may have met before; many of them will have studied To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell, as it is included in the AQA Anthology for English literature, and if they are familiar with it this should make an excellent point of comparison since it uses both Classical imagery and hyperbole in the same way that Catullus is doing here. The first half of Marvell’s poem is a classic example of this kind of hyperbolic conceit:

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

The metaphysical poets such as Marvell aped a similar style to that of Catullus; their works were both humorous and intellectual, designed to tease and cajole the object of their affections into bed. In our poem, Catullus exaggerates the number of basationes that he requires from Lesbia by comparing them to uncountables: the fact that the sand is Libyan and lies between the two famous sites of the tomb of Battus and the oracle of Jupiter in Cyrene adds colour and vibrancy and is an acknowledgement of Lesbia’s education and culture: she is a docta puella, a girl of education and discernment.

Silphium is somewhat mysterious to us. We know it was a strongly-flavoured and highly-prized herb that was sought-after in Roman times but we have failed to identify exactly what it was: we do not even know whether it still exists. We do know, however, that it was used either as an aphrodisiac or as a form of contraception, hence it is an appropriate reference for Catullus to use in his sexually-charged address to his mistress.

Catullus continues his hyperbole. Having compared the number of kisses he craves to grains of sand, he now compares them to the number of stars in the sky, then enriches this with the image of those same stars silently watching lovers in the silence of the night. Note that these liaisons are illicit (furtivos), all adding to the atmosphere of highly-charged excitement.

In line 9 Catullus uses both the noun basia and the verb basiare, overwhelming us with this vocabulary in the same way as he wishes to overhwlem Lesbia with his kisses. The word pernumerare is a compound verb, exaggerating the imagined difficulty with counting the kisses. vesano, which I have translated as “feverish” can also be translated “mad” or “insane” – it acknowledges Catullus’ apparent lack of control in Lesbia’s presence. There is a nod towards traditional beliefs in the close of the poem, as it was a common superstition that to count one’s blessings was bad luck; Catullus and Lesbia are safe, however, because Catullus is so passionate that no-one will ever be able to count up the number of their kisses. In this way, Catullus concludes his poem with an amusing argument as to why Lesbia should be happy to put up with his voracious appetite for her affections.

Echo and Narcissus

OCR GCSE Latin Set Text 2023 and 2024

Echo et Narcissus is an extract from the third book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Transformations), published in the Cambridge Latin Anthology. The Metamorphoses was a complex and unusual epic poem, which chronicled more than 200 myths from the ancient world. Many scholars argue that it defies classification altogether, since it does not really fit in to the usual parameters of a traditional epic. The Metamorphoses was written at the start of the 1st century AD and its central theme – as the title suggests – is change and transformation.

The tales of both Echo and Narcissus resonate throughout Western art and literature and indeed Ovid’s Metamorphoses as a whole was a huge influence on key literary figures such as Keats, Dante and Shakespeare. It has also inspired numerous 19th and 20th-century works of art and music.

Painting by John William Waterhouse (1903), viewable at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Echo was a nymph who endured Juno’s wrath for a trick she played on her. Juno’s husband Jupiter, the king of the gods, enjoyed regular visits to the beautiful nymphs down on earth. Eventually, the ever-jealous Juno becomes suspicious and follows him in an attempt to catch him in the act. Echo (at the behest of Jupiter) keeps Juno talking, flattering her and drawing the goddess away from her fellow-nymphs, thus allowing Jupiter to slip away from the scene of the crime. Enraged that her revenge has been thwarted by the talkative nymph, Juno curses Echo by rendering her able only to repeat the final words of another’s sentences; Echo, completely unable to say anything further on her own, suffers a harsh but apt fate in return for her loquaciousness.

Sometime after she is cursed by the queen of the gods, Echo catches sight of the beautiful young Narcissus while he is out hunting with his companions. Immediately infatuated, she follows him quietly, for of course she is unable to speak. During the hunt, Narcissus becomes separated from his companions and calls out. Hearing his words repeated back to him, as Echo is cursed to do, Narcissus is startled and calls out again, several times. Echo can only repeat what he says yet again. Eventually, she rushes towards her beloved but he rejects her on sight. All Echo can do is repeat his final words one last time before she flees in shame. Despite the harshness of his dismissal, Echo’s love for Narcissus continues to grow. Heartbroken, she spends the rest of her life wandering the hills until nothing but her echoing sound remains of her.

But Nemesis, goddess of revenge, decides to punish Narcissus, for Echo was not the only individual that had been rejected by this remarkably beautiful youth. Narcissus went through all of his life spurning the numerous advances of others, all hypnotised by his beauty. His fate was foreshadowed by the prophet Teiresias, who predicted at his birth that Narcissus would only live to a ripe old age if he never discovered own reflection. This is how Nemesis ensures his punishment: she lures him to a pool, where he leans in to drink the water and – upon seeing his own remarkably beautiful face – he at once falls deeply in love with it. Unable to tear himself away from the enchantment of his own image, Narcissus slowly wastes away, a fire of unrequited passion burning inside him. Echo laments his passing. At last, he turns into a flower with white petals surrounding a golden centre. Even in the Underworld, his spirit is doomed to gaze at himself in the Stygian waters.

The OCR set-text prescription consists of 82 lines published in the Cambridge Latin Anthology, plus a section of the text in translation between lines 57 and 58, which students will also need to study so that they understand what happens in the section of the text that has been redacted. As ever, the way the text is presented in the Anthology is entirely and infuriatingly unsuitable for teaching and therefore the classroom teacher is left with the usual challenge of how to present the work to their students. I sometimes feel quite dizzy at the thought of so many Latin teachers across the country, all spending hours producing their own workable versions of the text.

Last time I taught this text, which was many moons ago, I was still making use of the numbered method and found this in my archives:

I have the whole 82 lines presented in this way, which will prove useful should any of my clients who approach me find themselves studying this prescription. Personally, I have almost always chosen to teach the Virgil selection and this remains the more popular choice in most schools; with a text as lengthy as Echo and Narcissus, you also lose one of the advantages of choosing the verse selections over the Virgil, which is that the shorter poems can prove more manageable for students to learn.

Students generally respond very well to the story of Echo and Narcissus and indeed I have found that most of then love mythological stories that seek to explain natural phenomena such as the tale of Ceres and Proserpina (or Demeter and Persephone). The story of Narcissus should also spark considerable discussion in relation to the modern definition of narcissism (both the medical definition of the personality disorder and the one used in common parlance). It will also be great fun to explore with students the modern trend of filtered selfies and how they feel this relates to the myth.

Prehistoric Mojo on Twitter: "Good old one - Oh no, not again! It's another  selfie from Narcissus! #joke #Greeks #selfie #firstselfie #Narcissus" / Twitter

Cartoon by Bill Whitehead.

Echo and Narcissus is not the only text that makes up the Verse Literature A selections for 2023 and 2024, as the board have also included three much shorter texts from the section of the Anthology named “Amor“: two poems by Catullus: How Many kisses? and Conflicting Emotions, plus a fragment of Petronius named Love Will Not Let the Poet Sleep. I shall look those in three separate blog posts over the next three weeks and that will involve some serious frisking of the archives! As the poems are very short, it will also be an opportunity to look more closely at the texts, which has not been possible with the longer texts.

Virgil Aeneid VI

OCR GCSE Latin Set Text 2023-2024

One day, or so my fantasy goes, OCR will publish the lines of the Virgil set text and every single line of the prescription I will have taught before. The fact that this has not happened in the 21 years I have been teaching is a testament to their ingenuity, their record-keeping and perhaps their sheer determination to make the lives of all Classics teachers as fiendishly challenging as possible.

Happily, the text this time around has a significant number of lines in common with previous specifications. My record-keeping is not as meticulous as OCR’s appears to be, but from the dates on the files I have just been hunting through, it looks like the 6th book of Virgil made an appearance in around 2010 and prior to that in around 2003. This year’s specification includes:

Lines 295–316: I have taught these lines before.
Lines 384–416: I have taught these lines before.
Lines 679–712, 752–759, 788–800 I cannot find in my resources.

Teaching an epic: where to begin?!

One of the biggest challenges that confronts us when embarking on the Virgil text is how much to teach students about the work as a whole and its place in the historic canon. To start with, it is most important that students are given a very basic introduction to the definition of an epic. I usually go with this one:

A long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the past history of a nation.

After that they need to understand who Homer was on a very basic level: i.e. that he wrote in Greek, and that he was the first and the greatest of the epic poets and thus the father of Western literature. They also need to understand that epic stems from an oral rather than a written tradition.

Many students will have heard of some key Homeric stories, so I tend to hang the difference between the Iliad and the Odyssey around those – Trojan War/Achilles/Hector versus monsters like the Cyclops or Scylla and Charybdis. I also explore how the word “odyssey” has entered into the English language.

Following their bluffer’s guide to Homer, students need to understand that Virgil’s poem was commissioned as a work of national pride by Augustus – they don’t need to understand the ins and outs of Augustan propaganda, but they usually find it interesting and indeed relevant to understand that this is what was going on; how much detail you explore with them will of course depend on the amount of teaching time that you have, but it is certainly important for them to understand that the Aeneid was deliberately created for a purpose, whereas Homer’s writings are the result of a process of evolution.

As the prescription is taken from Book VI, it is also important I think for students to understand that the Aeneid is split into two halves, with Book VI forming the bridge from one to the other. The first half is a loose imitation of Homer’s Odyssey (journeys and monsters) and the second is the same for the Iliad (fighting and self-definition). Book VI obviously echoes the descent of Odysseus into the Underworld in the Odyssey, but it also marks the crossover point between the two halves of the work and therefore the shift in tone and mindset towards the Iliadic half of the poem.

The journey to the Underworld is the final stage of Aeneas’ odyssey to Latium, which is mapped out in the first half of the poem. Aeneas’ experiences in Tartarus and Elysium offer him a kind of closure to his Trojan past and prepare both him and Virgil’s audience for his future destiny as the founder of the Roman people. As he emerges from the Underworld, reeling from the images of Rome’s future glories, Aeneas manifestly becomes the proto-Roman victorious general that he must be for us in the Iliadic half of the poem. Through that famous pageant of future Roman luminaries, Book VI also forms Virgil’s central piece of propaganda within the poem; while there are key pieces of conspicuous self-definition at each end of the epic (in the speeches of Jupiter to Venus in Book I and to Juno in Book XII), Book VI is without doubt the most chest-thumping of moments for any self-respecting Roman. This is partly why it is so crucial for this proscription that students understand the Aeneid as a commissioned work of propaganda; Aeneas’ time in the Underworld also affords Virgil the opportunity to map out the moral standards of Augustan Rome, echoed in the cycle of reward and punishment that he witnesses.

At the start of Book VI, which you will want to read in translation with your students, Aeneas’ visit to the Sibyl builds an atmosphere of awe and mystery, with Aeneas’ ritual prayers and the Sibyl’s prophecy. The sense that Aeneas is on a destined path to glory is underlined by his assisted discovery of the golden bough and the Sibyl’s prophecy that “another Achilles” awaits him: we can be in no doubt now that Aeneas is destined for a heroic future. The foreshadowing of the war in Italy also marks the beginning of the transformation of Aeneas’ character from traumatised and reluctant itinerant to victorious military leader and worthy father of Rome.

During his odyssey in the first half of the epic, Aeneas’ meetings with Homeric monsters placed him firmly within the Greek heroic tradition, as he faced up to the grotesque horrors that Greek heroes like Heracles, Odysseus and Theseus have faced before him. In the Underworld, his journey is more personal and profound and his meetings with Palinurus, Dido and Deiphobus see him revisit and make peace with three key periods in his past: his perilous journey as a refugee, his extended delay in Carthage and his former life in Troy. Crucially, Aeneas moves swiftly past each one, a process which is concluded with Deiphobus urging him on towards his future destiny: so Aeneas faces up to his own personal history and is ready to move on, to become reborn as the genitor of the Roman people.

In my archives from back in the day I have lines 295–316 and lines 384–416 produced in the format below. This is just over half the prescription so I am on the scrounge and have already been sent an interlinear translation by Andy James, Head of Classics at Guildford High School, where several of my ex-trainees work. I have sent them my versions of Sagae Thessalae and Pythius in return so it’s a fair swap! The interlinear translation is a really great starting point for me but I do like to provide students with considerably more scaffolding, so I still have work to do: I will probably turn it into a colour-coded text like the one I am using for Sagae Thessalae.

Virgil is a real joy to teach and students respond well to it as a rule. For the last several years I have taught the prose text first as I tend to find that the games Virgil plays with word-order as well as the massive shift towards unfamiliar vocabulary are simply too much for students to cope with; this is working particularly well this year starting with Sagae Thessalae as this particular text contains a significant amount of familiar vocabulary as well as some pretty straightforward grammar that really does not stray far beyond the GCSE language syllabus. The Virgil is always a greater challenge.


OCR GCSE Latin Set Text 2023 and 2024

Pythius is a short adapted text by Marcus Tullius Cicero, published in the Cambridge Latin Anthology and written in its original form during the 1st century BC. The text is part of a work called the De Officiis (On Duties or Obligations), a tripartite treatise in which Cicero explains his concept of the best way to live. The work discusses what can be defined as honourable in Book I and what can be said to be to one’s advantage in Book II; Book III explores what to do when the two come into conflict. In the first two books Cicero draws heavily on the writings of the Stoic philosopher Panaetius, but he writes more independently in the final section.

Cicero wrote the De Officiis for his son, to guide him towards moral behaviour. Rather than just expound his theories, Cicero tells some colourful stories of characters that he believes have harmed the interests of others for their own personal gain: Pythius is one of them. It forms part of a collection of four stories in the Cambridge Latin Anthology under the title Personae non gratae, along with two other stories of notorious rogues by Sallust and by Pliny, plus another short piece by Tacitus on the emperor Claudius’ shameless wife, Messalina.

Pythius is the short tale of a man who stages a false impression in order to sell some land at an inflated price. When he hears that a certain Gaius Canius has put the word out that he wishes to buy a private estate where he can relax and entertain friends, Pythius invites the man to dine with him, stating that – while his land is not actually for sale – Canius is welcome to make use of it. This is, of course, the first stage of the deception – making Canius want to buy the land by telling him that it’s not available: it’s the oldest trick in the book! In addition to this, Pythius instructs some local fishermen to do all of their fishing in full view of the estate on the day that Canius is visiting, thus giving the impression that the coastline in that area is abundant with fish: fishing was big business in the ancient world and well-stocked waters were very attractive to potential buyers.

Well, the inevitable happens. When Canius attends, he is overwhelmed by what he sees and offers Pythius an inflated sum of money to purchase the estate. Pythius eventually – and to all intents and purposes reluctantly – agrees. As soon as Canius is in possession of the land, he finds that the fishermen have moved on and that the waters are no more well-stocked than any other area. Yet he is stuck with his hasty purchase.

It’s been some time since Pythius has been on the syllabus and I found that the last time I had taught it I was still making use of the method of numbering the Latin words, a process favoured by the resources produced by ZigZag, whose publications I discussed in a previous blog post. As this is the shorter of the two prose texts I have decided to stick with this method to save myself some work and to and make use of my previous efforts as a bit of an experiment.

There are two ways of using the numbered method: you can go fully hardcore and expect students to produce their own translation, or you can provide the translation and let them use the numbers to match the Latin text to it (a process I usually support using colour-coding, as described in last week’s post about Sagae Thessalae).

Here is what I mean: below, the text is presented in a format which expects the students to produce a written translation on the lines below. This can be done whole-class and/or can be set as preparation work. It is a worthwhile use of time if you have it to produce a whole-class translation, and students can certainly benefit from this process both because it demands a certain level of rigour and because it develops their study skills – if students are expected to write down their own version of the translation prior to learning it, class time become crucially important; I do sometimes worry that the extreme level of spoon-feeding I have resorted to over the years means that some students will become unstuck in Higher Education – but this is the direct result of tying teachers’ appraisal to student performance and attainment!

Alternatively, you can make use of the same process but provide a translation, encouraging students to use the numbers as a guide to show them how the Latin relates to the English. Students might then use highlighters to make links between the Latin and the translation, or simply get used to the process of using the numbers as scaffolding. This method is better if you know you will be advising students to learn the translation off by heart and is especially effective if you want the whole class to be working to the same translation.

I will be interested to see how my students fare using this methodology. I can’t remember the exact reasons that I lost faith in the numbering method, but as I recall I did find that some students found it surprisingly challenging to follow. It is difficult as a subject expert to look at the text and the numbering through the eyes of a novice, and I guess what seems crystal clear to us can look like a jumble of indecipherable code to a fledgling Latinist. But it’s good to have the opportunity to revisit the methodology with a short text to see whether I abandoned it unfairly. Clearly, many people make use of the ZigZag resources, so there must be something in it. My suspicion, however, is that the students who struggle most will find it less helpful than it might seem. Another issue to bear in mind and certainly something I recall from past experience is that the method is actually very time-consuming to produce compared to colour-coding; it is incredibly easy to make a mistake, and one small slip in the number at the top of the page can spell disaster for the rest!

I shall approach the lessons with interest and will welcome any feedback from my students and from others.

Sagae Thessalae: the witches of Thessaly

OCR GCSE Latin Set Text 2023 and 2024

Sagae Thesselae (the Witches of Thessaly) is an adapted story from the mid 2nd century, published in the Cambridge Latin Anthology. The original story comes from our only complete surviving example of a Roman novel. Its formal title was Metamorphoses (Transformations) but it was most commonly known by its nickname, Asinus Aureus (The Golden Ass: the word “golden” is used in a metaphorical sense and could also be translated as “remarkable” or “miraculous”).

The novel was written by Lucius Apuleius and tells the story of a character, also called Lucius, whose fascination with magic results in his unfortunate transformation into an ass. Apuleius seems to have had his own brushes with magic, as he was accused (and acquitted) of using sorcery to attract the romantic attentions of a wealthy widow named Pudentilla. Apuelius was widely travelled, spending much of his life in Carthage in North Africa, where he became a chief priest. He was known for his neoplatonic philosophical writings, as well as for his famous novel.

In the novel, Lucius suffers many trials and humiliations in his transformed state, and the story explores themes of animal cruelty not often addressed in the ancient world. Lucius is ultimately converted back into a human by the goddess Isis, of whom he then becomes a devotee. A blend of humour, adventure, magic and susperstition in what was an unusual and emergent genre in the ancient world, The Golden Ass remains one of the most influential novels in Western literature.

The selected section for the OCR GCSE prescription sees Lucius in his original human form and takes place prior to his asinine transformation. The text is a story within a story, and indeed forms one of several such tales, strung together in what was known in the ancient world as a Milesian discourse – a collection of fables or anecdotes from traditional popular storytelling, embellished for an educated audience.

At our point in the text, Lucius is travelling through Thessaly, in northern Greece. By chance he meets a lady called Byrrhaena, who invites him to a banquet, where Lucius is asked what he thinks of Thessaly. Lucius replies that he is impressed by the region, but is worried by stories he has heard about the local witches, who are apparently in the habit of biting pieces of flesh from corpses. One of the guests points to a man hidden away at a table in the corner of the room, saying that he has suffered this very fate while still alive. The man, whose name is Thelyphron, is urged by Byrrhaena to tell Lucius his story, and he reluctantly agrees.

As a young man, Thelyphron, found himself in Thessaly and short on cash. In a fit of youthful arrogance or perhaps desperation, he took on the task of watching over a corpse in return for money, but during the night he fell asleep under the influence of the witches’ magic spells. On awakening, all seemed to be well with the corpse and Thelyphron felt great relief. However, in a sub-plot thrown in to add colour, the corpse’s widow is accused of adultery and of causing his death and a necromancer is brought in to animate the body so that it can give testimony; the deceased is reluctantly awakened and reports (along with his wife’s guilt) that Thelyphron himself has been mutilated during the night. Only at this point does Thelyphron realise that he has indeed lost his nose and his ears, which were removed by the witches and replaced by imitations moulded from wax.

It is interesting to ponder what Apuleius’ purpose was in writing his novel, especially given our knowledge of his life and his other work. Many have argued that the book forms a set of warnings against meddling in magic; neoplatonic writers certainly saw a clear distinction between what they termed “magic” or “sorcery” and their belief in the workings of the gods. If Apuleius were a true neoplatonist he was probably very suspicious of spells and sorcery. The fact that he was accused of these very acts but successfully defended himself against the charge suggests that he was perhaps interested in the field and may well have studied the difference between sorcery and the emergent practice of theurgy, which came to influence the thinking of neoplatonic commentators in the later Roman empire. To us, from the outside, the rituals would look very much the same; but neoplatonists believed that theurgy was very different from magic.

In terms of an approach to the GCSE set text, students’ priorities will be to understand the meaning of the Latin (which is relatively simple and contains only one or two contructions that are beyond the GCSE language specification) and to learn the translation thoroughly. This they can do by making use of my flashcards on Quizlet, although if their teacher has provided them with a translation to learn they may wish to take a copy of the cards and edit them according to their teacher’s wording to avoid confusion.

I have provided my students with a colour-coded text. My version is based on an original produced by another Classics teacher named Mark Wilmore (whose outstanding resources I have made tremendous use of over the years whenever I could lay my hands on them), but I have adapted both the translation and the colour-coding according my own preferences. I have kept his original excellent idea of marking historic present verbs with an asterisk – this alerts students to the fact that the translation will be different from what they might expect (the historic present is not part of the language specification at GCSE level), and it also helps them from the outset to earmark and learn some aspects of the text that will be very useful to them when it comes to the syle questions.

The idea of the colour-coding is to help students to identify how the English translation relates to the Latin, but this can be further improved by the use of the flashcards. I encourage students to use the flashcards in a two-stage proces. Firstly, they should work through the flashcards in order, stating out loud the English translation that matches with the Latin on the card before flipping it to check. They should do this repeatedly until the process is easy. Once they are fully confident with it, they should then shuffle the deck: being able to quote the translation of any section at random is the point where they have truly mastered the text and its translation.

Support with Latin set texts

One of the biggest challenges students face when they reach GCSE and A level in their Latin studies is the literature elements of the examination. Suddenly there’s a whole new world of real, unedited Latin in front of you, some of it in verse! This can be incredibly daunting. For teachers also, even those with years of experience, the challenge is huge: if you’re working with OCR, the examination board insists on changing the texts regularly (normally every two years), which means a process of constant development and renewal, especially if you teach both A level and GCSE. For teachers working in a one or two-person department, or on their own as a tutor, this can be pretty gruelling. Every two years you must get to know a new text and produce all the resources that your students will need to study the text, learn it and practise examination-style questions; it also means that there is extremely limited access to past examination papers.

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of resources available to support teachers and students in their set text studies. When I first started in the profession there was nothing, indeed this almost drove me into the arms of another subject: I was very concerned about the idea of constantly renewing my knowledge and re-developing resources on such a regular basis. Happily, times have changed and below is my super-quick guide to what’s out there to support us now. If you’re a teacher of Latin who is overwhelmed by how to prepare your resources, or if you’re a student who is struggling with their set texts, then this blog post is one for you!

If you are working independently then it is crucially important to make sure that you are studying the right texts. This may sound crazy but it is extraordinarily easy to get it wrong, especially at A level when the board forbids certain combinations of texts (for no apparent reason). I would advise anyone working on their own (whether they be a tutor, a teacher or a student) to reach out to the Classics community and ask someone to check their selections and combinations. I did this only recently, when OCR released advance information about the 2022 examinations; I asked some Classics teachers in another local school to check my interpretations were correct. Usually people are only too happy to help and you may find others who are working alone who will appreciate you doing the same for them.

The prescriptions for 2020 and 2021 were repeated for a third year in 2022 as a way of supporting teachers during the pandemic. This of course means that it’s all change for 2023 onwards. I will be taking a closer look at the GCSE texts prescribed for 2023 and beyond in future blog posts, so watch this space! For now, my exploration below is a general source of advice on where to find support and information, whatever the texts consist of.

As an excellent place to start, look no further than the workbooks produced by David Carter. Carter has done an outstanding job in building high-quality, student-friendly resources to support learners in their journey and if you’re struggling to get a handle on the set text then you really can’t go wrong by investing in these user-friendly workbooks – particularly if you’re on your own. A surprising number of schools remain committed to encouraging students to produce their own translation, meaning that many youngsters can flounder when it comes to the details. Carter provides a working translation as well as support with the grammar and the syntax, so these really are a game-changer. He has also moved towards providing some style notes, in line with the expectations of the most recent specifications. Carter’s prices remain resolutely affordable and in recent years he has also graduated towards eBooks and SoundBooks for iPad.

Teachers of A level and GCSE Latin will find the resources produced by ZigZag invaluable; these are a little on the pricey side for individual student investment and they also really need an expert to guide you through them. However, if you’re really keen and/or you’re working with a tutor, then these could be good for independent study too. The ZigZag publications provide a broad range of support to accompany the texts, with examination-style questions as well as a considerable amount of analysis and advice on scansion for the verse texts. They also provide numbered word-order to guide you as to how the Latin works against the translation, a method I have used myself over the years. Personally I am less keen on the presentation of the ZigZag resources compared to Carter’s workbooks, but I have invested in them previously as a starting point for my own preparation as a teacher.

Whilst preparing this blog post I almost fainted when I discovered that the GCSE Latin set texts for 2020 and 2021 (also repeated in 2022 due to the pandemic) have been produced as a self-published book by someone called George Sumner and have been available on Amazon for some time. I haven’t been able to track him down on the internet or via any social media channels, so if anyone knows how to get in touch with him, please do let me know as I’d love to connect with him! I have no idea whether he is planning to produce the next round of texts for 2023 and 2024 but I shall certainly be keeping a look out!

A hugely important resource for Latin teachers is the Classics Library website run by Steven Jenkin. This website is an absolute must for all Classics teachers and should already be known to any teacher of Latin who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last decade. The Classics Library resource bank is a great place to source any texts already prepared by other professionals, as well as to find practice examination questions and/or mock papers. No students are allowed, I’m afraid (you need a teacher log-in), but as a student or a parent you could and should ask your teacher or your tutor whether they’re signed up to and making use of the site. There is a similar set-up for the ARLT (the Association for Latin Teaching), who also have a bank of resources that teachers can sign up to. (By the way, if you’re wondering what the “R” stands for in ARLT, the group used to be called the Association for the Reform of Latin Teaching, but they’ve dropped the “reform”!)

Finally, a resource you may or may not be aware of is my own YouTube channel “Latin Tutor”, which is packed full of videos to support students with their set text studies. Lots of schools make use of my channel, most particularly the advice on how to rote-learn the texts using a variety of methods including the first-letter technique, a methodology used by actors to learn their lines. Rote-learning the translation is not something that all teachers recommend, but in reality it is sometimes essential when students are pressed for time in terms of their grammatical studies (the reality in a lot of state schools with tight timetables). My channel also contains advice on how to tackle the longer-answer questions in the GCSE examination, both the 8-mark style questions and the 10-mark mini essay: these two questions combined are worth 36% of the literature examination, so ignore them at your peril! The 10-mark question in particular is very easy to prepare for, and my video advises you on how to aim for a top-band mark in the examination.

Set text work is a challenging but ultimately rewarding part of your Latin studies, indeed it can be your saviour or your downfall. If you know your texts really well and have practised the sorts of questions that will come up, the literature can really pull your overall grade up; by the same token, if you don’t know the texts then your grade will plummet! Remember to start the process in good time to give yourself the best possible chance of doing well.

Which Latin course book do I choose?

Like most difficult questions, there is no straightforward answer to this. The variety of books now available to support and supplement the learning of Latin is quite remarkable, but very few of them are suitable for independent learners; many of the text books available are designed for use in schools, which makes them somewhat challenging for an independent learner to follow. But do not despair, there are courses out there and support is available for those studying alone or working with a Latin tutor.

The more traditional grammar and translation methodologies used by Latin teachers have been attacked for decades since the progressive movement in education decided that everything that smacked of The Old Days was A Bad Idea. However, if the main goal of learning Latin is to be able to translate the texts that the Romans wrote (and I fail to see why else one would bother!) then I’m afraid you need to learn how to do it. I’m sorry if that comes as a shock to anybody. For this reason I am not a big fan of the so-called “reading courses” which, far from being a course in anything, rather expect grammar to be learned through some kind of magical osmotic process. If you want a Latin tutor that pretends the grammar doesn’t exist in the interests of making the subject somehow more appealing in unspecified ways, then I’m not the one for you! Latin is hard, and shying away from the grammar is doing children a grave disservice in my opinion; you may fool them into thinking that it’s nothing but colourful stories for a while, but if that’s your only plan for winning them over then they’re going to be seriously upset with you when they get to the ablative absolute. Plus, I’ll let you into a little secret: children aren’t only motivated by fun: they are also motivated by challenge, so long as they are given the tools to succeed. I have taken numerous students from loathing to love, simply by demystifying the grammar for them. Give them the tools and they will fly.

Anyway, I digress. Below I take an (admittedly irreverent) look at the Latin text books most commonly used as core text books for Latin teaching in schools, including the most recent additions to the canon; but for our review to be complete, we need to start right back in the 1970s …

The Cambridge Latin Course (first published in 1970)

The oldest of the “new style” progressive Latin text books and the one that everyone’s heard of. If I had a £1 for everyone who has asked me whether Caecilius is still in horto I’d be a wealthy woman. Why is it so popular? There is something magical about the first book and even I can’t quite explain it. For some reason, the students just love Caecilius. Who knew that a middle-aged white banker could inspire such joy amongst the youth of today? But somehow he does, and there is the problem (or one of them at least); the students never really get over the loss of Caecilius at the end of Book 1 and they lose interest and heart from the second book onwards.

In the latter half of my career as a Latin teacher in schools I tackled this head-on, writing more stories about Quintus, the son who survives the eruption and carries the narrative forward; this approach meant that students were more invested in the character of Quintus and felt the loss of Caecilius less keenly. In the original version of Book 1, Quintus plays a very limited role and in one famous scene, which I decided to delete, he punches a dog! (Yes, really! Not the way to win the kids over, in my experience). So I invented a whole new storyline in which Quintus falls in love and tries to elope with the household slave-girl Melissa, but then loses her in the chaos during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. I then spun out the story of Quintus grieving her loss and ultimately finding her again as a replacement to the thoroughly tiresome stories in Book 2, all of which I ditched.

Aside from the fact that the books decline in their ability to hold students’ interest, the Cambridge Latin Course also falls down on the grammar, as pretty much everyone who isn’t invested in the publications will now admit. All Latin teachers who use this course supplement the grammatical content to a greater or lesser extent, and who hasn’t been frustrated by the fact that many of the chapters introduce a new grammatical concept and then give a load of exercises about something completely different? It truly is weird. I took my grammarisation campaign much further in later years, re-writing the stories I still used to remove all the personal pronouns (which forced students to focus on the verb ending, an essential skill in Latin translation) and replacing some of the more bizarre vocabulary choices with selections from the OCR GCSE list. By the time I’d finished with the course it was something completely different: a grammar course with the characters of the Cambridge Latin Course as a backdrop.

While the Cambridge Latin Course has started so many students off on their love-affair with Latin, it was never enough to carry them all the way to GCSE and beyond without some serious supplementation on the part of the teacher. If I were starting my career again as a classroom teacher, I’m not sure I would choose it. The much-awaited 5th edition is being launched as we speak, in which the authors have addressed the lack of strong female characters (Quintus gains a sister) and also the pervasive narrative of the “contented slave”, which without question dates the series, as does the fact that all the female characters tend to fall into the stereotypes observable in 1970s situation comedy: pretty girls and nagging wives.

Ecce Romani (first published in 1971)

It seems that vanishingly few schools use this series now, although it appears to have some popularity as a homeschooling text in the US. Ecce Romani was another reading course designed in the 1970s but just like the Cambridge Latin Course it has been updated in terms of appearance (less so in terms of content). I have tutored only one boy whose school is still working with this series and he hated it (although I suspect he would have hated it whatever the teacher had chosen!) One thing to be said for Ecce Romani is that – unlike its rival – it did a much better job of portraying female characters with prominence from the beginning, something that the Cambrigde Latin Course is only just addressing now in its 5th edition: this is pretty poor given that the 4th edition came out in 1998: not exactly the #metoo era, but not exactly the dark ages either.

The Oxford Latin Course (first published in 1987)

The Oxford Latin Course was published, I am told, as a direct answer to the problems with the Cambridge Latin Course, yet I fail to see how it addressed any of them. Do any Latin teachers use this course any more? Genuine question, as I have not heard of a Classics department that does so for some time. I did my second training placement at Brentwood School in Essex and that was my sole exposure to the text book, which they used with their KS3 and KS4 students. The Oxford Latin Course was at the time (and we’re talking more than 20 years ago now) the less commonly-used but well-respected alternative to the Cambridge series as a Latin reading course. Generally it was considered to be a little more challenging and robust on the grammar and certainly it introduced concepts such as 3rd person verbs without a subject much sooner than the Cambridge Latin Course; it also included some mythological stories, which the students enjoyed. Yet as an “answer” to the problems in the CLC? No. There is still too much expected on the part of the student, no clarity of exposition and very, very little repetition: this is the main problem with all the so-called “modern” reading courses – they consistently fail to grasp that the only route to full understanding is repetitive practice.

Still, it might seem a little puzzling why the Oxford Latin Course never really took off to the same extent; my suspicion is that it simply wasn’t as obviously engaging as the first book of the Cambridge Latin Course, and – for better or for worse – engaging is what teachers were looking for in the 1980s. As the CLC surged in dominance throughout the 1980s and 1990s, schools that had invested in the OLC must have felt like they’d been the ones to buy a Betamax instead of a VHS.

Suburani (first published 2020)

Suburani was heralded as the Cambridge Latin Course for the 21st century and it certainly continues in the fine tradition of the CLC in making the grammar thoroughly obscure. My heart sank when I first opened the book and found it repeated exactly the same mistakes, not least the immediate introduction of a plethora of declensions and conjugations right from the outest, sending all students into guaranteed cognitive overload when it comes to morphology. Likewise the introduction of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person but with no grammatical terminology used (why not?) plus the consistent use of the pronouns ego, tu, nos and vos in translation passages, meaning that students will fail to focus on the verb ending and will never develop the habit of examining the verb first. Talk about setting them up to fail. Add to this the constant use of prepositional phrases, with the ablative case completely unexplained and ignored, and this is simply the CLC with all its mistakes on auto-repeat. So why have some schools bought into it with alacrity? Well …

Suburani was a brave attempt at producing a Latin text book that would satisfy teachers who crave a richer and more diverse reflection of Roman society, with women working (not just sitting in the atrium), the realities of urban life (dangerous yet expensive rooms in insulae, beggars in the street, chatting in the latrina) and society as a whole being a little bit less middle-aged white banker territory. I applaud the sentiment and there is much that I think is genuinely laudable, for example the focus on the slaves who worked in the heat and the dark below ground to run the public baths; the slave labour that produced and maintained the apparent “wonders” of Roman invention is something I have always endeavoured to remind students of.

Yet one quick search for reviews of Suburani throws up plenty of people keen to tell them that they’ve got it all shockingly and offensively wrong again; such is the issue with marketing yourself as the go-to choice for people who crave diversity and universal representation in all things – they’re pretty hard to please. (This blog is my personal favourite of all the reviews that address how apparently “problematic” Suburani remains).

My reaction to Suburani is I like it as an attempt to reflect Roman society more honestly. I have no personal experience of using it as a classroom text book but have worked with several tutees who are using it in their schools: they’re all at sea with the grammar, which is why they need my help. Quod erat demonstrandum.

De Romanis (first published 2020)

There was much to recommend this Latin text book when it came out and I seriously considered switching to it as a classroom teacher. Latin grammar is tackled in methodical detail and the text book is supplemented with a far more comprehensive range of grammatical exercises, reducing teacher workload for sure and certainly going some way to address the lack of repetition, which is a consistent fault in all of the courses above. Translation is promoted from the outset and students are explicitly taught dictionary skills. When it comes to engagement, there is considerable focus on gods and goddesses, a subject hugely popular with youngsters and strangely not exploited in full by other modern courses. The layout is also much less cluttered than that of Suburani, which has come under fire for its chaotic appearance.

However (I bet you knew there was a however coming) there are a couple of reasons why this much-heralded new text book with a more robust approach to grammar didn’t quite win me over. I felt that the decision to introduce the perfect tense before anything else was a mistake in a book that claimed to have grammar at its heart and I really couldn’t get past that. In addition, I don’t know if every single Year 9 class in every school other than mine has children that are infinitely more mature than the ones I have taught over the last 21 years, but for me the “willy count” was simply way too high for my Year 9 students to cope with: yes, yes I know that most classical representations of the male form were full-frontal, but really: I simply couldn’t bear the thought of the inevitable sniggering, I’m afraid.

Latin to GCSE (by Henry Cullen and John Taylor) (first published 2016)

Now this is a serious tome and my goodness me the tutees I have worked with that are using this course at KS3 are challenged. In terms of its focus on grammar and detailed unpicking of morphology and syntax, this course is by far the most robust that I have found that is aimed at the secondary sector. It is also the first of its kind in that this text book is co-written by the Chief Examiner for GCSE (John Taylor) and ratified by OCR. It focuses on the vocabulary contained on the OCR vocabulary list and forms a guide to the grammar that students need to know at GCSE level. It is followed up by the equally excellent Latin Beyond GCSE by John Taylor, designed to take students onto AS and then level.

The Taylor and Cullen books are suitable for independent Latin learners as the authors provide extensive explanations as well as vast amounts of practice. Furthermore, you can create a login to the Bloomsbury website and obtain access to the authors’ own translations and answers, which makes it entirely suitable for independent learners and homeschooled students. I have found numerous errors in the ones posted for the Latin Beyond GCSE – unfortunately, I had got too far through before I realised that there were enough that I should have been writing them down to let the author know, and then I simply couldn’t face going back to find them all again – maybe I’ll find the energy in the summer.

The Taylor and Cullen books are used by schools with the curriculum time to take students through the morphology of Latin in rigorous detail (and boy do I envy them that!) They also have the advantage of being tailored specifically to the examinations (whereas other courses encourage students to waste a considerable amount of time learning vocabulary that will not be relevant at GCSE or A level). The very fact that this is so unusual indicates the disadvantage that our subject has been placed in compared to others – can you imagine teaching a mainstream subject without access to text books that are ratified by the examination board? Advantages aside, the only markers against these text books is that they are pretty weighty and unforgiving monsters and I can understand why students used to big glossy pictures in their text books might find them a little daunting.

So You Really Want to Learn Latin? (first published in 1999)

I have recommended this series of books by NNR Oulton to students in the past who want a user-friendly way to revise the basics. Okay, the jokes are a little cheesy but the author voice coming through is quite nice when you’re working alone, as you feel he is cheering you on. The author also drops in little snippets of useful “did you knows” that can demystify some of the Latin phrases that most people are vaguely aware of. The author’s style may not appeal to all as he is robustly open about his desire to tackle “properly difficult grammar”, so the books may not be reassuring to a student who is already anxious or struggling; for an adult, or for a confident child who wants to develop their understanding, the tone is ideal.

Although ostensibly aimed at prep-school students and hence dominated by the vocabulary used at Levels 1-3 and Scholarship, the course makes some strange decisions about what grammar to prioritise in the early stages, for example introducing students to the historic present quite early on; that said, the historic present is pretty common in Latin, so well done to him for not letting a syllabus totally dominate his methodology, I guess. Again, access to the answers is made available, another advantage for independent learners and making it entirely more suitable for those purposes than the course books commonly used in secondary schools. The series is also supported by the author’s own YouTube channel.

Other prep school courses

My shift into private tutoring has been an education in terms of text book usage as well as a revelation in discovering what prep schools were demanding of the youngest of students. Having worked in the state sector all my life, I was used to teaching students who were ab initio at the age of 11. My teaching of the grammar has also been hampered at the state comprehensive I worked in by limited time and a two-week timetable; there were times when, due to poor timetabling and a Bank Holiday Monday, I might not see my Year 7 students for almost a month. Working with prep school students who were already being asked to tackle grammar concepts I was not teaching to my students until year 10 made me question everything I was doing and encouraged me to rip up the rule book. It also exposed me to the variety of course books used in prep schools – far from being stagnant, this is another area where things are changing fast.

Latin for Common Entrance by RC Bass

The text books by RC Bass have formed the backbone for prep school teaching for years and the majority of students I have tutored in the prep school system come to me waving a copy of this course, in one of its many manifestations. The course has been revamped and republished several times and, like any good course in the modern era, comes with answer keys to support the independent learner. Bass switches regularly between Latin to English and English to Latin and his books contain meticulous detail and explanation. He approaches the grammar far more methodically than any of the courses aimed at secondary schools, introducing students to the morphology as well as the grammatical constructs. Some find his approach old-fashioned and bemoan the lack of pictures but frankly I was a convert from my first exposure. Yet Bass is not the only option available to teachers in the prep school system.

Who Said Latin’s Dead? by Rhian Rivers

These workbooks were created by a teacher who says she wanted to combine the rigour of traditional prep school grammar teaching with the engagement brought by story-based reading courses such as the Cambridge Latin Course. Students follow the stories through the eyes of some fictional fellow classmates who are transported back in time (but who also need to keep up their Latin studies – of course!) The course is produced as a series of workbooks, which is something being trialled in state secondary schools all over the country. I moved towards a booklet format for my Year 10s at GCSE level and I would never go back; the format provides students with a comprehensive learning guide that they can look back on and it is also outstanding for homework and cover work, a fundamental practicality that always needs to be considered; it must have been a godsend in lockdown too. The course has much to recommend it, with a good deal of practice exercises on morphology. I particularly like the way it frequently switches between translating from English-Latin to Latin-English.

The author offers an “express” course for schools that are more pressed for time. She does not, however, offer an answer key, so the course could not be used by independent learners or home-schoolers without the regular support of a tutor. She says that this remains a project for the future, so watch this space!

Clarke’s Latin by Ed Clarke

Written explicitly for the recently-refreshed Common Entrance course by one of its creators and examiners, Clarke’s Latin is quite frankly a revelation. My overriding criticism that applies to every single one of the courses above is that there simply isn’t enough practice included at each stage for students to achieve mastery or indeed anything like it. The funny thing is that all the authors must know this – they’re all teachers themselves, so they all understand that mastery is only achieved by repetition; in the classrom, they’re all no doubt supplementing their own courses all the time, a process replicated ad infinitum by every single Latin teacher across the country. When you think about it, it’s madness. But Clarke’s Latin is different.

Clarke has made use of modern technology to produce a course that almost overwhelms you with exercises – never before have I been blessed with the option of saying to a student, “okay, I think you’ve completely grasped this, let’s skip the next couple of pages”. But now, when working one-to-one with a particularly gifted student, I am saying it a lot. In the classroom, it would allow a teacher to differentiate by outcome and enable students to work at their own pace – even the terrifyingly clever ones, who for once will not clean you out of material within 5 minutes.

Clarke has exploited the power of Excel to generate morphological exercises and short practice sentences at a fraction of the speed it would take a Latin teacher to produce them manually; this has enabled him to provide the classroom teacher with a bumper-pack of resources that will never, ever run out. I mean seriously. Imagine it. No more resource-writing. Just a series of course books containing everything you need. More than you need. I’m still slightly in shock! Then I find myself wondering why on earth this hasn’t been thought of before. Latin is famously a structured language and we are in the business of teaching its rules. Of course it was possible to harness technology to assist us in the process of resource-generation. What on earth have we all been doing since 1985?! Well, while we were fiddling about, Clarke has come up with the method and the result is golden.

Like Who Says Latin’s Dead, the new Clarke’s Latin is presented in booklet format, a real boon for classroom teachers and a methodology that’s working in the state sector. Clarke also provides an answer key and extensive written explanations, making the course ideal for independent learners. Personally I am using the electronic licence as I am an online tutor and it is working very well in that format. My guinea pig ab initio student, the first I have tried out the new course with, is loving the rigour: and that rigour is second to none.


In my 21 years as a teacher I have worked with numerous text books and indeed made use of works that are much older and less user-friendly than the modern courses explored above. My shelves are weighed down with text books from the past, all of which have their uses (especially when desperate to provide a gifted student with something he or she has never seen before and might find in some way challenging!) Never have we been so blessed with choice and the latest additions to the canon are in some cases revolutionary.