The Classics Department reached new heights this year – literally. The annual Year 10 trip in June to Pompeii and other sites in the Bay of Naples had an extra day, which gave us time to scale Mount Vesuvius. This was just one part of the trip which took in not only the obvious sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, but also lesser known curiosities, the villa of the Emperor Tiberius high on a cliff in Capri, the Solfatara, a still active crater which breathes out sulphur fumes, and the rightly named Piscina Mirabile, the gigantic Roman water deposit, seventy-two metres long, at the end of an aqueduct – the place where Robert Harris’ excellent novel “Pompeii” begins.
Trips are important to bring to life the year’s studies. In Years 7 to 10 Latin is studied alongside the life and history of the ancient world. The Year 7 trip in May to Mérida, like the Year 10 trip, brings to life many of the different aspects of Roman life studied over the previous three terms. Apart from seeing the amazing public buildings, which are perhaps more obvious, such as the theatre, amphitheatre and the longest surviving Roman bridge, the Year 7 pupils go round Roman houses and they also learn about day-to-day life in the Museum of Roman Art seeing such things as brooches, mirrors and lamps. However for many pupils the most memorable part of the experience is just to be staying in a hotel with their friends!
The Year 9 “Latin” play told the story of Rome’s first king Romulus, and blended the well-known legend with its historical basis: the stories of the birth of the twins, of their rivalry, of the abduction of the Sabine girls, of the mysterious death of Romulus, were placed in the reality of Italy in the 8th century BC. Excellent acting was accompanied by dances and songs as always – with live music on stage for the first time.
Those who choose to continue with Latin for IGCSE and A Level have not had any trips or plays but have delved more deeply into certain aspects of the Roman world. Although they have to learn the language more fully for the different exams, it is important to remember that the purpose of this is to enable the reading of literature two thousand years old in its authors’ own language.
The literature read this year in Years 11, 12 and 13 has been an engaging mixture of prose and poetry, of fiction and real life. Cicero has featured strongly – writing about politics, defending a client who is probably guilty of murder, rebuilding a house, poking his nose into his brother’s marital problems and deciding what a sick freedman should eat. The love poetry of Ovid and others also had striking variety: sometimes the “lovers” wrote with passion and feeling; at others they seem to have been trying to impress their friends rather than the “girl” with their knowledge of mythology and their metrical dexterity. Virgil provides a sober contrast to all this as he tells with patriotic devotion the story of Aeneas, Romulus’ even more mythical ancestor, and how he establishes a foothold in Italy. Aeneas is depicted as a soldier and leader inspired and helped by the gods whom Virgil shows as eager for the establishment of the great civilisation that we know – and study – as Rome.