Today, the Roman festival of Saturnalia, OCR unveils its new Latin GCSE which has been accredited for teaching from September 2016.
JK Rowling and Martha Lane Fox did a degree with it; celebrities from Angelina Jolie to Justin Bieber have it tattooed on their bodies; and more students are studying it at school, so although it's more than 2000 years old, Latin remains officially hip.
Professor Mary Beard of the University of Cambridge today told OCR: “Learning Latin gives you direct access to some of the most impressive, challenging and influential literature the world has produced that still underlies much of western culture. And it brings the ancient Romans to life, in everything from gladiators to steamy love poetry, bridge-building to the theory of politics.”
Set prose and poetry texts in the coming years for the new GCSE include: Pliny’s thoughts on the ideal daughter; Livy’s account of Hannibal crossing the Alps; Tacitus’ portrayal of Piso in Syria, a riot at a gladiator spectacle and Boudica’s rebellion; How many kisses? by Catullus; Echo et Narcissus by Ovid; plus extracts from Virgil’s Aeneid. Topics about Roman life range from gods to roads and dinner parties to theatre. The vocabulary list is 475 words long, from ‘amor’ to ‘vox’.
Since 2010, the number of students taking GCSE Latin in schools in England and Wales has risen by 13% and, as a language, it benefits from being one of the core Ebacc subjects.
Georgina Gill, Latin teacher at High Storrs Comprehensive School in Sheffield is enthusiastic about Latin at her school: “Pupils at High Storrs school choose Latin GCSE because it is a different subject and they enjoy learning the language through the exciting stories and history that brings to life the Roman world. One pupil told me it was a 'stand out subject' for them and the analytical skills they have developed from learning the language have helped in other subjects too."
For the first time the new GCSE contains the translation of simple sentences into Latin (eg ‘the slave is able to work in the garden’). The popular derivation questions have been retained where students have to find English words that derive from Latin (e.g volunteer deriving from the verb velle).
Commenting on the enduring appeal of Latin, OCR’s Latin Subject Specialist Caroline Bristow, said: “With its logical, structured, and consistent grammar, learning Latin greatly boosts general literacy and, because it can be like solving puzzles, students find it really satisfying to learn. For these reasons organisations such as ‘The Latin Programme’, which works in inner-city London primary schools to improve students’ literacy through Latin, have seen incredible success. But it’s not all about the discipline of grammar. Latin offers beautiful (and sometimes very rude!) poetry such as that by Catullus and Ovid and taps into students’ fascination with the Romans, their gladiators, battles and social antics which wouldn’t be out of place in today’s gossip magazines.”
OCR is the only English exam board to offer both GCSE and A Level Latin.