WHEN the hero of Monty Python’s The Life Of Brian daubed “Romanus Eunt Domus” on the wall of the Roman HQ in Jerusalem he was trying to prove his rebel credentials.
But instead of impressing the People’s Front of Judea, he got a thick ear from a Roman centurion and a Latin lesson.
For instead of “Romans Go Home” he had written “People called Romanes they go house”.
As punishment for not conjugating his verbs properly, Brian was ordered to write the correct version “Romano Ite Domum” 100 times.
It’s a lesson more pupils in the North could be learning in the future if plans by the classicists and the Government get the go ahead.
But how can pupils benefit from an archaic language which effectively died out 1000 years ago?
Peter Jones — a former lecturer, author of Vote for Caesar and head of the Newcastle-based Friends of Classics charity — explained: “Around half of the English language has Latin roots so it will give you a deeper understanding of how languages develop.
“For example, if you know that porto means ‘to carry’ in Latin you can then understand the root and meaning of a host of English words such as transport, heliport, sea port, but also similar words in other languages such as French or Portuguese.
“It is also a practical language if you want to study botany, the law or medicine, although it’s not a requirement.”
Mr Jones also scoffed at suggestions it was an elitist subject. He said: “Latin is not just for toffs, but for everyone. But it must be available to be taught in state schools as well as public schools.”
David Stevens, an English expert from Durham University, agreed, and added that the new initiative would help to remove the perceived snobbery.
He said: “Latin is still thought of as elitist as it’s taught at top public schools, but making it available to more students will allow them to claim it for everyone.
“Of course, there is the argument that it would be better to spend the time concentrating on modern languages such as French.
“But understanding Latin will help you understand the so-called Romance languages like Italian or French, as well as English.”
At present, Latin can be sat as a GCSE but, because it’s not on the National Curriculum, those exam scores are not included in the school exam ranking system. This has seen its popularity tumble, with only 15 per cent of state schools currently teaching it.
In 1988, just over 16,000 pupils sat GCSE exams in Latin, with 53pc of those coming from state schools. But, by 2000, the figure had dropped to 10,000 and only 37pc of those were from state education.
Meanwhile, the number of qualified Latin teachers is also rapidly falling, with only around 35 a year entering the profession at a time when 60 or more leave every year.
It has led to warnings that if something isn’t done, the subject will soon disappear altogether.
The plans have received qualified support from education chiefs who would have to oversee the increase in the teaching of Latin. Jean Hart, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “I personally would not have a problem with Latin being taught in state schools but it would have to be based on choice because not everyone would want to study it.”
• New life for a dead language