Monday, 3 November 2008


Here's an autumn picture - newly ploughed fields....and Halloween went by without a murmur in our cul de sac. Put it down to the nasty cold rain that night, or the fact that the kids have all grown beyond wearing mum's old sheet with two holes cut for eyes. Yet in town, adults were standing in a ten, twelve yard queue, outside in the cold, waiting to get inside and make purchases of some kind at the only Halloween shop in town. It seems to me a very odd thing when adults take over festivals that twenty years ago were considered fit only for children.

I finished reading Saturnalia by Lindsey Davis last week and thought I'd offer a comment or two. I was particularly intrigued by her use of language. I knew she used modern langauge, but now that I'm writing myself I looked at what she does with new eyes. Isn't it amazing how this happens? Something I've taken for granted for years suddenly takes on a new aspect because I started to question how I used language in my writing.

Lindsey says in the notes section: "I write about another culture, where people spoke another language, one which has mainly survived either in a literary form or as tavern wall graffiti. Many an argot must have existed in between. People sometimes discuss whether the Romans would really sound as I portray them - forgetting firstly that the Romans spoke Latin not English, and that on the streets and in the provinces they must have spoekn versions of Latin that did not survive. I have to find my own ways to make narrative and dialogue convincing."

She goes on: "It is no good hoping that the carbonised papyri from Herculaneum that are now being so painstakingly unravelled by scholars will produce clues; so far they are all Greek to me, and indeed to everyone. If Calpurnius Piso, thought to be the villa's owner, owned a Slang Thesaurus, we have not found it."

So she deploys metaphors and similes that work in context, and sometimes she invents words, although she has to struggle to get them by her British editor. And above all, she uses modern, slang English. It works. And people like it; after all, this is her eighteenth book about Marcus Didius Falco.


Linda Banche said...

Fairly quiet Halloween on this side of the pond, too, at least on my street. We didn't have very many ghoulies and ghosties, and the last had come before 8PM.

Language is hard. Even English. Some of Shakespeare is difficult to read, and he's considered modern English. I can kind of figure out Middle English, but it's rough.

I loved Latin when I studied it in school. But, as you said, I studied the classics, not what the people really said when they met on the street.

Here's a link I found on Roman language

Lindsey Davis probably already has it, but it's interesting.

Brian Barker said...

I see that the new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wants all schools in the city to teach Latin. However I would prefer Esperanto, not only because of its relative ease of learning, but because it has great propaedeutic values, also.

Check if you have time.

A glimpse of the language can be seen at

Jen Black said...

I thought Latin was considered a good introduction to learning other Romance languages but I was offered the choice of Latin or Chemistry at School and chose Chemistry! Missed my chance there!