Friday, March 1, 2013

Memories of a Romanized Childhood

I studied classical Latin from the age of six to sixteen, an eon by the standards of today's school curricula. Though I can't say I'm in any way an adept at it, the language of the ancient Romans has come in handy from time-to-time for things as varied as winning a car rally as the only participant who could translate an inscription over a gate, to knowing what the many medical terms I met in my health care career probably mean.

I've had something of a Latinate turn of mind ever since my upbringing in one of the great river valleys that lead into London. During the first Roman invasion of England the region where I lived was the western edge of the lands of a powerful and sophisticated tribe of Britons known as the Trinovantes.  Visible across the valley from our house was the River Lea, the most storied tributary of the River Thames. When I was of primary school age, archaeologists excavating in the water meadows where we played unearthed weapons and armour from a battle that had taken place between these local Britons and the legionary invaders. We inquisitive kids got some great up-close looks at these exciting finds.

Father was employed at a locally-owned drug company in town beside the River Lea. The firm was eventually sold to Glaxo, who created a research centre there. Excavations for the foundations of new laboratories unearthed an impressive Roman settlement just upriver from the ancient fording place where that earlier generation of Romans had fought the Trinovantes. These Trinovantes were sufficiently advanced to have their own coinage.  Although I can't recall actually seeing one of theirs, my Latin teacher at grammar school had a fascinating personal collection of other local Roman-era coins.

A beautifully functional Roman aqueduct crosses a small valley outside our nearby County Town (County Seat). In the same county, our diocesan cathedral is dedicated to St Alban, a Roman soldier who was the first Christian martyr in Britain. Its city of St Albans is famous for the Roman Verulamium, which has the finest bath house with complete mosaic floor and hypocaust discovered in England.  


The period two millennia ago when civilized life began to take shape in the river valleys around London was a foretaste of the later local civilization whose Anglo-Saxon dialect is the forerunner of today's global language of communication.

My childhood filled with things Roman was a gift. Pondering it helps a bit to keep me rooted in an increasingly rootless world.

1 comment:

  1. There can be dismal consequences from today's sharp decline in the number of schools teaching the classical languages that are the source of many of the more sophisticated words and phrases in our vocabulary. A newspaper advert from aprestigious Ontario university bragging that three Bank of Canada presidents are its alumni contains this howler: "Mr.Poloz is the third Queen's alumni.."!

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