Latin man with a Transit van

24th February 2006 at 00:00
A stand-up comedian has launched a one-man campaign to stop the Latin language from dying out.

Alex Horne studied Latin to A-level, after which he read classics at Cambridge. He is now drawing on those 12 years of lessons for his new show, When In Rome.

Ultimately, Mr Horne says, he would love to see Latin return to classrooms.

"Kids are the hardest people to sell it to," he said. "But they know more Latin than they think: words like 'Transit van' or 'etcetera'.

"We need to give them the option before it's too late and the language dies out again."

His show takes the form of a Latin course, in which the audience can choose which aspects they would like to study. So he jokes about the Roman invasion of Britain, or teaches his "class" Latin songs. "If you study Latin, people always ask you what you'll be able to do with it," the 27-year-old said. "I thought, if I do a comedy show about Latin, at least I'll have an answer."

His promotional material highlights the fact that only 10,004 pupils took Latin GCSE in 2003, compared with 60,000 O-level entrants in 1969. He hopes the show will convey the benefits of studying the subject.

"Latin gives you scope for discussing words," he said. "In comedy, the more varied language you use, the funnier it becomes.

"Latin is useful if you want to learn other languages. And it gives you the ability to go into churches and understand the inscriptions."

And he should know. His knowledge of Latin enabled him to speak to the Pope, and the show concludes with an account of their meeting. "Salve papa," Mr Horne said, in greeting. He received a mumbled pontifical reply.

"It's not much, but I still count it as a conversation," he said.

His love of Latin was encouraged by a teacher, who conveyed a genuine passion for the subject. His stand-up show will tour Roman towns of Britain - Londinium, Windesora and Aquae Sulis (Bath). But Mr Horne has also performed at schools. He recently performed to 13-year-olds at Bury girls'

grammar, all about to choose their GCSE subjects.

"Schools are great places to do comedy," he said. "They're better than clubs where drunken men throw things at you.

"Because you can't speak much in Latin, it's never going to be as attractive as a European language. We need to make it more fun. Having someone who's young, and in a vaguely cool area of work, can't do any harm."

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