Home Page How Classics could help answer a three-part question 26/09/14

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Hart of the Matter

The features shared in common between ancient Gaul and the Haverhill area may be a complete mystery to town residents. After all, we don’t see Asterix marching up the high street or Obelix nipping into the menhir shop.

However, the connection may soon be a mystery no longer to the upcoming generation, with the revelation that Samuel Ward Academy is bringing Latin and Classics into the curriculum.

I have no idea how Latin is now taught. It can hardly be orally or conversationally in the way that living languages are now studied. Pupils will struggle to find a twin town in the Roman Empire to visit and gain idiomatic familiarity, unless they possess a Tardis in their back gardens.

I expect things have moved on a little since my day, but there is hope that at some point during their studies, those Haverhill children who choose to dip their toe into this subject will come across the sentence ‘Gallia in tres partes divisa est’.

If they do, it will probably mean they are reading an ill-informed website rather than an actual text, because although this phrase has passed into relatively common usage, it is a misquotation of the original opening line of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, which, if any student pores over the original, they will find actually reads: Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres’ – All Gaul is divided into three parts.


Does it matter? Well, the pedantically correct quotation is neither here nor there, but the sense is important because there could scarcely be a more topical note on which to begin a dissertation about the Haverhill area.


It might as well have read: ‘Haverhillia est omnis divisa in tres partes’, because the fact that the Haverhill area is divided into three parts has probably been the most fundamental influence on its development, or lack of it.


Being a fringe area to all three counties – Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire – has led to both the town’s rapid growth, thanks to its mid 20th century decline and the carelessness of West Suffolk about what happened to it and what was put here, and the failure of anyone to address the massive infrastructure problems which ensued, in terms of rail, road, healthcare, employment, leisure provision and just about anything else you can think of.


The legacy is around for all to see, and even came up at town council this week in one of those bizarre little peculiarities which delight pedantic commentators, the fact that the Haver Arms and the Days Inn are in Essex.


One of the new Haverhill entrance signs – already nominated, I believe, for the National Blandest Town Welcome Signs Competition 2014 – is in Cambridgeshire. Another would have to be in Essex, if it were ever erected.


A member of the public suggested at the town council meeting that moves should be made to make Haverhill a district authority in its own right, although no one responded to it. If it were not for the ‘tres partes’ division this would have happened long ago because the town has a quite big enough catchment area.


The problem is that, for its own district and county and, to a lesser extent, its two neighbouring districts and counties, only one third of that area is of any relevance to anything. The other two-thirds are uncharted places, white on the map and empty apart from the words ‘Here be dragons’.


Or, at least, they were. Cambridgeshire, I believe, has just recently macheted its way through to us and maybe Essex could do the same in the near future. Like Stanley and Livingstone they will shake hands and presume upon each other’s identities. Then, also like Stanley and Livingstone, they will want to start the process of converting the benighted local kingdoms – in this case Suffolk.


They will find that the actual natives, Haverhill residents, are a lot further ahead of the game than they had given them credit for. After all, some of them, by then, may have received the seeds of a classical education. They may have come to learn what their town council motto, Pro Bono Publico, actually means. After that, the sky’s the limit.


Samuel Ward’s latest publication of the excellent work of some of its students paves the way. It is entitled ‘Ad Astra’ – ‘To The Stars’. Sadly, it does not appear to contain the first half of that particular RAF motto, which begins ‘Per Ardua’ – ‘Through Adversity’.


That motto is particularly appropriate for Haverhill at the moment. It can also be translated as ‘Through Struggle’, although I prefer ‘Through Hard Work’, and that is the only way young people in Haverhill can achieve anything at the moment.


They have a lot stacked against them. Good role models are few and far between for those who wish to succeed through education rather than blagging. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but it is not long ago that I can remember cases of youngsters positively discouraged at home from making the best use of education, being told they were wasting their time.


All around them were examples of people who claimed education had never done them any good. They had just got out and got on with ‘earning’ a living, and now they were ‘earning’ a lot more than most of their neighbours.


In that climate, few would be encouraged to try learning Latin. Any such incentive would be more likely to be found in the villages. But perhaps I do Haverhill town a disservice now. I hope so. I hope the town is now producing lawyers, doctors, bishops and architects at the same rate as the best of them.


Anyway, Latin is not just for lawyers and doctors. It is the bedrock of Western culture, of a significant proportion of our language and of our national history. Academic education, at least to a limited degree, should be for everyone. As Leonardo Da Vinci put it: ‘Scientia est lux lucis’ – Knowledge is Enlightenment.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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