The year began well with praise for studying Latin at the launch of the European Day of Languages on the 25th September. Dr Eugene McKendry of Queen’s said ‘Of all the languages I have learnt, the most useful has been Latin’, while Maurice Maxwell, head of the European Commision for N Ireland, praised the very accomplished and witty performance in Latin and English of a playlet by Dr King, based on a scene from the Roman comic playwright Plautus. The performers, Eric Craney, Laura Doak, and Lewis Fitzgerald are also members of Dr Baillie’s RADA group.
In October, thirty-seven pupils from 4th Form to U6th, accompanied by Mrs Bredin, Mr Currie, Miss Harte and Mrs McCormick travelled to Italy for a seven-day tour, which included visits to Pompeii and Herculaneum, a trek up Vesuvius, and an afternoon in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, where pupils enjoyed a leisurely walk through the beautifully refurbished galleries of Roman sculpture, listening intently to the background stories of the statues from mythology and history. We also saw the famous Alexander mosaic, the room-size model of Pompeii, and sculptures of other famous Greeks and Romans, including the Emperor Titus, whom everybody agreed has an uncanny resemblance to Dr Jordan. I think that everyone’s favourite sculptures were the huge statues of Herakles and Antiope being torn apart by a bull, which were brought down to Naples all the way from Rome in the 18th century. We also visited three amphitheatres, including a creepy below-ground visit to the amphitheatre at Capua, where Spartacus trained, and where Julius Caesar owned a troop of gladiators. Tasha Dempster writes ‘Not only did we see the incredibly well-preserved surface, but we got the rare chance to see the underneath, where back in Roman times, wild animals and gladiators would have prepared for the fight. It was like a scene from a movie: tangling vines and plants clung to the columns beneath and sunlight seeped through gaps in the roof, highlighting the sheer size and detail that had gone into the building. We were able to explore the underground system, making sure to avoid drops of freezing cold water falling from the ceiling, and really appreciate the amphitheatre in a new way.’
The journey back from Sorrento to Rome lasted about seventeen hours, because we were caught up in ‘the strike of all strikes’: no one does a strike like the Italians! All traffic stopped on the motorway about 90 kilometres from Rome. Connor McIlwain writes ‘Caged inside the bus for hours for hours with very little to do, my friends and I kept spirits high by playing the uplifting sounds of Radiohead on my portable speakers. Unable to bear it any longer, we broke free of our confines and sat around on the motorway instead. Disgruntled with the situation, I lay down on the motorway in my own protest, which turned out to be wholly ineffectual since the traffic wasn’t moving anyway. We weren’t the only people who left our vehicle; we met many other wanderers on the motorway, most notable of which was a group of three skinheads. When told that we were from Northern Ireland, they responded with “Ah yes! We love the IRA!” After having fled back to the bus, traffic soon began to move and we continued our journey, having been diverted to a different route. During the last few hours of our journey, we began to grow attached to the bus, to such an extent that we were all distraught to leave it. On entering our hotel in Rome, we were welcomed by cold chicken which was definitely not thrown around the corridors.’
Despite the trauma of the long journey, everyone bounced back quickly and we spent two intense days touring the major sites of Rome. We began with a guided tour of the Colosseum, which everyone agreed was wonderful, and even overwhelming, and then on to the Palatine Hill with its view of the Circus Maximus and the Roman Forum. We saw Emperor Titus/Dr Jordan again in an exhibition in the Curia, the Roman Senate house, and had a relaxing lunch in a terraced café overlooking the city on the top of the Capitoline Hill. Our visit to the Capitoline Museum was very rewarding: we saw some of the most famous sculptures from Roman art, including the impressive equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, and the famous shewolf which nursed Romulus and Remus. We then made our way to the Trevi Fountain, where we all ate delicious ice cream, and the Spanish Steps, stopping to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar at the Largo Argentina. As we made our way back to our hotel, we passed an orange Lamborghini, which caused much excitement. We also came upon the changing of the guard at the presidential palace on the Quirinal, opposite a massive fountain made from recycled statues and a basin from two thousand year - old Roman baths. A visit to an oval-shaped church designed by Bernini with cherubs in the dome laughing as they gazed down upon us completed our day.
On Sunday, we went to the Vatican, where we unexpectedly encountered a papal mass: some very determined pupils even got photographs of the pope. Most however, because of the crowds, retreated to the piazza in front of St. Peter’s and just watched the television screens. We then ate lunch at a pizza restaurant which we came upon as we were making our way through the winding streets to the Palazzo Altemps, one of the few really old houses preserved in Rome (not all Rome is ancient!). We then went on to the Piazza Navona, featured in ‘Angels and Demons’, where artists were selling their wares, and which has several delicious ice cream cafes. A final visit to the Pantheon completed our day, and we trudged wearily back to the hotel, tired but very content.
After such a wonderful holiday, it was hard to settle back into work, but work we did. Those 2nd Form pupils who had successfully completed their EMACT Greek certificate course the previous June were given their certificates in November, and in January we got splendid news from the Jowett-Sendelar Essay Competition, sponsored by Oxford University, when five of our pupils’ essays won prizes. Louise Murray won a Merit award, Jacqui Barnes won a Highly Commended award, and Selina Chia, Alex Costley, and Chris Beck won Commended awards. Louise, in fact, placed tenth overall out of 150 entries, while Jacqui placed twelfth. Selina, Alex, and Chris were all within the top fifty. Well done for their excellent effort and ability.
In May, Tasha Dempster and Hannah Baker-Millington travelled to Cambridge University to attend a Classics Open Day. It was very informative, with advice on how to apply for Oxbridge, and entertaining lectures on topics such as Pompeii and the Persians.
In June, we invited twelve pupils from RBAI to join us for a Classics Quiz, which included Domino’s pizza and ten rounds of questions on various topics from the ancient world. Then, to conclude the year’s activities, 1st Form pupils participated in our first annual Drama Festival, where they presented short scenes from the Cambridge Latin Course which they had rehearsed with Mrs Lutton and Dr Baillie. It was so enjoyable and so successful that we plan to extend it next year to include a 2nd Form festival.
And so another year of entertaining and interesting activities and academic achievements has come to a close. We look forward to further success next year, and the planning of a trip to Greece for 2011, on the theme of ‘Athens vs. Sparta’.