Books : reviews

Harry Mount.
Amo, Amas, Amat ... And All That: how to become a Latin lover.
Short Books. 2006

rating : 5 : waste of time
review : 8 August 2019

Have you ever found yourself irritated when a sine qua non or a mea culpa 1s thrown into the conversation by a particularly annoying person? Or do distant memories of afternoons spent struggling to learn obscure verbs fill you with dread?

Never fear! Or as a Latin show off might say, Nil desperandum!

In this delightful guided tour of Latin, which features everything from a Monty Python grammar lesson to David Beckham’s tattos and all the best snippets of prose and poetry from 2000 years of literary history, Harry Mount wipes the dust off those boring primers and breathes life back into the greatest language of them all...

I can’t see “amo, amas, amat” without some automatic process in my head kicking in and going “amamus, amatis, amant”. And yet I took only one year of Latin, and that 50 years ago. What little I did, I mostly enjoyed: it seemed much more logical and structured, and a lot less conversational, than my bête noire, French. I also learned most of my knowledge of language grammar that year. So I picked up this book to be reminded of what I had learned.

Mount took a lot more Latin at school than I did, and continued on to read Classics at university, so his knowledge is deep. He clearly loves the language, and tries to impart that love through this book, with descriptions of declensions and conjugations, other parts of the language, translations, bits of Roman history, and anecdotes of his eduction in the subject.

The factual information is fine, and there are some interesting insights into Roman life. But his illustrations of free-form translation into casual English are a bit forced, the example sentences he translates into Latin are often mean-spirited, and some of his anecdotes of school life are very distasteful. He’s just trying too hard to be funny/clever, and it doesn’t work, instead leaving a slightly bad taste in the mouth.