Amo Amas Amat or How Lucrio Got His Name

Cerberus from the Cambridge Latin Course

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Amo Amas Amat or How Lucrio Got His Name

Cerberus from the Cambridge Latin Course

Mention that you’re a Latin teacher to a new acquaintance and you tend to get one of two responses. Some people - those who for reasons of personal politics or educational ideology cleave to the idea that Latin is a ‘Good Thing’ - beam enthusiastically and say ‘Oh well done you.’ Others recoil slightly and mutter, ‘God, I was terrible at Latin I’m afraid’, and sidle away as though afraid I’m about to ask them to conjugate something. 


To those who blench at the memory of Kennedy’s Latin Primer, I always say, things have changed you know, it’s not all amo amas amat these days. Among some educationalists, I am aware, this trend is deeply to be regretted. Indeed, the textbook that pioneered this touchy-feely, grammar-lite approach to Latin - the Cambridge Latin Course -  is thought by some to be at least partially responsible for the moral and political decline of the nation.


For all that I sometimes sympathise with the CLC’s critics (3rd person verb endings before 1st and 2nd? What kind of a SICK mind does something like that?), I’m basically a big fan. I think it’s probably thanks to book 1 of the course - which follows a fictional family living in Pompeii in AD 79 just as mount Vesuvius is getting ready to blow its top - that I saw Latin from the get-go not as a delivery system for reams of decontextualised grammatical rules but rather as a kind of secret code which, if I could unlock it, would take me into the world of a people both strangely familiar and fascinatingly alien. 


So when I began writing my first novel, Rivals of the Republic - a historical crime adventure set in the Roman Republic which will be the first in a series called The Blood of Rome - it was perhaps inevitable that the legacy of those first Latin stories would find its way into my story through the name of one of my characters. Not Caecilius, the famous paterfamilias of the fictional Pompeian family, though that is indeed the name of a senator in the book whom history has already named for me.


Instead, it’s the character of Lucrio, the mysterious former gladiator and soldier who helps my young heroine Hortensia unravel a deadly conspiracy at the heart of Roman politics, whose name is inspired by those early lessons in Latin. As students of the CLC will know well, the original Lucrio is a doddery old man who proves frustratingly obtuse at following his slave-girl Poppaea’s hints that he should leave the house so she can have a secret assignation with her boyfriend Grumio (Caecilius’s cook). Why this name was the only one that would do for Hortensia’s emotionally distant sidekick, I have no idea. But the name took root, and I couldn’t imagine my Lucrio being called anything else. 


It only remains for me to write the Roman equivalent of a Lassie Come Home series about a dog called Cerberus. Though if you’ve read the heartbreaking last chapter of CLC Book 1, I suppose Greyfriars Cerberus might be more appropriate.