HomeOpinion & AnalysisFrom Ovid to Covid

From Ovid to Covid

By Tim Middleton

Every school has its motto and generally every pupil will at least know their own school’s motto. Some readers may even remember their own school motto now, years after leaving. The purpose of them is to effectively sum up what is expected of all within the school (not just pupils but staff and parents too). Some mottoes are easy to remember; a school in Jamaica had the motto, “Learn Or Get Out”, which pretty much says all that needs to be said! The Allan Wilson motto states it clearly and strongly too in English (“We are Men of Men”) which is not too dissimilar to the Milton High School motto which translated from the Greek means “Quit ye like men”.

Many schools do have their motto in Greek or Latin which may be understood by its pupils (though not necessarily) but often not by outsiders. The most popular one is probably ‘Carpe Diem’, which most people will know means ‘Seize the Day’ (not to be confused with the motto, which we trust is not a school motto, ‘Carpe Vinum’, which is translated as ‘Seize the Wine’). Then there are such mottoes as ‘Sapere aude’ meaning ‘Dare to know’ and ‘Ad meliora’ meaning ‘Toward better things’. Zimbabwean schools do not miss out in this regard. Many schools have Latin mottoes, including ‘Tot Facienda Parum Factum’ (“so much to do, so little done”), ‘Esse Quam Videri’ (“To be, rather than to seem”) for boys’ schools and ‘Floreat Semper’ (“Blossom forever”) and ‘Gratia Et Scientia’ (“Grace and Learning”) for girls’ schools. Hands up if we know the schools who have those mottoes!

Latin has obviously long-since disappeared from the curriculum of most schools but pupils can also learn a great deal about numerous English words from their Latin roots. Many poets also refer to Latin poets, the most noteworthy one being Wilfred Owen who, in his poem entitled ‘Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori’ (translated as ‘It is Sweet and Honourable to Die for your Country’), described how dying for your country was anything but sweet and pleasant. It is in that light that we can learn a great deal from Latin poets with regard to how we handle our current situation with the covid pandemic. In that regard, the Roman poet Ovid has provided us with many sayings that would serve us well as mottoes as we face the current on-going crisis.

Ovid was a popular writer who lived between 43 BC and 17 AD though he was exiled by the Roman authorities, to a lonely place without books or high society in a land with a different language and in a climate that was spartan, for promoting inappropriate behaviour and for writing about the pleasure-seeking activities that were prevalent then. He faced extreme conditions yet maintained remarkable clarity of thinking. Let us therefore learn from Ovid how to face Covid.

Ovid was certainly no stranger to the sort of adversity that everyone in the world is now facing yet he dealt with it with reason and calm. He understood that “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence” and that “Everything changes, nothing perishes”. We must be on guard but at the same time recognise life goes on unabated.  His advice was simple: “Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.” There will be many benefits that will arise out of this pandemic. He also wrote that, “We’re slow to believe what wounds us” and many might feel that has been the attitude of certain sectors of society during this Covid season. In fact, with regard to the responses towards the corona virus, many might echo the thoughts expressed in the following: “I am dragged along by a strange new force. Desire and reason are pulling in different directions. I see the right way and approve it, but follow the wrong.” So, Ovid noted that, “A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow”. We do well to take on a positive mind-set and look at having ideas to combat the difficulties. Such statements could be positive mottoes for us all.

Although Latin is a long-lost language its influence on the English language is very strong and significant. Maybe we should bring it back into our studies —there is great thinking there. However, the world in which we live is not much different to the world in which the Latin poets lived and so Ovid’s thinking has relevance to us today as much as it did in his own day, just as Latin mottoes of many schools have great relevance today. We would, ironically, do well to echo Ovid’s words when he said, “Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these.” Carpe Diem. Ad meliora!

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS].

The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS. Email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw; website:www.atschisz

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