Skip to main content


Let’s hear it for the women of Pompeii

A garden in Pompeii. DeAgostini/Getty

If the words Caecilius est in horto fill you with nostalgia, says Tristram Fane Saunders in The Daily Telegraph, prepare for exciting news: the beloved Cambridge Latin Course (CLC) is getting an inclusivity update. For 52 years, children have studied the adventures of Caecilius the banker and his dog Cerberus in the last days of Pompeii. It’s an enthralling tale. The height of excitement in a French textbook is “a visit to the piscine or bibliotheque”; in the CLC, it’s “mass death by volcano”. Whole classrooms have been “reduced to tears” as Caecilius, believing his family dead, utters his last words: “de vita mea despero” (“I despair of my life”). Book two is even grislier, following the “Iago-like psychopath” Salvius as he plots and murders his way across Europe.

Bloodthirsty antics will remain, but the update gives Caecilius a determined daughter (the politically minded Lucia) and add people of colour to the cast. Ignore the anxious cries of “woke”, says Libby Purves in The Times. “This is great news.” Back when I studied Latin, the lack of female characters sent me a clear message that “women didn’t matter”. Even when our teacher allowed us to stage a Roman feast, us girls knew “we’d really be wives or slaves and wouldn’t get a go at stabbing Caesar or setting fire to Rome”. From history lessons filled with boys having wars, to Jane Austen’s dismaying necessity “either to marry a rich bloke and be happy, or be rich in your own right and be hated”, young girls hardly have an abundance of positive role models. So I welcome Lucia talking Pompeiian politics and choosing her own husband, freed from the “stifling cocoon” of female irrelevance. “Salve, puella!