Jo Pavey, athleta praestantissima

Josephina Pavey, athleta Britannica, Turico die quinto decimo Augustii superavit.

pavey race

Omnes athletas Europenses in curso decem milia passum vixit. Jo multos annos assidue strenueque ita se exercet ut semper celerior fiat. Quadraginta annos nata, at nunc Jo Europea praestat, etsi multi dicunt feminam esse seniorem post annum quadragensimum quam quae certaminibus inter nationes contendat.

Jo Pavey wins 10,000m

Jo vero rem rarissimam effecit quae nuper libros duos pepererit, alio quinque annos nato, alia undecim menses. Modo abhinc quattuor menses filiam mamillis alere destitit. Jo familiaresque sui se ludos Olympicos anno MMXVI contenturam sperant.



Jo Pavey, a British athlete, triumphed in Zurich on the 15th of August. She won the ten thousand metre race in the European championships. Jo has trained seriously and conscientiously for many years to become faster.  She is now forty, but is the number one in Europe, even though many say that a woman is too old at forty to compete in international championships. Jo’s achievement is outstanding for she has recently given birth to two children, a boy aged five and girl aged eleven months. It was only four months ago that she stopped breastfeeding her daughter. Jo and her family are hoping that she will compete at the Olympics in 2016.


Pabulum fluidum raptum de subsolo: Fuel stolen from underground


Villa Chevening

Die Saturni furtum patefactum est quo triginti milia litrorum petrolei per diem rapiebantur. Fures foramine clandestine facto tantum petroleum de tubo subterraneo per septem menses nemine animadvertante deducebant quanto lucrum octo milionum librorum adepti sint. Tubus per solum multa milia passuum porrigitur ut petroleum, pabulum fluidum, de Hampshire ad Purfleet ducatur. Res nocens magnopere periculosa erat, quod petroleum maxime compressum in tubo, solutum facilissime exploderet. Furibus doctis scientia sollertissima adhibendum erat. Foramen, fertur, sub villa Chevening Nicolae Clegg, vicarii Primi Ministri, inventus est.


On Saturday a theft was revealed in which thirty thousand litres of petrol per day had been taken. The thieves had secretly made a hole and had without anyone noticing taken out of the underground pipeline over a period of seven months enough petrol to make a profit of eight million pounds. The pipeline stretches many miles through the ground to take the petrol, a liquid fuel, from Hampshire to Purfleet. This criminal deed was exceedingly dangerous because the petrol is under very high pressure in the pipe and could easily explode once released. The thieves had to be trained and to use the highest technology. The hole, it is reported, was found under Chevening, the house of the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg

Incus, dapes summa concinnitate offerens. L’enclume, offering the finest dishes.

Feriati die Jovis in taberna summae impensae prandimus, L’enclume sive Incus nomine.

L’enclume Cumbriā in urbe parvā Cartmelā positā cibum lepidissimum cenatoribus offert. Ergo sicut cenā Trimalchionis servi multi compluria gustula de epulis sumptis facta nobis apportaverunt, qui ingredientia peritissime exaperire poterant. Uxor mecum fructa est dapibus optimis summā concinnitate coctis quae conjunctae essent modis insolitis coloribusque pulcherrime mixtis. Panis etiam erat exquisitus de farinā acidā subactus. Sapores insolentes, brassicae parvulae, herbae differentes, carnes dulces, mala delectabilia cenam effecerunt quam multos annos meminero.


On holiday, we lunched on Thursday at a very expensive restaurant, L’enclume or the Anvil. L’enclume is situated in a small Cumbrian town, Cartmel, and offers diners the finest food. It was like the feast of Trimalchio: many waiters brought us several dainty treats made with the finest foods and explained most expertly the ingredients. My wife and I enjoyed the most delicate of dishes cooked in the height of elegance, for they were prepared in unusual ways, and the colours were blended most beautifully. Even the brad was exquisite, being prepared with sour dough. Novel flavours, baby vegetables, unusual herbs, the finest meats, created a meal which we will remember for many years.

Tempus praesens historicum: the historic present.

I did enjoy hearing the spat between Melvin Bragg and John Humphrys on the use of the historic present.

I generally avoid the historic present in my own writing, but I am with Melvyn in this debate, in that I am relaxed about historians’ use of the present tense when writing about the past. There is a general assumption that it is a recent innovation. Some time ago I responded to a Guardian ‘Notes and Queries’ question which wanted to know when and why the BBC had started a policy of using the historic present. (Unfortunately I cannot find the online link to this question.) In my reply I pointed out that the historic present has been used for at least two thousand years.  Roman historians frequently used it. To test this assertion, I opened the works of some Latin authors at random, and found the historic present on the first page I turned to each time.

From “Sallust: Bellum Catalinae” ed. Patrick McGushin, (1980) Bristol Classical Press, p35.

Igitur P. Umbreno cuidam negotium dat, uti legatos Allobrogum requiret eosque, si possit, inpellat ad societatem belli. (Present tense in the main verb, ‘dat’.)

The Penguin translator did not use the historic present. Whereas the Latin could be translated more literally as: ‘He gives to a certain Publius Umbrenus the task to look for the envoys of the Allobroges and if he could to push them into an alliance for war’, the Penguin translator has used a very free translation:

He directed one Publius Umbrenus to seek out the envoys of the Allobroges and induce them, if possible, to take part in the war …


From “Titi Livi: Ab Urbe Condita, Tomus I” eds. Robert Seymour Conway and Charles Flamstead Walters, (1914) Oxford Classical Texts, Liber I: 25,9.

Tum clamore qualis ex insperato faventium solet Romani adiuvant militem suum; et ille defungi proelio festinat. (Present tense in both main verbs) ‘Then the Romans with a shout like that of supporters associated with the unexpected, help their soldier and he hurries to finish the battle.’

Again, the Penguin translation is free and avoids (or avoided?) the present historic.

The Romans’ cheer for their young soldier was like the roar of the crowd at the race when luck turns defeat into victory. Horatius pressed on to make an end.


I am confident that the same random test would work with Tacitus, Caesar and others.

Of course, English speakers are very confused about tenses, as is clear from this item from the Guardian:

Isn’t it strange, John, that in some conditional sentences we use past tenses? “If I had known what would happen, I wouldn’t have mentioned it,” he might find himself saying, using not only the past perfect, but also a word that was originally the past tense of “will”. What a topsy-turvy world.

In this example,  has confused the subjunctive or conditional moods, which we rarely need in English, with the past tense. I wonder if the historic present is used in other, non-European languages. I would not be surprised if it is universal across all cultures. Perhaps complaining about its use is also universal.

Erravi. Moeen nunc armillas non gestat. I was wrong. Moeen is not now wearing his wristbands.

Erravi. Senatus Pilae Clavaeque Anglicus tacuit de armillis a Moeene gestatis, sed ludi iudex ei dixit non oporteat verba politica praeferre. Hodie ICC iudice consentiunt et nunc Moeen armillas non gestat.

I was wrong. The English Cricket Board kept quiet about Moeen’s wristbands, but the game’s umpire told him he should not display political statements. Today the ICC have agreed with the umpire and today Moeen is not wearing the wristbands.


Armillae cum verbis politicis aut pacificentibus. Wristbands with political or with peaceful messages.

Heri contendebatur pilā clavāque inter Indicos et Britannicos. Lusor Britannicus, Moeen Ali nomine, armillas gestabat in quis verba ‘Palestina Liberanda’ et ‘Gaza Curanda’ scripta erant.



Hoc ipso tempore milites Israelii Gazam sic ferociter oppugnant ut multi Gazenses, praecipue eorum liberi, concīdentur. Multi populi orbis terrarum deplorantes de rebus Gazensibus indutias praesentes  poscunt. ali

ICC (sive Pilae Clavaeque Senatus Gentium) lusores vetunt verba politica gestare. Moeen tamen sociique sui asseverant haec verba non esse politica sed facientia pacem. Sententia haec valde est dubia, sed ICC non dissentiunt. Nunc iam Moeen armillas gestat.

moeen bowling

Yesterday there was a cricket match between the Indian and British teams. A British player, Moeen Ali, was wearing armbands on which were written the words ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Save Gaza’. At this very time Israeli soldiers are ferociously attacking Gaza, leading to the slaughter of many Gazans, especially children. All around the world people are appalled at what is happening in Gaza and are calling for a ceasefire.

The ICC (International Cricket Council) bans players from wearing political messages. However, Moeen and his team mates assert that these words are not political, but are peace-making. This opinion is certainly contentious, but the ICC has not disagreed. Moeen is still wearing the armbands.

Aeroplana missile ignifero exscissa: clades ingens, flagitium horrendum.

Die Jovis aeroplana Malaysiana missile ignifero icta de undecim milia metrorum in solum Ukranae delapsa est. fere tres centum viatorum nautarumque occisi sunt, qui decem Britannos continentes cives erant nationum complurium. Aeroplanā in fragmentis dissolutā, cadavera de caelo in arva tectaque casarum deciderunt.

body in field

A body under a plastic sheet.

Populi mundi flagitium horrendum criminantur: quis, poscunt, talem nefarium faciret? Nonnulli res Ukranas culpant. In Ukranā oriente de quo missile contorquetum est Russici seditionem discordiamque concitant. Rebelles nullā disciplinā assuefacti nuper orti sunt, sed arma provecta recentiaque nacti sunt. Multi Putinam ducem Russicum accusant qui arma sicut missilia tradans rebelles hortetur.


Nunc rebelles inordinati investigatores interdicunt ne locum naufragii visitent ad indicia flagitii invenienda. Nunc homines immundi ebriique cadavera rimantur et despoliant. Putina vehementer infititur se missile rebellibus tradiderit aut animos eorum accenderit, sed hodie pauci Russicis credunt. Res ancipites sunt.



A rebel gunman walks over a wing of the plane


On Thursday a Malaysian aeroplane was hit by a missile and fell from eleven thousand metres onto Ukranian soil. Almost three hundred passengers and crew were killed, who were citizens of several nations, including ten Britons. The plane was smashed into pieces and bodies fell from the sky onto fields and the roofs of houses. The people of the world have condemned this terrible crime: who, they want to know, could do such a terrible deed? Many people blame the situation in the Ukraine. The Russians have been stirring up trouble and rebellion in the east of Ukraine, from where the missile was launched. Recently untrained and disorderly rebels have appeared, equipped with advanced and modern weapons. Many accuse Putin the Russian leader for encouraging the rebels and supplying them with weapons like missiles. Now ill-disciplined rebels are preventing investigators from visiting the crash site to look for evidenc of the crime. Now scruffy and drunk men are rifling and robbing the bodies. Putin strenuously denies that he provided the rebels with the missile or has inflamed their passions, but few people today trust the Russians. The situation is grave.