Late life Latin lovers

Published 30 January 2019

The Latin proverb Nonscholae sed vitae discimus ("We learn not for school, but for life") could well describe two of the University of New England's more unlikely Latin scholars.

Senior professors Chris Sharpley (Neuroscience), 71, and Bruce Tier (Animal Genetics and Breeding) , 67, last year demonstrated that learning can indeed be a lifelong endeavour by taking up study of the classical language.

Over ancient texts, bloodthirsty tales and inspiring addresses from Roman statesmen they forged a firm friendship and deep appreciation for how the past informs the present.

For semi-retired Bruce, "one of the world's laziest high school students", it was an opportunity to take up an option he had regrettably declined decades earlier, to gain a deeper insight into English language and have some fun.

"I approached it as I would doing a crossword or sudoku, as a puzzle to be solved for my own entertainment," he said.

"It was much better than I had expected and the spin-off is that I learnt a lot of additional things - about history, mythology and drama. It has given me a whole new perspective."

Chris describes himself as a "glutton for punishment". He intended to complete just one trimester of Latin, but enjoyed the teaching of Sarah Lawrence so much that he ended up tackling two.

"I made a commitment to work from 4am-6am three mornings a week on my Latin, in order to fit it in with my other teaching and research," Chris said.

"It was rewarding to learn how it influences so much of our history and modern lives. The Romans wrote in such a pithy way, saying in three words what it would take us 20 today."

Both professors praised their teacher and supportive fellow students, who saw them "not as people from a geriatric village" but as fellow learners.

"We didn't get a lot of their humour, but then they didn't get our Fawlty Towers references either," said Chris, who developed a strong allied interest in ancient civilisations and architecture throughout his classes.

"However, it was a rewarding social experience and now (as part of his Master of Arts in the Classics, and following a recent visit to The Acropolis of Athens) I want to study Ancient Greek history."

The pair taught Sarah some important lessons as well.

"They showed us that it's never too late to be a beginner," she said.

"They were great role models - two experts in their fields who were happy to ask questions and admit that they didn't always understand.

"This was invaluable to our internal students but also to the many other online students who received recordings of our classes. Bruce and Chris were always willing to have a go and modelled what true learning is all about."

Their presence brought some unexpected benefits to fellow students, too, beyond the occasional joke and valuable clarification.

"Chris was able to share with us how the brain works to memorise things and Bruce had some great suggestions on mapping information," Sarah said.

"Their expertise fed into the classes and it was magic to see them bonding with 19-year-olds."

Which reminds us of that other famous Latin proverb Carpe diem - "Seize the day!"

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