Tuesday, March 04, 2008


The Latin Examination

Tolstoy, Childhood, Boyhood, Youth (Youth, XII: The Latin Examination, tr. unknown):
From the very first examination, everybody had been talking with terror of the Latin professor, who was represented as a kind of wild beast who took delight in the destruction of young men, especially of such as lived at their own homes, and as speaking only in the Latin or Greek tongue. St. Jérôme, who was my instructor in the Latin language, encouraged me; and it really seemed to me that, since I could translate from Cicero and several odes of Horace without a lexicon, and since I knew Zumpt very well indeed, I was no worse prepared than the rest. But it turned out otherwise.


"Ah, yes! Are you still there? Well, translate something," said he, handing me a book. "But no; better take this one." He turned over the leaves of a copy of Horace, and opened it at a passage which it seemed to me nobody ever could translate. "I have not prepared this," said I. "And you want to recite what you have learned by heart? Very good! No; translate this."

I managed to get the sense of it after a fashion; but the professor only shook his head at each of my inquiring glances, and merely answered "No," with a sigh. At last he closed his book with such nervous quickness that he pinched his own finger between the leaves. He jerked it out angrily, gave me a card in grammar, and, flinging himself back in his chair, he continued to preserve the most malicious silence. I was on the point of answering; but the expression of his countenance fettered my tongue, and everything which I said appeared to me to be wrong.

"That's not it! that's not it! that's not it at all he suddenly broke out with his horrible pronunciation, as he briskly changed his attitude, leaned his elbows on the table, and played with the gold ring which clung weakly to a thin finger of his left hand. "It's impossible, gentlemen, to prepare for the higher educational institutions in this manner. All you want is to wear the uniform, with its blue collar, and brag of being first, and think that you can be students. No, gentlemen; you must be thoroughly grounded in your subject;" and so forth, and so forth.
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