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Regulus, a Roman general, defeated the Carthaginians 256 B.C., but was next year defeated and taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, who sent him to Rome with an embassy to ask for peace or an exchange of prisoners. Regulus strongly advised the Roman Senate to make no terms with the enemy. He then returned to Carthage and was put to death.

The Fifth Form had been dragged several times in its collective life, from one end of the school Horace to the other. Those were the years when Army examiners gave thousands of marks for Latin, and it was Mr. King’s hated business to defeat them.

Hear him, then, on a raw November morning at second lesson.

‘Aha!’ he began, rubbing his hands. ‘Cras ingens iterabimus aequor. Our portion to-day is the Fifth Ode of the Third Book, I believe–concerning one Regulus, a gentleman. And how often have we been through it?’

‘Twice, sir,’ said Malpass, head of the Form.

Mr. King shuddered. ‘Yes, twice, quite literally,’ he said. ‘To-day, with an eye to your Army viva-voce examinations–ugh!–I shall exact somewhat freer and more florid renditions. With feeling and comprehension if that be possible. I except’–here his eye swept the back benches–‘our friend and companion Beetle, from whom, now as always, I demand an absolutely literal translation.’ The form laughed subserviently.

‘Spare his blushes! Beetle charms us first.’

Beetle stood up, confident in the possession of a guaranteed construe, left behind by M’Turk, who had that day gone into the sick-house with a cold. Yet he was too wary a hand to show confidence.

Credidimus, we–believe–we have believed,’ he opened in hesitating slow time, ‘tonantem Joven, thundering Jove–regnare, to reign–caelo, in heaven. Augustus, Augustus–habebitur, will be held or considered–praesens divus, a present God–adjectis Britannis, the Britons being added–imperio, to the Empire–gravibusque Persis, with the heavy–er, stern Persians.’


‘The grave or stern Persians.’ Beetle pulled up with the ‘Thank-God-I-have-done-my-duty’ air of Nelson in the cockpit.

‘I am quite aware,’ said King, ‘that the first stanza is about the extent of your knowledge, but continue, sweet one, continue. Gravibus, by the way, is usually translated as “troublesome.”‘

Beetle drew a long and tortured breath. The second stanza (which carries over to the third) of that Ode is what is technically called a ‘stinker.’ But M’Turk had done him handsomely.

Milesne Crassi, had–has the soldier of Crassus–vixit, lived–turpis maritus, a disgraceful husband–‘

‘You slurred the quantity of the word after turpis,’ said King. ‘Let’s hear it.’

Beetle guessed again, and for a wonder hit the correct quantity. ‘Er–a disgraceful husband–conjuge barbara, with a barbarous spouse.’

‘Why do you select that disgustful equivalent out of all the dictionary?’ King snapped. ‘Isn’t “wife” good enough for you?’

‘Yes, sir. But what do I do about this bracket, sir? Shall I take it now?’

‘Confine yourself at present to the soldier of Crassus.’

‘Yes, sir. Et, and–consenuit, has he grown old–in armis, in the–er–arms–hositum socerorum, of his father-in-law’s enemies.’

‘Who? How? Which?’

‘Arms of his enemies’ fathers-in-law, sir.’

‘Tha-anks. By the way, what meaning might you attach to in armis?

‘Oh, weapons–weapons of war, sir.’ There was a virginal note in Beetle’s voice as though he had been falsely accused of uttering indecencies. ‘Shall I take the bracket now, sir?’

‘Since it seems to be troubling you.’

Pro Curia, O for the Senate House–inversique mores, and manners upset–upside down.’

‘Ve-ry like your translation. Meantime, the soldier of Crassus?’

Sub rege Medo, under a Median King–Marsus et Apulus, he being a Marsian and an Apulian.’

‘Who? The Median King?’

‘No, sir. The soldier of Crassus. Oblittus agrees with milesne Crassi, sir,’ volunteered too-hasty Beetle.

‘Does it? It doesn’t with me.’

Oh-blight-us,’ Beetle corrected hastily, ‘forgetful–anciliorum, of the shields, or trophies–et nominis, and the–his name–et togae, and the toga–eternaeque Vestae, and eternal Vesta–incolumi Jove, Jove being safe–et urbe Roma, and the Roman city.’ With an air of hardly restrained zeal–‘Shall I go on, sir?’

Mr. King winced. ‘No, thank you. You have indeed given us a translation! May I ask if it conveys any meaning whatever to your so-called mind?’