All the thinking about first lines last week reminded me of a moment when I had one up on my father. When it comes to words and knowledge and classics this is a rarity, which is why it stuck in my head and makes me smile every time.
My father has a degree in classics. This is important to remember. I don't. I did have an enthusiastic English teacher who spent a couple of lessons teaching us some basic Latin to help us in our comprehension of words (such as circum = around, thus circumference, circumnavigate, etc.) ... but my knowledge is severely limited.
On one occasion he visited me at university and we were walking past St Mary's Quad on our way to lunch. In the wrought iron of the archway into the quad are the words:
In principio erat verbum
"Ah!" my father said, "Genesis 1.1."
I stopped and looked at it. Genesis does indeed begin In the beginning... but continues God created the heavens and the earth.
My translation was In the beginning was the word. Verbum - surely this was like verb and thus word rather than creating heaven and earth? And if so...
"Or perhaps John 1.1?" I ventured.
My father looked at it again, gave a small grunt of agreement and walked on. I grinned and followed. (I was a student; he was paying for lunch. There was only so much gloating I could do.)
And now for the answers from last week.
1 It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Jane Austin - Pride and Prejudice
2 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Charles Dickens - A Tale of Two Cities
3 Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. J K Rowling - The Philosopher's Stone
4 All children, except one, grow up. J M Barrie - Peter Pan
5 Roger, aged seven, and no longer the youngest of the family, ran in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays. Arthur Ransome - Swallows and Amazons
Not the most obscure, and only one that I've not read. One day - I promise myself - I really will read a book by Dickens. Just not today...