The Only Good Language is a Dead Language

After a late night of studying vocabulary, verbal systems, and principal parts I found myself in a classroom surrounded by a wonderful group of peers, visibly as eager to learn as I was. The professor approached the whiteboard and wrote out a sentence. He turned around and, perhaps upon seeing my nervous expression, called on me to translate it in front of the rest of the class. And I didnot perfectly mind youbut I arrived more quickly than I thought I would at the correct translation. And it was this moment, reading the same language of Virgil, Cicero, Ovid, and Horace, that reminded me why the study of the Latin language is such an important and rewarding experience, as well as essential to one’s education.

This year, upon the insistence of students, including myself, we have the opportunity to study Latin under the more-than-capable instruction of Dr. Gary Jenkins. “I’m excited to learn Latin so that I can read some of the philosophical writings that are central to the Templeton Honors College curriculum in their original language”, says Amber Huddell. Giana Cirulli shares her thoughts in saying, “I love this language that stretches the mind to understand the ancient culture, the modern English grammatical structure, as well as creates unity and a more meaningful conversation with the ancient authors.” Ceara Shanahan shows her excitement, telling me, “It should be a fantastic and informative class. I’m looking forward to learning more about this ancient language.” I too am thrilled to be given this chance and look forward to this class hopefully becoming a staple of our Honors College curriculum.

As someone who gained an appreciation of the Classics from a young ageto the point of now being a Classics Major in collegeI hold to the opinion that Latin is a critically important part of the education process. Not only is Latin a useful tool for understanding our own language, but also a study that prepares the mind itself for learning and preserves our connection to the Great texts, thoughts, and the Tradition that has contributed so greatly to who we are. And though we can perhaps read Latin texts that have been translated into English, much is lost along the way.

In his book, The Devil Knows Latin, E. Christian Kopff, teacher of the Classics at the University of Colorado and the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, writes that, “a liberal arts education in our society must be grounded in the study of the languages, literatures, history, and philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome” and “nothing is more practical than the study of Latin.” It contributes to the “true education” which he describes as “the study and mastery of a body of knowledge which is formative in character,” a sentiment I believe that the Templeton Honors College shares and holds in high esteem. And thus to abandon the Classics, and in particular the study of Latin, would be “an alienation from our own history.” As T. S. Eliot writes in his “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” “Some one said: ‘The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are that which we know.” We have become who we are thanks to what we have learned from the writers of ancient Greece and Rome. Thus, the Templeton Honors College, as an institution committed to the study of Great Books and the Classical Tradition, will benefit greatly from a Latin class.


Chiara Behm (’20) is currently a Templeton sophomore studying Classics.

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