“I love the language, that soft bastard Latin,
Which melts like kisses from a female mouth,
And sounds as if it should be writ on satin
With syllables which breathe of the sweet South.”
–Attributed to George Gordon Noel Byron (1788‐1824), British poet.
“At the expense of many tears and some blood, I purchased the knowledge of the Latin syntax.” — Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), Memoirs of My Life
The first question about Latin is often, “Do they still teach that?” or even, “Why would anyone study Latin?” There are a lot of reasons to study Latin. For one thing, it’s fun. For another, a Latin student gains surprising benefits — such as:
- increased English vocabulary;
- the ability to recognize the prefixes, roots and suffixes in English and in Romance languages, and thus to infer meanings of tricky words like “infer”;
- the ability and honor to read some of the greatest and most influential writers in the history of western civilization;
- greater facility with language acquisition in general;
- an understanding of grammatical structure, the foundation of any language, which translates into greater skill and comprehension in any language;
- rise in standardized test scores—both verbal, analytical and even mathematical;
- a heightened understanding and appreciation of the underpinnings of modern life.
These are the enthusiastic ravings of an unabashed lover of Latin and of Roman history. I’m not anxious to bring back gladiatorial games or public crucifixions, nor an average life expectancy of 40-something. I don’t expect a return to the days when Americans graduating from college gave their valedictory speeches in Latin. But the language of ancient Rome feeds into the English language, and the history of Rome foreshadows our own history, and it behooves us to learn from our predecessors, from their genius and their hubris, from their triumphs and their blunders, and from their writings as well as their language.