During my studies at University of California, San Diego, I have come across a Latin course taught by the wonderful Leslie Edwards. I originally enrolled in the course because I always had an interest in learning where English words were derived from and why they meant what they did. Well, I definitely got more than I bargained for. I discovered a beautiful language.
To say I discovered the language is obviously a lie; however, I discovered something within myself. I was finally able to appreciate the beauty of language. Before I took this course, I never understood why there were ‘Romantic’ languages and why people were so attracted to them. I never understood why people said “The beauty is lost in translation”. Now I know.
The way that Latin sentences and phrases are constructed revolves completely around personal style. The sentences of Catullus, for example, are much different from those of Cicero. Cicero placed verbs and adjectives and nouns in his own unique way and often used the idea of understood verbs and nouns to decrease repetition and increase beauty. As I translated his words, I count feel the knowledge pouring into me. I felt his genius as his thoughts were translated into the modern language of English.
What interests me even more; however, is not the syntax and semantics of the language, but the topics that writers like Catullus and Cicero choose to write about. Often times, their works reflect love, hate, friends, war, and society as a whole. For example, Catullus’ Disillusionment discusses how Catullus is unsatisfied with the ending of a relationship he had with one of the loves of his life. Seem out of the ordinary? Of course not. Why? This is exactly what people write about today, and this was written nearly 2000 years ago.
I found this to be very interesting. After 2000 years, people are still worrying about the same things. They argue about the same things, debate the same topics, and think about the same things. People who think they are new for writing about a topic “unexplored” should quickly be corrected, as there is a very slim chance that after 2000 years a topic is left unexplored.
This brings me to another point. Often, rap artists and singers of today are praised for writing unique ways of expressing unique topics. Maybe the form of expression (rapping especially, as this is a relatively new form of expression) is different; however, the topics in which they talk about are nothing new. Everything has been talked about previously.
As human society has advanced, it seems, the things we think about have not. We may have new technologies, new ways of life, and even longer lifespans, but the same things still rack our minds with thoughts of joy and hate. Just as Cicero argued the value of friendship in his De Amicitia, We are often found trying to find the reasons behind the social behavior that we partake in on a daily basis. As time has moved forward, this has not changed whatsoever.
This very topic makes me feel as if studies in fields such as Literature are not worth our time. We could devote our entire lives to the study of poetry or art; however, I am under the impression that nothing new is to be discovered. It has all been done before. This is why most of my time is spent working with new technologies and engineering solutions that I think will put humanity into the future. I am not trying to suggest that Literature does not push us forward, but I do find it interesting that as time has changed, our thoughts and focuses have not.