Tag Archives: Latin

Why Everyone Should Learn Latin

One of the first posts on this blog discussed the interest that I had in reading pieces written by writers who lived some 2,500 years ago, mainly those who lived in ancient Rome. The post can be found here.

One of the main things that I found to be interesting about reading the works of those who wrote complex anecdotes in Latin is that the topics they discussed are extremely similar to the topics that are discussed and debated about today. For instance, authors often joked about the cruelty of the government, discussed the meaning of life, and wrote reports on the actions and customs of other nations. As a race and society as a whole, we are often claimed to have advanced by an incredible amount; however, upon analyzing the texts of ancient Roman writers, we learn that, especially with social issues, we have barely turned a pebble.

The Grammar

Before I even delve into the world of social issues and Latin, I want to discuss how much of a benefit learning Latin is from a linguistics perspective. To put things in perspective, most people I know are native English speakers; however, they do not know the inner workings of the language. For instance, ask them to construct a sentence using the pluperfect. Most will just sit and stare. “What’s a pluperfect?”. Exactly.

After learning a good bit of Spanish, I always thought it was weird how they put so much emphasis on the conjugation of verbs. Every time you used a verb you have to conjugate it? How strange!! How na├»ve I was. We conjugate verbs in English, too! (He runs, I run, they run) – it just took Latin to really hammer this idea into my head.

Latin has also taught me a lot about how other languages are able to work. I always figured that all languages work in a strict subject+verb pattern. That is, just like English. However, Latin showed that word order doesn’t even have to matter! Word order is just a preference in some languages, and endings of words determines what is the subject and what is the verb. This allows authors to declare their own style and allows for a true freedom of language. For instance, take the following example of English and Latin.

I ran with my friends.

Ego cum meis amicis cucurri.

As you can see, the English works in a subject+verb structure, where the additional information is provided after the fact. In Latin, the subject is at the beginning of the sentence, the verb at the end, and all additional information is packed in the middle. It really is different from English and shows the true stylistic differences that exist between the two languages.

Before I get talking about the social implications of Latin, I just want to mention that learning Latin has also allowed me to become more knowledgeable about other things in English such as the cases of words, moods of verbs, tenses of verbs, and many, many word roots that are very interesting. (Presidio is derived from the Latin word Praesedens meaning “stand before” – translating into something that stands before other things or defends!)


The Social Implications

Think of the world. Think about your existence. Think about the people around you. They all have their own standards, morals, thoughts, and ways of life. Now think about the people that existed before you. Do they have their own standards, morals, and thoughts? Surely. Now think about the people that lived in ancient Rome. Do they have standards, morals, and thoughts? Most people would not imagine so. Most people could not even imagine them living in the same way that we live today (I know I have difficulties with this).

Reading Latin opens your mind to this. Reading the thoughts and words of people who lived in ancient Rome makes one come to the realization that even 2,500 years ago, people were just like we are today. They loved their wives, family, and children. They squabbled over the same things. They came home every night for dinner. It is simply hard to imagine that they lived out a daily life, though. One often thinks of Romans in battle, in court, or attending some sort of toga party, but one never thinks of Romans as people who woke up in the morning, pondered the details of life, and went to bed at night.

Isn’t it weird to think about that? Some many thousands of years ago, a whole different set of people walked the Earth, and they thought and ate and used the restroom just like we do today. Realizing this thing was very humbling to me. All of this realization was able to occur due to the stories, opinions, and anecdotes that I read.

Discovering all of these things was a wonderful and unexpected side effect of learning Latin. I believe that it has led me to a much more open mind and has allowed me to look at the world, especially humanity, in a whole new light. Because of this, I recommend that everyone learn Latin. Learning Latin is learning more about the humble origins of modern humanity.

A Very Brief Discussion of Literature

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.