What is the point of learning Latin? I say learning Latin is a way to be human. It is not the only way.
So far, the answers given have revolved around three reasons for learning Latin. The first is that it is useful. This reason took many forms. See above. The second reason is a hidden one; hidden because we, at least most of us, respect a certain sense of humility. That reason is that we like the way it makes us look in front of others. It gives us, as is sometimes said, "bragging rights." The feeling of this self-importance was felt by more than one reader, I suspect, but best isolated by Nooj:
Of course the world's been affected by Latin. But is it such a big deal if we are ignorant of this influence? ... This website actually seems to be implying that we must learn Latin, or at least that it should be strongly encouraged, since if we do not, we'll be living in great shame and ignorance. Really guys? I can't agree with that.
I imagine that my observation of this second reason will meet with derision. But if you truly read Latin for personal enjoyment and fulfillment, you have no need to defend your activity in a public forum. Why are you doing so if not to meet with others who will say, "Yeah, you're right!" And if that is true, then there is at least some desire for recognition of your activity from others. I will call this the desire to learn Latin for the sake of adornment.
Lastly, there is the argument from beauty, as I will call it. This is the part that I think needs more exploration and is the best reason to study Latin (or Greek, Euclid, Shakespeare, Mozart, the Upanishads, Rembrandt, etc.) When we think something is beautiful, and wish to study it intently, we are acting most human. We are not concerned with use or ornament and in that way we are not acting as all other animals. We are doing something for its own sake. What it is to be this strange thing we call "human" is a wonderful question in itself, and deserves consideration, but most importantly, I think, we must know that there is such a being, that it is different, and that it is worthy to be one.
As an example of this "third way," I particularly want to point to the following:
Lavrentivus wrote:it also seems plausible to me that an aristocratic culture will tend to develop its language into something inherently more beautiful and intelligent, as it is more open to the spirituality and poetry of language, its being something different from and more than a means of communication.
adrianus wrote:Certainly, that's what groups like to believe who consider themselves superior to others.
Lavrentivus' comment often meets with something like adrianus' response. But I think there is an important truth here. Societies where at least some citizens have the leisure to pursue an activity for its own sake are acting in a uniquely human way. We may wonder at the complex rituals of ants or bees, but we will never see the queens sitting down to enjoy their meals while their servants entertain them with a comedy or a sonata. As such, I do not wish to use the loaded word, superior, but do think that some groups act more human than others when they focus on the poetry of language versus its use in getting them a job.