Why Learn Latin?

Here you can discuss all things Latin. Use this board to ask questions about grammar, discuss learning strategies, get help with a difficult passage of Latin, and more.
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Why Learn Latin?

Post by pakmunsu » Mon Apr 16, 2012 12:33 am

Ok, first of all, I'm not here to trash learning dead languages, or Latin for that matter. This is a serious question for me, and I don't intend to be disingenuous. Some background: I have been self teaching myself Latin on and off for a while, and I think I'm going to give up on that and study Greek. This isn't an easy decision for me, since I really like Latin, but I think I'm pretty much decided. I just wanted to know if there's anyone who is up to giving Latin a spirited defense which might tip me the other way.

Personally, I don't have the time in my life to learn both, otherwise I probably would. Obviously motivation is a large part of why someone should learn any language, and I think my motivation is one of the most common: I want to read the "classics." Now, obviously, the Aeneid and the Metamorphoses are classics, and so is Ceasar. One of the big draws for me is some of the early modern philosophical literature that's in Latin (Descartes, Spinoza, Bacon).

But, it's always seemed odd to me, that what comes to mind when someone says the word, "classic," is usually the Latin language, followed by a list of Greek books (Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, and of course the New Testament). I attribute this discrepancy to the long history of learning Latin as the international language of scholars since the Middle Ages. But, if one only has time to learn one classical language, does the literary and philosophical corpus of Latin works really outweigh that of Greek? I don't think it does.

I do think there are two other reasons for learning Latin: sound and opportunity. I really enjoy the feel and sound of Latin, and I am drawn to it partly because of that. But I feel that the relatively harder work in learning Greek would pay off more than it would for Latin. The other reason is opportunity. Learning Latin seems to be much more popular than learning Greek, and therefore there are many more materials as well as students to practice with. I really like that there's a growing movement of spoken Latin; I think that's a encouraging thing. I only wish the same could be said for Greek.

In the end, however, I think I will have to take the lonelier (only comparatively) road of Greek, because I just don't think there's enough in Latin that I want to read, compared with the works in Greek that I've only read in translation. I'm not a historian of Rome or the Middle Ages, otherwise Latin would be indispensable. I think Rome is very interesting, but some of the best Roman era writings were in Greek (Marcus Aurelius, Polybius, etc.) I'm interested in the Latin writing Romans, but I think that Cicero and Lucretius are interesting, but not as much of a foundation of the Western tradition as, say, Plato (I mean, I can't imagine not reading Plato, so I would love to read him in the original).

So, I repeat, I enjoy Latin. I worked my way almost halfway through Familia Romana, when I had a crisis of faith. Is there anyone who can convince me I should stick with Latin?

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Re: Why Learn Latin?

Post by cantator » Wed Apr 25, 2012 9:09 pm

So you can read Catullus and the Archpoet.

Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.

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Re: Why Learn Latin?

Post by chodorov » Thu Apr 26, 2012 12:28 am

Unfortunately, your argument seems pretty sound to me. I have been studying Latin for the past year and am getting pretty good at it (currently working through Roma Aeterna). I can't give you any original arguments for learning Latin, only the well-worn ones that it makes you less dependent on your English dictionary and that it makes it very easy to learn modern Romance languages. But you say that you only have time to learn one language, so I doubt that the latter reason has any appeal to you. I would encourage you to learn both (as I plan to do), but, again, you say you only have time for one. Perhaps you could learn them in succession instead of simultaneously, i.e. coming back to Latin after you master Greek.

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Re: Why Learn Latin?

Post by Damoetas » Thu Apr 26, 2012 2:31 pm

Yes, it ultimately just comes down to the question, "What are you interested in?" If you're more interested in reading Greek authors than Latin ones, then by all means learn Greek. I think the category "the classics" is very problematic and unhelpful anyway. As your post hints at, the concept has a long history; it was a result of an ongoing process of negotiation and argument between parties with conflicting interests; and for that reason, it was constantly changing. In the Renaissance, they thought Statius was one of the greatest Latin poets; who reads Statius these days? Conversely, Petronius was ignored and even lost in antiquity; now people adore him (scholars and popular audiences alike). No one thought Gorgias was a serious thinker (largely because Plato's view won out); now there is a lot of scholarly interest in his Encomium of Helen and On Not Being. Marcus Aurelius gets a lot of popular attention now, but I don't hear much scholarly buzz about his philosophical writings (his correspondence with Fronto is really interesting though).

It's equally difficult to compare the "weight" of the "classical" Latin works vs. the "classical" Greek works. There's tons of excellent Latin authors that you haven't mentioned; there's plenty of mediocre Greek authors that you're probably not interested in reading. But again, it all depends on what you want to focus on; if ancient philosophy is one of your main interests, then definitely learn Greek. If you just like Greek better, that's sufficient reason to learn Greek!
Dic mihi, Damoeta, 'cuium pecus' anne Latinum?

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Re: Why Learn Latin?

Post by dlb » Fri Apr 27, 2012 12:52 am

You may want to visit the following site for further reasons as to why you would want to
study Latin.
http://www.slu.edu/colleges/AS/language ... efits.html
Deus me ducet, non ratio.
Observito Quam Educatio Melius Est.

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