I came, I saw, but there was no Latin to be conquered

veni vidi

Unlike my parents and grandparents, I never had the option of studying Latin while in high school.

Mind you, the decidedly uninspired worth ethic I demonstrated in my teens perhaps ensured that I wouldn’t have taken Latin had it been offered, but the fact that California’s public school system was well in the crapper by the time I was enrolled in high school in 1980 made it a non issue.

Indeed, the Language of the Caesars was considered passé by the lightweights who had taken control of the Golden State’s education system beginning in the 1960s.

Instead, I squeaked my way through a couple of years of French – which in no way prepared me for the two years of college French that was required for me to graduate.

Years later I regret not having studied at least a smattering of Latin at some point in my schooling.

To be able to read Cicero, Cato or Tacitus in the original would have given me the chance to view their world through a wholly different lens, rather than one distorted, even unintentionally, by translation.

Fortunately, after a decline of several decades the study of Latin is increasing in popularity once again. Perhaps, common sense is returning to a segment of the education community, and the greatness of literary giants of past millennia are again being recognized on a wider basis.

Latin may not be for everybody but as Cicero once stated, “Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.”

(Above: Cartoon from The New Yorker and likely the only time the words “mani” or “pedi” will ever appear in this blog.)

9 thoughts on “I came, I saw, but there was no Latin to be conquered

  1. I find it sad that in the span of 50 years we have gone from a society which once taught Latin and Greek in High School to one that now teaches remedial English in College. Latin is a beautiful language, one of religious and literary history and my own fascination with it led to me learning as much as my feeble brain would allow over the years. I was probably most proud of my own self when, in a scene from “The West Wing”, President Bartlett gave a monologue in Latin and I was actually able to crudely translate it without having to look it all up. Scientia est potentia!

    • That you were able to translate Latin in your head while watching a television program is rather astounding. Well done.

      There’s no question that our educational standards have slipped. On the other hand, I’d like to think that far more people go to college today than, say, 100 years ago, which is why the average college student doesn’t enter college with the same level of academic achievement that they did in 1915. Of course, I may just be viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses.

  2. I feel that some of the Latin seeped into my French and Spanish lessons. My funniest part of taking 6 years of Spanish was at college I attempted to take French. My accent was atrocious, but I am happy to say my teacher was Creole. So, she loved my Spanish flair with French! My one brother took Latin, but he feels like he cannot speak it to anyone. So, at least when you go to French places, Canada and France, islands, too, you can speak a bit of French. “Ou est le bain?” (Where is the bathroom? I think! smiles!)

    • It’s funny how even years later I still know enough French to get around and not be totally lost when I’m in a French-speaking area. Back in college, I used to be able to pick up a Montreal newspaper and be able to read a story about a hockey game and understand more or less what happened, but those days are long gone. Now, I don’t know if “Ou est le bain?” is grammatically correct, but if you were to ask me that I would know exactly what you were looking for. 😉

  3. Listening to Latin mass was the highlight of going to Church during my younger days. I love the sound of Latin and that is a very funny caricature.

    • I’ve been to a Latin Mass once but not knowing much Latin or having been to one previously I was a bit lost. Obviously, the Tridentine Mass is significantly different from that said in the vernacular, as well.

  4. Don’t feel too badly. I did take Latin in high school and I’m sorry to say it didn’t stick – unlike some of the above folks who retained what they studied. I had a Teflon coated brain years before that nonstick substance was developed. In later years I’ve been surprised to find doctors (MD type) who are completely and happily unaware that most of their terminology is Latin. Wow!

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