On learning Latin

It is a truth universally acknowledged that those with a very young baby are highly unlikely to blog. And yet, in that magical space between the baby falling asleep at nine and me falling asleep at 10.30ish, here I am. For some reason tonight I am thinking (with a fond head-shake) about Latin.

When I got to uni I was dazzled by all the subjects there. It was like a big box of chocolates. Victorian Science and the Supernatural, Great Civilisations, Arthurian Legends. They all beckoned to me alluringly – those lovely crisps readers, just waiting to by filled with yellow highlightings. Am I coming across as a nerd? And, at last, I could learn Latin. Yep. Nerd.

Of course, the reality was not quite what the romance suggested. Many of those learning Latin had the benefit of having it beaten into their heads at school, if benefit is the word. I found it pretty overwhelming. First year Latin required you to cram all the basic grammar and vocab into your head. It was not fun, much as our tutors endeavoured to make it so (by making us sing Carmina Burana to a bellowing tape deck). Maybe Einstein said it best:

“One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect on me that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.”

At the end of the exam period I was feverishly dreaming conjugations and declensions (amo, amas, amat …). I still retained enough enthusiasm to sit through Intermediate Latin and to attend all the tutorials, even though I wasn’t technically enrolled or receiving credit (and no exams, thank god). But I was pig-headedly doing classics as my MA and determined to plod through Livy’s history with my dictionary and grammar book.

I’d realised by that time that the classicists who’d translated the Latin texts had done a much better job than I ever could. Often I would stumble through a translation, creating a halting English version only to read a decent translated version and think Oh! Of course, how elegant! If only I’d thought of putting it like that!

How do I use it now? Well, sometimes I can make out the incantations in Supernatural or Angel. And … Um … yep, that’s it. I should say though that the (somewhat) mad experience of doing a thesis in classics was irreplaceable. I had the joy of teaching. I met wonderful people that I deeply admire. I found a way to instantly winnow out the people I wanted to keep as close friends (when asked what I was studying at BBQs potential friends would say – oh how interesting! Non-potential friends would look blank, if not dismayed, and say – but how do you make a living out of that?). You could even say that the love of classics led to the birth of my beautiful son, thanks to being crammed into a tiny office with my future husband. Oh, and to those nay-sayers at BBQs, I still don’t know how you make a living out of it, but I’m going to bloody enjoy finding out.

marcus agrippa's inscription on the pantheon

Marcus done it.


5 thoughts on “On learning Latin

  1. And then you can also make a living doing stuff that isn’t necessarily Latin or classics or myth but fits quite well with it. Then you have fascinating interests and a satisfying intellectual life as well as bread on the table – win/win!


  2. Pingback: On learning Latin | Ophelia’s Fiction Blog | VintageGoth

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