It’s been seven weeks since I started my Latin adventure and I thought I’d post an update. I just finished Chapter 4 of the venerable Wheelock’s Latin, and am enjoying every minute of it. I begin each chapter thinking there is no way I will be able to assimilate all the new material, but after many (many) drills and exercises it magically becomes easy. I don’t know about you but that is my idea of a good time.
The vocabulary is a snap since so many English words come from Latin, and I am getting the hang of the pronunciation rules. The grammar is another matter, but at least the exceptions and weirdnesses are mercifully few. Grote’s guide has been invaluable in explaining why Latin is the way it is. Rote learning is all well and good but it’s easier to remember the exceptions when you know how they got that way.
I’m already using the little bit of Latin I know. I can now take a stab at the Latin Proverb of the Day (see also the top left of this page), and the bits of Church Latin I’m exposed to are making more sense. In fact I get quite a thrill when I hear something like “gloria in excelsis deo” and can name the grammatical case of each noun in that phrase. I don’t just know what it means, I know why it means what it means. It’s all I can do not to exclaim, “Hey! That’s the ablative!” in the middle of Mass.
Looking ahead, I can now dream of reading Latin books from the Loeb Classical Library or it’s early modern sister, the I Tatti Renaissance Library. The Loeb recently published its 500th volume—coincidentally in Latin rather than Greek—Lesser Declamations I by Quintilian. (And yes, I want to learn Greek too.) Susan at Pages Turned linked to a fascinating article in Harvard Magazine on I Tatti—Rereading the Renaissance by Adam Kirsch—which describes the irony of Renaissance writers who sought immortality by writing in Latin, a language that was made extinct in part by the humanistic values they embraced.
Of course Latin is not quite extinct. It’s on life-support, for sure, but it is not dead, as some of my acquaintances seem to delight in proclaiming. There is a small but determined resurgence of Latin in numerous quarters, from public schools to the Vatican, which, one hopes, will resurrect the many defunct Classics departments in our universities. I am particularly hopeful that Pope Benedict XVI’s enthusiasm for Latin will catch on in the Church. He is part of the reason I am learning Latin, so I guess you could say it is already working.
Now excuse me while I go find an unblemished calf to sacrifice. It seems we have done something to anger the gods. The last two days of freak snow squalls were just the lead up to what is now a spectacular winter thunderstorm that seems to be occurring directly over the house. The power was knocked out for half a minute, the dogs have been thoroughly spooked, and my car is once again covered in white stuff. Spring can’t come soon enough for me.