Small Latin and Less Greek?

    I have some time ago mentioned in my blog that I felt the single most valuable course I had in the public schools of Kansas was the year of Latin I I had from Mrs. Hazlitt at Blue Rapids High School.

   Somewhere I still have the text for that course.  Inscribed on the inside front page is this legend:

“Latin is a dead language, as dead as it can be. First it killed the Romans, and now it’s killing me.”  I don’t know where I got that little couplet, but it has stayed with me all these years as well as has part of “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”:  Mica, mica, parva stella.  I also recall that students in this class put on a short, very short, skit in Latin for our fellow students:  It involved Christopher Columbus’s appeal to Queen Isabella for financial support for this exploration of the “New World.”  Mostly what I recall is the differences between the structure of Latin and that of English and the number of Latin words I learned that have cognates in English.

    Today it is often felt that Latin has no place in our American culture.  The British must feel the same way, for they have, according to an AP story that was published in the local paper last week a campaign going among local councils which seeks to eradicate Latin phrases and expressions from their written communications.

      Well, limeys, you might as well seek to eliminate Santa Claus from Christmas.

      Not only are hundreds of commonly used words in English derived directly from Latin, but hundreds more (as a result of the Norman Conquest in 1066) come from French, a “Romance Language” which spun off from the Latin of the Caesars hundreds of years earlier.

         These British councils argue that even widely used Latin phrases and expressions could be replaced by English-language equivalents.  I say to that:  “Hoohaw!Show me.”

     Here are some Latin phrases that you probably recognize and that relate to fundamental parts of our governance and its entities or our common history:  “e pluribus unum,”  “semper fidelis,”  “semper paratus,”  “sic semper tyrannis,” “pro bono publico,” “ante bellum,” and “post bellum.”

Here are some more common expressions that you will likely recognize.  You might ask yourself, “How would an English equivalent serve the purpose better?”‘

carpe diem     status quo     bona fide      adeste fidelis

quid pro quo      post mortem     ave atque vale    in vitro

cum laude     sub rosa     magnum opus     ex post facto

requiescat in pace

How many of these do you recognize and could use in a sentence?  Which one has an English equivalent with the same initial letters and which actually is shorter?

Finally, to explain my title.  In 1623, in a poem included in the “First Folio,”  the first collection of Shakespeare’s writings,  his contemporary Ben Jonson contributed an ode titled “To the Memory of My Beloved Master,  Mr. William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us.”  In this ode, which included such compliments as “Star of Poets,”  “Sweet Swan of Avon,” and “monument without a tomb,”  Jonson observed that Shakespeare was a great poet though he “had small Latin and less Greek.” 

Those two languages would have been studied by all gentlemen to the manner born and also to aspiring professionals in a variety of careers.  Since Shakespeare had only studied formally at the “Grammar School” in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon, he would have been regarded by the more privileged Jonson to have been deprived of a desirable education.  

There are rare schools today in our country which offer the kind of education that Jonson might have had.  Eugene T. Maleska, who became the Crossword Puzzle Editor of “The New York Times,”  studied Latin for eight years and Greek for three.  And there is still a school in New England called “Boston Latin.”

     I often regret that, while I did study French for three years in college and German for three semesters, I did not have more lengthy instruction in Latin and no formal instruction at all in Classical Greek.  I would have benefited greatly, as would you.

RJR

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14 Responses to “Small Latin and Less Greek?”

  1. xfriend Says:

    Hey Ray!

  2. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    X==has arisen!! Try to make it Friday as we search for water after we get full of what’s on the plate at Becky’s where the homegrown mix with the new age of Hope Mills.

    Raymond I still struggle with English 101. If only I could start over but that isn’t possible. What I can do I will and it would make me proud to just be apart of something greater than I. To be able and not to be is a sad thing. Latin and mostly French was the foreign lanuage in the 50’s in those high school years. I when to Colleges that didn’t require a foreign lanuage and didn’t have to pass a SAT. That was then.

  3. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    I learned more English grammar from French class than anywhere else. I have never heard stuff like subjunctive mood or present-perfect tense in English class.

    My son was lucky enough to have studied Latin under excellent teacher and fellow former commissioner, Rollin Shaw.

    My favorite Latin quote:

    “When in Rome, do as the Romanians do.”
    -The great Kingfish

  4. Nigel Poole Says:

    I have yet to hear of any person who is illiterate after having learned Latin.
    Learn Latin, and you will never have a problem with English grammar or spelling, Learning other languages will be a breeze as well.
    And your powers of logical thinking will be enhanced.

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