(Latin still has great value)
We may not find Virgil on Facebook but Latin is still very much alive at Grace Academy school in Georgetown. Case in point, an end-of-year project by academy student Rebekah Schwab was recently featured in a national classical language blog, “Latin Alive!”. Her analysis of Aeneas on the Bank of the River Styx by Pietro Testa expertly blended her knowledge and interpretation of the language, her reading of The Aenead and study of the classic artwork.
The Advocate asked Rebekah to share with readers the importance of this standard of language many centuries later.
What sparked your interest in the Latin language and Roman culture?
It was a mandatory class starting in the third grade but I always enjoyed it, although it was difficult at times. I decided to continue with Latin beyond the mandatory years because of how much knowledge I already had in it, which would allow me to translate ancient works and see for myself what they meant, as opposed to trusting the work of other translators. It was the idea that I now knew a language thoroughly enough that I could translate works written thousands of years ago that enticed me. I didn’t come to appreciate Roman culture as much until I took AP Latin and realized just how much I had gained through the years of reading the ancients and their history.
It is said that Latin helps us learn other languages and think logically. Do you agree?
I would agree Latin is similar to many other romance languages. Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, and Romanian all spring directly from Latin. I have been able to pick up on the basics of Spanish without taking a class, and other languages have similar enough forms that it is often not too difficult for me to make an educated guess about a translation based on my knowledge of Latin. My parents saw in 5th grade or so that I was using logic skills to solve problems and no one was teaching us logic. We did some checking and eventually concluded, with my Latin teacher, that studying Latin was helping me learn logical problem solving. Studying Latin grammar for all these years has also helped me with my English grammar and writing skills, seeing how other writers from years past constructed sentences, etc.
Do you enjoy the language?
I do enjoy learning and translating the Latin language, but I wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation of great length with an Ancient Roman citizen without a Latin to English dictionary. The Latin vocabulary is quite extensive and even after this many years, I don’t know it all. That in itself helps me understand how five languages could originate from Latin.
Your art analysis was very in-depth—do you have a love of art distinct from your Latin studies?
I am not well gifted in the fine arts, so art has never been much of a favorite of mine. But in this project, I was able to combine everything I had been studying for years. I had background knowledge of the scene in the painting, as well as the original Latin text about which this art piece was painted. This really opened my eyes to hidden details of the painting that I would have missed if I hadn’t been introduced to all this prior knowledge.
I found that analysis of great works of art is one of the ways I can enjoy art since I’m not particularly gifted in the creation of it.
How and/or why might you encourage a friend or younger student to explore Latin studies?
First, Latin is fascinating. Studying Latin the way we’re taught at Grace Academy opens the eyes of even a young child to history, Roman culture, and some of the roots of western civilization. That has to happen to understand what various Latin texts reference. It is this overall knowledge, combining the language with the culture, that I find the most fascinating about my studies in Latin. Secondly, studying Latin is truly a good basis for future linguistic studies. Now that I have taken Latin for so many years, I am well equipped to learn other languages as I would like to or need to. I’ve been given the tools to learn and to teach myself.
Why is it still important for students, or people of any age, to learn the language, or understand the impact Latin has had in western civilization?
A glance through western civilization’s history of architecture, government, philosophy, and the arts (at the very least) provides ample evidence that Roman society continued to influence new cultures long after its demise. As one tiny example, consider the Latin inscriptions on collegiate and federal government buildings in the United States. Though Rome fell, and historians are still arguing as to the exact cause, we can begin to understand the impact Rome had on our own country by a close study of their history, literature, philosophy, and government.