A mere decade of procrastination
Russell Degnan

It was in 1994 - during year 12 - that I first came to the State Library, and first realised what a wonderful thing a real library is. Since my reading habits at the time were mostly related to ancient warfare I requested Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and Caesar's Gallic Wars. Although I was able to pour through Sun Tzu, it wasn't until I got to university that I was able to borrow, and therefore read Caesar, in one of those delightful little red latin-english books by Loeb.

It was also at that time that I came to the conclusion that I should learn latin. Ten years later; still know very little latin.

This winter holidays will see a renewed attempt, this time with the help of several incredibly useful online resources.


My long history with wanting to learn what is often referred to as a 'dead language' (yeah, tell that to the Pope) is just one reason why this article is interesting. The other is where that push is coming from.

If my english is of a barely adequate standard, my knowledge of the structure of the language makes that look wonderful. I blame it on the practically non-existent curriculum of endless mandatory english classes. Grammar was taught to me, once, but stopped at about grade four. Instead, I and everyone else, was 'taught' english without any reference to any basic knowledge. The decline in learning latin and grammar paralleled with a change in teaching across the board, emphasising learning by interaction - a good concept done well, but I think more difficult to attain. Languages were no longer required to 'broaden' an education, but because of their value in vocational work. French and latin - both of which give many insights into english - were replaced by German, Indonesian and Japanese - the latter of which are of limited value in understanding your own thought.

What is interesting then, is the a resurgence in interest in latin - something which is increasingly evident, not just in relation to this article. It seems similar to a renewed interest in many fields in pre-modernist ideas and the foundations of society's insitutions: new urbanism, classical architecture, the philosophy of everyday life and politics, and history before the twentieth century - the Hitler channel notwithstanding. Not necessarily a rise in conservative values, but rather a re-appraisal of what babies were thrown out with the bathwater.

Moreover, the driver behind this change in attitude appears to be the internet. People who would otherwise be classed as obsessive, and perhaps a little odd, are constantly putting online the most remarkable things. Scanned manuscripts of forgotten document collections, translated versions of obscure diaries, a wealth of out-of-copyright books and photographs. While it is not as earth-shattering as the rediscovery of classical texts during the renaissance during the early days of cheap printing - it is pushing people to re-examine their recieved notions. Albeit in a very modern, diffuse and personal way.


Learning latin has suddenly become a useful skill again. Even better the internet allows you to partially bypass the biggest problem with learning latin, as opposed to other languages - the lack of people to communicate with. For me, time to give it another go.

Passing Fancy 4th June, 2004 03:13:15   [#] 

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