The Advantage of Greek and Latin for Life

January 11, 2013

Another semester has come and gone and here I am at the beginning of my final semester as a Humanities student. Its almost over and I feel as though I should reflect on what this experience has been. Last semester I sat through classes which, just as happened in western intellectual history, the way I saw the world was shattered. Among others, we read Nietzsche, we read Hegel and we read Heiddeger and the view of the world we had spent so much time building in second year and which slowly eroded in third year, was given the final coup de grâce as we stood on the cusp of the modern world. Looking forward now I have something of an idea of what we are to read both since I have read some of it already and as a natural progression from the from the point where we left off in November. Yet, there is still so much more that I am doing this semester and much of it isn’t exactly modern.

Over the break, a colleague of mine and I took it upon ourselves to teach ourselves ancient Greek so that we could enter into an advanced Greek class this winter session. The task was, in truth, far too huge for us but I think that we have achieved, if nothing else, a deeper appreciation for what it is to study an ancient language. While we both have four years of Latin behind us, the first time you learn the fundamentals of an ancient language you are often fairly overwhelmed by all that you have to learn. The consequence of this is that there is little time to look around and see the world from the perspective of the language you’re furiously trying to memorize. Now, looking at language through the lens of Greek I get this amazing sense of motion or even, as Heidegger said, of time. Many nouns seem to be ultimately founded on a verb and whether or not the Greeks themselves saw their language in this way, studying the grammar certainly seems to communicate this about their language. In contrast, Latin is so often about things. Everything is static and determined and while there can be many meanings to a word, the structure of each is without motion. Maybe that’s why Rome was as she was and Greece as she was? I don’t know the answer but I’ve certainly been enriched by the study of each. Perhaps the next question is where English lies on this line with Latin and Greek as the extremes.

In any case, being here at the beginning of my final semester is, in a very cliché way, bitter-sweet. I can’t believe that I’m already here at the end of the journey I started four years ago. My original intent was to expand my horizons and hopefully gain a little employability. I couldn’t have possibly imagined what that consisted in and what the path would look like both while upon it and after having taken it. I have learnt so much in these four years and met some friends for life. In some ways being in University and the Humanities program in particular has been much like ancient Greek. There is a motion forward, nothing is static, there’s always something new and often shocking just over the horizon. Yet moving all the time is not always the most productive. I’ve seen and heard and interacted with things, people and ideas I might never have had the chance to interact with without the Humanities program and yet it may now be time to be more like Latin than ancient Greek and come to rest. Make a choice. That said, it may be quite telling that I’ve chosen to take up a language like ancient Greek during this, my final year. Perhaps I need to keep moving for a while but I can certainly say that I am now able to make better choices about the direction that I’d like that motion to take.