Reading Latin and Ancient Greek for fun and profit. For what? Fun? Yes, fun. Really. And the profit was purely intellectual, not financial.

Even in my circles, Latin and Greek are not exactly common topics of conversation. Friends and relatives are surprised whenever I read something in Ancient Greek—or even in Latin—for fun.

OK, I’m weird. But you probably knew that already. What you really want to know is the context for this post: why am I writing it?

The answer is the following chain of events. One of my former Lincoln-Sudbury students wrote a Facebook post that I commented on—having to do with libraries, not Latin—and we began to exchange some messages through Facebook Messenger. I found out that she’s a high-school Latin teacher, and she suggested that we might enjoy reading some Latin or some Greek together. So I agreed, and we do. I mean that we do read some Latin and Greek together, and we do enjoy it. Zoom provides a pretty good medium for doing this—since we’re never in the same place at the same time. Along with Zoom, we have plenty of online resources, including texts, commentaries, and lexicons (lexica?); for each session we assign ourselves some lines of text to read on our own and then discuss them in great detail the next time we get together over Zoom. Needless to say, I’m quite rusty, not having taught either language for quite a few years. Robin claims to be rusty in Greek as well, though her Latin is of course current.

So far we’ve read three Latin poems by Catullus and 76 lines of Euripides’s play Alcestis in Greek. I’ll spare you the details, though I do have to mention the amusing and unexpected coincidence that one of the characters in The Transcendental Murder, the Jane Langton novel that I reviewed two weeks ago, happens to mention the Alcestis in an altogether appropriate conversation about solving a murder. (Sorry, you’ll have to read both books to get the connection.)

Not very many Americans read Latin and Ancient Greek anymore. Statistics—possibly valid ones—show that somewhere on the order of 200,000 high school students are taking Latin this year, and under 2000 are taking Ancient Greek. My year of taking Advanced Placement Greek, 1965, was one of the last times that that exam was even offered; I have been unable to find a definitive student of exactly when it was canceled, but I believe I found out that it was 1967 or 1968, if memory serves (which it usually doesn’t). We had four students in my entire AP Greek class at Andover that year. And you have to look way down in the footnote in this chart to learn that only 0.17% of all AP exams taken are the Latin ones. (Yes, that was nine years ago, but have the numbers changed significantly?) Unlike one of my Weston students, who took 13 AP exams, and unlike many others who take six or seven, I limited myself to five, which you can try to find in the modern chart: US History, English Language, Latin, Greek, and Calculus BC.

Categories: Linguistics, Teaching & Learning, Weston