Why Latin? Why Classics?

Often, when someone learns that I study Classics, they ask “What are you going to do with that?”  I respond that I want to teach because I love teaching.  I also love learning about the ancient world and sharing this knowledge with my students and others.  But not everyone studies Classics because they love to teach and want to share this knowledge with others.  However, those of us that do should be aware of why people study Classics and Latin, or why they would want to do so.  As we plan courses, we can plan to incorporate activities that reflect some of the reasons that our students might have to be in our classes (rather than only addressing some of the reasons that we ourselves study Latin or Classics).  This will help us motivate and encourage our students, help us recruit new students, and ultimately help the field stay alive.

So here are some answers that I’ve heard or thought up:

  • Study literature.  There is nothing quite like studying and appreciating a text in its original language and understanding all its nuances.
  • Study human nature.  We can learn a lot about humans and ourselves when we understand and compare how different cultures and governments functions and operated.  (The tension between this goal and the previous goal for a Latin course are discussed further in Pearcy, LT. 2010. “Preparing Classicists or Preparing Humanists?” Teaching Classical Languages. Vol, 1, number 2. Pp 192–195.)
  • Similarly, learn lessons from the past that are still relevant today, including views about various people and cultures (In a recent Irish Times article, “Why bother to read the Classics today?”)
  • Learn about ancient Greece and Rome.  Greece and Rome provide the origins of so much of Western civilization so it’s important to know about them in order to better appreciate and understand our own world.
  • Learn about history.
  • Learn more about a specific field that is interesting, such as medicine or the military.
  • Improve vocabulary or learn medical terminology.  Greek and Latin (through French) provide the roots for many complicated, sophisticated words in the English language.
  • Connect with (great) historical figures, be they statesmen, military leaders, or artists (Several art students mention this as a joy of drawing casts of ancient sculpture)
  • Understand the culture in which the Bible was written/recorded and in which Jesus lived.  For some students, even reading the Bible in a language closer to the original Greek or Aramaic is one of their goals.
  • The inherent fun and interest in these topics.
  • And one of the most common reasons for our students: It fulfills a requirement.

What other explanations have you noticed? What other reasons do you have for studying the ancient world and its languages?

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