“Classical Studies—BA (Hons),” University of Kent, last modified September 2022, https://www.kent.ac.uk/courses/undergraduate/896/classical-studies.
The Thrill of Classical Languages
By Angela Nguyen
“During the heat of the Florida summer, I find myself curled up in my air-conditioned bedroom, plunging into pages of Roman literature and unraveling a tedious but thrilling ancient language.
Scanning the first sentence of Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus, I search for the main character of the play, Pyrgopolynices: a soldier who kidnaps a maiden and separates the young lady from her lover. Then, I identify the main verb, “curate.” Like most Latin words, it has dozens of translations. Within this context, it means “you should care,” emphasizing the superior social status of the soldier compared to his romantic competitor. Next, I vigorously sift through possible translations of the remaining words to craft a precise, logical word order. I repeat the process. As I complete the last sentence of the passage, I discover the beginning of what seems to be a hectic yet entertaining love triangle.
Through translating Latin, I animate a complex tongue to withstand its reputation as a dying language. Accounts like the Tribunate Clodius cross-dressing to sneak into a sacred women’s festival and Horace’s complaints about the excessive use of garlic at a dinner party show the similarities between ancient and modern humor. These translations prove that Latin literature is more alive than ever, allowing me to understand Roman jokes in their original context and language. Beyond stories, Latin also reveals important philosophies dictated by Stoicism and virtue. Cicero’s argument of putting one’s community before oneself has implications even for modern democracy and citizenship. As a result, translating Latin provides a great variety of entertaining stories to unravel.”
The above was a part of a piece I wrote in high school after I began studying Latin. Now a freshman in college, I look back and feel the same way—translating ancient languages is as thrilling as ever. I am currently learning Attic Greek to continue my passion for unearthing the tales of ancient writers, and I am thankful that my state’s virtual school introduced me to classical languages.
However, it is important to recognize that Latin is disappearing from education, and there is a need to keep its studies alive for future generations. Latin today is rarely offered in school, and when it is, the course is offered as an elective or alternative to modern languages. As a result, classical languages are commonly overlooked for their educational benefits of building vocabulary, grammar, critical thinking, and intellectual passion in students. The only person I knew before attending college that studied Latin was my best friend’s grandmother, who studied the language from middle school to high school in the 1970s. Then, almost every student at her school studied Latin, and this was very common across high schools in the United States. Latin was also required for admissions to some colleges because the study was seen as the sign of a highly educated individual. However, when the United States began prioritizing mathematics and the sciences due to the National Defense Education Act, the study of Latin dropped in schools; the National Defense Education Act no longer supported the study of classical languages besides in graduate schools. Consequently, the number of students enrolled in secondary school Latin courses dropped from 702,000 to 150,000 between 1962 and 1976. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find certified instructors for Latin programs. Each state varies in certification, and it is difficult to find quality instructors who have completed the licensing requirements. Additionally, many job openings are left unfilled as qualified candidates are unable to find teaching positions in their area.
The Paideia Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating solutions that combat the disappearance of the classical humanities within schools today. This organization provides resources for students and partners with schools across the United States and Canada to promote an appreciation of the classical humanities. Through their scholarships, travel programs, and educational resources, The Paideia Institute provides accessibility to classical history and languages. In particular, their Aequora program allows elementary and middle school students in the public education system to access Latin through the help of local universities and community organizations. The Paideia Institute manages after-school enrichment programs using their textbook, Aequora: Teaching Literacy with Latin, in the hopes of giving students the opportunity to engage in classics through a fun, interactive process. Additionally, the Aequora program pushes Latin education forward by promoting the classical humanities as an inclusive and diverse field, inspiring young students to pursue studying classics in the future. Now, there are over forty Aequora programs across the United States, and this number is only growing. I believe that this program is a great first step toward advancing the studies of Latin, and I hope that more students will be able to experience the thrill of the classical languages.
Without my introduction to Latin in high school, I probably never would have experienced the beauty of classical languages. The enrichment and interest I feel from classics are unique from other subjects, and I hope that there will be sufficient resources for future generations of students to explore classics. The inclusion of Latin in the academic curriculum of schools will always have its doubters. But if the past is any indication, Latin has the potential to continue into the future as well as it has in the past.
 “Teaching of Latin in Schools,” Stateuniversity.com Education Encyclopedia, accessed September 17, 2022, https://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2160/Latin-in-Schools-Teaching.html.
 Kevin Mahnken, “50 Years After Latin Disappeared From High School Classrooms, These Educators Are Bringing It Back,” The 74, last modified December 6, 2017, https://www.the74million.org/article/50-years-after-latin-disappeared-from-high-school-classrooms-these-educators-are-bringing-it-back/.
“Aequora.” The Paideia Institute. Accessed September 17, 2022. https://www.paideiainstitute.org/aequora.
“Classical Studies—BA (Hons).” University of Kent. Last modified September 2022. https://www.kent.ac.uk/courses/undergraduate/896/classical-studies.
Mahnken, Kevin. “50 Years After Latin Disappeared From High School Classrooms, These Educators Are Bringing It Back.” The 74. Last modified December 6, 2017. https://www.the74million.org/article/50-years-after-latin-disappeared-from-high-school-classrooms-these-educators-are-bringing-it-back/.
“Teaching of Latin in Schools.” Stateuniversity.com Education Encyclopedia. Accessed September 17, 2022. https://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2160/Latin-in-Schools-Teaching.html.
Angela Nguyen (College ’25) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Classical Studies.