Story By Frederick Horne '18
I started taking Latin in seventh grade. Everyone was required to take a foreign language, and I thought that Latin would be cooler than French or Spanish. Besides, what twelve-year-old boy doesn’t like throwing faux-Latin spells at his friends? I enjoyed my first two years of Latin—the teacher was nice, the class was easy, the material was reasonably interesting—and I expected three more years of the same in high school. I didn’t expect Mr. Ragan. For him, Latin isn’t just a language; it’s a way of life. His classroom’s walls are lined with century-old translations of Latin texts, maps of the Roman world, and illustrations of Roman architecture. He speaks in a manner that unconsciously imitates Roman sentences. He approaches each translation not as a chore to be memorized but as a piece of art to be savored, pointing out with relish the authors’ oratorical flares and making what might be a boring subject genuinely interesting. “OH,” he gasps as he lifts his fist to his mouth and whispers in a consciously exaggerated manner. “ABBA—it’s a chiasmus!” “It’s so beautiful,” he says, wiping a “tear” from his eye at a particularly powerful synchysis. His true passion, however, is revealed when he drops the jokes. “Cicero was a great orator, trained in the Greek style, and we don’t really have great orators like him anymore,” he declares mournfully. “That’s why it’s so important to keep reading this, and I know that it’s tough, but it’s worth it, guys, it really is.” Who cares? Thanks to Mr. Ragan, I care.
I believe in learning Latin. I could describe how sixty percent of English words have Latin roots, or how Latin improved my English grammar, or how learning Latin sets a framework for learning all Romance languages, but that’s not really why it’s valuable to me. I value it because its logic refines my mind and makes me a clearer thinker. I value it because reading the great ancient writers and seeing their techniques allows me to express my own thoughts more powerfully. I love it for its graceful beauty, for so few words expressing so much, for the raw power that only the best English writers can achieve, for the sound and feel of Latin’s harsh tones flowing from my tongue. Most of all, though, Latin is important because it’s important. The Romans are the foundation of Western civilization, and it is inherently valuable to learn about so important a people. Their deeds demand recognition. We must not forget our origins simply because we think they are no longer relevant. So, I believe in memory—never forget whence you came.