Defensio linguae Latinae
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James Dahl
Saturday June 12, 2004
The Guardian


studere linguis antiquis omnium hominum interest multas ob causas.

litterae et philosophia auctorum priscorum lectores e stultitia in sapientiam semper duxerunt. qui operibus Homeri, Vergilii, Ovidii, Ciceronis, Taciti non studuerunt, vitas maxime inanes agunt. praeterea, si historiam cognovisse tibi videtur, ut inter omnes constat, tum fabulae scriptorum priscorum sua ipsa lingua legendae sunt. qui suam rempublicam vult vere aestimare, fontem et originem debet animadvertere. haud satis est credere eis qui sermonem e Latino in alias linguas vertunt. nam is qui vertit non solum explicat, sed etiam corrumpit.

pueri puellaeque qui has linguas antiquas experti sunt, etiam litteras, philosophiam, fabulas, tabulas pictas, artem fingendi, res gestas degustaverunt.

o fortunati! omnia gaudia omnes voluptates vestrae sunt. ut dicit orator žqui primoribus labris gustassent genus hoc vitae et extremis, ut dicitur, digitis attigissentÓ cursum suae vitae sapientissime deligunt.

sed via longissima est. industria, constantia, pertinacia praestanda est, etiam in adversis rebus, sed praemia maxima exspectant. pueri puellaeque sic eruditi mentem validissimam et acutissimam praebent.

quid iuvat enumerare ea tam trita commoda de linguarum antiquarum studio derivata? immo gravius est affirmare eum qui intellexerit quam cognatae omnes linguae sint et peregrinos et advenas qui linguis obscuris utantur facillime amaturum esse.

qui linguas antiquas amat, is etiam pacis amator.

... or

in defence of Latin

To study ancient languages is of profit for every person.

The literature and influence of ancient authors have always led readers out of folly into wisdom. Those who have not studied the works of Homer, Vergil, Ovid, Cicero, Tacitus, lead very empty lives. If it seems good to you to study history, as is generally agreed, then the works of our ancient authors must be read in their own languages. He who wishes truly to understand his own society, ought to be familiar with its roots and origins. And it is not enough to trust those who translate, for he who translates, not only explains, but corrupts.

Boys and girls who have experience of these ancient languages have also tasted literature, philosophy, drama, art (painting and sculpture) and history. Oh how lucky you are! All the joys, all the pleasures are yours. As the orator said: "Those who have tasted this type of life with their lips and, so to speak, the tips of their fingers, choose most wisely the course of their life."

But it is a very long journey. Hard work, determination, persistence are all needed, but great rewards await you. Boys and girls, thus educated, reveal great strength and sharpness of mind.

What purpose does it serve to list those trite advantages derived from the study of ancient languages? It is more important to declare that he who understands how similar all languages are will readily love those foreigners and strangers who use unfamiliar languages.

He who loves these ancient languages is also a lover of peace.

James Dahl is head of classics at Brighton College, an independent school

Education