Coffee and Classics

June Lemen reminisces in the Nashua Telegraph, inter alia:

It was time for a change, and to paraphrase our new president, it was a change we needed. Second semester, I took totally different courses, just to see what I liked. I fell in love with classics and philosophy, and I decided to double major in them. (Oh, the innocence of youth.)

This would have been a glorious plan, except that I overlooked one small detail: ancient languages.

Foreign language and I were not on speaking terms. I passed French in high school but never enjoyed it. (C’est la vie.) Two years were required for the college prep track, and I heaved a huge sigh of relief when it was over. At Wheaton, they explained to me that I would need to have a minimum of two years of Ancient Greek and three of Latin to be considered even a beginning classicist. So I bravely plunged in sophomore year and got on with Latin.

I had a stellar academic year, mostly because I was taking lots of stuff that I loved, courses in philosophy and classical civilization. Clearly, this was the route for me. And coffee was an absolute necessity, particularly in memorizing vocabulary.

Then came junior year. And Ancient Greek.

Ancient Greek class started at 8 a.m. every day. Technically, only Monday, Wednesday and Friday classes were required, but for those of us who were struggling, Tuesday and Thursdays sessions with the teaching assistant were more than suggested. I, who could barely get myself dressed and to class by 8 a.m. three days a week, laughed at the idea of spreading the pain over five days.

Our text was called Thrasymachus, and besides being used at Wheaton, it was a text commonly used to teach Greek to English schoolboys. It was filled with descriptions of sword fights and cutting off various body parts. The only way I could get through translation was with an IV drip of coffee. And, to make matters worse, I was also taking Latin II.

Latin had the advantage of using the same alphabet we do, which is probably why I passed it. I flunked Greek, which astonished my poor parents, who watched me go from dean’s list to academic probation in one semester. Plus, I was experiencing the shakes when I was away from java for more than an hour.

I gave up ancient languages and coffee at the same time, and I started drinking tea. Constant Comment was my favorite, and to this day, whenever I smell it, I think of that heavenly semester when I had given up trying to be a classicist and merely had to raise my grades enough to get off double secret probation.

Now I’m back to drinking more coffee than tea, but I’m not studying any foreign languages.

Clearly June wasn’t drinking the right kind of coffee; Classical languages requires something strong and exotic … preferably something from Africa.

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