On the Value of Latin

From a Penn State press release sort of thing:

Yale University’s famous motto is Lux et Veritas, Latin for “light and truth” while Princeton’s crest reads Dei Sub Numine Viget (“Under God’s power she flourishes”). The University of Pennsylvania based its cautionary motto — Sine Moribus Vanae or “Letters without morals are useless” — on a line in one of the Roman poet Horace’s odes. But in 1898, when someone pointed out that the line could also be translated as “Loose women without morals”, the University rushed to revise the wording.

Although Latin — an Indo-European language at its height during the Roman Empire — is nobody’s native tongue these days, it certainly remains a topic of conversation. The usual point of debate? Whether learning Latin is valuable for modern-day students.

“I don’t think people know what they mean when they dismiss Latin as a dead language,” said Paul Harvey, associate professor of classics at Penn State. “Of course it is not spoken in many places, save for the Vatican and a few classics departments. But whether a language is currently spoken is irrelevant to the continuing value of learning it and to the value of literature written in that language.”

Even if you never read Virgil or Cicero in the original, explains Harvey, “Latin is the root language from which variations developed into today’s modern Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and a few less-spoken European tongues. On a practical level, it is far easier for those with a firm foundation in Latin to learn a modern Romance language.”

Whether you’ve studied Latin or not, most people already use it constantly, Harvey adds. The ancient Latin/Roman alphabet is the most widely used writing system in the world, and is the alphabet of English and almost all other European languages. Up to 60 percent of modern English words derive from Latin, directly or indirectly.

Latin is our foundational language, explains Harvey, and that awareness may be a factor in the current revival of interest in Latin in our schools. One indicator is the number of students taking the AP Latin exam has doubled in the last decade. “From what I’ve seen and read,” Harvey said, “the revival in schools—including inner city schools—has less to do with a renewed interest in the classical past than a realization that the more Latin students learn, the higher their SAT verbal and analytical scores.” In fact, students of Latin had notably higher mean SAT Verbal scores than students of Spanish, French or German.

“Furthermore,” Harvey notes, “there is a continuing appreciation that studying Greek and Latin — the classical languages of Western civilization — demonstrably enhances the ability to write cogently in English.” The reason for this is “rather straightforward,” believes Harvey: “The successful study of a highly inflected language forces students to understand better the grammar and syntax of their own native language and that, in turn, encourages clarity of expression and analytical thought.”

In today’s era of online chat acronyms and text-messaging abbreviations, the ability to write well in English may be an increasingly rare and valuable career asset. Future attorneys, doctors and scientists would be well advised to study Latin to get a jump on the professional jargon, says Harvey. “And students wishing to study practically any aspect of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance literature, art, music, and history are at a serious disadvantage if they do not know Latin well.”

With such clear advantages to students, why don’t more schools encourage the study of Latin? The language may have suffered from an image problem in years past, concedes Harvey. The association of Latin with the wealthy and privileged “is a modern hangover from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries when only the educated elite studied Greek and Latin,” he notes. “The classical language curriculum pretty much dissolved after World War II.”

Contrary to its image, Harvey adds, not all works in the classical canon are somber tomes. “Most folks don’t realize that Greek and Latin literature includes an extraordinary range of works in different genres, including risqué and very funny love poetry.”

Of course, risqué and funny may not be everyone’s taste either. But as the Romans said, “De gustibus non est disputandum.” One must not argue over matters of taste.

Looting at Elefsina

Brief/vague item from eKathimerini:

Ancient artifacts have been stolen from the Elefsina archaeological site west of Athens, the Culture Ministry said on Friday.

The theft took place on the night of April 15, according to the ministry. No further details were given on the orders of the police.

The site is one of Greece’s most significant archaeological areas, housing the remains of the Temple of Demeter, where the Elefsinian Mysteries were held, and museum that displays objects from as far back as the 5th century.

via Artifacts stolen from ancient Elefsina site | Kathimerini.

Roman Ship From Ostia

Tip o’ the pileus to Francesca Tronchin for finding this one … from ANSA:

An ancient ship has emerged from the ground at the Imperial Roman port of Ostia in a find Culture Minister Giancarlo Galan said “gives you goose bumps”.

An 11-metre section of one of the ship’s sides has so far been discovered, archaeologists said.

They and Galan said the discovery would make experts think anew about the exact location of the port where the Roman empire’s biggest fleet was stationed and through which goods travelled to and from the imperial capital.

“This great result tells us a lot of things about the ancient coastline and what was happening about 2,000 years ago,” said Galan, who rushed down to the site after the find was made public.

Archaeologists said they were expecting to find something in the area, where a major road bridge is being rebuilt, and had launched a programme of so-called ‘preventive archaeology’.

Site director Paola Germoni stressed that this type of work “enables us to combine the demands of conservation of ancient artefacts with the needs of the general public”.

She said the discovery “would plausibly move back the ancient coast line some four kilometres from where it is now”.

Silt and river movements have pushed back the area of the once-bustling port, which is now a major archeological site called Ostia Antica, the best-preserved ancient Roman town outside Pompeii.

Although it attracts far fewer visitors than Pompeii, many enthusiasts say it offers a similar thrill and feel of ancient life.

Anna Maria Moretti, archaeological superintendent for Rome and Ostia Antica, said “the find is a novelty because at that depth, about four metres below the topsoil, we have never found a ship, only layers (of buildings) and one single structure”.

“At the moment we only have a sizeable chunk of one side (of the ship), neither the poop or stern”.

She also said there were “remains of ropes and cables” in the ship.

“Restoring the vessel will be an extremely delicate operation,” Moretti went on. “We’re keeping it constantly covered in water so that the wood doesn’t dry out.

“The wreck must be treated with highly sophisticated preservation techniques,” Moretti said.

Several Roman ships were found during the construction of the nearby Fiumicino Airport in the 1950s and are now housed in a museum at Ostia Antica.

Ancient Roman Ostia, at the since-moved mouth of the River Tiber, was built into a massive complex under the Emperor Claudius and given the name Portus, meaning port.

It was expanded under successive emperors such as Trajan and Hadrian and served as a base for many of the empire’s greatest expeditions.

Ostia was also the depot channelling the vast wealth, grain and other supplies needed to feed the appetites of the imperial city.

UPDATE (a few minutes later): tip o’ the pileus to Martin Conde, who alerted us to the Corriere coverage which includes some nice photos and a video (probably short-lived): Ostia Antica, scoperta una nave romana Galan: «Ritrovamento da brivido» | Corriere della Sera

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem iii kalendas maias

ante diem iii kalendas maias

ludi Florales … a.k.a. Floralia (day 3) — a festival originally ordered in response to an interpretation of the Sybilline books in 238 B.C., it fell into desuetude only to be revived in 173 B.C.; it was a general festival of drinking and other merriment in honour of Flora, who presided over (of course) flowers and their blossoms

ca 65 A.D. — martyrdom of Torpes of Pisa

259 A.D. — martyrdom of Agapius at Citra (along with quite a few others)