December 3, 2007


A Vote for Latin (HARRY MOUNT, 12/03/07, NY Times)

Of the 40 presidents since Jefferson, 31 have studied Latin, many at a high level. James Polk graduated from the University of North Carolina, in 1818, with top honors in math and classics. James Garfield taught Greek and Latin from 1856 to 1857 at what is now Hiram College in Ohio. Teddy Roosevelt studied classics at Harvard.

John F. Kennedy had Latin instruction at not one, but three prep schools. Richard Nixon showed a great aptitude for the language, coming second in the subject at Whittier High School in California in 1930. And George H. W. Bush, a Latin student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., was a member of the fraternity Auctoritas, Unitas, Veritas (Authority, Unity, Truth).

A particular favorite for Bill Clinton during his four years of Latin at Hot Springs High School in Arkansas was Caesar’s “Gallic War.”

Following in his father’s footsteps, George W. Bush studied Latin at Phillips Academy (the school’s mottoes: “Non Sibi” or not for self, and “Finis Origine Pendet,” the end depends on the beginning).

But then President Bush was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the American classical tradition. Soon after he left Andover in 1964, the study of Latin in America collapsed. In 1905, 56 percent of American high school students studied Latin. By 1977, a mere 6,000 students took the National Latin Exam.

Recently there have been signs of a revival. The number taking the National Latin Exam in 2005, for instance, shot up to 134,873.

Why is this a good thing? Not all Romans were models of virtue — Caligula’s Latin was pretty good. And not all 134,873 of those Latin students are going to turn into Jeffersons.

But what they gain is a glimpse into the past that provides a fuller, richer view of the present. Know Latin and you discern the Roman layer that lies beneath the skin of the Western world. And you open up 500 years of Western literature (plus an additional thousand years of Latin prose and poetry).

...because he thinks it's what Latinos speak.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 3, 2007 8:21 PM

Wow, can I get you a shoehorn for that joke?

Posted by: Bryan at December 4, 2007 7:52 AM

Look to the homeschooling movement to have a hand in reviving Latin instruction. It is very popular with that group and probably why so many win spelling bees.

Posted by: Buttercup at December 4, 2007 8:10 AM

Amo Amas Amat Amamos Amatis amant.

Amabo Amabis Amabit Amabimos Amabitis Amabunt.


Posted by: Benny at December 4, 2007 11:59 AM
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