Wishing for Latin

I’ve met a good number of people who want to learn Latin, and a much smaller number who have succeeded in becoming proficient in it.

I count myself in the former category for now, though I am hopeful that someday I will graduate to the latter. Surely just about everyone who gets proficient was at one time only wishing to become so.

For me, part of the desire to learn Latin originally comes from, and is always reignited by, learning about the Middle Ages.

In the Middle Ages, Latin was a sign of erudition and was really the only way to be able to understand and investigate the greatest questions, and to participate in the community of those who seek knowledge.

The only other language at all like it for us in “the West” is Greek, also worthwhile and desirable but somehow simultaneously more distant and almost insubstantial in its command of the contemporary imagination.

There are of course other languages that hold a similar status in other civilizations further afield, such as classical Chinese or Arabic. For any that have trouble understanding the appeal of Latin for the people who are more or less directly derived from the European Middle Ages, it might be helpful to look at something less familiar for comparison and consider the status of those other foreign classical languages among their present-day descendants.

Learning Latin is pretty tough, and the tangible benefits for most of us will be slim indeed. Still, even if only as a mostly symbolic act, I suspect it can be a powerful achievement.

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