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Latin: Story of a World Language
Latin: Story of a World Language
Jürgen Leonhardt
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2013
352 pp., $31.50

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Stranger in a Strange Land: William Griffin


Latinity

This is a guest column by William Griffin. He was brought up in Boston, where he acquired 14 years of Latin at such Jesuit institutions as Boston College High School, Boston College, and Weston College. His translations include three volumes by Thomas à Kempis and Augustine's Sermons to the People: Advent, Christmas, New Year's, Epiphany. He and his wife, Emilie, a fellow Latinist, live in Alexandria, Louisiana, with their lively Latin library and their aging, one-eyed Teddy. His favorite books? Winnie Ille Pooh and De Petro Cunicolo.

Fifty-five years ago I met a young woman in Greenwich Village; we'd been attending a playwriting seminar on Monday nights. She was forward; I was backward. She invited me for coffee. She paid before I could. She dropped a quarter into the jukebox and punched "Moon River."

Her handbag was cavernous. A little spelunking by my roving eye, and I saw a book. A very small yellow book. Langenscheidt's Latin Dictionary (454 pages in 6 pt. type). And why do you carry that around? I asked. Who knows when I'll bump into a Vatican diplomat? she replied. She'd had eight years of Latin; I'd had twelve. I proposed to her on the spot. And we've been declining and conjugating ever since.

Who says Latin is dead? Not I. Not she. Not Jürgen Leonhardt, a classical philologist at the University of Tübingen. His book is something of a museum piece but in a good sense, and he is something of a docent in the best sense. He takes the reader on a leisurely stroll from one aula to another. From "Latin as a World Language" to "The Language of the Empire" to "Europe's Latin Millennium" to "World Language without a World" to "Latin Today." It was a wonderful way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Some random impressions from the tour:

"No other dead language continues to exert such influence in the world."

All the writings surviving from ...

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