Saturday, December 8, 2007

Attempts at resurrection

"First it killed the Romans, and now it's killing me."

On a topic dear to my heart (W12): a double book review of works about Latin! Michael Poliakoff takes a decidedly kinder stance toward Ad Infinitum by Nicholas Ostler (at $27.95, it wouldn't make a bad Christmas present!) than toward Carpe Diem by Harry Mount. Hopefully, at least one of them will prevent translation abominations like this one (thanks, Vere Loqui!).

Concerning Ad Infinitum: The expression "sic transit gloria mundi" pretty much sums up the book, according to Poliakoff. However, this is questionable--high-school Latin scholars are "holding steady" at 175,000 for 15 years and counting (albeit far from 900K in 1934). "In short, the Renaissance is not yet in sight [so maybe I am destined to be extinct?], but neither are we living in the Dark Ages." Here's one item I hadn't known: The word "'glamour' derives from 'grammar.'" That in itself might popularize the language a bit...

Carpe Diem, on the other hand, is much "cheerier" and "assumes that [readers] are barbarians [rather than dignified Roman citizens]." Poliakoff opines that Mount does not grasp the full impact of "his quotation from William Hazlitt: 'The study of Classics teaches us to believe that there is something really great and excellent in the world...'" Among other things, the book includes a "tasteless description" of, shall we say, the immoral behavior of a Latin teacher; "doesn't to a lot to raise" standards in British schools; and leaves much description of characters such as Marcus Aurelius to be desired.

Latin is not for the wimpy. Be smart! Read dead languages! Join the few, the proud, the brave. (Oops...just borrowed/spoofed the Army slogan. But the strength of the will is the same either way.) Check out the best website I know of so far of this now-living language.

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