Elizabeth Frankel: Your interest in modern languages is simply Greek to me
On some days, Latin transports me to the ancient world, and I can see the sweat on Caesar's face as he encourages his soldiers in battle. On other days, Latin tethers me to the present as I marvel at the fact that I, a Minnesotan teenager living in the year 2015, am reading messages from the ancient world.
And then there are days when Latin lets me drift between the realms of the ancient and the modern. I recently found myself rocking out to Mozart's "Exsultate, jubilate" while driving home from school and pretending to be a Roman dinner party guest. Strange things happen when one accepts Latin as the authority on time perception.
None of my family members were particularly thrilled when I first chose to take Latin. My dad spent hours begging me to switch to Spanish, and my mom threatened to ground me for years if I didn't register for a "more useful" class. My grandmother gave me a pointed look and said in perfect French, "C'est la vie." It was made clear that my enrollment in Latin would bring more dishonor upon my family than Great Grandpa Bill's decision to join the circus. However, I was intrinsically drawn to Latin, and I wasn't going to let my family's concerns about reputation get in the way of my studies.
Now, after four years of Latin courses at school, I've gotten to know Latin's quirks and patterns, and my love for the language continues to grow. The selections I got to read from Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico and Virgil's Aeneid this year were complex and nuanced, containing emphatic word placement and segmentation. I transformed into a detective as I solved each clause and inspected the reasoning behind every morpheme. The Latin language happens to be a magnet for sarcasm and dark humor, and I discovered several hidden bits of hilarity within the texts I examined. I laughed out loud when I read Caesar's description of the Allobroges tribe not as "having been conquered," but as "having recently been made peaceful."
Often, I found that the ancient text highlighted themes that remain relevant even today. For example, it took us about 2,000 years to coin the term "sandwich generation," but Virgil's character Aeneas epitomized this concept long before people even knew what a sandwich was. As Troy was being destroyed by the Greeks, Aeneas rescued the generations surrounding him by fleeing with his father on his shoulders and his son following close behind. (Of course, Aeneas was so busy being sandwiched by his male relatives, he completely lost track of his wife. But that's another theme for another day.)
I'm happy to report that my loved ones have forgiven me for my decision to learn Latin. Though I'm not allowed to publicly mention my interest in the language (oops!), I'm able to discuss it privately with relatives for about five minutes each day. Sometimes, I'm even given permission to read Latin prose outside my bedroom. I imagine my decision to pursue Latin at the college level will revive old controversy, but I'm prepared to deal with the consequences. Ad astra per aspera.