Pickle est vires quam mucro.
I wanted to take Latin in high school. I figured if I could learn Latin, I’d be able to bang out French, Italian, and Spanish in no time. Along with a better understanding of language and history, I’d be able to communicate effectively with French, Italian, and Spanish women; more than that, I could go back and pull some Latin out of my pocket just to impress.
There’s a great scene in Braveheart where William Wallace—played passionately by the haggard and presently insane auteur Mel Gibson—tells the French Princess and English general to forget their offers of gold, land, and titles. The general whispers some Latin to the young princess: Sanguinarious homo indomitus est et se me dite cum mendagio. [He is a murderous savage and he is telling lies.] Wallace interrupts: Ego nunco pronunciari mendagio sed ego sum homo indomitus. [I have never spoken a lie, but I am a savage.]
Then—with the Princess and general exchanging gasps of surprise—Wallace slaps some French icing on the cake: Ou en français si vous preferez?
While I hope never to be in negotiations with an oppressive monarchy, it’d be pretty cool to be able tell someone to go to hell in multiple languages. And on a side note, Wallace does later expand on his linguistic skills with the Princess.
Alas, my school eliminated Latin classes a year before I attended. So I took Spanish. I can find bathrooms, libraries, and I can half-understand the conversation between Michael Corleone and Sollozzo in the restaurant scene in The Godfather, because basic angry Italian isn’t too far off.
I don’t have any statistics in front of me, but I’d assume Latin is offered even less than it was back when I was learning how to tell a girl, Tu es mas bonita que todas las gentes del mundo.
The argument, of course, is that Latin is a dead language. Nobody speaks it natively anymore. Nobody learns it from birth; only a select few have the option to take it in school, and I bet even the smartest and savviest kids still prefer taking French, Spanish, or German.
Latin is by no means the only path to greater intelligence—or chances with intelligent, multilingual women. I’m sure there were plenty of ignorant but fluent Romans. And I’m also sure that schools are offering a diverse range of languages to kids that will help them in the future, including Chinese and Japanese.
But a couple hundred years ago, in this country, people who wanted to attend colleges like Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, had to know Latin, had to know Greek. They had to know the Classics. They had to know philosophy. They had to know history. And not because Latin or Greek were really much more “alive” than they are now. Rather, because taking in all that discipline and history, knowing all those languages and those cultures, helped people like our Founding Fathers better understand the world around them, as well as what might work in a future Republic.
Not to mention, Latin just sounds badass.
For centuries, knowing Latin put you on a different plane of sophistication than other intelligent folk.
“The Others” in Lost: they totally speak Latin.
In this Information Age of ours, practically nobody’s an illiterate farmer or soldier or worker who farms, fights, builds for his town, his colony, his country, while having to vote for some cultured white guy who can read and potentially speak Latin.
No—now our farmers are googling on their iPhones to find out what wonderful chemical will give them the biggest crops; our soldiers are emailing us on Facebook between nights of RPGs and IEDs and the occasional bout with a strawberry patch in Farmville; our workers are ordering takeout online between matches in the latest World War IV video game; and our politicians…well, politicians don’t change. Except now they can barely speak English coherently, let alone Latin.
The requirements to get into a good preparatory school or university—intelligence, discipline, wealth, family influence—are all still there to a degree; but it was tougher to get into school back in Alexander Hamilton’s day.
While we’ve evolved in terms of access to information, access to education, access to success, it’s almost without a doubt we’ve also evolved, expanded, enhanced, and expedited our access to bullshit.
In the old days we worked, we fought, we protested.
Now we text, we tweet, we blog.
Our advancements in technology and industry over our relatively short history are astonishing; they have allowed most of us to live lucky lives, the likes of which our Founding Fathers could not have dreamed. But our poverty, our petty divisions, our graft, and our absolute lack of sound, well-rounded education (especially of history, both world and shamefully, even American history) would knock the wigs off our historical figures’ heads. Sadly, the only people protesting right now are far-right social conservatives and college kids who probably didn’t pay for tuition themselves anyway.
Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson didn’t agree on a lot of things, but both may have revolted by now, and both sure as hell knew Latin.
We’re not completely hopeless. Thankfully, not every American is as cynical as me; not every American thinks we’re potentially dumber than we were maybe two hundred years ago, or that the world reached its artistic peak sometime between 1501 and 1504. (Of course, I had to google “Michelangelo’s David“ to get those years).
Some people actually want Latin back in the high school curriculum.
I also googled “Bring Latin back.” One of the hits was this: a Facebook group dedicated to bringing Latin back to high school. The group has sixteen members.
There’s still hope.
Even though there are more far fans of this Pickle.