Old Latin Primer

Give the Classics a Voice

Living languages have a voice. Humans spoke them and speak them. Dead languages sit as silent hieroglyphs in a rock temple or cuneiform on mud tablets. Dead languages rarely return.

Dominant cultures sometimes kill languages. The speakers resist. Yiddish was the daily language of millions of middle Europeans. That stopped with the Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s with the killing of most Yiddish speakers and virtually all Yiddish writers.

Native American and First Nations languages were actively suppressed by Canadian and US government schools in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Generations of native speakers learned English at the government boarding schools and forgot the world that grandmother knew.

barbarian invadors anglo-saxon helmit
“Anglo Saxon Helmet, Sutton Hoo, Suffolk”

Greek and Latin vanished from Britain and Western Europe as the Germanic tribes overwhelmed the countryside at the end of the Roman Empire. Christians kept the languages alive in the east for centuries. The monastic movement eventually pushed back against the obliteration of culture. In the 7th Century the monks Theodore and Hadrian reintroduced the Greek and Latin to Canterbury.

“[England] took kindly to the Latin and Greek culture brought her in the seventh century by the Asian Theodore and the African Hadrian, scholars learned in worldly, as well as in divine, lore, who “made this island, once the nurse of tyrants, the constant home of philosophy.” -William of Malmesbury 1

Classical Homeschools

The homeschooling movements in 2021 are testaments to the 7th Century monasteries. Interest in classical education serves exactly as it did 1,300 years ago. A small but growing number of people resist the idea that the accumulated knowledge of the Hellenic Period, the Roman Empire, all of the Enlightenment, and the American Revolution should vanish like the knowledge of the Huron or the Muskogees 2 with the abandonment of the languages and ideas on which they were founded.

This is especially critical in the United States because the Founders benefited from traditional classical education. A classical education in the time of the Founding Fathers meant the study of Latin and Greek and the works written in those languages. Fluency in classical languages came before college. Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Madison, and Washington were literate by the standards of the day. Jefferson all were fluent in both Latin and Greek. They could and did speak and write to one another in these languages.

Contemporary classical education runs the gamut from reading the classics in English, as Mortimer Adler promoted, to full classical language learning in programs like Classical Academic Press that offer both Greek and Latin at every level. Homeschools feel their way forward like Anselm of Canterbury learning with bits and scraps.

Why Classical Education was Dismantled?

The 1914 – 1918 war destroyed a generation of the best educated young men in Germany, Austria, Russia, France, Belgium, and Great Britain. Millions of young men, the best of Europe and America, took their Greek and Latin, their logic and reasoning, and buried them in shell craters on the Marne or in Flanders.

                  Those who survived no longer believed in the same values. They rejected Horace’s Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori and dumped it out with the bathwater and everything else.

The progressive education of the common school movement came from a desire to change the traditional curriculum from what existed before the Great War. The new curricula gradually reduced exposure to the classics. It abandoned classical language learning. Experts believed the classics no longer relevant in the modern age. The Interwar Period from 1918 until 1939 wiped away the classical school philosophy and replaced it with a new progressive behaviorist philosophy. The old way had not worked. New standards were needed.

“Apart from the thought of participation in social life the school has no end nor aim. As long as we confine ourselves to the school as an isolated institution we have no final directing ethical principles, because we have no object or ideal.” – John Dewey3

Advocates of progressive public education still say “it takes a village.” A much reduced human comes from modern industrial education. This is fine with the leaders who prefer the new citizens.

These leaders are wrong, of course. John Dewey, a bloodless Alaric with his timid progressive reformers, overthrew the system. Greek was dominant from Homer through the rise of Christianity. The Bible originally was promulgated in Greek. Latin was the dominant language of the Roman Empire. The Reformation and Enlightenment were founded on classical knowledge. The modern Visigoths wanted to start from scratch.

The Secret Power of the Founding Generation.

The cultural war continues. Americans who read Cicero in Latin, like Hamilton and Jefferson, improve the Republic. Reading Thucydides in Greek opens an archive of recorded business frauds and political crimes. A classically educated public resists the rented barbarians from distracting the public with war while they plunder the treasury.

Homeschool families should make the extra effort.  Learning and teaching classical languages is still part of a classical education. Christian homeschools using programs like Charlotte Mason4 should especially add Latin and Greek for the reason Anselm of Canterbury taught himself Greek word by word from every scrap of Bible annotation. He wanted to read what Paul wrote. It is not easy, but Greek, Latin, and the books written in them are still our best chance to avoid the tyranny of the next Dark Age. Learn to speak to one another.

1 William of Malmesbury, I, 12.

2 Read more at: https://www.aaanativearts.com/extinct-tribes/extinct-tribes-o

3 “Ethical Principles Underlying Education”

4 Simply Charlotte Mason https://simplycharlottemason.com/

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