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  • Anne Van Fossen

Why Greek and Latin?

Updated: May 26, 2023

Why Study Classical Greek and Latin?

All the reasons commonly given for studying Latin apply equally to the study of Greek - development of English vocabulary, comprehension of grammar, training in logical thought, a 'language map' as an aid to the acquisition of all subsequent languages, understanding of the roots of Western civilization ... The study of Greek and Latin provides a depth of understanding of language itself. This study lays an incomparable foundation for the learning of all subsequent languages and also trains us in the ability to think and express ourselves clearly. It informs and enhances our entire reading and writing life and, at the same time, transforms our ability to understand clearly what others are saying and writing.

However, the benefits of learning Greek and Latin do not stop here! The literature that students encounter when studying Greek and Latin has survived for thousands of years because it plumbs the depths of what it means to be truly human – the meaning of life and death, honor, nobility, purity, beauty, the struggle for immortality, and the search for God. Students who continue their study to the point of being able to read ‘real’ Greek and Latin texts have the opportunity to read in the original language and discuss with fellow students and their teacher some of the greatest works of Western literature - Homer, Plato, Thucydides, and Euripides to name a few of the Greeks - Vergil, Horace, Livy, Cicero and Ovid to name a few of the Romans.

Greek and Latin also, both the language and the literature, supply much context for the Christian Church. In particular, the study of Classical Greek opens the door to reading the writings of the early Fathers of the Church and provides new vistas of insight and understanding for those reading the New Testament.

“Hardly any lawful price would seem to me too high for what I have gained by being made to learn Latin and Greek.” C.S. Lewis

Knowledge of classical authors also enables us to appreciate the literary allusions and references in all the literature that has followed them. Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Keats, Byron, Melville (not to mention many great movies as well) all draw from an assumed knowledge of classical literature.

Is it really important to read those works in the original Greek or Latin?

While we are fortunate to have good translations available for most of the great works of Greek and Latin literature, nothing can compare with the joy, insight, and depth of understanding that can be acquired by reading these works as they were originally written. The process of translation itself – the observation of cases, tenses, voices, and moods, the identification of clauses, the nuances of vocabulary –not only trains the mind to think clearly but also opens up a world that can be at the same both very similar to and very different from the modern world. Literature is best understood within the context of its own language and culture.

“To read Latin and Greek authors in their original, is a sublime luxury. I thank on my knees him who directed my early education for having put into my possession this rich source of delight; and I would not exchange it for anything which I could then have acquired, and have not since acquired.” – Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Joseph Priestly

Familiarity with the language itself, its phraseology, its cadence, the choice of words, the position of those words within the line — this is much of the beauty, power, and depth of ancient Greek and Latin. The ability to appreciate the specific diction, word order, and rhetorical emphasis of the original language leads the reader more and more deeply into the poignant struggle of the ancient author for truth, understanding, and beauty.

Isn’t that a bit much for my 8-year old?

Elementary school is the perfect time to begin the study of Ancient Greek and Latin! For many young children, Greek and Latin become their favorite subjects. We’ve known children to spontaneously make up jump rope chants to the Greek or Latin declensions and march around in Roman army formation chanting Latin pronouns. Children love to memorize. They love patterns. When you add to this the study of ancient history, mythology, and great literature don’t be surprised to find a 10-year-old working to apply Alexander the Great’s battle strategies to a game of dodgeball! Young children may not be able to process sophisticated grammar or content, but they have a remarkable ability to learn vocabulary and forms! They have a natural brilliance, curiosity, and inquisitiveness that enables them to enter into the ancient world with excitement and enthusiasm. CLRC Greek and Latin classes are offered at the elementary, middle school, and high school level. Introductory classes are available for all levels.

Which is better to learn - Greek or Latin?

I often compare the two languages to the benefits of having two eyes. Learning both Latin and Greek allows us to gain depth and perspective not only for the nuances of vocabulary, syntax, and grammar (each language enables the student to understand the other more deeply) but also for the content of the literature being read. One cannot understand Vergil without Homer! However, it is certainly possible to enjoy many of the advantages of classical languages with either one alone. Which would be better to learn depends very much on each family’s personal goals and circumstances. If you would like advice, feel free to contact us to explain your situation and we will be glad to advise you. Consider the challenge of classical languages. Enjoy their fruits, and reap their benefits!

"The CLRC Latin program is wonderful! The fact that you TEACH the class and the students interact with you and with one another makes such a difference. My younger son attends a private school but his Latin education does not come close to the quality of the CLRC Latin classes my older son has taken with you." — Jacquie A., New Hampshire

"The Greek classes, taught by highly qualified instructors, provide students with interactive, feedback-rich instruction. The kids are challenged but develop a warm sense of camaraderie." - Lynn S., California
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