Greek And Latin In An Age Of Better Things

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Ancient Greece is still falling.

Ancient Greece is still falling. The Parthenon by Frederic Edwin Church

Not having Googled my name in a number of years, I was surprised to find that the top search result for my own name (there are, I’ve learned, many ‘Alex Sheremets’, and multiple variations thereof) was an Amazon review all the way from June 2008, of a Latin textbook, of all things, that had been the standard intro to the subject ever since it was published in 1956. It was (and still is, despite a new edition) the most popular review of Wheelock’s Latin on Amazon, garnering close to 400 ‘helpful’ votes, and a couple of dozen comments ranging from agreement to abject dissent.

I’d not a chance to respond, partly because I didn’t realize what was going on, and partly because I’d grown up – or rather, had grown into myself, over time. Now, I’m an artist, see, and perhaps even thought of myself as an artist then. But, back in June 2008, I was stuck at home, messing around with Latin conversations non-stop, listening to hours of Latin recordings, and trying – really, really trying – to get fluent in the language. I know, now, that part of the attraction to ancient lingoes was their sheer mystery, as well as the fact that, unlike the more academic types, I was treating the language with genuine respect by putting it on par with any other modern tongue, instead of merely ‘decoding’ it like some jigsaw puzzle. Most professors couldn’t speak it. Hell, most can’t even WRITE it, and I – a young kid interested in so many things already – was gonna show ’em (baby!), and leave the shit-kickers in the dirt!

Of course, that’s not what I told myself. At least, not exactly. I told myself that I ‘NEEDED’ Greek and Latin to really understand poetry (my true aim), and therefore write it better than anyone before me, for I’d know the true origin of language, in the metaphysical sense, by being able to strip it down to its more primitive manifestations in a way that academics could not. So, I’d spend much time practicing conversation every day, dipping every once in a while into Virgil and Catullus, just to see where I was at, technically speaking, but not realizing that, as a budding poet, I was in fact wasting time – and that everything I needed, everything that’s worthy of the term ‘art’, had already been provided by modernity, if only I’d learn to look a little more wisely.

Now, allow a digression. Getting fluent in multiple languages is, too often, a kind of bargaining chip – a social token. Just think of people’s utter GREED for travel, the way they post photos all over social media, not knowing the true import of such places, obsess over food and architecture, and merely pretend to engage with these peoples and lands. Of course, they tell themselves that they’re ‘cultured’, and somehow benefiting from such meaningless … Continue reading →