I received this question. It sparked a short correspondence between us
Good afternoon and thank you for your resources!
What is the most important/significant material to glean from Virgil’s Aeneid, from a grammar and/or rhetoric perspective?
I am leading a class of students (Classical Conversations) that are doing 0 Latin at home, yet we are to discuss the Latin text in class. Seems I can focus on stylistic devices and famous lines within the text? We are also reading the English translation alongside the Latin. I want to bring out the significance of Virgil and the importance of the Latin text itself…any thoughts would be appreciated? For example, from Cicero we learn a great deal about oration and rhetoric, even if not grasping the Latin itself; is there a comparable value in studying Virgil? Thank you again.
Here is my reply:
I am actually not sure how to respond to this…
I have read the Aeneid in both languages.
I know this is heretical, but I found it tedious. And, the last 7 books were nauseatingly violent. I do not know why we hand this book to kids.
It is impressive what Virgil did. Impressive does no justice. No pun intended, his writing is epic. Nonetheless, I still do not understand why we hand the book to kids.
When I think of the time I have spent laboring over that book, and when I think of the time students spend laboring over Cicero and Vergil, I am saddened. Not sure it is time well spent.
I have seen students spend six years getting ready to read Vergil. For what? In six years, those students could easily have become fluent in French, Spanish, German or any other modern language.
As I said, I am afraid I will be no help at all. I really wish I could help. But, I just do not know how to answer your question.
I am sorry.
A few days later, she emailed me again
That’s very interesting. So, what would you say the primary goals of studying Latin should be and how far should you go?
I have enjoyed so many things about studying Latin over these last several years but I do wonder where the rabbit hole ends so to speak. We can never exhaust studying the ancients so to what end should we push our kids; for what purpose? Where is the line between “Latin has really helped me” and “Latin was a waste of time.”
I know you are busy! I do appreciate your insight. Thanks again,
Here is my second response:
As I see it, there are three paths students could take.
I suggest reading Lingua Latina. If you take two weeks for each chapter, slowing down to three when reaching chapter 27, it would take about 2 years to read the book.
So, here are the three paths. (I made these up, by the way.)
First, students could take their two years of high-school Latin, get the credit, and be done. If they spent those two years on Lingua Latina, they’d learn more than they would learn in most Latin programs.
Second, students could finish Lingua Latina and move on. Move on to French, Spanish, Italian or something modern. It takes about three years to reach fluency in a modern language. Not perfection. Fluency. Proficiency. After Latin, I would definitely suggest French, Spanish or Italian. Latin will speed the process up.
For the third option, I’d recommend the following path:
- First, read Lingua Latina. If you need help, Visual Latin will help.
- Second, read one of the gospels from the Vulgate.
- Third, read Roma Aeterna.
- Fourth, continue reading the classics.
The third option I would only recommend to those who, for some reason, want to become academics, or Latin scholars. This is a long, lonely path with low pay. I have been to the top of this mountain. The view from the top is not that great. This is the option almost all schools recommend.
With a lot of long hours, determination, grit and a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, I have finally been able to carve out a modest living for myself and my family. And, I am an outlier. Most Latin teachers I know struggle financially. I would not do it again. I would choose a different path.
There is a fourth possible option. This is the path I wish I had taken with my own kids.
Push Latin off. Learn a modern language first.
Even if you know you want to learn Latin someday, learn French, Spanish or Italian first. This is like wading into the pool from the shallow end. My best Latin students have always been Spanish speaking students. The jump from Spanish to Latin was easier for them. Not easy, but easier.
With option four, if students never make it to Latin, at least they would know French, Spanish or Italian.
These are all thoughts. Do with them what you like. I have run this experiment on myself and on my own kids. I am now drawing conclusions from the experiment.