Written by Winona Wardwell
Art by Peter H
The language of Latin is dead, but I have spent the last five years studying it. In the beginning, it felt forced; the sounds got stuck in my throat, and the alphabet didn’t include my favorite letter, W. The language does not have a word for modern terms like “pencil” or “pool,” yet they have hundreds of ways to say “kill.” It is a harsh dialect; it does not flow like Spanish or Italian. It sounds like someone is yelling at you while in the midst of a coughing fit. It never appealed to me any more than calculus did.
Yet my desire for academic validation made me sign up for Advanced Latin I. There I got stuck with a teacher who had been teaching Latin at my school for fifty years. She was somewhat of a local legend in my school’s community, and when I would run into people who had recently graduated all the way up to people who worked with my mother, they always had a story to tell about her. She lived up to the stories; she was a cat lady whose classroom was scattered with empty cat food cans; she made kids cry for translating “liber” as “independence” instead of “freedom.” She should have made me hate Latin, but she failed. Instead, I strived for her approval and doted on the small comments she would make about my knack for sentence structure or verb forms. Still, I thought Latin was just a class I took.
Then, two years later, I was still taking Latin. I was reading the Aeneid, learning about the effort it took to found Rome and about the tumultuous relationships between leaders of the ancient world. The words with the harsh “-ae” ending and the Vs that sounded like Ws turned into long, eloquent phrases about fate and legacy. Written thousands of years ago, I felt myself relating to the characters struggling with mental health and familial obligation. As my math, history, science, and Spanish classes became harder, Latin stayed the same. My desire to pursue the classics grew, and I found purpose in learning a dead language.