Long Live Latin: The Pleasures Of A Useless Language, by Nicola Gardini
This is a book written by someone who, like many classicists, is greatly interested in the Latin language and desirous to interest other people in so being as well. If I am not exactly a Latin scholar myself, I am least passingly familiar with and interested in the language. And like the author, my interest is not so much on a practical basis but simply out of a love for learning languages and appreciating what they have to offer in terms of their style and the literature (and music) that can be found in them. As such, I think that I am part of the core demographic that this book is reaching for and I can appreciate that given that the work speaks to me and to my own interest in Latin and other languages. The author is especially keen to get the readers of this book to not see Latin as a language to learn for pragmatic reasons but rather out of love for the language. And this book provides reasons for the reader to love Latin, though interestingly enough the reasons chosen by the author are not the reasons I most love the language myself or most appreciate what it has to offer.
This book is between 200 and 250 pages long and it is divided into 22 short chapters that mostly deal with various Latin stylists and the author’s thoughts on them. So we begin with an ode to a useless language, and then discuss the author’s interests in Latin (1) as well as questions like the identity of Latin (2) and which Latin is being referred to when people think of the language, given its wide differences over time (3). The author praise the Latin alphabet (4) and discusses Catallus (5) as a way of understanding Latin. There is a look at such varied writing styles in Latin as Cicero (6), Ennius (7), Caesar (8), and Lucretius (9). The author discusses Catullus again and the meaning of sex to the heathen Romans (10). There is a look at Virgil’s style (11) as well as the mastery of Tacitus and Sallust in various ways (12), as well as reflections on Ovid (13) and Livy (14). There is a discussion on Virgil’s Eclogues (15) as well as a praise of the writing of Seneca (16), a look at the oddities of Apuleius and Petronius (17), a discussion of Augustine’s linguistic reformation (18) that led into medieval Latin, and the book even includes a look at Juvenal and satire (19), the loneliness of love in Propertius (20), Horace’s writings on happiness (21), and a closing exhortation to study Latin (22), after which there are notes, acknowledgments, and an index of names.
Speaking personally, my appreciation for Latin is mainly as a source for witty titles of blogs and poems/songs on the one hand, or for the witty epigrams of Juvenal or the religious writings in the language that are still written. Among the pleasures of this book is the way that the author manages to discuss many elements of Latin, so that those who are fond of particular Latin authors (like I am fond of Juvenal, for example) can find the author’s rather ecumenical thinking about the many different moods and styles which have found themselves exhibited in the Latin that has survived for us. Without wishing to impugn upon the Latin of Augustine, Cicero, Seneca, and numerous others that this author praises and which I too respect and appreciate, I think personally that Juvenal has a lot to say about our own troubled times, especially the way in which epigrammatic wisdom such as the kind that I personally appreciate is a sign of living in decadent times, which is certainly the case for us today. The author’s interest in matters of Latin and in some aspects of what could be considered decadence are also attempts to capture the morality (or immorality) that is present within Latin that we can appreciate today and ponder as aspects of the culture of Rome and how it markedly differs from today.