Latin Language and Latin Culture: From Ancient to Modern Times

Latin Language and Latin Culture: From Ancient to Modern Times

Latin Language and Latin Culture: From Ancient to Modern Times

Latin Language and Latin Culture: From Ancient to Modern Times

Synopsis

The Latin language is popularly imagined in a number of specific ways: as a masculine language, an imperial language, a classical language, a dead language. This book considers the sources of these metaphors and analyzes their effect on how Latin literature is read. By reading with and more commonly against these metaphors, the book offers a different view of Latin as a language and as a vehicle for cultural practice. The argument ranges over a variety of texts in Latin and texts about Latin from antiquity to the twentieth century.

Excerpt

I would like to have written this book in Latin. On the other hand, had it been reasonable to do so – if such a book could have found an audience; if any publisher would have taken it on; if indeed I had full confidence that what I wanted to say could be expressed in a modern, idiomatic Latin style, supple and nuanced, not the stuff of composition exercises, critical editions, and public monuments – I would probably have seen no need to write it.

I offer this essay in the belief that certain ideas about the Latin language pervade modern intellectual life and color the ways in which most of us latinists carry out our professional responsibilities of teaching and research. These ideas affect us whether we work in antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, or more recent times; whether we study literature, history, or any other area; whether the language itself is central or peripheral to our concerns. They include the idea of the “dead” language; the closely related idea of the “classical” language; the strong association between latinity and male speech; the structuring of the various disciplines within which latinists work according to discrete chronological periods; the relationship between the language itself and a multitude of social institutions, religious and secular, at different times, in different places. It is inevitable that these factors should influence the ways in which nonlatinists think about the most familiar of all ancient tongues; equally inevitable, perhaps, that such beliefs should affect the ways in which we latinists work as well.

At the same time, unexamined assumptions can have unexpected and unintended effects. For instance, I cannot imagine that many nonlatinists, if they think about it, doubt that Latin is a masculine lan-

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