“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
– William Butler Yeats
“Learn all you can about the past, for how else can anyone make a guess about what is going to happen in the future.”
– Winston Churchill
I often receive inquisitive glances and raised eyebrows when I tell people that I am a Latin major. “Why study a dead language and a dead culture?” they ask.
THE EDITORS: A fortuitous outcome.
I first studied Latin by accident. I took Latin in 9th grade because of a scheduling issue that prevented me from taking Spanish. I thought Latin might be beneficial for a medical career, so I continued taking it throughout high school. Eight years later, I am a Latin major taking graduate courses with no intention of slowing down.
What happened? Not only did I start to enjoy the study of Classics, but I also learned why Classics is so important.
Firstly, it is intellectually stimulating. Classics is a combination of language, history, culture and literature that encourages extensive learning and equips one with the skill to engage in analyses that incorporate knowledge from all of these fields. These analyses require broad thinking, never focusing on one field to the exclusion of others. And yet they also require thinking acutely, never undervaluing a seemingly irrelevant detail.
But studying Classics is rewarding in another sense. There is a sense of awe and wonder to be experienced when immersed in history, in another culture and in the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. And that is largely what the study of Classics is: the pursuit of knowledge as an end, rather than as a means. This is the most important, and the most forgotten, goal of education. Education ought to be viewed as the “lighting of a fire” and not as the “filling of a pail.” Knowledge is an end in and of itself; it is so much more than a means to a career.
This is not to say that studying Classics does not also have practical importance. A Classicist has the responsibility of also being an historian, a philologist and a literary scholar. The Churchill quotation above indicates another important consequence of examining the Greco-Romans. We can study their mistakes, and be better than them. We can study their successes, and emulate them. We can study their literature, and admire them. We can study their philosophy, and learn from them.
As long as knowledge is valued, Classics is valued. Latin is not a dead language nor is the Greco-Roman world a dead culture. It is very much alive and thriving in our language, in our thought, in our government, in our architecture, in our literature and in our values.
—Ryan Slauer is a senior studying economics and Latin.