Latin is a wonderful language — I don't know it well but was actually reading a couple of lines of it this morning, by the sheerest of coincidence. And much of Mount's argument is that people (or 'leaders') understand the past better through knowing Latin. Hard to disagree in general with the view that people should know languages and history.
Still, Mount brushes up against danger here, at the outset:
it is no coincidence that the professionalization of politics — which encourages budding politicians to think of education as mere career preparation — has occurred during an age of weak rhetoric, shifting moral values, clumsy grammar and a terror of historical references and eternal values that the Romans could teach us a thing or two about.Or, the key phrases in the on-line Latin version:
cum rhetorica exigua, moribus infirmis, grammatica inepta et rationis historicae metu congruissse fors non estDoes Latin save us from "clumsy grammar"? He returns to the point later:
But also, learning to translate Latin into English and vice versa is a tremendous way to train the mind. I think of translating concise, precise Latin into more expansive, discursive English as like opening up a concertina; you are allowed to inject all sorts of original thought and interpretation.Don't have time to pursue it right now, but these are pretty shaky arguments. I'm not convinced that dead languages are really better here — try logic or formal semantics or even programming if you want to squeeze out the wriggle room (OK, doesn't work so well with poetry, but ...). I guess I'd prefer a world where everybody had good command of a couple of other languages, cultures, histories — Arabic, Chinese, Cherokee, and so on.
As much as opening the concertina enlarges your imagination, squeezing it shut — translating English into Latin — sharpens your prose. Because Latin is a dead language, not in a constant state of flux as living languages are, there’s no wriggle room in translating. If you haven’t understood exactly what a particular word means or how a grammatical rule works, you are likely to be, not off, but just plain wrong. There’s nothing like this challenge to teach you how to navigate the reefs and whirlpools of English prose.