Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Latin today: A better take

After Harry Mount's disappointing recent NYT op-ed piece on Latin (discussed all too gently here), it was good to see Emily Wilson's piece in Slate yesterday, "The Renaissance of Latin: Why a dead language is becoming popular". It is a review of Mount's book, actually, called Carpe Diem: Put a little Latin in your life in the U.S. edition, but Amo, Amas, Amat ... and All That in the original U.K. version. She suggests that the title change comes from the assumption that a certain set of Brits will recognize amō amās amat (say it with me now: amāmus, amātis, amant …) as part of a verb paradigm where not enough Americans would.

Wilson does a good job at laying out "the cultural place of Latin" in the U.S. (keyword: geeky) and current popular interest in the Roman Empire (keyword: collapse), before turning to a few graphs about Nicholas Ostler's just-published Ad Infinitum: A biography of Latin (Amazon's description here*). Now that sounds more like a book I want to read, for its socio-historical account of Latin.

Image is the famous Old Latin duenos inscription (from here) just because it's good to be reminded that we really don't understand everything about the Roman world.

Update, Dec. 20, 6:00 am: The WSJ also has run a review of both books, here, by Michael Poliakoff.

*The bio for Ostler there ends with this sentence: "He lives in England, in Roman Bath, on the hill where Ambrosius Aurelianus defeated the Saxons for a generation." That's wildly ungrammatical for me for aspectual reasons: to defeat is punctual and doesn't work with "for a generation." Held them off? Beat them back? Defeated them repeatedly?


The Ridger, FCD said...

You've heard of the Hundred Years War, right? This was a generation-long battle. ;-)

Mr. Verb said...

Ha. I was wondering if it was like the Saxons were playing the Harlem Globetrotters constantly for a generation -- now THAT's 'defeated for a generation'.