Classical Languages

Meritorious is that course of education which, during the academic formation of the youth, desires that the student carefully study the ancient classics in Greek and Latin.
—Pope Leo XIII, Ea disciplinae (On the study of languages in an undergraduate education)

To be without Greek or Latin is barbarism.

The so-called practicalities of life aside, mastery of Greek and Latin has long been viewed as part of the traditional self-mastery that marks a liberal education.  As the New England author James Russell Lowell observed, translation of Greek or Latin “teaches, as nothing else can, not only that there is a best way, but that it is the only way.  Those who have tried it know too well how easy it is to grasp the verbal meaning of a sentence or of a verse.  That is the bird in the hand.  The real meaning, the soul of it, that which makes it literature and not jargon, that is the bird in the bush.”  Through translation from the classical languages we learn “the secret of words,” and from the secret of words we come to “real meaning.”  Through the reading and speaking of Greek and Latin, we ask the students to ascend ad astra per aspera—to the stars through worthy exertion.

In the first year, students take four hours of language, which allow for a more humane pace of study and for an exploration of the spoken and written dimension of Greek and Latin.  The emphasis in the first year is on correct diction and a firm understanding of the structure of language.  Such a pursuit draws the student towards a consideration of his own language and the structure of his own thought.

In the second year, even as more advanced forms and style are learned, the students will begin to read real literature—original authors that he encounters elsewhere in the curriculum: Homer, Plato, Cicero, Virgil, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas More.  No longer will the students be confined by the limits of their own English tongue, but the inner chamber of ancient and medieval thought will be unlocked and made available to them.  Furthermore, the language of Greece and Rome will be studied on site in Roma aeterna.  The inscriptions that marked the ancient monuments of the Forum and solemnly grace the churches and museums of the city will not be mute to the attentive student.  In the eternal city, students will enter into a two millennium tradition as they read Cicero, Virgil, Livy, Augustine and others, perhaps on the slopes of circus maximus or perhaps under the shade of the olive groves at Villa Serenella, our Rome campus.

The College encourages the use of Latin and Greek beyond the two-year language sequence.  After all, if it is worth our study and if we contend that the encounter with these ancient tongues enlivens and transforms the student, why would we let that knowledge wither after the sophomore year?  Who would desire to abandon the hard-won gains of four semesters?  During the upper division classes of the Junior and Senior years, therefore, faculty will regularly introduce and reinforce the class readings with selections in their original and supplement discussion with on-the-spot translations of related texts.  Such is the common tradition lost to most institutes of higher learning and most students of classics after their undergraduate days.  In the early days of American education, the tested hierarchy of studies remained firmly engraved on men’s minds. Alexander Hamilton, on march with the Continential Army, used to copy out Greek passages from the orator Demosthenes and the biographer Plutarch into the regiment’s pay book.  Thomas Jefferson admitted he disliked giving time to the daily newspapers for that took “time from Tacitus and Homer and so much agreeable reading.”  C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien regularly composed in Latin, and still within the leadership of the Church one finds men who speak it with grace. Such is the habit of serious reading that Greek and Latin offer.  There is no reason to believe that a dedicated student cannot in his later years at college and in the many years that follow continue to read authors in the classical languages for spiritual inspiration, edification, and sheer pleasure.

 

Course Descriptions

(2 Semesters of 3 credits each semester during first year of studies)
A study of the grammar and syntax of the Latin language.  Instruction emphasizes correct morphology and the principles of word-formation, as well as developing basic skills in composition and spoken Latin.

(2 semesters of 3 credits each during second year of studies)
A study of a major work of classical or early Christian Latin literature. After a review of advanced syntactical structures, students read extensively one or two great authors such as Horace, Virgil, St. Augustine, or Erasmus.  More important than merely a study in the art of translation, the course assists the student in developing the ability to read Latin literature as literature and comment on artistic qualities in an intelligent manner, correctly identifying tropes, allusions, and appreciating the beauty of the works read.

(2 Semesters of 3 credits each semester during first year of studies)
A study of the grammar and principal syntax of the Greek language (both classical and koine). Instruction emphasizes correct morphology and the principles of word-formation, as well as developing a structural knowledge of the language through composition.

(2 semesters of 3 credits each during second year of studies)
A study of a major work of classical or early Christian Greek literature.  After a review of advanced syntactical structures, students read extensively one great author such as Sophocles, Plato, St. Paul, or St. John Chrysostom.  More important than merely a study in the art of translation, the course assists the student in developing the ability to read Greek literature as literature and comment on artistic qualities in an intelligent manner correctly identifying tropes, allusions, and appreciating the beauty of the works read.

The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts
Six Manchester Street
Merrimack, NH 03054

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