The Food of Youth and the Delight of Old Age

These studies are the food of youth, the delight of old age; the ornament of prosperity, the refuge and comfort of adversity; a delight at home, and no hindrance abroad; they are companions by night, and in travel, and in the country. (Marcus Tullius Cicero, 62 BCE)

When we find ourselves in groups of unfamiliar people, the question of occupation and/or profession is frequently asked. When this question is posed to me, I answer with pride and passion, “I teach high school Latin.” Then I expect to hear one of these responses.

  • “They still teach that?!”
  • “I hated Latin!”
  • “I loved Latin; but my teacher was so crazy.”
  • Amo, amas, amat. Agricola, agricolae…”
  • “Best thing I ever did!”
  • “But it’s a dead language.”
  • “Why?”

Is Latin taught today the same way it was taught decades ago? Is it still relevant? I started teaching in 1988 and have been at Dana Hall School since 1990. In that time, I have been witness to the transformation of my subject.

At Dana Hall, Latin is alive. Students don’t only recite declensions and talk in English about the Latin grammar. They learn the language by using the language, which for millennia is how people have been learning languages. At Dana Hall we use the language in all its modalities. We listen to Latin, speak in Latin, read Latin, and write in Latin.

I don’t necessarily expect my students to participate in Latin immersion programs outside school, but they exist, and my own Latin has increased in leaps and bounds by attending such programs. Now I can read Latin without having to dissect it and have grammatical charts by my side for every new sentence. This has opened up an entirely new world of Latin to me, and it also holds the potential to do so for students. With the availability of compelling stories written at all levels, every student, including beginners, can independently read and comprehend Latin.

For centuries after Rome fell, Latin was the language used in many parts of Europe to communicate about the sciences and the arts. Medieval and Renaissance texts have inspired interdisciplinary conversations with many of my colleagues. The nexus between Latin and Western Civilization is readily apparent. However, the connections don’t stop there. Science teacher Gary Fadden and I talk about the link between Greco-Roman mythology and the study of constellations; John Doll in Biology and various members of the English department often rely on Latin students to help out with the Latin or Greek roots of various words; and math teacher Matt Enlow and I have frequently shared conversations about the various mathematical treatises written in Latin. Members of the Performing Arts department have staged ancient plays and modern plays based on ancient plays, and we are reminded about the importance of athletics and exercise to the ancient Greeks and Romans during every Olympic Games.

I have taken multiple Dana Hall groups to sites in Italy over Spring Break, but this year, for the first time, a lucky group of Latin students will explore Rome and Pompeii with classicists as their guides. We will visit the ancient sites while speaking the language that was spoken there, which will bring it to life in a way that we can’t simulate in the classroom. My hope is that the common language will unite students across grades in their understanding and appreciation of a foundational culture.

I am crazy about Latin, but in a good way, a way that teaches students that Latin is a living language that they’ll be able to rely on for the rest of their lives.

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About Jacqui Bloomberg

Jacqui Bloomberg has been teaching Latin since 1988, and at Dana Hall since 1990, served as Head of the World Languages Department from 2000-2015 and currently also serves as the Educational Technology Facilitator for the World Languages Department.

3 Replies to “The Food of Youth and the Delight of Old Age”

  1. Jacqui,
    Your enthusiasm for Latin is infectious – and our girls are lucky to be able to study with someone who is “crazy” for the subject! I cannot wait to hear about your adventures in Rome and Pompeii later this year.

  2. Hi Jacqui,
    I’m one of those English teachers who turns to the Latin students to educate the class about word roots and classical references. I’ve been impressed by the breadth of our students’ knowledge of these references & have silently thanked you in the middle of class many times. Thank you out loud! Also, I appreciate your comments about craziness…the day we stop being crazy about our subjects is the day we should stop teaching.

  3. Jacqui, thank you for dispelling the myth that Latin is a dead language! Our students are fortunate to experience your deep knowledge and enthusiasm each day.

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