Four years ago, when my son Carlos was 9, he asked me if he might learn Latin. He was passionate about Roman and Greek mythology and wanted to immerse himself in the original forms of the tales he loved. As a home-schooling mother, I encourage my sons to explore new disciplines. Similar requests have provided the opportunity for Carlos to learn to play the violin, and both Carlos and Mattie schooled themselves in beekeeping.
But this request to learn Latin was another matter. During my academic career I studied German, Spanish, French, New Testament Greek, and Russian. Learning languages was like eating popcorn. I had never been satisfied with just one handful, nor with just one language. But I shunned Latin because that was the language my older brother had taken. Upon entering high school I had been determined to establish my own identity sine frater.
I dove into German and ended my college days with Russian, a language I studied with reckless passion. Now here was my son asking me to confront the dead language I had no interest in.
To satisfy Carlos's wish, I found a Latin course recommended by other home schoolers, and our studies began. The humorous illustrations and clever "Basic Sentences" we had to memorize made the curriculum appropriate for my fifth- and sixth-grade scholars. Each morning after finishing the dishes we'd sit at our kitchen table. I'd explain the lesson and call out chants or paradigms while lobbing a ball across the room for our corgi to chase. This frantic scene prompted my husband to alter the familiar "amo, amas, amat" to "amo, amas, a mutt."
Over the past four years we've translated bits and pieces of Cicero, Ovid, and Martial. The Basic Sentences became more complex and often flowed into long poems, which my sons memorized. When "school" was out for the summer, we'd recite verbs and vocabulary to each other while picking and packing blueberries. The boys began to recognize Latin words used in a family crest, or woven into a 19th-century novel.
Latin seeped into their vocabularies so that our goats no longer wore bells, but tintinnabulum.
About a year ago, I realized that our sons had a better command of the vocabulary than I did. My commitment had waned. They could recite the ablative forms of nouns or the seventh tense of a verb instantly while my mind wandered back to bits of German or Russian. But I could not abandon ship yet. My sons still needed me to guide them through the intricate Latin grammar that they had not encountered in their English books. I mustered my self-discipline and slogged on.
Now the end is near. We've only a few chapters in "De Bello Gallico" to wade through, and I can leave Caesar back in Gaul forever!
My sons will culminate their studies by taking the National Latin Exam. The company that produces our curriculum will send them their final certificate for completing the course. It declares: Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est (knowledge itself is power).
EVEN though I will happily shelve the Latin book, I must admit that studying Latin has resulted in a greater benefit than improving my vocabulary. All that chanting and drilling rekindled my desire to study Russian again.
Twenty-five years have passed since I discovered the beauty of the Cyrillic alphabet, and now I am relearning those beloved letters. The curriculum I've chosen is more fun than the boys' Latin book, and it's easier to throw the ball for my corgi while singing songs and pretending I'm a correspondent lost in the Ukraine.
I know that relearning Russian will demand discipline, but I keep a goal in sight. Soon I hope to be able to read my journals from my sophomore year in college. I kept them in Russian and never dreamed it would be so many years before I could read them again.