The draw of ancient language and culture

Given the current interest in "multiculturalism," it's not surprising that classical studies are enjoying a bit of a renaissance, says Richard LaFleur, Franklin professor and head of the department of classics at the University of Georgia in Athens. "If you know your ancient history, you know that Greco-Roman culture was really the archetype of multiculturalism, with the Roman Empire embracing three continents."

But it seems more likely that it's other forces today drawing students back to the ancient languages. At the high school level, it's often a belief that the study of Latin - and even, at a few schools, ancient Greek - will strengthen English-language skills. At the college level, it's more likely to be a fascination with the cultural riches and history of the Greco-Roman world.

Whatever the reason, high school enrollment in Latin classes had crept back up to 188,833 by 1994, from 150,470 in 1976. At American colleges, enrollment in Latin classes increased by 25 percent just between 1994 and 1996, the American Philological Association says.

The growing Hispanic population in United States also has every reason to embrace Latin, points out Professor LaFleur. "The Latin-Spanish connection gives the Hispanic youngster the edge in learning the language," he says. And many Latin teachers stress the importance of Spain in the Roman Empire as part of an effort to infuse the study of the language with a more vital sense of its historical and cultural connections, he adds.

"What sets classical studies apart from the other areas of the humanities is that we're both multicultural and interdisciplinary," LaFleur says. "How can you go wrong with that?"

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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