Centuries later, Latin and Greek classics retain their impact

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Despite being thousands of years removed from modern world, Plato and his ancient contemporaries still teach students valuable lessons in universities around the globe.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Despite being thousands of years removed from modern world, Plato and his ancient contemporaries still teach students valuable lessons in universities around the globe.

BY DUR-E-MAKNOON AHMED ’20

Some of the oldest works in Western literature are Greek and Roman classics such as the Iliad, stories which originally existed in oral traditions. The study of these works evolved into the academic discipline of classics, which focuses on understanding the Greco-Roman world through its languages and literature. 

The College offers a classics major, though students can take Greek or Latin classes no matter what they study. According to the Mount Holyoke website, the major requires learning ancient Greek and Latin, which are offered at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. As part of learning these languages, students translate and read classics like the Iliad and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” 

To learn more about the classics, the News interviewed two students who take Greek and Latin classes at Mount Holyoke: Carol Huang ’19 and Katherine Kenneally ’20. 

Huang is a double major in classics and computer science. She started her classics journey in high school, where she took Latin classes. She says her interest in classics “crept up” on her; she went through her first semester of college without thinking of pursuing classics as a major. Huang is currently reading Lucretius’ “De Rerum Natura,” for her Latin class, and also greatly enjoys Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” She has not read either of them in full, in either English or their original language, so she cannot pick a favorite. 

Kenneally, like Huang, started learning Latin in high school, and later added ancient Greek. She’d been interested in ancient civilizations and their cultures for many years. Over time, Greek mythology became her primary interest. She has read various parts of “The Odyssey,” the Iliad, Plato’s works, some of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and other shorter works. 

Huang and Kenneally’s respective passions for reading classic works have a lot to do with their unique emotional perspective. “Despite the ancient world having a reputation of being stoic and violent, there’s really so much emotion in the [classic] works,” said Huang. “It’s a beautiful experience to realize that our feelings and thoughts are cyclical and that our lives aren’t so lonely; that our feelings are something that someone else in the past has felt.”  

Kenneally takes great interest in the emotional differences between the people of the past and those of the present. She is particularly captivated by the ancient Greco-Romans’ obsession with honor. Entire plots of stories are framed by a very intricate and unique code of ethics followed by some ancient civilizations. 

Although one might think these themes are evident in a modern translation, neither Huang nor Kenneally would agree. While Huang does offer that passable translations of these works are available, she claims they’ll never be perfectly accurate. Kenneally echoed this sentiment, mentioning very specific verbs contained in the classics that do not exist in English. Both of them find that translating from Greek and Latin to English is a rewarding process, which they described as “solving a puzzle.” 

Mount Holyoke News

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