“…& Classical Humanities”

Almost every degree and teaching license I know of related to Latin attaches “& Classical Humanities” to the end. That is, it’s rare to study and teach the Latin language without also studying and teaching Classical Humanities.

Why is this?

I know, I know. They’re two peas in a pod. It might seem obvious since the culture most associated with Latin is Roman, part of the Classical era. Yet Latin has been around for thousands of years, right? Many cultures have used Latin, and not all of that Latin has been about the Romans, either. Consider teaching Classical Humanities without Latin. It’d be a history class focus on a particular time period, right? That’s like a history class on 18th century Spain. Now consider a high school Spanish language class. Surely, students don’t learn only about the18th century, much less Spain’s entire history, or even focus on just Spain at all! There are tons of Spanish-speaking cultures that have written about a ton of different stuff, and Spanish language classes take that into account.

Why not Latin?

Of course, the context of a Spanish class seems different, but is it, really? The Latin language didn’t die with the fall of the Roman Empire. In fact, non-Roman cultures have now been using Latin longer than the Romans existed. I’m not saying there are now more texts written by non-Romans than Romans. Then again…

The second I wrote that, I suddenly realized I had no idea whether it could be true. In what a colleague would say is very “on brand” of me, I ran some numbers through Voyant Tools, taking all ancient Latin texts from TheLatinLibrary, and comparing the total words to the Miscellany, Christian, Medieval, and Neo-Latin categories. It must be noted right away that this doesn’t represent all of the world’s extant Latin. In fact, I’m reading a work of elegiac couplets from the 15th century by Vincent Obsopoeus that’s nowhere to be found on TheLatinLibrary. There are thousands of words of Latin in there, but it won’t appear in my data. You won’t find works like Cornelia, or Ora Maritima, either. There’s no Hobbitus Ille in the data, and women are utterly underrepresented, with perhaps just Sulpicia and Egeria included in TheLatinLibrary at all. So, my source has its flaws, yet what we have of ancient Roman Latin is all there, or nearly all there, and these estimates* help put things into perspective. Of course, I went into this wondering if the world has surpassed the Romans in writing of Latin—prompting more inquiry into why the Classical Humanities are still a focus in high school Latin study—and the truth is undeniable, especially when acknowledging there’s so much recent Latin unaccounted for. Bottom, line, far more Latin has been written since the Romans than what you see here, which is already more than what we have from them:

At this point, we have at least a half a million more words of Latin—and counting—since the Romans. Let’s look deeper into that data with some category totals:

Classical Antiquity = 6,229,000
Miscellany = 978,000
Christian = 3,057,000
Medieval = 1,434,000
Neo-Latin = 930,000
Novellas = 315,000

Roman Latin
No one comes close to Cicero’s million words—representing 1/6 of all the Latin we have from antiquity—except the Justian Laws. Caesar doesn’t make the Top 10, edged out at 11 on the chart with his 115,000 words of Latin.

Those masterful metrical poets include Ovid waaaaaay in the lead with over 220,000 words of Latin. Ennius’ fragments are dead last with 1,000, which is actually the second smallest amount of Latin from ancient authors we have. Also, to put this into some perspective, I, personally, have written more hexameter (ecce, poēmata discipulīs, coming 2021) than we have of Ennius. Now that’s a trip.

When it comes to trips, let’s look at more eye-opening stuff, like how there’s more Latin across all current novellas than we have of many individual ancient authors alone. Within five years, novella authors have written 1/3 of the Latin that those in the Neo-Latin category wrote between the four hundred years of 1500-1900. Note, too, how there’s some Neo-Latin and Medieval authors who have written more than the ancients:

Here’s a short list that celebrates the work of contemporary Latin authors:

  • We have more Latin from Rachel Beth Cunning than Curtius Rufus
  • More of my Latin is out there than Pliny the Younger
  • We have more Latin from Andrew Olimpi than Lucretius
  • We have more Latin from Arianne Beltzer-Carroll than Propertius
  • There is more of Emma Vanderpool’s Latin than Cato
  • We have more Latin from Laura Shaw than Catullus
  • You’ll find more Latin from Chris Buczek than Tibullus
  • Daniel Pettersson, Bob Patrick, Jessie Craft, and Jocelyn Demuth each have given us more than Persius
  • We have more Latin from Ellie Arnold, Peter Sipes, Robert Amstutz, Rachel Ash, Miriam Patrick, and Just Slocum-Bailey each than Augustus
  • We have more Latin from John Bracey, and John Foulk each than Valarius Flaccus
  • The Latin in just each book from David Ring, Hillary Long, and Laura Berg is more than Ennius.

It should be noted that 99.9% of the Latin on TheLatinLibrary cannot be read by the beginning student, at all. Of course, this Latin wasn’t written for the language learner, anyway. Then there’s textbook Latin. I cannot say what percentage of textbook Latin can be read by the beginning student, but it’s low. For example, although there might be X total words of Latin in any given textbook, a first year student can read only so much of it. Then there’s novellas. Even then, a quick look at my list of novellas with the author-suggested levels and word counts suggests that probably only 20% of that Latin can be read by beginning students about this time in their first year. Don’t get me wrong, that amount (59,000 words) is still more than what we have of Vitruvius, Martial, Terence, Sallust, Lucan, etc. (58,000 to 50,000, respectively). Needless to say, I’ll continue to put out the “call to arms” for comprehensible texts at the *lowest* of levels that all learners can read.

It won’t be long before someone brings up something about literature and quality, and blah, blah, blah. The truth is that Latin “& Classical Humanities” has a big problem with elitism, right down to how authors are categorized on TheLatinLibrary. Many teachers wouldn’t hesitate to scoff at the “kind of Latin” found in Neo-Latin, Medieval, and Christian categories, which would give novellas no hope for recognition by those individuals. Oh, and then there’s that Miscellany section…

The Miscellany
This section of TheLatinLibrary is filled with authors contemporary to those in the main section, which doesn’t even have a category title, and that I’ve described as “Classical Antiquity.” Now, I copied millions of words of Latin this week. Rather than sorting who—actually—belongs where within the timeline of the other categories (i.e. Christian, Medieval, and Neo-Latin), I kept all that Latin where it was, under “Miscellany.” Why? It’s important to show that this section as a whole is considered…”other”…in some way. For example, even though Publilius Syrus was alive at the same time as Catullus, he’s placed in “Miscellany,” and not with his contemporaries. His Latin certainly isn’t as prioritized in the classroom, but why? We have over 8000 words from Publilius, which is almost double what we have of Persius, four times as much as Augustus, and eight times as much as we have Ennius, so scope isn’t a reason to be under “Miscellany,” right? From what I can tell, sadly, authors like Publilius Syrus in this “Miscellany” section were born outside of Rome, or were slaves. Yes, there is a small amount of Medieval era Latin in here, too, but I think this is a grim reflection of profession’s obsession with “Classical Humanities” and elitism with a long history of exclusion.

Classical Humanities
Despite all these people writing Latin since the Romans, and despite their cultures, Classical Humanities remains the focus of high school Latin class. Asking “why?” throughout this blog post has been rhetorical, no doubt, and Classics will always have its champions vying to keep “the big names” front and center. In fact, most of the Latin written by non-Romans is still about the Romans and Classical Humanities, anyway, my own work included! Of course, that’s because few have learned about anything other than the Romans and Classical Humanities by reading Latin, and that’s because few teach about anything else, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. I guess the questions to ask are:

  • “Do I consider myself one of those champions who wants to keep the focus of Latin on ‘big name’ Romans? If so, why?”
  • “Can I envision a Latin class that takes into account non-Roman Latin about non-Romans? If no, why not?”

*In some texts, characters like ” ī ” appeared a thousand times, and those with many subsections had paragraph numbers and long titles included in the count. Many texts had hundreds of line numbers. For the longest of texts, then, I rounded down considerably, by 5,000 words in some cases. For the shortest, only by fifty to a hundred or so. Still, the chart comparisons are all relative since I followed the same procedure for all Latin.

2 thoughts on ““…& Classical Humanities”

  1. The 2021 Mass Curriculum Framework affirms “the dignity of all students, languages, and cultures.” “They embrace the varied vocabularies, syntaxes, and accents of the target language as it is used around the world…” (Guiding Principle 2). You might consider offering feedback on this point to the committee. But hurry. The deadline for feedback is tomorrow.

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