Latin and ancient Greek are dead languages – but don’t tell that to the teachers and students in the School’s Classics program.
“It’s not dead,” Third Former Nicky Fink states emphatically in defense of Latin. “It’s still relevant. Once you know Latin, everything else becomes much easier.”
"Hard work is the key to the Classics," adds Fifth Former Emmaline Ekstrand, a first-year Greek student entering her third year of Latin. Following the completion of Latin I, students possess more than 1,000 vocabulary words. "With Latin, the more energy you give it, the easier it is," says Fourth Former Ryan Murphy, now in his second year in the language and embarking on his first year in Greek.
Classical philology is the School’s oldest course, having been part of the curriculum since 1856. Despite existing for thousands of years, texts such as Virgil’s Aeneid and the Homeric poems Iliad and Odyssey, hold wisdom that translates to the 21st-century classroom. Enthusiasm for the material is evident when walking through the Schoolhouse. When a Latin or Greek class is in session, a commotion stirs at the end of the first-floor corridor. Third Formers in Ryan Samuels’s Latin Review class could hardly stay in their seats during a recent academic block. Samuels, the director of the Classical Honors Program, held a quiz review in the format of Certamen, a Latin and Greek language, mythology, and history competition. Buzzers in hand, students jumped at the chance to answer questions. The format not only helped them prepare for the following day's test but introduced them to Certaman overall, something members of the Classics Program compete in against peer schools such as Phillips Exeter Academy, Boston Latin, and Roxbury Latin, among others.
A day earlier, a ruckus came from Dr. David Camden's Latin I class. The sound of a fist against a wooden desk punctuated a student's dramatic reading of a courtroom dialogue in the ancient language. With encouragement from Camden, the students put emotive inflection into their recitations, spreading grins and giggles around the room. Across the hall, Elizabeth Englehardt's Greek class engaged in a game of Σ?μων λ?γει or “Simon Says” to interpret and conjugate words.
“When people ask, ‘Why study a dead language?’ Well, why do we study calculus?,” explains Camden, holder of The Alexander Smith Cochran Mastership in Greek Language and Literature Chair. “The way I approached education as a student was, ‘Will this give me a key to as many doors as possible?’ Classics is the master key. It’s laid a foundation for history, languages, and biology.”
Classics students share a camaraderie that seems unparalleled in other subjects. Students say the trio of instructors, Camden, Englehardt, and Samuels, the holder of The Joyce and Dietrich von Bothmer Mastership in Classics Chair, make the content accessible through their passion for the material. “Dr. Camden breathes life into dead languages,” says Ekstrand. Whether it's Englehardt making a pop culture connection between Latin poet Catullus and Taylor Swift, or an assignment translating Roman graffiti to discover the humanity and humor of the ancients, students are engaged.
Fifth Former Anna Solzhenitsyn recognizes the value of studying these dead languages and abandoned cultures every day. “I see it all the time in Humanities class,” says Solzhenitsyn, a Classical Honors student and co-head of the School’s Classical Society. “When people ask, ‘What does that word mean?’ I know how to trace it back to (Latin or Greek).”
The program also includes several extracurricular activities. Students can mentor Concord junior high school students through the Latin enrichment program, and they can become involved in the School's Classical Society. As a bonus, the Classics Honor Program journeys to Italy and Greece every two years during Spring Vacation.
To jump ahead in their studies, Solzhenitsyn and formmate Caleb Lee spent their summer reading Cicero’s speeches against Catiline in their original form. Understanding the past, says Lee, offers a key to navigating the future. “We read some of the most epic poets, and learn that some of the most renowned writers were alive during the period of the Roman Empire,” says Lee, chair of the New Hampshire Junior Classics League (NHJCL). “Because of that, learning Latin and Greek opens you up to this entire, vast world where you can learn where the quintessential values of our society – and human nature – come from.”