Latin lovers abound in university

Is Harry Potter influencing students to study Latin?

by Kate Lunau

Latin lovers abound in universityWho said Latin was a dead language? Like the Roman army invading Britain, hordes of university students are flooding classics departments, intent on learning Caesar’s tongue. At York, enrolment in beginners’ Latin has doubled over the past few years, while the University of Ottawa has opened more spaces due to demand.

Alison Keith, chair of classics at the University of Toronto, thinks Latin’s popularity has to do with “media interest in the ancients,” as typified in movies like Gladiator. “I’ve spent time looking at the ruins, but they’re down around my knees,” she says, which makes seeing ancient Rome on screen all the more exciting. The Harry Potter books, too, have made an impression: “Lots of the code words have a Latin base,” she says. (Take the lumos spell, close to lumen, Latin for “light.”)

But a love for period drama is a “pretty frivolous reason” to study Latin, says Peter O’Brien of Dalhousie University, especially considering “all the drudgery it requires.” Students are drawn to it because they want to read Virgil or Catullus without the filter of translation, he believes, and future doctors or lawyers might think Latin will come in handy. (The legal term “in camera,” for one, is Latin for “in chambers.”) Others, adds John Geyssen of the University of New Brunswick, simply like the “arcane weirdness” of it.

Samuel Allemang, president of the University of Toronto’s Association of Classics Students, is skeptical that his peers are flocking to the discipline based purely on the merits of Russell Crowe or J.K. Rowling. “I haven’t heard people saying they’ve entered the program because of Harry Potter,” he says. “No one has made life decisions based on the movie 300, as far as I can tell.” The association has, however, hosted screenings of the HBO series Rome, which is popular with students and professors alike.

Whatever the reason, about 2,500 Canadian university students are now taking Latin. Far from being a dead language, one might say, lingua Latina vivit.




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Latin lovers abound in university

  1. 2,500 students isn't exactly a flood. If you assume 30-50 students a year in each university that offers Latin, you can probably get that number fairly easily. Plus, I'd assume many studying in a seminary would have to learn Latin. I'm sure Ms. May needs some grounding in Latin to be an Anglican priestess.

  2. It's amazing that even 2,500 people want to study Latin given the lack of media smarts displayed by the very people who teach Latin.
    Peter O'Brien won't attract many by referring to Latin learning as "drudgery".
    Samuel Allemang should recognize that not every course selection a student makes is a "life decision".
    Today people take Latin out of curious interest, which is not a bad reason to study any subject. Now we just need to help people see the interesting aspects of Latin.
    BTW, kudos to Allison Keith who sees how 21st media can inspire an interest in ancient culture.

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