Recipe for Relevance

Latin and Its Literature
  • Samuel Lieberman
Part of the Cognition and Language: A Series in Psycholinguistics book series (CALS)


One reason for calling Classical literature Classical is that it is supposed to be always relevant, meaningful, regardless of the historical period in which it is read and studied. And the reason that this literature, Roman and Greek, has not only survived over two and a half millennia but has served as source, model, and inspiration for later literatures and ideas is that this supposition has turned out to be true. Yet somehow the educated public of the United States today is more willing to see the relevance of Greek literature than that of Roman, especially in the matter of war and peace in the currently highly fashionable theme of love, which is so “relevant” that in the words of a song popular about a generation ago, it “is busting out all over.” This must be recognized as a serious problem for Classics teachers since most of them teach Latin, if they are still in the field in this era of dwindling enrollments in foreign languages when many young people are beginning to turn away even from modern languages. The problem, I submit, is in part of our own making and in part the result of related educational and cultural history.


Classic Teacher Roman Civilization Roman Poet Greek Literature Greek Play 
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  1. 1.
    For example, the latest New York State Syllabus for Latin, Latin for Secondary Schools, recommends the reading of selections from the following authors at level II: Bede, Catullus, Cicero (De Sen.), Eutropius, Florus, Gellius, Livy, Martial, Nepos, Sallust, Velleius Paterculus, as well as adaptations from Plautus and Terence and selections from Medieval and Renaissance prose and poetry. Recommended for Level III, pp. 38-39, are (in addition to Caesar and Cicero): Florus, Gellius, Livy, Nepos, Pliny the Younger, Quintilian, Sallust. A similarly wide range of authors is recommended (pp. 48-49) for Level IV besides the Aeneid including, for example, Horace, Propertius, Vergil’s Eclogues, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (the latter I know teachers of fourthyear Latin have always read if they were fortunate enough to get a class at this level). This syllabus also recommends organizing the reading and the units around topics and themes characteristic of Roman civilization and thought. The Latin syllabi of other states will, I am sure, prove to make similar recommendations.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    This text, Wilson (1964), is available in the United States. For other texts available consult either Classical World or American Classical Review (ACL), each of which publishes in two separate issues each year lists of Latin and Greek texts available for school or college use and lists of paperbacks in English on classical subjects. State syllabi for Latin, such as that of New York referred to in note 1, also supply such information, although on a much smaller scale.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For a more extended treatment of the need to emphasize the humanism in Latin, Greek and other Classics courses, see Lieberman (1971).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For Philadelphia, see Masciantonio (1971). For Washington, D.C., see LeBovit (n.d.). In his annual ACL Newsletter, John Latimer has also briefly reported on both of these programs. Further information can be obtained by writing to the Education Departments of both these cities.Google Scholar


  1. Latin for secondary schools. Albany, New York: The University of the State of New York, The State Education Department, Bureau of Secondary Curriculum Development, 1971, pp. 14-15.Google Scholar
  2. LeBovit, J. The teaching of Latin in elementary schools. McLean, Va.: Latin for the Modern School, Associates n.d.Google Scholar
  3. Lieberman, S. The humanities as human studies. Classical World, 1971, 64, 262–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Masciantonio, R. The implications of innovative classical programs in the public schools of Philadelphia. Classical World, 1971, 64, 263–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Wilson, S. J. The thought of Cicero. London: G. Bell, 1964.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samuel Lieberman
    • 1
  1. 1.Late of Department of Classical and Oriental LanguagesQueens College of the City University of New YorkUSA

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