Date of this Version
Keynote address, Nebraska Junior Classical League convention, May 2, 1981.
Can you learn to read Latin better than a Roman? Well, if you study how the Romans learned to read, you can't but observe this: we do have advantages over them. One of them is exemplified by this convention: I didn't know these meetings were so much fun. This is ludus. Ludus was, of course, the Roman word for 'fun,' for 'game,' or 'play.' And it also meant school, and that was a puzzle the Romans could never figure out. They knew better: school was serious, school was earnest: 'discipline' used to mean 'learning,' you know. That one word, ludus, should have such obviously opposite meanings simply begged for explanation. One Roman named Varro, who lived at the same time as Cicero and who loved etymologies, even made up a negative etymology to cover it, something like 'ludus quia non luditur,' which I roughly translate 'they call it fun and games because it's not.'
We have, in sum, five big advantages over the native speakers of Latin when it comes to learning to read their language. First, we have fun at it: nobody's going to hit you. Second, we can beat them at their own cases. Third, we can beat them at their own verbs. We can all read with out mouths shut, and we have readable texts. In these five ways, the state of the art has advanced, and we can advance with it. Can we learn to read Latin better than a Roman? Yes.