At Wake Forest University, Latin Isn’t Dead. It’s Immortal.

Charlotte Tierney
Apr 19, 2017 · 6 min read

Ludus, ludi m. noun: game, sport, entertainment, past time; school, education

Coincidentally, the Latin word for education is synonymous with entertainment. It seems unlikely, since the amount of brutal grunt work required to study Latin at a college level far surpasses that of other major and minor options at a Liberal Arts school. Most Latin students have been studying Latin for about ten years by the time they are seniors in college. So who would embark down such an academic path, when you can wrap up an Economics or Business Major in a neat four years?

Business Insider published an article in 2014 entitled “Liberal Arts Majors are Screwed.” The article looked at how companies recruit for jobs in the current job market, citing that 27% of companies actively recruit for engineering and computer systems majors, and 18% of companies recruit business majors. The article also said only 2% of companies actively recruit liberal arts majors. Ultimately, Business Insider recommended liberal arts majors to switch their major to something more practical, something more useful.

Pecunia, ae f. noun: money, currency, property

If Business Insider is directing our youth towards engineering and business, what will happen to the writings of Cicero, Plato, Sallust, and Livy? Who will marvel at Homer’s Illiad or take on the monstrosity that is Augustine’s City of God Against the Pagans?

Remarkably, there is a small corridor in the building of Tribble at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, North Carolina where Ancient Rome has managed to come alive. Meet the Classics Department, home to the students of Latin, Greek, and Classics.

Domus, domi f. noun: home, household, building

In the classrooms of Tribble, professors like Dr. Oksanish keep the passion for classics burning, instilling in students the value of reading, writing, contextualizing information, and hard work. Students learn more than just translating and memorizing. They watch the rise and fall of the Roman Empire through the eyes of those who experienced it, and they read the foundations of Western philosophy in its native tongue.

Rising senior and Greek and Latin student Sawyer Jones says that his favorite thing about the Classics Department is the passion with which everyone engages the material. “I have yet to find another major or field of study that has such a consistently driven mix of faculty and students,” he said. “Not only do Greek and Latin constantly demand the ability to admit when you are wrong or mistaken, but they also provide you with an entirely new way of thinking about concepts and ideas.”

Studium, studii n. noun: eagerness, enthusiasm, zeal

This past fall, Sawyer took one of the department’s most challenging courses, Advanced Latin Composition and Grammar. This course teaches students to move from English into Latin rather than following the traditional route of Latin into English. A requirement for all Latin scholars, the course material as it is traditionally taught could drive anyone crazy and put them to sleep at the same time.

Except at Wake Forest, Professor Gellar Goad has taken his passion for Latin and Classics and revolutionized Latin Comp, as it is affectionately called, into a rigorous, real life version of Dungeons and Dragons in which the battles are battles with relative clauses and independent uses of the subjunctives, and student acquire points through nightly spell scroll homework and magic item challenges.

Wake Forest University adores Gellar Goad’s ingenious course and has written about the course in the Wake Forest Magazine on multiple accounts. During the final battle, students dress up in attire from antiquity as they move their players across the board and apply their mastery of the Latin language in hopes of escaping the game “alive.”

Sawyer described the experience of Comp 350 as an “excitingly tumultuous.” He said, “Through intensive amounts of work and a high demand for accuracy, coupled with a very understanding and helpful professor, Comp transformed my Latin skills… and my perseverance.”

Magister, magistri m. noun: teacher, tutor, expert, master

Professor Gellar Goad and Professor Oksanish are in good company at Wake Forest, surrounded by professors that value spending their time in moulding young minds to see the value in both a liberal arts education and a major in Classical Studies. What’s more, the professors aren’t shy about advocating for their field of study.

Professor Sloan wrote an article for the Winston Salem Journal, an article entitled “Michael Sloan writes in defense of liberal arts” in which he displayed the importance of liberal arts in response to comments made by North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.

He demonstrates how Classics students participate in a long narrative, a narrative that fortifies and readies its students for the journeys to come outside the classroom walls. He writes:

“Pursuing the liberal arts in depth broadens our moral and intellectual horizons. Should we be as narrow-minded as our immediate surroundings? No. We must explore the thoughts, deeds and actions of others who have come before us, so as to forge a broader road on which we all may travel with a greater sense of identity and promise for the future.”

Professor Sloan lists some of the greats that have stemmed from a liberal arts education, such as J.K. Rowling (a Classics student herself), Martin Luther King Jr., and Condoleezza Rice. Of course, in true form, Professor Sloan also employs examples from the pages of Homer’s Odyssey and Sophocles’ Ajax, reminding us that the best leaders resemble Odysseus in their ability to speak clearly and think creatively.

Sempernitas, sempernitatis f. noun: eternity, perpetuity

Forbes published an article in November of 2016 called “A Liberal Arts Degree Is More Important Than Ever.” The article pointed to the recent presidential election as evidence of how in our current political climate and public sphere, public discussions have been deteriorating into arguments. Our world is polarizing, retreating into extremes. According to this Forbes article, liberal arts majors may help bridge the gap and facilitate discussion. The author wrote,

“A good liberal arts curriculum puts students in touch not just with ways of interpreting the world around us but also with the fact that the world can be “interpreted” in the first place. Ultimately, it tries to help us understand our place in it and our relationships with each other.”

Forbes is just now catching on to what the faculty and students of the Classics Department at Wake Forest have understood for years. Yes, the world needs engineers and business moguls. But it also needs leaders and creative thinkers, and people who see that we will never understand the future if we don’t carefully and studiously examine the past.

At Wake Forest University, Greek and Latin aren’t dead languages.

They’re immortal.