At the Jesuit high school in Manhattan that I attended, my freshman year, 1985, was the first in which Latin was no longer the language required for the first two years. Father Headmaster wrote to explain that the school nevertheless still strongly encouraged its young charges to take Latin, in keeping with Jesuit tradition and as an introduction to Western culture. Most of the entering class followed his advice, and we immersed ourselves, unselfconsciously for middle-class adolescents, in the campaigns of Caesar and the conjugations of irregular verbs. Without knowing exactly why, we had a sense that Latin still had something significant to say to us. Since that time, the situation has changed dramatically; such encouraging letters are no longer written, and Latin is much less emphasized.

We did not know then that we were part of a long intellectual tradition, now almost extinct, that had placed Latin at its center. Françoise...

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