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The Whole Cacophony
of Human Experience

 
A Review of 

Living with a Dead Language:
My Romance with Latin

Ann Patty

Hardback: Viking, 2016.
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Reviewed by Sam Chamelin
 
 
It seems unlikely that anyone would pick up a book about learning Latin, unless you have already had the pleasure of diving into this dusty corner of academia.  That’s precisely how I came to this book.  Like Ann Patty, I am a Latinist, and her descriptions of small, dark, and somewhat awkward undergraduate Latin students returned me to my own studies at Ursinus College.  I remember that my professor, John Wickersham, once brought an impression made from a ring of Julius Caesar as a “Show and Tell” piece, and he encouraged us to take a look.  We obliged, and yet somehow failed to match his excitement over the piece.  When we had finished our staid examination of his child-like exuberance, he chastised us with surprising fervor, saying that we hadn’t properly paid respect to our proximity to history.  “You are touching something that touched something that touched Julius Caesar,” he bellowed.  “I want you to touch it, get your fingers into it.  LOOK at it.”  With that, we passed it around again, paying more fervid attention to this historic item to the third degree.

While Ann Patty lacks the characteristic eccentricity of professional Latinists, she seems just as eager as Dr. Wickersham to connect the lives of readers to this far-from-dead language.  In this surprising and engaging memoir, Living with a Dead Language:  My Romance with Latin, Patty leads us to put our minds, our fingers, and indeed even our lives into the study of this language.  In doing so, she introduces us to a world where languages aren’t dead; rather, the continue to be a primary means by which we make sense of the world and our own lives.  Patty is happy to allow her life to serve as a template for this journey.

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