“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now, here it is, set down by someone else…someone who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
I found this quote from Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys (about private school boys trying to get into the Oxbridge unis, so very relatable to me) on the second page of a classics book I’ve started reading: Latin Love Lessons (my former Latin tutor gave it to me as a prize on the prizegiving night last week), and I felt I had to transfer it to my blog, since it’s so poignant and, well, worth sharing.
When I was little, I wanted these thoughts to myself – every song applied to me and every story was mine alone – but it’s so true that most thoughts are recycled. That’s marvellous about humanity, isn’t it? That, although we have lived in some many different trials and times, we are still essentially the same the same inner workings, the same subconscious desires and animalistic urges. And intellectual nuances.
Indeed, I’d say (at least, in my world-view) there are few more “long dead” than the Romans, than Ovid and Cicero, than Propertius and Catullus. Yet, in the two years that I got ‘down and dirty and in-depth’ in my Latin A Level, I learnt more about the Romans than their practises, flirtations and breath-takingly-poetic language. I learnt that they, the best of the poetics and storytellers, bottled passion and dripped it through each work, shaping how each of us will feel at some point in time: anger, joy, repulsion, relief.
They are the best of writers. Unlike [some] modern writers (and partly because English language lacks this flexibility), classical writers took care over every single word: where it stands in the sentence, what translation it gives, which other words it should be linked with. In this same way, classical writers have defined the genre by pouring what they noticed about the world, the relationships, the land around them into each sentence.
They invented capturing passion and they passed it to us. Cyclically, humanity designed passion the way it is. Thus, we all feel what feelings have been written once.
(Thus, my degree is Psychology and Philosophy!)