Monday, July 10, 2006

Can Europe Do No Right? Possitne Europa nihil bonum agere?

Finland has instated an admirable, utterly reactionary policy of publishing EU bulletins in Latin. One writer comments:

"I think this is wonderful, I hope everybody reads it. The best and most significant step for European integration would be to oblige every child in Europe from the age of 14 to read Book Four of [Virgil's] The Aeneid.

"It is the best book of the best poem by the greatest poet. That would do far more than anything else to build up a common European culture. That is what is missing now: an awareness of our European civilisation and common roots."

While I'd protest that Homer and Shakespeare are at least the equal of Vergil, honoring the old lingua franca is surely salutary. Likewise, time in Latin could be spent on the Vulgate or St. Augustine to address the common root notoriously omitted from the EU constitution.

Yet Europe's move towards a minor form of traditionalism doesn't appease one American conservative. The American Spectator's Joel Miller whines:

Government documents are already hard enough to read without publishing them in a language that peaked with medieval monks -- which seems pretty close to the direction they're going with it.

"Using Latin is a way of paying tribute to European civilization and it serves to remind people of European society's roots, stretching back to ancient times," explains another supporter.

That's a nice sentiment, but otherwise pretty useless.

Peaked with medieval monks? Maybe. I recall that there was a rebirth of interest in the classics sometime afterwards when the Latin greats even received unduly subservient adoration. You might even call it a renaissance.

Even with the rise of modernity Galileo, Newton, and Descartes all published in Latin first. I suspect it didn't hit its major decline until the rise of nationalism demanded subservience to the local tongue. Perhaps Miller's inner barbarian is simply beating one of nationalism's obscurantist drums. He certainly deserves the opprobium of classicists everywhere.

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