What do we lose by abandoning Greek and Latin?


When we could travel without pandemic obstacles, Italy and Greece were preferred destinations for millions of people, who came there attracted by their museums and archaeological sites of those two cultures on which ours is based.

Museums in Spain see their rooms full when they organize exhibitions related to the classical world: the success of Las furias is still remembered . From Tiziano to Ribera (Museo del Prado, 2014) or Alma Tadema and Victorian painting in the Pérez Simón collection (Museo Thyssen-Bornemizza, 2014).

Theaters are guaranteed success when they stage versions of Antígona , Medea or Edipo Rey , and the International Festival of Classical Theater of Mérida attracts tens of thousands of spectators every year.

Foundations and cultural institutions that organize annual conference cycles do not stop including sessions on characters, cities, literature or art from the Greco-Roman world in their programming, with guaranteed public attendance.

The rise of the historical novel

In the last decade we have experienced what has come to be called “the boom ” of the historical novel, one of whose best known authors, with his novels set in ancient Rome, is Santiago Posteguillo, Plantea Prize 2018.

British Mary Beard, 2016 Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences , triumphs with her highly popular books and TV documentaries on classical antiquity.

So renowned poets Juan Antonio González-Iglesias or Aurora Luque, to mention just a couple of names, find inspiration in the classics, and last year the Canadian Anne Carson, translator and scholar of Safo, received the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature. for his ability to “build an innovative poetics from the study of the Greco-Latin world.”

And what about the 2019 editorial surprise, El infinito en un junco by Irene Vallejo, which has won the 2019 Critical Eye Award for Narrative and the 2020 National Essay Award; a work on the invention of books in the ancient world that connects through a masterfully woven thread the origins of literature in Greece and Rome with our contemporary world. This exciting essay by a classical philologist has been one of the most widely read books in Spain during confinement.

Abandoned on resumes

And, paradoxically, together with this cultural panorama that transmits a constant and lively interest in the classical world, we are witnessing an incomprehensible abandonment, if not contempt, of the studies of Latin, Greek and classical culture in the academic curricula of the Spanish educational system.

Such a situation is fostered from two fronts that feed back: the lack of social consideration towards the Humanities and the successive study plans.

Families, who have the last word in the choice of subjects that their children take in secondary education, welcome their desire to be doctors or engineers with enthusiasm, but not so many are happy when they decide to follow the Humanities branch .

Many times, in addition, the choice of one modality or another is supported by the advice of the school counselors, so that, if a high school student is bright and achieves good grades, all those who have a certain ascendancy over him will leave him It is very clear that he would “waste” his future if, with his potential, he opted for studies of letters.

The crisis of the Humanities

A young man with a clear vocation for the Humanities is today almost a hero if he achieves his goal of studying what he wants in high school and high school, because, in addition to persuading his family, he must be lucky enough to study in a center that even offers that itinerary.

Indeed, in very few private and subsidized schools Greek is taught , and in a considerable part of public institutes the Humanities branch no longer exists, so there are only two options: change schools (which is not feasible in small towns ) or desist.

And still another factor comes into play: that in that institute there is a sufficient number of students (more than five, more than ten, depending on the communities or the centers themselves) to allow a group to be set up, otherwise, the subject will be deleted.

When a course is closed, how do you expect to get a sufficient number of students the following year? The path for these studies is not easy and all this occurs in the face of the most absolute indifference of society.

Thus, each time a new government decides to promote a reform of the educational system, it inexorably goes through the cornering and suffocation of these matters.

Since 1970, Spain has seen seven educational laws pass. In each and every one of them, teachers, scientific societies, associations and cultural institutions that share their interest in classical studies have had to seek support and fight, like someone trying to steal land from the sea, so that Latin, Greek and classical culture did not lose their place in Secondary and Baccalaureate education.

Nobody else seemed to care. The Organic Law of Modification of the Organic Law of Education ( LOMLOE ) has recently been approved and, as an announced curse, Latin and Greek are not even mentioned. And this, despite the fact that the Committee on Culture of the Congress of Deputies unanimously approved on February 27, 2019 a Proposal No of Law to urge the Government to request that UNESCO declare Latin and Ancient Greek as Heritage Intangible Cultural of Humanity.

Signatures against his disappearance

The Spanish Society of Classical Studies and the School with Classics platform have promoted a campaign that is collecting thousands of signatures and has received the explicit support, among many other prominent institutions, of the RAE . Again, like Sisyphus, we are pushing the same stone uphill.

It is worth wondering in what society we live if we are permanently justifying the need for our young people to have, at least, the possibility of training in Humanities.

The study of Latin and Greek favors not only the knowledge of our own language, but also the learning of other Romance languages, as well as the acquisition of the lexicon of scientific specialties .

It also forms an important grammatical awareness for the study of any language and the command of writing. The approach to classical literature and culture allows us to understand where we come from and how much we share, because we are children of the Greco-Latin world.

The case of the Seville students

We have received a common legacy, passed down for centuries: what makes us think that we even have the right to deprive subsequent generations of receiving that inheritance? Even the students themselves claim it, as the students of an institute in Seville recently did through a petition on change.org.

The utilitarian idea of ​​an education that only forms in what is economically profitable is unacceptable. We cannot even imagine a society whose citizens are educated only in “productive” matters.

The ancients gave us philosophical thought, they created history and science, they taught us the art of the word. It is difficult to think of an aspect of current culture that does not rest in some way in the classical world.

To continue advancing in each of these disciplines, it is necessary to constantly return to their sources. Greeks and Romans made up the literary genres, poetry, theater, the novel, composing the classic works that identify us as Western civilization.

Each generation reads its classics in a way and should be able to do so by using the original texts or updated versions, without this being a privilege for a few who can afford a better education.

To steal this right from future generations is to condemn them to not knowing where they come from. And only an educational system that guarantees equal opportunities for Humanities studies ensures the transmission of this legacy. If we break the invisible thread that connects us to our past, if we lose perspective, how are we going to understand our present and be masters of our future?

Author Bio: M. Dolores Jiménez López is Professor of Greek Philology at the University of Alcalá