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Why It’s Easier to Learn Latin and Then Ancient Greek

Updated on February 22, 2015
Reading the classics in their original language can provide great insight into the writers and culture
Reading the classics in their original language can provide great insight into the writers and culture | Source

Introduction

If you want to study the classics, having a grounding in both Latin and Ancient Greek can be a great advantage. Taking the time to read and understand both of these languages will help you to study the works in their original forms, providing you with a greater appreciation and historical context for these timeless books. Most classical scholars and students believe that it's easiest to begin by studying Latin and once you have a good working knowledge of that, move onto Ancient Greek. There are several good reasons for this.

Latin is the root of many English words

Many people consider Latin to be easier to learn because it forms the root of so many English words. It has a consistent set of grammatical and linguistic rules, and this, combined with its influence on modern vocabulary can make it easier to grasp.

Latin has a standard form and fewer dialects than ancient Greek

Latin is also more standardized than Ancient Greek, due to Ancient Greek being divided into several different dialects. This can mean that even though you have learned one Ancient Greek dialect, you will need to spend some time studying other dialects to appreciate the nuances and subtlety of some of the later texts.

Serious scholars of ancient texts will want to learn both Latin and ancient Greek
Serious scholars of ancient texts will want to learn both Latin and ancient Greek | Source

Latin was actively used for a very long time

Latin was used over a much longer time period than Ancient Greek, so if you want to expand your understanding beyond 'Classic Literature', having a grounding in Latin will make it easier to understand work from other periods of history.

There are thousands of classics written in Latin
There are thousands of classics written in Latin | Source

Latin provides a good framework for languages

Once you understand the basics of Latin and become comfortable with the language, it will be easier to move on to studying Ancient Greek. This is because Latin is a good way to appreciate the framework of a language and how it is formed. Once you have this understanding, applying it to the more complex Ancient Greek will be much easier. Many courses assume that you will be able to read and understand both languages.

Both Latin and ancient Greek have a long and storied history
Both Latin and ancient Greek have a long and storied history | Source

Other reasons

There are several other reasons that it is easier to learn Latin:

  • Many of the earlier Greek classics have been lost in their original form, and the Latin translations are generally the earliest versions of them that we have
  • Ancient Greek was used extensively in fields such as philosophy, science and mathematics, whilst Latin was used mainly to record history, politics and law
  • Ancient Greek has many more irregular verbal forms than Latin, meaning that it will take longer to memorize and apply all of them

Deciding which to study first should be a personal choice
Deciding which to study first should be a personal choice | Source

How to decide which one to study

If you'd like to make a more objective decision on which language to learn first, make a list of the main classical literature that you would like to study. Then, list the language that each particular piece of work is written in. Once you've added up the number of pieces of literature in either language, you can get a good overview of which language to learn first.

Why learn Latin?

Which of the two languages would you prefer to study first?

See results

In closing

Whether you decide to start by learning Latin or Ancient Greek, the time you spend studying and appreciating these beautiful languages will significantly enhance your understanding of such great authors as Aristotle, Plato, Homer and more. You'll have a much better context and historical basis for your reading, which in turn will help you to explore the amazing ideas and writing that these visionaries produced.

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