I am sympathetic to the classics department’s rationale for eliminating the requirement that students have some proficiency in Latin or Greek (On the Campus, May issue). Yet I believe that the University has made a mistake. The department seeks to promote equity and develop a more vibrant intellectual community. I fear the change may make it harder to achieve these worthy goals.
I am a proud alumnus of the department. I arrived at Princeton from a rural high school that offered no Latin. To the credit of the faculty, I read all of Virgil in Latin — Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid — as an undergraduate. I went on to graduate school and taught classics for almost 30 years.
It seems to me that to redress inequities and amplify diverse voices, we must take up questions of power. The beauty of classics is that questions of power lie at the heart of the discipline, in two distinct senses. First is the centrality of empire and hegemony to the Greco-Roman experience. Second is power as it is shared (or not) in the classroom. It is a peculiarity of classics that a 20-year-old who can read Latin or Greek may arrive at a brilliant, original interpretation of an ode by Horace or Sappho. Better, perhaps, than her professor’s. That is the beauty of classics. I can say from my own experience that this feature of the discipline is truly empowering. Equity? Vibrancy? Let’s empower our students in every way possible to ensure that we achieve both of these important aims.