Published: Sept. 24, 2019 By

Colorado Classics Day on Sept. 28 celebrates Latin, classical antiquity

The study of classical antiquity—the languages, literature, philosophy and history of the ancient Greeks and Romans—is not only literally foundational at the University of Colorado Boulder—it’s also alive and well.

Being the oldest department at the university, which was founded in 1876, Classics has, arguably, left its mark. Even now, nearly a century and a half after its inception, students entering Norlin Library, the flagship library of the CU system, pass beneath the words of Cicero, one of Rome’s greatest statesmen-philosophers: “He who knows his own generation remains always a child.”

And now the department is ready to share that mark with the broader Latin community.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, the Department of Classics, the Colorado Classics Association and the Colorado Junior Classical League will host Colorado Classics Day, which brings scores of Latin students and teachers to campus from schools around the state for a day of fellowship, learning and fun.

Photograph of Lansford

Tyler Lansford, a classics instructor, is helping to host this year's Colorado Classics Day.

“We have a flagship department nationally, and we take our responsibility to the state Latin community seriously,” Tyler Lansford, an instructor in the Department of Classics at CU Boulder, says. “We love to bring everybody together—high-school students, teachers, grad students, faculty—to share expertise.”

Student participants choose two morning sessions from a menu that includes “Life as a Gladiator,” “Roman Law: Worst. Haircut. Ever,” “Women Writers of Ancient Rome” and “Anatomy of a Temple.” At lunch, there is a Roman dress costume contest and a chance for students to chat with CU Boulder Classics faculty.

During the afternoon, teachers and faculty attend a meeting of the Colorado Classics Association while students participate in activities hosted by the Colorado Junior Classical League, including “Certamen, the game show of the Ancient World,” a javelin throw and “Versipellis” a version of the role-playing party game Werewolf (or Mafia), in Latin.

The events focus on Latin, for the simple reasons that ancient Greek is taught in few schools and has less direct relevance to modern Western languages and culture, Lansford says.

“There are almost no high schools in the country that teach ancient Greek. Greek is a step removed from the historical development of the western European languages,” he says. “By contrast, Latin is a central source of English, and has enormous relevance to students’ mastery of their native language.”

Half of the words in the English lexicon are derived from Latin or French, which, along with Italian and Spanish, is a direct descendant of the Roman tongue.

“Precision in word choice is immeasurably enhanced by some acquaintance with Latin,” Lansford says. “And it helps with the ability to express oneself in complete, coherent sentences. Latin syntax is not only exact but also beautifully transparent.”

In addition, Western writers and thinkers, including Shakespeare and the founding fathers of the United States, were deeply influenced by great Roman thinkers and writers.

Latin is not a dead language. It’s simply a language that has ceased to be mortal.”

To those who carp that Latin is a “dead” language, and therefore unworthy of study, Lansford responds, “Latin is not a dead language. It’s simply a language that has ceased to be mortal.”

The modern perception that studying Latin is somehow “elitist” flies in the face of history, Lansford argues.

“For so many centuries, the only people who got to study it were in fact privileged people, from the Renaissance to modern times,” he says. “In our day, offering Latin to everyone is the most democratic thing imaginable.”

And the notion, currently popular among some pundits and politicians, that studying humanities subjects such as Classics is of minimal use in the age of technology, Lansford points to the Cicero quote at Norlin Library.

“Contrary to the narrow, instrumental view of education, Cicero teaches us that many of our core values are embedded in the past and achievements of the past. We can’t expect a purely technical society to replenish itself spiritually and intellectually,” he says. “Latin anchors us in the bedrock of our history and values.”

This event is partly funded through a CU Boulder Outreach Award, which support research, teaching and creative work that connects with communities around Colorado and beyond. A full schedule of events can be found on the Colorado Classics Association's website.