Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

1 Characteristics of the Greek and Latin languages

If you embark on the study of Greek or Latin, what sort of language will you be learning? What are their distinctive features? What do they share in common with other languages?

We can start with one obvious characteristic. Both are referred to as ‘classical’ languages, a word which seems to endow them with a special status. But what does that really mean? There is no single or simple answer to this question. The attempt to answer it, however, can shed light on important features of both languages. It also leads directly to another central issue for any student of Greek and Latin. What can these languages offer us today and why do they continue to deserve further study?

Activity 1

What does the term ‘classical’ suggest to you? What do you think it means when applied to Ancient Greek and Latin?

Jot down your thoughts in the box below.

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Discussion

Your answer will no doubt differ from the one below, but you might have noted that the word ‘classical’ can be used to describe some of the following:

  • something old and traditional that has stood the test of time (and is, we might say, ‘timeless’)
  • an artefact of great quality
  • a thing that deserves to be copied or emulated
  • something that sets the standard by which other things should be measured
  • something old (and possibly out-of-date) in contrast to something new; for instance, ‘classical languages’ as opposed to ‘modern languages’, or ‘classical physics’ as opposed to ‘quantum physics’
  • a particular style, embracing concepts such as balance, harmony, restraint and correctness. In this sense, ‘classical’ might be contrasted with the word ‘romantic’, denoting a more intuitive and free-spirited approach.

You might also have observed that the term is now applied very widely – to music, ballet, guitar, cuisine, economics, and so on. The range of applications can be extended even further by including the related word ‘classic’, as in ‘classic’ literature, films, cars and so on. Indeed to describe something as ‘classic’ sometimes amounts to little more than a vague statement of approval.

We shall look in more detail at the application of these terms to Latin and Greek at the end of this section. For the moment, note that each description in the list has at one time or other been applied to both Latin and Greek.

A275_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371