cover image Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language

Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language

Nicola Gardini, trans. from the Italian by Todd Portnowitz. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-0-374-28452-7

In this spirited linguistic jaunt, novelist Gardini (Lost Words) makes a strong argument for studying a supposedly “dead language” to unlock its beauty, history, and continued liveliness. Like the best linguists, he exhibits a knack for unpacking the meanings that can be hidden in a single word. Yet, Gardini takes his project a step further, and in short chapters, sums up the essential facts about an ancient author (say, Lucretius, whose “De rerum natura reveals the atomic structure of the universe in six books”) or the significance of a classic text. He describes in simple, clear terms the Aeneid’s impact on literature “as a condensation of the Iliad and the Odyssey” that in turn informed later literary luminaries, and elucidates the passages that bring him the most delight. Gardini’s defense of Latin is not novel, and in fact, most people who pick this up will likely already be convinced that Latin is far from a “useless language.” The book’s real value is to assist and encourage during the reader’s own exploration of ancient Latin texts. Anyone who embarks on such a voyage will find this a helpful and contagiously enthusiastic companion. (Nov.)