From the acclaimed novelist and Oxford professor Gardini comes a personal and passionate look at the Latin language: its history, its authors, its essential role in education, and its enduring impact on modern life.
Long Live Latin is less a popular history of the language, however, than an aesthete’s manifesto ... Todd [Portnowitz's] translation...ably captures Gardini’s bombast and fussiness alike ... more often, Gardini simply geeks out on rhetoric. His precise, writerly descriptions of the texts...are often exciting and infectious in themselves ... It’s his chapters about later Latin stylists, however, that this reader found most fascinating ... It might be churlish to ask a book as doggedly apolitical as Long Live Latin to gesture toward the current rhetorical moment. Gardini is too besotted with the ancients to waste many words on the white noise of contemporary politicians or to draw comparisons between the fall of the Roman Republic and the depredations suffered by both democracy and discourse in the 21st century ... Part of the appeal of a book like Long Live Latin is the promise of escaping the tumult and babble of our contemporary discourse.
Gardini crafts each chapter so that it feels like an encounter. Offering numerous personal anecdotes from his own life, Gardini’s writing is warm and conversational yet scholarly ... His text considers the form, style, purpose, influence, and themes found in the works of these authors; quotes liberally from their work; and offers Gardini’s own translations while noting the rhetorical devices and figurative language appearing in the original Latin ... Gardini suggests that his book is for a general reader—especially for young students. But it’s hard to imagine many young students from the U.S. responding well to the 'critical and aesthetic genius' of a writer like Horace (65 B.C.E.–8 C.E.) or to his Ars Poetica, excerpts of which Gardini translates and discusses ... The book is somewhat hard to follow because Gardini doesn’t present his material in chronological order. The authors don’t appear as they would in a history of Latin literature...But this is a quibble with an important and informative book ... Gardini is passionate about his subject and tends to be wordy ... Although Gardini mentions the inspiration of goddesses, the only woman quoted here is Sappho.
The problems with this approach—this ideology of the aesthetic—are legion. It fails to recognize that 'civilization' is a process of selection—exclusionary by design—and that ugliness is the Janus-faced twin of beauty, the implied defect of those who don’t make the cut. Gardini’s Latin is that of an unrepentant New Critic, who searches the universe for 'perfect,' 'rational,' 'well-ordered' verbal forms to elucidate, without acknowledging the contexts and conflicts that have led him to seek out those forms in the first place ... There is a real-world danger to this aestheticizing attitude toward linguistic study, this appeal to 'beauty' and 'pleasure.' It threatens to make classics into a mystery-cult rite, through which initiates gain arcane knowledge of the nature of things. It distorts the marvelous range of Latin-speaking culture, flattening its richness and diversity into a one-note story about the 'West.' And it suppresses analysis of the political and social conditions in which the language was used ... This kind of classicism limits history, makes ethics an entirely personal affair, and distances itself from the dirty confines of politics. Long Live Latin might have a different tone if it had been written not in the waning days of 2015 but rather in the shadow cast by Brexit, the presidency of Donald Trump, and the expropriation of the Greco-Roman past by ethnonationalists and hate groups. Indeed, though Gardini concedes in passing that studying Latin means different things in different contexts, this fact should be the first premise of his inquiry, rather than the last ... I am also moved by Gardini’s fine writing, and the exceptional translation ... shines brightest when his exhortations get you to read the words aloud, to will them back into the world ... However historical his material may be, Gardini seems persistently disinterested in history and politics ... As with Cicero’s own writing, the beauty of Gardini’s phrases almost obscures a need to prove that the author is speaking the truth. Such is the Ciceronian desire and ability to recast the world through the word, rather than deigning to make words faithfully represent it ... Gardini sings the praises of Western civilization, then, without acknowledging that this also includes imperial, colonial, and enslaving misogynists ... Those who still admire the work of canon-defending may find in Gardini’s book the echo of a rallying cry. But others will find the discomfort of self-recognition.