Wednesday, August 03, 2022
Russian or Latin?
Jan Kwapisz, "Requiem for Latin Classes
Even during the Stalinist years Latin was respected in the Batory Gymnasium, as testified by an anecdote about a Latin teacher named Antoni Pawłowski. He caused a dangerous event at school by telling pupils to raise their hands as to whether they wanted to learn Russian or Latin. Russian was obligatory in Polish schools under the Communist regime, officially as the language of our neighboring "friends" and, more realistically, as a form of colonial, imperialist oppression. Not only did Pawłowski dare to ask his pupils the question "Russian or Latin?", but he added: "I can't imagine a Latinless educated human being". Hands were duly raised for Latin.
Oswyn Murray, an eminent ancient historian in Oxford, wrote an essay about his contacts with scholars behind the Iron Curtain. He shares one particular anecdote about teaching Latin during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. He could hear the noise of American B52 bombers circling over Oxford. He says that he continued teaching, in the strong conviction that if this were to be the last day of Western civilization, there was no better way of dying while "waiting for barbarians" than reading Ovid.