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Pacem in Terra
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My first year of high school (9th grade) started a month late into the semester, because my mother was finessing my academic progress. She arranged for me to skip 8th grade and attend Woodstock Academy on a scholarship. The school was free to town residents, but I lived in Pomfret Center, the next village down the road.

After home room, the first class of the day was Latin. I wasn't even sure what Latin was, and was too morbidly shy to ask anyone. I sat halfway back in the second row, all of the desks and woodwork and wood floors a century and a half old, dark polished and gleaming. You could smell the beeswax.

The teacher was reviewing the verbs (what's a verb?) that are transitive (huh?) in English but intransitive (say what?) in Latin and take the Dative case (if you say so). Each student had to recite the list--favor, help, please, trust, believe, persuade, command, obey, serve, resist, envy, threaten, pardon, spare and indulge. By the time he got to me I was in such a state of nervous terror that I blurted out the list as fast as I could say it. And to this day, decades later, I remember it. It must be burned into my neurons.

I loved Latin. My teacher would not let us use cognates during translations. My English vocabulary grew by leaps and bounds, and I would scour dictionaries and the thesaurus to find a word that wasn't just an approximate translation but as perfect in meaning as I could find. In the process I made the acquaintance of lots of lovely words who have remained good friends to this day.

I have often wondered if the verbs that were intransitive in Latin (but transitive in English) reflected a difference--or caused a difference--in the views of society and polity and the military of the Romans, for whom Latin was a living language. And, come to think of it, the Roman Catholic Church, which lived in Latin until many centuries later and not until the 20th century held the Mass in the vulgar languages.

What difference would it make to give obedience to an officer rather than obey him? How different if a person held a belief about something rather than believed it directly? And trust? Give trust or be trusting, but not trust the person in himself? And threaten? It's hard to think of threaten as anything but direct, transitive.

Nowadays, Latin is truly dead. We're losing a big part of our heritage, just as we did when we lost our Greek.

This is the time of year we wish each other "Pacem in Terra."

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