Wednesday, November 11, 2015

1841. And Latin. And Ohio.

The Ohio State University was not founded until 1870, and was originally conceived as an "A&M" school, concentrating on agricultural and mechanical studies. I have not been able to determine when courses in Classics were first offered at the university, nor when a Department of Classics was established. Ohio State's law school was founded in 1891, so by that time, at the latest, Ohio State legal students surely must either have been offered some instruction in Latin, or expected to have gained some proficiency in the language elsewhere, before receiving their law degrees. The university had a baseball team by 1881.

I have learned not to trust my memory: as time goes by, things I've seen grow larger or smaller or more impressive or less impressive, in my memory, than they really were when I saw them. Countless examples have taught me how my memory distorts things. 25 years ago my interest in and knowledge of Latin was much less than it is now. So the fact that around 1990 I was wandering through the stacks of the Main Ohio State library and came across what seemed to me to be an absolutely huge collection of volumes of ancient Greek and Latin, does not mean that the same collection would look huge to me today, because along with the passage of 25 years comes the fact that in 1990 I was much less able to make a coherent assessment of a collection of Classical texts: I had much less knowledge to apply to what I saw. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that the layer of dust I saw resting upon row after row of Loeb's Classical Library and the Oxford Classical Texts, was the thickest layer of dust I have ever seen, anywhere.

There simply could not have been a more eloquent single image of an academic discipline which was much less studied at a particular university than it had once been.

All the same, one should keep in mind that although by 1990 I had learned to spot a row of green or red Loeb's or black (under the dust covers) Oxford Classics at a glance, I was not yet familiar with the orange Greek and light-blue Latin volumes from Teubner. So that it is just possible that next to those rows of Loeb's and Oxford Classics which looked so mighty to me at the time, covered with that immense amount of dust which made me so very sad -- Ah say Ah say it is just possible that right next to those dust-covered volumes were immense amounts of Teubner volumes rubbed clean of dust from constatnt and eager use.

Just possible, but, it seems to me, not bloody likely. For one thing, although I cannot be at all certain, I believe that the volumes I saw were shelved by author, rather than Loeb being segregated from Oxford and both of them from whatever other publisher.

Another possibility occurs to me: that huge layer of dust may not have meant that a once-popular field of study had fallen from favor. It may have meant that those Loeb and Oxford (and other?) volumes had never been in great demand by the student body of Ohio State. Perhaps the bulk of those volumes had been the gift of some philanthropist who was smitten with the Classics and had no idea that he or she was about to cast pearls before swine.

Both Ohio University and Miami University, Ohio, are considerably older than Ohio State.

When Miami University opened in 1824, its curriculum consisted of Greek, Latin, algebra, geography, and Roman history; the only degree offered was a Bachelor of Arts.

Now THAT'S more LIKE it!

That, unfortunately, is also everything which I have been able to learn regarding the use and cultivation of the Latin language up until 1841, in the territory which in 1803 became Ohio, the 17th United State.

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