- Paperback: 354 pages
- Publisher: Verso; New edition edition (December 17, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1859844022
- ISBN-13: 978-1859844021
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,146,526 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Latin: Or The Empire of the Sign New edition Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is a service we offer sellers that lets them store their products in Amazon's fulfillment centers, and we directly pack, ship, and provide customer service for these products. Something we hope you'll especially enjoy: FBA items qualify for FREE Shipping and Amazon Prime.
If you're a seller, Fulfillment by Amazon can help you increase your sales. We invite you to learn more about Fulfillment by Amazon .
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
“Waquet’s wonderful, readable book (in Howe’s fine translation) provides an intellectual history of the Latin language ... Waquet memorably charts Latin’s reception in scholarly, comic, tender, and exhaustive detail through learned literary, and popular sources.”—Choice
“... an erudite, fascinating cultural history of the Latin language in the modern era. A scholarly work, this will nonetheless appeal to general readers as well.”—History
“... an eloquent obituary ...”—Spectator
“... [a] fascinating and lively survey of the place of Latin in western culture during the past 400 years.”—Independent
“It is a wonderful survey of the uses to which we have put Latin.”—A. N. Wilson
“... richly researched and delightful ... with scholars of Waquet’s generosity and ability, the old language might yet have a future.”—New Criterion
“Latin is dead and this book is its epitaph. A fulsome, plangent, finely engraved epitaph but an epitaph all the same ... it is the merit and interest of Waquet’s survey that she finds Latin not only deployed for the liturgy, but also to describe things carnal, pornographic or otherwise shameful.”—Daily Telegraph
“... the book is valuable if for no other reason than for the historical light it sheds on contemporary debates over the value of ‘traditional’ education—and for reminding us that a classical education is sometimes more about class than about education.”—Washington Times
“... a splendid book: original in method, suggestive in argument, and a pleasure to read.”—London Review of Books
“And for something differently serious, read part of Europe’s future in part of its past: the fascinating Latin: or the Empire of the Sign.”—A. C. Grayling, Guardian, Summer Choice 2002
“... detailed and wide-ranging ...”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“... a lucid, learned retelling of the fortunes of the Latin language from the 16th century to its rapid decline in the 1960s.”—Telegraph Books of the Year 2001
About the Author
Françoise Waquet is a director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Among her books are Latin, and in French, Les fêtes royales sous la Restauration ou l’Ancien Régime retrouvé and La République des Lettres (with Hans Bots).
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
In a sense it was the end of an era, a long late summer appropriately marked by the French revolution, the Napoleonic wars and the ensuing spreading of nationalisms. The "death" of Latin was more a kind of slow fading away: while it was increasingly superseded by French in the Republic of Letters and in the international diplomacy, it knew his last melancholy bright days with the philological studies in the German universities and the creation of Gymnasium: dissected, revered and enshrined it was no more than the cadaver of that great sovereign who ruled the European continent for so many centuries.
Universal language par excellence, Latin never ceased to be used in Europe even after the fall of the Roman Empire and the spreading of the new national languages. But in the meanwhile its use had changed substantially: from everyday language, increasingly to universal language in the double role of "sacred" language (for liturgy and Scriptures) and language of power and diplomacy. Then with Renaissance it finds a new role as language of culture: it is a second spring, because it becomes the supranational official language of the humanism first, and then of the so called Republic of Letters. Decline is only slowed none the less. Parallel to these roles, others are less obvious: aristocratic language, with its power of exclusion, the power to "say and conceal" and its obvious immediate uselessness that can become a mark of distinction for a proto-leisure class (Veblen).
"Latin or the Empire of a Sign. From the XVI to the XX century" is an outstanding essay on the evolution and role of this language in the European culture.
Well written, in a lively and colloquial style, sprinkled with examples, citations and anecdotes, it successfully captures the attention of the reader.
Certainly, the theme is very specific and targeted to an readership interested in the development of European culture and in Greco-Latin philology, none the less the writer has been able to arrange a "reader-friendly" text: all Latin citations are translated, every theme is carefully expressed in a way that also uninitiated can fully understand.
I found this book almost by chance: a few years ago had read a very flattering review of it, but as often happens, I forgot and reading did not follow. This is a study that springs from a former essay written by Francoise Waquet with Hans Bots: "La République des Lettres" (unfortunately still not translated into English), of which Latin was the common jargon.
So why Latin could be such an alluring theme?
Well, because it was a common primeval language, a common mark in the identity of a culture before the Babel-like fragmentation of the Romantic period.
By looking at the story of the decadence of Latin, the development of the Continental culture can be understood more clearly: the decision of Louis XIV to favor a national literary language and the French great literary blooming (the age of Racine, Molière, Pascal,...) that precede the spread of French as common language of the European Enlightenment, the rise of bourgeoisie and the French Revolution, up to Vatican II Council in the XX century. But still in the XVII century Spinoza, by family and culture Ladino and Dutch-speaking , had to learn Latin to compose his treaties - and we can guess he did speak and write Latin with the Great Condé, with Leibniz and Oldenburg.
So first sacred language of religion and priesthood, then universal language for the Renaissance savants, diplomatic jargon in the European court and common idiom of the European cultural space, increasingly threatened by new national ambitions: the French decision to use national language for diplomatic treaties (to mark the national grandeur) and the development of true national cultures favored by the rise of a new middle class.
Mme Waquet is neutral in presenting the argument: she is neither against Latin nor nostalgic of the Latin golden age: she carefully gives voice to all parties in a well balanced and very convincing portrait. Most of the chapters actually deal with the pedagogic means used to learn Latin, and the contrabanded "virtues" of the fluency in that language.
Nevertheless sometimes the books presents passages of a great evocative force: the title in the first place with its suggestive "Empire of a Sign", the chapters dealing with the French Restoration (the "signe Européen" of Joseph the Maistre, Chateaubriand,...) up to scattered citations. One especially got my attention, and truly deserves to be fully cited:
"The writer Marie Noel, who regarded herself as "ignorant" ("I know no more Latin than my mother, my grandmother and their servants"), gives an admirable description of this experience which was certainly not hers alone: «The words, many times repeated, of Veni Creator, Miserere, De Profundis, Magnificat, Te Deum and all the others had become within us our family treasure». Her "Notes intimes" give a clear impression of what it was like to have contact with a language that - apart from everything else - was neither read nor-spoken, but sung, and that was therefore inseparable from its musical coating: «The little girl of Auxerre will begin ... on hearing Christmas carols, the moving monody of the Stabat, . . . to become aware of the power of words». Words, moreover, that resounded in the nave of a cathedral whose rich decor accentuated the impression they made.
«I had just turned nine, my grandmother took me with her. For me it the entrance to a sublime world, outside the other one, a world in which god and men exchanged unprecedented words that had no meaning in other countries. On the evening of All Saints' Day, at six o'clock, the two of us made our way into the great Night of the Cathedral which at that hour, under its prodigious vaults, had neither beginning nor end... In the tower the knell tolled... that admirable knell of Auxerre Cathedral, a tragic group of deep bells that burst suddenly into sobbing - five or six heartbreaking notes - and then fell back into silence from which, after a few minutes of anguish, they would break out once more in sombre tears drawn from some unknowable well of suffering and fear... Nevertheless, we sang along with the priests! »" (pag.102)
I did read this book because of my passion for the history of the European culture and also because of my old studies in Greco-Latin philology.
This book is unique in his genre, and while I strongly recommend it, it is not easy to suggest other books on the same theme. Nonetheless, I think that these titles could be excellent associates:
- "The Republic of Letters. A cultural History of the French Enlightenment" by Dena Goodman. Very interesting and well written, but uneven in the result, and sometimes with a too marked militant feminist approach (yet the author doesn't seem to appreciate the fact that Enlightenment was the first period in which women had a true relevant cultural role).
- "The Age of Conversation" by Benedetta Craveri - a must read for sure! Gripping like a novel and hugely learned, this is the story of the development of that culture of bonne manieres, intelligent conversation, informal culture and tact that we now tend to associate with Enlightenment and the last years of the Ancien Regime.
- "The Renaissance Bazaar. From the silk road to Michelangelo" by Jerry Brotton. One of the best presentation of the European Renaissance I had the chance to read: extremely lively and hugely learned (if interested, I have written a review on it)
- "Scribes and Scholars" by L.D. Reynold & N.G. Wilson, still unsurpassed introduction to classical philology. One of the few books in which academic and poetical are not incompatible adjectives. Extremely interesting the chapters dealing with the re-discovery of classical Latin texts, the struggle to emendate from errors and improve understanding.
You are truly welcome if you can suggest other readings or just share ideas and comments!
Thanks for reading.
It is odd that the Latin of the Catholic Church should be the subject of only the second chapter; for surely the commanding position of Latin has its origin in the Church. This chapter is much better, for it gives explanations together with the exposition. The Catholic Church was suspicious of lay people being able to read the scriptures for themselves and interpreting it in a `heretical' sense; and it did its best to oppose translations into the vernacular; and though it accepted sermons in the vernacular and eventually even sanctioned translations of the scriptures, it insisted until Vatican II in 1963 that the liturgy must be in a language that even some of the lower clergy often mouthed without really understanding it. (Waquet does not mention the origin of the words `hocus pocus' - which is what laymen heard when the words `hoc est corpus meum' were gabbled by the clergy during the `magical' transformation of the wafer into the body of Christ.) The Catholic Church believed that a language which was no longer changing was appropriate for liturgies that expressed unchanging truths and for uniting Catholics all over the world.
The fact that Latin was read all over the world also made it for a long time the language of scientists, or indeed of any scholarly text that hoped for international distribution. Many works, originally written in the vernacular, were translated for this purpose into Latin. Even today, new words used in medicine are being concocted in Latin; Linnaeus' Latin or Latinized botanical descriptions are still in use, as are the symbols for elements in chemistry. In the multilingual Habsburg Empire Latin was widely used in administration (and in Hungarian Diet as the language of debate until 1840). The Treaty of Rastadt in 1714 was the first to be written in French; but until then Latin was the language of international treaties and frequently of diplomatic correspondence. However, when people spoke to each other in Latin, they often could hardly understand each other because each country, and often each region, pronounced Latin (even Church Latin) quite differently. (When I was at prep school myself, I was taught to pronounce `veni, vidi, vici' like `veenigh, veedigh, vighkigh', and had to unlearn this at later stages of my education.)
In Part III we at last come to the barrage of fiercely maintained arguments in favour of compulsory Latin: through Latin grammar one gets a better understanding of vernacular grammar; its study is a unique mental discipline in logic and its difficulties are good for the soul; it connects you with the loftiest part of the European inheritance; the moral qualities it conveys stand in contrast to the materialism taught by the sciences; some even claimed that it was a defence against Marxism as well as against Americanization; a Tsarist minister of education praised it for `inhibit[ing] the formation of independent opinions'.
And of course the knowledge of Latin was associated with class, status and power. In England successful entrepreneurs who had had no Latin and were not `gentlemen' would send their children to schools where they were taught the classics and so would become gentlemen. On the continent, the children of the poor were often deliberately kept away from Latin lest it encourage them to aspirations beyond their station. The medical and legal professions often used Latinity to bemuse and intimidate the laity. Latin was also used euphemistically to avoid the use of `coarse' and embarrassing vernacular words, usually to protect the modesty of women, only a tiny proportion of whom knew any Latin at all.
It is easy to understand why the modern world has abandoned Latin as any kind of staple. It is perhaps a miracle is that it survived as a staple for as long as it did; its defenders often went to quite absurd lengths; but this book explains what gave it its long-lasting sway. Although much of the material in it is very repetitive, it is very readable (and well translated by John Howe), and often entertaining.