St John's College

Why bother with Latin? No one speaks it today. The Romans lived hundreds of years ago. Modern South Africa has nothing in common with Ancient Greece and Rome.

Despite such sentiments, there are at least six good reasons for learning Latin in South Africa today which motivate our teaching of Latin at St John’s.

Latin is the parent of French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese and has significantly influenced German. Since many English words, particularly complex ones, derive from Latin, learning the latter will strengthen your English vocabulary.

The fact that Latin is a “dead” language is an advantage, not a disadvantage. Latin’s syntax, grammar and vocabulary are no longer evolving or expanding and so studying it provides you with a framework for understanding the basic building blocks of any language.

Latin’s “deadness” means it keeps to strict rules. Once you learn them (and their exceptions!) then you simply apply them to the text in front of you. Success in Latin, therefore, requires logical rigour, teaching you to think straight, a key component of any “education with integrity”.

Where did key South African concepts like democracy, citizenship, political debate, freedom and rights come from? Who produced some of the finest architecture and art in North Africa and Europe? What influenced many of the classic works of Western Literature? Latin and the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome. Did you know, for instance, that the story behind Romeo and Juliet was told 1 500 years before Shakespeare by the Roman poet Ovid?

Latin has influenced mathematics, anatomy, botany, zoology, astronomy, geology, pharmacy and others. These subjects still retain terms which an understanding of Latin will make more intelligible. For instance, did you know that the side-striped jackal is known as canis adustus, meaning “burnt dog”, referring to the charcoal streak on its side?

At St John’s, we will enable you to have a thorough grasp of the language so that you can read some Latin authors in the original during the matric course. We also explore many of the areas influenced by Latin. This includes an annual trip to Johannesburg Zoo, investigating the planets and constellations and the mythological names attached to them, studying the gladiators, Colosseum and other Roman entertainment venues and understanding the life and significance of one of the greatest Romans, Julius Caesar.