by Cara Ruccolo
My father always told me stories about Greek mythology, about the different gods and goddesses and the way they interacted with humans. My favourite stories were about Pegasus, the winged horse, and I especially liked the story of the Trojan Horse.
As the years went on, I no longer received continual bedtime stories, but I made frequent trips to the library so I could read the mythological tales on my own. I began to analyse each god and goddess and got to know each one’s personality and habits. I also, after reading countless battle stories, began to appreciate the Greco-Roman ideals of honour, courage and virtue.
Even as a young girl, I recognised these traits in those around me and tried to emulate them as well. I loved what I learned from these ancient accounts, but I had no idea that certain languages told them all and more in the stories’ original context.
I began to read about the Labours of Hercules, the Cyclops and other notables. I soon began translating stories on my own just because translating a Latin passage was like decrypting a secret code and I loved the thrill of reading a story in English that had once been in Latin. Latin became a form of intellectual entertainment for me. I was exercising my brain and stimulating my mind at the same time.
Latin, at that point in my life, had become part of my identity and it consumed most of my time not spent on homework and athletics. All the time spent proved to be beneficial; I knew what the “dative” and “accusative” cases, not to mention “gerunds” and “participles” were long before my Latin-less peers. My writing likewise improved. These added bonuses helped me feel more confident that Latin was indeed a “practical” language.
In addition to taking Latin at Andover, I also took an Etymology course and First and Second Level Greek in a yearlong intensive course. The Greek course was a great counterpart to my Latin course; instead of reading ancient Roman stories, I now read those of ancient Greece.
In my Etymology course, I came to understand how English, Latin and Greek were fully intertwined. My knowledge of Latin and Greek almost always helped me identify a root word and thus helped me deduce the meaning of the word. After this experience, the Classics for me became not only a doorway to ancient myths and culture, but also to a better understanding of English grammar and writing.
It has been years since my childhood visits to the library. My readings have progressed from the Labours of Hercules to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Horace’s eloquent poetry, but my reasons for pursuing Latin and Greek remain the same. I have a passionate interest in ancient cultures, for what life was like before and for mythology.
I love translating, decoding a secret story, and trying to find the right balance of the literal Latin meaning and the more prosaic English. It also helps to have the bonuses of an increased vocabulary and stronger grammar. The Classics have always been meaningful to me –before and after I knew Latin and Greek.
Cara Ruccolo is 16 years old and in the 12th grade at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. She is an advanced placement Classics student having completed 5th year Latin and second year Greek as well as having studied Etymology. She is the founder of the Phillips Academy Chapter of the National Junior Classical League and a member of the Society for the Oral Reading of Greek and Latin Literature (SORGLL) and the American Society of Greek and Latin Epigraphy (ASGLE). Cara’s recent publication (A Case for Classics at the
Middle and High School Levels) appeared in the fall issue of the New Horizons for Learning Journal. She is also a captain of the Varsity Soccer team and a Varsity Squash player. Cara looks forward to the college application process and the pursuit of Classics at the university level. She can be reached at email@example.com.